Many of us have been in that situation where we find everything around us absolutely meaningless. We have our jobs, we have a good family, we have enough money and yet – strangely, we find everything elusive. Why does this happen?
Let us understand what we mean by “meaning”. When most of us look for meaning in things, activities or people – we are essentially looking for this thing to bring us a sense of completion. This makes us climb on to the ephemeral “merry-go-round” – one desire after another. First, it was the job, then the car, then the house, then the beautiful partner, then the kids, then careers, and so on. These things appear to bring us joy, but as most of us know this pleasure is short lived. Some of us never realize this. And we chase after desires – hoping that something will come in and satisfy us, complete us, make us whole. Then, there are the intelligent among us that quickly realize that this is indeed a wasteful exercise and such among us lose hope that anything in life will give us this sense of completion. This leads to a deep loss of “meaning” in life. We then tell ourself, “Anyway, what is the use of doing anything at all”. We lose our enthusiasm and quickly slip into depression.
Understand, that meaninglessness is intrinsically linked to looking for meaning in the external world of objects. This happens because of our current culture. We are told that one day – if we study hard enough – if we work hard enough – once we marry and bear children then we shall find satisfaction. That is the good life. We link all our happiness to a point in future. That is to say, we do something today as an investment, with the returns coming in the form of contentment.
But this is not how life works. Joy is always in the now. Imagine an activity that you enjoy doing. Let’s say listening to your favorite music. Why do we listen to it? Because it brings us joy now. Not because of some future reward or return. This points to a very deep truth. Contentment comes about by deeply engaging in any activity you choose. Let me say that again – any activity.
Most of us are told that we have a passion that needs to be discovered. This leads to tremendous frustration. No! We do not have a passion that is hidden somewhere deep within us. We are the passion. We are greater than the object of our desires. If we can pick one small thing – lets say reading a book that you pick and read it with a deep sense of commitment and engagement – always learning, absorbing and reflecting on it, then something magical happens. You begin to notice that you forget time. You enter into a state known as “flow“- a term coined by the wonderful Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He says,
Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazzMihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Entering into the state of “flow”is the secret to overcoming meaninglessness and depression. In this state we bring meaning to the activity and not the other way around. We find joy in ourselves when engaging in a task and not the other way around. We lose ourself so deeply in the task that we seem to find happiness. This points to the undeniable fact that happiness/joy/contentment/peace happens without us and not because of us. When we lose the sense of identity, the ego, the small mind that continually says “my life, my joy, my success, my plans”, we find our higher selves, which is a state of peace, contentment and joy. This truth was also suggested way back in the Gita where Krishna wisely advised Arjuna when he said, “Let your focus be on the action and never its fruit. Don’t ever think you cause results. At the same time let not let your attachment be to inaction” (Bhagavad Gita. Chapter 2. Verse 47). What Krishna tells Arjuna is, set aside your focus on results and goals and planning and do what you need to do now in a state of total absorption. This state of total absorption, Krishna in later chapters also refers to as devotion (or Bhakti) which is a total surrender to what is in the present moment (God). This again, is to enter the now (as Eckhart Tolle says). This is the “Flow State”. This does not mean that we don’t set goals, we don’t plan, we live “hippie like”. We do all of that but with a deep understanding that the process is far more important that the goal. The goal gives us an excuse to channel our energies. The goal is a pretext to enter the flow state.
So how do we enter flow? As I said earlier – pick any task – whatever you like – and just “play” with it. Be it a music instrument, a paintbrush, a book, a video game, teaching a child, running, swimming, walking in nature or solving a mathematical problem. Whatever, in the external world – it doesn’t matter. Just be with the activity 100%. Switch off your phones. Go to a place where you will not be disturbed. And then just engage. First, the mind takes some time to settle down. Typically this can be anywhere in the range of 10 to 25 minutes. Once the restlessness of the mind begins to quell, we notice that the object of our engagement takes over our focus completely. In yogic terminology this is Dharana or complete focus. After some more time, there is a feeling of oneness or total absorption in the activity. Here the mind, the action and the object become one. You can literally feel this. And this is when time begins to cease and a deep peace dawns within us. This is who we are devoid of the mental chatter. This is known as Samadhi.
In this state, we no longer want to find meaning. We are the meaning! We just are. Being 100%. Total and completely with the activity. Start small. Start wherever. But do begin. Stop looking for an object, person or a situation in the future to bring you this state. You are it. Now. Just express it in any activity you choose. And watch the magic!