The Top Three Tragic Myths of the Times we Live in

“It was dark and quiet, and it took me a few seconds to stand steady on my feet. Well, that’s what happens when you have to get up at 2am to go to the bathroom. But things were going to get worse.

Just as I began to walk, I suddenly jumped and screamed. Something was crawling on my feet. It felt like a spider and I reached for the light switch. When the light turned on it turned out to be a piece of thread which had been lying on the floor. Apart from the disappointment of jumping for no reason, I was wide awake now!”

Just as it happened to me, we often get scared of an insect or a rat, but when we turn on the light they are just objects lying around. But our senses gave them an illusion of being an insect or a rat. Building up on this analogy, everything else in life – our riches, our troubles, and our possessions are illusions and a mirage created by our mind.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein.

Taking this notion forward, this article of mine is going to dwell upon why life itself is a myth, and how each one of us is driven by some ‘absolute‘ truths that are nothing more than widely accepted myths. These myths drain the life out of our days and take us onto paths of mediocrity and obscurity.

Below are the three such myths I think we all encounter in everyday life. (Give them some time to sink in, as they very well might be absolute truths for you.)

1. You Have to Work to Survive
The biggest myth of our times is ‘having to work‘ to earn a living for surviving. Right from our birth, everything is setup to create this illusion. Our education system, the economic system, all the news and shows on TV and the movies we watch. As we grow up, this myth becomes very ‘real‘ for us. The only thing from our childhood which we term as illusions are the cartoons we watch. Did you ever wonder why everyone loves cartoons?

There is a common misconception that work is necessary. Over decades and centuries, every rock is chipped away into sand and dust. Work can do the same to our lives and souls. Day by day, hour by hour, our work can chip us away into disintegration.

If someone tells you they are “making a living”, they can’t be more wrong. They are making a dying, and most probably fast spending whatever little time they have doing things out of compulsion rather than the pure desire of doing it.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” - Confucius

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

Instead, what we can all do is PLAY. Go out and do what you want. Find something you love doing, something you are passionate about.

DisclaimerWork and Play doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you can find a way to play while at work, nothing could be better.

Many people say they don’t know their passion or hobbies, or they have not discovered them yet. Here is a formula – Look into your life, and the things you do for which you pay others are your hobbies and passions, and for which you get paid and compelled to do is work.

DO NOT spend the vast majority of your life working so that you can play in the end. That end might never come, or which might be tomorrow itself, for all you know.

2. Planning and Living for the Future
We live in a world where insurance and pension policies, investments, education, business, almost everything is done with an objective to achieve something in the future. While planning for the future has its benefits, I believe we often take it too far and miss the only time we really have, which is “now”, or this very moment.

Who gave you the guarantee that you will not die tomorrow, next week or next month? What made you believe that you are going to die at 70 or 80, and not at 20 or 30 or 40. If you don’t believe it, read and watch the news. People are dying everyday at all ages. The average age might be 70 or 80, but ask yourself – Do you really want to live your life based on a statistic?

Instead, LIVE NOW. Enjoy whichever phase of life you are in. Be in each day fully, rather than counting the days. Live your life in a way that you are satisfied even if you die tomorrow, or the next second. Make every breath count. Don’t wait for tomorrow if you want to fall in love, travel to your dream destination, or eat that favourite ice-cream of yours. Do it NOW (or at least pick a date in the calendar and book tickets now).

Fall in LOVE with life, not just with a few selected people, things and ideas. Whether you make 1 grand or 1 million, whether you live in an apartment or a mansion, embrace life fully NOW and don’t let your goals and milestones in life decide the level of your happiness or joy.

3. Control and Consistency
The next big myth we base our lives on is aiming for control and consistency. We plan and build systems, and we make rules and processes to make our lives more comfortable and smooth. But the very fact that we can control life is the biggest lie that we tell ourselves.

Life, by its very nature, is messy and unpredictable. It is not fair and nobody is entitled to get anything out of it. In school, if you study more, you get better grades and vice versa.

The same doesn’t hold true in life, as there are so many other factors at play other than your efforts. The sooner we realise this the better. Good and bad things will happen to you. Your education, job, the country you live in, or any other reason which gives you the illusion of safety, is a very bad armour against life.

