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
Imagine the worst fight you have had with the love of your life. You may have been screaming at each other, maybe came close to being violent – hopefully, stopped well short of it, and you may have continued on and on for hours if not days. Maybe you made up, maybe you decided the fight wasn’t worth it. Maybe you just let time heal and let other things become important enough so that the fight no longer mattered.
The point is this: How do you know a fight has ended?
The challenge for many couples is that when they stop fighting, one party might believe the fight is over, while the other might just believe they have taken a pause in the fight – an interval in a long movie, just to attend to some other things, and the fight has been marked as “To Be Continued.” If it is the latter, then on another day and time, it might join yet another fight to snowball into a much bigger deal than either fights by themselves. Of course, it becomes a really big, ugly deal if both parties to the fight are in the “To Be Continued” mode – then, the interval could be really short, and each break becomes shorter than the previous one.
As more “To Be Continued” fights pile up like a bed-side library full of books that one has never completed, it is more than likely one day to topple over and crush you. As the pile increases, there is less and less faith that anything will ever get resolved. Soon, there is either a giving up and an uncaring attitude, or there is an active rage that throws out everything, or it becomes an irritation in itself and there are fights about fights. And then fights about that.
To continue with that image of a pile of unread books, what would it be like if couples could pick up a book now and then to see if they want to really finish it now, or do they want to clear the clutter? Imagine yourself doing it quite literally for all the incomplete things in your life, be it books, or those shows that are left at 40% seen on NetFlix, or those half done craft projects in your closet. If you really took stock, how much of the clutter would you keep? How much would you clear away?
My bet would be that you would probably find that there are a lot that you simply grew out of and that you just don’t want any more. Maybe a few that you want to keep for later, and maybe one or two that you really cared about and find that you want to attend to right away.
So, what would happen if you actually kept an active roster of open issues? A journal exclusively for all these “To Be Continued” fights that you are having with your loved one? Could it help you let go, and yet hold on to what is really important?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
Ever noticed that everyone acts as if there is a league game going on as far as dating and relationships go? It is quite a complex league structure as well, with the leagues being decided on so many factors including looks, age, fashion sense, economic class, education, job prospects and so many other things – half of which we may not even be able to crystallize. Still, every now and then, a friend might pull you back from approaching someone you feel attracted to with the comment, “Chill! Way out of your league! Don’t go hurting yourself!”
Are there really such clear-cut leagues in society? Are we destined to be a layered, beleaguered society? Are we constantly looking to trade up in this league game?
In matters of love stories, often times the celebrated legends are the ones that break through the barriers, where the leagues don’t matter. There are gods who fall in love with humans, royalty that falls in love with a theatre person (Hey – that story is repeating just now as well!), the rich person and the poor artisan, and hundreds of such stories of people breaking barriers in the name of love. Those are the stories we celebrate and tell generation after generation – not the story of how one industrialist married another, or other general relationships though sometimes they are fun as well.
So, when every other story is about breaking barriers and love succeeding in uniting people across levels, why is it that people stay within their leagues? Why do we get warned about what is within our league and what is not?
The real story could possibly be about the degree of risk involved, and whether one has the appetite for the risk. Each of us gets quite accustomed to our own ways of life, and while there is always room to adapt and change, drastic changes are a lot to handle especially if there are expectations of permanently adjusting to a new lifestyle right away. It is not easy to adjust to a lot more than what is one used to, or a lot less either. The notion that the lovers find it within themselves to make do and be happy is often belied in reality by bitter struggles for resources and support. Sometimes, the romanticisation such as in the musical Sound of Music, glosses over the difficulties the family goes through with their relationship that breaks through barriers of age, class, parenthood. The book is a lot more honest on that account, but in both, they do survive and manage to thrive all the same.
Professing love and courting love is anyway fraught with risk. There are no guarantees that your love will be reciprocated in whatsoever manner. You might get rejected for any number of reasons, and yet one seeks it all the same. So, why let questions of who is in or out of whose league matter, if you are up for the risk?
If you don’t mind dusting yourself off and moving on with whatever else life brings up, then go on – break a league.
