What does one do when one doesn’t know what to do?’ she said.
I have taken on a new habit recently. It has, in parts, been encouraged by my friend Zalina, a filmmaker. Lately, she has been attending workshops that encourage people to free their minds, meditate, discuss, and reflect upon topics both worldly and metaphysical. Upon completion of her exercises for the day, she usually sends me little podcasts detailing the task for that particular day and then, after I am done listening, we reflect upon them. It was one such discussion where the topic of following one’s heart came up. The topic was fresh in my mind as I had recently written about it. She had read the piece and we were discussing it when she asked me the question, with a dramatic pause thrown in, to complete it. Expectantly so, I had reverted to my sphinx-like face. I was told by a friend from Barcelona that I made that face when someone suggested or discussed, a very basic or novel idea, which would both intrigue and leave me stumped. This was one of those times.
I mulled over it. I had always made a big hue and cry about pursuing dreams and how that was the only way to find happiness within, but I had never delved into the idea, which as Zalina showed me, plagued a lot of people. ‘How can a person follow his or her dreams, when they do not know what excites them?’
I went back in time to a fairy tale from the old Soviet land called Tsarkhin Khan and the Archer. The fairy-tale focussed on the conspiring and evil Khan who sent the Archer to No-one-knows-where to bring back No-one-knows-what, so that he could covet the Archer’s beautiful wife in his absence. Of course there were real world parallels that I could draw about the characters, but I was fixated on a something else – Going to No-one-knows-where to bring No-one-knows-what. It was similar to the question Zalina had asked me. To understand the answer, I focussed my thoughts on the question. And as I was focussing on it, I realised the answer to that lay in another question which was essential to answering the first one — What was the thing that made me happy?
Now that is a tricky question because there are many things that do make us happy, so how does one filter the list? I again focussed my energies (as Zalina had taught me through our little podcasts) on the one thing that set my pulse racing and set my soul on fire. Sure enough I found the answer — writing. In whichever form it was – answering an email, writing a story, a column, it made me happy. It made me burst into a full-fledged smile and made me feel as content as Jerry mouse’s nephew Nibbles feels after his Thanksgiving meal. And that in parts answered the first question, which I had altered to ‘How does one find what one has to do?’
It led me further (rather anticlimactically) to realise, there was no sure-fire answer to the question. Whether we ask a ‘What’ or a ‘How’, it doesn’t have one answer. Instead, there are many little pointers that life always shows us, and if we are courageous enough to follow them, points us in the right direction. For instance, being stuck in a dead-end job is a sure-fire indicator that doing it doesn’t make us happy. Stuck in a stubborn routine that saps our energy is another indicator. Racing against time to make time for that which is not important is another one.
The world, the universe, karmic laws or whatever it is that you call it, always gives us those indicators. Children and old people, often, are the only two kinds of people who spot them and adjust their lives quickly to accommodate them. Adults on the other hand are a different story. Yes, it doesn’t mean shunning responsibilities towards the family, the people around us, the environment and even our work, but accomplishing those responsibilities at the cost of our happiness is as good as not accomplishing them.
“I don’t really have a complete answer to your question,” I told Zalina, “but I do know that not doing things that make us miserable is half the work done. Leaving out things that make us unhappy leaves us with things that make us happy, sifting through which affords us our calling. Does it answer your question?”
“I think it does, for now,’ she said.
(Rohan Swamy is a former journalist, writer, photographer, now working at Trinity College Dublin)