View from US: Hello 2013!

January 06, 2013


Learn we must the art of being still. Can we? As prisoners of technology, it is like the body-hugging octopus that feeds our frenzy. Hallelujah! The internet, we’re convinced, is the font of all wisdom. If you need to know how to live, Google it and you’ll get hit by zillions of self-help sites; if something ails you, go to WebMD to get floored by advice, signs and symptoms you may not want to hear; if you’re lonely, chat up strangers waiting to vent in chat rooms and if you need a friend, hey, you have the Facebook! And what about that Twitter thing that has invaded the earth? Tweet and be at peace. Cheeps, peeps and squeaks will lighten your spirit.

What’s more, the internet is so sweet that it does not discriminate between old and young, black or white, rich or poor. This is one watering hole where everyone assembles. A day before New Year’s, at lunch with friends, the iPad controls the conversation. “I gave it to David as Christmas present,” says Mary. “I hate it,” pipes up David. “I am terrified of it.” We’ll get you there, sympathises the chorus. The host then proudly trots out his iPad that he too got for Christmas from his wife. “I love it!” he says, looking adoringly at his lap where the gadget sits. “I can’t imagine life without it”.

Sure enough, after lunch, David’s iPad is ceremoniously unwrapped and produced. Conversation circles around the darn thing, until it’s time to leave.

Apple doodads or thingies aside, there are still many whose heart tugs and the mind dithers when a new year rolls out, thrusting the last into the shadowy territories of history. When 2012 arrived, we made declarations to love, honour and respect life. Such vows are often a sequestered affair, unknown to the outer world. How the mind translates resolutions, wishes, hopes and promises, usually rests cloistered between the man and his soul.

While we try coming to terms with our private lives and rate our gains and losses, let’s say a big ‘Hello’ to 2013. Like the silvery pure snow, pristine blue skies and gold strands of sun that piloted the New Year (in my part of the world), we have 12 untouched months of a clean slate waiting to be lived. With the best and worst of anything you can imagine propelled into the pile we call the ‘past’, let us transfer to a future that awaits.

Trying to find answers on how to live a purpose-filled life is often impulsive. We whip out the same clichéd la-di-da ‘ways and means’ template; what we don’t have is a primer full of practical real life tips on how to achieve the unachievable.

Take happiness. Is it success, wealth, health or just plain old peace of mind that gets your body to produce serotonin? “Because happiness is hormonal, we don’t need to wait for happiness in life, we can make our body produce good hormones,” says Ilchi Lee in BrainWorld. Everybody can create happiness knowing this theory, he says. If you feel comfortable, peaceful and joyful, it secretes the “happy hormone or peace messenger” as Lee calls it. Serotonin goes direct to our brains and gives us a high.

Forming a ‘Friendship Circle’ can fulfill our multiple needs. You don’t need scores of your Facebook buddies to be in the circle. All you need is a handful of people who like you for who you are. Period. Someone you can call, text, meet, party, laugh and joke with. And when you need advice, instead of turning to the internet and scouring self-help books, you should be able to talk to your friends and ask their help.

What is a friend? The French philosopher Albert Camus has the simplest answer: “Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” The Nobel Laureate was best known as a proponent of existentialism : how to live one’s life in the present and believe that philosophical and psychological inquiry can help. Existential questions such as “death, the meaning of human existence, the place of God in human existence, the meaning of value, interpersonal relationship, the place of self-reflective conscious knowledge of one’s self in existing,” need addressing for an individual to conquer happiness.

But Apple inventor Steve Jobs had other plans in mind. The genius that he was, while he battled cancer and lost in the end, his furious race to entangle humans in technological revolution won him fame but left the human race worshipping his inventions on how to communicate. “As much as I love my iPhone 5, I’m worried,” writes Larry Momo in Washington Times. “You see, I’m a people watcher and, frankly, I don’t like what I’m seeing. In restaurants, bars, bowling alleys or just riding in cars, no one talks to each other. They text. They don’t look at each other, they don’t wave, they don’t smile at each other, they don’t know the other person is there. They just text. Couples in restaurants no longer talk. They text their friends, read their text messages and look up things on Facebook. They hardly glance at each other.”

Steve Jobs may be dead but 2013 is the world that he made. Most are lost in the techno-cloud he leaves behind.

Are we afraid to be still? Must we always be in motion to ward off isolation? Must our ears be plugged in with an earphone or our eyes fixated on a mini screen? Must our fingers be fiddling the keys on our phones or laptops? To heighten our senses, being busy is our mantra. To stop our personal universe from crashing, we think action in any form is the antidote.

Wrong! Stop! Switch off the idiot box that spews a lot of nonsense and nothing more. Shut down your computer. Switch off your cell phone. Padlock the portion of your brain where chatter is ceaseless. Go on a journey of self-discovery where you will discover something new each day as the American poet Robert Frost did in his poem The road not taken.

Instead, he took the road less travelled. Because he says it was “grassy and wanted wear”. He left the other road for another day, though he doubts if he’ll ever walk on it. Like a sage, Frost ends with lines that haunt us till today: Somewhere ages and ages hence/two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less travelled by/ And that has made all the difference.

Happy New Year!