How different are we from inanimate objects, if we were to remain indifferent, acquiescently agreeable and mindlessly malleable, to the insidious hollowing of hearts in the name of progression, by way of disillusionment? And to what end, really – to all achieve convergence to become efficient output machines?
As I dangerously approach my quarter-century of existence on this earth, a thought has been relentlessly resurfacing in the depths of my subconsciousness. It seems akin to a recurring reminder: this is the prime of your life which you can never recover. A glorious time in which bold decisions should be made and lived; a golden phase in which I am both old and young enough to make my own decisions and have the liberty to veer off the originally intended path towards new alternative ones.
Decades on, should we still have the privilege of our mental acuities, we would look back on this defining age and marvel at the diverse worlds of infinite possibilities that now lay limitless before us, each one as open and inviting as the next. The only obstacle that stood between us and the path to our desired outcomes was ourselves, for anything else would in fact be weak pretexts.
We, of that time in the not-so-faraway future who would have then travelled the passageway of time and amassed experiences in congruence with our chosen paths, might wonder: how would my current life and being be different had I taken another path? Perhaps, a road less travelled by? Do we, of the present time, wish to take the road less travelled by?
The decision tree of our lives appears to be marked by a continuous stream of conventional choices. After all, the beaten path is the safest one – the very weariness of the well-trodden track bears testament to its steadfastness to the masses who had trampled upon it, masses who have made the journey and survived, seemingly unscathed. We cajole ourselves into believing that choosing this path would thereby allow us to minimise the uncertainty and risk of potential failure in our lives.
Yet, to be guided by a beaten path for lack of a clear direction or passion would allow us to do just this: to survive, but not to live. In the words of Anais Nin:
You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you read a book, or you take a trip, and you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. They work in offices. They drive a car. They picnic with their families. They raise children. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.
Take a moment to consider the manner in which you are currently living your life: is this the way you aspire to go through your life? Do you not want to be wholly alive, to live voraciously in the present moment, in each and every moment? Do you not desire to revel in the world of possibilities and to find your way into carving out something unique for and to yourself? Do you not wish to be able to lay claim to have made a difference in this life, and to have created something that only you are capable of creating, a thing beyond the prosaic yield of industry?
In believing to err on the side of caution, we seem to have instead erred in the acute circumscription of possibilities that were once boundless to us. It seems befuddling, the way we accede to the one socially constructed, conventional life we have been conditioned into thinking we ought to lead, when there in fact exists an infinite number of other exciting potential lives quietly awaiting our exploration.
And yet, the sheer impossibility of actualising all our desired paths and possibilities can also evoke within us a profound sense of self-awareness, mortality, and worldliness. In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath aptly depicts this state of mind through the voice of Esther:
I saw my life branching out before me like a green fig tree. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
The tides ebb and flow. Possibilities falter. Choice looms.
– Agnes Chew