A Life Uninhabited

February 18, 2015 at 11:24 am

“While we speak, envious time will have already fled; seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.” From the Roman poet, Horace’s Carpe Diem to the Canadian rapper, Drake’s YOLO, we have ingested many versions of “You only live once”. But do we really live only one life or does our resistance against being given just one, make us live many inside of it?


Multitasking Gods: Image courtesy Steve Jurvetson

Multitasking Gods : Image courtesy Steve Jurvetson

Whether we believe in fate or not, we can agree that an essential motif in the human journey is that it cannot be controlled. We are a bundle of chaos and confusion. The heart and the mind; the ego, super ego and id; the mind and the spirit; the archetypes; no matter how you look at it, spiritually, philosophically or psychologically, we are comprised of multiple thinking and decision making entities. How then can we aspire to live one life when we aren’t one person?

As a perpetually distracted individual, congruence has always been my highest goal. I have always had trouble focusing on a single task. I grew into a culture that foolishly heralded multitasking as a God. I would work while listening to music and have 20 other tabs open on my browser. Within the tiny 15 inch screen of my laptop were packed enough distractions to keep me busy for a whole day. But I would consume all of them together in a few hours. It was a form of unacknowledged, glorified gluttony.


In every given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to a study, that number is about 126 bits of information per second. That may seem like a large number (and a lot of information), but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just decoding speech takes about 40 bits of information per second; that’s 1/3 of one’s capacity. That is why when having a conversation one cannot focus as much attention on other things. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


There are two things happening here: firstly, our life has many influences pushing it in many different directions; secondly, this is happening both at the macro and micro levels of our lives. But we can’t really use one as the excuse for the other. We may settle into a life that demands us to shoulder many responsibilities and juggle them within one lifetime. This is what makes us so unique. We are engineers, fathers, artists, philanthropists, athletes all rolled into one. And what is more spectacular is that each one of us is a different combination of these archetypes. We cannot help it, in fact we don’t even want to. We love this about ourselves, our innate ability as human beings to create islands of individual lives within the one big lifetime we are given on Earth.


The macro isn’t the problem, the micro is. When we try doing all of this within the same moment we short circuit our goals. In that moment we live a confused and dazed residue of all of our lives. In addition to this we shuttle between our present life, our past and the many versions of our predicted futures. Our attention is torn across time. We co-exist in multiple ages and I can tell you from personal experience, this causes a lot of anxiety. A large portion of all the stress I have dealt with has risen out of this dysfunction.


The Tao does nothing,

yet leaves nothing undone.


If powerful men and women

could center themselves in it,

the whole world would be transformed

by itself, in its natural rhythms.

People would be content

with their simple, everyday lives,

in harmony, and free of desire.

When life is simple,

pretenses fall away;

our essential nature shines through.


When there is no desire,

all things are at peace.

When there is silence,

one finds the anchor of the universe

within oneself.

– Verse 37 of Tao Te Ching – Lao-tzu


There is a lot that we can learn from nature. As human beings we are taught to showcase our effort. Hard work is good work only when acknowledged by others. This stands in contrast with the effortless fluidity with which nature operates. While we strive for recognition, nature keeps its intentions inconspicuous. This invisibility hides the individual forces in nature and makes it seem like one singular entity. In contrast, each one of us looks like a railway station during a festival.


When we look at our lives from a distance, it could seem as though it is composed of many driving forces, but up close it shouldn’t seem that way. Every moment needs to be whole in itself. It is only when every moment feels complete, can it add up to a life that feels “inhabited”. Confused and distracted moments amount to nothing. In fact over time they gravitate to more confusion. I often have experiences where I pull myself away from the computer and wonder where the last two hours have gone. My inability to remember them reveals how incongruent my thoughts have been.


Too fast too furious: Image courtesy sandy.redding

Too fast too furious: Image courtesy sandy.redding

We saturate our minds by multi-tasking. Living one life and doing one task at a time, and letting that activity fill you up is meditative. We don’t need to go outside and join classes to achieve that kind of undisturbed calmness. We can do that right on our desks by just closing everything else and focusing on the one thing that deserves all our attention. When you eat one thing at a time you can savor its taste, when you shove everything on the plate into your mouth, you only feed a hunger.


Nibble at me.

Don’t gulp me down. – Rumi


Nibbling at life requires a mature mind, even a child knows how to gulp something down. The speed at which a task is done reveals a lot about the person doing it. When we value a task more than we value someone’s opinion on how we do it, we become invisible, just like nature. We create who we are by choosing what we wish to allow into the moments that fill our days. Towards the end of our lives, it won’t matter how many lives we have lived, but how much we have truly inhabited the one life we were given.

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