17 Mar If You Were the Last Person on Earth
THE SKY WAS SPLIT into halves like the opposing forces of yin and yang. Half of the sky was transitioning into darkness, yet still held onto the remaining light of the day. This half was a serene lavender color; the unfurling clouds didn’t just float by in one solid tone. They had iridescent facets like a cut diamond, multi-dimensional and breathtaking.
The other half of the sky appeared as the manifestation of chaos itself. I stood close to the edge of the precipitous cliff, practically on the twin forces’ dividing line and marveled at the contrast. I watched the scene unfold in awe — flashes of lightning lit up the dark and ominous sky beyond the distant mountains, but in the other direction, there was nothing but peace.
Not needing anything more than my breath and a beating heart, faint tears of joy began to form in my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was experiencing such earthly power, something incomprehensible to fathom, simply by going for a walk to catch the departing light of dusk.
That’s the thing about observing nature. It doesn’t ask anything of you. It just happens, often at the most seemingly inconsequential of moments, but it’s moments like this that often provide more meaning than what we consider the moments of importance, the ones we prepare for, that we pay for, that we live for.
Yet in those experiences, we’re elsewhere, thinking about tomorrow or the past. But in this short span of time, the slow turning of an individual page, I could be nowhere but there, in mind, body, and soul. I could be nowhere but there.
This scene would have unfolded whether I stood on the edge of the cliff or not. But I was there; I’m grateful for that.
The sun descended beyond the clouds as darkness pervaded the evening sky. A thought came to me, one I’d been pondering all week, yet it felt like I needed a moment like this to appreciate its profundity.
The idea comes from the book: Inner Engineering, an Inner Guide to Joy by the Indian mystic Sadhguru. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from the lessons in this book. I find that no matter how long a book is, if I can take just one thing away to imbue my self-consciousness for the rest of my life, it was worth the read. Sadhguru writes:
When you realize that all of your material achievements are of value only in comparison with those who don’t have them, this is joy that springs from another’s deprivation. Can you really call this joy? Isn’t it actually a kind of sickness?
It’s a mysterious concept to grapple with because, well, we’re not alone. We do compare ourselves to others. We don’t know how deeply rooted those customs of comparing are. We’re ingrained to compare because comparing does indeed provide us with a sense of worth. But what if we didn’t have to? Sadhguru continues:
If you were alone on this planet, what would you want for yourself? Sit alone for five minutes and see what your life would be like if you were absolutely alone in this world. If there were nobody or nothing to compare yourself with, what would you truly long for? What would really matter to you if there were no external appreciation or critique? If you do this every day, you will become aligned with the life that you are, rather than the accumulated karmic mess that you believe you are.
As I walked back home and continued to watch the now tumultuous sky light up with each bolt of lightning, I contemplated this lesson further.
If you were alone on this planet, what would you want for yourself?
The answer to this question is by no means obvious. In fact, it may take a lifetime just to scratch the surface of what it means, as it will always, I seriously hope, remain hypothetical. Yet, I think there’s something beautiful to take away and apply in our modern lives.
There’s a constant clash of forces in our individual souls akin to the opposing forces I witnessed in the sky. One of these forces is the heart. To follow one’s heart ostensibly means to do what you want with your life, perhaps what you would do if you were the last person on earth.
But it’s more complicated than that. Even if we think we’re following our hearts, societal pressures are so ingrained in us that what we know as the heart may very well be the myriad of accumulated influences that have been pressed on us since we were little, those same ones that derive from the dawn of humankind, to work hard, get ahead, outperform, in essence, to win. The other force in us is the pressure that we feel, but in reality it’s not so different from following our heart.
Both stem from our innate tendency to compare ourselves with other human beings; we are social creatures, we need each other to better ourselves, but where does this need to better ourselves come from?
To better ourselves means to progress towards something, but then what is this something? A more fulfilled you? Happier you? Joyful, peaceful, cognizant you? What, then might bring these changes? Is it moving forward through progress, or, perhaps, stepping back, slowing down, and simply being that person? I love the question for this reason.
If I were the last person on earth, what would I do. I like to think I’d marvel at the dark depths of the sky and I’d watch the sun fade into nothingness, and then maybe I’d stay there, just sitting, with nowhere else to go.
If nothing else mattered, if there was nobody else, I might focus on my breath. I’d feel it enter my body and move through my limbs, filling every fiber of my being with the spirit of the wind. I might walk not fast, but slow, and then maybe, I’d stop.
Or I might walk for miles and miles, exploring the treasures of the earth. I might laugh as loud as I possibly could, or scream from the top of my lungs. I’d cry, I’m sure of that, tears of pain, perhaps, but tears of joy, too.
I might do something meaningful every day that brought beauty to the world. Beauty like a ladder into the sky, something that transcends this world, maybe just arrange some fallen leaves to put a smile on my face. And then I’d watch them blow away. Would I work so hard? Would I care so much? Would I worry, at all, of things I can’t control?
Or would I stare into the stars and imagine other galaxies; connecting dots in space, unimaginable distances that send me deeper into myself. I think I’d swim for the challenge, far out to sea, and I’d float there, no longer on land where I’m comfortable, but in never-ending translucent blue.
I’d miss people, damn; I’d miss people. My family and friends, but just a stranger, an enemy even. And then one day perhaps when I’m lost in thought, I’d run into another traveler who thought they, too, were the last person on earth.
And I’d find myself again. And I wouldn’t care who they were, I’d just want to know them. We’d look into the sky together and wonder why we’re really here.