Friday, February 10, 2017

Reflections: The Goldfinch

After a really long time, a book caught me in its throes and wrung me out in the best way possible. 

When the dust settled down after the hype, and after my husband's fervent recommendation, I began reading this tome of a book with its intimidating size and intriguing premise surrounding an orphaned boy and a masterpiece of a painting. A painting plays an important role in the coming of age story of an orphaned boy? I think this apparent absurdity is what pushes one to get past the first few slow moving chapters. The author compels the reader into curiosity and establishes a firm investment in the boy's chaotic life. 

Let the size of the book not intimidate you. Once you get sucked in, you will wade and swim through it fast enough, because there are many questions - practical and philosophical - you want answered. And it's a refreshing bout of relief when nothing is left hanging to the reader's interpretation like most award-winning-cerebral books are wont to do. Everything is wrapped and tied, and concluded in the most practical and philosophical way possible. It left both my heart and mind satisfied and replete. If you are wondering how a book can end on seemingly contradictory notes of practicality and philosophy - that's where the book gets its well-deserved recognition and merit. 

"sometimes bad things need to happen to bring about something good in the end"

"sometimes good things lead to bad things"

We all react to life and its tragedies and triumphs in markedly different ways. But, during each phase, what we are fighting for is the desperate need to establish and find meaning, to attribute meaning to something instead of nothing, and to hold onto an anchor of support, a coping mechanism to help us stay afloat. How we establish meaning, and to what we cling onto as anchors/coping mechanism is up to the individual. Viewed from this basic truth, rights and wrongs, good and bad, have little relevance. Viewed from a detached and high-level perspective, the characterizations of actions/motivations seem insignificant in relation to the picture that emerges; all the numerous deeds and events transform to mere stitches and knots and zigzagging threads of colors when we step back and view the big picture of the tapestry that came together because of them. In the end, it's the forest, never the trees. Does it matter whether we followed an invisible (but existent) pattern, or if a pattern emerged incidentally?

We can try very hard to do the right thing to someone (and to ourselves), but that may not help that person find stability and meaning in their lives, because what "ought to be done" is never objective. Each person finds their own truth, or a version of the truth that they can live with. We weave our own realities, lay down structures with things that provide meaning to us. 

Some striking quotes that pulled together everything for me:

"How can I see so clearly that everything I love or care about is illusion, and yet - for me, anyway - all that's worth living for lies in that charm?"

"...I've come to realize there's no truth beyond illusion. Because, between reality on one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic. And - I would argue as well - all love."

"And just as the music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of colors across the sky - so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime"

"Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair."

Really interesting characters, compelling writing, and universal themes that are cohesively brought together in a unique context. Highly recommended read. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Accumulating Little Joys

In the several millions and billions of moments that life encompasses (if we are so lucky), it is reasonable to expect happiness to only be bursts of moments than a constant flow. For it is almost psychologically impossible for us to be in a prolonged state of happiness (or sadness) before habituation sets in, and we no longer recognize or experience the emotion (kind of like walking into a perfume store and our olfactory senses becoming inured to the scents until everything is neutralized)

Then, it is reasonable for us to calibrate more achievable expectations towards what constitutes as happiness. If even our greatest achievements can only give us a small set of finite moments of happiness, then pursuing ambitions for the sake of happiness seems futile (Self-fulfillment is a different category)
So, it follows that accumulating little joys through the course of our day is a better way to infuse those bursts of good moments in our everyday lives. Fitting simple pleasures and joys into those many many small moments seems more tangible than wanting to win a Nobel Prize to be truly "happy". 
If we take care to notice, indulge, or pause from the constant running, there are endless things around us to bring joy, pleasure, or a moment of peace and contentment. Once something like that is noticed - like an unexpected rainbow arching across a bridge, pause and fill your senses with the beauty of the moment. Meditate and immerse into that moment, appreciate every shade and angle of the rainbow, the magnificence of the man-made structure towering to meet the colors, the clouds, the birds, the sun, the noises.... everything. A moment of joy could even be spotting a beautiful and elegant line of logic in a co-worker's code/writing. We often notice so many such little things that appeal and strike us, but we are quick to move on... so quick to dismiss the sunburst of light that they bring. What an irony that we should dwell so very much on the inverse of such things - a slight hint of rudeness, set-down, or disappointment. We immerse ourselves into every shade and nuance (imagined, extrapolated, and exaggerated), relive it so many times until reality blurs and takes on a new shape.

