What is sound? Goes the scientific riddle. Sound is in theory, only perceived if the vibrations of air particles reach the ear and the signal reaches the brain. So if no one is around when a tree falls deep in the woods, then there is no sound.
But but…..the tree has fallen!
Yes, but did anyone hear it? Did it reach their ears? No inner ear vibrations, no signal reaching the brain, so therefore no sound has been made.
Trees fall, no matter how majestic they may appear. The once strong sapling that grew up, up, up towards the sky, the gleaming leaves providing shade for any being that may choose to take shelter underneath; the spreading branches that have sheltered many a bird or squirrel, and provided a play place for arboreal creatures – could suddenly be felled by a clap of thunder and a streak of lightning. Burnt branches, singed leaves – some may survive partially, and go on in that semi-dead state for a while before giving up the ghost.
Some trees may have taken a beating from hail, woodpeckers, even the occasional deer that chew on the bark. And cheerfully stood for years and years. More and more battering by the wind and hail, and the tree bends sharply……sways in crazy ways. Branches fall off, some snapping twigs falling here and there with nary a sound – because, technically, there is no sound unless someone hears it. And one day, termites build nests and eat at the base – slowly drilling away, making the main trunk more and more porous until the great tree does down in a glorious downward arc, giving one final sigh before lying on its side.
No sound is made because there is no one to hear it.
Some humans go out like that and no one knows until they are gone.
Outwardly, they are successful. They have all the trappings of success – a giant house, good amount of savings, a family – some are even well-known in the community. Like the CEO of Cafe Coffee Day. A pioneer in his own way, with a vision to build conversation around a cup of coffee in a nice ambiance – with many many franchises around India, and some plans for global expansion too. His career graph went up, up and up. He was married to the daughter of a famous and powerful politician, and was by any measure, a billionaire.
Some business decisions that did not go the way he planned, some setbacks – and his mind, used to success and having struggled through the years to build that success, could not take it anymore……The higher you go, the more alone you are…..And so it went that in a remote island far away, a tree fell. No one heard, and a life is gone.
By his own admission, the value of his assets exceed his debts. He even wrote saying that the company and family can recover from all the debt selling assets and have a comfortable life with what remains. He just could not handle what he perceived as having failed – failed as an entrepreneur! After 30+ years of building a business providing employment to thousands, he saw himself as a failure.
Depression can be a beast. What lies on the other side of depression could be perfectionism…. The constant measurement of oneself and one’s abilities, the pressure to keep up appearances, the need to project one’s success with images on social media (no matter what the reality is in one’s life), the repeated battery of such images from others, and the desire to live and project a “perfect” life, they all take a toll.
The need is for the graph to go up, up, up. If you are employed, are you earning as well as your peers? Are you pushing yourself enough to move to the next level? If not, some day the axe may fall. A film star is only as successful as the last Friday’s matinee collections. The rat race can be relentless. Anxiety looms and brings on physical symptoms – headaches, insomnia, demons one battles in silence while balancing and trying to do one’s best. Sometimes this can feel like trying to keep everyone afloat while one is already sinking. Does it have to be so hard?
No one cries freely anymore, because crying and releasing emotions feels like a failure. And oftentimes, in this hyper-connected world, there are no real connections. People don’t drop by a friend’s home to share their feelings over a cup of tea. Everything needs to be scheduled because people are on the run; even going on a run needs to be scheduled!
If a tree falls in the woods, is there a sound?
If there is no shoulder to cry on where do the tears go? Are feelings only feelings when expressed? If something remains unexpressed, is that a feeling?
Is a failure a failure only when perceived by others? If we fail and no one sees or comes to know about it, is that a failure?
If we succeed and that goes unnoticed, is that success? If someone appears more successful, then are we failures in comparison?
If we set a bar and fall short of it, but have achieved far beyond what many can imagine, is that success or failure? Without comparing with others, just comparing oneself to oneself – if year to year, one is not more creative/inventive/accomplished, is that success or failure? Does there need to be a comparison? Do we need to constantly improve? What is improvement? Is it chasing moving targets?
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection….*
What if, stretching further and further, the arms can reach no more?
Maybe “success” is doing something productive that is good for oneself, good for the world, and brings one peace and joy. Something that sustains oneself physically, mentally, and emotionally, and adds value to someone’s – or some creature’s – life.
“ParOpakArAya phalanthi vrikshA, parOpakArAya duhanthi gAvA, parOpakArAya vahanti nadyA, parOpakArartham idam sareeram”
says a Samskritam saying. Trees fruit for others, cows give milk to nourish others, river waters flow giving sustenance to every creature on their banks – in the same manner, our bodies are meant to be part of this cycle of sustenance. If we are productive to others, lead a simple life, are able to sustain ourselves, perhaps that itself is success?
In Tamil, they say
“pOdhumenRa manamE pon seyyum marundhu”
A heart that is content is true wealth. I recently heard an ancient story about a parrot.
The parrot lived in a tree that has been around for hundreds of years in a forest. A hunter who comes to the forest aims a poisoned arrow at a bird, to kill it for its plumage. The arrow misses its mark and strikes the tree. The poison is so powerful that the tree withers away, and is reduced to a skeleton.
Indra, the God of the heavens, passes by the forest in the guise of an ordinary man and sees the dead tree. All the birds and other creatures that have lived on the tree have abandoned it. But there is this one parrot that remains in a hole in the tree, happy and content. Indra asks the parrot why, when all others have fled, it did not.
The parrot is a very wise one. It recognizes that the one asking the question is no ordinary being. It answers, “I have lived on this tree since birth. This is the tree that gave me its fruit for sustenance. This is the tree on which I have played, where I met my mate, where I had lived with my family. The tree gave me everything I needed; how can I abandon it at this difficult time?”
Impressed by the parrot’s gratitude, Indra gives it a boon – asking it to name what it wants, and it shall be granted. The parrot says, “What do I need? My needs are few – I eat what is available, and so does my family. So I don’t want anything for myself. But if you must give a boon, bring back this tree to life. It sustains many lives”.
Indra then agrees, and says “I will bring back this tree to a full living, thriving being laden with fruit. You being such a good soul, come to heaven with me!”
The parrot declines and says again, that it is happy where it is. “Heaven,” says the parrot, “is for those humans who are dissatisfied no matter what they have. They reach for more and more, and are never content. For some such humans, even if you give heaven, that may not being contentment. As for me, this tree is enough. All I need is some fruit and seeds, and my family. The tree provides everything”.
“Be still” says ancient Hindu philosophy. Be still, look inward, meditate. The more you still your mind, the more joy you perceive. The quieter your thoughts, the calmer your mind, the more detached you are from worldly trappings, the greater your joy.
“The Kingdom of God is within you”, says Christian wisdom.
A friend of mine takes a yearly pilgrimage of sorts (I had written about him in an earlier blog). He drives long distances and hikes in vast expanses of the wilderness.
“The more I see these expanses, the more I lie gazing at the sky with a million stars in the still night, the more I sense my insignificance in the giant scheme of things. And that contemplation of my insignificance, and acceptance of it, brings enormous peace”.
I am reminded of Rumi’s field.
“Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down on that grass the world is too full to talk about”
I’d love to get to that field.
*From Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali”