“What do you want to become?” – a question I have been asked often as a kid, and for me it was an easy answer – just that my answer changed as every year passed. The response held true for my state of being at that point in time. The reason why my response changed wasn’t because as kids one is so fickle minded, but rather my inability to accurately predict my future self. Honestly, this is the most irrelevant question we ask kids who are sometimes as young as 3 years of age.
I find it irrelevant because I have come to a point where I strongly believe I would never “BECOME”, but my whole life is a process of “BECOMING”. The moment I start believing I have “ARRIVED” would be the point where I literally put a “full stop” to my BECOMING. To quote Leanardo Da Vinci – Art is never finished, only abandoned. So is the case with us humans. The moment we start believing we have figured it all out is the moment we stop giving life the chance to change our minds and evolve beyond our “current” comprehensions.
Psychologist Dan Gilbert states that “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our lives is change”. We are all work-in-progress.
Accepting ourselves as “Work in Progress” also means accepting our imperfections, accepting a bit of confusion that just hangs in there, accepting uncertainty, impermanence and the unknowns in our lives. The reason we find it challenging to accept ourselves as “Work in Progress” is also because the ego soaked society values the illusion of perfection – the so called “arrived/ figured it all out” state and not the imperfect evolution phase.
To accept individuals as “Work in Progress” is critical in relationships as well. We all are bound to evolve – shedding our barks, growing deeper roots, spreading our branches and sprouting new greens. Understanding that people change has to be a basic component of our emotional intelligence. Letting people shed their barks, spread their branches, grow deeper roots and evolve becomes part of the relationship. Expecting people to stay the way they are forever is quite similar to having a “Bonsai” tree at home.
Waiting for a perfect state of self or waiting for the perfect person to get into a relationship is a delusion. As individuals we are always a “work in progress”, there is no perfect state – we are always in the process of BECOMING. So when someone says, “I am working on becoming something or somebody before I settle down in a relationship” – Relationship just seems to be a point when you quit your “Becoming”. This is a “fixed” mindset and it’s always better to have the “growth mindset” in a relationship. Love is the unconditional acceptance of being part of each other’s “BECOMING”. It’s not just unnatural its highly stressful if one is loved for one’s perceived “state of perfection” that needs to be kept in tact forever.
Love is the unconditional acceptance of being part of each other’s “BECOMING”.
Like mentioned before, we are bad at predicting our own future self. We don’t know the extent of change that would happen to us. Hence relationships often fail when the love is for a certain “fixed state of a person” – ultimately breaking up because one has outgrown the “fixed state”.
Our inability to predict our future self has been studied by a group of psychologists and they term the phenomenon as “End of History Illusion”. “End of History Illusion” states that while we remember our past selves to be quite different from who we are today, we nevertheless believe that we won’t change much at all in the future and hence take bad decisions for our future self based on our current projections.
When we are bad at predicting our future self, let’s be in love with the “work in progress” we are, accepting it wholly devoid of the illusion of perfection. Like in agile development, let’s have a “forever beta” mindset – evolving into something better iteration after iteration. And when in love – accepting being part of each other’s BECOMING, embracing the “Work In Progress”.
The Psychology of your Future Self – TED Talk – Dan Gilbert
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” – William Butler Yeats
What’s so fascinating about the HONY (Human’s of New York) concept? The concept is quite simple: Brandon Stanton, the creator of HONY, approaches people on the streets of New York for a photograph and a chat. And the results are nothing short of profound, life-changing quotes. In just a few years, he has become one of the most vitalizing visual storytellers and humanists of our time through Humans of New York. The popularity of HONY was never about the quality of the photographs or how beautiful someone looked. But it was about how we connected with the stories of regular people on the streets. Brandon didn’t see them as people on the streets, he saw each one of them as unique stories walking down the street. The stories when shared gave a more humane feel to the city of sky scrappers. The universal appeal of the concept comes from the common “yearning for connection” and no wonder the concept has been replicated in many cities across the world.
