Mono No Aware
The bittersweet poignancy of things.
Date: Jan 7, 2022
Where once stood a boy,
with a twinkle in his eyes
and a mischievous little smile,
now stands a grown young man,
with a touch of sadness in his eyes
and a wistful smile.
On a moonlit foggy night,
he looks out his balcony,
and muses, if his life meant anything at all;
If his life had been worthwhile ...
Nostalgia, a twinge in his heart...
His memories take him to a bygone era,
a place that he once called home,
a place he aches to go again.
The many experiences he has had in life.
The many selves that arose as a result.
He wonders if he's still recognizable to his teenage self.
He hums an old, familiar tune,
contemplating the existential ennui and loneliness of life.
The many selves he once was.
The conflicted self that he is.
And the many selves that he will be.
Does it matter that he'll change so much over time?
His children would never meet his past selves.
His wife would not know what he was like before they met.
Then again, does it matter which self stands in front of them?
He knows that nothing endures except change.
But it still doesn't make it any easier to embrace it.
Change. His heart once used to flutter at its prospect.
He couldn't wait to embark on his adventure
Now that he's older,
he's a bit more cautious.
He knows what change entails.
He knows that someone who cannot sacrifice anything,
can never change a single damn thing.
He's frightened of the vicissitudes of change.
As much as he craves novelty
and the loveliness change can bring forth,
he doesn't want to lose his cherished posessions.
But then he remembers...
that none of it was his, to begin with.
He was only entertaining delusions of control.
He is but a minor note in a grand symphony.
There was nothing to lose,
since none of it was his, to begin with.
If everything changes,
there is nothing to hold on to.
As he looks up at the night sky,
he takes a deep breath in and slowly lets it go.
As the clouds start to disperse,
he marvels at the beauty of a starry night sky.
Once again, he's moved by a deep, profound sense of wonder
He senses this indescribable electricity in the air.
He could almost reach out and feel
this playful, benevolent force around him.
He smiles as he realizes that there was no reason to be afraid.
All he had to do was let go ...
It's almost 6.5 years since I moved to Canada. I've lived in 3 different cities and visited many more since then. It was all about chasing grand dreams and tilting at windmills. At least that's what my 21 year old, idealistic self thought it was about. Half blinded by (delusional) misguided dreams of glory and adventure, I forged on ahead, chasing illusions of success. And now, on a rainy day in Chennai, with a cup of filter coffee in hand, I look back at everything that's happened with a wistful sigh. Every time I come home to Chennai, it's surreal to see how much has changed over that time; Entire buildings torn down and replaced, old hangouts, favourite restaurants and shops renovated/shut down. It's now normal for me to involuntarily breathe a sigh of relief when I find a place from memory still intact. It's astounding how much of our memory hinges on things we didn't even pay attention to at the time.
I had a chance to go back to my old school neighbourhood (Chinmaya Nagar, Virugambakkam) this time around in Chennai. What struck me the most was how much smaller my school seemed now than what it was in my head! I always knew that my school didn't have a sprawling campus, but it was quite surprising to see how much larger it seemed to loom in my childhood memories. Memory is funny that way. Maybe that's because size is, after all, relative. As a shorter, skinny teenager, my school probably did seem bigger than it is now to my senses. It's funny, now that I'm back in this neighbourhood after so many years, I'm seeing this place that was once so near and dear to me with new eyes and extra colours. This place was once home for me. I spent countless hours playing street cricket and hanging out in local bakeries and snack shops with my friends. Most of us moved away from the neighbourhood once we were done with schooling, but a few stick around since their parents live still there. We had a nice little reunion of sorts, and it was fun to play street cricket once again after all these years. While it was heartwarming to rekindle these friendships after so many years, a part of me was sad because I started seeing them differently. I'm no longer the same 14-year old that once used to frolic around these streets, and for that matter neither are they. We have all grown up and changed in our unique ways. We all had our own little successes and failures, life-changing experiences and so forth. I realized something right then - coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving; And you don't have an option never to leave (i.e., never grow up). Some of us would still remain friends, some of us would drift apart, and some friendships might even grow stronger. Regardless, it'd never be the same again. As much as my heart aches to go back to the simpler times of my childhood, I just can't. Life will never be what it once was, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just so goddamn hard to accept that fact, though. Sigh. It blew my mind that The Beatles were able to convey the entire gist of my post using only four stanzas in one of the best songs ever composed, In my Life . Murakami had it right; those guys sure did know something about the sadness and gentleness of life.
