I am always coffee or whiskey in a marfanoid frame. My religion is discourse and I prefer to flirt with the profound. Up late, I watch smoke drift out of crowded rooms and can never decide which way it is going.
Being me means spending one third of waking hours impressing friends with my quidditch skills; one third winning verbal arguments against colleagues; and one third making my favorite comedians laugh hysterically. Right now, being me is fucking awesome!
Being me means being willing to sink in to the uncomfortable when it has something to offer me. Right now, the uncomfortable is trusting my intuition and surrendering into it, watching my own personal culture emerge while judging no one else’s. Accepting that the second I have myself figured out, I’m wrong again.
Let me share the first description I received:
Hmm… let me think, what is it to be me. It is to be disciplined (of course not always but in many cases), to analyse constantly, what do I do right or wrong, what others do right or wrong and to learn from my own and from others’ mistakes. To be me is to be very tolerant and do my best not to judge other people. To constantly search for the positive sides/signs in everything. To be me is often to worry about things which I probably shouldn’t worry about. To love food and bakery very much but at the same time worry if I eat healthy enough and not too much. To always create plans and if something goes not according to my imagined schedule or sequences, I feel irritation, but then again try to teach myself to see it as a positive thing for my flexibility training. Uff… didn’t expect that would say so much about being me☺
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a friend’s experiment, looking at simple lines and colors and pressing buttons. I thought, “Would someone else perceive these images differently from me? Certainly, she would. What would those differences be based on and how would the impression actually be changed?”
It’s very difficult to understand how we ourselves perceive the world, let alone other people. And the point is that how things appear to us is subjective: how can I explain to you what it is like when I drink a cup of aromatic tea? How can you explain to me how a red rose appears to you? It’s very difficult because it’s subjective.
But humans came up with language. We can use words in order to communicate complex ideas, and writers spend their lives trying to find the words to convey a particular concept or feeling. Apparently words can be powerful. So I decided to ask people about the way the world appears or feels to them.
I asked: What is it like to be you?
A great deal of people responded, and the responses were very, VERY different. I certainly got a sense of what it is like to be these people. While we can never inhabit someone else’s mind and heart and fully see the world from their eyes, I like to think that reading these responses can get us a little closer to that. Perhaps by describing what the world is like for us and sharing that with each other, we can gain a fuller understanding of what being human is all about.
I will share one description per day. Stay tuned to find out what it’s like to be someone 🙂 And feel free to share what it’s like to be you!
I sometimes become a hungry ghost. When I receive something nice, say, affection, I can’t get enough of it. I want more and more, and no matter how much I get, it’s never enough.
No one likes feeling like a hungry ghost. We all want to be happy: to receive what we want and to be happy with it. When you’re a hungry ghost, you’re either unhappy because you aren’t getting what you want, you aren’t getting enough of what you want, or you got too much and you feel numb.
Because I don’t enjoy being a hungry ghost, I started thinking about ways to overcome this thought pattern. In particular, I was considering the hungry-ghostiness around love and affection. What does it mean to receive enough affection and how does that feel? Can we feel content with the fact that some people care about us and others don’t? Should we try to cultivate our happiness within ourselves or should we ask for it from other people?
THE MODEL OF HAPPINESS, WELL-BEING, FEELING LOVED, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
Let’s start from the core. In my drawing, that’s the green-blue sphere in the middle. Each of us has a beautiful (emotional) heart that is capable of cultivating a vast variety of emotions. Importantly, this core of ours can feel self-love: you can love yourself. Your heart can offer love to you. That’s far from easy, but it’s possible and indispensable. In order to feel or do any of the other things I’m going to talk about, one has to love oneself. I don’t know if this is good or bad news for you, but either way it’s true.
When the core has self-love, it can create a sense of self-worth and stability. If we love yourselves, not all the love we need has to come from outside because we already have some. That makes us feel worthy: we can provide love. Also, someone (ourselves) loves us, so apparently we must be worthy. And this feeling of self-worth gives rise to stability. One can be at peace with herself and just be.
So, it turns out the core consists of self-love, self-worth, and stability.
Reaching out and Giving Love
Once we have love and stability in the core, we can give away some love. I represented that with the red arrows going out of the core. We reach out to others and do something nice for them. We tell someone his shirt is pretty. We compliment someone on her work. We buy someone a present. We invite someone to dinner. We say, ‘I love you.’ We visit a friend in the hospital. We talk to someone about his loss. We enter a competition. We perform in front of an audience. We smile at someone in the street.
