Life is rather simple. We are born. The rest, all those struggles that consume so much of our time are mere contemplations of our life’s purpose, for the greatest mystery, the most astonishing thing that ever happened to us is birth. Death doesn’t really count. We are baffled by the time’s passage, we do not understand why our skin falls in great wrinkles, why our bloodshot eyes are tired, why so much of our life has passed us by, why decades have turned to instances, and why history plays tricks on us. We learn that time is linear, but it is not. We are a droplet of water stirring the pond in every direction. And we remain centered throughout our lives while the scenery, the costumes, and everyone else changes. We do too, but only when faced with our own reflection. For a second there we look, bemused, at our strangeness, but the strangeness vanishes when we close our eyes. In the end, we keep to our own conclusions, we do not move a lot, we do not make great leaps, we simply breathe, and with each new breathe we give and take a little, only to adjust our balance.
All throughout our lives we’re faced with the consequences of being born. Like a tapestry, our life stands behind us, intricate and strange, ever-growing. It is our life’s project, our greatest task, the challenge we face. To make sense of our existence is our most important mission, the one task we’ve all registered for. And like soldiers on the battlefield, we fight alone.
Some are born with an inner sense of security, the understanding that no matter what happens, life cannot destroy them. Others are born in quietude, in a world of lullabies and comfort. They do not hear the trumpets that for some, not necessarily unfortunate, sound the beginning of each new day. Others, born in fear and sorrow, will never learn to walk. Life urges them back instead of pulling them forward.
If we were born clean, everything would be easier, but alas, we are not. We come into this world with a particular way of seeing and of doing things. We feel centered in solitude, but the moment we step out the door, the moment we meet a strange face, we coalesce into something that might take us by surprise. We crystallize into patterns of thinking that we might not even recognize. We are a meeting, born in between breaths. Like mountains we rise from the depths, the moment two continents meet and press themselves one against each other. Our existence, unbeknownst to us, is of cataclysmic proportions. How strange, then, to find a center of tranquility in the midst of such turmoil, yet we do, but only for short instances, because life at the center of things is, in the end, artless. It might bring us peace, but nothing grows from stillness, except for stillness.
We have a family, we have roots. The land that held us in our infancy is the land that nourished our imagination. Childhood is our Golden Age precisely because it cannot be replaced. All else can be changed, from our curtains to our food and furniture, we can move everything around until we are satisfied, but nothing can change our past or alter the first few years of our life. Should our lives be nothing but the reverberation of our past deeds? Should we surrender to those forlorn ages, when the earth was ripe and the air was fresh? Should we become victims of our childhoods, heads bowed obediently as not to unnerve the Gods? No, this is not out task. Yet birth, being the kind of event that has forever altered our perspective, lies dormant in our childhood, buried beneath the fragrances of warm milk and freshly backed bread. With a little spoon we must dig for it, unearth it, comprehend it, and if that is not possible, we must write about it. Back then, when we entered this world crying, we heard the music of the spheres for the last time, and that music, that little verse that was given to us, is what we stand by. Our disposition, our way of meeting the world, the fabric of our bones, the beating of our hearts, is part of our inheritance. The rest comes from our surroundings, though it’s almost impossible to separate the two.
Nobody told us that we are similar and that we fail in similar ways. Nobody showed us that we have peers and that we are, in some way or another, predictable. Much of what we are told stands for individuality. Celebrating our uniqueness, the world has no means of distinguishing between us and our surroundings, no ways of explaining birth, the one major event in our lives when, out of our little pool of warm comfort we emerged into crude reality. But we did not emerge alone. Some say that we have angels to protect us, others speak of guiding spirits. The heavens move in predictable patterns, as we’re born under the rule of stars, one sign assigned to each. But there are only twelve, and we are brothers and sisters, joined by the force of destiny. We open the newspapers and look for our future, recognizing that somewhere out there lies a source of knowledge, very much like the ancient oracles who held the keys to our lives. I wonder if it is the future we are looking for? I, too, have searched for understanding, spending years excavating the past. Who am I? Why am I here? There is no tool and no God to answer this question, no psychologist to demystify our behavior, no scientific study to disperse the puzzlement, the doubt, no authority to put an end to our questions. I am here because I happened to be born, and I am the way I am because of that, also. Birth. No one can explain the why, although many try to. There are belief systems that speak of former selves, of lives spent long ago, when people dressed differently and trusted in curious things. Some say that we have a choice and that, in the clarity of after life, we choose to be born again. That is comforting, helpful to those of a particular inclination. But there are many other ways in which to explain the mystery of our existence, all just as valid. Some believe that waters parted when God gave the order, he who called us forth from the earth and, after six busy days, chose to rest the seventh. People believe in many things simply because they see a reflection there, a few notes of the song they once heard. Birth. There is not a single entity in this world that can come up with a definitive truth, and no entity beyond us that will speak to all and be heard by all. The departed and the angelic whisper their secrets, they do not shout them out loud. As the priestesses once did, they only speak to those who make an effort, renounce their creeds, and listen. But that is not a choice, it is a gift of birth.
When we seep through the content of our lives, we see that all things follow patterns. We pick one thread and then another, and, if inclined to do so, we try to match the colors. We come up with stories, we reinvent ourselves, but we always do so remembering our childhood, the first sounds we heard, the foods we ate, the smells we’ve attached to various objects and places. Both nature and nurture have made us who we are, one through temperament, the other through a constant change of scenery. If it weren’t for life, we wouldn’t have moved, nestled in our mother’s bodies for ages, unwilling to face the cold, the sharpness, and ourselves. But life hasn’t always agreed with us, we react, and out of our reaction comes forth either sweetness or sorrow or both. In the end we’re left with a wrinkled face and a heap of memories, some our own, others come from people we’ve met and places we’ve traveled to, a mess of stories that, unless revised, seem to mean very little. I shouldn’t wonder if an unrevised life is worth living, but I do, it is my disposition to do so, for a life is worth living anyway. What comes of it, depends much on each individual, his nature, and the nurture he received.
The questions we have are not just our own. They are questions born out of chaos and misunderstanding. We seek harmony, which means stillness, which fills our hearts with a sense of peace and reverence. In tranquility we surrender to our own nature, to the creatures we were before life, this big, messy life, happened to us. To see the faceless self is to see God, to meet the center, to rejoice in the unquestioned life, the simple life we once had and lost, our Eden, or Golden Age.
The first years of our lives set the tone for everything there is to come. They are not to be read as books, but to be experienced as symbols, their meanings buried under layers and layers of faces and embraces, like treasures filled with rubies and gold. And even though we change costumes and move to different places, in the end our bodies bear the marks of childhood. The sages teach us how to live in the present, how to embrace change, how to be happy. But happiness, true happiness, the one that makes you long for tranquility, the one that shows you the perfection and simplicity of being you, is not one to keep your hands busy while weaving the tapestry of your life. It is, in the end, a matter of choice, or, better said, a matter of inclination. If you are inclined for a life of contemplation, your work of art will be as fragile and fleeting as a butterfly’s existence. If, on the other hand, you have a will to paint cathedrals, brace yourself. But no matter the choice, there is one single moment in life that defines who we are. No wonder the ancient astrologers deemed it to be the most important point in the charts they drew for both the common and the high-born. As the heavens moved, the exact degree of the sign rising in the east was meant to show the life of the native, his or her vitality, his or her appearance, and the way he or she is forever destined to meet the world.
Happiness is a disposition that we adore to the point of losing ourselves in it. When this happens, our past dissolves. Only on stormy days do we see the waves threatening our small vessels, their mightiness frightening us to the core. Then, for just an instant, when our brains are quiet and our bodies alert, we act as the faceless self that we might have also experienced in stillness. In between those states, one of action, the other of contemplation, the past rushes in to fill the gaps and the mind wonders. And then we are, as some might say, confused, not knowing where to go and what to do, not knowing who we are and where we come from.
In the end we like to rush things. We measure everything according to our lives, imposing our human time frame onto the rest of the world. We do not comprehend that the Universe is very old, we do not feel this in our bones. We might read about the dinosaurs, but to imagine the world as it should have been when they ruled this earth is something we only do for a split of a second. Infinity is even harder to grasp, its existence being in deep discordance with our human condition. Ego is our ultimate boundary, some say, the one preventing us from experiencing bliss. But in between those peek moments, when we expand altogether defying our constitution, we are asked to examine our lives. We are asked to ponder their meaning, to try to come up with solutions, to try to make something of them. And if truth lies somewhere else, then it is not for reaching those states of illumination that we examine our lives, but for the possibility of making art.
Contemplating life and dealing with the consequences of being born is not for the fainthearted. There are moments when the magnitude of our failures threatens to annihilate us. There are instances when we feel trapped in a world that is nothing like the one we’ve pictured in our dreams. There are times when we feel at odds with our very being, as if wearing costumes that are either too big or too small but never a perfect fit. If this happens to be the case, then contemplation, which has, by its very nature, much to do with a persons predisposition, is the requisite for artistic creation. We cannot make anything of our lives unless we deal with our past. Some say we’re here to learn and, through learning our lessons, to grow, to advance on a spiritual path. Others might say that we are here to suffer and make the best of our situation with as much dignity as possible. This, too, falls under the rule of nature. What nurture gives us is the juicy parts of our stories. We might be inclined to meditate, but if we happen to be born amongst people of revolutionary disposition, then we’re in for trouble. How we deal with that trouble, how we end up telling our story, is precisely the thing we’ll be remembered for. Nobody will ever know us, not really, and nobody is able to make the distinction between the nature part and the nurture part in ourselves, but all everyone sees is the mountain, or the tapestry, or the song we’ve decided to sing. All everyone remembers is the trail we left behind, which is not the answer to our question, which has nothing to do with truth, but is our own little way of dealing with the consequences of being born. Old age and displacement have but one role: to make us sort through our memories, to make us go back to the first years of our lives, to force us to acknowledge the importance of being born, for nothing ever happens in life that is not a consequence of that cataclysmic event.
Those, like myself, who move to different countries, those who face such an abrupt change of decorum, are faced with the need of sorting themselves out. In one way or another, they must do something, they must stand for something, they must take action for life urges them to do so. And it is now that you understand how deeply rooted you are in your childhood, how difficult it is to move from one place to another, and just how much it means to have a Golden Age, your own, personal Eden, to go back to in times of trouble. Yet he who dwells in the past has no future. So life is rather simple. You are born, and the rest follows. How you deal with those consequences, is what shapes your life and your future. For it is in such moments that you are born again and the most significant event of your life, your birth, is reenacted. In such precious moments, rare times brought in by a total dissolution of one’s neatly built life, a portal opens and for an instance, for just a split of a second, you hear the music again, your song, your line, the one that impregnated your nature with its melody and echoed through life pulling you further and further into completion. Life is simple and life has a little secret: we mistake birth for a historic event, which might as well be a remnant or a particular world view. Yet every now and then you get to be reborn. So what if birth is a symbolic event? And what if, just like the first time, you get to hear the music?
Written on the 4th of February 2016.
© Teodora Gales 2015-2016