Embrace

She walked as briskly as she could into the gently crashing waves.  The waves compelled her to drag her feet and she reflected briefly how it represented the tug at her heart that made her doubt her determined stride; the tug, caused by the little girl screaming loudly from the shores for her mother.  “Mai, Mai”, relentless the screams went as she pretended desperately not to hear them.  She knew that to any onlookers, she must look heartless and shameless.  She felt the eyes of middle-aged women piercing at her back for ignoring the child’s screams.  For a moment, she hesitated, she felt that she couldn’t move any further, that the waves were conspiring to make her stop.  She was scared, scared of what would happen if she continued, she felt paralyzed.

Then she thought, the screams of her daughter were not a cry for help, she knew exactly how that felt like, this was different.  All the child wanted to was to stop her from moving further, further into the arms of the man who swimming with the waves and waited for her deeper in the surf.  Her daughter was accustomed to be the center of attention of her mother.  She didn’t like having to share her mother with someone new.  She can handle being alone on the beach for a little while, it is safe there’, she told herself repeatedly thinking about the child.   She really wanted to take this time for herself, enjoy the feel of the salty warm water on her skin, wanted to bounce with the waves, scream like a child with peals of laughter and above all, wanted to be close to a strong male body that desired her.  It’s been so long, she thought, since any man has even looked at me appreciatively let alone touch me.  She couldn’t remember how it felt like to be held in someone else’s arms, someone stronger than herself, someone who’s embrace was comforting her rather than the other way round.

I am a good mother and have been one, she told herself, trying to make her paralyzed limbs move. She concentrated on the sound of the waves and plodded on into the surf.  Each step seemed to take forever but finally she was there, she looked up the man smiling at her and she felt her heart feeling lighter, less constricted.  She felt a return smile forming at her lips but suddenly, she couldn’t hear any more screams from the child and she looked back with alarm.  The child was playing with another young girl, happily squealing and jumping with the crashing waves.  .

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Michael’s no more

Just saying these words seem strange to me.  I can’t quite believe it that I’ll never see him again.  All of last year, he’d been giving jolts to his family by being in and out of the hospital that some people probably thought it was just a matter of time until he passed away.  But for me, every hospital visit seemed like something he would just get through and soon Charlene would be sending a note that he’s out of the hospital and recovering.  During these times, I was more concerned for Charlene who had endured the passing away of both her parents and near death experiences of her husband all in a course of a year a couple of months.  But, now, the news is here, he’s no more.

My mind goes over what he meant for me and others.  I wonder why I’m so affected by this news.  It’s not like I spent so much time with him or talked to him very often.  Yet, I know I’m going to miss him very much.  He was my manager, coworker, mentor and a friend.  Mike had a personality that touched almost everyone that met him.  He had a quiet strength to him that we couldn’t miss.  He was very good at what he did and cared a great deal about his work and the people he worked with.  Every time an out-of-towner came to visit, it would be Mike who would be taking them to dinner or entertaining them over the weekend.  Everyone who met him, always came away impressed by him.  Even the vendors he negotiated with had the utmost respect for him.  But, he had no airs about him and he was one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve met.   When Christopher asked him to give me some pointers on my career path, he was so gracious in not just giving me advice but he took us out to lunch!  As a manager, he trusted me and gave me freedom to manage myself but when I needed him to back me up, he was right there with unequivocal support.  I was welcomed as a friend by him and his wonderful family.  What more can I say about him?  Yes, he had his negative points which were that he smoked and drank too much and thought that nothing could affect him.  We criticized his choices in our minds once in a while but that’s because we all cared for him, we were concerned for him.

I know life will go on for me and others who’ve known him with not much change at all.  Even his family will adjust and cope after some time.  Some people will say that he’s moved on to a better place, but I know that his life here was a good one and he lived it as best he could.  I know that he made life a little better for others and we were all enriched by having him, however briefly, in our lives.  I’m very happy to have known him.

Looking for Symbols

I’m on my usual walk to work in the morning, head bowed, not looking at the gray clouds above me, which reflect the gloomy mood I’m in.  I’m lost in my thoughts and then, I notice that I’m getting rained on.  Most people would get unhappier by this and would think they are cursed or that the world is conspiring against them to send this rain forth.  Not me, I’m all of a sudden uplifted, mood cleared up and part of a smile starts to spread across my face.  I rejoice in the rain, I look up at it as a symbol of good things to come, to wipe away my sadness.  I’ve always thought of rain as a harbinger of joyful times.  It must be the Indian in me.

