I had a rather profound moment whilst vacationing on a beautiful island off the coast of Terengganu recently. It was at night, and one of the staff divers was enthusiastically showing us a spot on a big rock for us to look at the stars. Indeed, the sky was really beautiful. The stars looked as if it was hanging off from the atmosphere. I laid on the rock, looking up at the canvas which forms the galaxies to which these stars come from. The gentle blowing wind and sounds of the ocean waves made me imagine what it is like for creatures from the sea to live through this everyday. It must be a peaceful experience.
“It looks good, right?” asked the diver. I replied to the affirmative.
He then exclaimed joyfully, “Of course it does. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here for 22 years!”. There was a lightness in his steps as he then headed back to his room.
That statement made an impact on me. Sure, the view is incredible. It is peaceful. I feel very much connected to nature. To live like this for 22 years? That seems much more of a sacrifice than a reward, as I would then need to let go of the many worldly desires that I aspire to have.
At the same time, his expression of pure joy to a way of life that he has experienced for a whole 22 years, is very, very, inviting. Clearly, that is an inner experience that I too would like to experience for 22 years. But, I realized that the way to achieve that joy can also be very different. I then snapped out of my illusory trance. While island life serves his inner calling, it is a momentary leisure pit stop for me. We are different individuals meant to live out our unique and individualized purpose.
There is a convenient but tragic flaw in our logical reasoning. When we see someone having something that makes him or her happy, we assume that too, is something that we need to have in order to be happy ourselves. While this statement may be true for certain universal characteristics of being a person, such as fulfilling basic needs of food, water, shelter, and meaningful relationship(s), in most cases, our estimations of what we need to make us happy are highly inaccurate.
What makes us happy depends more on our intrinsic experience, such as living to our values and purpose. Depending truthfully on our inner compass then leads to fulfilling and meaningful actions. Unfortunately, we find observations of our external environment to be a more valid predictor to our well-being. We oftentimes confuse happiness with what the person has or does. The former is an inner state, while the latter is a way or means of reaching that state of mind. The way to being happy for one person may include amassing power, wealth, and fame. However, that may not be necessary for another person to also achieve happiness. In most cases, such worldly possessions is more of a by-product than an end goal.
The reason a deep neglect of our inner being exists is because external observation is a much more convenient tool. There is little need to inquire on our own individual existence, to explore the plethora of emotions that lies within, and to ultimately be comfortable with answering the question of “Who am I?”. Questioning oneself is akin to opening a Pandora’s box. It is an effortful and frightening process. For many, this becomes overwhelmingly frightening that mimicking the behavior, desire, and goals of others becomes an automatic response.
But, as the saying goes, nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy.
On a related note, I really enjoyed a parable that I’ve read before, of which I will loosely paraphrase here to conclude this blog post:
An explorer from a big city enters a vast jungle. In his adventure, he managed to make his way deep into the jungle. As the afternoon sun began to set in, he rests by the river to regain his strength. Coincidentally, he was met with an aboriginal man. The aboriginal was dressed in nothing but some leaves covering what is necessary.
The explorer, clearly shocked, said “Oh my, look at you! You need to be brought into civilization. Look at the kind of life you are living!”. The aboriginal replied, “What is it that is wrong with me?”
“Firstly, you need to get properly clothed, and go through some education”, said the explorer. “How will that benefit me?” asks the aboriginal.
“You get educated so that you can be smart enough to go to University”, said the explorer. “How will that benefit me?” asks the aboriginal.
“You go to University so that you’re able to get a degree and get a good job”, claimed the explorer in a proud tone. “How will that benefit me?” asks the aboriginal again.
“Well, you get a good job so that you can save enough money to retire when you’re older!” said the explorer, looking increasingly irritated. “How will that benefit me?” asks the aboriginal again, looking even more confused.
“So that you can then do whatever you want!” said the explorer in a loud tone. “Like what?” then asks the aboriginal.
“Well, you can wake up without an alarm and do nothing, go fishing, go for a walk…anything that you feel like doing for the day, really. You can enjoy life, obviously!” the explorer said in a defeated tone.
“Oh..”, the aboriginal murmured under his breath. There was a short pause as he pondered on what he had just heard. He then said, “Isn’t that what I have been doing all along?”