Contrast

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Rocket science is supposed to be hard: to learn, to apply, to justify. In contrast (this is a straightforward word that doesn’t seem to hide anything) the intimate life of people, including one’s self, should at least be perceived as easy. Which, really, only begs the question: why are people so determined to compare apples and oranges? Maybe it is the “new” brain dismissing and rebelling against its forebears

If they have anything in common though, both rocket science and self/social awareness require prolonged, persistent application, taking over for a while life itself. And truly, I believe that we need to do both, just at different stages of our lives.

For instance, while rocket science is the domain of university life, the other subject belongs to the teenage years. This may seem a bit strange, given the research outlining that the brain is under construction during those years. But social and self awareness are, in my opinion, the “construction” part. Not hard to see: the reading, the all night talking, the constant challenge of rules, the risk taking. The absolute self-absorption, the realization of untold power… challenged by the painful vulnerability to each and every outside prod.

I was lucky (no, really?) that I was expected to “know thyself”, that I had books and people and an environment safe enough that I went through my teenage years while not suffering more than the minimum possible.

I emerged clutching my prize, so to speak. I had hope, I had faith, I had love, to quote one of my Christian friends. I had them literally, not in any religious sense, although religion has also played a big part in the making of this agnostic evolutionist with eyes firmly fixed on humanity.

That learning stood me in good stead. Years later, when adulthood seems too much like hard work, when I crave solitude and the meeting of souls, when conversation of any depth is much rarer than I would wish for, chafing at obsolete rules, I deem myself lucky. For I know the contrast, I know what we are capable of. I know the potential that is in us. Lost under routine and poorly understood responsibilities, there is so much more to us than just that great leveller, the daily struggle.

So the plan for today is to have deep conversations with people I love. To re-arrange the clothes’ horses to allow room in the lounge, so that the pacing can resume in glorious solitude, late at night. To read a few pages at least of a book that doesn’t expect anything less than total involvement.

And you know what? I will do it, too!

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Unreasonable

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I want to find that one person who understands me at each and any moment in my life. Never mind that I sometimes need years to understand myself. Never mind that I have so many people who understand a part of me, because, after all, we are not living each moment to its fullest and when we need to talk we usually limit ourselves to one part of who we are. Nevertheless, yes, unreasonable of me, I want to find that person.

I want to listen to your words and know who you are. Never mind that I see your actions and they speak true. Never mind that I have enough understanding to know that your words can be a lot harsher than your thoughts ever are and as far away from your actions as it’s humanly possible. I know, unreasonable of me!

I want to see your beauty in all its difficult glory. Never mind that you think yourself ugly, silly, dumb and difficult. Never mind that you travel to exquisite places and the beauty doesn’t lift you because you feel it is so far beyond your reach. I will get impatient and tell you off for hiding under conventional standards because yes, unreasonable of me, I want to see your beauty!

I want to feel everything. Never mind that I am out of practice, never mind that there are some things I cannot feel for various reasons. I am made to feel, I am made to experience the retreat of reality under the weight of feelings. Never mind that in the routine of life feeling like this is dangerous for peace of mind and for peace in general! Despite all this, unreasonable of me, I want to feel everything!

I want to reach out and take what I need without apologizing, without even asking for permission. Never mind that life isn’t like that. Never mind that, even if life was like that, the world we live in isn’t like that. Never mind that, even if the world we live in was like that, asking for permission is always a good idea! No, I don’t want to come back to reality! Unreasonable of me, I want to take!

I want to share with you. Never mind that there are no words for the first buds on the tree opening up. Never mind that there are no breaths deep enough for the sky disappearing into shades of clouds above the mountains. Never mind that there is no heart rhythm enough for that book, that movie, that concert. All this notwithstanding, unreasonable of me, I want to share with you.

It should come as no surprise that the only constants are you and me…. and my unreasonable entitlement!

Resilience

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Sometimes we need to stop. Sometimes we need to distance ourselves from a path that is no longer ours. Sometimes we need to look across time and recognize habits for what they are: comfortable, soothing, but ultimately the past.

Then we are ready. Not necessarily to change then and there, but to allow ourselves to contemplate change as a possibility, not a disaster. The opening of the mind may have happened before, but I think we realize that the mind is not nearly enough for change. The heart has to be involved, otherwise we are stuck between the old and the new with no way to go back but also no way to go forward. Because our hearts aren’t in it.

For a species who recognizes we do not like change we are terribly good at inflicting change on ourselves. It becomes a criteria desirable for any employment. 🙂 Although I would argue that even the best of us at change are really the best of us at dealing with the fall-out of change. In other words, we still suck at change but we can roll with the punches better and, in some cases, learn to love the stress response. Adrenaline junkies, anybody?

Resilience is the word of the day. That quality that sits so uncomfortably between stubborness and aspiration, that moulting of the stress that allows us to grow. It’s the recoil of the decision-making, otherwise known as consequence. It’s the forward leap using the momentum of the push back.

I was pondering resilience because I am now better at recognizing it in myself and others. I had this feeling when I was young that time will help with something. That I am going to step into my power and wield it as I should. I am not sure I was thinking of any magic, although… well, there is a part of me that feels ancient. Permanent. But that is for another time.

I take myself for granted. In translation, I know I can count on myself: my body, my mind, my feelings, my principles. In part, this is because I left childhood behind me. I take life seriously and words even more so (I don’t have “boys” and “girls” in my circle of friends). I can face a situation and determine my response without generalizing.

I am resilient. There is no boasting in it, although you will find some pride, as usual. I would boast if I had worked at it and succeeded. Instead, I was, as usual, lucky. I was given enough hard stuff to gain resilience, but not enough to warp me out of all recognition. But I had so few of the risk factors that it seemed almost inevitable that I would gain resilience. No, I am not saying that people who have risk factors can’t gain resilience. It’s just that they have to work at it whereas I… I only became aware I am resilient because I paid attention. Because I had a mirror close by. This mirror, the little one, is only now learning about resilience.

I used to wonder if we can learn resilience. It seemed to my young eyes something that you either have or don’t. But in this mirror of mine I can see the learning taking place. Because I can offer comfort and touch. Because I am there to discuss possible responses to everyday upsets. Because I can explain complexity (pacifism and patriotism being yesterday’s discussion) thus allowing understanding to grow.

But mostly because I stop and pay attention and respond with love. Time alone will tell if this way is better than throwing the little one into the water with no swimming skills.

I have hope…

Procrastinate

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I started writing this almost a week ago… 🙂

Very straightforward for Latin, I have to say, it actually means to defer. It is more specific than the current usage as it actually contains reference to “tomorrow” but otherwise perfectly understandable, if annoying.

I am not very fond of procrastination, even though I do it so well Others are even less enamoured of procrastination and have outstandingly explicit and eloquent things to say about it.

But this is an apology so I looked at what good can procrastination do. I am talking only of procrastination, not of time management difficulties. Those are not choices, procrastination is.

Let me make it clear: it is not a character flaw, it is not a difficulty, it is not an accident. It is a choice, and as such it is a consequence of a process that involves a lot of the individual, some of the system and most of the environment in which it happens.

Most people that I know of (including myself) do not procrastinate out of malice. It may be a passive (or is that passive-aggressive?) protest against circumstances we do not agree with. It may be a sign that more rest is in order so we can make better decisions. It may also be too difficult in which case it becomes again a passive way of saying it

What it can help with is timing. It’s a delaying technique but it may also be triggered by waiting for another piece of information needed to complete our knowledge. Or waiting for just the right time to do something. Or the right space in which to say something difficult.

Sometimes I am so tired that anything past breathing is way, way too much. So I procrastinate.

I don’t like it. I don’t think anyone does. But saying (and I have heard them all!) that the above are “just an excuse” is the same as saying “I don’t care why, just do it my way/the accepted way/the right way” despite what (I believe) are valid reasons.

And that makes me more, not less likely to continue to procrastinate.

Vicious circle, much?

