Friday, February 17, 2012

Fulfillment and Relationships

These days, it is a valid question to ask somebody: Why do you want to get married?

Marriage used to be an arrangement of living, a complimentary role fulfillment, a division of labor, a natural progression of maturity, a prerequisite to having a family, an expected step to become part of the adult world, and most of all, a start of being responsible for someone in your life.

Our biological relations were handed down to us, and to get married is to forge a new blood line. It is a miracle that almost all human beings alive are a consequence of a male and a female deciding to commit their lives together and to (unconsciously perhaps) restrict their life choices in order to bring up up their children.

It was hard for a single man, or for a single woman, to be happy or to flourish.

Not so much any more. And anyone these days who professes a need to have a relationship is seen, especially since the advent of new age spirituality, as being an incomplete or an unfortunate or an unhappy person.

It is frequently heard that two happy people (i.e., who don't need each other to be happy) can have a happy marriage, and that if you are unhappy due to being single, you will not be happy after getting married. It is said that you should have a rich inner life, lots of hobbies, and should have your "own space".

I think this way of thinking, though a sign of the times, is not a good portent to stable marriages.

A marriage will survive if two people need each other to be happy and if they need each other to live well. If they are self-sufficient, and each can do anything that the other can also do, the stability of their marriage is going to be an uphill struggle. There will be frequent validations required, a search for ways to "keep the spark alive", a persistent need of expressions of love, chronic feelings of inadequacy, and a predilection to go one's own way if the going gets tough.

In the past, if the man was being a good provider and protector, and the woman remained pretty or in shape, was a good homemaker and a mother, it was very easy to have a happy home. Now-a-days, if both earn, and both act as a mother to the children, and both do housework, it is not easy to see why a marriage will last long. Emotional bonds, in the absence of other factors, are fickle. Sexual desire, or shared hobbies, or shared values, can bring two people together, but cannot sustain their being together.

People who seek the amorphous goals of "fulfillment" and "growth" through their relationships are not going to have an easy time. Fulfillment and growth are side-effects, as it were, of a healthy relationship. A relationship can't be based on these goals, but needs to have something more concrete at its foundation.

Consider two scenarios:

A: A wife tells her husband that she is going to be away for two weeks, and the husband says, "No problem, I'll manage without a hitch." Or, a husband is to go on a business trip for a week, and the wife says: "Have fun! I will too."

B: A wife tells her husband that she is going to be away for two weeks, and the husband says, "Aw shucks, how will I manage?" Or, a husband is to go on a business trip for a week, and the wife says: "Oh dear, it is going to be so difficult for me alone."

Which scenario makes you think that the husband and wife are going to have a long, stable, happy marriage?

And which scenario is the current ideal for an individual in our society?

I think increasingly, due to prosperity and various other factors, people are relating to each other for purely emotional or sexual reasons, and they can manage their lives and homes and careers just fine (or so they think) on their own. They want to feel great with each other, to spend time with each other, and so they invent activities (mostly related to vacuous show-business events or to spending money eating out, shopping or seeing a "new place") to do together. They have a nagging suspicion that it is too much effort and that they would rather spend time with themselves.

We are told by the media that emotional or sexual reasons are primarily why we should get married. That love is all-important, and nothing else matters. I think that is a very wrong message. A couple certainly needs emotional and sexual compatibility, and for them to love each other is great, but that is not enough, not by a long shot, to want to spend their lives together.

A nut and a bolt may love each other, but even if at times they don't, they are and will feel incomplete without each other, and will not be fulfilled for long on their own. Two nuts, on other hand, may decide to be together because they feel they have a "connection", but they are tempting fate.


Here's an interesting, small book titled "The Family and Society" by Leonid Zhukhovistky, about this and other topics. I found it a breezy, and quite a fascinating and at times touching read.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From Darkness to Light

From an interview by Stanley Kubrick:
Question: “If life is so purposeless, do you feel that it’s worth living?”

Answer: “Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

From The Myth of Sisyphus
If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. This word is not too much. Again I fancy Sisyphus returning toward his rock, and th sorrow was in the beginning. When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Thus, Oedipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same time, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Oedipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism.
One does not discover the absurd without attempting to write a manual of happiness. "What! by such narrow ways--?" There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd discovery. It happens as well that the feeling of the absurd springs from happiness. "I conclude that all is well," says Oedipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile sufferings. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.

All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

From The Denial of Death (Ernest Becker)
The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic "ideas" [the characterological lie about reality] and looks life in the face, realizes that everything in it is problematic, and feels him­self lost. And this is the simple truth—that to live is to feel oneself lost —he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost, is without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.


The man of knowledge in our time is bowed down under a burden he never imagined he would ever have: the overproduction of truth that cannot be consumed.


To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.

"If someone told me that I could live my life again free of depression provided I was willing to give up the gifts depression has given me--the depth of awareness, the expanded consciousness, the increased sensitivity, the awareness of limitation, the tenderness of love, the meaning of friendship, the apreciation of life, the joy of a passionate heart--I would say, 'This is a Faustian bargain! Give me my depressions. Let the darkness descend. But do not take away the gifts that depression, with the help of some unseen hand, has dredged up from the deep ocean of my soul and strewn along the shores of my life. I can endure darkness if I must; but I cannot live without these gifts. I cannot live without my soul.'" (David N. Elkins, Beyond Religion)