Can you guess what is the common link between the following?
- Hamster on a wheel
- Groundhog day
- Edge of tomorrow
Let’s examine these one by one…
Zero has a connotation of being the most uninteresting number, represents void, stillness & emptiness. Between a scale of 0-10, no one would prefer being associated with zero.
Hamster on a wheel keeps running and running but gets nowhere.
In the movie, “Groundhog Day”, James Belushi kept waking up to the same morning everyday, met the same people. He had slight twist of events during the day, the only saving grace and which kept him going.
In the movie “The Edge of tomorrow”, Tom Cruise ended up in the same battlefield after losing his life. Like a video game he kept coming back, seemed to me like an endless ordeal.
Put yourself into any of these situations, what would you be your initial reaction?
I can speak for myself; I would find each of these ordeals as punishment. The very thought of having the same predictable events everyday saps out the energy out of cherishing each day with same vigor. Repetition, monotonous is unfulfilling and for a larger majority, is negative, boring and loathsome. Doing same thing again and again is like going around in circles, with no end. Easier to imagine and acceptable would be a graph, where the line has a starting point and an end point (a destination). Business demand steep lines which point to north.
Mind Finds Circularity Complex
Our mind understands linearity more easily than a circularity. Simple reasoning is that the line has an end point whereas a circle doesn’t. Therefore, our mind is able to visualize a start (point A) and a goal (point B) easily. The start point and the end point communicate more effectively with our minds than a diagram that goes round and round in circles.
What if, the line is a very short-term view of our lives? What if, going around in circle is the undiscovered truth? What if, success lies in the achieving mastery over the mundane and inconsequential, doing same things again and again? What if, we visualize life as a series of end points, where end of one, means the beginning of another.
Theoretically, infinite no of straight lines makes a circle. It is said that a life comes to a full circle; history after being made, repeats itself.
Perhaps a circle and zero may mean more if we train our minds to think differently. In reality, we may be moving round and round in circle without even realizing, the truth that we don’t want to accept. Perhaps, we need to train our minds better and break this complexity.
Lessons from Myth of Sisphus
In my college days, I read “Myth Of Sisphus” by Albert Camus. I’ll be honest, my love for the book was not in the first sight. I failed multiple times to go beyond few pages. In the whole ordeal, I felt just like Sisyphus for no matter how many times that I would read a page, the words won’t make any sense. I went around in circles; I would start the book to leave it & start again. Sometimes, it would be due to my limited intellectual ability. Other times it would be that I won’t find anything interesting in it. But I kept at it I read it again; motivation being the celebrated status of the book. I didn’t want to boast about the achievement with a pretense. To cut the long story short, I kept at it, and I did complete the book.
The revelation of the fact was slow. Sisyphus was condemned by Gods to eternity to repeatedly roll the boulder uphill, only to have it rolled down again, when it reached the top. Again & again. Symbolizing our own quest for meaning.
The struggle is persistent and necessitates effort and only to be started again. According to Camus
The first step towards this effort is to rejoice the absurdity and enjoy the persistence in rolling up the bolder to the hill. He further argues that with joyful acceptance of struggle against defeat, the individual gains meaning and identity. Abandonment is suicide.
Very deep, I thought. I have read again and again that the pleasure is in the journey, not reaching the destination. This is true enjoyment. These realizations are hard to fathom for us.
How long can we imagine ourselves to be a hamster on a wheel, going round and round, without reaching anywhere. How many days would we want to keep doing the same things again and again. How long can we live with mundanity? The truth takes time to decipher. Patience is rare. How glorious is it to think about a person doing a repetitive job with no fatigue setting in.
Truly, superhuman and strongly determined not to give up.
Ikigai: Live Life To The Fullest
Ikigai is a made from two Japanese words: Iki meaning “Life” or “Alive” and Kai meaning “effect”. The Japanese state of Okinawa has the highest average life span, averaging 100 years. Dan Buettner wrote extensively about Okinawa and the Ikigai philosophy. He writes that the Japanese don’t have the desire to retire, they continue to do their favorite job as long as possible as long as their health is good. It is suggested that the reason to get up in the morning is the reason to enjoy life.
Jiro, the three Michelin star chef regarded as the greatest sushi artist alive, is 93 and doesn’t want to go on a holiday. He tastes his sushi every morning to ensure that it has the same taste and texture as it was yesterday. Jiro’s restaurant’s an apprentice has to work hard if they have to graduate to the next level. Time is not allocated as a benchmark. So, someone who marinates tuna fish for sushi. A relatively simpler of the efforts, the person does it for at least 5 years before he/she does the next level. This is altogether a different mindset, in an age where the attention span is short, delivery is instant, and time is very limited.
