Hope: musings after 2 months of soul searching
Back in June, during the second wave of COVID-19, I was assisting one of my friends in raising funds for one of his friend’s parents. The amount required was 7 Lakhs. My friend had managed to somehow accumulate almost all of it in a single evening through crowdfunding. He was feeling very happy that he finally got a chance to contribute by helping someone when he received a call saying that both of his friend’s parents had died.
When he shared this with me, we shared a long silence. None of us knew how to react. We didn’t know how to react when we had heard something similar the day before, and the day before that. Death became a common occurrence. The only thing that I could do during those moments was to convey my sincere condolences, think about it for a few minutes and resume working. I didn’t have any work pressure, it just seemed like the only escape that I had. It helped me get through that extremely difficult phase.
But once the second wave was over, I just couldn’t keep working the same way I was used to. Being someone who naturally tends to think a lot about mortality more often than most, hearing about so many deaths happening around me really shook me. I just couldn’t get myself to sit in front of my laptop. I was confident that if I really wanted to do something, I’ll make it happen. But nothing seemed worth my time and mental peace. This, coupled with the fact that I had been overworking regularly for the past many years, meant that the only way for me to remain sane was to take a break. So, that’s what I did.
After 5 years, I finally spent more than a month doing absolutely nothing. It was very uncomfortable at first as I always had too much on my plate, more than I could ever hope to do in a single day. But now, here I was, just lying on my bed for hours, for days at a stretch, pondering the same age-old question:
What is the point of doing anything at all? Why should one even get out of bed if they don’t have a need to work for a salary?
I have been asking this question myself for many years now. I never seem to find any answer apart from the fact that there is no meaning because, in the end, we are just an insignificant part of this mysterious and massive universe. Given how the worth of human life reached its lowest point during the second wave, this answer seemed more convincing than ever.
To be completely honest, at one point, I was very seriously considering the prospect of leaving everything behind and becoming a monk. Thankfully, I was aware that it was just a momentary feeling and I didn’t act on it.
However, something else was taking place slowly and steadily in the background. Because I was not working, I started to notice and appreciate the beauty in a lot more things: music, silence, friends, family, evolutionary biology, human psychology, history (told correctly), the power of storytelling in various forms, the diversity in our experiences and perspectives, cosy cafes, the right combination of desserts, sports, conversations, long walks in nature, reading, writing, community, the beach, the ocean, trees, cats, the effect of weather on my mood, the randomness that people do on the internet.
If you are thinking that I am overexaggerating a lot of basic things, I wouldn’t blame you. But for me, this was an amazing phase where it felt like I was looking at all of these things from a completely new lens. There was no rush, there was no place/meeting where I had to be. If I really enjoyed something, I could keep doing it as long as I wanted. I could give anything the true attention that it deserved.
I realised how lucky I am to have the kind of people I have around me - people whom I could call my support system, and some, even a part of my family. They heard me patiently while I was speaking my mind without any filter, they would ask me questions to help me think and reflect on what I care about, they wouldn’t judge me, assure me that everything will be okay with time and, in a lot of ways, tolerated me. I am not a person who naturally gels together in a group and, at times, I can get completely lost in my own world without realizing the presence of others around me. Sometimes, I feel so strongly about a certain point that I tend to forget about my history and relationship with a person if we’re arguing about it.
In short, I was (in many ways, am) not an easy person to live with, on an everyday basis. So, it seems magical that people would still want to be around me, given all of my eccentricities. They made me realise how far I have come over the past few years in several aspects of my life.
As I kept digging in search of the true problem, it eventually came to me. Apart from COVID-19, there was one other thing that really affected me: climate change. It no longer needs to be said that climate change has already begun to affect our lives: causing extreme temperatures, droughts, floods, forest fires, erratic rains, etc. With the release of the most recent IPCC report which signals a code-red for humanity, I kept thinking that I’ll eventually die in a few years. So, what’s the point of doing anything now? Wouldn’t it be better to just enjoy the few years that we have remaining?
This defeatist attitude led me nowhere. However, I was lucky that I got to know about Terra.do - an organization with a mission to get 100 million people working on climate change by 2030. I could immediately feel that this was different from anything else that I’d encountered before and their focus was on getting people to gain practical knowledge, become a part of a global community and take action. I immediately signed up for their September cohort which began 2 days back. However, at the time, just signing up for the course itself gave me a major boost. After many many years of just saying that I wanted to do something about climate change, I was finally taking some action towards it. As I started to become a part of the community, I found so many people who share the same anger, frustration and anxiety as me, but they were optimistic that they can do something about it. Seeing their optimism made me hopeful that maybe not everything is lost. We should at least give it our best try.
Meanwhile, I also had amazing conversations with mentors and friends - some of them after a long time. They acknowledged my feelings and shared that they were also feeling similar things. It helped me feel that I was not alone. However, some conversations left a deep impact on me as I got a chance to see things from a very different perspective. Also, optimism is generally quite infectious and talking to optimistic people definitely left its mark on me.
Eventually, I have come to realise that a major source of my pain was that I wanted myself to play a grand role in shaping the future of the world. Maybe it was because, for a long time, I tried to seek most of my happiness from work - even the kind which any work cannot provide. I had been placing too much importance on my work at the cost of other aspects of life.
In the end, no milestone is worth pursuing if we don’t enjoy the journey that we take to get there.
Since I have had these realizations, I have started to focus on contributing in whatever way I can towards the communities that I am a part of: be it at work, with my family, my friends, or anything else. I still have to keep reminding myself of certain etiquettes that one should follow when they are living with a group of people and I am confident that I’ll improve that aspect of my life with time. Along with this, I am trying to work at a moderate pace without going overboard, be more mindful, become fitter, prioritize rest and enjoy more. Most importantly, I am learning to not take myself too seriously.
Now, there are so many experiences that I am looking forward to: I have a lot of reading to do and a lot of things I need to learn; I want to travel along with my friends, do random things, understand new cultures and listen to new stories; I want to obtain my dream physique and improve my relationship with food; I am excited to see the path that I’ll end up taking in my contribution to the battle against climate change; I hope to help/guide others who might learn something from my experience; I want to be a part of the special moments for my close friends; I hope that, someday, I’ll find someone who’ll make me want to fall in love and raise a family again; I am really excited to see all the amazing things that all the wonderful people in the world will end up creating.
Finally, I want to end with another quote from Naruto, a show which has deeply affected me (there will be a separate post about that altogether):