1. A Steppenwolf cannot live amongst sheep
“I am in truth the Steppenwolf that I often call myself; that beast astray that finds neither home nor joy nor nourishment in a world that is strange and incomprehensible to him.”
(Herman Hesse – Steppenwolf)
In this world that seems so indifferent and alien, the rebellious, creative, artistic Steppenwolf many a time craves to be around other kindred souls, so that there can be an exchange of alternative thoughts and ideas, which then nourishes the already afflicted soul, and provides some kind of mutual motivation to stay alive.
In the absence of this, and in reality, we end up preferring to live as loners.
A large part of my life has been spent being surrounded by a very narrow spectrum of people. I have felt the biggest impact of this when I reached adulthood and my process of self-discovery began, but under the shadow of people who were not stimulated by anything beyond the wants of the material world.
I feel that although such company did provide me invaluable life experiences and a deep understanding of different behaviours, it did little to nourish my imagination, educate my mind intellectually, or provide solace to my outlandish thoughts. Their presence may have slowed down my process of self-discovery, and certainly filled me with self-doubt as I struggled for many years to reconcile my individuality with their overwhelming mass similitude, perhaps ultimately delaying my creative progress.
Let me delve more into my youth.
My youth and schooling was a time of simplicity, laughter and naivety, where my immature self was in its embryonic stage of creative and spiritual awakening. In fact, aside from my unusually sensitive, empathetic and introverted nature, I was very content to fit in with the middle-class crowd, pursue the same leisurely pasttimes, and fantasise about same ideas of masculine materialistic success that schooling and society had taught us about. The path ahead to success was simple – technical qualifications, a lucrative job, elegant clothes and a fast car.
But by my early twenties my already curious mind began to wander, to grow, and it began to revolt and inspire exotic thoughts. And after I had suffered through and slavishly completed my technical qualifications, I felt I had learnt nothing of real value. What followed were encounters with socio-philosophical thinkers – who had previously never existed in my life – their writings introduced me to critiques on capitalism, materialism, consumerism and along with great filmmakers fuelled my growing curiosity with the subjective nature of identity, morality, and life experiences that schooling and organised religion had taught me nothing about.
Little did I know, my philosophical and artistic voice was now maturing.
The world had started to lose its sheen and I lost my innocence. It was no longer real, or simplistic. It was illusionary, complicated, contradictory – full of beauty, creativity and hope, and at the same time full of foolishness, loneliness, and destruction. I had so many questions that could not be answered. For starters, how the hell was everyone busy chasing crap and carrying on like they knew the answers?
These simple thoughts snowballed into far more complex ones, and continue to haunt and inspire me today. But it was in 2013 – a time of suffering followed by a great, unprecedented spiritual awakening – where I became fully conscious of, and finally began to understand and accept, the abnormally sensitive and empathetic soul that I had carried for so long and this ability to perceive the world at a profound level of awareness.
I had finally begun to understand myself, but also the people around me. And, it became clear that part of the reason why I feel detached was because, let alone people knowing the answers, most people around me did not possess the capacity to even ask questions, or feel any inclination to be occupied with more profound, and uncomfortable existential and creative thoughts.
Why was there such a disparity between us?
I began to become more aware of how people – despite having their hunger and thirst quenched, living in comfortable abodes and being able to splurge on objects that were surplus to their needs – carried an apathetic mask of frustration in their eyes. Even their choice was just an illusion, for they all dressed the same, spoke the same words, worked the same jobs, and aspired for the same things in life.
What was the source of this?
I realised that these were just symptoms of a much deeper malady – the vast majority of us had been successfully programmed by authority structures to passively swallow, accept and then regurgitate their ideas and subliminal commands. No, this wasn’t science fiction – but reality.
Most of us had had the little curiosity, empathy and individuality individuality granted to us at birth devoured (a few of us reluctantly, but knowingly) by the dogmatism of schooling and organised religion, by being trained in the emotionless drudgery of capitalist servitude and oppression, by allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled in the repetitive and predictable pantomime plots of our political masters – just like the escapist soap operas on our 60inch television sets that had us comatosed, by willingly consuming war and violence with popcorn and a selfie, and by the constant overwhelming reminders that we too could and should aspire to imitate the (unattainable) fantastical lives of our celebrity idols.
Of course, I too had experienced (and continue to battle against the power of some of these forces), but there was something inexplicable within me – that prevented me, more so than ever, from getting the same excitement, joy, or nourishment from it, that everyone else seem to do so. This was not a choice of mine.
And so, I continued to be compelled by unknown forces to melancholise and wonder about life, and critique the follies of my youth – things that I had accepted and participated in without thought – I could not help but be troubled that people around me remained fascinated with them. A fantatical devotion to the pantomime of spectator sports and tribalism, being willingly polarised and entertained by schisms along ethnic, religious and national identities, and gluttony of all sorts still gave them an excessive amount of pleasure and satisfaction. Unsurpisingly, they had an aversion for art, literature, poetry, creative and alternative thinking…all the things I considered to be beautiful, and immortal.
My mind could not fathom how such emotionally and physically sapping trivialities could hijack the lives of aged men and women, and that too at the expense of constructing our own distinct and purposeful lives that could transcend the mundane.
But then I looked closer and saw that their bodies had aged, but not their souls, and this made my old soul feel even lonelier and at odds with them.
Some of them even heard my passionate dialogues, but I could see that they didn’t truly listen and the impassive look in their eyes was that of someone entertaining the rants of a madman. “I felt like a man trying to sell mirrors in the land of the blind.” (Majrooh Sultanpuri)
I even began to question whether I was the madman, and they the sane. Yes. I am certain I was mad, “but they were insane because they had not yet gone mad.” (Herman Broch)
It never was a choice for anyone.
Now I believe that these conformists, dogmatists, materialists, pragmatists, ritualists are only being true to their nature. They are the oversized majority, the masses of the mediocre who will remain unenlightened to the realities being constructed for them because they innately lack the abnormally deep sensitivity, empathy and creativity to do so. Naturally, they will find comfort in being submissively led by the commands of lords, and their fulfillment from accumulating endless wealth and property as an end in itself. Their raison d’etre is founded on the reverence of profit over people, objects over ideas and it is perfectly normal for lifetimes to be spent satiating these material desires, just like their forefathers before them, and their progenies to come.
I am convinced that their lives and ambitions are so indistinguishable from each other and so predictable, that they could easily have been mapped out from birth to death.
But, just like the Steppenwolf they too have never had a choice, but to be true to their own nature: to eat, obey, consume and to sleep. Their present state was not one of incompletedness, or one that needed to be, or could be changed.
With this in mind, I do not ponder – like I used to – about how or why the world has been populated by so many of them, yet only sprinkled with disproportionately few Steppenwolves.
Perhaps, these masses are the lucky ones? Each one of them having been granted the same, commonly shared destiny already created for them. Unlike, the minority of kindred Steppenwolves, who are compelled by unknown celestial forces to feel so intensively, to writhe in both pain and ecstasy, and are driven by an uncontrollable urge and responsibility to forge our own difficult, distinct and individual destinies, just so that we are not suffocated by this world.
Each to their own blessing. Each to their own tragedy.
I felt liberated when I discovered my mirror and I was able to finally recognise and accept myself for who I was, and for them for who they were. I was a Steppenwolf who had been masquerading and aimlessly wandering with the flock of sheep. It was time to leave them in peace to their pursuits. And so I mustered the courage to begin walking alone, trying to carve and lead my own path, and along the way finally find ways to feed my starving creative spirit and try to fulfill my destiny, before my time on earth came to an end.