One morning of early 2017, I woke up with a dumb-muscled urge to travel. I opened my Facebook account and told my friends that humanity was a stagnating cesspool and they all one bubble in its soapscum; I told my girlfriend I had enough of her shit; I told my boss to kiss my arse. And I left.
Obviously, none of that happened but writing it was fun.
I agonized over my urge for ten months, convincing myself dying of starvation cannot be the worst way to die, planning and re-planning my travel every two days, checking with my family for their opinion on hobos, watching people at work fall off their ergonomic chairs when I told them I was quitting to go travel and finally, peeing my pants when I actually quit.
As I set off with a one-way ticket to London, I was sure of just one thing:
We all want to make meaning with our lives. We want it to mean something not just to ourselves, but others too. It’s what we call success. And we put all our life’s weight behind this attempt. All along, we’ve been told this is the real point. Watching someone sauntering around carefree and happy pisses us to no small degree. How can s/he not want to do anything significant with life? Of course, the vicarious scum-bubbles that we are, we wish we could have a life like that.
While everyone thought what I was doing was excitably childish, they admitted how they wished for the same kind of freedom.
And that’s what I want to talk about. That freedom.
It became the burden I struggled with during my travels. An unnamed, unidentifiable, indescribable burden I carried in my attempt to escape significance.
Ideas like money can’t buy happiness and your soul must be filled like a glass of hot cocoa on a chilly winter day often make us go, “uh, screw this success stuff. I am going to be different. It’s time to experience the world. I am going to, you know, be!”
So you sit on the beach, watch the waves, sunbathe, sip coconut water, go on a boat, watch the sunset, drink more coconut water, rub sun-tan on your chest, and try hard to make the connection with your soul.
And the moment comes. And the moments passes. A moment that is a slow breath to infinity kind of lightness. The lightness of being that you are after. Freedom, at last. It lasts wee about three seconds. After which it becomes unbearable. “Being” totally sucks.
For a long time, I looked at writing as a burden (I still do, but differently now). For one, it was too much work for nothing; I wasn’t saying anything new. And I wanted what I wrote to matter. The problem was I never wrote, read or did experience-worthy stuff for the most part of my life. Travel would be the all-in-one answer to that.
Every morning, I would wake up feeling this overwhelming burden to write something I had felt the previous day. Because I had to get enlightenment down on paper. But I wrote nothing. Because I felt nothing.
As the first leg of my travels was coming to an end, I remember being on the beaches of Barcelona one day and another day and the next; swimming in the waves, catching sunsets, waiting for that moment to arrive.
And it came.
And I felt like shit.
I may have been hallucinating given the loneliness, but I was sure, on the third day back at the beach, the waves were pushing me away for coming back looking for some sort of salvation for the tides of my life. I felt an unbearable lightness that comes with the human effort of being. An effort to be. What an irony.
That night I went and wrote.
On the last day at work, when everyone said I was lucky and that they wished they had done something similar, I understood what they meant. We all want to experience some form of light, lightness. And I think everyone must. Actor Jim carry said about money and fame: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” I don’t know if you have to be rich or famous to do everything you dream of, but, I sure think he’s right about one thing: that’s not the answer.
Like lightness (or freedom) is not the answer.
There is no escaping the fact that we all want to find meaning. Or want to add something to the world through our existence. Purpose, success, meaning and the ilk have become these enormous ideas under whose weight we collapse. You’d think that’s the burden we all want to unload, but it’s really the anchor you want to pitch. So you don’t get thrown off by other people’s ideas for you. So you don’t need an escape from an escape.
It’s why you must first let go of the burden to let the world define a purpose, meaning, and significance for you. I know. I know. You’ve drunk from this inspirational poop soup enough times now but can’t help but continue to kiss your boss’s arse. It’s because you are full of shit.
As I traveled, I understood that there can be a lightness to purpose, success, meaning, significance. That the real soul-stuff is not filling an emptiness, but emptying what is full.
A lightness of doing.
A delightful, divine lightness of going after something like a kid chasing a butterfly. It’s a lightness that won’t lead you to depths of insanity, boredom, and hopelessness. Despite the many writers who will prove otherwise through their creative ways to die. But the very lightness of doing is what they live for.
After that third day on the beach, as I sat alone and wrote in the hostel that night, feeling lighter than ever, I found a beautiful, bearable lightness to the doing. The problem was not that I did nothing new. It was that everything was so new all the time but I was the same old me.
Ambition, drive and hard work are all useful. We need a purpose that we find meaning in. We need it not because we need to put a dent in the universe. We need it not because people will stand around and shed happy tears and applaud at how awesome you are. We need it not because we can’t believe everything some actor dude says and need to experience first hand what getting rich and feeling empty and dead inside feels like.
The purpose we are after is the experience of lightness in everyday living. Because lightness is not on the other side of the purpose. It’s what gets you to the other side. It’s what you begin with even before you have a purpose. It’s what makes life not just bearable, but beautiful.
In the end, when you break meaning into its million pieces to find out what it all meant, you will realize it meant everything and nothing at the same time. Everything for you. And nothing for everyone else. That’s the moment.
Journal entry, 24-Oct-2017
I felt like the waves pushed me away today…We don’t need lightness as much as we need an escape from heaviness. We are all trying to escape. Every. One. Of. Us. But what we escape into eventually becomes the very thing we are trying to escape from. All of life is looking back at everything we missed while looking forward to everything left to do. This is the feeling, in the end, of not having lived at all. Of a stagnation – by search. I hope you see the lightness in every day. In the most serious. In the gap between the past and the future. What we call meaning is a constant search for the greener side of the grass. There’s an anchored burden tugging at us in this search. A burden that follows us into every escape. A heaviness that follows us into every lightness. A life that is not yours. I hope yours is. It’s the only moment and it lasts a lifetime. Good night.