It's strange to think that right now, just as I'm writing this, there are all sorts of life stories playing out around me. There are probably a few who are ecstatic over happy tidings, a few sick and tired of life and a few who are running on autopilot, either too inured to life or not interested enough to reflect on their own experiences. Some of you are probably happy about getting married or having kids or getting that sought after promotion, etc. And some of you, like me, are busy surviving yet another existential crisis, wondering what the hell you are doing with your own life. Regardless of our current situation in life, I guess we can all agree on one thing - change is inevitable. Turns out, this beaten to death aphorism has a life and death significance in adult life - "The only constant in life is change."
Change . It took me so many lines to get to the crux of my rambling prose - Change. That's what it's about. I'm stymied by the fact that it's so hard for me to accept change. My life has changed so much in the last few years that my brain is still playing catch up. New events barely register in my mind since my brain is still busy processing the events of my past. While I know that I'm missing out on the present moment by obsessing over the past, I still can't seem to stop myself from getting lost in the abyss of nostalgia.
Why is accepting change so fuckin hard? I think it's partly because it forces you to redefine who you are. Life forces you to change your identity, which hurts like a motherf*cker, especially when you don't like what you see in the mirror. We all start with this self-image of who we are, and we continually try to tell people what we think we are. But eventually, our actions catch up with us, and it paints a very different picture of who we really are. Now, do you judge yourself by your actions or your intentions? How do you reconcile your self-image with reality then?
Turns out, the answer to these questions is rather simple. You learn to let go. You learn to let go of attachments; you learn to let go of expectations. You start by accepting reality for what it is rather than what you think it ought to be. Sounds easy enough, I know. But god damn, it's a nightmare to practice this every single day. That's where this beautiful quote from Bojack Horseman comes in handy: "It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day —that's the hard part. But it does get easier."
Mono No Aware: The ephemeral nature of life
I have a fondness for words that precisely captures hard-to-describe feelings/emotions, and it led me to discover yet another beautiful term in Japanse called "Mono No Aware". It has to do with a bittersweet awareness that everything in existence is transient. There's usually an overwhelming sense of melancholy associated with all things impermanent. But we can choose to flip this perspective and appreciate the beauty of existence precisely because it is fleeting. The inherent brevity and ephemeral nature of events inevitably heighten the sheer feeling of awe we experience in their presence.
One of my earliest memories of adolescence is a conversation with my father, where he compared the people in our lives to passengers on a train. Some would get off at an earlier stop, some would give us company for a long time, and some would leave a lasting impact, even if the time we shared was too short. Nevertheless, we all have to get off the train when we finally arrive at our stop. In hindsight, I think it is a great analogy for the nature of relationships in life. Things might change, friends might drift apart, but life goes on.
"I think there are people that help you become the person that you end up being,
and you can be grateful for them
even if they were never meant to be in your life forever.
I'm glad I knew you, too.
- Diane, Bojack Horseman
We are the gestalt of our experiences. We've forgotten so much more than we remember. Yet, all these experiences have shaped us in myriad ways. I genuinely believe that it's an honour and a privilege to bear witness to the inherent richness of life. It may take a moment for me to let go and say goodbye. But that's okay. Life will change, and perhaps, I'll experience an entirely different kind of beauty. All I can really do is acknowledge the pathos of things and appreciate the beauty of this fleeting moment and be grateful that I get to be a part of this wonderful journey. From here on, I hope I have the strength to trust the wisdom of the Universe, take a leap of faith and just let go :)