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Category: Reflections Date: 11 Aug 02

It is depressing when suffocating clichés are sufficient to sum up the specter of our lives in these small islands.


Even soap operas get boring especially when the script is as inane, repetitive and pointless as our current politics.


But despite the on going spate of kidnappings, more frightening since they appear to be unstoppable, (the most recent ending with the unforgettable sight of a bludgeoned middle aged couple being carried dead out of the bush) despite the stuck economy, the stalemate politics, the hold-ups in broad daylight, we have not yet had an encounter with real horror.


We have arrived at a cross road. On the one side we see an uphill road. We see education as a key out of the cycle of poverty, and crime, we see a mini oil and gas boom, we see a society where jobs can gobble up crime, we see a more developed society where wealth is more evenly spread.


On the other, we see in the valley below us, the real horror that we witness daily in international news – ethnic cleansing, civil unrest, collapsing economies. Sadly, some invisible hand, perhaps sensing our helplessness, our soul sickness, appears to have held us up collectively, and forced us to start walking down that treacherous, easy route to real horror.


Human kind is by nature is tragic, because although our minds can grasp the idea of immortality, of endless possibility in science, literature, arts and finance, in vast uncharted areas of possibility, our bodies are incredibly fragile; our time here very limited. One of our basic instincts is to be free, emotionally and physically but every step forward we take in our lives is yet another shackle: mortgages to pay, children to bring up, marriages to hold together – so much so that one day we wake up and find that perhaps we have only a few “free” minutes in our day, only a few seconds where we can be truly ourselves.


Then there is soul sickness, which thrives in claustrophobic closed spaces like our islands, where there is little vent, few distractions, and despite the harsh glare of the day, fewer and fewer sparks around us to light up or feed our souls. Soul sickness is manifested either in loud angry voices – people so inarticulate that they scarcely know how to name the fear in their souls so it is thrown up in obscenities. It is manifested in the heartless bludgeoning of two elderly people to death. Soul sickness could be fed by the daily battle against drudgery at work, untidy relationships, loneliness, financial problems, in dull faces, devoid of curiosity or ambition. It strikes people who, deprived of opportunities and possibilities, are wrung out, have used up all their resources simply to survive.


The ripple of the disease widens. Soul sickness could be caused by lack of opportunity that leads to unemployment; it could be the result of belonging to a society that is being willfully ripped in two by tribal self seeking politicians. It could infect anyone in this humid often claustrophobic space of ours, where at times our very vegetation, dense and rubbery can be oppressive, close in on us.


None of us is as rich, as beautiful, as happy, as successful, as loved, as healthy as we would like. All of us have been through some form of soul sickness brought on either by results of our own actions or by life’s random cruelties and disappointments. But we can shake off that invisible hand firmly marching us down that easy road horror, with a powerful tool of the human condition – choice. We can turn around, person by person, in groups, in villages, and towns and cities; the stronger among us can gather the weak – the sick, elderly, children, the illiterate, unemployed and the poor and clamber up the hard route – of summoning our wills to work, to produce, to educate, to share, to study, to create our own vision instead of looking towards “a leader”. We can make ourselves well again.


The Zen masters combat this life draining sickness with an awakening that comes with “being in the moment, always aware of the presence of death and rebirth at every instant”. This philosophy allows one to live intensely, fearlessly, and is the very antithesis of the passivity of soul sickness.


The opera director Peter Sellars says of Ben Viola, who has been described as “among the most important artists of our time” - “We recognize in the work the difficult, the clumsy, the frustrating, the painful, that sense of futility that you’re getting nowhere, and then Viola makes some beautiful structure that makes you realize that just when you thought you were getting nowhere its actually the first time you’re making any progress.”


It will require a supreme act of will to turn around, and take the harder road in our present enervated soul sick condition. But we can do it. We must turn away from the specter of the real horror. Look at the precipice below. It is a wasteland, littered with the remains of the dead, where the lost wander aimlessly.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur