A Confession, part 3
I lived this crazy life for another six years, up to the time that I married. In those six years, I lived for a time in Europe, where I mixed with many educated and rich people. Many of these people encouraged me in my belief about becoming more and more perfect. They had a word for their religion, and it was called "progress". When I would start to think (as every sincere person must think at times), "What is the best way to live?" the answer would come back from this religion, saying, "Live in agreement with progress." But progress had no clear meaning to anyone, and I did not think to question that at the time. I could not see that I was like a man in a boat that is being carried along by the wind and the waves. And the wind and waves were what we called progress. Such a man, when asked where he should steer his ship, would say, "To any place where the wind carries us."
I did not clearly question this teaching, but there was something in my spirit that could see a problem in it at times. When I was in France, I saw a man killed by the government. I saw the man's head cut off, and as it dropped into the box, I asked myself if this was progress. I could not help but believe that killing, for any reason, was wrong. And I had the feeling that right and wrong do not come from just looking at what others do and following them, but it comes from inside your own heart. Right is right even if no one does it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it. When my brother died, I again had the feeling that the progress teaching was not enough. He was in much pain for more than a year. He died without understanding why he had lived, or why he had to die. No teaching about progress could give any answer to his death.
On returning to Russia, I moved to the country, and started working with poor schools. I still believed in progress, but I could see that at times progress has not been good. So I tried to give the children as much freedom as I could, to see what way they would go. The truth is that I was still fighting with my own understanding that I had nothing to teach. I stayed there for a year before returning to Europe where I learned more about how to teach others without knowing anything myself.
In 1861, the year of freedom for country workers, I returned to Russia, where I worked as a voice between the poor workers and their owners. On the outside, it looked like my life was going well, but in my mind I had a feeling that I was going crazy. After one year in this work, I gave it all up and went away to the country to breathe clean air, and to live an easy life.
When I returned from this time away, I married. This change in my life stopped me from thinking about the meaning of life for another fifteen years. For the next fifteen years, the one interest I had in life was my wife and my children. My earlier plan to make myself perfect had been dropped so that I could follow progress, and now that plan was being dropped so that I could make as much money as I could for myself and my family. I knew that writing was not important, but I also knew that I could make a lot of money from doing it. So I worked at writing; and the only truth I had to teach through my writings was that one should live so as to have the best, for himself and for his family.
Then, five years ago, something very strange started to happen to me. At first I went through short times when I did not know what to do, or when I had the feeling that I did not know how to live. These times would come and go at first, and then I would go on living. Then they started to happen more and more often. Each time they came with the same questions about anything I was doing at the time: Why are you doing this? What does it lead to? At first, I thought these were easy questions, and if I should ever take the time, I could find the answers with little trouble. But I told myself that I did not have the time to find the answers just then.
These questions were like the little pains that a person feels before learning that he or she has a sickness that no doctor or medicine can fix. What starts as a little thing, in time leads to their death. And that was what was happening to me spiritually. Slowly I was learning that these questions were the most important questions in my whole life. They had to be answered. Before I could do anything more, I must know why I was doing it. If I did not know why, then I could not live. When thinking about the education of my children, I would say to myself, "What for?" Or when thinking of ways that the poor workers might become rich, I would find myself saying, "Why should I be interested in them?" Or when thinking about how many people knew about my work, I would say to myself, "If more people come to know about me than know of Shakespeare, what difference will it make?" My brain could find no answers for these questions. And the questions would not wait for me to find an answer sometime in the future. If they could not be answered, then I could not live.
All that I had been standing on had collapsed, and I had nothing left under my feet. All that I had lived for was no longer there.
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
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