Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Change or Accept, part 2

First part.

The general approach to solving anything is to identify the problem, figure out possible approaches to solve it, and evaluate the approaches on their (a) risk-vs-reward, (b) effort-vs-results or (c) competence-vs-weakness-of-the-individual factors.

Our evaluation of ourselves is necessarily tinged by how others see us.  The evaluating part of us is a product of our environment.  And surprisingly, our desires too are in many cases the effect of influence.  We see others, we see them happy or sad, and we want the things happy people have and we reflect on others' sadness, somewhat gratefully, as lessons on what to avoid.

What we want first must be validated as something that we really want, and not something that we think we want.  What is the difference?  What we want must resonate with what we are, and not how we want to be perceived.  What we are is found by going back to our childhood, before puberty (because that is when society starts exerting itself), and reflecting on our in-born traits.

"Am I true to my ten-year old self?"

Once we have some confidence in our desires and ambitions (even if it is the ambition to live peacefully, somewhat off the beaten track), we must:

(a) Understand what changes in direction that desire will require.  The change will be painful, and risky.  Is the desire strong enough for us to bear that pain?  The path to wealth, for example, is a path of many failures before any kind of success, and we might have to give up the certainty of our daily existence to reach for something that currently seems out of reach.

(b) Understand what it takes to achieve our desires.  Are we ready for that effort?  Given our history of effort and persistence, does it seem like we will be able to pull through the effort?  Sustaining a family requires adjustments and tenacity which a restless nature might find impossible to bear.

(c) Understand whether that desire is realizable, given our limits and circumstances.  A 45-year old woman may want to be a mother, and it may not be easy to accept that her time has passed.  But without that acceptance, one is destined to a life of futility and bitterness.


When trying to understand a human being and his situation, we have to bear in mind that the totality of his life is reflected in his present.

There are in-born traits, there are patterns established by experience, and there are situations which present themselves to a human.

Truthfully, I am yet to come across an individual who has radically changed himself as an adult and lived effortlessly thereafter as a transformed man.

Those who understand addictions know that an addiction lies dormant, and is never extinguished.  It has to be overcome again and again by power of will and with the help and support of external angels.

A relapse almost always results in the addiction or the habit pattern being fully established all over again.  It is not that the relapsed individual is more capable of understanding and restraint.  The patterns of behavior that one finds, and resists, in oneself are deeper than the force of will and awareness.

At some point in one's life, one has to accept that "this is what I am".  If "this is what I am" is not going to lead to "what I want", then a struggle is inevitable and there will be a life-long inner conflict.  That is by no means a negative.  It just means that one has to live with all three: "what I am", "what I want to be" and conflict.

Giving up on "what I am" is impossible and is a denial of reality.  Beware of those paths which make you doubt and deny yourself.

Giving up on "what I want" is resignation.  Beware of those who decry desire as evil.

Wanting to avoid conflict, or in other words, suffering, is delusion.  Beware of those who peddle the snake oil of a life free of suffering.

An adult lives in internal conflict between various drives, some of the past, some looking forward into the future.  Shyness versus loneliness, lack of ambition versus insecurity, misanthropy versus the desire to be liked and admired, laziness versus the desire to be athletic, ...

Self-acceptance does not mean that one stops improving.  It only means that improvement will also have to be accepted as a life-long struggle.  Perhaps the process of improvement can be so sustained and persistent that it becomes a habit, but the unimproved self lies in abeyance, un-extinguished.  Watchfulness will be forever necessary.

As we age, it requires more and more energy to take new paths and to take new risks.  But it is by no means impossible.

As long as you are alive, you can choose.  Radical choices in later life require more courage than those in youth.

But there comes a time, when after having analyzed ad-nauseum, and when fear is the only obstacle, one must take the plunge.

While failure might await those who do, regret definitely awaits those who don't.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Change or Accept

I had a somewhat interesting conversation with a friend today morning.

The conversation centered on whether one should accept oneself (to "be"), or whether one should attempt to "become".  "Being" is generally associated with peace and happiness, while "becoming" is associated with desire and frustration and suffering.

This is a nuanced topic, and while spirituality advocates a wholesale "being", many forces in the world relentlessly try to coerce, inspire, influence or shape an individual: to "become".  Some of these forces are probably with good intentions (parents, teachers, etc.) while others (advertisers, peer pressure) are often vicious in their intent.

Which features or characteristics of a human should be accepted as innate?

Which features or patterns of a human should be attempted to be changed in order to live a better life?

And lastly, at what point should one attempt to transform the circumstances instead of oneself?

To make the question more specific, let us consider three hypothetical individuals:

1. James likes to live large.  He has a busy corporate life, and out of office he likes to drink, party, and spend money.  He likes to buy new gadgets and show off flashy possessions.  He has some credit card debt.  His parents are old but he rarely calls them.  He meets many women but none of them are found suitable by him for getting married.  Maybe he doesn't want to get tied down.  He likes to live "in the present" and not think too much about "life".  He sleeps well but is sometimes stressed about the possibility of losing his job.

2. Matthew is an introvert.  He likes to work from home.  His parents are chronically unwell and he grudgingly takes care of them.  In his leisure time, he plays video games and eat simple food.  He doesn't like to meet women (or men, for that matter).  He is mildly overweight and he tries intermittently to exercise without much effect.  His needs are few and he has no significant ambition.  Of late he has become interested in existential philosophy.  People would consider him sober and mild-mannered.

3. Leah is driven, and very focused on self-improvement.  She is extremely fit, quite ambitious but emotionally vacuous.  She earns a lot of money as a Vice President but is often lonely.  She focused on her career in her twenties and early thirties and given her age, motherhood is no longer an option.  She is a vegan by choice, likes to volunteer to help the poor, and likes to travel to exotic places.  She never wants to retire but has a nagging feeling of emptiness and purposelessness.  She ensures that she sends birthday and anniversary cards to her parents every year.

In each of these three individuals, one can see shades of self-acceptance as well as self-doubt, "being" as well as "becoming", contentment as well as discontent.

If James, Matthew and Leah come to you for advice on whether they should continue to be the way they are or whether they should change themselves, or their circumstances, what will be the way you begin to form your response?

Complete acceptance of oneself and the world might be sub-optimal, but so might advocating a change which is in conflict with one's "nature".

Is it important to investigate the kind of discontent that one has, and after due consideration, to advocate: (a) accept the situation, (b) try and change yourself, or (c) try and change your situation?  Or a mixture of all three?

(to be continued)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Three Poems, Three Poets, Three Fathers

1. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (Dylan Thomas)

"It has been suggested that it was written for Thomas' dying father, although he did not die until just before Christmas 1952." (Wikipedia)

2. एक गली का अँधेरा (Kumar Vikal)

(Explicitly dedicated to his late father)

3. तुम्हारी कब्र पर (Nida Fazli)