Now think about the million missed opportunities when the mindless questions we only ask someone else are – What’s up? How is it going? or How is the weather? Most of the time responded in monosyllables. Do these questions demand an answer? Not really. These are the so called “Small Talk”. Small talk is defined as the polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions. I wouldn’t deny the need of small talk to break the ice and get a conversation started. Like Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk said – “Small talk is the appetizer for any relationship.” But the point is, what if the only thing we have are appetizers? Ideally appetizers should lead to the main course right :).Socrates pointed out long ago that the least important things, we think about are talked about the most, while the most important things, we think about are talked about the least.
In the myriad meaningless notifications and updates, the memory of a middle-aged man from my high school days are so very etched in my mind. He had started a coffee shop opposite our school. I can’t recollect how we got talking, but I soon realized that he had lost both his kidneys and was living on dialysis. I still have vivid memories of how he would look into my eyes and say – “Sophy I want to live!” He celebrated each day as he cheerfully and courageously fought death. I liked being part of this cheerful celebration doing the ordinary things but with total mindfulness – arranging the flowers, tasting a new coffee flavor and genuine conversations about life. After the board exams were over, we moved out of that city and in a few months, I realized, death ultimately won. He taught me how grateful I should be for all that I would otherwise take for granted, and how we can find joy in the ordinary and the most mundane.
What do you ask people whom you hardly know? Won’t it feel like intruding their personal space? What I have realized is that most people love to talk beyond the small talk if they feel you would genuinely listen without being judgmental. I remember an 80 year old US biker whom I frequently crossed paths during my evening walks in the summer. Once I asked him about what his tattoos meant and the conversation went on about his daughter and life and more, or the hair stylist from Argentina when I told her I recently watched “The Motor Cycle Diaries” and the conversation went on and on about Che (Che Guevara) and his early years in Argentina, a taxi driver from Afghanistan on what he felt about the Syrian problem, or a Hazara family when I told them the only window I had to the life and struggles of the Hazara community was from reading Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” and here I got the chance to listen to their stories of struggle first hand. All these conversations went on and on until we stopped it forcibly due to time constraints. There is a story behind every person, and a soul beneath their skin. It’s up to us to get enriched. Or move on with polite smiles and thoughtless questions.
There is a story behind every person, and a soul beneath their skin. It’s up to us to get enriched. Or move on with polite smiles and thoughtless questions.
I know of someone in Bangalore, who is doing very well with his corporate job, but chooses to offer Uber taxi service to people while commuting to work. You may wonder why? Like Brandon Stanton he sees these passengers as human stories and this is a chance to connect to people from different walks of life. Isn’t that interesting?
The Case for “Big Talk”
Psychologists have long said that connecting with others is central to human well-being. In one study headed by Dr. Matthias Mehl, researchers eavesdropped on undergraduates for four days, then cataloged each overheard conversation as either “small talk” (“What do you have there? Popcorn? Yummy!”) or “substantive” (“So did they get divorced soon after?”). They found that the second type correlated with happiness.
The happiest students had roughly twice as many substantive talks as the unhappiest ones. Small talk, meanwhile, made up only 10 percent of their conversation, versus almost 30 percent of conversation among the least content students.
Dr Mehl proposed that the substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: 1) human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because 2) we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.
But then, what stops us from moving beyond the small talk and the predictable superficiality? As Krista Tippett puts it – “Vulnerability is at the heart of listening.” To genuinely ask a question and engage in an authentic conversation, you have to be willing to accept that the answer might change or affect you in some way. But beyond the fear of vulnerability lies the opportunity to enrich yourself with wider perspectives, becoming self aware of one’s own prejudices and a chance to open up.
Leaving you with a thoughtful TED Talk and just in case you are pressed on time, here is a quote from the talk that just sums it all up. Ciao!
