Is settling down unsettling???
How often have we heard words of advice from our parents and well-wishers to settle down; it makes sense too. When exactly in the cycle of our lives do we really “settle down” – after milestones like professional degrees, career, fancy designations, marriage, children, a big house with a car and a huge EMI. The moment we feel settled with our career tracks we are inevitably pestered to marry and settle more; those who give-in are rewarded with the unsettling questions from those around to add to the world population. Those who chose bundles of joy often bundle their lives and join the group which strongly propounds settling down.
At any stage of our life-cycle if we settle, more often than not we settle like sediment! We sharpen our existing skills at work and minutely add to our knowledge base during the daily grind of life, and then, routine kills our spirit. As monthly-wage-earners, EMI bonded labourers, imprisoned by our daily chores, we stagnate. We settle indeed, but we do not grow much.
I do not recommend being foot-loose or non-committal in life, but where does one strike a balance between being free-to-grow and settled? It recently occurred to me that it is possible within the confines of our routine responsibilities – by learning a new skill. I bought a guitar last year; playing a musical instrument was one of my unfulfilled dreams. I knew I had no time for a tutor, internet learning was the only solution, one note in a month would work out fine I thought. Yes, you guessed it right; I could not keep up with my target. But in the process I learnt something.
When we were kids learning new skills was easier; now, as adults, with our settled ways it is difficult. My ten-year-old neighbour’s guitar practises showed that he had easily picked up the skill. It is not a matter of reduced dexterity but mental inflexibility, and an overwhelming feeling that we know enough….because we are grown-ups!!! We are too set in our ways. The struggle to remember notes and finger co-ordination with guitar strings and strumming brought me a new sense of humility. I could be excellent with my livelihood skills, but I learnt that I am too settled to learn something new.
I used to learn Kathak – an Indian classical performing art-form – under the tutelage of a direct disciple of the god of Kathak – Pandit Birju Maharaj. I used to sketch, play, sing, devour books, work hard and party harder….I wasn’t settled then. Am I too settled now?
No. My spirit tells me that I should not give up; may be one note a year is achievable. One should keep learning something new all along, pursue hobbies and have a personal space, at least within which we can experiment, dream, or just play. I have observed my Spiritual Guide very closely in the last six years; though in his seventies he constantly learns usage of new gadgets like cell phones, iPads, etc. He is open to learning from his students about anything new; I have seen him pick-up new age, tech-savvy jargon from us. This continuous learning could be the reason behind his refreshing presence. Another observation – it takes a lot of humility to just listen and learn. I have seen him intently pay attention to some of us talk about cyberspace, information technology, medical sciences and anything new under the sun.
My Spiritual Guide – Guruji Krishnananda – loves to paint; he is an artist and writer at heart. He used to paint, write novels and poetry, he was a member of a film review society in the 60’s. He has read literature extensively and he often quotes from Dostoevsky, Huxley, Kafka, Chekov and authors who edge over mystics. Life’s increasing responsibilities have always kept him from pursuing his creative interests. Every time he bought paint brushes, colour tubes and canvasses, life made him give all these away. He says that as long as we cherish creativity in us, without letting life stifle it out of us, it does not matter even if we cannot manifest it. In his words – “Creativity does not necessitate expression; just keep its spirit alive in you.” Thousands of books and music CDs loaded in his book shelves bear silent testimony to his deep creative impulse. He has kept one paint brush in his pen stand; it is not just memorabilia, like the artist in him it is always in his sight.
As I write, my dusty guitar stares at me. Often, I look at it, imagining all the songs it can play and the infinite notes that have been written; whenever I pass it by, I pluck the strings. My domestic help touches it more often when she cleans my living room. I am settled with my work, which is my whole life but I have not stagnated. I have kept my footloose dreams alive, I do not restrict my nomadic wishes to explore and learn.
In the net analysis, I feel that at any age we should keep learning something new. Not only does it keep us humble but it also springs forth the life-force in us. Settling is fine but stagnating is definitely unsettling.