“What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”
“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”
“I believe, that’s everything!”
– Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
– The famous dialogue from Hermann Hesse’s great novel, Siddhartha. This is the reply the protagonist, Siddhartha, gives to his prospect employer who interviews him on his knowledge and job skills. This novel and I, grew up together…. It has given me different meanings and answers to the same questions I asked at different stages of my life. Today, when I sat to write my weekend blog and had trouble focusing and got vexed in the process, this dialogue from my ‘guide’ knocked at the doors of my mind.
Can I think?
Yes, a lot!
We all can think. But ‘a lot’ is the problem. Do we think only that which is necessary? And are we able to think with the required degrees of attention about which we are supposed to think? In majority of the cases, the answer in no. We think too much about unnecessary things and too little about the necessary ones. In a day, almost 90 % of our thinking is either repetitive, redundant, unnecessary or imaginative. Conscious imagination is a wonderful work of the mind, but an unconscious creation or recreation is a mere waste of time and energy. Nothing is more detrimental to a productive and peaceful life than a mind that is on an ‘auto-run’ mode.
And the next, can I wait?
To wait means to be patient. And to be patient means to respect the pace of life. There is no point in trying to run ahead of life. We simply cannot outsmart life. It is similar to running within a moving train with a hope that our running would take us to our destination faster. The best way to wait is to shift the focus of the mind from the object of waiting to something else. This method is effective because the perception of time is nothing but the perception of an experience /incident. In waiting, there is no experience or any incident happening, and so, time comes to a standstill which is very difficult for the mind to handle. The best way is to engage the mind in some activity during the waiting period. That is how some of the great books were born in prisons and exiles.
And finally, can I fast?
Very occasionally and with great difficulty…
What is the psychology and spirituality behind fasting? Fasting increases our sustaining capacity, tolerance level and will power. The will power is not just about bearing the physical hunger, but at a higher level, it is also about bearing mental and emotional hungers, and agonies of life. This is the deeper meaning behind the ritual of fasting which is practiced in almost all the religions of the world. All those who can survive through tough times without succumbing are the ones who can fast – those who can fast their pride, egos, desires, and aspirations. There are no short cuts to learn the art of fasting. It comes only by practice and determination.
Siddhartha was a smart man. He knew no trade or craft but knew well the fundamental skills required for survival. And he was right when he said, “I believe, that’s all.”