As written for published in The New Indian Express
If you have read mythological stories, or their Amar Chitra katha versions at the least, you are bound to come up with the most awesome and awful stories of what love might demand of a person, and to what lengths and depths a person might go for that. Think burning a thousand ships to not let your love get away, travelling to the netherworld to chop off a demon’s head to get their earrings as a token of love, agreeing to let seven infants be murdered – our mythologies are replete with stories of horrible things that people agreed to in the name of love, never mind that they are all later somehow sanitized as having been necessitated by Fate or whatever.
It is one thing when it is an adventure-rich story, but quite another when one does dreadful things in the name of love in real life. If you just grab a newspaper on any random day, you would see stories of people killing spouses so they can marry each other, persons going through cosmetic surgeries to be like each other, robbing, looting, murdering, assaulting – every horrible thing one can imagine, really.
Fact is, people have been doing amazing, wondrous things in the name of love, like build the Taj Mahal, but they do horrible things as well in the name of love like kill other suitors, imprison their brothers and other things. Gods and emperors might get to whitewash the deeds they do in the name of love by divine will or a grand edict, but for the regular junta, there is no such luck – one typically gets caught sooner or later.
In our everyday life, perhaps we don’t get to the extremes, but ask yourself this: Does love inspire the best in you? Or does it bring out the worst in you?
Possibilities are that you would have done, or at the least imagined doing some pretty horrible things. If you are being quite honest with yourself, I would imagine that you can remember one or more times that you have done massively wrong things or a number of times that you have done smaller things such as eavesdropped, spied, manipulated, lied, deceived, stole, broken passwords, stalked or any number of such ‘bad’ things that you would never think of doing in any other circumstances and would actually be quite against. Generally, one would think of such actions as a failure of character.
Perhaps, that’s why they say people fall in love.
Are we destined to have such falls? Can’t one, to use the cliché, rise in love and do only the awesome things?
Think of love as energy, as a power. Just like fire, whether it cooks a meal or burns down a house is dependent on what place it has in one’s life. If one lets it fully take over one’s life and love becomes obsessive, the more dangerous and hurtful it is. When love is held in its place, it can light up your world.
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
So, you walk into a party and notice this old friend of yours with a particularly attractive, charming new person. You can see everyone’s eyes on this new person and there is a buzz around. What would you do? Quite likely, you’d either ask the host of the party or other friends who are already there, or if you are particularly risk-friendly, ask the friend themselves – “Who is the arm candy?”
Maybe they are in a deep and meaningful relationship. Maybe it is something new they are trying out. Or maybe it is a one-night thing – just for fun. One never knows, but you and probably much of the party has asked this question. Maybe you have been someone’s arm candy yourself or had your own arm candy for a while.Now,imagine that this person persists in bringing someone new, attractive and charming every once in a while. A new arm candy, so to say,very often. Just stay with that image for a second. Imagine what it feels to be the person bringing someone new to a party, and imagine what everyone else feels and what the new person goes through. Pause for a second with that memory and ask yourself this: Who is experiencing what for whom in that scenario?
If I were a betting person, I would bet that there are all sorts of feelings floating around in the room. At the first instance, one imagines there is envy, lust, jealousy, admiration and disbelief. Emotions that might reflect how the person with the ‘arm candy’ wants to be seen by their peer group and a lot lesser about how they feel about the person they are bringing in. Really then, this is them interacting with the group, trying to position themselves as somehow more powerful, attractive and sought-after.
This is them in love with themselves and maybe in love with the group as a whole – not necessarily with the persons they are with. Again, as the pattern continues, if there is a new person often, those feelings of envy, jealousy and admiration, might either solidify into a thinly cloaked hate, or it might mellow into an amused tolerance – mostly depending on where each person in the group is with their own lives.
If someone has been struggling to even meet people let alone form relationships , they might react differently from others who have their own steady relationships. If you are the arm candy though, watch out if your new found love interest is asking you to meet friends at a large party. Have your guard up if anyone refers to you as someone’s arm candy. It just might be a signal that perhaps the relationship is not between you two. You may end up getting hurt if you go in without knowing that you are only an object in someone else’s love games with their group. Of course, being arm candy can just be fun as well.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
There was a joke going around the internet the other day: A couple is talking about what it would be like if one of them were to die, whether there would be a second chance at love for the survivor, and after a few minutes, just to cut the conversation down, one person tells the other, “Let’s make a pact. Whichever of us dies first, I will marry again.”