In the pursuit of accumulating little moments of joy that build through the day, I hope to dwell more on the joys, and dust, dismiss, and move on from the negativity as quickly as possible. For, happiness is achievable in small tangible doses, regardless of our bigger, intractable circumstances.

Linger in the joy of a well-brewed cup of tea, the tinkle of your new bright bangle, the warmth of your colleague, the courtesy of a driver, the beauty of the mountains around, the calming scent of the new candle, the innocent question of a child, the perfect comfort of your own bed, the loving voice of your mother, an unexpected compliment from a stranger, the lovely shade of your recent toe-polish, the satisfaction of a well-cooked meal, the endless stars on a cloudless night, etc. etc.

Will I be living a delusional life filled with dopamine hits I get from vivid colors, music, and thoughts? Then, so be it! May all my six senses forage for everything bright and beautiful. 
Better a happy lunatic than a miserable intellect!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Coming into your own

This year I vow to feel the refreshing liberation of taking responsibility for my own happiness. It took time, but I may be finally coming into my own. 

A realization I have made is that life's lessons are unfortunately terribly cliched. And everyone has already talked, written, and theorized everything to death and beyond. But the true magic is in experiencing and coming to realize the enlightened truth for yourself. Give yourself time to experience life in all its forms. Be a part of all experiences - good, bad, and the ugly.
 Herman Hesse and many other wise souls have already advocated this philosophy.

As much as I would never wish anyone to go through ugly/bad phases in life, the terrible truth is that ugliness reveals the stark clarity of so many truths. Everything gets distilled and viewed through a sharp prism of reality. It makes you realize what is worth living and all the many many things/people/circumstances that are unworthier than a speck of dust. 

Live for yourself first. Never be dependent on others for affection, love, or happiness. Find ways to bring yourself happiness. Only then are you equipped to reflect and shine that positive light onto others.  There is much joy in spreading joy, but you should first cultivate it within yourself to enable the distribution. 

Learn to love yourself first. Everything seems to fall into place once you are able to find value in yourself. If you are unsure of your worth, don't expect anyone else to affirm it for you. Nobody ought to, and nobody will. The peace and joy that come from embracing and realizing your own worth is priceless. Consequently, when you come into your own, and live your life in accordance with your true self, you invite only kindred souls into your sphere. Those that see your true self may choose to love you for who you truly are. 

Nothing is unconditional, most specifically, love. All relationships - friendships, filial/familial, marriage - are based on a contract of giving something and receiving something in return. If the balance is upset, the relationship crumbles. 

If "Y" is expected to be received in a relationship, but you are unable to provide it, accept that it will always be an imbalance, a void, a bitter hollow. You cannot fill it or substitute with a million different types of "Xs, Zs, As, Bs, Ts, Fs, Ls, Rs, Ws or Qs". You will only end up weary and scraped raw from your efforts. 

Romance exists only in fairy tales. Life is about multiple contracts you make with the people you meet. Some contracts fail, some are successful. It has nothing to do with your innate self, and everything to do with the terms of the contract. Therefore, don't hesitate to know what you want, and demand what you want before committing to give anything to anyone.

When you are considering doing something "right" for the sake of upholding a principle that essentially involves shooting yourself in the foot - pause. It's okay to be self-preserving in such a scenario. Never try to do something "right" when you are sure to suffer the consequences alone for the rest of your life. If you don't stand up for yourself, no one will. Self-sacrfice and martyrdom must be reserved for truly significant issues. 

Self-actualization is empowering and beautiful. Do not ever shade it in negativity. 

Accept that life is unfair. The world is chaotic and ruthless. Selfishness is intrinsic to the very rhythm of this universe, and in every breath of survival. Embracing this reality, boldly exercise your right to actualize your self, to strive for your own happiness, to demand and go after what you want, to find meaning and worth in your own self. You may not be successful all the time or in every measure, but that's okay. It's better to strive and fail in some ways than to conform, contort and mold yourself to a version of "who you are supposed to be".

Give the ever-judgemental society in which we live the metaphorical middle-finger by living true to yourself, by reveling in the contentment of such an honest existence. Internal resonance is music to the soul.

Expect nothing from others. Instead, expect and extract everything from within your own vast reserves of self.