Reaching out requires vulnerability. When we offer affection to someone, we don’t know whether they will reciprocate the same way. We know the risk, but we reach out anyway. This requires courage because we have to be willing to put ourselves on the line. Vulnerability is particularly excruciating, but it’s the only way to truly connect to someone else. Don’t ask me how to acquire the courage to be vulnerable; I am struggling with it myself. In fact, I’m reading a book to find out how to do it better.
That was it about reaching out and offering love: once we have love in the core, we can reach out to others and offer some of that love to connect to them.
Receiving Care and Love
Isn’t it fantastic to receive care and love! I showed this with the purple arrows in my drawing. We all enjoy the warm feeling care and love from the outside bring us. It happens when we receive an unexpected call from a friend we haven’t heard from in a while. When someone tells us we did a good job and they mean it. When someone tells us he aspires to be like us. When someone says, ‘I miss you.’ When a friend comes to see us when we have the flu. When we receive a present. Or when a stranger smiles at us in the street.
An act of kindness can be tiny and still elicit a powerful positive reaction. For instance, out of the blue, I received a message saying, “How is your day?” It was such a simple sign of care that I stared at it for a full minute, smiling. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when these little moments happen, for a second I can’t believe it. I take a moment to let it sink in that yes, this actually happened, this person actually did this for me.
Naturally, receiving love and care is extremely gratifying. It makes us feel validated, accepted for who we are, and, well, loved and cared for. It’s wonderful. I still think, though, that we can’t possibly receive enough love and affection for the outside to satisfy our needs completely. That’s why we need to love and care for ourselves, and only then receive affection from others. Perhaps even if we did receive tons and tons of affection for the outside, unless we have self-love, we can’t process the external love in a way that truly soothes and satisfies us.
The important thing is that the love we receive from others can feed our love for ourselves. If other people think we are worthy of care, then most likely we truly are. When other people love and accept us, perhaps we can become more accepting and loving towards ourselves.
Clearly, receiving love and affection is amazing, and it can fuel our self-love.
We Give More Love than We Receive
As you may have noticed, the red arrows (giving love) are more numerous than the purple arrows (receiving love). No, I didn’t get lazy with my arrows; this was on purpose. I believe that we need to make an effort and reach out to others more often than we receive affection from others. This is because many of the times we reach out, our affection won’t be reciprocated. That’s the truth: not every attempted connection will be successful. This is easy to accept in the case of smiling at someone in the street: even if he doesn’t smile back, it’s not a big deal. But it’s much more difficult to accept this with bigger approaching actions. What if you ask your partner to marry you, but you discover your partner has doubts? What if you open up to a close friend about an insecurity of yours, and she tells you she doesn’t want to be your friend anymore? What if you discover that you really aren’t good enough at what you do?
Sometimes we reach out and we are rejected. There’s nothing to do about it. When one red arrow doesn’t make a connection, we have to trust that another one will. Love will come from somewhere else.
The good news is that sometimes affection comes uninvited and unexpected. From time to time, a purple arrow lands in our core and ignites a little fire of joy when we hadn’t predicted it. It can be a tiny bit of affection, but because we didn’t expect it, it’s so much better! In those cases, it’s our job to respond with affection and strengthen the connection. Someone had the courage to be vulnerable and reach out to us; then we can respond in a caring way and encourage the other’s vulnerability.
Putting Everything Together
The point of this “model” is that the core, the reaching out, and the receiving are three parts of a dynamic equilibrium. If you don’t remember what that means from science class, I’ll attempt to explain. It means that none of the parts are static but are in constant flux. But because all of them contribute something at each moment, they produce the overall state of happiness, well-being, and feeling loved.
This means that, in the drawing, the blue-green sphere, the red arrows, and the purple arrows constantly cooperate to achieve the state of well-being, in yellow. Our core (hopefully) keeps on bringing in self-love, self-worth, and stability. Because of that, we reach out to multiple people, offer love, and try to connect with others. Some attempts succeed, and others fail. And from time to time, we receive affection from others, so we feel loved, cared for, and accepted. The three components feed into each other and generate an overall feeling of well-being and joy.
What do you think? Do you agree that this is how it works? Do you think there are other factors to giving and receiving love? Do you vehemently disagree that you need to love yourself before you can truly receive love? Do you think that we receive less love than we give, or do you live in such a caring community that you receive more love than you give? Let me know.
A subtle sadness gradually sneaks in through the walls, into the furniture, on each surface. A sheath of disappointment glistens on top of the fabric of the couch. The music is dulled and made more ordinary because nothing is quite extraordinary. The apples on the table are not truly red but a shade less bright. Being alive is okay but not quite fulfilling.
