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The Art of Disappearing
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Just remain in the center, watching.
And then forget that you were there.
Two months have elapsed since I last wrote, and not a single hell has broken loose, nor have its horrendous hounds haunted me to the depths of self-loathing, as I had imagined might occur during my absence from Berkana. Needless to say, my anxieties are rooted in a deeply ingrained fear of failure. I believe that this knowledge was foundational, imparted during my schooling years - 'Show till you Grow.' Okay, I made that up, but seriously, doesn't the hustle culture always emphasize the importance of, well, hustling? The fact remains that hustling is exhausting and saps one's creative spirit. I do believe in rituals and practices that foster discipline to maintain a habit. However, the reality is that the state of flow necessary to capture the creative impulse cannot be manufactured. Art is crafted by the way you live, the spaces between one moment and another, which the Japanese refer to as 'Ma,' (間), representing the negative space, the absence of anything to create room for what exists. It is a minimalistic philosophy that promotes the use of absence to accentuate the presence.
Sufficiency of Absence
When there is no place that you have decided to call your own,
then no matter where you go, you are always heading home.
I try to ingrain the concept of 'Ma,' not only with my writing rituals but also with life in general. The more I understand it, the more space I want to create between each passing moment. An unsettling urge to disappear arises within me, like waves it carries with it all the debris of the internal war I have been fighting this entire year. A sense of calm prevails, and with soft ushers, the spirit bemoans before surrendering within that mystical creative pause.
Is it strange to want to disappear from the center of attention, to exist in peaceful spheres of simple hopes, and to reject the constant desire to be seen wired by our culture? Is it crazy to want to slowly fade away without any worry or fear of being forgotten? Days have blended into nights, and as I grapple with what seems like a year-long creative block, it is now gradually transforming into a practice of letting go of the notion that only grinding is equivalent to creation. Perhaps, creative blocks are a natural part of the creative process as well, allowing the writer to find solace in their inner sanctum of silence. These necessary pauses help replenish the empty well of creativity more effectively than aimless grinding. I recommend engaging in soulful activities during these periods, such as taking occasional walks, listening to classical music on a loop while cooking, gently stroking your cat until they purr, and then resting your head on their belly to absorb those healing vibrations, spending an indefinite amount of time watching slice-of-life anime, and drinking enough iced Americano but not so much that it causes jitters.
I believe it is perfectly fine to create more empty space in our lives rather than constantly seeking more distractions to occupy our time and our physical space. Negative space relieves us of the compulsion to fill it needlessly. For example, if there's an empty space next to the main entrance of your house that you intentionally left empty, there will be no pressure to fill it with decorative objects. The empty space is whole, in harmony with the overall design, and it belongs in your house as much as other objects do.
Similar to our physical spaces, our lives can benefit from empty spaces – periods where we skip certain activities, engage in reflection, or simply do what truly needs to be done. I'm advocating for relinquishing mindless grinding and hustling endlessly toward some elusive end goal that always appears to recede further and further, given the insatiable nature of human desires.
In his book, The Art of Disappearing, Ajahn Brahm candidly writes about his encounter with the truth of imprisonment,
"Some years ago I was in Japan and my hosts put me up in a five-star hotel. They had forgotten that they should feed a Theravada monk before midday. By the time we got to a certain high-class restaurant, it was just after noon. I refused to eat, which meant I didn't eat at all that day. I was tired and I just wanted to be quiet and meditate, but it was a noisy hotel. I ended up sitting in this room that people pay a fortune to stay in, thinking, 'I'm in a prison.' I was in prison in a five-star hotel because I didn't want to be there. I soon realized what I was doing and put a stop to that stupid state of mind. But the point is that you can be in prison in a five-star hotel or on a sunny beach. It doesn't really matter where you are; any place you don't want to be is a prison.”
Brahm's reflections, if applied to our modern problems, reflect the deeper crisis that our society is dealing with. The problem is simple: most of us have normalized and even glorified the hustle for success. The issue lies not in the hustle itself but in the often overlooked aspect of burning out. When success is defined in terms of societal parameters such as wealth, fame, and the emphasis on building an identity, life's entire focus becomes sustaining and amplifying this ego at the cost of our well-being, both psychologically and physically. We reinvent spaces in our intellectual worlds to serve this gigantic ego that we have conjured over the years but seldom find true happiness there. Our inner world becomes our ultimate prison, from whose window our persistent illusion of success resembles fireworks, promising that we can achieve them as long as we stay in the prison. This is a subtle deception of our social constructs; we humans have meticulously constructed these labyrinths of illusions to shield ourselves from the truth that even if we are in service to our desires, they are influenced by external factors. In that manner, doing something because the world expects it, that you won’t be doing otherwise is also a form of imprisonment.
Permeable Membrane of Consciousness
In my worldview, the need to remain etched in the fabric of human existence, the search for immortality, is not unnatural. But while we rebel against death using our vivaciously creative pursuits as tools, we deny our mortal selves enough chances to relax into the realization that all we accumulate will be left behind after we die. Our need for immortality arises from our fear of death; our creative endeavor is the force of nature that pushes beyond the dimension where death reigns and immortalizes the evidence of our presence, the fact that we too were once here. However, the truth is far off, oscillating, and from a certain vantage point, we can see it too. The truth is that one day, as we were born, so will we die. As we have arrived, so will we depart. As we have appeared, so will our mortal selves disappear into nothingness. I find this thought particularly liberating. If everyone we know, care about, ever met, or loved is eventually going to die, including ourselves, then isn't it time to stop living our lives in a prison? If we have limited time on this planet, isn't it obvious that we must make the best use of it, and that directly translates to doing what we want to do and not letting either modern trends or outdated traditions dictate our choices? Isn't it obvious to rest more often, go on walks, absorb nature, explore new art, music, and read more books? Do we really want to waste more time hustling, trying to replicate society's ideal of success?
