I just finished watching a documentary on Shangri-La tea caravans, and I took about a million different lessons thanks to my capacity for overthinking. But what I feel the most is pity. Pity for my intellectualism.
When you’re a smart, educated person, you base life on philosophies, daydreams, and logic. You want to see the world, to change the world. You want to make a difference. The people on the caravan travel for 6 months at a time, so they definitely see the world. They trade goods from far places, spreading cultures as they go, so they do make a difference. But for the most part, they don’t see themselves as Plato. They’re living their lives, doing their jobs, and that’s more than enough for them.
In one of the towns along the route, there is a centre where salt wells are dug. Holes are drilled into the mountainside and ladders are slipped into the salty water beneath. Women climb down the ladders, fill their barrels with salt water, then climb back out again. They carry the barrels up 20 km of uphill roads, pour the water in a drying pan, and go back to the well.
Each barrel of water weighs 15 kg, and they carry up to 12 barrels a day. Since the women live 5 km from the wells, they work from 4.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. The men stay home and take care of the farming, building, trading … and household chores.
As I watched those women walking up and down those hills with water on their backs, I felt sorry. I wasn’t sorry for them. I was sorry for me. The women looked so happy, like they were actually enjoying themselves. They laughed as they trudged along with their backs all bent, and their workclothes were bright and cheerful.
I envy them. That has to be the most boring job in the world, carrying heavy water up and down and up and down and up and down, all day, every day. Exhausting too. I don’t know how they do it. Yet they were happy. From what I could see, boredom wasn’t in their vocabulary. They just get up, work, eat, sleep.
For an ‘educated’ person like me, it seems like a waste, like an existence instead of a life. It seems like they could be doing so much more. But while I sit here with my thoughts and my depth and my philosophy, looking for motivation to work today, convincing myself to write instead of watching TV, I can’t help thinking they’re lucky. I can’t help wishing I had a mind frame as simple as theirs, a thought process that’s happy to walk, carry water, eat and sleep.
Some people would say that without the ‘brains’ of the world, we wouldn’t have books, electricity, ice cream, BMW. But these Tibetans seem to be doing just fine without them. I don’t know if there are kids born in that world who feel imprisoned, who long to be free, to fly planes, hold scalpels, to ditch the paycheque and watch Ben 10 instead. I sure didn’t see any on my screen.
Looking at those men and women, I think it’s them that are smart, not me. Their level of intellect is different from mine. Their genius is keyed on survival, and they don’t lose time with ideas and grand schemes. They simply survive, and they thrive. In an evolutionary chart, they’d be miles ahead of me, going and growing while I shrivelled in the hunger of ‘deep thinking’.
I wish I was more like that. I wish I didn’t have to rationalize work and have endless debates about whether or not I should force motivation or wait for inspiration. And the best part is, I wouldn’t even have to do housework!
♫ Mad season ♫ Matchbox Twenty ♫