The mind and the heart crave a distraction. They don’t want to feel dull and dissatisfied. The most powerful stimulant they know is love, so they decide they want love. They decide they are lonely. Ah, now they have a diagnosis, so everything is simpler: the problem is loneliness, therefore the solution is the lack of loneliness, the presence of passionate love. Actionable step towards the solution: go find passionate love. The mind and the heart have figured it out, simply.
Yet the heart/mind is very good at forgetting when forgetting suits it. Some voice of reason asks, as though from far, far away:
“When was the last time passionate love solved anything?”
The voice gets closer. It’s deep and authoritative, it demands to be heard.
“When was the last time passionate love brought peace and contentment?”
Silence and quiet recalling of episodes past. Passionate love, unmet expectations, disappointment. Somehow the outcomes do not match the intentions.
The voice fills all audible space now. Powerful and full, it’s the type of voice one doesn’t argue with.
“Why pursue this thing called passionate love then? … passionate love then? … love then? … then?” The voice reverberates in the empty space of my head.
“Because it brings hope,” a tiny, child’s voice says.
Every time love blooms, it seems like this time it will work out fine. This time everything will be just right and our hearts will sing. Just this time it won’t fall apart inside our very palms as we try to cradle it to life.
And then, inadvertently, it does fall apart.
It’s unbelievable that our hearts can find it in them to hope again next time. It’s the miracle of the human heart: that in any situation, at any time, our hearts can love again.
That’s because love makes our hearts sing. The heart remembers more powerfully how it sang than how it wept. This is why every time it finds the courage to sing again, even if that means it will have to weep again.
The questions we usually ask are: What activities bring purpose to my life? What do I enjoy doing? What am I passionate about? These are all good questions but they miss something important: everything sucks, some of the time.
As Mark Manson asks, “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?”
It’s about what we are willing to tolerate in order to get the part we love. I love dance, for instance, but I am not willing to endure the injuries that one gets from dancing all day. I am also not willing to deal with all the uncertainty that every artist has to put up with. Ergo, dance is not my main preoccupation.
I often wonder whether I truly enjoy research. I love asking the big questions, and it also fascinates me to find practical ways to study them. It’s beautiful to see a clever experimental design and marvel at the creativity that went into coming up it. I learn from such designs in the hope that one day I will be able to come up with experimental like that myself and study the questions I find intriguing. But there is also a lot of uninspiring work that goes into all of this. Learning the methods of analysis, sitting in front of the computer, creating excel tables or matlab matrices, creating tiny stimuli, programming behavioral tasks, applying statistical analyses to neuroimaging data… Basically sitting in front of the computer a lot and dealing with details when one actually wants to know the answers to the large-scale questions. To be fair, I find some dorky enjoyment in some of those technical tasks. But a lot of it is booooooring and tedious.
For me the question is whether it is worthwhile to spend a few months on tedious tasks in order to briefly reach some outcome that might (or might not) give me an inkling of an answer to the question I wanted to address. It really does take a lot of time and effort to make a small step forward.
But then that’s true of probably anything. I am still working towards a clearer answer to whether that’s worthwhile for me, but so far it seems like it is. I may be willing to tolerate a large amount of tedious tasks in order to, at the end of the day, know that I have made a tiny step towards understanding how we perceive and experience the world. If I had all the choice in the world, this is the question I’d be answering, and research is one way to examine it (art is another, but let’s not go there right now). So for now I’m sticking with the shit sandwich of doing many technical analyses to try to reach some answer.
It’s also liberating to realize that there isn’t one amazing option out there that you’re missing out on. No matter what you do, it will suck at least a little bit, so you don’t have to keep looking for that perfect occupation. Good enough is good enough. Now all you need to do is figure out what is good enough for you. Good luck there…
I often have a dilemma on a Friday or Saturday evening: do I stay at home cuddled up with a book or movie, or do I go out, be social, talk, dance, and laugh? Last weekend I experienced this dilemma particularly intensely.
This is the choice between our introverted side or our extroverted side. For some people it’s an easy choice, since one is more powerful than the other. For me the two are of similar strengths, so the answer is not straightforward.
On Friday, I had spent all day at the university and then done some work. I had a cozy dinner and cuddled up on my couch with a book (yes, I’m still in love with the book I wrote about here). I was supposed to meet my friends at 21.30 (9.30 pm) to go to a karaoke bar, but by the time I had to get ready, my eyes were drooping. I wanted to go to karaoke, I really did. I knew it would be fun. But at that particular moment my whole body was begging me to stay on that couch, under the soft blanket, and keep reading quietly. I listened to that plead. I apologized to my friends and stayed in the comfort of my home, my book, my relaxation. It was such a pleasant evening that I could feel my heart melt.
