Humming In My Universe
June 3, 2007
One of the great comforts of modern living is also its greatest bane. I am talking about the blessing and the curse of living where everything is available and already processed for us. From food to music to knowledge, things are served to us already tested, pasteurized, homogenized, pre-chewed, preserved, pre-approved, certified, and properly hyped and ‘spun’ so that we have very little leeway to experience anything outside the manufacturers’ intent.
I am amazed to realize that I am probably eating immensely better, dressing far more comfortably, or even living more sensibly, health-wise, than say, Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte or Julius Caesar who were the most powerful movers and shakers centuries ago. I am baffled at the thought of how people of other times coped without Tylenol, toilet paper, antibiotics, cars, or even Nikes. World leaders may have ruled over empires and the lives and fates of nations, peoples and civilizations, but their experience of what comfort and convenience were do not come close to what we have now.
And while it is easy to see the good in all these conveniences, the entire setup has made us more prone to alienation and ennui than any other civilization before us. Modern living, though invented to make our lives more productive and meaningful, can make us feel lost in has actually created a world of shallow consumerism where everything we do or own seems to stare meaninglessly at us in the face and makes us more angst-ridden than ever.
Not too long ago, when I was a child, our kusinera bought all our food fresh from the market. The meat sold was prepared by the butcher himself, the chickens were ‘native’ and probably raised by the seller herself, and the veggies did not have insecticide.
The music we listened to and liked did not need a video to be attractive and wonderful. The singers and artists had to know how to do their stuff really well and impress their audience with very little help from TV, promo people and big corporate sponsored backing to ‘sell’ their songs.
Going further back a few centuries when man needed to hunt for food, it was even simpler. There were the hunter and the prey. The activity involved killing animals to feed oneself and the family. Since there was no refrigeration, man only killed what was needed. There was no hoarding. Life was basic: Kill or die.
In spite of the seeming savagery, there was a beauty to it that is lost in the modern acquisition of food. The hunter respected the hunted because he had much to learn from it. There was a ‘participation mystique’ they shared which led to mutual respect. The respect led to rituals that paid homage to the animal after it was killed. In the end, it was like the animal had ‘sacrificed’ itself so that the hunter could live.
The ritual was important for the hunter since it wiped away his savagery and guilt. And underlying all the sacredness of the activity was the beautiful ecological message of the cycle of life which, put in simple terms, meant that the killed animal would come back to nourish him again since it was treated with respect and not killed wantonly.
In the old days, the food one gathered nourished not just the body but the spirit itself. The sacredness of food could not be missed.
When I was a young boy in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, every time we dared not to finish our food, our mother always reminded me and my siblings about the starving people in China and elsewhere. To this day, I almost always leave my plate clean after every meal. It was perhaps the way I saw food prepared then and the threatened scarcity of it that has made me treat food this way.
As moderns, what can we do to get the magic back? How can we achieve some kind of participation mystique with what we eat, listen to, and every other activity we do? The answer could be the key to bringing enchantment to our everyday life.
Let’s start of by asking simple questions like where the food on the table came from. Beyond a certain point, I am sure that we will not get accurate answers. This is where imagination can come in. For example, we can ponder on who sold the fish to us. What kind of person is he? Does he have a family? Where did he get it? The questions, answered by our imagination can open us up to a sense of wonder at the interconnectedness of things and how a particular object has found its way to us.
In my case, I add a dash of faith which raises the level of curiosity. I consider the possibility of how things that come to us were ‘meant to be’ with us at a particular time. When I do, curiosity leads me to the ‘discovery’ of some sort of ‘sacred conspiracy’ that has brought all these little, mundane stuff of life together in one place.
All of a sudden, I am not ‘just eating any fish’ but am being nourished by a special one that has been sent to me. And every thing around me, both seen and unseen, begins to acquire its own special-ness that was not originally there. All things become special objects, everyone is a sacred messenger and every experience is there for my evolutionary ascent to greater consciousness.