“There are 7 billion people in this world, each with an amazing, and unique story to share. That makes 7 billion treasure boxes full of life lessons, wisdom, and experience. Even when we’re surrounded by the smartest people, and the people that have the most interesting stories to share, we default to the lowest common denominator and small talk prevails.” – Omid Scheybani
When we deeply connect with someone, we often try verbalizing this feeling of connection using the term – sharing the same wavelength or that we “resonate”. Sounds more of physics than poetry right :). But lets for a moment believe, may be that happens! An instance where two (or more) individuals share similar brain waves with the other when they converse.
If the latest neuroscience is to be believed, that sense of connection is all in our head – literally and the phenomenon is called “Brain Coupling”.
Brain coupling is like a magic moment when you feel understood heard received by another person. You let your guard down and have an embodied felt connection with another. This is a “moment” of loving connectedness.
The Princeton University neuroscientist Uri Hasson’s specialty is exploring the dynamics of “interacting brains,” performing fMRI scans of human subjects and understanding the underlying neural mechanisms that allows the brain to integrate information over time and those that facilitate communication between people. His studies have shown evidence for synchronizing of two people’s brain suggesting that – in good communication, two individuals come to feel a single, shared emotion as well, one that is distributed across their two brains. He Says – “Brain coupling, is the means by which we understand each other.”
In her book Love 2.0 social psychologist, Barbara Fredrickson states that in love three things happen – our gestures and facial expressions start to mirror each other, and our brains synchronize too. In fact she goes further saying , ‘a micro-moment of love is a single act performed by two brains’.
Call it brain coupling, neural coupling or sharing the same wave length, it is indeed a moment of bliss when your brainwaves mirror those of the person you’re speaking to or lets rather simply say – when they just get you!
Here is a great video from Jason Silva the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic’s hit TV series, Brain Games talking about brain coupling. Enjoy watching! Ciao!
“Because love is not instagram to always show you in the best possible light. It is messy and ugly like the unfiltered snap chats you send your best friend”
The first thing you should know about the second time you fall in love is that it will be very different.
The first time you fell in love, you were innocent, untouched and hopelessly optimistic. When you got your heart broken, you decided that you would never fall in love again. You now know that “forever” is a gamble and that “promises” are more often than not made to be broken.
The second time you fall in love, your heart will beat a little faster. There is bubbling apprehension, restless guilt, unmasked fear, unresolved emotions and all of this is still delicately laced with the most basic need to be loved.
You will surprise yourself because the day you believed will never come, has finally arrived.
It is not easy to let someone else in. It was effortless the first time because love just gilded into a place which you never knew existed. Now it just feels like you are pushing someone else out to let another one in and killing yourself in the process.
Second love could be more voluntary and less vivid because you are determined to not let your emotions get the better of you. First love may have taught you how to love and fly, but second love will help you unlearn and humble you in a very earthy way.
Second first times are always complicated. First dates are not first dates in the real sense, but they are first dates nevertheless.You are torn in between the butterflies in your stomach moment when you are getting to know someone new while at the same time missing the comfort of eating out of a jar in your night clothes.
The second time you fall in love, you foolishly try to surpass imperceptible benchmarks. You remember that his forehead didn’t crinkle like that. He used to hold hands a lot more. He never wore bright colors.
Remind yourself that it will never be the same. And it most certainly should not be. You are trying to find love, not a replacement.
The second time you fall in love, you will hear a voice in your head that repeatedly asks you to “RUN”.
It is natural because we are taught to survive based on acquired learning. Even a child knows not to play with fire twice.
The second time you fall in love, no matter how hard it tries to sweep you off your feet, you will be adamant to keep your feet on the ground. You are passionate about how much love can give but scared stiff of how much it can take back when it wants to.
The second time you fall in love it might be more accepting and selfless. Second love wants to write pages and pages of your life together but it lacks the ugly selfishness of first love which expects the whole book to be about it. You deal with the fact that everyone has songs that remind them of someone else and places where they made some unblemished memories.
