Hope, longing and family
Nowadays, it only takes one to have an internet connection to be told how fucked up we are. It seems everything around us is falling apart. For a large part of our life, we were given a structure with clear milestones and goals that we had to achieve. Those of us who revelled in that structure had no clue what life outside that structure would look like. Now, we have to define our own milestones and goals. There is no definition for the “right” milestone or the “right” goal anymore to guide us. Amidst this apparent turmoil, it is only natural to feel completely overwhelmed and directionless. To prevent one from being sucked into this vortex, our society has attempted to provide a template - work for a couple of years once you graduate, go for higher education, work for a couple more years after that, get married and have a kid or two. Once you have a kid, they will completely consume your life (as I’ve heard and seen). The next 20 years of your life would become a juggle between your work, being there for your family and ensuring that you can meet all their needs. Once your kids get married and have their own kids, your life would then revolve around your grandkids and the cycle would continue. You would become so consumed in meeting the daily necessities of your life that you would hardly have any time or energy to think about the world at large or ask yourself the big questions.
I have to admit. It is a great template, in that it perfectly prevents us from feeling overwhelmed for long periods in our life. For a lot of people, it has worked out pretty well. They are reasonably happy in their lives right now. But if you are a rebel (like me), you are hell bent on not pursuing what society wants you to do. What people around you want you to do. Not falling prey to this structure makes us feel really cool and independent, in the moment. Until we hit this quarter-life crisis that the structure was meant to prevent us from facing. Don’t you wish someone just told you what the right thing to do is in those moments? Especially in the moments where you are questioning the purpose of your life. Have you been there?
I have. If nihilism was a café, I would be one of its regular customers. The waiters would have become my friends and would know precisely what I am going to order. They might even reserve a particular spot just for me. I have wondered a lot about my place in the world, the reason for my existence. To avoid blabbering about it, the answer that I’ve found peace with (which probably seems fairly obvious but sometimes hard to accept) is that, on the universal scale, I am insignificant. What I’ve recently started asking myself is: Why do I need to feel significant on the universal scale when what truly makes me happy can be found in a conversation with a loved one, in reading a book on a Sunday evening in my cozy room, in listening to a particular tune that strikes a chord with my heart, in hugging the right person very tightly, in the warm embrace of my mother?
Before the internet era, the only knowledge and people we had access to were those right in front of us. Now, I get notified about any new event happening in a completely different part of the world instantly. The internet has been a game-changer and has made our lives so much more meaningful in very tangible ways. However, every coin has 2 sides. We have entered the Information Age. There is so much out there to know. The more we know the more we realise how much we don’t know. We are being forced to face the vastness of the universe. While that awareness is important in many respects, it has also directly affected what some of us have considered meaningful and important to have in our life.
I have started realising that maybe there is something to learn from the pre-internet era. Maybe we need to detach the vastness of the world with our perception of what we need for us to be truly happy. I’ll share a personal story. Ever since my college ended, I used to dream of the day when I could live with two of my closest friends again. We used to discuss when and how that could happen. Our most optimistic guess, at that time, was maybe after 15-20 years when all of us have achieved enough in life to be able to choose where we want to live and with whom, given that it was highly unlikely that all three of us would work in the same city. Today, I am living with both of them in our home in Bangalore. Having dinner together, going for coffee breaks and having intense discussions about various topics reminds me of our college times. It makes me feel a sense of belonging and togetherness. This part of my life has been a major source of hope for me in the last few days.
Another source of hope for me is an anime named Naruto. I have talked about it before but I have never emphasised its true importance in my life. I was very reluctant to watch an anime at first, but little did I know how much it would go on to change my life. For the first time, it gave me a vision for the kind of world that I would want to live in, for the kind of person I’d like to be for myself and for others, for the power of believing in others and myself. It gave me a glimpse of what the world could look like if we truly spoke about how we felt. If we truly understood each other. It gave me a vocabulary that I didn’t know I was missing. My room is full of quotes from Naruto because they serve as the perfect reminder for everything I took away from it. And even though I have completed watching it (around 500 episodes), it is never going to be over for me.
Sometimes, you cannot avoid thinking about the world at large when it comes to issues like climate change which indicate that our future is bleak. If you’re someone who struggles with this particular type of anxiety, this video might give you some welcome hope amidst all the doom and gloom out there.
It is easy to feel that time is running out. At the very least, I feel that all the time. This is why I struggle a little bit with things that usually take time. I struggle with delaying gratification on many occasions. But I also realise that most of the things worth having take their sweet time and I am trying to imbibe the wisdom that there is no point in rushing through life. I am trying to focus on building my life around certain keystone habits and certain people, instead of letting my work dictate how I am feeling on most of the days. I’m a work in progress. I’m constantly trying to learn. But some days we falter and some days are hard. On those days, I try to forgive myself and just listen to something soothing, often something instrumental. In fact, as I am writing this, I am listening to one such instrumental right now:
I recently watched this TED talk by Susan Cain where she explained how our world has been built on the extrovert ideal and introverts have been made to feel out of place. As if, there is something fundamentally wrong about being serious and quiet. That they often feel the need to portray the characteristics of an extrovert to feel accepted in our society. She then goes on to talk about how it is important for introverts to truly be themselves and how it is a loss for the world if they don’t. She reminds us of how solitude is a key element for creativity and concludes by sharing a few steps we can take to make introverts feel more comfortable being themselves. Although I do have some attributes which are considered to be that of an extrovert, I consider myself an introvert for the most part. Over the last many years, I have tried to mask that side of me because of which the talk hit the right spot in my heart as it acknowledged how I’ve been feeling. I am trying to be more of my true self now and this talk has given me a very assuring head-start.
Soon enough after watching this video, my attention quickly went towards another TED talk by Susan Cain. The title of that talk intrigued my curiosity way too much for me to not listen to it as well. In this one, she talks about how an intense obsession with a musician led her to the question: “What am I longing for?”. She talks about how she’s been listening to bittersweet music all her life, the fact that it makes her feel something much closer to joy than to extreme sadness and led her to another question: “Why do I find sad music so uplifting and what is in our culture that makes it a fitting subject for a joke?”. Finally, she reflects how our culture represents a state of mind where the light and the dark move together but we are too afraid of the dark, even though our state of longing is also the same exact place from where we care desperately and is the deep source of all our moonshots and our love. Note to self: when the dark times come, and they will come, don’t be surprised. Instead ask yourself, “What are you longing for?”.
I have been listening to bittersweet music all my life. Most of the songs in my playlist are sad songs. I considered it a flaw within myself because no one seems to enjoy my playlist. Hearing her speak about this specific aspect of my life in the way she did gave me a lot of joy and served as a reminder for me to truly focus on being myself. Here is one such beautiful piece:
Sometimes all I want to do is to just go on a long tour with my mom. She loves travelling and seeing new things. Seeing her happy is one of the simplest and quickest ways for me to feel immense joy and satisfaction. When she smiles, I find my meaning right there. I stop looking for anything else. My mother is my rock and the person I love the most. When I am home, all I want to do is to be near her. My next dream is to somehow figure out a way in which I can be in a city I love while being close to her more often. Family has become a big part of my conversations nowadays - both, the one that we have now and the one we are going to have. Family is the only thing that seems to be a possible answer to the question of my purpose. I am someone who likes to serve. Who else can be worth serving more than our own family? Sometimes, we also have to stay away from family for both of ours sake but we know that they are always there if we really need them. We just need to extend our hand!
A few words that comforted me this week: