Have you thought about (HYTA) the curse of first experiences?

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Though our memories have far more in common with a rusty kitchen sieve than a video camera (can you remember what you ate during lunch five days ago?) they do faithfully reproduce our most meaningful experiences. And some of the most powerful memories that continue to influence our everyday thoughts, perceptions and behaviour in subtle, almost inaudible whispers, are those of our first experiences – the powerful emotional highs and lows we encounter for the very first time. And such experiences are few indeed, and neither repetition nor imitation can recreate the very first raw sensory experience that, for better or worse, cut us very deeply.

Vividly, with an instant rebound of emotions – a surge of thrill, a heady burst of longing, or a crestfallen cringe, we easily – too easily – remember the first time we drew very closely to a person and became deeply embedded in his or her presence. It’s the first time, and perhaps the only time, that we realise we want someone more than having something. Or perhaps we remember the first time we were mocked at by others,  to be broiled alive by the slights and taunts of those who thought we would never amount to anything much. We remember, always.

Or perhaps as we were growing up, we realise how difficult it is to attain the affections of our parents. We remember the first hurt, the tears and the neglect. That one moment alone in a corner, sad, broken and hollowed out. We may also remember donning the mantle of someone whose influence swept us away – who opened our minds in ways never thought possible, who initiated and reinvigorated us in ways unexpected. We remember, remember, and cannot forget, even if we try our hardest. These first experiences live on in us. They have taken up residences inside us against our will. They define us.

And there they reside: immutable, silent, but omnipresent. They remain unconscious points of reference, a lighthouse of sorts if you will, on how to navigate the past, present and future. Though we are the sum total of all experiences and memories, these particular landmarks, by virtue of being the first to leave such indelible marks and significant scars on us, become the basis – the very first template – we use to gauge everything around us. And they inform us of what might be, could be or should be. Someone who had a great conversational partner begins to look for similar, if not better, features to have in another; Someone who has been abused shuns features reminiscent of the attacker; and so we keep looking, and often we are disappointed.

And that is the curse of our first experiences – they can telegraph expectations, standards and hopes that we might perhaps never be able to match – or perhaps never be satisfied with. But one must admit: whether to sip from the golden cup or to be wrenched down into the spiraling abyss, these first experiences will both instruct and inform us, and sometimes, just sometimes, move us closer to what we really need but never knew was essential. It’s unfortunate that…forgetting is impossible and like the stubborn ripples in the pond, they continue to reverberate away in us. We always remember.

So have you thought (HYTA) about the first time you encountered something emotionally overwhelming?

Have you thought about (HYTA) the many sides of the same face?

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Wherever we go, we tot along an array of exquisitely engraved costume masks.

Fanned out on a flat surface, some of us would marvel at how many different, varied and storied identities we can effortlessly assume, all in a single day and all in a single seating.

All of us wear masks. That is not to be contested.

And we’ve developed situational masks to please, impress or intimidate certain types of people.

Even when we don’t feel that way, we smile and laugh anyway, because it would be impolite to do otherwise.

Sometimes, we applaud a performance not because we thought it was grand, but because everyone is doing it. It would be impolite not to. Peer approval matters.

When it’s someone who has a higher social standing than us, we give them more attention, more time and more of everything. They matter more.

But such performances, at least for some individuals, are tiring: An introvert pretending to be an extrovert quickly feels disconnected from himself; repeatedly impressing people with praises start to feel weary; and trying to fit a group’s artificial dynamics can burden us.

Those who cope well in such situations are often those who never really give too much thought to who they really are, nor do they see why they need to care.

Sometime ago, someone told me that this is how the social jigsaw pieces line up – it would be imprudent to go against it. Social needs, cliques and peer bonding are after all, very, very important.

And maybe there lies both the answer and the problem. We CAN be consistent, honest and authentic, but we are not willing to pay the price of being ostracised. That I can understand because social alienation can inflict a great deal of misery.

But on the side of the equation, is a loss of who we originally were. I honestly believe that among all the different masks we stash away, there is a part of us that’s genuinely consistent. It’s the face that’s under the mask.

It’s this side of us that we are usually most terrified to show. Because it’s vulnerable and individualistic. This side risks the greatest damage, and is the easiest to break, so for that, we have at our disposal, a set of masks.

It’s not to say that we should allow ourselves to be unguarded, or be willing to assume everyone is trustworthy. But the authentic side of us might exhibit honest opinions, blunt words and deep contemplation that we sometimes, really, really need.

And when we can authentically say, do and believe something regardless of the situation or people, it’s empowering and refreshing. How many of us I wonder, had to say things we never really meant?

It reminds me of a person who, in order to make friends, had to develop an entirely new mask – a chirpy, quasi-naive and socially outgoing self in order to fit in. Her more serious – somewhat philosophical self – had trouble resonating.

Perhaps at some point, there will a merger of our masks, and what’s left is an even average of all distributed personalities, but that I think is a little sad: to have something essential die inside us, and have no-one to mourn it.

