With just over a month left for me in Manila, on the tail end of six very happy non-consecutive years, I find myself panicking. It’s not the worst kind of panic – not, say, the panic of realizing that you’ve lost all feeling in your legs. It’s the panic of feeling like I’m about to lose a happy life I’ve taken for granted, and that I have to scramble to squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of it. I want to meet all the people I knew before, meet wonderful new people, go everywhere, and do everything.
The problem with the panicked rush to enjoy as much as possible, though, is that it ends up not being very enjoyable at all. Because I’ve also enjoyed the comforting sameness of my daily routine – the lazy morning coffee sessions at home, the ambling trips to the market, and the simple joys of spending an hour on Facebook messenger before I even start pretending to work. I want to squeeze out of every last drop of this serenity, too, but the problem is that aggressively relaxing to the max is a pretty nonsensical concept. And then again, every day spent drinking coffee with my dogs is another day I can’t spend rushing around the metropolis in search of one last dizzying adventure.
Life is, for lack of a better word, amazing and beautiful. Actually, the problem is that there’s too much beauty to choose from, even if you have to dredge through a lot of ugliness and cruelty to get to it.
For most people, the solution is to live as passionately and diversely as possible. Each day, they believe, should be its own miniature adventure, full of obstacles overcome and fellow souls bonded with. But for me, the problem with this is that so much of life’s pleasure comes from doing things slowly and repeatedly.
The pressure to YOLO takes its toll, especially on an autistic mind that takes pleasure in sameness and predictability. So instead of YOLOing, I’d rather just have a thousand extra lives, please. And thank you in advance!
I could spend one lifetime in Manila, going out when I want to and being a shut-in curmudgeon the rest of the time. I could raise numerous generations of dogs and basil plants, watching the procession of time with the serene certainty that I’ll be able to do it all again at my leisure. I could repeat the process over several subsequent lifetimes in Jakarta, Hanoi, Bangkok, Mexico City, and any other place I took a fancy to in the course of all my incarnations.
I could spend a lifetime mastering the piano, and another mastering the cello. I might even be ambitious and try to combine both into one lifetime, as long as I’m not too busy with anything else. One lifetime could be spent on Thai cookery, and another on Indian cuisine. I could hammer out quite a few novels and essay collections over all these incarnations, too – or at least find time to update my blog more often.
But unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll even get one full lifetime before I find myself in a post-apocalyptic climate change wasteland, or just get hit by a bus. I feel quite shortchanged, and . As a Buddhist, I know I’m supposed to dread the idea of another pass through the great wringer of samsara, but my current wringing cycle is so pleasant and interesting that I’d really be happy to do it all over again. (Although, if I lose all of my memories after I die, what’s in it for me?) But then, Lord Buddha would also be pleased to know that having a few hundred redos would also make me much more likely to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk and spend three years holed off from civilization in a retreat house, meditating twelve hours a day – the opportunity cost would certainly be lower, if nothing else. Perhaps the whole reincarnation business is just a scam to make people worry less about all the time they have to spend meditating? Pretty clever, if you ask me!
Unfortunately, although I do claim to be a Buddhist, I do not accept the reality of reincarnation, just as I believe that the concept of karma was only created by frail human minds to compensate for the horrible indifference and randomness of the cosmos. (A religious apologist would claim that this gives me carte blanche to become a serial killer, but don’t worry – I’m destined to live my life as nothing more than a garden variety jerk.)
And so, living on a dying planet without any certainty of future lives or an afterlife, I find myself torn between the desire to sink into comfortable routines and the impulse to live every day as if my brain were scheduled to leak out of my ears at 11:59 PM. Finding the right balance between these two impulses is a process of endless adjustment, of sinking into routines and then restlessly smashing them apart. It’s stressful, because life is stress and because the hedonic treadmill is one exhausting piece of exercise equipment. But it’s also a wondrous project, and one that is no less fulfilling for the fact that it will all be rendered meaningless at the moment when we all get eaten alive by refugee polar bears. Until that day comes, I’ll just move to Taipei. Or Puebla. And then miss Manila, and move back here, stay for a while, get restless, and do the whole damn thing again. Really, now… can I please just have a thousand extra lives instead?