It happened again. I was engrossed in the quotidian task of a workday morning when the news arrived – news that freezes the flow of our bodies, makes the heart pound faster and shoots off confused connections in the brain. The news of death. Death, not by coronavirus but because of an accident. The death of someone close in the family.
My views about death are culturally influenced. That we all die. That the death of an older person is more consolable than the death of someone younger. Because being old is recognised as a consequential occurrence of having lived a full life. It is ‘expected’, inevitable and acceptable. But the passing away of a young soul is ever unsettling and unacceptable. Even if taken away by the global pandemic, the loss of a young life is inconsolable. A life waiting to be lived was snatched away. This age-driven bereavement is made worse still when the death is by accident or other unnatural causes. Because it is shocking, sudden and not expected. One such detachment got me thinking about death as a day-to-day occurrence, as a part of everyday life.
The hope of an afterlife is one way we condole death. This hope once instilled in me a belief that death happens when we choose to let go. When our ill-ridden body decides that it cannot take it anymore and concedes. Or in the way my grandfather died while meditating – sensing the accomplishment of his existential purpose, the ethereal energy of life chose to leave his body. But how can this stand true when a thriving life ceases to exist in one split second because of an accident? That blew-off my belief. And reality kicked in.
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Humans are no different than any other natural being. We live within a life-cycle, the circle of life. Vulnerable to fend for ourselves at birth, our species has evolved to survive long enough to procreate and care for the offspring. It is during this survival that we, the species with complex cognitive abilities than others, strive to live a meaningful life. To find our ikigai.
Ikigai is a Japanese word, which means ‘reason for being’. The concept originates in Okinawa, a Japanese island known for the largest population of centenarians. It lays out that we can find our ikigai at the confluence of what we love, what we are good at, what we can be paid for and what the world needs. Discovering this conflux will enable each of us to live a fulfilling and long-living life.
This makes sense. Most of us may not have a structured concept like the Japanese. Yet, we do live by its principal elements in our continuous endeavour to find balance. Seeking the conflux of love, passion, profession, family and social life is our quest to redeem our life’s purpose.
However, the incidence of death demolishes our perceived purpose. Death of not only ourselves, but of anyone near and dear including. The death destabilises our balance. The death of a younger one shatters it. Why? Because, in our ecosystem of love, passion, need and living, love is now a mere vacuum. How are we to get it back? We are forced to live without it. Just like that in a snap we are made helpless and imbalanced. So we cry, we bawl, we breakdown. We get angered by the unfairness in life. But who’s life are we lamenting about? The life that is no more, or the life that has suffered an irreversible loss – ours?
Studies have proven that losing one’s purpose can have detrimental effects on self. Besides death of a close one, we know and live this fact of losing purpose through many circumstances. Such as anytime we lose a job. Or are unable to follow our passion. Or have had a relationship breakup. We lose our life’s meaning. We get disoriented, lose hope and feel paralysed to progress. How we cope when these occur, is thus very important for us to be able to go on with our lives with a quality mental health. Absorbing the possibility that I am condoling the breakdown of my life, helps me cope with death. Deserving self-sympathy is only tolerable to an extent. This realisation gives me the determination to bear the loss and to rebuild my ikigai. How much ever time it takes.
Written in the memory of Bala and Venkataraman