Perhaps, the wisest among us are the ones who accept that we cannot hoodwink life. We can prepare for the worst but ultimately, no amount of preparation is enough. Unfortunately, our culture is full of messages that teach the opposite. We are taught that a mature adult is the one who doesn’t feel vulnerable (It is interesting to note that this message is similar to patriarchy’s message of “Don’t be a pussy”). So, when we grow up, we numb ourselves, devise strategies to outsmart life and death. Since spirituality is male-dominated, we have many teachers who talk about “permanent bliss”. But life is smarter than us.
The problem with passion is that most people don’t have one. Very few people know what they want to do with their life and very few actually do it. What about those who haven’t found their calling? Is it necessary to dedicate yourself to a singular passion? Is it the only way? Like many people, I had these questions. Even though I chose a profession that I love, it’s not the only thing I love. I have multiple interests which are not exactly related to my profession. If you are like me, you would have criticized yourself for not devoting yourself to a singular passion. But what if there is another alternative?
Elizabeth Gilbert has a solution to our woes: She says that those who have not found one “calling” can instead choose to follow something more gentler and accessible: Curiosity. She says that passion is all-consuming, head-shaving-going-to-Nepal-to-start-an-orphanage kind of drama. Curiosity on the other hand is about the small things, those little clues that we find everyday. Those who religiously follow this curiosity live rich lives. If you have found your passion, then congratulations! But if you haven’t found one, then you can build an interesting life too. Watch this Super-Soul session with Elizabeth Gilbert (click) to know more.
It is okay to follow the herd (just for the heck of it) but there are problems:
1. The ‘herd’ itself constitutes of different groups with different opinions. People often have contradictory opinions. A Hindu Brahmin might speak against non-vegetarian food while a Muslim may speak in favor of it.
2. What people say they like and what they actually like is sometimes different. For example, many Indian men look down upon prostitutes and porn stars but their hard drive is full of porn.
3. It’s too stressful to please everybody so, we have to pick and choose. If we are always going to disappoint somebody, then why don’t we do that while following our inner voice?
4.We often follow the crowd because we are afraid of being ridiculed. However, being inauthentic makes us feel ashamed of ourselves. If shame or ridicule is inevitable, why don’t we listen to our own judgment?
5. No one is going to take responsibility in case we follow their advice and things don’t work out.
In ancient times, there were philosophers like Socrates who went to people on the streets and asked them questions on happiness, ethics, love etc. Socrates could have just discussed all these things with the elite but he believed that each human being had the capacity to think and Philosophy, for him, was not just for intellectuals who discussed it over a cup of tea. Philosophy guides everything that we do, the choices we make and the way we treat the people in our lives. In ancient times, philosophers like Plato and Seneca wrote on various topics like human beings and their relationship with society, self-esteem, etc but today most self-help books and fanatic religious groups have killed people’s interest in self-improvement and their passion to know the meaning of life. Unfortunately, Philosophy is considered a ‘dead’ subject’ now.
It’s a great time to be alive. We can now read about what great philosophers had to say about happiness. We have access to knowledge about the way our mind works. There are free courses on life skills. On paper, we have all the knowledge that we need to be more happier but in reality, the happiness levels are the same. Maybe because obsession with knowledge is obsession with control. We believe that if only we know how something works or what is good/bad for us, we can manipulate life. Unfortunately, we cannot control everything. At some point, we have to surrender and accept that we can never have 100 certainty in anything.
Perhaps, what we need is wisdom but like someone once said, it cannot be transferred. Knowledge can be acquired but to be more wiser, one has to walk alone.
