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Windows to the world!

October 28, 2011
On windows, idleness, cocoons, butterflies, and the world on the other side. Also, the sky and the internet.

(A bus window I gaze through every night)

A preference for the window seat while travelling is perhaps fairly common. I have noticed it umpteen times with different fellows travelling to different places, on buses or trains, and, of course, planes. I am one of them. This common preference for the window seat tempts me into inferences of an idle nature, which took a rough shape while I was gazing out of a bus window the last time I was on one. On one level, it is perhaps an instinctive claustrophobic response to the restrictive boundaries that lock you up in a particular place, especially when that place is too small to contain your restless self. On another, there is probably more to that instinct – perhaps it is a reflection of the human need to be free, to have something other than the immediate to look forward/outward to, and more trivially, albeit importantly, boredom. Indeed, part of what makes the world an “interesting” place where things happen, or people do them, is boredom.

On a trip to nowhere

The mind wanders when you stare out of a window. The window offers you many more objects to ruminate upon than the inside of the enclosure you’re in, so there’s plenty of opportunity to wander in very many directions. You see things outside, but often you’re looking within. For even as you stare out of the window, your mind — sensing the opportunity for idle wanderings – goes on a trip across memories from a past that was or one that never was, and hopes from a future which might be (and might as well not be), but very often it gets stuck in a familiar cycle – a pattern you have been through only too often, and one towards which your mind inevitably gravitates when left idle.

It is usually a repetitive pattern, nothing new ever comes out of it. You usually don’t get a single novel idea, yet the indulgence in this cycle is addictive. I speak from personal experience, of course, so I might not be correct in assuming that most people do that when idle, but it might well be a fairly common indulgence, one of the characteristics we might share as human beings. Only you, the reader, would know if (at least) the two of us share it.

What your mind gravitates towards when left idle determines – in a substantial way – your inner life, one that is lived inside your head, even as you continue living the one outside. The quality of one’s inner life can make or break you, bit by bit. So even though we usually don’t worry about what our minds gravitate towards when idle, I reckon that conditioning it to think in more non-repetitive and creative ways when left idle can vastly improve the quality of one’s inner life, which will show up in some way or the other in one’s outer life too. For when your inner life is all cooped up inside a cocoon, you go around in endless circles, without even completing them. You need to break free. You need to consciously outgrow that cocoon.

To outgrow that cocoon

A factor that is responsible for this repetitive and non-creative thinking is perhaps a lack of focus on a particular object. That lack of focus is, of course, an essential ingredient of what it means to be idle. Yet, it seems a plausible conjecture that a lack of focus is essential if one is to be adventurous (or bored) enough to explore the space of all possibilities and then pursue one which naturally indulges oneself and one’s creative potential in a way that others do not. In other words, a lack of focus can help you figure out what to focus on. For otherwise, you might be too focused, for far too long, on too narrow an area to take the time to notice or focus on any other, possibly more rewarding, possibility. Windows offer us the opportunity to look at the ‘big picture’, if only we are willing to make use of it instead of idling away in our emotional or intellectual cocoons. That is one of the ways you can outgrow that cocoon.

Another way is to see the outside for what it really is — something new, something more than a projection of the all-too-familiar machinations of your mind, unless you’re a solipsist. This means you take the objects you see, smell, feel, or experience in any other sensory (or otherwise) fashion, and consider the possibilities that they afford you for creative expression, of either the objects in themselves or the metaphors they can stimulate out of their otherwise ‘ordinary’ existence.

A butterfly

A butterfly, for example, often makes me wonder (as I am sure it does many others) why it’s so confused. It can’t seem to decide which way to go, so erratic its flight is. If you think about it, though, it’s probably to avoid people catching it and hurting its all too fragile frame. Though, by some accounts, it’s also to stay afloat in the air. I could, of course, imagine that there’s something to the erratic flight of the butterfly, not in a literal sense, but in a poetic one. For fragile as it is, it’s elusive too. The more you run after it, trying to catch it, the more erratic it is, and if you do catch it, you might end up killing it. I see a beautiful metaphor here, for the whimsical wishes we might have, ones we might want to chase, but which, if realized, would die, as wishes are wont to when fulfilled. A wish that won’t die is also one that won’t come to fruition. It remains forever in the realm of possibility — there, but never quite. It’s like chasing the spot where the sky meets the earth, only to come to yet another horizon. Some wishes are like that. They are too beautiful, too meaning-giving in their unrealized potential, and too sublime in a way that you want to keep them alive, for they anchor you in an apparently meaningless universe.

On a different note, a butterfly is also what you get when the cocoon breaks — an erratic flight of imagination, from one flower to the next, sucking in the nectar of new sensations and novel ideas, unwilling to be caught and reined in by anyone.

On the other side of the window

A window is what separates your side of the world from the other side, while also giving you a peek into the other side. It lets you have a view of the outside while remaining inside, gives you the consolation that the world is a big place, and that there’s something more to life — something waiting to be explored and experienced — than your boring side of the window. At the same time, if what you see outside the window is a world not as beautiful as yours, you know you’re lucky to be on this side. You might feel sympathy with those who are on the other side, and you might want to reach out and help and thus make the view from your window a pleasant and beautiful one. You see, you can either draw the curtains over the window, choosing never to look out of the window again, or you can decide to make the other side a beautiful sight. On the other hand, if the other side of the window is more beautiful than yours you might want to swap sides, but the point is you’d not get the pleasant view any more.

If you want to deprive a person of any hope, happiness, of all her sense of possibility, lock her up in a windowless room. And she will wilt, unless she has a window in mindspace, one with enough room to allow her a sense of a larger world, more beautiful than the dingy one she is in. But if her mindspace is rendered windowless too (for some reason), nothing can keep her going. That is how essential an aspect windows are, of our lives — both inner and outer.

Windows we cannot do without (no, not that ‘Windows’)

I seem to have come fairly far from the initial observation on window seats and how people seem to prefer them. Let me leave you with a few windows I think we cannot live without, in a meaningful way. ‘Meaning’, of course, is contingent on how you define it, but if you’re reading this blog and if you ever look up at the sky, especially at night, for no reason in particular, you will agree that there are (at least) two windows humanity cannot do without:

The sky

The familiar phrase, ‘the sky is the limit’, is an expression of the limitlessness that the sky represents, beyond the confines of our immediate surroundings. If humanity had no access to something called the ‘sky’, we would not have dreamt of flying or reaching out to the moon, or searching for stars and galaxies out there in space. (Worse, there would be no ‘Star Trek’!) The sky is our window, especially at night, to the wonders of the universe, a world far beyond, and vastly outsizing our own.

The Internet

The Internet has come to be a defining window to all the information out there in the world. It has also engendered and facilitated revolutions, be it the Arab Spring, the anti-corruption movement in India, or the Occupy Wall Street movement across the Western world. It has shifted paradigms on what it means to have ‘friends’ and what it means to ‘network’.

Although I am unsure if any of what I have just written makes any sense to you, that was not quite the main purpose here. Indeed, there was no purpose, except to see where ‘windows’ can take me if only I let them. I’ll stop here since one must stop writing while one still wants to write more, or so they say.

I shall see you again on another day, and tell you more stories on this side of our window. And I’d love, too, to hear stories on your side. (Yes, that is a clue. So go ahead and comment!)

One Comment leave one →
  1. rajarshi permalink
    October 29, 2011 11:43 pm

    reminds me of Russell’s “In praise of idleness”…

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