In the foreword to Life of Pi, Yann Martel remarks that if a person ever feels restless then they should go to India. India is a place that will beat the restlessness out of anyone. I didn’t get too much further with Life of Pi beyond the foreword as every novel appeared disappointingly bland in contrast to the excess and emotions – if slightly flawed narrative – of Shantaram. Yet that litle remark remained with me. The constant restlessness I felt before leaving for India feels like an alien sensation as I have now returned to familiar surroundings – surroundings that previously felt so suffocating and exasperating – and experience only an equanimous mind.
The restlessness stemmed from a persistent questioning of my life and the societal demand to adhere to conventions. It felt like a block – nothing I wanted came to fruition – I was in my own way – at a dead end. When society’s tolerance for difference continues to reduce and the belief that there is only one way to live your life grows, the desire for an alternative existence can feel an impossible and childish dream. It can foster a state of permanent dissatisfaction; of always wanting. and demanding, more. This is an exhausting mode in which to exist. Or at least I thought I was exhausted. Until India, and ashtanga and Sharath.
People ask me now what I am going to do next. (because now I have wasted enough money and time doing dumb things like yoga). And I see the frustration emerge on their face as I give open ended, vague answers. Maybe I will do this, maybe that; let’s see what happens.
Voice of convention: “I just want you to be settled”
Me: “But I am settled. I am happy as I am”
((cue confused expression – how can she be happy as a unemployed, single, female, who has never had a proper job at nearly 27???))
Me: “I just want to do yoga, and go back to Mysore”
Voice of convention: “Why don’t you do a PGCE?”…….
And so on.
And the fragments return to me… alone with my memories it feels like it was all a dream…
The greyness descends, cold chills my body, layers of knitwear and socks, sandals discarded to the back of the wardrobe and wool lined Dr Marten’s adorned instead, stepping out into the road ignoring traffic lights, feeling confused about where the cows have gone, and London: a city that once drove me insane now seeming tranquil and calm, and quiet – no horns!! and adding too much sugar to my tea and reaching for the water spray thing in the toilet, and no more laminated menu’s with ‘kuchcumber salad’, and eating blocks of mature cheddar, and feet that stay clean, and soft beds and hot showers – no buckets!, and washing machines!! and everyone seems so smart and attractive, and people speaking about things that seem so distant and foreign, and the mind is still elsewhere……
Restlessness can be a useful state but not when it causes the neglect of the appreciation of the details in life -when the drive for more leaves every experience empty; when the mind retains the belief that life will only be complete once certain pre-designed goals have been accomplished. Similarly having a direction to head can help us navigate the chaos when life causes us to return to nothing – without definite and established categories of an acceptable life (i.e. job, partner, home, money). But still we should be careful about the objects we wish to attain. And we should be mindful to remember that it is not the ‘end’ if things fall apart. The nature of life – of modern life – is such that nothing lasts forever, things constantly fall apart. Those that manage to retain some semblance of sameness in their lives is more often than not due to a lack of taking risks and exploring the possibilities available to them.
Voice of convention: “But when will you stop going from one thing to another, just going here and there?”
There will always be attempts to control the one who chooses a haphazard path. Flightiness can be dismissed in youth, but has to be eradicated in adulthood. Yet what people misunderstand is that which scares them so much, is where you can experience the beauty of life; it’s where the excitement is. Restlessness is created by dissatisfaction – it is a constant fighting against the stream of life. Instead embracing the haphazard flow of things can lead us to much more exciting and satisfying places, and keeps the delightful ambiguity of never quite knowing where those places will be.