I’m one of those annoyingly optimistic people who just don’t like to give up. Most of the times, I hide this quality because I know that it will piss people off. Sometimes, it is insensitive to suggest people to be optimistic when you don’t even know what they have gone through in life. After reading Martin Seligman’s ‘Learned Optimism’, I am acknowledging the importance of pessimism and hopefully, I will see things from others’ perspective as well. Optimism can be a great help during stressful circumstances, but sometimes, it is the reason why you are stressed out in the first place! As I am growing older, I am realizing that sometimes, it is wise to let go. Sometimes, situations are too overwhelming and you need to acknowledge the fact that they are too powerful. However, people like me also need to acknowledge the optimist in them..so what I feel is, that it is better to respect the situation..but at the same time, you do everything that is possible to get out of it. Instead of obsessing about ‘perfect’ situations, it is better to do whatever you can in the given circumstance. Sometimes, you cannot give your 100 percent…but instead of obsessing about perfect effort, it is better to do whatever you can, no matter how small it is. Usually, imperfect situations threaten optimists’ world view and they end up becoming depressed and do nothing. It is better to acknowledge that sometimes you can only do limited amount of things.
Long time back, I heard someone say that we need to treat ourselves as trustees to our life, body, mind and the planet. When we are owners, we kind of abuse what we own. When we are trustees, most of us are responsible and conscientious. For example: A father may eat less or smoke or do something harmful to himself but when it comes to his child, he will urge him to stay away from bad habits. When we consider ourselves as the trustees (and not owners)to our planet, we might care about it better. I liked this thought but I feel there’s something missing…
An attitude of a trustee could lead to a stable and better world but without ownership, there is no creativity. We may work hard and do our best for our organisation or any collective unit but without a sense of ownership, we are not satisfied. In practical life, we have a selfish side to us and it needs to be honoured too. Without a sense of ownership, we will be deprived of self-expression. The worst part of this is that the child in us will be abandoned. A child has no responsibility…she doesn’t have to care about putting food on the table. She doesn’t feel guilty about doing things that make her happy.But this child is important. Sports, Art, Entertainment are not ‘basic’ needs but they are important for human beings. Being a trustee (all the time) kind of stops your growth. Being an owner (all the time) can be harmful to the society. I guess we need both the owner and trustee.
I’m not one of those people who complain about how “shallow” the modern world is. Yes, there are a lot of self-obsessed people in today’s world, but it is also a world of authenticity. I believe that every generation has its own strengths and weaknesses…and labeling an entire generation and reducing it to negative stereotypes is not cool at all. But I keep wondering if there’s something significantly different about this generation. Alain de Botton says that unlike earlier generation, today’s youngsters don’t have a God. Even if they do, they are vulnerable to doubt because of the growing number of atheists. I don’t know if getting rid of God is a good thing or not but I feel that it is extremely difficult to replace this idea. The idea of something ‘sacred’ is powerful. In religion, sacredness is often confused with purity and probably, that is one of the reasons why there is so much fanaticism. But seeing something as “sacred” has profound effect on the way we live our lives. For example: You might feel that the activity of writing is sacred. You might feel like you are “home” when you write. However, it is possible that you might feel reverence…a deep sense of respect for writing. This is different from passion or even love. You love this activity but there is also a sense of awe and devotion. I feel that what “this” generation is looking for is that sacred activity/place/person. When you feel that something is “sacred”, you don’t abuse that activity/place/ thing/ person and you don’t abuse yourself. Sacredness is not about right or wrong or perfection or religion. It is just something that feels “holy” to you: It could be solitude, an idea or a person.
In my first job, I was expected to come up with creative ideas. Sometimes, I was able to impress my seniors and sometimes I couldn’t. When I succeeded, I was “confident” in every other area of my life. I could take on annoying aunties and had no self-esteem issues. But when I failed, I started questioning my worth. But this was not a problem because after some failures, there was success. But one day I left the job and I had no creative outlet for some time. Since my self-worth was based on being creative, I panicked. As days passed, I asked myself a question: What if I’m not creative? The doubts grew stronger and I was convinced that I was not creative. And then I had to came face to face with my biggest fear: if I’m not creative, then I am NOTHING. I am not smart!