Lately I have procrastinated sadness, if such is even possible. But I can’t let it overwhelm me during the day. And sometimes even nights are out of bounds. So I defer it. There is romance reading, pop music listening, cartoon watching – light hearted fun that nonetheless allows another hour to pass.

I can expect that much of myself, indeed. For sadness will come, and will not be denied entry.

I might as well make the decision when to open the door.

Timing

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It will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me that control is very dear to me. Control of one’s passions, control of one’s words, and actions, and really, pretty much everything else that can be controlled. As an aside, I find it beyond bewildering being upset at things not under our control. I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, take a detached view of the world, I fight and fight hard for the things I believe can be influenced, I just don’t see much point in fighting the weather, so to speak (now, influencing said weather is another matter entirely and I am not opposed to doing so).

The thing with control though is that much of it depends on time, and even more of it depends on timing, so that’s what I will focus on today. Time is necessary to learn control, to learn what can be controlled, to practice gaining and keeping and relinquishing control when one needs to. Serenity prayer, anyone? 🙂

Timing is more difficult. Most of us, certain in our own mortality, still manage to plan (i.e. to assume that we will have enough time to get where we want to). And when it comes to ourselves, in most cases, in this part of the world called the first, we have that time. We buy it with medicine, and education, and relationships.

But timing does not depend only on us. It is not only ourselves that need to be taken into account, nor just our wishes, nor indeed our actions alone. Timing includes someone else’s time, and sometimes the time of the age we live in. It’s what we mean when we say “life (or s**t) happens”.

A financial crisis, a war, an illness… many things can crumble plans, and the control these plans imply. We are often too isolated, we believe ourselves too small to influence these big things. But they are not the weather. We should fight, and fight hard, to influence them, human or not as they are. And we do, with medicine, and education, and relationships.

We are not all teachers. We are not all doctors or scientists or in charge of financial institutions. But we can all have relationships. And if timing can come into its own, it is on the relationships that we need to focus our individual efforts. And by timing I mean making choices. Simple ones, like not saying the bad words we want to say. More difficult ones, like standing our ground when we could just go with the flow. And difficult ones, like acting on the values we hold dear rather than the things we believe in.

I have discussed my view of control in another article on this blog. See, control is not just reining in, a force that is restrictive of freedom.Control can be passive and neutral, negative, or positive in that it allows action. Sometimes going through life (or the s**t described above) is control enough for powering a small country. Sometimes life seems out of control, depending on which tooth of the tiger sinks into which sensitive piece of our flesh. Our abused children, our bullied youth, our neglected elders, the sick and the maimed, have enough on their hands just to make it through to another sunrise.

But if we are well, and whole, and reasonably functional… what is then our excuse?

Pleasure

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Latin again? 🙂 Well, yes, although English just mangled a French version of it. But oh, just the research of it was indeed its name. I have read about Hedonism, Schopenhauer, Buddhism and I have just scratched the surface of a word expressing something that is so intuitively normal that one has to wonder at the amount of paperwork that exists in order to analyze, explain, opine or otherwise debate the subject. Basic or elevated, frowned upon or exalted, pleasure has baffled many and upset even more 🙂

And isn’t it ironic that what I heard about people like Schopenhauer, while remaining true or at least truthful, comes nowhere near the begrudging agreement with some of the ideas of the man himself 🙂 Out of my comfort zone? Well, yes, I am an agnostic, compassionate, cynical humanist, of course some of those ideas take me out of my comfort zones. It is easy to call him a mysoginist when I was born so deep in my century that I have no idea about his world. Anyhoo, back to pleasure…

Besides being normal (not only in the absence of pain) pleasure is of course individual. De gustibus… and all that. And I have always enjoyed hearing about but have never practiced the list making of pleasurable things, to be taken out and explored when the road ahead of us is rough. I never practiced it because I seem to just do it. Like the baby of the zodiac that I am, I do not have to learn to be in the moment, because that is where I am 🙂

If you have been in pleasurable contact with babies and animals, then you know all about the luxurious stretching, the trusting floppiness that signals impending sleep, the silly expressions and strange positions that seem to give them an inordinate amount of pleasure. But even for me (self described as happy) it is easy to differentiate between happiness and pleasure. Different ends of the spectrum, different stage of being, different intensity and emotional involvement… really, more differences than similarities!

