Ali Hasan Cemendtaur CA
A fast moving boat
lost control and started shooting up in the air,
a balloon glided down in a gentle wind, an old man
stopped to pick up the newspaper that had fallen
from his hands. Then words started appearing randomly
on a big white screen: Life;;meaning;;evaluation;;confusion;;destiny.
Slowly I got cognizant
of my surroundings. The day had grown. The sun was
trying to pierce through the curtain. I lolled in
the bed for a while still thinking of last night’s
conversation. She had said she wanted to escape
‘all that.’ Escape all what, I had asked.
‘Escape all this,’ she had repeated
herself, this time fluttering her hands in the air.
I watched her quivering fingers looking for a clue.
I did not find one. What did she mean? Why was it
so hard for her to put her finger on ‘that?’
Then, in the tradition of our times, I tried to
pigeonhole her. I told her she was a nihilist; that
she was trying to escape from the modern life; I
told her that a lot of people were trying to do
that. They wanted to escape ‘all this.’
But before you plan your escape you must understand
what you are talking about.
The whole experience
of settling down in communities and then gradually
using technology to make our life easier, and then
continuous improvement in the ways we do things
thereby increasing our efficiency, has thrust us
in this new lifestyle that to many appears a quagmire.
Ostensibly we have been trying to make our life
easier; it seems we end up making it more and more
complicated. Every scientific breakthrough brings
more consumer goods, more comfort in our lives,
but still ends up complicating things.
The modern system
we have spun around ourselves has acquired a life
of its own. At times it looks as if we have become
slaves of our own system. This beast pulsates when
people are stuck in their places, when they work
everyday: people pay taxes, highways get built,
system gets renovated, more material things get
invented and come in public use, more complexity
ensues. And in the middle of all this you find yourself
standing fixed, working like a machine. You toil,
you make money and then you write checks to all
these people maintaining the infrastructure that
hosts your existence.
The powerful wave
of time takes you along. The scheme of things baffles
you, and sometimes you wish to run away from the
genie that has been created by people like you.
You ask about the meaning of life. Why are you here?
What is the purpose of your existence?
It is not only the
religion that has answers to this philosophical
question about life. Atheists and agnostics have
their own ideas. When Bertrand Russell was asked
such a question, he quipped, ‘What is the
meaning of meaning of life?’ In essence Russell
was saying that the concept of ‘meaning of
life’ is our own creation. That thousands
of years ago when we were roaming the land, collecting
wild fruits, hunting, and often going hungry for
days, the concept of ‘meaning of life’
never occurred to us; survival was the only goal
at that time, and that was all there was. No grand
philosophical queries presented themselves. The
quest for finding the ‘meaning of life’
came when we invented agriculture and animal husbandry,
and living a long natural life became a certainty.
We then got bored by the predictability and the
monotony of life. ‘The meaning of life’
trap stems from that boredom.
argument aside, what many find depressing about
the modern life is its mechanical aspect--when things
become routine and everyday is similar to every
other day, for years after years. It is this life
of working fixed hours every workday, doing the
same thing over and over again, that annoys you.
Many fall in the trap; they run the race to gather
most toys, collect consumer goods. The victims constantly
compare themselves with others, and believe that
whoever lives in a bigger house and drives a bigger
car than them is ‘better off’ than them.
These rat-race runners are most likely to stop in
their tracks one day and question the basic premise
of their living. They long to find meaning in their
lives. Drugs, religions, alternate lifestyles, all
prescribe their own medicine.
The idea of escape
from the drudgery appears very romantic. Fed up
with modern life some plan a big escape, something
like what Alaska hiker Chris McCanldess did (beautifully
described by Jon Krakauer in ‘Into the Wild’).
Some find nirvana in short periods of solitude.
It is what made Henry David Thoreau live a solitary,
contemplative life at the Walden Pond for two years.
I believe escape is
a mental exercise and can be achieved while staying
in the system. There is no need to go anywhere.
Nirvana can be found right here in the midst of
the cacophony. Inner peace can be found by understanding
the game, recognizing its hollowness, and refusing
to be compliant; by stopping to compare yourself
with others; by wanting to live the life by your
And the emancipated
modern life starts the moment when you truly understand
the economic system you live in. To relieve yourself
from the bondage to the system you need to get out
of the paycheck-to-paycheck rut. Evaluate yourself.
What skills you have that can be used to make money?
How can you market those skills in the most efficient
way? It is almost certain that you will have to
make compromises; there will be situations when
you will be working for money while actually wanting
to do something else. Your triumph lies in making
these episodes fewer and duration of such compromises
short. It helps to decide about a date when your
compromise would end, expire. No matter how busy
you get in life, every few days stop yourself and
take time to see which way you are headed. Do you
really want to go that way? Ask yourself if that
is the shortest path to your long-term goals.
It also helps to have
a very good handle on the concepts of cash flow,
burn rate, and an estimation of time period you
can survive if the source of your primary income
is cut off today. By being financially secured you
find room in your life to manipulate things in your
favor. The sooner it happens the better because
financial stability marks the beginning of your
real life. And financial stability doesn’t
mean a very big balance in your bank account; you
reach stability when you find a balance. The adage,
‘Happiness is positive cash flow’ comes
But what do you do
when you have mastered the survival techniques.
When you have understood the game, when you can
clearly see the diapers in the beginning and diapers
in the end, and the whole drama of life in between,
from childhood to death? What do you do to be not
bored? How not to be inwardly consumed by the frivolous
reality of life?
Meaning of life is
in living it. The base of your existence is like
quicksand. You are better off keeping walking. Keep
moving lest you start sinking under the weight of
your own pondering.
You can relieve ennui
by doing new things all the time, by refusing to
be predictable, by taking risks, by finding causes
to fight for, by lending a helping hand. If two
consecutive days of your life are alike and if this
happens over a long period of time then a change
is badly needed.
Look at the safety
network the modern society has laid for you. There
is no reason to dread the fall. The network is there
to catch you. It is not like yonder years when taking
risks could prove perilous; if you failed there
was a good chance that you’d die of hunger.
That fear is not there anymore. Ask yourself what
is the worst that can happen when you take a risk.
You may lose a few things. On the other hand think
of the diversity of life that you will be enjoying
by taking the risks.
And how do you know
if you are being daring enough? It is said that
if your life is free of failures, then you are not
taking enough risks. In taking risks listen to Admiral
Grace Hopper’s prophetic advice: “A
ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships
are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.”
And you can enjoy
life by learning new things. There is so much to
experience and learn. Look at the vast universe.
It is begging to be explored. And this is probably
what human beings will be doing far in future. Having
total mastery on all mundane activities of life,
they would be perpetually involved in the exploration
of the cosmos.