Then Saturday came. I was supposed to go out with a friend that evening, but he got sick. Suddenly I panicked: I really wanted to go out that night but my plan fell through. I called several other friends, but no one wanted to go out with me. I felt utterly lonely, and I cuddled up on the couch again with my book. It was enjoyable, but I also felt sorry for myself. Then a friend messaged me and invited me to this rock concert. I considered it: it sounded fun, but was I really in the mood for it? I had almost decided not to go, when I thought I’d check out what music the band was going to play at the show. Oh, it was awesome music! With a sudden surge of energy, I got dressed and went to the concert. It was so absorbing to listen to the music and dance! Being there in the crowd, watching the band, and letting the music sink in was so enjoyable. Afterwards my friend and I met some new people and stayed with them for the rest of the night, talking and dancing. This fun evening took me by surprise. The next morning I was smiling.
On Friday evening, I was happy to stay home and indulge in my book, following my introverted side. On Saturday evening, I was glad I got up from my couch and had a night full of music and people, following my extroverted side. Perhaps the balance between the two types of activities made me happy. One day I gratified one part of me, and the next day I appeased another part.
How do we choose when to pursue our introverted side and when to follow our extroverted side? The two evenings I described offered opportunities for both. I was uncertain about what to choose, but I listened to some cues. On Friday evening, I was really tired, so staying home appealed to me more. On Saturday evening, I was lonely and wanted to have fun, so I decided to go out. It’s not really so simple since there are many aspects that we consider before making a decision. But the cues are there, and we just need to tune in and notice which one is most important to us at the moment.
Interestingly, often we’ll be happy either way. Sometimes there is an event happening and you have to go. You might feel tired or in a different mood, but you go anyway. At times this can result in an unpleasant evening. But most often, your mood switches and suddenly you’re enjoying yourself. The extroverted and the introverted side don’t have to be so mutually exclusive. I can switch from one to the other quickly often, adapting to the context. In this way, I don’t need to actually make a decision but I follow the outside world. It can be surprisingly freeing.
The context can often make the decisions for us. We still guide the context, but not so strictly. Perhaps I can choose to go out on one of the weekend evenings and stay home on the other evening, providing myself a nice balance. But on which evening I do which can be left up to friends, events, chance, etc. And when we really have the choice in our hands, like I did last weekend, we can listen to the internal cues. Perhaps this is a good enough heuristic?
You can judge me all you want, but I want to read this book. I know I should study, work out, run errands, talk to people, but right now I solely want to read this book.
I love making plans and doing things calmly, predictably, in a set manner. But sometimes desires kick in and knock me off my feet. Right now it’s the utmost desire to keep reading this one book. At other times it’s been to eat some delicious food or to have sex or to watch some superb film. Regardless of what the actual object of the desire is, the feeling is always the same: it’s a yearning deep in my chest and my gut that pulls at me and drags my mind away from anything that is not the object of the desire.
The feeling is kind of wonderful and kind of destructive. The excitement it brings cannot be matched by anything else. It makes me very energetic and passionate, so I feel I could lift up a mountain if I had to. But this feeling also destroys my ability to focus on anything else. I have to follow my desire, or else I will do whatever I am doing with only half of me. And, even if I do do what my yearning tells me to, I will be exhausted and spent after a while. Some years ago, I spent long, long hours watching amazing films. It was all I had wanted to do, so I indulged. After a few hours, I wasn’t feeling joyful but listless. I didn’t have any energy to do anything else, but I still couldn’t get my mind off of the characters in the film and the unanswered questions. It was impossible to do anything else, but it was also unfulfilling to follow my desire.
This is a horrible vicious circle to be caught in. I found that the best thing to do then was to get out, take a walk, breathe fresh air, and look around. So what was I to do with my yearning?
I think I’ve found a clue. Since last night I had wanted to read the book I am obsessed with now. I told myself no: there are other things I need to do, and besides the book is probably not that good anyway. I’ll wait until tomorrow, and by then I will have forgotten about it. Well, not exactly, today still every second thought I had was about that book. So I indulged in it. I read for about half an hour. Oh, how good it felt! Then I sat down and worked again. I was happy and also concentrated. Because I had read a little bit, I had acted upon my desire and had received the enjoyment. I hadn’t indulged into it for so long that I would lose touch with this world and find it impossible to come back (this is not necessarily a bad idea sometimes, but on many occasions it’s suboptimal).
I had enjoyed my favorite activity for a little bit, so it energized me and brought me joy. Then I felt ready to return to my world again and act in it. In a few hours, I will go back and read some more. Perhaps in this way I can follow my desire, that powerful, impulsive drive, and also fulfill other parts of my life that are more constant, monotonous, and calming. It’s like trying to make fire and water live together. I wonder if it’s possible.