For the longest time, what I struggled with in regards to life was the general, monotonous “sameness” of everyday reality. Occasionally, the sameness is interspersed, here and there, with the bursts of joy that come from falling in love, or getting lost in an especially good book, but the highs never last. Just ask any couple who has been together for more than three years.
Deep down, what I wanted was for everyday life to be filled with the same uplifting wonder one experiences when engaging in transcendent acts, such as listening to soul-tingling music, say, or creating art. In other words, I wished for there to be more to life, and the world, than the usual parade of work and school and relationships and children and groceries and chores and streets and cars and the green trees and bright white sun and concrete buildings, so stepping out into the world, especially during the day (the night feels more magical and mysterious, somehow) was, each time, a sore lesson in coping with disappointment I never seemed to learn.
That was the way I saw the world, for many, many years, and as a reaction to this worldview I burrowed deeper inside myself and my mind, inside the fantasy worlds conjured by my imagination and books and films. Like any disillusioned human being, I sought solace in sources of excitement, in grand adventures played out against even grander backdrops populated by a host of odd characters, all of them so much more interesting than the boring, sheep-like people milling about the streets where I lived who went from work to home to their families to eat and sleep, rinse and wash and repeat. Where was the fun in that?
In fact, it got to the point where I began to disdain any mundane object or action or task. Washing the dishes was not just an unpleasant chore, but also an unwelcome hook tugging me down from the clouds with a sharp yank. Conversations with other living, breathing human beings were seen as distractions from the lives and characters who truly lived, in worlds far more interesting than my own: those that existed in my mind, and in books. Normal, everyday activities, like going to school, or to the Post Office to mail a letter, or the groceries to buy milk, grew intolerable, tiresome, and every second I engaged in them my heart itched to return home and throw myself back into otherworldly places inhabited by otherworldly denizens, to fly away with winged suns and chat with gossipy stars. I grew anxious and afraid of the world, because it was dull and frightening and incomprehensible compared to imaginary ones.
Only recently did I realise how very narrow-minded it was to think this way, and it did go a long way towards improving my anxiety. I can’t say when exactly the epiphany struck, or even whether it was a sudden revelation at all, and perhaps more a gradual understanding that crept up over time. Either way, my brain made a 180 degree flip. I began to see my connectedness to all that existed around me, to view other people as divine representations of the Oneness that is Everything, only with each of us able to experience life one at a time. Rather than view the ostensibly “real” world (what is real and not real is highly debatable; we all create our own reality inside our minds) through the lens of fear or disdain for its lack of magic, I began to approach it with a mixture of wonder and curiosity – whereupon I discovered that it is fairly impossible to sustain fear towards something when you are also curious about it.
With one little alteration in attitude, the whole world opened up for me, and I do not mean that in a literal sense – people did not start shaking my hand as I walked down the street, and opportunities did not start falling into my lap like apples from a tree during ripening season. Nothing externally had changed; the difference was all internal, and because our minds filter, and, in essence, construct the world for us, the change was immense.
Suddenly everything was very interesting, and very exciting, from the drainage pipes running like solidified intestines up the sides of buildings, to the pigeons that hopped and pecked along the sidewalk. No longer did I moan or groan at the prospect of putting down a book and leaving the house, because now stepping outside into the world meant experiencing another adventure altogether, one which I could sometimes see and smell much more vividly than ones conjured by human imagination. Nothing was boring; every sound, every sight, every scent, every taste all leaped out towards me, fresh and bright, as if I had a near-death experience and found a greater appreciation for life and the world around me.
Before, whenever I walked down the street, or sat on the bus, or was ever anywhere in a public place, I would always make sure to avoid people’s gazes, and stare out the window or into the distance and daydream. I was anxious at the thought of being judged on my appearance by the people I encountered, afraid of the awkwardness that entails making eye contact with a complete stranger. My psychologist pronounced it a Social Anxiety Disorder, prescribed me medications, and that was that. But it was more a lack of awareness than anxiety. Buried deep in fantasy, make-believe worlds began to seem more real than the one outside my front door, as well as the people in it. Without even realising it, I had been starting to see other people, real people, as one-dimensional creatures, as insignificant and boring and lifeless as the decorations in a room, and occasionally menacing. I forgot that they were people just like me, who were probably scared and insecure, and had their moments of rage and loneliness and misery and existential dread – just like me.
And it was more than that. Though they were likely similar to me in many respects, they were also very different, with their own worldviews and personalities and hopes and dreams and desires and loves and hates. They were their own people, mental terrains encapsulated in their minds just as, if not more so, complex as my own. Perhaps some of them even saw me, and thought me one of the flock, dull and boring, senseless, for very little of what shows outside on our faces reflects what we truly feel inside. I have had moments where I was paralysed with anxiety, drowning in fear, only to be told later by others that I looked quite calm and collected, and was only a little quieter than normal (which is saying something).
If there is anything you can get from what I am writing this evening, it is that though fantasy worlds are all fine and good and entertaining, the real world, just outside your doorstep, no matter where you live, is truly very, very interesting, and the people in it very complex and interesting also. What art like books and films does is simply enhance the complexity and fascination of our existing reality. Often, reality is stranger than fiction. It is more interesting. More complex. No book or film or artwork under the sun can replace the experience of being alive and in a place amongst people while you drink in the sights and sounds; even the richest imagination cannot replace actually experiencing something in flesh-and-blood. And, yes, though I am well aware that there really is no true difference between what we experience in person and what we imagine or read or watch, they being all images running through our minds, is it not better to live both internally, and externally?
What I have learned from this period of greater awareness and understanding is that to live a rich and full life, you must experience what is within you and without you, and though one may be a little harsh, static and limited than the other, it has its own fair share of beauty and wonder unable to be replicated anywhere else, in any other way. Real life and the real world are filled with stories, and magical niches, and fascinating characters, and to find them, all you have to do is go out, and take a look around, and explore.
To experience as much as you can; to bring as much joy as you can to others; to learn as much as you can: that, I think, is the true purpose of life, because all these things are a celebration of being aware, and living and breathing and conscious. We are human, we are alive, and there are worlds waiting for us, inside books and films, outside our doors, inside ourselves, within other people – all we have to do is open a door, and step through it.