We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding” (the last of his Four Quartets)
What happens at the point when you realize that this is the best that life can get and there’s nothing better that can come along? Do you feel euphoric, flying on the wings of knowledge that says you have made it, that you have arrived and your dreams have been achieved? Or, is there a disconsolate sense of loss, disbelief and horror that the ‘this’ you waited for all along is not as grand, not as triumphant or fulfilling as you imagined the moment to be. Elation freezes into ennui.
In reality, the ‘this’ moment in scary and slides the bottom out of your feet. You thought ticking off every little goal that added up to the one right at the top would mean, “mission accomplished, now I can savor the victory.” It could be that the sum total of your ‘this’ included: mastery over an ancient language; a degree that you set your heart on years ago and had to have at any cost, irrespective of how your career goals have changed; a love companion that gets it, really gets it; a job that shouts “passion” and a boss who’s Santa Claus in disguise; the point at which your bank balance gives you serotonin kicks each time you check it. All the 100 little checklists that had to be carefully planned so that the ‘best point in your life’ could be reached at exactly the moment you plotted: 29 years, 2 months, 6 days, 26 minutes and counting. You jotted down these goals yourself, fully convinced that this is what it would take to make you happy. Happy. Period. Not, happy but. Having found something that millions strive hard to capture, you would consciously avoid setting more goals. No, not needed. It’s like, you made a deal with yourself decades ago. You were that intelligent and all-knowing kid who realized that the more wishes you got fulfilled, the more you would crave for better things. I have thrown away my goal-writing pen. I am at that moment where my goals have been achieved. At this very moment, I should be reveling in happiness. Sheer, sun-shining-down-on me happiness.
But I am not happy.
I don’t feel euphoric. My contentment is cowering behind melancholia. I am depressed. I am spending my waking hours trying to figure out why the happiness bubble hasn’t enveloped itself around me, yet? Sure, the degree certificate could have sported an A+ and the job can get a tad uninspiring, and sure, I haven’t covered four continents yet in my travels, but I am not a perfectionist, I am okay with compromise! The fact is, I feel more displaced than ever more; as if I have lost more than what I had in the first place. It’s bewildering, it’s disorienting; it’s inducing bipolar behavior. Perhaps this is just a low phase where my muses have deserted me. I am unable to write insightful and original pieces. But “happyness” is not contingent on a few blogs, right? The system promised that when I have it all, I would be deliriously happy and smug.
But here’s a contradiction. The best and worst of minds in the media say our generation is the anxious one, the lost one, the confused one, the jobless one, the hyper-connected one, the detached one, the apathetic one, the revolutionary one. We all do, but never feel. We connect, but distance ourselves from us. We dream big, achieve grandly but measure satisfaction with atomic scales that skew relativity. Our sense of satiety is misplaced. A cup of ice-cream is not enough, we need a tub, a pound, a whole family pack. I would readily agree with these generalizations. Pop-culture says that we are right in the middle of a grand consumption cycle. Consumption should help in keeping us fed and satiated. Isn’t satiety exactly what we should be aiming for – the point at which we are content and the body at peace and the mind not over-worked into beginning the next cycle until much later? But help me, the feeling misses its mark every time and I am left feeling hollow, dissatisfied and empty.
I feel cheated out of reality.
Books that I read since I was four always spoke of creatures, castles and flights of fancy. It was only in faraway kingdoms that adventure could be found. In fact, the birthplace of adventure was in a land far, far away. I spent my entire childhood thinking that all I had to do if I wanted to live a life of adventure was to grow up and travel overseas. Those foreign lands would have quaint cottages, voluminous libraries, appetizing cookies, and miles of cobbled streets (or sand dunes, beaches or forests) that I could walk on to sight-see entire geographies and continents. That was the extent of my imagination and the strength of my conviction that ‘this’ is all it required to arrive at the ‘best point in life’ moment. I grew up to learn that kingdoms were now transformed into countries, and travel required the fixing of minor details such as money, visa and permissions from parents/boss/love mate (sometimes all three). When I boarded an international flight to travel to my first overseas country, instead of the adventure that I anticipated the journey to be, it became a series of mundane actions: cab-airport-baggage-check-in-uninspiring tray food-non-conversing-passengers-jet-lag-culture-shock-alienation. Was I naïve enough to believe that traveling to distant lands would actually be all about a spirit of adventure? Yes, perhaps. Do I believe that travel could be more fun? Yes, of course. Does the world thrive on romanticizing the most ordinary of life’s details? Yes. Does this hurt our prospects of growing up to be well-adjusted adults? Most definitely. Does the world and all its adults shelter children from the ordinary reality of life by building grand castles in the air and then cajoling us into believing that residing in one of those castles is not a improbable dream? Oh, my god, don’t get me started. It kills me to think that a lot of agony that we go through in matters of discovering the ‘real’ world could be spared if grown-ups could just grow the guts to speak to us in plain language. It would have been great if I knew way back in kindergarten that the world is a dangerous place filled with deviant minds, but also, there exist pockets of oasis that non-deviant folks could travel to and inhabit.
