The first draft of The Yoga of Max’s Discontent was a disaster.
I was trying hard to write a story with a message.
It doesn’t work.
The storyteller has to become the story he’s telling.
If there’s a separation between the author and his message, between the artist and his art, art falls apart. The creator has to dissolve into his creation, experience such oneness with the story that s/he becomes just a medium for the story to express itself. Only when the story is liberated from its creator does it become a complete world, an alternate reality.
The author has to lose himself for his story.
Just like life.
Each time I try to find the purpose of life, it eludes me. But the moment I lose myself in my work, in my relationships, in my life, a deep, transcendental silence descends upon me.
This is purpose.
If I’m thinking, analyzing, grasping, I’m separated from my purpose. Only when I lose myself completely do I find myself.
Here are four ways I become nothing everyday. What are yours?
1. My work.
I had a manager at Procter & Gamble who often used to say:
“Don’t take things too seriously. We’re selling detergents here not curing cancer.”
I disagree completely.
You’re glimpsing transcendence through your work everyday. It’s serious business. A medical researcher loses herself in curing cancer, a social worker in saving the world, a writer in writing stories, a MBA in marketing detergents, and so on. No work is objectively any more meaningful than the other. Everything keeps this ecosystem running.
The tree’s dharma–its natural thrust–is to grow and bear fruit. It best serves the world by doing that rather than thinking it should flow like the river because the river has a larger impact on the world.
A yogi’s actions are neither black nor white, they are colorless.
A yogi is not trying to do either good or bad in the world. He’s just being, acting with complete spontaneity in line with his dharma—like the tree that grows and bears fruit without thinking, then withers away without clinging.
And in this simplicity and purity, he’ll likely do good in the world. The absence of conflict within himself will reflect in actions that cause no conflict in the world.
Today, I spent the day studying the Indian media landscape for my upcoming role at Discovery. Later in the night, I wrote this blog. I don’t know if I helped the world but I felt complete. This mix of business and creativity is my dharma. Both projects challenged me and interested me so much that I lost myself completely in them. This is my purpose.
If your work meets these two criteria…
a) You feel it’s in line with your dharma or your natural thrust
b) You’re challenged and stretched by it but not to breaking point
…then, you’re the most purposeful person in the world. Else change your field. No work-life balance, no status, no house, car or trinket can make up for work that isn’t in accordance with your dharma.
2. A handful of relationships
I used to read half-baked research like this and measure the quality of my life with the number of relationships I had.
I was wrong.
After years of wasting hours, days, months of my life in random meetings and large social get-togethers that leave me cold, I’ve learnt that a relationship is meaningful only when I lose myself completely in it—and there are barely a handful of them, Kerry, my kids, a few family members, old friends, new people who push and challenge me and ones I think I can help meaningfully in some way.
Now, I spend time only with people I feel either an explosion of selfless love for or feel completely absorbed in conversation with. The rest of time, I choose silence.
If you want to glimpse true purpose, don’t fill your life with obligations. Each time there’s a self-consciousness, the presence of an “I” judging an interaction as good/bad/useful/useless/obligation, the separation shows. Neither yourself nor the person you think you’re obligated to is experiencing truth this way.
3. The pursuit of mastery.
Until a few years ago, I used to be a dabbler–I read a little, wrote a little, hiked a little. I’d feel purposeful sometimes when I did those. Mostly though, I felt either a hazy dullness or a restless energy outside work.
Then, I wrote a novel. My world changed. I witnessed the self-dissolution that comes from the pursuit of depth and nuance versus in nibbling at excellence.
Since then, I glimpse transcendence by pursuing mastery.
In 2012, I got interested in yoga and meditation. So I read every book on Vedanta, Buddhism, Samkhya, and Eastern thought and spent a year becoming a yoga and meditation teacher in the Himalayas. Then, I got interested in the creative process—and read every book on generating ideas and constructing stories and experimented like crazy with my own writing. Then, I got…
Dive deep into things. Learning absorbs you, pushes you in the flow of evolution, dissolves you completely, giving you another glimpse of transcendence.
4. Meditation/Running/Spiritual Practice
A month before the launch of The Seeker in India, I was writing sharp, almost angry emails to my publishers, dissatisfied with the editing, marketing, or some aspect or the other of the book launch.
So much strife for what was my purest, most spiritual novel thus far.
Of course, I hadn’t meditated for a few months then. I’ve noticed this again and again. When I don’t meditate, I’m fractured from the world. My mind is filled with thoughts that separate me from others–“she shouldn’t have said this, he didn’t do this right etc.” If I meditate, the separation vanishes. I feel the same way when I run but the effects of meditation linger longer and deeper.
My life’s purpose is to fill my life with these four activities above and eliminate just about everything else. I don’t know where I’m going to get with this. Sometimes I lose all my money in these pursuits, sometimes I make money, sometimes I write novels that sell a lot of copies, sometimes they don’t get off the ground, sometimes my career does well, sometimes I self-destruct at epic levels. I don’t know if I’m helping the world or if I’m hurting it. All I know is that I lose myself almost everyday. And I hope you do too.
Do drop me a note in the comments to tell me where you find purpose everyday and maybe, I’ll try those activities too. As always, I’d love to learn from you!