Instead, be FREE from these controls. Embrace the uncertainty of life and experience real FREEDOM. Go out and play. Learn a new language. Take a new job, or live in different cities/countries and soak in different cultures. Write, paint, or do anything else that makes you experience life rather than draining the life out of you.

Don’t try to be nice or do what is expected. Don’t live for the gallery. Be authentic. For a change, LIVE for YOURSELF. Let yourself be misunderstood, hated, judged or whatever, but live by your convictions. It is better to be assassinated by another human being than being assassinated by death.

Our thoughts (and perception of reality) shape our decision, and in turn our circumstances. It is like watching the same movie again and again. If we want to play a different movie in our life, we have to change the tape.

And rejecting the above myths might be the first step. Thoughts arise in the mind, and we become aware of them. But over time, we stop seeing them as thoughts and see them as reality. Therefore, we should never stop to question our thoughts and the reality they form.

Life is a mirage. An earring and a bangle are both made out of gold. But our thoughts make one an earring and another a bangle, but in essence both are only gold. Yet we only term what we see while asleep as dreams and not what we see while awake. In essence, both are illusions created by our senses. We must never loose sight of that.

What is Reality?

In my experience over the last 28 years of education, work, entrepreneurship, social activism and living in Delhi, Jaipur and now Bangalore, I have seen my beliefs change many times. My idea of right and wrong, how to treat people, how to earn money, how to live life have all gone through tremendous changes as I have met different people from all age groups, occupations and different sections of society. Politicians, armymen, social activists, judges, entrepreneurs, economists, software engineers, students, artists, police officers, government employees, senior citizens, foreigners and more – It has been a wonderful experience meeting and interacting with them.

As I have seen varying point of views about all topics from different people, I sometime wonder what reality is? What is wrong for one person is only right for another? Most of us are very narrow in thought and limited in our circle of education and employment, and these two areas shape our thoughts and emotions. I wonder at the powerful meaning this simple quote by Einstein captures –
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

realityPhilosophers like Immanual Kant and John Locke, both suggested centuries ago that reality is something we construct for ourselves. I somehow wonder – Is the world we see while awake any different in perception from the world we see (dream) while asleep? Everything is created as an image in our minds, whether our eyes are open or closed. In dreams too, we see and interact with people, we have emotions like anger, love and they appear very real to us until we wake up. Dreams can make us scared, sweat like we would do with normal emotions, all while asleep.

The illusion comes, and many problems of life, when we start believing what we see as the ‘ultimate reality‘ rather than just one frame of reference our mind has decided to show us. Indian philosophers in the past have spoke of this as ‘Maya‘. It says that we deceive ourselves when we think that the objects we see are the objects themselves.

Most of our reality is shaped by our senses of vision, sound, touch, smell and taste. And it is scientifically proven that our senses can only comprehend a fraction of the physical realities of light, sound, etc. Furthermore, there are many more realities which we have no way (or senses) to understand and measure like magnetic field and electric charges. Other animals sometimes can detect these in varying quantities, like dogs have a better sense of smell and sound.

Another example to highlight that everything we say and believe as truth is only an illusion is the “Earth is a sphere” discovery. In ancient times, it was believed that the earth is flat. It was so much a part of everyone’s reality that ships used to go a certain distance in the ocean and then come back due to the fear of falling off the surface of the earth. Everything we believe and see right now is nothing different from this example.

I would even say that the concepts of space and time are totally shaped by our mind, even when it is very ‘real‘ to us with scientific proof. But we can’t hold space and time like we can hold a table or a chair, and so they are more about some concepts we have created rather than an ‘absolute truth’. Now contemporary physics have begun to validate this viewpoint too, though I will need to spend more time researching to make a credible claim on that.

As human beings, we are conditioned to see our culture, language, politics, religion as reality, which is only an illusion. This illusion is then passed on from generation to generation. Without even knowing, we spend all our lives driven by this ‘reality’. It takes real courage to question and challenge these beliefs and assumptions and bring in a more mature perspective on how to lead our lives.

I will end with this powerful quote around the same question I started with – What is Reality?

What we call reality is an agreement that people have arrived at to make life more livable. ~Louise Nevelson