Bone tired and snuggling into a warm bed is so pleasant I wriggle about trying to feel it with all my body. But learning a new thing or having old things rearranged into a new scenery raises that pleasure into happiness.

A song heard for the first time and immediately liked can keep me humming for hours, even days. But a piece of music that reminds me of a friend, of times of joy, of love requited, albeit lost… ah, that is treasure indeed, and so much more than pleasure.

The little things that children do, making something with my own hands (jam, a scarf, a puzzle), a plant that was almost dead but in the spring pulls through, “these are a few of my favourite things” 🙂

But seeing the little one grow, writing a poem or cooking my own produce… these I put on the same level as those dreams I have of travelling and absorbing art and walking with a friend through rain and wind while discussing the state of the world as we know it…

I guess what I am trying to say is that pleasure can make life bearable. But for true living, it is not enough, not even nearly…

Luck

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The fun part is how new this word is 🙂 Just the word though, the concept and controversy regarding luck is millennia old.

And now for the analysis, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it up 🙂

I am lucky. Very, outrageously lucky! It always appears to me that I do not control this luck, that it is somehow outside of me despite it happening to me. There is a good measure of self-fulfilling prophecy in there. I am by nature an optimist and my natural state of mind is happy. So it stands to reason (and to rationalists 😛 ) that I should feel lucky and thus influence my actual life in that direction. That’s fine, I don’t actually have a problem with this kind of self-fulfilling prophecies. And I recognize them when my intentional actions are actually part of whatever is happening in my life. Like choosing a pathway, listening to my intuition, stumbling over the right approach with a person based on many years of experience.

Where I actually talk about luck is where my actions, while intentional in the context I made them, have far-reaching consequences that no amount of intuition would have been able to predict. Like when I took my husband’s car one day and had an accident. My husband’s car escaped unscathed, but the accident would have seriously damaged my car… which said husband was taking to the mechanic, who lifted it and discovered two bald tyres.. I don’t want to know what would have happened had those tyres exploded on the big drive we had planned for the weekend… yes, it had been my suggestion to take my car to the mechanic in preparation for the big drive, but I couldn’t have predicted the accident, now could I?

So I am lucky. I have been lucky all my life. It really doesn’t mean that I win the lottery (small prizes, yes, when I can be bothered to play – rarely. That is chance, not luck as I describe it. It also doesn’t mean that bad things don’t happen to me. They do, and the effects are no more and certainly no less than for anyone to whom bad things happen – that would be everyone. Some of my personality traits (optimism, happiness, also an ability to see the good in situations) make it easier for me to deal with the bad stuff. But I don’t think that has much to do with the fact that I have become accustomed to hearing at least once a week from various people about how lucky I am. I have to pay attention. That is another factor, I notice how lucky I am, I feel it and I therefore act in possibly a more confident way which in turn opens more doors and makes me aware of more opportunities. But I am no more likely than others to get that job I have been looking for. Again, that has nothing to do with the luck I am describing.

Another thing is that feeling that luck comes from outside of my control, actually from outside of me. Like a gift. So I do no subscribe to the “don’t say you’re lucky or your luck will disappear” theory. On the contrary, I often acknowledge my luck. There is maybe a bit of superstitition in there, a reversal of that theory I described above: if I don’t acknowledge my luck it will disappear. I like to think that I am courteous though, so I acknowledge gifts 🙂

Fun analysis remains so if it’s brief. I am not complaining or try to understand my luck – no interest or benefit for me. I am intersted in the limitations (ah, that lotto ticket!) and grateful for the gift. I am also aware that I need to share it with others. Perhaps one gloomy day when things go wrong from the beginning, when you get discouraged and upset at “meaningful coincidences” (Jung’s definition of “luck”) that don’t coincide, I could come and tell you that things are going to get a heck of a lot better… and, knowing me, I will be right!

PS. Little bad things, when they do happen, always come in threes… I could have a bit of fun with that analysis, eh? 🙂