We try so hard to make sense of life. Of truth. We try so hard to understand reality. We want to answer the ultimate question about the purpose of human existence. Cultural Theorists have us convinced about the essential non-reality of our routine. It’s all structural. It’s all a construct. We are given a post-colonial, post-modern post-mortem on what life really means and the role we play within the frameworks of power and politics. We are weaned on the idea of agency and the network and are coached to rise against the Empire, even while we continue to work, live and die for the Empire.We are given conflicting signals about our dress code and sexuality. About our parenting and nurturing tendencies. About our love life and social disintegration. Being a boy, being a girl is no longer a simple equation, we learn to navigate patriarchy, power relations, social conditioning, advertisement. It’s tough. It’s so tough to take simple decisions for fear we are not stepping on the toes of any feminist/misogynist/atheist. What if I just want to do something because it feels like it has to be done?
Does knowing the truth free us from it? Are we all really waiting for the puzzle of our existence to be solved to just begin taking the first step towards being happy? Why did happiness become the benchmark or the index of measuring quality of life? Is there a historical precedent for claiming that yes, indeed, it is happiness that makes our life worth living? I am angry that every stimulus that I am confronted with tells me I need to step out of my comfort zone and aim higher and be more happier. Why? Why do I need to step out of my comfort zone? Is there a guarantee that comes with being adventurous and well-traveled and more knowledgeable about wine than the rest of us who might just decide to tame rabbits at home and earn a living out of being a gardener?
The question that scares me the most: what do we want the truth to be? How differently would you choose if you knew your purpose in life beforehand, at the age of one perhaps? Are you waiting for someone to tell you that this is what you need to do in order to get to the ‘best point in your life?’ Don’t. I have just told you exactly what takes place when you arrive at ‘that’ point. You begin again. T.S. Eliot says this, “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time…” (Little Gidding). This is not a verse written in hope, but in utter horror, highlighting the endless, ceaseless cycles of madness that we indulge in when we keep aiming for the best. Perhaps the best is not out there in the distance, in the future, across the seas: it’s right here, in this moment, in the space you inhabit. The best is not about the dream job or the all-understanding lover or a body that is prime in health. You cannot control these situations. You have no power over how you age or fade. Don’t hold on to the idea that there is something out there if you just wait long enough. That the best moments of your life are yet to come. That’s just plain, old lies, fairytales for those who don’t know better. None of us have seen what happens after the last word of these tales fade by, then why hold that as an ideal to live your life by?
So, do we go about our lives without setting any goals? Do we sleep every day holding our dreams at bay, controlling our fantasies, neutering our wishes? Do we dive into meditation, breathing down on our never-ending desires? How? How do we even begin to stop being human, knowing that this is the only way we know how to be one? But let me ask you this: is being human defined solely by achievements and passion and the fulfillment of wishes? Does being human mean that we strive to have it all at the cost of our daily sanity? Do we continue to dissect every choice we make and pray that our mistakes somehow magically transform into promises? Even when you get everything you pray for, you are still going to end up at point one of this page. Look into the mirror and realize that that is our destiny, to be caught in thrall by our own fantasies, forever thrashing and struggling to be free. I wouldn’t know the first thing about liberation and neither do I believe that awareness is the first step towards enlightenment. Question the question. How did freedom become the final point of our collective nirvana? Why do we believe that salvation is the threshold towards eternal bliss? Why can’t we give up ambitions and exist solely to survive and then die? Is death too demeaning a benchmark to achieve and crossover? Question everything you have been told about what will guarantee you happiness or bliss. Question everything you have been told about the causes of misery and pain. Question your high ideals. Question your lowest points in life. Question your choices but live with convictions. Convictions too will transform. It’s all fluid. It’s all in a state of flux. Live in the moments that form between the questions and answers. Just live.