What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
-‘Leisure’ by W. H. Davies
I remember reading ‘Leisure’ when young, not understanding at the time what ‘no time to stand and stare’ actually meant. But I was marked by the simplicity of it, ‘streams full of stars’ – it all made life magical in my head. At the time, however, I had no idea that the little moments that bring happiness to our lives when young, fade away somewhere in the complications that we create when we grow up. Experiences add depth to our personality, but also deprive us of enjoying ‘moments’ and what is around us. We become skeptical about our own actions and people around us. As we grow old, being happy is not easy anymore.
Growing older, there are friends you cannot trust completely, bosses that are making you work like a donkey without contributing to your professional growth, partners who are probably cheating on you, parents who are never satisfied with what you are doing in life. Eventually, you learn to detach yourselves.
The passion that existed in the first love of your lives, seems like a childhood fantasy. The love you had put in your first job, has converted into calculated decision making in the current one. The parents you liked telling everything, now hardly know what you are up to or want to do in life. You lose yourselves and any feeling related to existence in these daily struggles to survive. Your brain has learnt overtime that ‘feeling less’ is the way to go. It is an automatic defense mechanism to protect you from further harm. However, when indifference becomes the essence of your existence, the meaning of life itself is lost. Your brain automates your life including your daily operations without the need to bring meaning into any of them. Days pass, turning into years.
I was hit by this realization when in the most dramatic possible of situations, I was not able to shed a single tear. I was really close to my grand mother, she had always been an influence in my life with her love for reading and writing. However, with me moving out of the city and busy in my work routine, I had lost touch to the happiness and inspiration I felt when I was with her. When she passed away, I remember standing near her cold body, without a single tear rolling down my eyes. I felt like I needed to show some emotion, but nothing came out. I was not able to empathize with my relatives who were crying. I tried, but could not feel. This was strange, the feeling that everything around me was insignificant. I remember thinking we all have to die eventually, why create such a drama around it. I thought, it really does not matter to the ones who have passed away how sad you are, because they have ceased to exist in the world as we know it. Pain and sadness felt futile. I was so cold inside, it brings back shivers to my body when I think about it now.
When I came back home, I knew I had gone too far in this maze of detachment. I remember searching online for this poem – ‘a poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare’, but was unable to find it since I had forgotten who wrote it or what the words were, but I remembered the meaningfulness of it. I pondered sitting near my bookshelf, how I have let years pass without my noticing myself or the world around me. I was so busy dealing with my issues, I became oblivious to happiness and sadness, pain and pleasure. I felt depersonalized. I felt what I imagine a robot must feel, when it tries to understand why the human in front of it is crying or laughing, but is unable to fathom it because it does not exist in its system. Feeling is not part of who it is. It was a dark and alone thought. Which now I know, is an actual disorder. According to research, ‘depersonalization’ is caused when certain areas of brain that produce emotion and feeling become less responsive (due to prolonged stress or an unfortunate event or childhood), so you feel detached from the real world and devoid of any feeling.
“All is strange to me; I am, as it were, outside my own body and individuality; I am depersonalized, detached, cut adrift. Is this madness?” -Henri Frédéric Amiel, 19th Century Swiss Philosopher and Writer
What rescued me from this state of mind might be a lot of counselling, but also this poem, which I finally found out, printed on a piece of paper and pasted in front of my table. It is important to keep constant reminders in front of us, to find out time to ‘stand and stare’. Life is tough, and sometimes it throws things at you which are way heavier than you imagined you could bare. Whatever may happen though, we need to keep reminding ourselves that life without magic is a waste, and once we start feeling the magic, going back is not an option.