If there is a purpose to life beyond simply existing in harmony with the forces of nature, it is to develop our methods of working with the chaos. The world is not a restful place; the Universe is a violent place with splutters of cosmic mess whirling around in certain repetitions that we call science. We are not here to create order but rather to harness chaos. With long spans of stillness pervading through my creative slumber, I often wondered if I was doing it right. My thought-free mind bothered me; I was worried I would lose my style and voice if I stopped feeling the violent urges of creativity and felt them often. At that time, I was not well-acquainted with the power of stillness and its capacity to tame chaos.
Within the quiet meadows of reflection, I witnessed words forming letter by letter, as though whispered into my ear. I once believed that to write effectively, one must saturate their mind with information. I was mistaken. Consciousness is fluid, flowing through and permeating everything within our realm of senses. To craft a substantial body of work, consciousness requires room to breathe. In essence, when we clutter our minds with a multitude of things we read or watch, our own conscious voice struggles to break free, resulting in convoluted, sometimes confusing frameworks. The empty spaces permit the unfettered flow of consciousness to evolve at its own pace into a magnificent body of work. This process, I believe, can best be described as orchestrating chaos or capturing a lightning bolt in a bottle.
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.
Alexander Pope's 'Ode to Solitude' was my favorite poem as a child, perhaps because I resonated deeply with the joy the poet described in living a slow and purposeful life, in contrast to the modern obsession with fame. One doesn't need to live a life enslaved by lofty dreams; instead, purpose can be derived from engaging in routines that hold personal significance. Simple tasks, such as making a cup of tea after a long day or folding the day's laundry, can be imbued with meaning. Success, in my view, is found in doing what one desires at any given moment. I prefer not to define success as anything other than being in a constant state of knowing that I am where I'm meant to be, whether in acceptance of my circumstances or surrender to them. A genuine appreciation of the present can only arise in the absence of conflict, denial, or escapism, and so does true freedom.
The Joy of Missing Out
Wherever you go, there you are
Much emphasis has been placed on three aspects of experiences: seeking the positive, avoiding the negative, and adapting to the new. It has become culturally imperative to live by these rules of the newly found 'YOLO' or 'FOMO,' which are all treacherous abbreviations born of the internet generation. Every trend you can think of can be categorized as one or a combination of these three aspects. The pursuit of getting the best out of every possible situation has spun out of control in recent years. We desire the best deal in everything - seeing things, doing things, buying things, using things, and even discarding things. We spend an immense amount of time deciding what we want and don't want because our world has advanced far beyond the point of asking what is necessary. We have a surplus of everything, so we waste the one resource we are not abundant in - time - pursuing things that will become old, dilapidated, and boring after frequent use. If one does not recognize the fabric of irony on which our modern lives are juxtaposed, the materialistic pursuit of life becomes all-consuming.
The philosophy of finding joy in missing out on things often considered necessary for one's experiences is centered around stoically reinforcing your position as a nonconformist. It's about being someone who cannot be swayed by the currents of events that threaten to disturb our peace and vandalize our ethics. If one can find their stance, regardless of the circumstances, they too can attain freedom, freeing themselves from the thoughts and influences of the modern hustle culture.
The rush to do everything at once may initially seem like the elixir of greatness and can even bring out the best at the outset of a creative pursuit. However, a flame that burns twice as brightly also burns half as long. A creative life is not an achievement or a pedestal to look down upon those who choose a different path. It is a way of life, much like any other, and its purpose, if any, is to manifest our inner gifts in forms that create a space for others to explore, reminisce, understand, idealize, and relate. We admire artists, writers, poets, and musicians not because they have reached some pinnacle but because they have crafted a space within their art where we encounter a new version of ourselves we didn't know existed before discovering their work. Meaningful art takes us on a journey into deeper realms of self-discovery. It's safe to say that this kind of manifestation can also be achieved through extensive practice, but practice is distinct from the aimless hustle that often fails to contribute any new dimensions to the already existing body of work.
We are all afloat
In the Great River.
All are carried along.
Some swim against the flow.
They, too, are carried along.
Refuse the hustle. Refuse to be busy all the time. Refuse to be afraid of missing out on that party, that meeting, that movie, or that concert. Instead, go for that walk. Take the time to reduce the momentum of this fast-paced life. Hinge in the right places - in your garden, in your kitchen while making preserves, inside your blanket with your cat for a lazy afternoon nap, next to the bonfire with a good book, or inside the bath with your favorite playlist. Find the time to relax while allowing your creative knots to ease in the absence of the pressure of expectations. Is it true when they say that life is short and no amount of inertia can prevent it from passing or enable you to live the lost decades? If so, might as well slow down and find the joy in missing out.
All of that being said the guilt of not finishing what was promised never leaves a writer alone. So I am here to remind you that I have not abandoned my Nilgiris posts that I promised last time and have made some good progress on it. I will see you next time, hopefully with some unique insights and stories from the deeper end of life.
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