This is true not just for Jiro, but also for athletes, researchers, artists and musicians, who keep going on and on. For them, in life there is no full stop. They love what they do and do what they love. For them it is a circle of constant improvement. How are they able to do so?
Here are my three big revelations…
No.1 The Big WHY: Find The Purpose
What is the secret sauce? What keep such people going on and on, round in circles? What gives such individuals superhuman determination to go through the ordeal again and again, without giving up?
Though there may be other motivations, however the single most important factor is the purpose. One single sole reason, the big WHY. The reason to get off the bed the same way James Belushi does, do the same set of things, and yet find meaning & purpose in these regular mundane jobs. This is not about the future or the past, it is about the very moment the act is happening, where we find our journey, pleasure & happiness. So, the formula is an easy one, the purpose, but to define it, is the complex task. Easier said, The big WHY is never an easy answer. It is not the destination; it is the journey.
One simple thumb rule is that the purpose goes beyond you. The driver of this purpose may be your family, your community, the nation or the world. If this purpose remains to you, you will soon find a full stop. Egoistic purpose is short lived. Dedication to a larger cause is a much bigger driver.
No.2 The Power of Rituals
By definition, rituals are repetitive. When I look back at childhood days that I spent with my grandmother, I could find a pattern that she still would follow. The morning would start with a bath, followed by prayers. The she would get into daily chores starting by getting into the kitchen to start preparation for the meals. Her free time would be spent in reading and writing. The sundown was the time for the evening prayers, followed by the preparation for the evening meals. Her day ended by telling us the stories. I distinctly remember, we would hear the same stories again and again, holiday after holiday. She would repeat in the same tone and sequence. It is hard to imagine me living a life this predictable.
In our modern times, we don’t want to be bound by rituals, we want to go with the flow and with our instincts. Or mind shudders at the thought of being bound by rituals or any such constraints. We have been forced out of this pattern that may have bought some predictability in our lives. But in an unusual way, our lives are bound by rituals. Whether it is the ritual of the weekend, dropping the kids to school, or getting the groceries, we do have rituals which we unknowingly follow. If we are able to use them consciously and internalize as a means to signal our minds for preparation, my experience has been that it becomes a truly miraculous tool. The most important ones being how one is able to start the day. Robin Sharma’s famous 5 AM club establishes the first few hours as a ritual to set the day in motion. How you begin your day will determine the outcome. The other being how you end the day. While you start the day with inspiration, you would like to end the day with lots of gratitude. Because the thoughts that you sleep with are the thoughts that you wake up with. What goes around, comes around.
Life is a circle.
What purpose and rituals help you do, is to find your flow. The state of life, where you are not getting bothered by the outcomes and you are enjoying each step of the process. It is a supreme state of life when you think everything is possible. When you are in the state of flow, you don’t fear anything, you are the most giving self. We do find ourselves there in points in time, the trick is to find to out how to be in an eternal state of the flow. Because then there would be meaning in the mundanity, there would be pleasure in the repetition and you won’t find any friction.
It is easy to find flow in activity that you are passionate about, or activities that you have done very often. Though a new activity also has the potential to get one absorbed in the state of flow, because you are learning, one could easily give it up when one comes to the roadblock. This is where a purpose and ritual may come to help and give the resilience in an individual to go beyond. This is an envious state to be in, because such state has no competition, it is in a supreme space of its own. It is hard to decipher, whether it is the passion or the purpose which pushes an individual towards this, but definitely it is a blend of both. At a point in the person’s ordeal, both attributes fuse together to make an unparalleled winning combination.
Perseverance is not an easy attribute to imbibe.
Putting it all together
Our fairy tales end with the lines “And they lived happily ever after…”. From the very start we are conditioned to think life in a straight line. That there is one silver bullet, that would help us lie back and relax for the rest of our lives. That we need one lottery, that is going to solve all the problems. That life is a straight line and needs to have a full stop. We need to prepare ourselves for a much longer roller coaster ride. Like in a video game, from one stage to next and to the next. It is difficult to imagine ourselves doing so, but if we have defined the Big Why, and have found our flow, life assumes a different meaning. The power of ritual and dedication of the purpose to a higher cause, which usually involves a community, will help us go beyond ourselves. It would arm us with enough determination to go through the hurdle, where we cherish each moment, enjoy the obstacles and live life king size.