Maybe there isn’t really a clear answer to be had here. Our masks are tools of survival, and who am I to denounce one method over the other?

But I had a taste of authenticity, and I know the price I pay for staying consistent across all points of my life, and I also know that what I say (either to get them to think more or defend a point) can be disagreeable to certain groups of people.

But it’s how I have lived my life for a long time, and even if it costs me power, money or social bonds, I simply don’t value these concepts the way most people do. I rather be closer to who I am – and that is still something I am learning.

What about you?

So have you thought (HYTA) about what your different masks are?

Have you thought about (HYTA) what we desperately need but rarely have?

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Religion closes the eye of reason, impairs the circuit of logic and creases the fabric of thought – that much is true, especially after one develops an understanding of human fallacies, irrationality, indoctrination and reinforced dogmatism.

Yet there’s no denying the universality of some kind of religion: from the dark ages to modern societies, wherever you tread, primitive or forefront, Aztecs or Mormonism, cults or North Korea’s celestial dictatorship, people want to believe in something. Even tribes isolated from the frontier of modernity are yoked to their own tribal religions.

What then, aside from our tendency to conform and inability to critically think at the best of times, could be the reason for religion’s mass appeal?

Religion offers an intimacy we crave deeply but rarely acquire in our life – through prayer or worship, such beliefs liberate venal desires, grant forgiveness for inappropriate thoughts, and provide communion with a divine being who’s considered non-judgemental.

While the bulk of it is often convenient, fabricated, self-serving justifications (and erroneous attributions to common patterns), the faithful nonetheless feel a powerful catharsis.

Outside of religion, how many of us have a relationship of such intensity, intimacy and intricacy?

In the mundane reality, our dirtiest, darkest secrets and thoughts are concealments we never reveal. We might have lascivious fantasies, entertain violent, vengeful thoughts, or have deep insecurities. And we will rarely voice these out.

It’s only in either therapy or religion where one can express freely without fear of judgements.

What we want then, is not so different from what religion offers.

We want so very much, so very dearly, for someone to listen intently to us as if our existence really mattered; we want someone we can relate our deepest worries, our greatest inadequacies without a hint of condemnation.

We want to drop pretenses and be absolutely vulnerable, fragile as glass, to merge the public and the private; we want to love and be loved, unconditionally, with no restrictions. We want to be regulated by this person, to be made better, to be made an imperfect whole.

For those who drink at the jewelled cup of such bliss, life is laughably bearable even at its worst, and always worth living for. For them, Envy, is itself, in thrall.

But because most of us do not understand the essential constituents of a friendship or romantic pursuit, or are perhaps marred by insufficiency in communication, or as is sometimes the case, harmed by others, we fail to develop our capacity to be a better person.

And so, as long as we are splintered at the core, left incomplete, unsatisfied and uncertain, religion continues its hold over us. Religion provides false comfort, that’s true but it addresses a psychological yearning we have. And when the storm comes crashing down, some comfort is better than no comfort.

So Have You Thought About (HYTA) what is vitally important to the human condition?

Have you thought about (HYTA) きんつぎ?(Kintsugi)

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Taken in its raw, literal form, Kintsugi is the Japanese craftsmanship of gold joinery, or simply, golden repair, and this elegant philosophy stands as a silent, almost humble rejection of Western beliefs of flawless, exterior beauty.

For the Japanese, pottery that’s chipped by the edges, rendered jagged by structural damage or shattered by the hands of human carelessness is not discarded. Instead, it is meticulously repaired with powered gold, silver or platinum.

The result is an icon that retains some of its former glory but also shoulders both the history of its scarring and the intricate delicateness of its repair.

It is both new and old.
Complete, yet incomplete.
Damaged but now made new.

Kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of an object’s history – it is more poignant and symbolic for having been broken. Every crack is a part of its identity.

Not only is no attempt made to disguise the damage, the intent of the repair is to illuminate and evoke its storied history. It is an embrace of the imperfect, a swan song to its old identity, now both present and absent.

And as we have modernised, we have also forgotten this profound truth: we are made who we are because of the defects and damage we have sustained in our lives.

Beauty can be found in the imperfect, and we are imperfect.

Each scar is a triumph, every sigh of weariness a brief flash of resilience, and for every wrecking pain we endure in our hearts, it is but a moment of growth.

And we are more complete for having acknowledged the visible cracks that surface in our lives. And we should bear these scars proudly.

As we heal from our scars, we come closer to finding the essential people in our lives – those who can mend us with their words, infuse new meaning where none existed, and bestow upon us a love that transcends our damaged, fragile, fragile selves.

Incompleteness lends itself to form.
Perfection borrows from imperfection.

Kintsugi.
きんつぎ

So have you thought about (HYTA) Kintsugi?

Have You Thought About (HYTA) how to study?

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We generally approach studying the way a bull charges the red flag – blind, unthinking and unimaginative. More is equated with better. If you aren’t cramming, then you sure aren’t doing it right.

We have almost never given any thought about how to study. Like most traditions, religions and supernatural beliefs, we have rarely taken it upon ourselves to critically examine established methods of studying.

Teachers, along with our seniors and peers, are most unhelpful when giving us advice to study. If our education system is anything to go by, then lectures, remedial and more lectures must be paths to academic mastery.

Either that, or dispensing pages after pages of summarised notes, key points and drilling surely must yield something. It is almost like hurling darts at the board in pitch darkness. Surely if you keep trying, something will stick – there is a laughable desperation in that.

You have been there: spent a few days completely memorising and rereading a textbook, did reasonably well (or poorly) for the exam and in the subsequent week(s), everything you have memorised has gone the way of the dodo bird.

It is the aim of these posts to correct misconceptions of learning – how to study, rather than how much to study, is the vital point addressed here. The approaches to studying presented here goes against conventional advice – You will feel discomfort.

Continue: Correcting Misconceptions about Studying

Have you thought about (HYTA) what makes a good friend?

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A long time ago, friends were simple and honest, by virtue of childish innocence – a playmate, a social buddy, a hopeful confidante. And we were happy. As our identities burgeoned in complexity, the people around us swelled with their own ambitions, desires and motives – just like ourselves. Friends then and friends now have never been more different.

We know it is not hard to make friends or to lose them. In an ocean of people, a sea of faces, an endless march of bodies, friends seem as common and stale as the bread we have for breakfast. That’s not entirely true of course. We do value something much more in the friends dearest to us – a sort of ephemeral quality, indescribable and cherished.

We sometimes think of friends as variations of our shadows – similar yet different enough. It is also true to say we expect friends to stick with us to the very end. And perhaps the scenario of a friend ending up in trouble with us may well be the picture we sometimes have or hope for. Yet what is it that lets one friend out the door and another in?

Not because they can listen or joke. But because they offer more than other mere acquaintances in our lives. Anyone can sympathise with us by saying what we want to hear. A good friend will sympathetically point out our flaws – because we have a tendency to neglect our own shortcomings – and make us feel better and worse at the same time.

Such a friend seeks to improve us, not impose. A good friend influences, not manipulates, offers growth, not stagnation and reveals hurtful honesty instead of well-intended lies. Such a person does not require courage, be excitable or partake in gossip. We are made to think, to reflect and to be a better person today rather than to wait for tomorrow.

But it is possible to entirely miss the mark too. It is not enough to look outwards. We can ourselves, at times, be poor friends. After all, our education has seen to it that we are manufactured to memorise, not empathise. We are superficially encouraged to make friends, but not taught to understand, scrutinise or appreciate.

But the first step is to at least start thinking.

So, have you thought about what a good friend (or being a friend) means to you?

Have you thought about (HYTA) what friendship means to you?

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By itself, the night sky is a swirling vast ocean, humbling in its immense width and breath, equal parts captivating with its unfathomed depth, and beautifully patterned by evocative brushes and strokes.

It’s quite a marvel, and yet, there are very few moments we truly sit around to contemplate its expansiveness.

In the same vein, we usually forget to think a little more about the friends we surround ourselves with. It’s easy to underestimate their influence and overestimate their worth.

We seek friends that while similar to us, also fulfill psychological needs we unconsciously desire. The meek seeks to follow, the extrovert enjoys pushing ahead, and there are other carded stereotypes lived out in friendships.

Seen that way, friendships are our own exclusive street theatres, designed to naturally enforce group superiority, and for our ego to play out certain roles. Friendships in truth, are never equal.

That in no way diminishes the value of the friendship – each individual brings something different to the performance. We are all sock puppets doing the same shadow dance – it is the give and take we have always understood implicitly.

Yet, each subtle push and pull in a friendship has an immeasurable impact on us. The small, quiet nods given by our friends shape our beliefs and behaviour. Anyone who’s been in a class knows how even peers can sculpt our attitude, often without our knowledge.

Even a tactical silence, the evasive cold shoulder, sets us on a rout of pessimism – we alter our behaviour to try and make sense of it, perhaps even cry. Who has not?

And if we imperceptibly forget to look up at night, what can be said about how we view our friends? At the least, the night sky is unchanging, unyielding and uncommunicative. It only offers us an imaginary pillow for our dreams.

The realisation that friendships are more deeply influential – perhaps monumentally so – than we imagined, should mean we are entitled to a personal selfishness in imposing a highly restrictive entry.

This does not suggest arrogance, condescension, elitism, or any other form of tribal grouping. Rather, we should seek to think about what we can offer to others, and what others are willing to give in return.

It is possible we have overlooked some truly great people in our lives because most of the time, we really like it when our friends say the things we want to hear. It’s harder to appreciate those who hold differing viewpoints or repeatedly challenge (or topple) our positions.

A truly great friendship, or relationship, requires active and reflective partners who clearly know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, who with honesty, can easily relate what and why they value this private theatre they have built.

So, have you thought about what friendship means to you?