First, an old story: Once, at the end of their education, four students who were graduating asked their Guru to give them blessings and wealth with which to start off their lives. Each were given a few pebbles and told to take a long walk, and that where any pebble fell, they would find wealth. Along the way, when the first pebble, they dug and found coal and one person, was thrilled with it, thinking “I can build an empire with this!” and settled right there, while the others kept walking.
After a long time, the second fell, and there was copper, and another happy person settled with that, thinking “This should be surely enough for me for this life.” A third fell on silver much later and a relieved person happily settled, saying “I have spent enough time looking. This is enough.”
The fourth though, kept walking.
After a long, long walk, when the pebble fell and there was some gold, it seemed like after all that trouble they went through, surely gold was not enough, that there should be more if only they strived for more and so the pebble was picked up and onwards the journey continued. Diamonds were similarly discarded, so was platinum, and lots of other precious aspects. Finally, there was nowhere further to go and nothing more to be found. The pebble rose up and fell on the head, crushing it to smithereens.
What’s the point of this story in a column about love?
If you read this story again, and thought of wealth as love, you might then make a connection. At first read, it might look just like a story about settling down and not being too greedy. You might find yourself focussing on the hapless fourth who kept going on and on till at the end of the road, they were crushed by their own greed. That’s fair enough, but a closer read might show you a change of language of how the person finding the wealth changes from being thrilled, to happy, to relieved, to almost desperate. Read it yet again, and you see time passing inexorably.
As a metaphor for finding The One, the story then has similarly interesting questions one poses for oneself.
Do you find potential, work on it and build up your wealth for yourself? Do you wait to find for more obvious wealth, and then enjoy it for what it is? Do you discard the obvious wealth and strive to find the golden dear, so to say? Or, do you strive beyond it, no matter what cost in time and health, looking for that absolutely perfect, everlasting and inexhaustible source running the risk that you never find it and just get crushed in the process?
As all cautionary tales go, this one too only serves to highlight that searching for love is like searching for wealth. You have a choice to make between multiple dimensions of potential, time, perfection and much else.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
A heartbreak, scientists have proven, causes us to feel as much as pain as a physical heart attack. It even has the sinister sounding name of ‘Tako Tsubo cardio-myopathy,’ or more simply, the broken-heart syndrome. The person is in major distress, and there is that intolerable pain in one’s chest, and yes – there is a real physical damage possible to the heart even though one’s arteries might be clean as a whistle, ECGs regular and nothing might have indicated a potential for such pain. People recover from it, of course, but yes – the broken heart syndrome is real.
Love hurts, or at least, has the potential to hurt. The pain of losing someone you love is an awful, awful pain. It is bad when your lover leaves you quite unexpectedly for someone else, or just like that. It is worse when your loved one dies or is hurt, and all that love has nowhere to go.The hurt and pain is so much that often times, it scares one to imagine it. Some people come to fear loving itself for fear of the pain possibly hiding in the wings. The only true way to not ever face the pain from love, after all, is to never love at all. But then again, all it does is to leave you in another sort of pain – a dull ache, a loneliness that eats you up from the inside.
Scientists have proven that loneliness may lead to serious illnesses, including cancer. No – not the same scientists who studied the broken-heart syndrome, this is from researchers from UCLA who actually proved that chronic loneliness can actually trigger changes in gene activity that affected antibody production and anti-viral responses. Feelings of happiness and love cause our body to flood with cortisol and oxytocin, and their findings were that without these, something happens to our immune system.
Is our choice then between heart-attacks and cancer? Are we doomed to be hurt? Are we ganged if we love, and darned if we didn’t? What other choice do we have, really? Turns out, there is another way - a more healthy way to allow love to be a healing, healthful force in your life. It requires that we allow ourselves to love and to be loved without seeking to possess or be possessed.
If we can love with the joy of the here and now, be present for what love has to offer, and yet also hold that love in its beautiful joy also shifts and changes, and that in its ebbs and flows, there will be some hurt, some joy and if we can cherish all of what love brings as a human experience, and allow it to be without demanding of it, then perhaps, we can love without hurting or being hurt – at least, not too much.Sometimes we might teeter on that cutting edge at that abyss of pain, and at that time, friends help. Poetry helps. Philosophy helps.
Science? Well, the jury is out on that
As written for and publisjed by The New IndianExpress
now that the academic year has restarted in right earnest, as classmates get back into their groups, many are discovering that in the few weeks that people have been away, somehow, quite magically, so many have coupled up. People suddenly have boyfriends and girlfriends, or are seeing someone though they haven’t labelled anything yet or are just chatting.
