I am not sure how things were a hundred years ago or earlier but reading up on history and anthropology, you realize that more and more people lived in tightly knit communities. Even most families were joint families where brothers, their wives, children, parents, grandparents and sometimes other relatives too all lived under the same roof. One roof. Today, we have trouble living together in the same country, maybe on the same planet even. What has happened? Why have we become so sensitive to our needs that we feel hurt at the slightest confrontation or misunderstanding? Let alone siblings staying together, even two partners who are supposedly in love find each other unbearable.
I will tell you what got me thinking on this matter. A few days ago, a famous Bollywood actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, took his own life at the age of thirty-four. While personally I have never seen any of his works (the last thing I saw anything Bollywood was in Feb 2010), going by the media reports, he was quite a star. There were numerous articles that concluded the cause of his extreme step was how he was treated in Bollywood. That, they ignored him or didn’t let him come to the top or he was mistreated or mocked.
On the one hand it’s quite sad. If I’d met him, I’d have said, “Dear Sushant, please don’t expect kindness from this world. No doubt there are millions of kind people out there but mostly the people around you are needy and battling with their own insecurities and demons. They are not strong enough to be kind. This world is a transactional place.”
On the other hand, it was quite a revelation. I say revelation because for quite some time now, I have observed that most of us have very high expectations from the world around us. We want flawless service, whether in a restaurant or at a bank, we expect courtesy from others, we need attention, respect, we like it when others agree with us, we long for approval and consent, we appreciate understanding. Others must think highly of us, they must not discount us, they must treat us the way we wish to be treated. Quite frankly, we want too many things and most of us have an absurd view of what the world ought to be like for us.
We think our work is important, we are important, our existence is important. Yes, it is. But, it doesn’t matter one tiny bit in the grand scheme of things, for no one is indispensable and no one lasts forever. The world continues to move. Our feelings of self-importance are merely waves of ignorance that ravage the sanest of minds. This world is full of intelligent, kind, and beautiful people. This is my view of the world. And I can’t even say that it’s based on experience, for I’ve met many unkind people too. But, this perspective keeps the lamp of love and warmth glowing in my heart. My view of the world may not be a fact, it is, however, my truth.
All that we hold important in our eyes, about ourselves and our work, makes little difference to the universe. I can only give my own example again. In the last ten years, I wrote about 400 posts on what we now know as os.me. It took me six years to write ~300 posts (some of which are rather ordinary, if not downright pedestrian in my eyes), and now, in less than six weeks, we have more than 240 posts from our members. Some of them are so well-written and insightful that just reading them has been a literary feast. I even wonder if there’s any merit in me writing anymore (don’t worry, I’ll continue to scribble for as long as I can). But, I do question if my post deserves the top left corner now that others are sharing their wisdom on this platform. I think others should get that opportunity.
Getting back to the point I was making: let’s be real, honest and humble. We can tell ourselves any story behind our actions and sacrifices, the truth remains that most of what we do in our lives is for our own sake, happiness, and growth. It is extremely dangerous when we start to believe that all that I’m doing is only out of a sense of sacrifice and compassion. We start to expect unreasonably from the world then. For example, parents say they do everything for their children and they believe in this notion wholeheartedly (while many children feel guilty for not doing enough for their parents in return). It may well be the truth, but it’s certainly not the complete truth. Parents make babies because they want to and the rest just builds itself out of attachment.
Our happiness and fulfillment is not entirely dependent on what or whom we have in our lives, but how I deal with them. As Michael Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
I’d like to quote a brief story from After the Ecstasy, The Laundry by Jack Kornfield:
A more humble approach to our full human nature can be seen in the life of Zen teacher Dainan Katagiri Roshi, who lived with his family in Minneapolis at the center of a large Zen community.
When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, many students came to help, but they also were frightened and confused at the thought that their teacher was subject to ordinary human frailty.
One day he called the students to his bedside. “I see you are watching me closely. You want to see how a Zen master dies. I’ll show you.”
He kicked his legs and flailed his arms with alarm, crying out, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!”
Then he stopped and looked up at them. “I don’t know how I will die. Maybe I will die in fear or in pain. Remember, there is no right way.”
Here is a teacher who did not separate himself from the life of others, who knew that the moment brings what it brings.
It’s not just in the case of death but life too — there’s no one definitive way that can be called “the right way”. The potpourri of life has many things thrown into it. Expectations, desires, disappointments, joys, sorrows, highs, lows, everything. It’s a mix. You’ve got to make the best choice you can given the conditions, and move on.
Mulla Nasrudin was asked by the local Imam at the Iftar gathering to remember God and the Prophet. It was a moment of immense honor for Mulla.
“Say Bismillah,” the Imam said to Mulla, “and everyone can eat their meal.”
“Sure,” Mulla replied then went completely quiet.
“I can’t hear anything!” the Imam screamed. “Speak up. None of us can hear you.”
“But,” Mulla said calmly, “I’m not addressing you.”
And so it is with life: as long as my relationship with my “self” is honest and meaningful, the rest outside ceases to matter as much. Expectations from the world reduce automatically and bliss rises to the fore of one’s consciousness.
Like the rain settles dust particles, an awareness of the self diminishes our unrealistic expectations from this world. If we want everyone around us to be kind to us, if we expect those around us to always show us respect, if we believe they should give us importance, they should value us and our opinions, I think we are expecting too much. It’s neither practical nor possible. It’s not even reasonable. And, if it matters so much, why not then do it for others. Why not do for the world what the world isn’t doing for you? That’s pretty close to enlightenment, believe me.
Besides, past the stories we tell and the facade we put up is the simple truth: we all live for ourselves alone. More or less.
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