This is an intimate story based in India that is about seeking, peace, and spirituality. As a young man the main character, Siddhartha, grows discontent with his current life and sheds himself of all worldly possessions to roam the forest as a destitute ascetic. One who has everything because he needs nothing, who will not be trapped by the worldly problems we create for ourselves through acquisition and instead seeks tranquility through a spiritual existence. From there, he ends up living many different experiences, each one strengthening his insight and wisdom as he meanders along the path that is his life.
The copy of the book I read was printed in 1981 and it shows the wear. The pages have an aged tan hue and the edges are turning crispy brown, as if it spent a late evening too close to the campfire. The spine is splitting apart and the sidebars are filled with countless notations, underlining, and markings. I wouldn’t have had the same experience reading if I had a brand new copy.
Among the many concepts this book lets bubble to the surface, it brings full circle how for many people certain parts of a day, month, or year(s) may feel like a waste of time. Relationships that didn’t pan out, career paths which didn’t go as promised, or plans that went differently than the way you thought they would. What people actually mean, because reality deems it so, is not that any of these experiences were a waste of time, but how they feel their plans for the future were stolen.
It’s unhealthy to see these events, incarceration included, as an unscripted deviation from the life you thought you had been promised. Your ordeal, your suffering, your journey is not an interruption from your life or what it was supposed to have been. It is your life, and each present moment, along with any portion of an unguaranteed future you may be so lucky to receive, is what you get. In some cases it’s what you earned. In others it’s the way the cards fell. In both, it is what it is and you should enjoy the ride.
Go through enough of these types of experiences and you learn to be more empathetic, understanding and patient. Siddhartha exemplifies this with both himself and everyone he encounters. He’s a kind soul who gives as much as he takes. I mean that not in terms of taking anything material from those who he encounters, more so, his gaining wisdom through them and the experiences they share. Incarceration takes much from everyone involved. It’s not only what’s done to a person, the imprisonment, but what’s taken from them, their freedom and their plans for the future.
Ironically, much like the arduous aspects of Siddhartha’s life, or an event in anyone’s life, it can also free you from what was previously trapping you. You can rebuild, reframe your perspectives, and grow. Change how you appreciate your family, friends, future and how you communicate with yourself. Or as Hesse so eloquently puts it: “That pride of standing alone without teachers and doctrines, that eager readiness to hear the divine voice within his own heart.” It’s your dialogue, you talking to yourself. None of us would spend as much time with anyone who spoke to us as much as we let our thoughts circle in our own minds. You may not be able to stop all of them, but you can adjust the perception.
If I didn’t come here there are several aspects of life I may not appreciate the way I do now. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciated all of those things quite thoroughly in the past, and much as I wish I didn’t have to go through this, I did and I now have even more gratitude.
What Siddhartha exudes is a consistently tranquil, trusting, and easy joy with everything that happens and where it leads him. Whether that’s realistic or not isn’t relevant, because it simply is. What happens to you in every given moment leads you to the next one. It’s up to us to make sense of it and move forward or recoil and be swallowed.