Then, within seconds, a thought occurs to me, my rational side kicking in and reminding me that I don’t believe in symbols!  I don’t think that a shattered mirror brings 7 years of bad luck or a cat crossing the street will make my mission fail.  (Except for the toasting ritual but it’s more for fun) That’s for irrational people, people who want to fool themselves into thinking that the universe somehow is either conspiring to help them or against them.  The rain doesn’t foretell of anything good to come!  What am I thinking?  How can I even allow myself to think that it means anything even for a few seconds?

Well, this sobering thought only brings dismissal of my short-lived hope and smile and I find myself resenting this rational side of me for taking away my dreamy side, the side that helps me forget my misery and indulge in fleeting fantasies.  I wish I could have stayed there a bit longer.  Why, O why, should I be so realistic?

As I regretfully say goodbye to my rain-induced reverie, I think of all the other symbols we let ourselves be seduced by.   Among other things, we watch for and try to create meaning from a touch, a word or a simple gesture from loved ones or a perceived look of contempt from someone we don’t care for.   We read too much into signals, symbols from others around us and try to connect the dots and think there’s a pattern.  Most decisions we make are based on these symbols.  So, how is looking for symbols in the natural world different from these symbols we look for in other people?

Could it be a survival mechanism that’s built into us?  Does inferring meaning from everything around us, from inanimate objects to animate, a way to detect danger or find people to trust or simply cope with life?  Symbols are essential to us.  Perhaps, they are our sixth sense.

But I think the danger lies in not examining these inferences from symbols for some basis in reality.  We all have our biases and fears and they influence what we read and infer from symbols so we need to catch ourselves before they become deep convictions.

I’ve decided that next time, I can perhaps allow my mind to wander a bit, dream a bit longer before coming back to the real world.  Just a few more seconds, that’s all!  Anyway, I guess now I feel a little more sympathy towards all those foolish dreamers and readers of symbols in Tarot cards or Astrology charts.

To hope or not to hope

‘Hope is a good breakfast but a bad supper’. – Francis Bacon

“Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions. It’s a sort of spiritual clap, I should say.” Miller, Henry

‘Hope is just the desire for things to go the way you would like them to. Hope is never necessary, although ‘hoping’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You could say that ‘hoping’ is bad as it can give illusions of fulfilling your desire, while hope itself cannot change the outcome of a situation itself’. – Random Internet user

‘I believe that I am an optimist rooted in reality. While I agree with you that realism is important, I fear that it might prevent people from visualizing a better world and discourage people from trying to influence positive changes in the world. This is why I struggle to understand why optimism, by itself, is bad.
‘Finally, I think the argument here is about unrealistic optimism and what most people can handle and in that I agree with you that rosy eyed optimism is bad but I thnk that most people do need optimism bias as they can’t handle realism without slipping into depression’. – Justuju

After arguing for months with Unawoken that optimism bias is a good thing and that most everyone needs optimism to keep going in life, I am slowly changing my mind. I was pretty convinced that average people cannot handle reality in all its starkness, whether it is a boring job, a failing marriage, dysfunctional kids, not meeting one’s own expectations or any such number of things. I used to think that they need to convince themselves that the picture is rosier than it really is to keep on living, to get through each day. Just a little bit of squinting of the eye, selective hearing and careful exclusion of negative thoughts should do the trick, I thought. Well, I ‘m not so sure of it any more.

Even though there are research papers that say that positive illusions promote psychological well being, I’m wondering if they studied more young people than middle to older aged people. It’s possible that for older people, mental well being just means that it keeps them from going into depression. I can believe that younger people are more optimistic about their future and a little set back with a dose of realism will not stop them from keeping their hopes up and trying new things and thus achieving mental well being. As we get older, and as doses of reality come at a more frequent rate, we might decide that just day-to-day survival is more important than achieving something big so we might start glorifying our current lot in life more than what it really is and thus are optimistically biased because of necessity.

