At a recent conference in Beijing, a young Buddhist girl disciple asked a close friend why Indians ate garlic. It was her contention that eating garlic makes one angry and hence must be avoided. Here is a transcript of their further conversation.
My Friend-- 'I thought Buddha taught us not to be dependent on external factors such as images, etc. Why should something like garlic be allowed to control your emotions? The question is, does garlic control you or do you control garlic?
Buddhist Girl -- Don’t you get angry after consuming garlic?'
My Friend -- 'No, I never get angry because of garlic. I have learnt to control my anger. I seek to control other aspects that I am not too proud of, but anger is something I have moved on from.'
The Buddhist girl seemed impressed and remarked that my friend must be on the verge of achieving nirvana!
Nirvana or not, understanding oneself and through that understanding, control over oneself and circumstances does make for contentment and peace of mind. What is it that fires you and is more or less the anthem of your life? Each of us has an anthem for life, something that is fundamental to our existence, the song our heart sings, the picture our soul paints. That elusive something that runs as the fundamental thread through our entire lives and nudges and beckons us ahead.
Recently, I watched Eat Pray Love (EPL) at the insistence of a friend. I had started reading the book about a year ago but it didn't hold me, so discarded it despite it being a hot topic of discussion. The movie seduces me to pick it up again.
In the movie, while dining out in Italy, author and main character Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) and a group of friends get down to discussing what is the one word that could describe each one of them best. From here onwards starts Elizabeth’s quest for understanding herself well enough to be able to encapsulate her entity in just one word. This exercise may seem easy at first, but it isn't. Try it! When I asked some friends what was the one word that described them best, almost all immediately came up with a single word.
Before I could say I was impressed, they came up with another, then another and yet another, and so on. And that’s where the problem lies. It is easy for each of us to use many words to talk about ourselves but seems next to impossible to use one word to describe all that we stand for -- our dreams, aspirations, desires, ambition, loves, likes and dislikes, or the quest of our very souls all the things that describe and define us. How do you capture all of that in just one word? It would be too limiting.
And yet, think about it. If you really think long and deep you will realise that if forced to do so, you can identify the one principle that runs through your life, the one thing you stand steadfast by, the one rule you refuse to budge on, the one recurring dream that refuses to go away, the one thought that creeps in unawares -- at your highest as well as lowest moments. And in that action, thought, or dream you will discover the life principle that fires you most. That is the word for you!
In EPL, while still in Italy, Elizabeth is fascinated by a word attraversiamo, which she is told means 'Lets cross over.' However, it takes her an entire year and a journey through three countries to decide that this is the word she wishes to define her life by. The word denotes coming to terms with something, holding the hand of a loved one and helping each other cross over, coming to a decision about life and about yourself and deciding what or who your heart really beats for. Quite often most of us are dithering on the edge of a discovery or decision, hesitating to take the step that takes us over to the other side, waiting for a sign, a prophecy. And then comes the epiphany, and we cross over. A beautiful word. Attraversiamo.
Similarly, each of us can have a word that we live life by. The quest for that word is a quest for the very meaning of life and our own existence in particular. After much thought for a day or so, a friend came up with 'Balance' as the word that defines her life. As she puts it, "Every thought and action of mine is balanced. But my life itself has no balance, so that's what I need to seek now! In Eat Pray Love, the mendicant in Bali tells Elizabeth, "Sometimes you need to lose your balance in love to find balance in life."
Another friend used the word 'Energetic' to describe herself, but then added 'inexhaustible', 'dizzy', 'unbeatable', 'madcap'! before she got all confused. Yet another immediately answered 'Passionate.' She then stopped a minute and said, "Or is it 'emotional'?" After that she got very thoughtful and kind of lost.
I do believe with this one question, I have set off many friends on their quest for the word that defines them and their lives! Such a journey is only likely to empower one and help you get into the driver's seat where your life is concerned. So then, what is the one word that describes you and defines your life? Do let me know your word here ...