Every now and then, the unthinkable happens. The walls disappear to distant music, the doors drift away, and the mind experiences a brief moment of ecstasy as it rediscovers its reason for being: it thinks! Suddenly free, the mind behaves like a lifer just out on parole, unsure about its new free will, gingerly exploring the steps it must take, looking paradoxically for a guiding hand.
Books help. Conversations, too. They give us theories and frameworks and terms of reference. They share with us the wisdom of a million years, the perception of distant cultures, the follies and fallacies of past attempts to interpret and present within the limitations of the written and spoken word the collective treasure of lives lived, customs constructed, values held sacred, beliefs passed down.
They tie us down. They hold us back. They try their best to guide us, but shackle instead our nascent mind living a lifetime in a brief instant of free will.
There is a reason they do this, I am told. There is a reason for everything – even murder, I retort (silently, so as not to enter a pointless debate).
There is a reason for tradition and continuity and the sacred rules that tie us to the social fabric, I hear. There is a reason we have only evolved so much and no further, I despair.
This is not an argument I can win. For the reason is all round and, worse still, deep within, ingrained in my genetics, my culture, my environment. This moment – this infinitesimal length of time snatched from the boundaries of time and space that constrain me forever – is precious.
But, is it true – what they say? Is this not mine?
“Mine” – a dangerous word, an illusory concept, an abhorrent thought, a misleading ideal? In the movie, “Amistad”, the central character, Cinque, calls on his ancestors in his gravest hour because he believes that, at that moment, he is the only reason they ever existed. They must, simply must, come to his aid! Was his belief profound, or the most arrogant conceit?
“Mine” – my thoughts, my beliefs, my values, my personality, my motivations, my friends, my family, my love, my talents, my successes, my failures, my faults, my virtues, my vices, my identity, my name....! Is this profound, or the most arrogant conceit?
If the mind craves freedom, why does it seek a guiding hand?
Perhaps, centuries of genetic self-selection has crippled the mind. Perhaps, the zillion customs we grow with and adopt have only bound us ever so firmly to the addictive need for their support.
Perhaps, in the end, we’re not that different from the trees that sustain us, firmly rooted to the ground, mistaking the occasional sway in the breeze for freedom, dreaming of the storm that will set us free even as it destroys us.
But, wait! Do I see the walls concretize again, the doors reappear with a scary vengeance?
Alas! I have pontificated for too long! It is time to return to the mundane.
Did my history, my culture hold me back? Or, did my choice to ponder? Oh, wait! Was it even “my” choice!?
(here we go again...sigh)
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