I have been Europe for 3 weeks now. It has given me the space to just. be. slow. Even then it has been difficult for me to curb my fear of missing out – I’ve walked about 150km (yeah I know some of you do that in much less but I’m a recovering couch potato) the past 3 weeks trying to see as much as possible. I fear that it will be my first and only European trip for a long time to come.
I need a copious amount of solitude to recharge, so reconciling that fear of missing out and the need to be alone with nobody around me has been challenging. But I remind myself it is all a learning process, this is part of learning to watch my own instinctive behavior and ask questions about it. Mindfulness on the go I guess.
It has only been this year that I realized that a great strength and weakness of mine is that I have an innate urge to problem solve – which is great half the time obviously, but there are some problems that are either 1) not meant to be solved 2) meant to be resolved on their own with time 3) requires pause and contemplation before they can be solved. It becomes crippling when the immediate lack of a solution becomes deeply frustrating, becomes a source of self-resentment or unnecessary rumination. It gets more complex when I see my self as a whole ball of problems on its own.
One of my life-long perceived problems is my predisposition to melancholy, medically termed as chronic depression. In the last couple of years though, I have progressively shifted my perspective on it as I encounter more modern research. The past few months have been fascinating for me as an observer to myself. For the past three years I have had very little or no symptoms of an “illness” that plagued me my entire life, but they re-surfaced intermittently again this year. My instinctive reaction was to think there was something wrong with me.
I have just finished a book on manic depression and creativity, and am on the cusp of finishing another on depression as an evolutionary gene. I have not fully processed my thoughts on them, but they have both shed more light on the way I perceive my condition. It is definitely a complex issue, and depression itself is a catch-all term for many facets of the condition. It becomes life disabling and threatening (I can attest to that myself) if left unmanaged or untreated – but both books posed important philosophical questions.
I cannot write about the science now without adequate reference and research (they are all swimming in my head now with no form), but intuitively I have understood that the extremes of the highs in my life is co-related to the depths of lows I feel. The perception of sadness and suffering as bad is also very human. I no longer see my sadness as bad but it is one thing to know something intellectually and another to actually experience it in a whole new dimension.
A friend reminded me recently, “to change the world, know the world”, and I have only begun to realize how little of the world I do know, and how little of myself I understand. It is easy to forget that life is not linear, neither is it a race. It is not about winning or succeeding, but it is about living. As I have repeatedly asked in my previous posts, what does it mean to live?
Part of me feels like I am late to the game, I see some of the younger generation developing a similar awareness much earlier in their lives. I start to wonder if I have traveled extensively much earlier, would I have learned these lessons faster? But then I catch myself wondering these questions and I ask: what is fast and what is slow? Would I have the emotional capacity and maturity to contemplate these lessons had I encountered them earlier in my life?
Maybe I can only spend some that much time looking backwards. I do believe some degree of reflection is important (unlike some insisting on not looking back and only forward) – there is a reason why a sense of history is important, it is not only about not repeating it (sometimes repetition is necessary), it is about having a sense of the journey we have taken. Humanity will not exist without memory, and the capturing of it. Who am I, without my past? But even with this I understand that it is the present that will shape the future, and if I have reached the midpoint of my life, what can I do for the later half that will make a difference to the story I want to tell?
Living life blindly because of the lack of awareness and self-empowerment cannot be faulted, but continuing to live life blindly with the awareness that I can be a co-creator (well, some of it does depend on the universe, metaphysically or the macro, practically) to the life I want is just harder to accept.
Maybe it is time to stop seeing life or myself as a series of problems to solve, but to develop the capacity to let it unfold on its own, with conscious, mindful participation. Speed gives the illusion of progress, without considerations for sustainability or macro-implications.
What does it mean to live? I continue to search for answers as I travel; some of the moments I have experienced cannot be expressed in the form of a language, but the unexpected lump forming in my throat. These moments, when I am inexplicably near to tears, I know I am alive.