There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” - David Foster Wallace; 'This is Water' Commencement Speech to Kenyon College class of 2005
Until very recently, if I were to contemplate the concept of life's rhythm, I would, much like the two young fish in the parable shared by David Foster Wallace above, not have had much to think or say about the matter.
All I could really say is that life, as it has been built and sold to me to this point, feels completely off-beat.
To me, I have always felt that the life that I was living had been somewhat imposed on me. Like I was always resisting against an unknown force; as if I was perpetually falling short.
Not until a fish is taken from the water and given the opportunity to look back can it realise that there is much more than what it knows and has experienced.
I recently had the privilege of doing just that - removing myself from the only environment I've ever known and immersed myself into a way of life which was completely foreign to me.
Spending fifteen days in a Zen Buddhist monastery situated in a remote fishing village of Japan was certainly a contrast to the modern society and lifestyle I've been brought up to know.
It only took three days of staying at the monastery before I had my 'fish out of water' moment, where I felt in complete harmony with life's rhythm.
On that particular afternoon, we were heading back to the monastery from an excursion into town to grab some supplies. I was sitting in the passenger seat and staring off into the sea, the warmth of the sun felt comforting on my skin and the light dancing on the surface of the water had me in a trance; then suddenly dawned on me.
I felt as if I had been living this monastic lifestyle for a very long time - much longer than two and a half days. I realised that I had lost all sense of time and I had no idea what day it was. I felt mentally-weightless; I felt I finally had a sense of space in my just 'being' right there, in that particular moment. Within this moment I was able to see, feel, intuit, with absolute clarity.
At this moment, as I reflected upon my life back home - my family, my friends, my home, my job, my material possessions, everything - they all didn't seem as if they were real; as if they were distant memories from another lifetime. They felt vague and lacked detail or substance.
Everything in my life, as I've known it all seemed like just a dream; everything except a small circle of people who I hold dear to my heart, and also the Work - not my occupation, but the inner Work (capital 'W') which brought me to where I was at that moment.
This rhythm of life - although vastly different to the one I've known up until that point - felt so right.
It felt like it was mine; like I was in alignment, in tune with my own heartbeat, flowing and not resisting, pulling instead of being pushed.
It truly is difficult to see how significant a role the many concepts that modern life prescribes play in dictating our lives.
Take for instance the concept of 'time'. Time is such a strong, governing presence that, without it, society would seemingly fall into anarchy.
The world we live in operates on schedules which strictly adhere to the rules of this concept.
Almost every aspect of this world runs according to this schedule - annual events of significance, all forms of transport, various mediums of broadcast, seasonality and all the various lifestyle implications, etc.
We are introduced to this piece of general, worldly knowledge as early as we are coherent, congratulated when we are able to interpret its cryptic signalling method, taught to obey, without question, its every command.
The lives that we live are, at each moment, being pushed-along by the heavy hands of time without us even realising it.
The moment you are brought into the world, the event is marked and recorded by date and time.
We slowly come to understand that the cycle of day and night signifies the passing of one day and the commencement of another, indicated by a specific combination of digits displayed on devices which broadcast the time.
Certain digit combinations tell us that it's time to eat as well as what types of foods to eat.
It tells us when we are to wake and when we are sleep.
It tells us when we need to be in certain establishments and buildings for periods of the day, and when we are able to return home.
The elapsed time that we've been in existence tells us what we should have learnt and by when.
A certain number of days lived means we 'come of age' and should enter the workforce and contribute to society.
A certain number of days lived means one must have found a mate and commenced one's own family.
The times which we've lived are referenced as precious mental images we hold on to called memories, and the time that we've yet to live become idealised conceptions which burden us with self-imposed anxiety and unfounded expectation.
To think that life comprises of anything different or outside of these parameters would seem immediately absurd, tantamount to questioning a major component of what makes up the foundation of all that we know and believe.
To operate outside of these universal laws of time causes us great anxiety and unrest, prompting us to question the trajectory of our own lives we've lived to date.
From something as routine as missing your train on the way to work, to choices which determine who you are in the eyes of the many, such as being single at the age of 40.
Society forces us to comply with the guidelines it provides or be cast aside and judged as the anomaly.
For me, and I'm sure for many others, this had been a great pressure and weight which causes much internal conflict and angst.
Ponder it from this perspective - we consciously stop ourselves from performing regular, bodily functions because it may not be an appropriate time or place to do it.
I understand, hygiene, order, etc. aside, we can't even expel waste when our bodies need to, and instead hold that shit (literally) in, consciously disrupting the laws of nature just to appease a generalised ruleset.
Of course, there are so many other factors in play with the example I've just mentioned, I get it, but they are besides the point. The point is, in modern life, we consciously try to align ourselves with a way of living which is manufactured and inorganic, yet we believe, whole-heartedly, that it is 'normal'.
For me, life has turned out to be SO much more than what I had been taught for three-plus decades.
It always felt like it was the case, but as if unaware that the remedy for an itch was a simple scratch, this disjointed existence was sold to me as the one and only reality.
Like the euphoric sense of relief from scratching a persistent itch, the realignment to one's own natural rhythm is an incredibly powerful moment of emancipation.
Sadly, our society does not teach us to understand and follow our natural inclinations.
Rather, we are taught to apply resistance and force against everything of ourselves which is pure, that make us who we are at our core.
We are told where to go, when to go there, and how to act when we get there.
We are told to keep moving at an increasingly fast pace and that we should strive to be faster, still.
We are told to fill every gap in our lives with motion or stimulus, and if we don't, then we are going to fall behind.
But sometimes, we just need to pause and reflect.
To take a step back from the busyness and have a good look at what is going on around us.
To give ourselves the opportunity to find space.
When we allow ourselves to march according to the beat of nature, we can quickly come to realise how comical the 'world' that we've crafted in our own mind truly is.