(in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.
When I was younger I had this habit to attribute things to people, stuff like if like person X’s familiar would likely be a praying mantis because of her aura of perpetual meditation, or perhaps deliberation, and was not one to be messed with. Or this lawyer that had an uncanny resemblance and manner to a bulldog.
I grew up watching Avatar the Last Airbender, and of the four elements, earth has always been my favourite. I never told anyone this but I had this vision of myself as this oak sapling, that one day I’ll be this towering, formidable sentinel knees-deep into the earth, toes dipping in the water table beneath and branches catching amiably in the wind. They’ll be homes to all sorts of birds. I’ll be this secret place of contemplation for that harried student who’d rest against my gnarled trunk.
Funnily enough, this imagery of stability and solidness contrasts with another yearning, to rouse the wings I know lay dormant. I’d spread them wide, tentatively, maybe flounder a little in fledgling eagerness. I’d fly, though, up and up shedding the layers and layers of gravity to soar above a world that has defied the odds of existing, the Goldilocks of planets: not too far and yet not too close to the nuclear heart of our humble solar system.
And I, who believed in reincarnation, had wondered why, why would people chase nirvana? It’s a beautiful world, as much as it had the capacity for the unsavory. Who would want to leave permanently? There is an immensity to that which we don’t know yet. Opportunities like shy leaflets in the loam, in the topsoil of arid unforgiving plains, extracting hope from each drop of moisture.
Then I grew up. And I learned more about the deserts that live within us, I know now of that aridity that I spoke of so off-handedly. And I know now why they would refuse to return. As I live and breath, I hear about people preemptively cut loose. It’s an epidemic, some say. That big red shiny button at the very edges of our consciousness ideally kept buried deep within a healthy mind, in any mind at that. Some of us look at it, some of us reach and it’s never poetic nor selfish.
All that said, the optimist in me insists that it’s still a good life if we want it to be. I retain some of that impulse to match people up with arbitrary similarities, but more so than ever I see myself in the sky. Less in fresh-eyed wonder and more in sober contemplation.
We want this thing or that. A lifestyle we envision that requires hard work and dedication. There are obstacles, internal or external, that impede us. There are things expected of us that we may or may not want for ourselves. We erode under pressure, and question if what we thought we wanted is worth it at all. Do we give up dreams for duty? Do we dare voice our inner turmoil to the others who seem to be getting by?
Examining my personal narrative, I understand the thirst for nirvana, I even play with the idea of attempting that path. I had a conversation with Lorna years ago, a Buddhist herself, about materialism. If it’s what damning us why isn’t a more detached way of living more desirable (consumer capitalism is a fiend for sure, we all buy into it at some point, but is it that compelling)?
Gently, she brought me down from that feverish realization and said that humans are physical and are ourselves material beings and it’s natural that we indulge but the key being moderation and consciousness. It takes discipline and relinquishing of certain creature comforts that we may or may not want to forgo.
But I go back. If there are deserts within us there must be lush rainforests, dusty savannahs, snowcapped mountain ranges, and undulating swathes of Oceana mapped out inside of us, geography unexplored. Are we a reflection of the world we perceive? And what are perceptions but subjective? Even those are subjected to change.
What, then, do I focus on? How do I migrate? I suspect it’s a mental and spiritual process, one that involves forgiveness as much as steadfastness. But maybe, maybe I forget that my roots have already been set and deeply burrowed on that hill I roamed in my youth. Did you know oak trees generally take twenty to thirty years to mature? Some live as long as four hundred years. Imagine that! At twenty-four I’m a little more than the sapling now.
And perhaps it’s taken me this long to wonder if those birds are simply extensions of myself. It is a fantastic and mysterious world spinning under our feet. There are people thriving and there are those that are starving, in more ways than one. It’s a massive living model of dualism, simultaneously ugly and breathtakingly gorgeous. How do we – how do I – proceed?
Look, I haven’t the foggiest. It’s not coming up roses at the moment, hasn’t for a long time. But I’ll try. I proceed by being kind, first to myself. Focus less on petty hatred. By embracing the wellspring of kindness and empathy I know lives in me, the same that lets me be hurt during the modern madness of shootings and wave after wave of terror attacks, to transit accidents like the one that took the life of Emiliano Sala last month. I need to because I’m getting numb-er by the day and pain reminds me that this stuff matters.
I continue by keep pushing past shitty day after shitty day and keep trying to read and learn, to commit to what I’m passionate about even as that, too, has been slipping through my fingers. I remember that I’m impossibly fortunate to have people that love me. I try to remind myself that I am deserving of that love. I try to be happy.
But above all, to live a good life, to nurture the leaflets in all of us, we need to remember we have one thing in common: choice. It’s what makes us ultimately human, what’s allowed us to collectively shape our reality, and continues to.
We erode under pressure …
Tilt your head for a second. Let’s rearrange perception. We have the choice to be the water that forges its own stubborn path, or we get to be the stone that gets rubbed smooth, gripless … eventually, into tiny specks of sand, that is to say: lost. I am not saying it’s easy, we just gotta put some effort in.
To those of you who read this far: thank you. No, seriously, thank you. This was yesterday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt, leaflet, however, I needed time to develop my thoughts and I think it was worth pushing for. Didn’t mean for it to get this long, as I usually avoid long posts because not everyone has the time to go through it, but I couldn’t delete more than I already have.