My parents, grandparents, and extended family would often talk about the lessons of The Bhagavad Gita and other ancient Indian learned texts as I was growing up. Later on, after I grew up and read many of those texts myself, I concluded that people are better off when focused not inwards, but outwards, to the others in the world around us. TLDR: Less narcissism and more humanism
So yesterday, I sent an email to the readers of my newsletter asking them how they were doing. And the responses have been phenomenal. Nearly 700 wrote back, telling me what was on their mind, what they were wishing for, and what was worrying them. If there was one universal theme connecting most of these replies, it was a hope that we all learn from all this and come out of this pandemic as better humans.
Granted, there may be some selection bias at play here. My newsletter caters to a certain type of person — one who believes that our planet is undergoing an exponential change. That the pandemic might be a moment for us to reconsider consumerism is a thought that comes naturally to such people. Of course, the concept of less is more runs counter to our current prevailing system, which is designed for unending and unstoppable growth.
The acceptance of the idea that we need to consume, consume, and consume is why we have become societies were even a trillion dollars can’t save the economy. Maybe this lockdown is a pause that will give us time to ask: Why? Why do I need all these things? Why do I need to consume?
For the past month (I have been in self-isolation for 28 days now), I have been living out of a suitcase. Literally, all the clothes I needed for the month have fit into the suitcase. And it has been enough. Two pairs of shoes are enough, though I do love my shoes. My books are on a Kindle App and my music is on my Spotify App. With my phone and my computer (tablet or otherwise), I have everything. Sure, I love my watch collection, but every day I reach for the same one. In short, being forced to remain in my house has made me realize how little one actually needs. In the spirit of looking outwards, perhaps rather than consuming more, we should put more effort into sharing what we have acquired.
A friend sent me a link to an episode of a podcast where the interviewer is talking to someone called Joseph Emmett, who has devoted a big part of his life studying the Gita and Vedanta, a school of Indian philosophy. That got my attention. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you sit through the entire podcast, but there is a line that I remember from the conversation that is worth noting in the context of our collective present.
The universe is largely left up to chance and the control you think you have… much of it is delusion
I think, deep down, we all know that, but it takes a cataclysmic event to remind us. If there is one thing we can control, then it is the self. Who we will be as a people remains to be seen.
March 28, 2020, San Francisco.