Self importance is a tricky thing for the artist. You see, if we do not believe our work is needed and important we can feel dejected and unmotivated. On the other hand, an exaggerated notion of self-importance… and we lose perspective, burn out and exhaust ourselves.
So how do you find the middle ground? This is a challenge I’ve always struggled with a lot. What to do? Doing something which SHIFTS your perspective. One of the quickest ways to shock myself into the right relationship with this understanding is to be in the presence and awareness of ingenuity for time immemorial. As I grew up in a relatively young city, I didn’t see a lot of reminders of our shared collective history. It is mostly when I do travel that a lot of the Ahhhhas come through.
Here is a story of one such moment of travel for you.
There she is. Cappadocia.
I was drinking beer. Sitting on the footsteps of a wooden house, I was swapping travel stories with fellow hikers I had met during my stay in Montenegro. The conversation turned to Turkey, in particular Cappadocia. I had been to Istanbul years ago and never made it to famous Eastern town.
Dudddde! You have to go! It is magical!
And purely based on this tipsy conversation, I booked my ticket. They told me I’d find Cappadocia ‘magical’. Talk about an understatment. Standing amongst 2-8 million-year-old rock formations marked by a 4,000 year-old civilization, I felt electrified with this display of nature and humanity’s longevity, genius and resilience.
Let me explain.
Cappadocia’s world-famous fairy chimneys and massive rocky monoliths are the visually stunning result of several volcanic eruptions.
For millions of years that followed, formidable winds, rains and ice had its way with the hardened lava, ultimately shaping a trippy Dali-esque landscape. While there have been excavations of neolithic humans in the area, the Hittites were one of the first civilisations (that we know of) to truly leave their mark in this region. Dating back to 2000BC, they retreated into these rocky formations leaving their previous nomadic life.
The Hittites were industrious ingenious people. The dug, dug, dug into the large standing blocks of limestone. They dug sophisticated homes with wineries, temples, stables, beds, food storages and hideouts. Later these caves became more developed with water canals, communication channels and pigeon holes and kitchens with fire ovens.
I lived in a cave
In fact, during my time in Cappadoccia – I lived in one such cave. My entire hotel room had been dug out of a large block of limestones. The walls were beautiful cool limestone. Instead of cupboards, there were deeper indentations dug out of the walls. Even though it was the middle of summer, there was no need for an airconditioner because the limestone cave kept the heat off.
I didn’t realize it at the time of booking my stay, but there was a visceral immersive aspect to being in Capadoccia and living in the same kind of a home the locals lived in years ago.
As a solo-traveller, I don’t often opt into guided tours which are more suitable for families and larger groups. And yet, I knew I was in the presence of incredible sophisticated history. So, for the first time in a long time, I booked myself into three days of intensive touring with guides. From morning till evening, I joined our guides and groups as they took us from site to site.
I felt impressed by the truly overwhelming innovation our forefathers and foremothers engineered. I was born and raised in Dubai, UAE. Being from a country whose history stretches back to half a century, it is easy to become short-sighted and self-assured.
But – here in Cappaddoccia, I found myself being confronted with the shrewd cunning of humans four-thousand-years-ago, jolted me back to the perspective of our tiny existence and indeed, significance.
The line of nails hammered into limestone
I remember this moment when I was standing in front a series of nails which had been hit into a limestone wall. This is where the bunches of grapes would be hung. As they dried, the juice would be collected in small gutters which were carved into the base of the wall. All gutters led to a section in the corner of the room where it collected into barrels ready for fermentation.
As I stood there, I felt that sense of… importance and unimportance.
Somebody at some point had perfected this system. Somebody at some point had felt the swell of ego. The sense of importance. Contribution. Worth. And now… Where was that somebody?
Top soil (to paraphrase Jaggi Vasudeva).
I found myself feeling a little sheepish, even. Why am I so surprised by the sophisitaication of our collective ancestors? The truth is, I’ve harbored a belief (subconsciously) that we currently live in the most industrious ingenious point of civilisation. Where did this arrogance come from?
At the time, I was still riding off the momentum my ‘success’ in the corporate world had brought me. Optimization, efficiency and innovation were words we bandied about with pride and condecsion. And here I was…standing in front of a product of another culture’s optimization, efficiency and innovation. Sheepish. Slow.
Yeah, it matters. It matters not.
Death. This is the fate awaiting each and everyone of us. Does it mean we lie idol because we know we are going to die? Not at all. After all, here I am standing in front of this ingenuity thousands of years later. Here I am writing about it too.
Yes, what we do MATTERS. AND, what we do doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.
Every tiny little accomplishment. Every tiny little achievement. Every tiny little innovation is at once – tiny and massive.
Let’s keep that perspective ALIVE.
Whenever I forget this, the memory of that genius semi-eroded wine cellar comes back to me. I remember it and smile.
It matter not.