Joking aside, talking of death and dying is a seriously difficult thing to do among lovers, especially where there is no immediate pressing need to talk about such things. There are, of course, the semi-flirtatious use of loss and death in conversations like in the joke above to reaffirm commitment to each other, with the expected answers being in the lines of, “I cannot live without you,” or “Love dies for me the day either of us die,” or “You may not have been the first person I kissed, but you certainly will be the last.”
Even in non-romantic situations, trying to start a conversation about it can be met with: “Why such dark thoughts?” or, “Stop. You are scaring me!” or, “Are you OK? Should we go to the doctor or something? Shall I call your mother?” We don’t want to engage with these topics at all thinking them to be bad omens and macabre.
With the Supreme Court ruling a few days ago on dignity in death, and allowing for passive euthanasia and living wills, these conversations really do need to happen in living rooms and bedrooms across the country, and yet it is the rare couple that seriously talks about death, its effect on them and what might be needed to work around it.
If you are in love with someone, and you trust them with your life, your bank account login details, your google mail password and even your old Tindr account, then why not trust them with death as well? Let’s face it. Death is an integral part of living, so why should it not be a part of loving as well?
We are not talking stuff like the Gerard Butler movie P.S: I love you, or for a younger generation, The Fault In Our Stars. Though loving in the face of death, like in these movies, is important as well, the emphasis is on whether we should wait till death announces a date with us? Would we really know, anyway? Quite sadly, in all likelihood, each of us know a few people lost tragically too soon to accidents, incidents and illnesses.
So. can you as an act of true love, talk with your lover about death? What you’d like to happen in the event of? What worries you or scares you about it? What projects of yours would you hope outlives you? What of your other loved ones? What secrets would you want handled? What do you feel happens after death?
Of course, keep it clear, direct. Don’t bore your loved one to death over it.
As written for and published in 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
In many of the mythological stories one grows up with in India, as well as in the more western fairy tales of romance and love, there is often the tests that love has to go through before it is hailed as true and worthy. In Indian mythology, there were stories of the lover travelling across seven seas and seven mountains, battling untold miseries, demons and temptations, to get a token that the beloved asked for in a moment of whimsy. Or bows had to be strung, flowers plucked from treacherous mountain tops, jewellery made or houses built. There were royals who decried that the suitor must prove worthy of the royal heir’s love by solving a dozen puzzles, battling wild animals and what not.
Other cultures had similar stories as well. Japanese stories of star-crossed lovers who wait eternities to meet their loved one, Hawaiian stories of a lover chasing the moon where it meets the sea to bring pearls like never seen before. Hundreds and thousands of stories of lovers proving their love’s true worth before the happy ending.
In real life, or IRL as we know it nowadays, do we still test love before accepting it? We may not ask for the moon or jewels or what have you, but test we still do. All the time, some times. The tests are often quite small: “Give me your phone, I want to see your pictures.” “What’s your password for your google mail?” “My mother wants to meet you. What are you doing this weekend?” If the answer is not quite what is expected, the grades on the love test start to dip. There are so many other little tests, like when you are walking together and you are reaching out with your hand, and though both of you are looking ahead, you still look if your hand is being held. Or that time when you are in a mall, and you watch to see who your lover is watching.
Even after years of being together, the testing continues in subtle and not so subtle ways: could be about who brings the milk in, or walks the dog on a rainy day, or who gets to decide where one goes for the Sunday dinner.Then, can you really stop testing ever? How long before you know well and for sure that all the testing is done and it is a given, now and forever? Or are we doomed as a species to forever test and be tested, with only the intermittent lulls of peace and quiet, like summer and Christmas holidays between unit tests and term exams at school?
An old friend once had an insight to offer: the real test, according to them, was if you could scratch where it itched and let your body be as it will, making whatever sound it would, whenever it needed to, without feeling judged for it. “Have you found that love?” I asked, and that friend laughed, “No, I still judge!”
