Thursday, November 19, 2009

Asian Angst

At my age one can’t avoid worrying about the future, about life, about family and about one’s kids. Anxiety and dread fills you that one has an urge to compensate by the easiest thing possible. Often times this means spending money, to buy better things for one’s family. Perhaps it is a larger home, an exotic vacation, a new car and other trapping of the material middle class existence. What is lost is something more meaningful, to be able to feel a sort of substantive spiritual worth. Is that what most American authors write about? The spiritual decay in the modern affluent suburbia?

Perhaps that is why some people look to the East such as India, searching for answers to spiritual needs. I guess for an Asian to move to an affluent society, one cannot help but be seduced by the material life. With money and shopping opportunities abounding, that spending one’s way out of anxiety and fear is perhaps the easiest temptation. I had always wondered about the angst of wealthy people and it’s only now that I realized what it means. It means seeing your friends or co-workers in bigger homes or better cars that one is tempted to follow their lead. It is the slow insidious rise of envy or jealousy.

It’s easy to borrow money and the whole economic infrastructure is geared to have a lot of dough floating around and encourage spending. Spending after all brings up the economy in a virtuous cycle until the society achieves material progress and rises out of the recession. It’s therapy for the moneyed class. The situation in the East is different although it is changing as well. I grew up in a society of scarcity where people try to preserve what they have instead of buying the latest model or fashion. It’s the virtue of living frugally and simply. Can this value still exist in a world of constant media bombardment and advertising? In fact is living a simple life considered a virtue today?

There are a lot of Asians living here in this country. A lot of Indians especially who have embraced this culture which is an irony since coming from a country of religion, mysticism and spiritualism. But it’s the way of the world now to buy a bigger house or a better car. Previously, one’s anxious thoughts are about survival or keeping one’s job or looking for work. In an affluent society, one’s anxiety is focused on where to spend one’s money, where is the better deal, what should one do in a country of ultimate possibilities, i.e. driving, fishing, skiing, etc. It’s a strange sort of reversal from one extreme to another.

Of course, it s pleasant form of anxiety wherein one does not lose sleep due to the worry of losing one’s job. But that’s not quite true. In fact one does lose sleep while being wealthy because one is always busy. Or more accurately one is distracted with constant television and Internet surfing that one sleeps late. I guess it’s the comparison of a poor man’s anxiety as against a rich man’s anxiety. Perhaps the true fear of the rich is boredom and the rich man’s mind keeps constantly churning into anxious thoughts. So one can’t really compare on who is the most virtuous. Perhaps the secret is balance, maintaining one’s Asian values by living simply despite being in a society of affluence and without succumbing to the material life.

Perhaps the secret is to focus on work. To devote one’s energy towards an endeavor that can transcend any feeling of trivial anxiety. Focusing on work I guess is a good remedy for both the poor man and rich man’s anxiety. Idleness and distraction is prevented and avoid corrupting the soul. Too much books, movies or activities are enough to tire oneself and moves one away from one’s spirituality. Quiet moments and rest, meditation and fulfilling work are the age-old remedies for society’s ills. Finally, the classics are still relevant and there is no such thing as the modern life because the age-old truths still apply.

No comments: