Certain lines that I came across in novels, text books and sometimes in the form of Graffiti never made any sense then. But there was certain inexplicable quality to those lines and they remained in memory. One such line is – “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”. This appears in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. Even though the novel is recommended for children, I am sure adults will be equally delighted if they could decipher lines like these.
There came a time, may be 10 years after I had read it, when one day the meaning, or what the author indicated, by those lines came as a flash of lightning. It was one of those series of busy days, while in Air Force. I was working on a project. Work would start at 6 am and continue sometimes upto 11 pm. It was like continuous running, both in body and mind with a few hours of rest in between. Then one day after may be three or four weeks, orders came from a superior authority, we have to do the project again. A little frustrated, suddenly the line- It takes all the running to keep to the same place- flashed in the mind.
In another sense, especially in developing and underdeveloped countries, all the running one does is just to keep the body and soul together. In other words the whole life is spent in fulfilling only the basic needs. Forget about progress of the individual or the family or the society. It takes all the running just to keep to the same place, so that things do not degenerate further.
I discovered another layer of meaning of this phrase after a session of meditation. I was reflecting on the affairs of life. How much ever you may achieve in terms of position, money, fame, power the final destination is the same. If your body is not burnt, for sometime a few square feet of earth is earmarked for you. You come from nowhere and again vanish into nowhere, in between running and running. Like Adi Shankaracharya said in Bhajagovindam,
“A child is obsessed in playing games, a young man is obsessed in young women, the old are obsessed with worries. Man never turns towards the divine.”
Obsession is nothing but repetitive running in the mind. As long as there is life there is physical running accompanied by running in the mind in terms of obsessions or worries. At the end of it all, one vanishes nowhere. (Of course there are theories and beliefs of rebirth, let us put them aside for the moment)
I do not know for sure whether Lewis Carrol had all the above in mind while he wrote the line. This also must have come to him as a flash of insight. Nevertheless, the line has helped to get insights about certain facts of life , or at least, express certain thoughts in a better way.
An activity is an activity, whether it is pleasurable or unpleasant. Ultimately it would tire you and leave you wherever you were. It is good sometimes to take a break from all those runnings, physical as well as mental and spend a few day in meditation or just relaxing experiencing the pleasure of ‘doing nothing, achieving nothing and going nowhere’, neither in body nor in the mind.