“Plenty of people are on to the emptiness. But it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.”
I did not fully comprehend what the words meant while watching the movie ‘Revolutionary Road’. However the sentence sounded relevant especially in the context of the movie where the protagonists (Kate Winslet and Leonardo De Caprio) find all attempts to break from their lackadaisical life futile and get sucked into the same routine despite attempts to break free.
Hence on a Sunday afternoon between elections news and IPL, I decided to chew the cud – bring back my semi digested understanding of the phrase ‘ hopeless emptiness’, chew it properly for better understanding, ask a few questions and then put my perspective into what I think are the major reasons for hopelessness and a possible prescription.
I had attended an Art of Living workshop at the behest of my friend who is a member of the foundation. The Art of Living is founded by Spiritual Guru and new age Hindu evangelist Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and has a strong network around the world. What I find most interesting is the revenue model where the foundation charges for a number of its unique programs –Art of Living Course Part I (this is a 6 days course with emphasis on correct breathing techniques. I found the breathing exercises really fascinating though I never ended up practising it post the workshop), Art of Living Course Part II, Breath-Water-Sound Program, Youth Empowerment Seminar etc.
In the words of the foundation “The Art of Living conducts several self-development and stress elimination programs that empower people to face life’s challenges gracefully. These workshops equip the participants with skills, and techniques that enhance the quality of their lives.
At the core of these unique programs is the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful revitalizing breathing technique gifted to the world by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar after spending 10 days in deep contemplation, and silence. The technique is proven to facilitate physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.
This workshop was unique because it was conducted by the guru himself. After the initial breathing exercises and Satsangs (devotional Speech and chanting of hymns), there was a question and answer session. I found this session extremely discomforting. The questions were very specific with participants wanting solution to their existential problems. Some wanted to forget the memory and the pain from the death of a beloved. Others wanted to know why they have been singled out for a certain handicap or how can they discipline their wayward kid, or how can they assuage the pain of cancer or a terminal disease. I could also discern the discomfort in the voice of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as he patiently attempted to answer these questions. He did not delve too much into the cause of the suffering as into the solution of continuing to meditate and practise breathing exercises. The funniest incident was when a woman insisted in hugging the guru (he was on a dais) and he kept on explaining that it was not required.
This incident left me with strong contrasting emotions. The first one was of disgust about how could someone discuss their pain and suffering in a public forum and ask for sympathy so openly. My first reaction was if you can’t solve your own problems, how can some one else solve it for you.
The second emotion was more mellowed and I realised I was lucky and privileged not to have been through the same suffering and hence I had no right to comment on the same.
I realised that organisations like the Art of living served three important needs of human being – the need to socialize ( we are gregarious by nature ) , the need to share and seek positive reinforcement and the need for an emotional crutch, a purpose and belief in a power bigger than self confidence and self motivation. My perspective changed and I felt how important a role was being served by such organizations.
I will not try to oversimplify such a discussion around emptiness and hopelessness. But I will try and establish my theory around the same and how I believe by questioning three assumptions in our life which we take for granted and through one attitude change we can deal with negative emotions much easier.
There are times in our life when we feel vacant, unoccupied, beyond hope, impossible to accomplish and without force. I could say emptiness is something we experience regularly whether it is because of a recent break- up with your girl friend or boy friend or losing in touch with your loves ones, or a temporary dissatisfaction in job or family. Hopelessness on the other hand is when you begin to despair and feel the light at the end of the tunnel is fused. It can take psychological proportions you end up in self doubt like – Why are all cards against me? There is no way I will succeed. A simple search in Google will give you millions of websites on how to manage trauma, how to be happy, how to manage loss and suffering. I was reading the Sunday newspaper where Dr Deepak Chopra was advising the readers on how to be happy.
Quote- Start by telling yourself everyday, I am a divine being and I deserve happiness! That is a truth. The doubts are errors in perception… they are misunderstandings. We have misunderstood who we are and our purpose here. We are not — I repeat — not sinners, nor are we here to suffer and become martyrs! We are a Divine Expression of Life and can choose to experience life as a joyful, loving experience. We can be loving beings, giving and receiving love and living joyfully and harmoniously in accordance to Divine Order.
And can we handle Happiness? Yes, yes a 1,000 times yes! We can be happy when we release barriers, fears, doubts, self-judgments, criticisms and beliefs in punishment. We need to change the programs we are listening to. Then we will discover that happiness has always been there — we were simply tuned in to a different frequency.
I find most of it really amusing. But I like the way how through multiple anecdotal references, and through constant rhetoric, he is able to drive his point about accepting and acknowledging feelings be it positive or painful and sharing it . In response to a question from a reader on how she is not able to forget the death of a younger brother, I was amazed at his answer-Usually; grieving doesn’t last longer than two years. In your case, it has been more than three years. It indicates underlying depression and may need professional help.
I found the answer really interesting because his two year reference actually reinforces the point that individuals have certain resilience inbuilt in them to overcome suffering.
If this is the case why do we get paralysed so much by that empty feeling in our life which also tends to get hopeless at times?
I think for three reasons.
First –We think we deserve to be happy.
In fact we don’t deserve to be happy. We decide to be happy. The rich think they deserve to be rich. I think I deserve a better salary. My neighbour thinks he deserves a good looking wife. In this chain of deserving more and more, somewhere the chain breaks and we get disappointed. We crib and complain.
I think a lot of problems can be solved if we stop looking at God as someone distributing goodies as per what one deserves and more in terms of rewarding perseverance and consistent effort.
Second -Inflexibility and failure to realise that even if you have screwed up now, you will not screw up for ever.
Lots of people describe their anxiety at the state of the economy. What if I lose my job? Our social conditioning is such that, if you are a loser now, you are going to be a loser for life. Hence save your job at all costs, the end is more important that the means and so on. What we don’t realise is that what ever I am now, I am not for ever. If we are flexible we can come out unscathed in any situation. Those who don’t mind working in a McDonald’s store if you have lost your present job or don’t mind giving away a few luxuries and adjusting and accommodating will have the last laugh. Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest applies to more situations than we imagined. And the attitude change I spoke amount is optimism. We have to start viewing life as a series of opportunities.
Third – the eternal quest for interpersonal love
I think we spend a lot of time seeking and looking for that love and positive reinforcement from our partners, parents looking for that love from their kids and friends looking for love their friends. It’s a natural thing to do – so seek love from our loved ones and love them in return. How ever I feel too much dependence in inter- personal love is blinding and builds a certain expectation mechanism around it. We feel empty and hopeless if our feelings do not get reciprocated at the same level. I also agree that some of the most wonderful moments are those spent with the person you love.
However I feel a certain impersonal component of love – love for country, a principle, goal, job, or hobby or activities is useful in maintaining a stable balance in your every day life. I am not saying it will replace your interpersonal love but only enrich it.
It’s been a long article. I think I have ruminated enough on happiness and suffering. I acknowledge each emotion of happiness or sorrow, of hope and despair, of fulfil ness and emptiness is very individualistic and personal. My attempt is not in any way to undermine any of those. My purpose is to make you aware of your emotions and remind you that you are as happy or as sad as you allow yourselves to be.