Quo Vadis

By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times

(Quo vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?”)

This column, in the first issue of The Bali Times of 2008, is pertinent as it is intended to prod and provoke readers into responding to this basic question that many of us avoid answering for fear of being confronted with cathartic-like solutions.

During the age of enlightenment (our teenage years), we are faced with existential questions that obfuscate the meaning of everyday living. Often we find solace in external stimuli like companionship. We talk of undying love, of sacrifice and being with our beloved for the rest of our mortal lives.

This passion is often carried through to adulthood, when we face marriage. Then all hell breaks loose. What we perceive as an end in itself is often only the beginning. Children invariably add to the confusion. To get away from the rigmarole, we search for an escape route that sometimes leads to a ménage à trois, resulting in people’s lives being shattered, as children are unwittingly the spectators to the indiscretions of their parents.

So we come to the question, “Where are we going?”

This year has commenced with hope, love and a desire to better oneself, a molting of old feathers and in their place new ones that glisten in the New Year sun. A million resolutions have been made to the raucous sound of laughter, music and firecrackers. A million more will be broken even before the sun has set.

Where are we going in our lives? Will we take the path of least resistance so as not to feel any discomfort from the travails of everyday existence? Not to question why, just to carry on living like zombies intent on enjoying life irrespective of the horrors that confront us on a daily basis.

Maybe the way to stay alive this New Year is to eat the lascivious fruits of the earth. For those who haven’t read Andre Gide’s Fruits of the Earth, I suggest you do so as soon as possible because from this book you will harvest succulent fruits that can then be enjoyed in the confines of your minds – self-gratification à la carte.

Gide wrote this book when he had been afflicted by TB and was convinced that he would lose the senses that fed his stream of creative consciousness. The narrator in the novel entices the reader to live life with complete abandon, to pluck the fruits of the earth and enjoy their fleshy sweetness and to be one in companionship. Isn’t this a wonderful way to live? Could the anarchic outpourings of this Nobel laureate be a guide to where we should be heading?

Sadly, we are intent on merely existing between jobs, bank accounts, credit cards and ever-increasing untruthfulness in our relationships. We scheme, dream and masticate our thoughts that are aimed at accumulating wealth, lovers and perceived notions of respectability within the confines of our little lives. Is this an anathema to spiritual and physical sustenance for a fruitful life?

Probably this manner of living separates us from great people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the unsung heroes who silently apply balm to the wounds of the suffering masses.

Recently some friends told me with much enthusiasm about a film, The Secret. So a few days ago, I got myself the DVD and sat down with an Arak Attack and watched the drama unfold on my laptop.

Frankly I was disappointed by the number of respected professionals on the screen mouthing words of advice that had been out there in the big bad world for centuries – except this time it was packaged like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The soundtrack and visuals were sleekly rendered to lip-sync with the various points being raised by presenters who suffered from verbal diarrhea. However, despite this bombardment, three words struck a chord in me: laws of attraction – the theory that opposites attract.

The laws appear to apply to all and sundry and therefore are not discriminatory. I am not going to delve into this concept but just to say that what we do, see, hear, feel and think rebounds and the more we apply these senses the magnetism increases.

Many of us are stuck in a cul-de-sac that constrains our thoughts, words and deeds and prevents us from spreading our wings and flying into the great unknown. We have erected walls that cut us off from the outside world. So why can’t we break them down and head for the great highway where the speed limit is governed by our own secret desires? The sad truth is that we have installed governors in our vehicles of life, which regulate the speed of our lives. Whenever we press the pedal to the metal, we are surprised by the sluggish response and self-limiting speed.

Often in an attempt to comprehend the tides of life, we go in search of a guru to guide us through the labyrinth of daily existence, to console the rising desperation we feel when stuck in a rut.

Being from a country of more than a billion people that has gurus of all colors, shapes and sizes peddling their own brand of  “meaningful living,” I still haven’t found the answer to the question – where are we going in our lives? Some of us have sought refuge in ashrams to hide away from the real life, a self-imposed exile from the facts that play havoc with our thought processes. Often this translates into wearing a “uniform” so one can be identified as belonging to a caste, creed, country or religion, thereby solving the problem of an identity crisis. But does it?

We are who we think we are – sometimes oblivious to the fact that a distinct identity is preferable to a mass identity. Finding and retrieving ourselves is overlooked as we lose our way, become disillusioned with life and cast the blame on a social structure that has been set up by us. This brings one back to the basic question – where are we going in our lives?

Are we the mechanized division of a celestial force that has planted us on this planet to create and procreate and then die to the anthem of either reincarnation or everlasting life?

Countless teachers will pontificate about the meaning of life and the role we need to play in the world. And many will be gullible enough to follow in the footsteps of these teachers of all hues, hoping to find a path to pursue in their lives, forgetting that we all carry an inbuilt compass – our free mind.

So this year we should find the answer to the question – where are we going? For if we gloss over this, we could end up repeating the year gone by replete with mendacity, violence, religious intolerance, etc.

We must free our minds from conformity and head out onto the high road to search for ourselves with lascivious fruits in hand to sustain our desire for an unbridled life.

In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, let us create a world –

Where the mind is without fear

And the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up

By narrow domestic walls

Love and peace from the morning of the earth.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Filed under: Paradox In Paradise

Comments are closed.