Whilst far detached from what is loosely termed spirituality, I do, as I am sure many others like me do too, yearn for more than existence offers. Naturally, as is human tendency, all desire more than is theirs – whether new shoes, a leap up the social ladder or a companion – but here I speak not of such petty desires; yearning is the accurate word. It is an utterly confusing sentiment, as if perpetually homesick whilst at home, as if I am struck by an illness without symptoms.
It is strong and always there, looming, some sort of empty feeling. I cannot translate it into words or provide an explanation – that’s how confusing it is – but I can crudely describe what the yearning is for. Plainly, I long for substance (the word that first came to mind); a place to live where nature has not been mostly rearranged by the hands of man, where it is childish to measure happiness in terms of possession, where making a modest, adequate living is enough, where wisdom and simplicity are not mutual antagonists, there where they march hand in hand, where we are grateful for the earth and sun that provide, where we see beauty in more than just beautiful things, where we have a sense of respect for our ancestors and elderly, where we live by tradition because progress is unnecessary, where we would just laugh at worries and feuds. Where life is peaceful, and where it just happens instead of being planned. I recall having had this feeling since I’ve been fifteen years old, when I thought to myself – thoughts that yet remain – that I was born in the wrong place or wrong time (or maybe even both). Rather I should have been a coffee or sugar farmer somewhere in Africa or South America, or a desert nomad in Arabia, or a sheep herder in Nepal, or perhaps cultivate rice in Indochina.
Obviously I have no idea whatsoever as to how the lives of those people are, my interpretations thereof may be wide of the mark. But the point has been made.
So I have borne this sentiment for multiple years, but it is only now, for the first time, that I am expressing it in words to the best of my ability. That is the case because apparently it’s much more common than I used to think, as I learnt while reading Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay The end of history?. In it Fukuyama presents his thoughts on liberal democracy, suggesting that it marks the end of humankind’s ideological evolution – that it is the final form of human government. He also speaks of dangers that threaten it, including religious fundamentalism about which he says: “One is inclined to say that the revival of religion in some way attests to the broad unhappiness with the impersonality and spiritual vacuity of liberal consumerist societies. Yet while the emptiness at the core of liberalism is most certainly a defect in the ideology—indeed, a flaw that one does not need the perspective of religion to recognize—it is not at all clear that it is remediable through politics.” Thus apparently the lack of ‘substance’ I experience in life is not just some strange characteristic of mine, but perhaps it is a broad feature of liberal consumerist society. I had always known that the sentiment was shared, to greater or lesser extents, by others – as I learnt from my encounter with Westerners living in India, but I had not thought about it in the broad context of how society is governed.
It’s an interesting thought, I believe, for I wonder what its implications are for the future. Will the sentiment always remain as a discomfort shared by a small minority? Or are we who bear it the first to feel certain symptoms of what may, gradually, become a source of transformation (to whatever is the cause of it)?