You know that poets lied when they said that every kiss will be like your first kiss. You are mature enough to accept that burning lust always comes with an expiry date.
Second love is difficult. Tearing down the walls that you built around yourself is not easy when you constantly question the effort involved. When you eventually find someone who is willing to accept the mess that you are, don’t be afraid.
Fall in love for the second time. Life mostly begins here.
14th of February 2016. Almost 2:00 a.m, late night I wrapped study and thought of retiring to bed.
After the whole tiresome day I almost went to sleep, but, a vibration alerted me. I picked up my mobile. The husky voice spoke, “I am leaving. Always be happy. Shall miss you, dearie.” The phone hangs up. Shiver of emotions passed through my body. I crouched back on bed. Tossing throughout I remembered the time we had spent together.
‘It was during post-graduation days we both had met. He was dark-handsome guy of our class. Everyone called him Mono da. I being most talkative the weirdest natures of Mono grew both me & my bestie Sandy inquisitive about him, his quietness and his restless sad eyes.
During our educational tour to Gangtok we learnt from a close friend of Mono named Dipon that Mono had gone through a terrible breakup after being in a relationship. As friends we tried to ‘heal the pain’. Slowly, we four became good friends. Every soul in the university campus adored us. There wasn’t a single day when this group didn’t meet.
But, all of a sudden something went wrong. It was the end of our post-graduation days. Mono & Dipon stopped talking with us. Although Dipon dared to smile when we both passed by Mono didn’t even look towards us. Everyone started enquiring, what had gone wrong in between us? This freaked me & Sandy.
14th February 2011 – We decided to have an end to this drama and so waited for their arrival at Vasu’s tea stall, our once adda place.
Mono and Dipon arrived almost at 7’ in the evening. Although stunned, instead of running away they entered shop. Sensing my anger grow Sandy placed her hand over mine to calm me down. I kept quiet. Sandy with all patience asked, “What’s the matter, Mono? Why have you stopped talking?”
Mono stared towards us. In his husky voice he replied coldly, “To forbid my soul being re-scared. Losing my beloved friends who taught me to relive my life is even bigger than my past pains. This is an unspoken relationship ever experienced by me in life. I cannot bear the pain of losing it. It’s better to live with the pain before you both finally leave”.
Quietness prevailed. Almost after three months we sat together. Laughter of past had transformed to unknown emotional numbness. Unexplained silence prevailed. We wanted to speak our heart but were left dumfounded.
We did go separate ways and have never met again in the last five years from that evening onwards. Till today technology has kept us connected.
I prayed aloud, “May they be safe. May this ‘unspoken relationship’ be alive for ever. May we four re-meet & relive the moments we had spent.”
From doorway came the completion of my prayer, “Amen”. I saw Sandy standing and smiling. Behind her I saw the ray of hope ‘dawn’ peeping through the window pane.
#HandwrittenWithLove challenge was a simple concept that SoulCafe picked for the month of February 2016. We invited handwritten love notes, where we get to experience the added expression of the sender’s unique curls & twirls, doodles and ink smudges. With handwritten notes becoming a fading art, we knew this was hard. We got responses like – “It’s been eons since I picked up a pen.” True, this was an ask to flow against the tide but thanks to all those who took the plunge!
Here are the selected few that we would love to share – it was a tough call to select a winner as each one was as unique as the person who wrote it.
When a love note becomes art! Thanks Arpita for the beautiful handwritten note.
“I want to write your name in gold, but ink is all my pen can hold” – Kavita Panyam.
The Soldier’s Wife – ” I still send you the warmth of the nights and the freshness of the morning and my purest love to keep you wrapped in angel wings as you fight demons.” – Mindfultrails
“Beyond the distance of time we meet, At the time you wrote and each time I read.”
To add to the magic, here is a truly Inspirational Ted Talk – “Love Letters to Strangers”