The Rituals we perform and the Games we play

by Jassi

There is a certain strand of existential longing that I have found myself a victim to, at unsuspecting times. A strange kind of dread, fleeting and just out of mental grasp, a vague idea that there is something substantial missing from the current moment and that no matter what I do, it is unattainable.

On most occasions of experiencing the feeling, I have attempted to ignore it, hide it under the proverbial carpet. But recently when it visited me after an unusually long time, I realized I had missed it. And that perhaps if I didn’t pay attention, I would lose this tiny thread of opportunity that beckons at me to listen to the deepest ailing of my insides.

So I decided to let the feeling overtake me, wash over my thoughts and lead me to wherever it was that I was afraid to go to. Here I am, writing as I take this journey with my allusive dark self. The first thing it did was to darken my perspective and colour my interactions, reflecting to me a feeling of existential futility in everyone I met, imagined or otherwise.

From the day we are born of and as humans, we are taught to perform being human. And being human means performing eating, showering, praying (for the religious ones), conversing, working for subsistence among other things. These things are to a large part taken in and of themselves as the act of being human. Some people perform these rituals better than others, some add a new twist, some introduce entirely new rituals, like facebooking, tweeting and other things that compose a day for most of us. There are others who are more daring, and they go for harder rituals such as creating music, novel devices, programs that carry the potential to create entirely new rituals in due time.

Coming back to this existential dread, the one thing that it does is reveal humanity for all it is, a series of rituals, competing rituals, more complex rituals, rituals shared by ‘successful’ humans yet nothing but mere repetitive rituals. How is it that we wake up each day of our long lives and perform said rituals, and go back to bed without once realizing the absurdity, the futility of it. Some would say, Of course it isn’t futile, I code or I practice my music so that I can further human wealth and comfort and in the process, become a ‘successful’ human which its own set of customized and decidedly scarce rituals, a lot of them centered around spending the currency of success, money. Yes I see what you mean, and I see that you are partly motivated by the potential to perform these success rituals while being considered in envy by other humans performing the more mundane, mass available rituals. It’s as if you are now in the elite of the elites of the monkeys, in the good part of the forest where the trees grow bountiful and most female monkeys would kill to be considered a worthy partner by you, so that they too can perform the successful monkey rituals with you. But in the end, isn’t that all it is? You are the super monkey, who has the best of the stuff a monkey can possibly buy, you live in great comfort and never need to perform rituals that you don’t like, like working or taking orders. I congratulate you and hope that you’ve found the rituals you are comfortable with rather than those you feel compelled to perform.

Yet I fear there is no answer to when you wake up one day to the realization that for a large part of your life, you’ve been that ape who by the forces of natural urges, covets status and desirability by its fellow apes. All the apes are enraptured by all the games they have concocted through generations and each new ape desires to collect these ‘tokens’ of status and desirability which at some threshold become ‘success’ and lead to cascades of status and desirability, at its height, by apes you haven’t ever met. It makes me wonder what would happen to us if we didn’t have any more rituals to perform or standardized games to wake up to.

Paraphrased beautifully in the timeless words of Solomon,

“What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.

…..No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.” — Ecclesiastes