Sunday, May 24, 2020

for the pleasure of living

I've spent the last few months in a deep struggle. What I realised today could be a false dawn but right now I feel I've reached some shore. Some place where I'm not afraid that I'm lost in the open seas. The struggle has not been material, emotional and only, even if, intellectual. It has been, for lack of a better word, spiritual. What to do? How to live? I've obsessed over this question, worryingly so, flailing my arms, trying to swim now in this direction, now in that, afraid of sinking, of being eaten, of staying like this for a long time, surrounded by infinite water but unable to gulp a mouthful. It has been a horrendous time, and despite the regularity of other things, love, friendship, joys, new trials, it has gnawed at me, bit by bit, in the background, like a nightmare that resumes every night. I have even placated myself by telling that this pain, confusion, fear is a good thing because it still means I've not become numb to feeling, that I'm still sensitive enough to worry about 'great' things.

So what exactly has bothered me: It is, like I said, the question of what do I do with my life. I'm thirty now, so many people I idolised had already done something noteworthy by the time they were thirty. So either I'm a late bloomer or I'm going to live out my life not having done something that I value, something I take pride in, find something doing which I can repeatedly find joy while gaining mastery. I can find only two ways to think of it: Either there is something called destiny, that each of us find out what we're supposed to do, not because it's dictated by society or circumstance, but because we find that voice deep in our hearts, or we transcend circumstance and the dictates of our immediate society to do something that makes us respect ourselves, that makes us feel we've made a sizeable dent in the world we were born into. And no matter which worldview I took as my axiom, I couldn't shake off the feeling that I was doing the wrong thing with my life. Neither does the voice inside me tell me nor do I want to be a middling data analyst in a bank. Then why do I do it? Because of circumstance? Not entirely because some of the decisions I took lead me here. It's not even necessity because I don't have a debt to pay-off, or am in some other desperate need of this money. So why? I don't know. And this uncertainty gave me the chills. This is not good uncertainty, like the time your brain is trying to fathom why it appreciates a film but can't get to love it. This is uncertainty that tells you you're doing something wrong but refuses to give you an explanation or an alternative.

Let me say the word out; I searched for a goal. What is my goal? To what destination am I walking? Writer, filmmaker, teacher, public intellectual, for that matter even Indian or Australian? Once I had that goal, it would help me decide the route, what equipment I'd need to pick up, people I'd need to read, watch, meet. Everything hinged on that single answer. But the answer was never forthcoming. When I was younger, the answer was temporary but atleast as long as it was there, it seemed set. The change-of-mind was frequent but correspondingly, the period of indecisiveness or confusion was shorter. The epiphanies were bright and short-lived but they came in a thick stream. This time around, it seemed to have completely dried up. And for a human surviving, rightly or wrongly, on dopamine inducing epiphanies, the starvation was painful. The withdrawal symptoms were acute. 

I really, really tried to find a solution to this. A rational understanding of myself that would help me design my life for efficiency of some sort (I still don't know what parameter to improve). I thought incessantly, scouring knowledge nuggets in that hope that I'd find an answer somewhere. I even tried tricking my mind into believing that I'd given up, watching mindless entertainment, in the hope that it would unblock some sort of a subconscious volcano. I felt guilty all the time, unable to read or watch anything with full involvement, convinced that I was living in some wrong way. Not that I was miserable all the time, I still functioned normally, to a certain extent, and genuinely had fun in conversations and events. But I would soon be overcome by this nagging feeling and the more I worried about it, the more I felt like crap because I have never wanted to be a calculative person trying to find the optimum solution. My archetype of myself has been that of a wanderer, someone who travels not because he is in search of a treasure but because the journey is the treasure. Somewhere along this path, I guess I wanted to wring out as much out of the journey, instead of letting it come to me, because I started believing that I needed to get the value of this treasure. To extend the metaphor further, I started second-guessing every stray path or every plant that piqued my curiosity to ensure that I was getting as much worth, forgetting that I didn't want to seek a treasure in the first place precisely because I wanted to wander to places where my curiosity led me.

I wanted to know my place in the world, maybe a part of me still does. I wanted to be someone, known for something, easy to remember. I wanted to be some type despite some essential part of me wanting to transcend all types. I wanted to be a good son, a good husband, a good human, a great artist despite not knowing what it really meant, despite trying to know what it meant. I looked at myself through the eyes of what I thought the world is like and see someone successful, polished and and sparkling. It seems ridiculous thinking of it like that now but as long as I craved that sort of an impossible validation, I became calculative in everything I did and got irritable when things didn't pan out in ways I thought. I've never been smart but the desperate need to crack the algorithm of life placed an uncarriable burden that made the journey seem not worth it. I read with trepidation, in an attempt to impress and afraid that I'd be identified as a fraud, instead of letting the material absorb me and knowledge give me pleasure.

I've removed the burden atleast for now. As long as this realisation lasts, I will happily read what finds my fancy, watch great film, enjoy music and poetry, and have long, meandering conversations without worrying what I'll find at the end of it. This seems zen, yogic. I don't know if it is, and if it is, if it is coming from a shallow place. It seems to come deep from inside and the only thing I can really do is trust and take the leap. I don't want this meandering, carefree-ness to again turn into a quest and become miserable for not being carefree enough. It's probably more ridiculous than it sounds. I've been obsessing over finding my place in the world without realising that the only fixed place is the tomb. I hope to enjoy the surroundings and keep walking wherever my curiosity leads me.

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