But, I am starting to think that in a lot of case, optimism bias or ‘hope’ (When I use the term ‘hope’ here, I mean ‘hope that is not based on reality’, to keep things simple) could actually be bad. A positive illusion might keep people tied to a given situation (thinking that the situation is better than it really is) and an unrealistic optimism that somehow things will improve by itself might prevent them from trying something new. Yes, I realize that my previous statement looks to be contradicting itself but let me explain. I think even a person with positive illusions has moments of clarity or attack of reality and they see the situation for what it really is, but then they may either pretend that situation is not so bad or convince themselves that things will improve miraculously. If one is in a mediocre boring job, they might just stick around hoping that one day things will get better instead of seeing the realistic track record and searching for a new job. They might be even telling themselves that their job is actually better than it really is. If one is in a non-working relationship, he/she might refuse to see the fact that the other person is not as committed to the relationship as they are and might keep hoping that things will somehow magically improve. When a woman puts up with an abusive husband, I’m quite sure that she is ‘hoping’ the husband will somehow see that he’s being bad and improve himself. She might be telling herself that her situation is not so bad after all. (“Oh well, even though George doesn’t help around the house and orders me around and beats me when he gets angry, look at Mrs. Adams next door, her husband beats her up every day, so my life is so much better” kind of thinking). I’m sure there are more examples of inaction due to false hopes such as keeping stocks in a bad company, hoping that someone else will take care of the environment etc. that I don’t’ need to go into.

Of course, we could be using our optimism bias to feel better about our own laziness. For example, I keep hoping that the answer to what my passion in life is will fall into my lap one day and that it will give me major satisfaction and that will make me feel better about myself. I keep this hope up, day in day out, while doing the same sort of things I do all the time only because I’m too lazy to go searching for it and put effort into that search. I don’t know if I ever will face the reality that nothing will just miraculously appear to me and that I have to work hard for it, but then, I have hope that I’ll be able to face that reality and it will free me from my optimism bias 😉

Optimism Bias

A recent blogpost from Unawoken spoke about middle-aged people with optimism biases. At the time I didn’t think much of it because the person in question believed that if one believes in something, he/she could do anything. Obviously, I thought this person was way out there and let it go.

But it later occurred to me that an optimism bias is important. Having a personality like mine where I oscillate between cup-half-empty to cup-half-full (mostly the former), I am in favour of, even a forced, an optimism bias. An optimistic outlook on life is simply necessary to be able to cope with life, to get one out of bed, go about their business. Without it, everyday becomes a burden. Optimism bias helps in other ways as well. I’ve seen enough evidence where a propitious outlook on ones own abilities and advertising it unabashedly gets people ahead in their careers. An optimistic person is more inclined to reach out to people and have more friends and do things with them. Simply put, optimism sells.

Negative emotions or outlook, on the other hand, keeps a person from doing things, awkward in social situations, shunned by people, lonely, unhappy. They may be the most realistic people around and may see the world as it really is and may call a spade a spade. But, most people don’t want to hear them or hang around them.

The downside of optimism bias is that one can take it a little too far. It might make people set unrealistic goals. It might make one expect too much from themselves, their friends and relationships and when those expectations aren’t met, they might come crashing down.

It is a fine balance to keep an optimistic outlook that is rooted in reality but not bogged down by reality. Who said life was easy?

Goals

“I’m sorry you feel bad about not meeting your goals– what I would suggest is that you begin meeting your goals, in order to feel better.” – Random Quote by someone.

What’s missing here is ‘the setting of goals’ itself. I often find myself setting random goals or not setting them at all because I get confused by all the choices available to me. If I do this, I can’t do this other thing but if I do this other thing then there’s this third and the first thing I’ll need to reconsider etc.. etc..sort of like a dog chasing it’s own stupid tail and going in circles! How do people deal with this question anyway? I’m definitely not one of those people who are driven by a passion for a certain thing. I have to search long and hard for it.

After trying for years, I’ve decided to not have any substantial, meaningful goals at all and see how far I can take this goal-less state. I do have short term, easy to meet goals set for now like the triathlon and it seems to be working as far as keeping me fairly happy. But I know I’ll need to pursue this question of meaningful, satisfying, long term goals at some point. Postponement is the easiest strategy to follow for now, it seems.

Words to live by

Mein Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhata Chala Gaya
Har Fikar Ko Dhuen Mein Udata Chala Gaya

Barbadiyon Ka Shok Manana Fizul Tha
Barbadiyon Ka Jashan Manata Chala Gaya
Har Fikar Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…

Jo Mil Gaya Usi Ko Muqaddar Samajh Liya
Jo Kho Gaya Maein Usko Bhulata Chala Gaya
Har Fikar Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…

Gham Aur Khushi Mein Farq Na Mehsoos Ho Jahan
Maein Dil Ko Us Muqaam Pe Laata Chala Gaya
Har Fikar Ko Dhuen Mein Uda…