Wednesday, 22 December 2010

End of a Decade

This December is the last month not only of the year but also of this decade. This time ten years ago, at the turn of the new millennium, I was getting away from it all by doing a ten day Vippasana meditation in central Java in search of enlightenment and looking for the meaning of life. Ten years down the line I’m not sure whether I’m anywhere closer to finding the answer, but one thing I’m sure of. I’ve stopped looking and I no longer have the desire to look.

I have ceased to be a seeker in this life’s journey, like some forlorn troubadour in search of that elusive Romance. Thoughts about what being on this planet is all about, where I come from, where I’m going or whether God exists no longer keep me up all night. The questions I have, I’m happy not to find any definite answers for, as long as they are asked.

What then have I achieved in the last ten years? I’m not sure. As a matter of fact I can’t even remember much of what I’ve done these past years. The days seem to dissolve into one another in monochromic images too fast to settle into my long-term memory. Not exactly the stuff that enlightenment is made of I suppose, though that is no longer my concern. But these days I’m quite content with the realisation that sometimes things happen because they happen, not because I’m the centre of the universe or because the world is out to get me.

Moreover, I’ve found myself lightened by the burden of existentialist angst that I had dragged around me throughout my life like a ball and chain. I’ve shook off the burden of various beliefs that might or might not be unfounded, including the egotistic belief that there is a deity out there taking notes of what we do, what we say, what we wear and what we eat so that he could dispense some arbitrary rewards or punishments in some after life: That our foibles matter in the grand scheme of things.

In a universe where our planet is but a grain of sand in the shore of infinite hugeness and timelessness, any product of the human imagination could only be limited by our own capacity as mortal, three dimensional creatures unfortunate enough to possess a sense of self-importance that is enormously out of proportion to our physical size. As such, we would never be able to fathom or make assumptions about the workings of divine spirit let alone claim to be in possession of such truths.

We could only accept that certain things are beyond our ken and that truth is relative depending on the time, place and perspective of seeing it and nobody, no group, no country, no religion could appropriate it and pass it off as an absolute by which the world is measured.

There is no meaning of life other than life itself is the meaning. We are part of life and as such life is can only be to be enjoyed and spent in a fulfilling way. What will happen to us after we die is immaterial, as we will cease to be humans. No need for us to second guess what God or other imaginary beings have in store for us or expect us to do.

On the contrary, while alive I believe we are better off and happier if we develop and practise our humanity, celebrating those very qualities that make us humans and different from other creatures on this planet, namely, our capacity for love, kindness, compassion, our endless ability to create, invent new things and utilize our intelligence to the maximum for the good of our own kind, the human specie of which we are all one, despite our superficial differences.

There is a sense of freedom in acknowledging one’s ignorance and fallibility. And I do feel a lot more contented and more able to face life’s vicissitude with equanimity. After all, what have I lost other than some beliefs that I picked up purely arbitrarily through some accident of birth? I could have easily been born Jewish or Chinese or African and in another era for that matter.

For now, I am here, at this time and place and it’s almost the end of the year. Time to discard more unnecessary burdens and the clutter that one has accumulated over the months. And, as this is also the end of the decade, it includes the bad habits or attachments that one has made over the recent years. Indeed, a life without burden, whether real or imaginary, is so much easier to live.

I’ve known people who are so attached to objects that to be parted from their things is tantamount to an assault on their identity. I knew someone whose kitchen cupboards contained nothing else except empty jam jars and the enormous house one big storage room of old useless possessions. She clung to objects with the same passion as she clung to her belief system. Neither served her well in her life made heavy with the weight of existence and fear of loss.

Sometimes to really live, you have to know when to let go and say goodbye.

(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)


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