When I went home a few months ago, I found a copy Soul Mountain at Chapters, which I had been looking for, ever since I found out about it. I’ve been reading as much as I can lately, whenever I have the time and the energy to concentrate on what Gao Xingjian is trying to narrate to me.
The thing that makes the autobiography interesting so far is that Xingjian was incorrectly diagnosed with fatal lung cancer, and after proper review, had been given a second chance on life. His outlook changes, and he begins to see everything around him very differently.
I’ve lately felt that, although I’ve never been threatened with any life-altering incidents, I’ve begun to see things differently as well. It’s as if I have nothing and everything to live for. That there would be no difference between dying tomorrow or in eight decades. It’s almost as if I’ve had my fair share of experiences, each one as important as the other in shaping who I am, good or bad, and that this is already sufficient for me to be satisfied with my life. Perhaps I feel this is true when I compare the amount that I’ve already learned with the infinite amount that is impossible to learn. After all, what is the purpose of life anyway? For me, it is to continually shape myself into a better person, whether it’s intelligence, or a better appreciation of music, or dexterity, or anything. And since there is no absolute goal I have to reach (or can reach), there is no way for me to fail, and death henceforth becomes meaningless.
When I tried to explain this to someone, he got confused, and thought that I was telling him about how I had experienced all there is to experience already. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a plethora of things I haven’t done, that I haven’t been through, and whenever I’m given the chance to actually experience one of these things, I feel as if I’ve gained more out of life.
Instead of seeing the act of living as crossing out items on a life-long “to do” list, I see it as writing down items on a “have done” list.
The greatest distinction for me between these two worldviews is that I can take my time in doing what I want, instead of feeling rushed to accomplish as much as I can before I die. Seeing life this way has certainly allowed me to be a much more relaxed, flexible, easy-going person, uninhibited by the fear of death. The good thing about this is that I didn’t have to fool myself into this view, simply because I was unsatisfied with my life. Somehow, this mindset shaped itself in my brain, and eventually manifested itself through my ever-continuing maturity.
It has made life meaningful and meaningless at the same time.