My Pack of Crayons
It may be the great equalizing idea to think that, no matter who you are, we all come into this world butt-naked and crying with absolutely nothing in our possession but the skin on our bodies and the hair on our heads. This, I believe, is not true. I believe that, at birth, I was gifted with a pack of crayons, and so were you. I don’t mean this in a literal sense, obviously, but figuratively. Crayons are, after all, a choking hazard. I mean that each one of us was given a pack of crayons with which to paint the masterpiece that is our lives. Now, some people might have got that 32-pack, while others may have got a more modest 8-pack, but we all know that it’s never really about what you have, but what you do with it; or, do we?
How many of us know what colors are in our pack of crayons? Have we bothered to check what cards are in the hand that we were dealt with? Do we know that we can check? We constantly throw around the idea of ‘finding ourselves’, but do we ever stop to ask what that means? We just throw around these words assuming that they have some universal meaning to everyone who hears and utters them, but that is a baseless assumption. There’s nothing tangible in those words. We all must go through some process of ‘self-finding’, lest we find ourselves inadvertently caught in trying to draw someone else’s masterpiece with a completely different set of colors. I always thought of it as trying to build one LEGO set with pieces from a different set — the analogies are endless, but I think the point has been made. In our search for meaning and purpose in our lives, we must be sure not to make the all too common mistake of looking in the wrong place, because often when we do so, we’ll find answers — just not the right ones.
The search for meaning and significance in our lives is like a specter, constantly looming large over every aspect of our lives. When confronted by it, we try to quench this seemingly insatiable thirst by indulging in the myriad pleasures of the material world, like shipwrecked men turning to saltwater from uncontrollable thirst, we look outwards, and, in the process, do more harm than good. Money, fame, sex, and drugs; these are but a few of the material indulgences that many people wallow in to fill this void, a void that I believe is a manifestation of this sense that one is not living up to their potential. By ‘living up to their potential’, I mean that one is not imposing themselves on the world. Maybe meaning cannot be found by striving towards these worldly pleasures because anyone else can do that. As such, since every single person is endowed with a unique subjectivity — their unique take on the world — by not expressing this unique perspective, and instead choosing to mirror the world, one gets the feeling of being lost in a crowd, unable to even identify themselves.
I recently found that my appreciation for art increased greatly after I was introduced to the idea that the one thing that makes artistic geniuses like Van Gogh, Mozart or Da Vinci so great was their ability to capture their unique perspective of the world. This is, of course, not an affront to the great scientific minds that have come before, but one can argue that had Newton not come up with his theories of motion, for example, someone else would have eventually stumbled upon them. In this sense, given enough time, other revolutionary thinkers could have independently come up with the same ideas. On the other hand, a painting like Van Gogh’s Starry Night isn’t an accurate depiction of the sky as it was, but as it felt to Van Gogh, and that is perspective. I love to think that only Van Gogh could have painted that piece because only he had the right pack of crayons to do so. And, that is the point that I am trying to make. We are all so different that it is almost impossible to find meaning and purpose externally, it can only come from within, by allowing that inner self to manifest in what we do; painting our masterpiece, not as the world tells us it should be, but as we feel it is.
There’s an old saying that, “when the universe cannot find a singer to sing her song, she produces a philosopher to speak her mind”. I think that the reason why we all feel as if we are all a part of something much bigger than us is that we are. If, hypothetically, we take it to be that we are all distinct manifestations of the same ‘cosmic force’, we can then bask in the fact that we are all essentially a unique, subjective way for this ‘cosmic force’ to express itself. The universe expresses herself in the stories we tell, the music we make, and the pictures we paint. That is why we all seem to have this innate desire to be recognized and understood. Most importantly, however, we seem to have an innate desire to create. This innate desire to create may manifest itself in many ways, from writing, music, and art, to fashion, cooking and even engineering. This need to create manifests itself in our shared desire to capture something unique that, in some way, allows others to see the world as it looks through our eyes.
Now, this may sound good and all, but one quick look around will quickly reveal a reality very different from what I have just outlined. Instead, I believe, we have begun to reflect what Nietzsche called ‘the last man’. The last man, as he outlined, is the antithesis of his highest form of man, what he called the Übermensch, who has become so weary and tired of life that they only seek comfort and security, and also consume. The consumption part is what I would like to highlight because, for the first time in our history, we now find ourselves in increasingly comfortable and secure conditions where we can sit around and consume more than we create. The average person is constantly surrounded by so many different forms of entertainment to distract them that they seldom find themselves without something to do. The problem this creates, I argue, is that there is now a lot more input than output going on. That unique little voice that we all have within us that’s always crying out to express itself is now being drowned out by a monsoon of external influences all trying to tell us what we should be. There are so many people trying to tell us how we should be living our lives. Look around you and you’ll find no shortage of people who look like they have got it all figured out. Most of them probably don’t, but maybe some of them do. Those select few realized, or, maybe, they just stumbled upon the fact that, for them to be truly happy and fulfilled, they had to paint their masterpiece and be beholden to no one. Those people realized that trying to sweep your yard on a windy day is like playing whack-a-mole — you can’t clean up if the leaves keep falling, and you can’t define yourself if you’re constantly being bombarded by ideas of who and what you should be.
I believe that there lies within every single one of us a tiny voice just crying out to be heard. The process of ‘self-finding’ that I mentioned at the beginning is not just some placeholder term with no meaning, it’s a genuine process of self-discovery that involves spending time with ourselves and getting to know ourselves the way we know others. It also involves immersing ourselves in many activities until we find those that allow us to find fulfillment. It’s about hearing what that little voice has to say. But, most importantly, it’s not a once-off thing. We must be in a constant state of self-discovery. Crayons are constantly being added and removed from our packs depending on the circumstances and we must be constantly aware of what we have to work with and also ready to shift accordingly. That little voice is our gift to the world, and the pack of crayons is how we give it. Every single one of us has one. We all have that ability to make a masterpiece; maybe not with music, or art, but, certainly, with our lives.