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Raspberry Beret

It is not easy to be empathetic. Instinctively, we tend to think of ourselves first and others afterwards. Especially when we are going through bad times or are under stress.

What is stress? Psychology Today defines it as a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. Stress is not always a bad thing. The reaction to it has saved many a pair of buttocks from messy ends. Chronic stress is a different kettle of fish. Our reactions to it manifest themselves in many ways, none pleasant.

The point to note is that stress is a stimulus. It needs you. I guess this situation has spawned an industry of philosophies and activities, all of which seem to boil down to similar themes.

1. Reacting (or how one does so) to a stressful situation is a choice.
2. That one can deal with it (because we cannot always avoid getting stressed).

For the sake of argument, I will assume that no one wants to be or enjoys being constantly stressed. While some people work better under pressure, I hope there isn't anyone who is at their best only when stressed. If you are, okay, good luck.

My job is stressful. Not just because of the present work culture but also thanks to the view that things were much nicer in the past. Of course, the opinion that work-life was better 20 years ago could be (and probably is) biased. Nostalgia taints memories. But we can't get away from it because we deal in ideas. And, when we organically develop a good creative idea, only to find that the ad has been done, not in the previous year or decade but even 30 years ago, it is deflating. This happens often enough for the gleam of interest to transform into the glaze of acceptance.  

Anyway, when we're stressed, we resent pragmatism. Our problem is not only that we have it bad, but also that some geezer always has it worse. We want a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, not smart and reasonable views that things are not as bad as we imagine. When complaining about my lot in life, it certainly was hard (still is) for me to realize that the other person's life could be no better. That, in the end, every-fucking-one of us is juggling different chainsaws.

I channel some of the stress into writing, though when the ink is bitter, the piece won't be all joy, jollity and song (to borrow from P.G.W) either. Yes, I could (and have) turn it into a humorous bit, letting sarcasm, irony and comic pathos do a whitewash over my feelings. But false humour is a strain in itself. I can't keep it up forever. While I don't always agree with them, I do admire the people who constantly project a serene surface while a maelstrom is churning underneath.

I have trained myself to go out of my way and enquire about other people's lives. In a typically shitty human way, I feel better knowing that life is equally if not more stressful for others. For now, sympathy is easier than empathy. 

This post is a reaction to a thought provoking article by Charles Assisi in Mint on Sunday.

Song for the moment: Shooting star - Bad Company


Anonymous said…
You're going to hate this, but the answer is, in fact, philosophical. And no, this does not mean going on some quest across an infinite landscape of thoughts and ideas hoping to find some sort of philosopher's stone to your stress. The morass you seem to be inhabiting doesn't sound like the most likely place to find that anyway!

It is more about ceaselessly nourishing the awareness of the questions, as you have done here, until one day, one moment, you figure it all out. Rather, until it figures itself out. Once you have that eureka moment, you will see how even the seemingly indomitable arc of reality bends willfully to suit your new found perspective. Most often, the way out is not to find the answers to the questions you have, but to make the questions go away entirely.

Very difficult thing to explain, but you might just get it.

Hang in there.
G said…
Read and re-read the comment and I understand where you're coming from. Does making the questions go away entirely require acceptance? Have been attempting to use that approach, though it's proving equally difficult.
Anonymous said…
That is always going to be a struggle man.

Think of it as a spectrum spanning ambition, desire, passion, etc. on one side and acceptance, hopelessness and resignation on the other. Most people seem to oscillate wildly along this spectrum at different times and this oscillation is what often seeps through as agitation/stress/unease etc.

It's almost physics. The two ends are polar opposites and when you have two opposite forces acting on you, peace is not exactly what results. Maybe stability for some, but not peace.

But somewhere along that spectrum is a tiny segment where neither of the two forces applies. Not cancel each other out, mind you. They just don't apply. A Bermuda sliver of peace, if you will.

The aim is to obviously discover and inhabit the Bermuda Sliver, but that involves oscillating painfully at an insane frequency until you happen upon it. The thing is, if you oscillate mindlessly with your antennae tucked in, you'll never notice it. Which is what I meant about nourishing the questions. And which is where most people struggle.

Unfortunately, I don't think there is any way to get there deliberately. But I do think that people who have not sorted out their personal philosophies find it much more difficult than people who have.

Acceptance, to me, is still being passionate about something. About the notional other. I don't think I could personally do that.
G said…
Honestly, your comments are more thought-provoking than the post itself. The Bermuda Sliver idea is intriguing though I feel it, like happiness, would be fleeting. Even if I got to this place, I'd be out on my ear before I knew it and would have to look for it again. And, in a twisted way, having experienced it once, would there be a desperate yearning to do so once more?
Anonymous said…
I can see what you are saying about it being fleeting. But there's two ways I would look at it. First, what isn't?

But more importantly, I think it would be too naive to think of it as a position or moment in time, which is what being 'fleeting' suggests. I'd rather think of the sliver as a schema that allows you to read the game the way it works for you. That perspective that lets you see clearly what every influence and force in your life really is and then let's you attach meaning only to those forces that help you. So even if that situation or your position in life itself is going to be constantly shifting, the perspective still applies in principle. All you need to do is refocus.

I am thinking of a Nat Geo photographer scanning a landscape carefully before he notices a bird or a chameleon in his lens. Once he finds it within that crosshair, the rest of the landscape becomes noise for him. From that point on, he just needs to track that view, which holds meaning for him, even though the object in view itself is fleeting. You can see how he struggles every time the bird hops around or takes flight. But it takes only a little bit of refocusing before he get's it in his crosshair again.
G said…
Nicely put. I'm reading Matthieu Ricard's 'Why Meditate' and see some connection between that and what you're saying.
Paul said…
I have discovered that creativity is the best way through black troughs. My thoughts make sense through my pictures
G said…
True. Writing is my outlet. Though I have to make an effort to tone down the lamentations even there.

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