We cannot outsmart life!

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.

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The problem with passion

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.

Think before you follow the herd

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.

Why we need philosophers…

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.

If your education doesn’t give you the tools to handle stress and challenges, then it is really useless. Schools and colleges are now introducing ‘life skills’ but we seriously need a culture where philosophers are respected. I think it was Plato (or was it Aristotle?) who said that philosophers should be given more power than kings in a society because the right kind of philosophers are not hungry for power. They use their equanimity to keep power in check and keep the society stable and peaceful. At the heart of obsession with celebrities, art, sports lies a desire to find a guide who will help us find solutions to issues that bother us. Hence, we need philosophers more than ever.

Knowledge doesn’t necessarily make you happier

​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. 

Balancing optimism and pessimism

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.

Trusteeship or ownership?

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.

Problem with revenge

After a long time, I happened to watch the Bollywood movie ‘Baazigar’ which is about a guy, whose family is cheated and humiliated by a cunning man. So this guy plots an elaborate plan to teach the man a lesson. One part of his plan is to make the man’s elder daughter fall in love with him and kill her. And then, he gets engaged to his younger daughter and eventually gets his revenge. In the end, you get a feeling that the filmmakers are justifying what the person did.
The problem with revenge is that the person seeking it always assumes that the other party is a separate, independent entity. In the above case, the guy has a problem with his father but it is his daughters who are sacrificed in the name of revenge. You might say that you will seek revenge in a way that will *only* hurt that particular person  but that’s just not possible! Human beings have connections and our actions cause chain reactions. You cannot harm that person without harming an innocent life.
The same thing applies to justice. If you find out that a family member of yours is guilty of child sexual abuse, you might want to stay silent because at the end of the day, he/she is a part of your family. But remember that he/she is a part of the society too..and your decision to not speak up  might affect the lives of other children.

In search of sacredness

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.

Dangers of basing your self-worth on achievements

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!

Everyday, people around the world ask themselves similar questions. And when they are convinced that they are not good enough at something or afraid that they will fail someday, they start indulging in a range of self-destructive things. Some overeat. Some get addicted to porn. Some fall into depression. And when they get habituated to self-destructive behavior, they fall into a trap. They create a perpetuating cycle: The pain of not being good enough leads to depression/self-destructive behavior and since you cannot work on your craft when you are depressed/self-destructive, you will never even know if you are good enough for that thing/or any other thing. If I’m too afraid of failing in exams, then I might start spending too much time on the internet to feel less stressful…since I don’t study, I fail…and when I fail, I’m convinced that I’m not good enough, so I spend more time on the internet to soothe my pain…the cycle keeps repeating.
So the obvious answer to this is to say that self-worth shouldn’t be based on these things. And then we ask: How do we create this self-worth? The problem with the question is that it is again about achieving something. And if we ‘fail’ in achieving something, we feel like a loser again (I feel worthless because I cannot build self-worth!). Of course, we can acquire knowledge but the problem is not intellectual. It is an emotional one. Intellectual armor or knowledge cannot really soothe the vulnerable child inside us. Perhaps, we can never find an answer outside us. In Hinduism, there is a concept called ‘Swayambhu’ which means ‘self-manifested’. I guess self-worth or self-esteem has to originate within ourselves…techniques, knowledge or achievements are useful but they cannot help us much.