An experience of truth plainly spoken
Last Friday at about 6pm, I walked out of my office in Chippendale and up towards the highway. The wind was howling. Roofs had been ripped from houses, and old trees felled by the gail. In the distance, an electrical storm brewed, it’s green-tinge haunched over the city.
Because of the weather, I was forced to hail a cab home. I glanced vaguely at my driver and exchanged pleasantries.
We spoke a few short sentences at each other. He seemed keen for conversation, but I was most not in the mood.
He remarked that he had gained a deeper understanding of humanity through working in his industry. I was uninterested.
He was Nepalese, having driven cabs in Nepal, India, Malaysia and Australia. At the word Nepal, I began to take interest. I asked him: what would he say he had learnt about human nature?
He looked around. He said that Sydney was a strange place. People were afraid to make eye contact in the street, or say hello to a passer-by. Most seemed miserable. Most were drunk or high, trying to escape their lives. Everyone rushed, everyone stressed. Everyone lived inside their minds; isolated and disconnected from each other and from the world around them.
He said Sydney is a city of empty souls.
This was not what I had expected to hear. Reading these words on a page might not particularly insightful, but my experience that day was one of having truth plainly spoken to me. This man’s words cut through the noise of my life.
Over the last few months I’ve been pondering how people could be so afraid to greet one another on the street; how there can be so many bustling, inner-city socal and cultural sub-groups, but so little interaction between them. I’ve taken notice of when people advert their gaze in the street, or whether they return a greeting.
I do believe that Sydney is largely a city full of empty souls. Most have no conception of how they could edge their existence closer to contentment.
The concept of spirituality has been reduced to tedious habitual observence and empty phrases; groteque mouthings of the words of prophets and saints once uttered. The historic gulf is large, but the gulf of direct experience is even larger.
The ideas that preoccupy me – philosophy, self-actualisation, contentment in life – seem of little worry to the people around me.
I’ve known for a long time that this city is no ideal environment to resolve these preoccupations. It’s likely detrimental; I spend too much time and energy on simply staying afloat.
For a while now I’ve been planning an open-ended trip – more of a journey than a holiday. While the plans are still not concrete, I’ve been vaguely thinking about Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, and (at least) the East side of India. The exact places are not of particular importance; I need a place to begin, and a vague direction to follow and adjust as necesary.
Whenever I’ve been pressed to find a time or a date for my trip, I’ve usually answered “in about two years or so.” I’ve given that answer for most of the last year.
I think now, as a result of this short conversation with a Nepalese taxi driver, that date is about to become a lot more concrete.
Let’s say January 2014.
As we pulled up in front of my house the man noticed the Tibetan prayer flags in my window. He asked my name, and I, his. He said he was called Aashutosh, after a Hindu god. Not recognising the name, I mentioned that I have a bronze cast statue of Shiva in my room. With a grin he said it was one of the many names for Shiva; the destroyer of worlds; the transformer.
The illusion of my world certainly felt a bit of fire that afternoon. I cannot deny that I’ve been slowly uncovering a path, while ignoring the fact that my feet are so far from it.