"Exhibiting You" - Story

Living in the Moment

Museum Pick: January 21-February 2, 2009

By: Sumithra Prasanna
Submitted: 01/21/2009

Doesn't life feel like an endless ride on a giant wheel of misfortune? You step off, only to step right back on. One tragic moment meets another in a drama of unending pathos... Moments seem like beads, strung together on a thread spun out of your own misery... And when they rub shoulders, out of that silly brotherhood that flows through their hearts, comes out misery compounded many times over.

"Don't have any expectations," my friend would say, "for that's what breaks your heart. Accept yourself as you are. Surrender, absolute surrender to God, is the key. That we are born into this world is itself an indication of our insignificance; we are but a speck in the vast ocean." However true that may seem, the questions do surface time and again. And the undying quest to find answers is the only thing that keeps me alive.

I remember the first time I read Nietzsche; I was shaken out of my complacency. I grew up in an environment where it was considered a sacrilege to question the existence of God. You didn't choose your faith, for it had already chosen you. Faith was the foundation on which everything was based. So to me, Zarathustra's proclamation to the world that "God is dead" was shocking, as much as it was revelatory. It struck at the very root of my existence.

I felt the faith with which I had so willfully armored myself crumbling away. It was devastating. Because, how do you suddenly start disbelieving? How do you deconstruct years of conditioning? How do you come to terms with the terrifying thought that you are all alone in a barren, meaningless universe with nothing, definitely no God, to hold on to? Even if you were to tell yourself not to speak to God, not to pray, not to light the lamp in the miniature sanctum sanctorum of your home, the vestiges of faith refuse to leave you. And the subconscious mind goes on believing in the one thing that you desperately wish would disintegrate.

Sadly, it doesn't. It lingers on. Lurks behind you and pounces upon you when you least expect it. It's your breath. Your second skin. How do you stop breathing? How do you cast away your skin as if you were changing your clothes? How do you start believing in yourself more? How many steps can you walk alone without once looking back to see if you're being followed, being protected, without once stretching your hand to grope in the nothingness for some reassurance?

When the voice of reason within me kept clamoring to be heard, I also realized that it was difficult to discard the many things I had internalized growing up. It was good to believe, my mom kept saying. Questioning was never foremost, acceptance was. I did not admire Nietzsche, but he set me off on a different course. I moved from being a total believer to a total skeptic; from a person who believed in miracles, to someone who scoffed at anything that could survive only in the realm of imagination. What is the use of imagination when it cannot meet reality? How can you bridge the hiatus between the two, or can you?

At a very critical time in this process of questioning, I happened to read a play by Beckett. After that, I read it many times over, and it made so much sense to me as I could relate to it more than anything else. Pessimism was appealing and I embraced it. So it came to be that the plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, the writings of Camus and Sartre and Heidegger, provided comfort to me.

Existentialism did not offer the answers I was looking for, but at least it mirrored my own fears and frustrations, confusion and anxieties. It helped me embrace ambivalence and acknowledge that nothing in life, just as in art, is black and white for both are fraught with ironies and inconsistencies.

Amazingly, the more I read these writings, the more I began to understand that this philosophy is not depressing. For it is about life, and it believes in fighting for life. It assumes that we are best when we struggle against our nature. The world presented is not a passive, negative world where everything has come to an absolute stasis. Rather, it's a world of attestation and acceptance, a world where the indomitable spirit of building life on the other side of despair prevails. Most importantly, it is about having faith, believing in what you do, and caring and sharing despite the odds that life throws at you.

It is futile, I realize now, to feel that nothing's happening. How long can you grieve? And how far can you take your negativity? When you decide to live your life and not allow your mind to eat into itself, hope is such a wonderful thing. For it allows you to look beyond this moment, raise your chin up and smell the air of brighter times to come. Tomorrow may have nothing to offer, but the thought of something better out there has already given you a fresh lease on life.

It is easy to give up. It's as easy as slipping into depression and wallowing in endless self-pity, hurling mud at the world for the misery it brings to your doorstep. But it is difficult to stand where you are, and stare straight into the eyes of a beast, and still hold your sanity. With frustration comes a host of other negatives--cynicism, boredom, despair, death--of the spirit, of the mind. Not many of us live a life full of life. Or go all out to grab life by the throat. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and to face adversity with a smile.

We cannot live without faith, without holding on to something. What we believe in is totally up to ourselves. Each of us has got to find a truth that is right for us. But belief has to be at the heart of anything that we do. And we have to accept that there are things beyond our comprehension. Oftentimes we ask, "Why is it I suffer, when I am good," or "Why should tragedies occur killing millions, leaving many millions more desolate?" Is it possible to have concrete answers? The more we question the unquestionable, the more we get frustrated and bitter. Cynicism leads us to naught.

Over the years, I have learned to keep the questions out; not totally though. They do take me by surprise at the oddest of moments, debilitating me for seconds that seem forever. But at least I have trained myself to spring back to loving life more than the meaning of it. Life seems less complicated without all those nagging voices from within me crying to be heard. And as someone once said, unless Nietzsche had believed in God, he could not have believed that God was dead; an entity that never existed cannot die.

But whether there is a God or not, whether there is a force above us, is for each one of us to discover. God could be a concept, a thought, a force within you that drives you, guides you, and protects you, a spark that ignites your being, the conscience in you, the determination that sees you through the tough times, the faith that resides in you, or the hero within you.

So these days, whenever I am battered by the thought of utter insignificance of life, I think of Sisyphus, my all-time favorite twentieth century absurd hero. Sisyphus epitomizes the contemporary angst-ridden individual when he is confronted with the fragmented reality of the human condition. His action typifies the horror of living life in a difficult and complicated time. I visualize this lonely man trying to push a rock to the top of a hill, only to see it roll down at the end of his very long effort. But he doesn't give up. He is there every single day striving against the odds. Is he happy?

Camus says, "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Sisyphus makes me ask myself, can we survive without illusion? Can we survive without imagination? Can we survive without holding on to something? And, can we survive without believing? Whatever be the odds, as clichéd as it may sound, we must go on. For life is indeed worth living. Every child that is born bears testimony to that. As Maya Angelou would say, "The best part of life is not just surviving, but thriving--with passion and compassion, and humor and style, and generosity and kindness."

If we can find a moment, just a moment, and live in that moment, and live it to the fullest, then indeed, we have lived. A lifetime could then condense into a moment, and a moment could transform into a lifetime of bliss.

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