Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 34

Jottings : Slice of life - 34
Though we prefer to be happy all the time,it is unmistakably true that nothing prepares us better to lead a fulfilled life than unhappiness, deep existential depression ,or to use Kierkegaard's term - a sense of despair about oneself and life around. It almost seems a contradiction in terms. While we make every effort scientifically, morally, ethically to improve the general happiness of Mankind, Man is essential unhappy within. This is a fact. But we do everything in our power not to face it. We try our best to reach a point of peace within the circumference of our outward experiences. Family, work, social life, religion - we try dabbling with all these to arrive there. But somehow despite all this effort, at odd moments, we are left utterly alone. A sense of gloom and despair pervades our being. Interestingly though, the most clarifying and transforming of experiences within an individual are often those which occur when they are in the depth of such gloom, depression or faced with a formidable internal psychological challenge. It is this mysterious predicament that prompted Leo Tolstoy to begin his immortal epic “War and peace” with “ All happy families looks alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Unhappiness is very personal. A smile is plastic, ephemeral and often very artificial and superficial. But sadness, deep angst within, is very deep and can never be adequately shared. It cannot be understood or resolved if it is not squarely faced and seen it for what it is. It is unhappiness which teaches, refines and possibly transforms, and prompts us to ask questions which we normally tend to avoid or gloss over.
Three of our greatest spiritual classics are based on deep personal anguish. One is “The Bhagavad Gita” and the other is Boethius “Consolations of Philosophy” and third is Marcus Aurelius “Meditations”. In the first, The warrior king Arjuna, has a psychological breakdown in the middle of an important battle. Nothing in his personality suggested such a weakness. He was the very embodiment of courage. But in a moment of sudden clarity, he faces his brewing weakness with unashamed frankness, which prompts his Charioteer - the inner Lord himself - to expound one of the most profound discourses on Human condition and redemption to him. The other is the curious case of Boethius, who held a charmed, successful and wealthy life under a Roman consul, only to branded as a traitor soon, and held in a dungeon as a condemned conspirator. While in prison, he laments his fate and blames everyone else but him for his predicament. During those moments of self- introspection and unhappiness, a muse of Philosophy in the form a lady appears to his consciousness and engages Boethius in a wonderful dialogue on wealth, fame, courage, status and true source of Happiness. It is staggering to observe parallels between the Gita and this book. And then there is the majestic ruminations of King Marcus Aurelius, whom Gibbon rates as the finest Roman emperor after Augustus and Caesar to have ruled Rome, seated in his weather beaten tent on the edges of his battlefield, viewing with equanimity the carnage war with barbarians had caused, and penning his stoical thoughts on Human life in prose that is unparalleled in spiritual literature. Just as King Ashoka had an existential crisis after his ferocious war in Kalinga, and had his moment of clarifying revelation in Buddhism; Marcus Aurelius found his truth in the stoicism of Greeks. His aphorisms spread over hundred pages, are wonderful, profound expressions of a troubled spirit trying to find meaning in Human existence and its purpose. All three books are chronicles of tormented souls, who dared to face their inner demons.
In all three individuals mentioned above, the seminal transformation occurs when they face up to discontent within, and not run away from them. Normally, we tend to flee from anything that makes us unhappy. Just as absence of disease indicates Physical health, absence of psychological conflict indicates inner happiness. But most times, we are in conflict between what we are doing and what we wish to do, between where we are right now and where we desire to be in future. And during moments of rare introspection when we begin question our premises of living, we are diverted and seek solace in mindless entertainment, do something that will “take your mind” away from it or downright rationalize the feeling without really getting down to the root cause. Such superficial remedies are for those who wish to remain flotsam and jetsam of life, and unwilling to take the plunge. For real men and women of courage, the challenge is to face discontent right on its face and seek answers. Not that answers derived will be pleasant or gratifying. Far from it sometimes. It will be unnerving and life shattering, But it is certain to be true, utterly clarifying and steady. It will anchor your being in a far more stable center than the peripherals we are so accustomed to. Pick any book of spiritual literature, you will find the author going through “ fire of hell” to see things with clarity. Inner conflict is the fire of hell, nothing more. In fact, modern psychotherapists will tell you that as well. Walking through muddle of unhappiness is walking the razors edge. Years of indoctrination, character-forming, ideologies, opinions - all of them have to questioned and understood for what it is worth. It needs extraordinary courage and a diligent mind. But the effort is worth the outcome. It is liberation.
While traveling, I always have with me one of these books. They are slim volumes and will easily fit into my laptop bag. Every now and then I dip into its pages. I am not sure why or how, but each time their words manage to strike a new chord, a fresh revelation, a clarifying insight into some aspect of my life. Perhaps, it is the sheer truth of the utterance that gives it such authenticity. Sometimes, in the midst of doing something, a word, an insight will bubble up to illuminate the task at hand. Such moments are precious. They transform and heal instantaneously. It is as if the body, mind and soul integrate for a infinitesimal moment, and in that minute gap, something mutates and changes the way we live and experience. It cannot be summoned at will. It occurs when one is vigilant and open to looking at oneself without fear.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,

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