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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

Elsewhere

Life and all that…

I went traveling to a different country recently. The day after reaching there I realized that I have loose motions. Not sure what I ate that disagreed with me as I was fine all night long and only had this sudden urge to rush to the toilet an hour after I woke up (during which I ate nothing). Coincidentally, on the day that I was leaving for this place I had also packed my Imodium tablets (they put an end to loose motions, they are amazing!). I hadn’t packed them for the trip but when I woke up that day I had a headache and so decided to pack some Panadol just in case. Looking for extra supplies in my medicine drawer I chanced upon a pack of Imodium which was expiring this month and so took it along just in case. And the very next day they turned out to be useful. “How lucky!” my mind thought.

But is that luck? Wouldn’t luck have been not having loose motions in the first place? I am “lucky” in that I generally don’t get loose motions when traveling (in fact the last time I remember getting loose motions on a trip was maybe 4-5 years ago) so considering I had to get loose motions, yes I was lucky that events conspired such that I took the tablets along; but I would have been luckier if I just didn’t get loose motions at all.

I suppose I should be thanking God for the stroke of luck. But then again couldn’t God just have prevented me from getting loose motions (either through a more resilient stomach or just pointing me away from whatever food triggered the loose motions). If God is all seeing and thus all this is predestined then I was meant to get loose motions and also meant to carry tablets along – so this is all just pointless no?

I don’t get a God who is all seeing and does pointless things just for self-amusement or something. A better explanation is that there is no predestination and God isn’t all seeing. Things just happen but God is someone who is more aware of the probabilities and multiple futures. I too as a Human can calculate these but I am nothing compared to God who is able to calculate things infinitely better and with more nuance perhaps. He can then nudge me along such that I am better prepared for things. This is the God in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs”. The God who arranged for things such that the family was able to kill the aliens and the preacher’s brother nearly escaped having his kiss messed up forever by the girl puking into his mouth.

So what makes things happen? I dunno. Random chance I guess. Is God able to influence things? I dunno. If he can influence things directly – like send a thought to my head to take medicines or avoid a certain food – then it doesn’t make much sense as he can avoid a lot of the drama of life by just making sure certain things don’t happen. So direct influencing doesn’t make sense to me, it has to be indirect. He can arrange for things to sway the probabilities this way or the other perhaps, but what eventually happens is not His direct doing. Thus He can arrange for me to wake up with a headache (make sure I have a bad sleep and I will wake up thus) then arrange for things to be such that I open my medicine cabinet to look for headache medicines and see the stomach upset medicines; but whether I actually take the medicines along or not depends on me. That bit is my decision, he can only arrange things so I have a decision to make.

Thus God is not responsible for my actions or those of others. But He can influence actions – both mine and others. Because I wake up with a headache chances are I might go pick up a fight with someone or be unnecessarily rude, but that choice still rests with me and what I do is my responsibility. The cards are stacked against me but it is my free will to act out. A lot of times I will fall into His trap and act poorly, a few times I will act better. This too has His influence written all over it because the person I am today is a result of my past and the events there, and if He so influenced my past events to be one which has left me full of negative thoughts and a depressed nature chances are I will react very poorly to the events in my life (making my future prospects poor in turn). He has slowly nudged the probabilities to be better able to nudge me the way He wants. I was probably a clean slate when born (sort of, coz my environment and parents etc too matter of course) but over time He is able to influence my actions more.

One could split God into the God and Devil I guess. One tries to do good by you, the other bad. Or there could even be a host of Beings I guess. I mean who knows. Even if there’s just one or a whole lot, the question is why should any one or more of these care for me. Why should they try to do good by me (take medicines for instance) or bad (eat food that causes a stomach upset). What’s their stake in it? Is it because I pray and so God wants to do good by me and the Devil wants to hurt me; or am I just a pawn in a game between them where things have to happen for the sake of the drama? I dunno. I don’t like to think in terms of black and white so this concept of God and Devil sounds rubbish to me. I prefer to think of things this way: one, there’s Life which is the random happening of events; two, there’s Beings that can influence things one way or the other because they can see more of the big picture in space and time; and three:, there’s us Humans (and other Animals?) who can make individual choices which may not necessarily be easy to make because the Beings I mentioned could influence our decisions but we nevertheless have free will and so the decisions are ours in the end and these in turn feed into Life and affect others and have an interplay with everything. Life + Beings is what one would refer to as the Tao I guess.

Why do these Beings do what they do? Are they just impartial beings or themselves influenced by other things? Maybe they are influenced by Humans too via their deeds and prayers (or lack thereof)? Maybe Beings influence each other, maybe the random events of Life influence these Beings too? My “guardian angel” Being (for lack of a better term) had some interest in ensuring I don’t have a shitty trip (literally haha!) so ensured I took tablets along. Other Beings have negative interests towards me for whatever reasons so They ensure a lot of other things don’t go well with me. Or maybe it’s the same Being who both didn’t want to spoil my trip but otherwise has it out for me in certain matters so spoils them and helps out in other matters however He can. Who knows.

Part of me knows that this is me anthropomorphizing things. Things happened, I was lucky to take tablets along, now I am trying to find a reason of explain things. Big deal! But I don’t think so. I don’t feel life is entirely random. A lot of times things seem to have a pattern. It’s like a fractal. Seems very complex and varied but there’s a kernel of a pattern which influences the overall structure. I find life to be like that. It’s a mix of random (the capital L Life) and some non-random ordering (God; Beings) working together. A sensible philosophy for mental peace would be to accept things and find understanding but it doesn’t work that way. It is irritating when things don’t work out even though you may put in a lot of effort, or things always seem to go a certain way as if there’s some bad luck or jinxing involved. What does one do here? Keep trying? Work harder? Pray!? :) I don’t know. I don’t think praying or pointlessly trying is an answer. But I do feel that one must try as much as one can, without getting frustrated. Try because that’s in ones nature, but couple it with an understanding perhaps that there is a non-random element at work too which for whatever reason nudges things around so you may not always get what you want (and will sometime get things when you least expect it). If there are some non-random sequence of events which work to ensure that you are never stuck without loose motion pills in case you have to get loose motions during a trip, then there are also non-random sequence of events which will work to ensure the probabilities are always stacked against you in certain aspects of life and how much ever you try things will always seem to work against you. There’s nothing you can do in the latter, but that doesn’t mean you give up. The same way these Beings can’t make you win by taking tablets, They can’t make you fail either. The only time you really fail is when you fall down and stay down (I am paraphrasing this from something I read). As long as you get up, even though your legs might be broken, you haven’t decided to fail. At the end you might have failed because the cards were stacked against you but you (the capital H Human in this game of life) hasn’t given up.

Before wrapping up, something I want to add as a reminder to my future self reading this. If things have conspired to make it a bad day and are nudging you to make bad decisions, remember the final decision is still yours. It is hard to resist because of all the environmental factors, but remember you have a choice and try to exert it.

Ps. Typing this post on my iPhone from the beautiful (but hot, wrong time to visit!) Armenia. Maybe all these thoughts are thanks to the monastery visits or the long hours spent half asleep half dreaming in the car rides to these monasteries. I didn’t know Armenia had such a rich heritage until I visited the place. I knew of Armenia somewhere in the back of my mind but didn’t realize how old and historically rich it was.