We were all quite happily talking about global warming until recently and were hardly thinking of an impending global financial meltdown. But here it is, and we seem to be rather clueless about the dimensions of the problems as well as a way out of this.
Our first impulse in difficult situations is to look outside for answers. When our car gives us trouble, we would obviously take it to a mechanic. When we have an electrical problem or some serious maintenance problems at home, we call in those who can fix them. That is just as well because only a few of us may have the expertise for such jobs. For the rest of us, God help those who try to help themselves.
Quite predictably, in the financial crisis too we look for answers from experts. We turn on the television sets, read newspapers, we listen to consultants and commentators. This time there seems to be less certainty in their opinions. It seems they too are rather unsure of the dimensions of the problem, and quite clueless about the way out of the crisis. They haven’t been quite able to disguise all this. Anyway, they are doing something, and that should restore ‘confidence’ and ‘sentiments’. We hear comments of some observers about the experts who are offering their solutions but who are also part of the problem, and some of them directly or indirectly players in the game that created the mess. In any case in critical times, we need to, though we may not, question the wisdom of experts and approach the situation with a Zen mind . Our time tested approaches and answers may in fact lead us to fail in this one. J. Paul Getty put it aptly: “In times of rapid change, experience may be your worst enemy.”
Even as we search for answers and solutions to the problem we are facing, there is another urgent question, and one that we may not easily ask. It may take a while for the situation to be clear and the economies of nations to be back on track. What about the fear and anxiety, the depression and anger and the insecurity that people are facing? What do we do and where do we go with that? In other words, as we find solution to the financial problem, what do we do with our suffering?
Predictably, we look outside for solutions for what is happening within us. We have always done it that way. The first line of defence may be trying to forget it through intoxication of various types. Even our Stone Age ancestors did that, so much so that that stone age was not only about implements but also the supplements; they were in fact stoned too. They didn’t have television for entertainment, but we surely are not the original inventors of distractions. Besides we have from time immemorial turned to experts like the priest, the shaman, the therapist, who know the answers and we have searched the scriptures. We have done everything that can shift the focus off our pain.
A major cause of disillusionment, and one that in fact is a point of grace, is the realization that when it comes to solutions to life’s most important problems others may give us hints, they can point their fingers in a given direction, but it is ours to look and it is ours to find. If we have learned one thing along the way, it may be this, nobody can take away our troubles and make us happy or give us peace. As long as we are looking outside for answers, we are only postponing the inward journey where alone we find what we are looking for.
Interestingly, we do not spontaneously seem to make this inward journey; we do that when we are hit hard by crises and when our experts also fail us. Then we are forced to look where we are least likely to look – inside ourselves. If the present crisis and the consequent difficulties have helped to bring us home to ourselves, they will have done us a major service. That way we may begin to live from the inside and discover that happiness is always an inside job.