Thirty-One

Long time, no post. I’ve been mostly busy with the various details of day-to-day life. In the meantime, I have somehow managed to turn 31. The one good thing about aging is that it happens without any effort on one’s part. Most years, I like to celebrate my birthday with friends, and if I’m near them, family. This year, I decided to take a page out of Matt Mullenweg’s book and write a few words about the previous year and what I’m looking forward to in the year ahead.

The last year has been full of a lot of changes for me. I moved to a new city (Boston), started some new lines of work, brought others to comfortable milestones, enjoyed the benefits of having a comfortable income. I indulged in some lifestyle inflation by using said income to pay for comfortable living and commuting conditions, while trying to stay wary of conspicuous consumption (with limited success). Though life as an Indian expatriate living in the US can be tenuous sometimes, I think I better appreciate the immense amount of privilege, benefits and advantages of sheer luck that I have over many people in the world.

I tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to build a new network of friends and acquaintances, and in the process got to know myself much better than I have in a long time. I (re-)learned to appreciate having time and space to myself (albeit slowly and grudgingly). Learning to actually put this time and space to good use remains a challenge for the future. But it is worth remembering that not all things need to have a use, not all time and space and energy need to be invested in production.

After a minor health scare, I’ve been better about diet and exercise, especially in the last few months. I started studying and practicing Buddhism more seriously, especially the Zen branch, and have been building a regular meditation practice with the help of the Calm meditation app and the Cambridge Zen Center. Alongside a return to therapy, and a consideration of my information consumption habits, this year is the largest and most consistent investment in my own mental and physical health that I have ever made. The return on this investment has been both wonderful and terrifying. On one hand, it is really good to feel comfortable in my own skin, to like what I see in the mirror, to feel my body getting stronger and feeling more confident that my body can do what I ask of it. It also good to know first hand that my physical self is at least malleable, if not fluid. On the other hand, it is terrifying to know that both Descarte and Yoda were wrong. Our minds are not separate from our bodies, in fact they are deeply and tightly connected and small variations in one greatly affect the other. We are not luminous beings, we are only crude matter, and if we are to have any hope of liberation or salvation, it lies in the direction of accepting and embracing this fact. I do not know what this means on a large scale, but personally it means I now exercise most days, and try to have breakfast every morning.

As for the rest of the world, or at least my thoughts about it, I stumbled on a newsletter by musician Nick Cave some days ago. This excerpt from a recent post sums up all I have learned and understood in the past year:

Is this world cruel? I don’t think so. I think this world is indifferent and indifference is not cruelty. What connects me to you, and you to every other sentient being in the universe, is that the universe, simply does not care about us; it does not act with malice or desire to harm us – it is simply unaffected by our condition. If one acknowledges this state of affairs, then it sets up a situation that allows us to make a simple choice – either we respond to the indifference of the universe with self-pity and narcissism – as if the world has in some way personally betrayed us – and live our lives in a cynical, pessimistic and self-serving manner; or we stand tall, set our eyes clearly upon this unfeeling universe and love it all the same – even though, or especially because, it doesn’t love us. This act of cosmic defiance, of subversive optimism, of unconditional and insubordinate love, is the greatest act of human beauty we can perform. To stand before this great, blank, heartless cosmic event and say: ‘We believe in you’. ‘We love you’. ‘We care for you’. This is the definition of grace, and this is the epiphany you speak of. We create our own divinity, our own Godliness, through our ferocious need. We yearn the heavens awake, and if we are quiet, in prayer or in meditation, sometimes we can feel the heavens stirring, breathing our fragile and reckless love back through us.

It is very tempting to want to see the world as we want it to be, or as it should or could be. Seeing the world as it could be is perhaps the definition of hope. But to make that more than just a dream, we must first see the world as it actually is, no matter how terrible or disappointing or depressing that might be. The same goes for the people in it. That is a fine line to walk, and if there is anything I want for the year ahead, it is to get better at walking that line.

 

Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s