Think. Pray. Love

by Amy Van De Casteele


I am going to open this piece with a statement which, to most of you (if not all of you) will probably sound defeatist, negative and incredibly depressing (but which, deep down, actually isn't). That statement reads: to be human is to be in a constant state of quiet desperation.

That's it. Now before you start moaning at me, or running a bath with a toaster perched conveniently beside it, hear me out. What I mean by that declaration is that being human is to be in a state of constant questioning, to be perpetually striving for the meaning of life, for love, for happiness, for fulfilment. Our desperation is prompted by these urgings and by that ever-present longing to understand the world and our place in it. And that's not a bad thing. If we lacked that desperation, if our minds emptied of questions and we went through each day like automatons, not bothering to ponder the future or our ambitions or hopes or fears, we would be reduced to mere shells and that spark which makes us indefinably human would cease to exist.

Now that would be depressing.

Of course, our never-ending search for meaning and fulfilment doesn't always lead us down the right paths. Some people – in fact, quite a few these days - allow themselves to be sucked into the current dumbing-down trend of celebrity obsession, fashion obsession, body obsession. They begin to believe the media hype – that if your life/wardrobe/body was like Jessica Alba's or Justin Timberlake's you would be happy and your life would have more value. This is a blatant fallacy and if you follow this train of thought you end up like a breathless hamster trapped in an exercise wheel, constantly sprinting to try and keep up with the newest trends, trying to afford your favourite celeb's latest handbag or emulating their most recent hair-do. This will leave you feeling exhausted and envious and probably not even an inch closer to the seemingly glamorous existence of your idol.

Other people choose to place their life – and thus its meaning – firmly in the omnipotent and all-powerful hands of God. As someone who believes in God but chooses to follow no organized religion I believe that this can be a good thing – so long as you adhere to the basic principles of goodness, kindness, charity and open-mindedness which pretty much all religions propose to embody.

On the other hand, if you allow yourself to get tangled in the rigorous structure of religion and lose sight of actual values – or take them far too seriously – you will simply end up an unhappy, misguided fundamentalist, no closer to the meaning of life than you would be if you were a nihilist or an anarchist. You could even end up enmeshed in one of those frightening cults which masquerade as religions but which seem to end up killing or intimidating many of their initiates – the path to fulfilment surely does not this way lie.

Increasingly these days, more and more people are opening their minds up to spirituality and practises such as yoga, reiki, tarot reading, meditation and various psychic workshops in their search for enlightenment and the 'meaning of life'. Some people may find their 'bliss' this way; others might spend years doing downward dogs and eating nothing but raw vegetables and still be unable to obtain that sought-after state of nirvana. It all depends on you. What are you looking for from your life? What is missing inside you that would fill that unaccountable void inside your chest?

Perhaps you don't know the answer to these questions. Even if you do, it is more than likely that you will never be able to fill that narrow but painful abyss inside you, because being human also means to be imperfect and thus probably never quite complete. We will always be searching for that elusive answer to the big question that haunts us. We will always be chasing Gods or true love, hoping to catch hold of their ethereal shapes and drag them into our hearts where we will keep them prisoner until the day we die.

Of course, depending on how lucky and how open-hearted or open-minded you are, some of you may manage this seemingly impossible task, of finding fulfilment and meaning and happiness. Some people find it in true love, that all-encompassing seemingly unbreakable bond which holds two people together for the rest of their lives in mutual joy and contentment. Some people commune with angels, others find God and hold that divine grace inside themselves, radiating a quiet beatification which you can't help but notice and enjoy, or envy.

But what about the rest of us? Where do we stand?

I think the answer could be surprisingly simple. Meaning doesn’t have to come from lofty ideals or a state of religious purity, or from having discovered your soul-mate in a sea of seven and a half billion people. Fulfilment can come from the simple things in life – like friendship and family ties.

In this increasingly insular world, where computers, televisions, and cars section us off from other people and trap us in boxes of our own devising, that age-old aspect of community and family has been undervalued. In a world where fidelity has come under serious strain because cheating has become so effortless, marriages are breaking like ships splintering against rocky coastlines, and single parent households are on the rise. As a single mother myself I have experienced this damage first-hand. The sanctity of marriage has become something of a joke – but the after-effects really aren't funny.

So instead of looking to fashion, God, or perfect fairytale love, perhaps in order to be happy and assuage our desperation we should start looking to each other more instead. Fight for our marriages instead of throwing them away. Smile at the next stranger who walks by. Provide a shoulder to cry on for a friend in need. Think about other people, other countries, the rest of the world.

Perhaps the steps to finding a measure of fulfilment and happiness really can be as easy as donating £20 to the WWF or planting trees in a local park or forest or sitting on a beach on a windy day, enjoying the wildness of the waves and the feel of the sand beneath your feet. Although our constant desperation and searching is admirable and entirely necessary, sometimes it's sensible to stop and smell the proverbial roses and look at what we actually have, not just what we want from the future. After all, only when you know what you truly possess can you understand what you are missing.

Perhaps, if you are lucky, you might even discover that you are missing nothing at all...

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