If you are one of those that didn’t get coupled up, and haven’t yet for a few years though everyone is coupled up around you, h probably have mixed-up feelings about it. Your best friend barely has time for you, and when you do meet up, all you get to hear is about the lover and no real interest in your part of the story. Even if you say you got into your dream college, you might get a “That’s so great! I am so happy for you!” before segueing back into talking about the special someone. You look around and you notice everyone around seems to be interested only in hanging out with their sweethearts, and when you get invited or tag along anyway, you get quite conscious of being the third-wheel that it gets tiresome.
Sometimes, you even have fights with your BFF over how little your friendship seems to means now, and you say hurtful things like ‘Did you ever even like me? Was I just a stopgap till you found someone?’ There are cycles of feeling upset, fighting, crying, making up, and again feeling distant. You are good for about two days before it is back to the same old pattern. It is a mess.
Being single never feels as much of an issue as it is when surrounded by coupled up people.
While for most, it is a mere annoyance and a change in social circumstances that need some adjusting to, for some, it can become really, really painful as they tell themselves that they have somehow got left behind, that they ought to have been coupled up as well and that they now are not good enough. Meeting someone and becoming a couple gets treated as if it is a race, or a competitive exam and not being paired up becomes a social nightmare. There is an urgency to then meet someone, and more often than not, the urgency leads to less than great choices, and that leads to cycles of its own misery, including breakups and patchups, neither because you really want the person, but because “something is better than nothing.”
If you really question that idea, you’d probably hear a more rational voice saying something is definitely not better than nothing when it comes to these matters. Being by yourself is not nothing, and just being coupled up is not something special and can even be something horrible.
What we need is to respect that if people are coupling up, that’s fine – we each have our own life paths. It is not a race.
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We in India are entering our peak holiday season - Ganesh pooja and Id are over, Dussehra is just about done, and it will be Deepawali in a few weeks and Christmas soon enough. Much of these holidays are based on religious occasions and come with their own rich and particular cultural flavour and heritage.
For many of us, especially those who have moved far from our home towns and original communities, it is a time to reconnect with our families of origin and extended communities, which explains why for almost all major modern cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, the festive season means a mad rush at the bus and train stations as thousands of us rushing to get to our home towns in time for the celebration.
All the loud, colourful and festive celebrations are great for those who feel celebratory, but it is an especially difficult time for those who are going through painful losses, have suffered the passing on of a loved one, or have not had such connections. Festive occasions and holidays are especially stressful for those in such circumstances. It can be depressive and a reminder of what one does not have and a source of pain, loneliness and suffering, as much as it is a source of joy to others.
Which brings us to the conversation: How can one protect oneself in festive times, when the whole world seems to be joyful and we just cannot?
Remember the last time you read an article where it was mentioned that “The neighbours had no clue as they had never spoken to this person who lived right next door” or “This person was staying here for 2 years but had no friends”? When we hear of neighbours being strangers (especially n the urban context), the word “lonely” is often loosely used to describe how life is today. I say loosely because people often tend to confuse being lonely with being alone. And yes, there is a distinction. Being alone can be a choice and it can bring happiness.
For instance, a lot of people enjoy watching a movie by themselves or spend an evening reading a book. In fact alone time can actually be quite relaxing. Loneliness is when there is an associated sadness – an empty feeling that could be triggered by several factors.
For many, the loneliness is so uncomfortable, that denial of the feeling seems the easiest way to cope – in fact sometimes this reaction is almost instinctive. One tries to superficially engage in interactions/work. However it is difficult to sustain and sooner or later the hollow empty feeling comes back.
To really cope with loneliness, the first step would be awareness; to go beyond the denial and superficial engagement. However, that is not always easy to recognize and we keep ourselves too busy to even be aware that we are lonely.
Once aware, acknowledging and accepting the lonely feeling logically follows. In that awareness, sometimes loneliness makes people feel more critical about themselves -they criticize themselves for being unworthy of others right when the need really is for more self-compassion. It is ironic that while we are aware of our need for compassion from others, we often don’t extend it to ourselves!
To really engage with your loneliness, you can ask yourself a few questions:
Strange as it might seem, there are some benefits to loneliness. Your loneliness could be telling you that you don't feel too good about yourself, and could benefit from working on your own emotional state. Your loneliness can be a crucial signal that your relationships are not as emotionally close or supportive as you really want them to be. It gives you an opportunity to engage differently.
So, go ahead. If you are lonely, listen to your loneliness - It might be telling you something really important for you.
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.