"Think of life as a painting," I said. I was at a party in Delhi. I'd been asked a question I love answering, 'What was your thesis about?'
"When you're painting, you want to have some idea of the overarching end result, right? You wouldn't just go around splashing paint."
"Umhm," my listener said, fascinated but unconvinced.
"So that's how we should treat life, too. Nietzsche says that meaning is found not in daily pleasures but in the overarching narrative of life, and we need to figure out what that narrative is. That's what my thesis is about." I said.
"But, what if you just played around with the colours? Forget about the big picture, or painting, in this case, and just play around, a small part of the canvas at a time. Don't you think what gets created in the end will still be beautiful?" she asked.
"Um, maybe. Maybe you're right." I said, fascinated but unconvinced. We parted ways shortly after. I gave it some thought but concluded that such a playful approach was not for serious people.
Living a daily life
I was 22 then. I am 26 now. The crucial difference is that the day is now the fundamental unit of existence. I am not conscious of living in my 26th year, or in July or in 2023. I am conscious that today is Saturday, and I am doing Saturday things. Tomorrow will be Sunday and then comes Monday.
I'd call this a daily existence. It's different from other kinds in that all energy is focused on the day, not situated in the bigger picture of a lifetime. That means my concerns now are also daily in nature: I'm far more worried about getting enough sleep than about global warming.
I wonder if every person has a unique time horizon they live on. When first getting to know someone, we could ask 'What time horizon do you live on?' I bet that we'd all have different answers, and it'd be fascinating to see the choices we make in light of them.
What time horizon do you live on? Days, months, years, lifetimes? How does that affect the choices you make?
Losing the plot is not a bad thing
Adulting has made me a daily person. With the barrage of responsibilities, from laundry to repairs, I'm lost in short-term concerns.
On some days, living by the day makes me afraid that I'll regret how my life just passed me by without an overarching theme or narrative. But the alternative can't be to obsess over the plot instead. All the days I spent worrying about the plot were spent doing just that: worrying. The plot was not actually moving forward.
My therapist says that sometimes it's good not to be too self-aware. We need to suspend our awareness in order to immerse ourselves in the moment:
"Think of surgeons, for example," she said, "Surgeons need to forget the stakes of their actions and focus on doing their task in the short term. If they keep focusing on the fact that a person's life is in their hands, they wouldn't be able to do the surgery."
Daily living feels like being immersed in the task at hand, and I'm finding it enjoyable. It's nice to suspend reflection about grand visions for my life and just live for a bit. Maybe it's okay to forget about the painting, and just paint.
📖 What to read this week
Going by the theme of this week's newsletter, this is a fascinating article that takes inspiration from animals in living life with less concern for the plot:
Animals do not seek meaning, as far as we can tell. The very concept of a meaningful life is incomprehensible to them. There is just life, and life consists of the things that need to be done and then things they just seem to like doing. But one animal is quite different: us. The human. Many humans have a very strange idea that life should consist of more than just quacking and floating. It should be “meaningful,” whatever that is.