As this tumultuous year comes to a close and we welcome the new one with a beseeching prayer that the horrors of the past can be left behind, many of us are already thinking of making the new year’s resolutions. I intend to write a post later on on how to make and keep one’s resolutions. But more on that later.
For now, let us focus on why we want to make resolutions – whatever they may be. It might be to get fitter, or acquire a skill or develop a hobby. It might be to inculcate certain qualities such as kindness, compassion and being grateful for what one has. Ultimately though, through all this, we intend to be happier. Happiness is a capricious word. In a previous post, I talked about why excitement isn’t joy. Peace and contentment would be better words to describe the feeling that we seek. A sense of fulfillment. And through the hobby, through a better job, through better relationships, we ultimately want to be happy.
Most humans rely on external things to make them content. And by external, we mean – people, events and things. We feel these things somehow complete us. However, our experience shows that no thing can fully complete us. The void or emptiness just transmutes itself from object to object, from person to person, from thing to thing. First it was this job, now it is something else. Most often than not, this external thing that we now need to complete us, is based on a societal comparative basis. My cousin bought a car, I suddenly feel incomplete and less of a being. I immediately go online and figure out which car I can buy. A best friend gets a scholarship, I am suddenly interested in finding out which scholarships are applicable for me. Most of our desires are born from ‘the other’. They are a reaction to the external world moving ahead and a feeling that I am being left behind.
Such desires only lead us to untold misery. They are never-ending. And as we grow old, a sense of deep disappointment creeps into us (read my earlier post: How to Age Gracefully?. Understand that desires per say aren’t bad. But these are not our desires. We needn’t buy anything just because someone else has it. The key question that we need to ask ourselves is this: Who am I ? What do I want in life in order to call it a content life?
These appear to be the simplest questions, but are also the hardest to answer. The journey to answer them is the path of self-actualization, the spiritual path, the inner journey. For many of us, these answers do not come easily. And that’s okay. Start from what you surely know you do not want. I for instance knew I do not want a corporate 9 -7 job. I did not want the ‘normal life’: a job, a wife, kids and empty social gatherings. Knowing what you do not want is a good starting point to move towards knowing who you are and what you really want. It is a process of elimination.
Spending increasing amounts of time with ourselves, helps us come in touch with who we are. Being in constant touch with people, events and things keeps your attention outward focussed. This means we are constantly bombarded by what others are doing. And they in turn are looking at us to form their comparative self worth. It is like a chaotic referencing of one another, each looking to derive self-worth from others who are equally empty. This is why most of our social interactions are empty. They are either showing off, complaining, talking about others or joking around. An indication of good company is one who makes you reflect on yourself. One who brings you to see yourself in the most stark, in the most naked form. Most of us dislike such genuine people, for they show us who we really are. Try to overcome your barriers and actively seek out such genuine souls who hold a mirror onto you. They are invaluable in the journey of life. In the Indian tradition, such company is called satsang. Sat for truth and sang for company. The company that shows us the truthful ‘us’.
As we begin to get in tune with who we are, we touch a beautiful place. We know those ‘callings’ that are unique to us. We are all ‘Life’, ‘Energy’ or ‘Souls’, but what makes me different from you? It is this unique blueprint of ‘callings’ – an inner urge. For an artist, this is the need to paint. For a musician, this is the need to play music. For a teacher, it is to share knowledge with others. This ‘calling’ is beyond desires. Desires, as we saw are comparative in nature. Callings are who we are in the innermost part of our souls. And our life’s purpose become to express this calling. Not to obtain anything from the external world, but to give and share what we have uniquely within us. This becomes our primary purpose in life.
At this stage, be careful. Sometimes, we have very strong urges – to fight against injustice, to fight against the destruction of the environment, to fight for animal rights, to fight against poverty. These are undoubtedly noble goals. Very few people, live their lives for a greater cause. However, whatever the external action, understand the internal space that you come from. ‘Callings’ are experienced as a deep sense of peace and contentment within oneself (and not as mental excitement). Fighting against tyranny might come from a space of rebelliousness. And this feels very strong and real to us. But we need to examine the source of this emotion. If it feels strongly, like injustice, then it isn’t a calling. It is a reaction. Reaction to what? Examine your childhood. Was your freedom to do things curtailed? Was your self-expression censured? Is this a reaction to those initial years of repression? Or this could play out in the opposite direction. Do you tell yourself “I just want a happy family and rear my children well”. Again while this is noble goal, is it coming from a space of conformity – a sense that I will be accepted and loved by society because I check all the right boxes. Be honest with yourself, but do not criticize yourself. This is the best way to discover your ‘callings’.
As we become acquainted with our innermost yearnings, we begin to realize that all we need to do is to express our inner potential. And this becomes very natural. We do not need any goals or resolutions to motivate us to do it. But these instruments of self discipline are imperative until we get to that state. Think of goals, routines and discipline as the side wheels on a bicycle. We all had those when we were first learning how to ride a bicycle. But once we mastered the art of balance, we discarded them. Discipline is like having these side wheels. We need it, and then we do not need it.
And in this space where we express our potential, we realize that we need very very little to make us content. We know that true joy lies in expressing one’s potential and not in acquiring things from outside. It is a purely non-comparative process. And here you are the resolution. You are the goal. You are home.