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
There is a popular story about Socrates on gossip, on how when a disciple comes to the senior teacher asking if he knew what was being talked about his favourite disciple, and at that moment, the teacher decides that this was a major teaching moment, and enunciated the famous triple-filter test: Do you know if this is absolutely true? Is what you want to say a good thing? And lastly, is this a useful thing for the listener to know?
The true-good-useful filters have famously been used to check on malicious gossip, and have been adopted by a number of thinkers and doers, including a modified version by the Rotary Club as: Is it true? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill? And Is it beneficial?
If you are in Bengaluru, you could see them engraved on a bronze plaque under a bust of the Rotary Founder on Lavelle Road.
By the way, there is a side story that claims that because Socrates was so vehement on applying this filter that he never heard gossip and therefore never confronted his partner about a supposed affair. We don’t know if this is documented in history as having happened, but most people hearing the story and this particular side story, apart from having a good laugh, nod away as if agreeing that it served Socrates right for being so principled.
Would you listen to gossip about your loved one? If a friend says they have heard something about your partner, would you apply the three (or four) filter test?
For a lot of us, we will want to ask the questions of truth, fairness etc after we hear a bit of the report. We would let them say some, if not all, of what they want to say, say nothing and go check with the partner in question, or harangue the teller of the story then and there about how they know what they said, how they could prove it etc, showing concern if not outrage, or succumbing to tears and despair, depending on what is the story.
More pertinently, it really is based on your own assessment of yourself and your relationship. If you feel secure about yourself and your relationship, you are very likely not to listen at all to any gossip about someone you love and conversely, if you are quite insecure, then you will likely listen to every scrap of gossip possible about yourself, your partner and your relationship.
If you look at it from this lens, then really, your readiness to listen to gossip about your partner is a test alright, but a test for how secure you are about yourself and you relationship. If you fail that test by listening to gossip, then you may want to think about what is making you feel less that secure and work on it. Talk with your partner by all means, but not necessarily about the gossip – talk about your insecurities and how you need to work on them.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Should relationships start with love and then desire allowed its space, or do they start with desire and mature into love, and can both stay through the relationship? Ideally, in a relationship, one hopes that there are both. There is a healthy amount of desire, physical attraction and sexual chemistry, and there are strong bonds of love and emotional intimacy.
Often times though, they seem to go their separate ways even if at the start of a relationship there are tons of both love and desire, or it starts with a huge amount of desire and love catches up, takes a big lead and soon desire falls behind – way behind at times.
Why is that? Are we biologically coded to fall into love and lose desire along the way? Is the function of desire and sexual attraction really to get people to fall in love and once that job is done, desire withers away or gets directed elsewhere? Are different people coded differently – some built more for desire, and others more with a tendency to build intimacy and safety?
Can people continue to have desire for the person they love? Often times, how we experience desire is so different from how we experience the need for love, comfort, affection and intimacy. Our mind thinks of these quite differently. It is almost as if wholly different sections of our brain are working when it comes to these emotions – just like there is a section for music and a whole different section for movement in our brains, or for any other function for that matter. If you are sceptical about it, try this exercise, loosely adapted from Esther Perel’s work: Take a sheet of paper and write down answers for the following questions: What makes me feel loved and cherished? What do I feel like doing when I love someone? What kind of activities do I feel like doing with someone I love? What kind of person do I generally find myself loving? What ten words do I most associate with the word ‘love’?
Once you have written your answers, go away for a while. Watch a movie or have some dinner, or take a walk, and later when you feel different, turn the page around, and write down answers for the following questions: What makes me feel desired? What do I feel like doing when I desire someone? What kind of activities do I feel like doing with someone I desire? What kind of person do I generally find myself attracted to? What ten words do I most associate with the word ‘sexy’?
When you look at your answers to both sets of questions, chances are that you have very different responses to both – a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation at the extreme, but even if not as drastic, there are bound to be strong differences. Don’t worry though - you are not a two-faced character just because of how different these responses might be. In fact, it is quite normal. The challenge then is to recognize and make space for both in your life – knowing that both are valid, both need expression and both need acceptance
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.