End contemplation, part one/The ultimate hope

MONDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER 2003

I feel as if I’m reaching the end of what I can call in retrospect, my “book”. I did not ask all the questions (who can?), and I do not have all the answers (who does?). What I do know, or sincerely believe, is what life outside my apartment windows is about.

What’s it all about then, according to me?

At the most basic level, it’s a struggle for survival. From the miserable homeless guy in the back alley digging through garbage bags, to Bill and Melinda Gates, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the President of the United States, back to the baby who was born a minute ago in the slums of Kolkata, everybody is always, from the moment of birth until the moment of physical death, locked in a struggle for survival. This struggle is waged on several levels, and for a limited number of needs that must be met.

One of these needs has increasingly aroused my interest over the past few years. The more I look at my own life, and observe the world outside my front door, the more the importance of the need, the longing, to belong somewhere is confirmed – to know how your life is linked to other forms of life (and even inanimate objects), in terms of the past, present, and future. This includes understanding how you fit in between other species on this planet, and how you fit in between the screaming masses of people, and between conflicting religious traditions and diverse histories of humanity.

All mammals – to take the group of animals under which humans are categorized – instinctively know where they belong. That is, all mammals whose natural life and habitats have not been disturbed or altered to such an extent that they, too, suffer from the same affliction as so many people in the modern world.

To be confused about your place in the world – to not know where you belong – is usually the result of a variety of causes. One of these is alienation from the environment where at one stage of your life you knew in what ways and to what extent you belonged. This disposition is in turn caused by, amongst other things, disillusionment with what previously defined your identity and determined your place in the larger world. An example of the latter is the alienation that takes place between an individual and the religious community of which he or she had previously been a devoted member – alienation caused by amongst other factors personal experiences and/or intellectual exposure that sometimes erode the credibility of truths handed down from previous generations.

When this happens, when you are confronted with the reality that you do not know anymore how and where you fit into the Larger Landscape, you will find it difficult to commit to anything other than what provides you with immediate comfort in the face of a world that you will find increasingly hostile.

Identity – to know your own name, your nationality, personality, preferences, talents, interests, fears, strengths and weaknesses, and your ambitions and dreams – makes it easier to at least have a fair idea where you stand with others, and thus to initiate relationships. It is through these relationships that you eventually obtain membership to groups and communities; a factor that will play a significant role in reducing your vulnerability as a single individual. Membership to groups and communities will lessen your anxieties, which will improve your confidence, which will increase the likelihood that your physical and emotional needs will be met. If these communities include a religious community, you may even find it easier to explain to yourself and to others how you believe you are part of a reality that stretches beyond this time and place.

The above description is the ideal of positive and constructive relationships. Negative and destructive relationships also satisfy the need to belong somewhere, but in a way that does not reduce fear and anxiety. Such relationships also sometimes prevent more positive and constructive social interaction. However, even “bad” relationships emphasize the importance of the need to be part of something bigger than just a single individual.

To actively participate in groups and communities, you need to know some basic things about yourself and when necessary to confirm these things (your name, your personality, interests, talents, beliefs, and other things that have already been mentioned). You also need basic knowledge and understanding of the world in which you find yourself on a daily basis.

If your intellectual development exceeds the boundaries of a handed-down understanding of “how things work” (in the community in which you find yourself), or if this understanding loses credibility as a result of certain personal experiences, or after exposure to an alternative philosophical frame of reference or comprehensive view of existence, you will inevitably ask certain questions. Principles will also need to be identified (or redefined) to facilitate your understanding of human existence. These principles and the corresponding understanding of things will be highly conducive to the process of identity formation (or then, the redefining of identity). This process will enable you to know, or discover anew, how, where and with whom you should cultivate relationships.

Ultimately, the hope will be to have a better understanding of how you form part of all that is, was, and may still be, and to continue with your existence, but as someone who does not feel alienated on a daily basis from everything and everyone around you.

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