I trudged into the waiting lounge grunting. It had been a long day at office, and this business trip was a last minute addition to my already perilous day. I had rushed back home, packed my business formals, and then spent the next half an hour explaining my coordinates to the Uber guy for an airport drop which was just 5 minutes away. As I barely managed to make it before the counters closed, the ground staff refused to let me carry my small stroller as cabin baggage due to an overbooked flight. It felt as if the entire universe was conspiring against me. As I settled into a seat at the overtly crowded waiting lounge, the phone buzzed. Not again, I thought rolling my eyes, no more continutaion of the office drama anymore. I let out an internal scream so loud, that the glass panes of the airport facade shattered to a thousand pieces. I imagined it to all accumulate and form one big hammer, which I wielded against just everyone who I could think of: the back-stabbing colleague who had made my day hell; the lost Uber driver; the airline staff; the person sitting next to me playing bhajans from YouTube on loudspeaker – I hit them all. Hard. Over and over again. Harder each time. Brutal enough to squish them all.
The phone vibrated once again, forcing me out of the trance. Defeated, I checked the notification, dreading it to be something further from the office desk. But it was a message in my #SaturdaySycology WhatsApp group. A friend had shared a pdf, just 8 pages long. I decided to ignore it and feed myself something. Everything seemed more bearable with a well fed stomach. The KFC counter had a longer queue than the boarding line, but I joined it nevertheless. It was just a cursed day, I sighed to myself.
The phone buzzed again!
“I read this everytime I am having a cursed day! So right on point!”, someone had replied to the pdf post.
I decided to download it.
The queue was long enough for me to skim through the 8 pages.
“This is Water” the cover page read.
I tapped to the next page, which began with a story:
“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?”
For the first time in the day, I smiled. This seemed interesting. The pages that followed gave away one of the most profound gyaan that I’ve ever received, in the most no-nonsense manner that I’ve ever read.
This book was originally a commencement speech delivered by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. Post its popularity, owing to the weight of the content delivered, it was made into a book, the digital copy of which I was reading currently.
In his commencement speech, David, apparently an acclaimed novelist whose works I had never read before, tells the students that he’s going to give them the T-truth of adult life, one that shall prevent them from pulling the trigger off their head given the challenges of the daily rut!
“How relatable!” I muttered to myself.
David goes on to share the one thing that education aims to teach, but everyone clearly misses out – the ability to think, the ability to choose what one wishes to think, while carrying out the daily routine tasks. This is because we are programmed to believe that we are the absolute center of the universe, we are programmed to think that everything that happens around us – is all about us.
And since thinking like this is an unconscious choice, in order to live a healthier, more compassionate life, where we do not treat ourselves as the victims, where we do not make ourselves the center of the universe, he suggests us to consciously choose our own thoughts.
He gives several anecdotes to prove his point, which when I extrapolated and applied to my day – made it more bearable. The back-biting colleague suddenly became an extremely insecure human, who, in her bit to prove to her family that she was capable of earning a living, tried to get her work done by any means possible. The Uber driver probably was using the app for the first time, and I was probably his first customer and hence was supremely confused. The flight crew wanted everyone to have a pleasant flight, instead of people hunting for each other’s collars while boarding the flight. The man playing bhajans out loud was possibly allergic to headphones, and had flying anxiety – only bhajans could calm him down. The queue in front of me, had others just like me, or possibly people who had much worse a day – somebody in this queue might have lost someone and was flying back to the family. And, though these scenarios weren’t necessarily real, thinking like this, did make the entire day a lot more bearable, and the internal screaming was reduced to a squeak. I could see the glasses of the facade joining themselves back, in reverse brownian motion, and I rather painted imaginary doodles on them, just to make people laugh and loosen up a little.
This is Water!
The thoughts that you have. The thoughts that surround you all the time, the most obvious, yet the most oblivious!
This is Water!
And the book, through its powerful imagery, and its authoritative, yet scholarly tone – conveys you this – in the most beautiful manner! Do read it, it’s available for a free download post a quick Google search, and for those of you who won’t want to read, here’s the YouTube audio version of it! Don’t miss reading it and don’t miss out on observing and contemplating on the water that surrounds you! You have the power to choose your thoughts, and you do have the power to create a more bearable compassionate world around you.