Have a destiny, will ya?!

I apologize for not writing a post in quite a while, but the last weeks/months of my life were very turbulent. I took about two days of “vacation” after finishing my MA thesis before I got bored and jumped head first into the job and apartment search. For some, not doing the safe thing (moving back home) and instead starting my own independent life right here and now is both too risky and too difficult. But let me tell you, it wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as some would like me to believe. There are a number of reasons why my level of fear seems to be “inapproriately low” for a recently graduated person such as myself, but I will only mention one. Destiny. That sense of purpose we derive from instinctively believing in and following our dreams without actually losing sight of reality in the process. Why are so many of us increasingly cynical when it comes to creating (and trusting in) our own destiny?

Well, as Paulo Coelho once uncannily observed, there seems to be a peculiar relationship between believing in our dreams and … growing up. It’s as if we go from the conviction that anything (yes, including Santa) is possible to the detriment of “knowing our limits”. Now, don’t get me wrong. We obviously have limits. I’m never going to be an engineer or an astrophysicist. Also, I fear neither the Easterbunny nor Santa will ever knock on my door and say “guess what, we exist!”. And yet, I think human beings are creators. They may never be able to defy gravity or communicate telepathically (but hey, maybe Google Glass will take care of that one, who knows), but it’s still mind-blowing what people can do if only they’d put their minds to it. If they make it their destiny. Yes, we have limits. But we also have incredible power. Isn’t it sad that children are much more aware of this than most adults?

What makes us so fearful of trying out new things? Why do so many of us nearly die at the thought of taking risks, of spending a bit of time in absolute uncertainty? I’m sure it’s only a small part of the explanation, but still, sometimes I think it’s because we focus on our defeats rather than on our possibilites. Instead of using our imagination to push us forward, we get lost in our stockpile of bad experiences. We remember somebody telling us we’re not particularly fun or talented or driven, and instead of proving them wrong, some of us go “oh well, I guess if you think that, it must be true”. Eurm, no?! That’s one person’s opinion. In life, there’s two ways to respond to the fear of failure: by letting it define you, or by overcoming it.

Actually, there’s this psychologist who’s been treating people with phobias (think snakes and spiders) in (so he says) less than a day, and he found that, if the phobia was cured, these people reported being much less fearful and inhibited in their lives overall. I feel a bit embarrassed for not remembering the man’s name, but really, it doesn’t matter all that much. Because the message here is simple: you become what you think. The more fear gets to your mind, the more it defines the entirety of your actions. Focus instead on your dreams and you might just be able to achieve them (granted, you must retain a certain sense of realism in all of this). I said it before, and I’ll say it again: past experiences shouldn’t kill your future dreams. In no way should they be capable of robbing you of that childhood certainty that you have a destiny.

Destiny isn’t something written in the stars. It’s knowing something’s right for you and not stopping, until you get it. Destiny is self-creation and self-recreation. But, there’s only one way to do that: by having faith in who you are, the negative included. Because you’d be amazed to what positive uses you can put your perceived negative qualities once you stop thinking about yourself in black-and-white terms. Be courageous. You want it? Get it. Defy the odds. Take a leap of faith (in yourself) and jump head first into the unknown. Realize that you are in eternal transformation. And since you and everything around you will never stop changing, you might as well assume an active role instead of passively watching where life takes you next. And whenever you’re about to hold yourself back by believing you’re not good enough for your very own destiny, think of Paulo Coelho and remember this one simple truth:

You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen – Paulo Coelho

Taken from Ms Moem: There Are No Limits To What You Can Do

You Are What You Eat

I’m not a hardcore vegetarian or anything, but lately, I’ve had a very hard time buying meat. A while back as I was standing in the store, I thought to myself that something’s not quite right here. Suddenly and out of nowhere, it hit me – I’m literally staring at chopped up body parts. Dead pieces of life, nicely packed and orderly stacked. So, what did I do? I left the store with a whole bunch of vegetables, but then when I finally got home, I realized I had absolutely no idea what precisely vegetarians eat on a day-to-day basis – apart from my friend’s infamous curry maybe but who wants to eat curry every single day? For so long, cooking hadn’t verged all that much of my attention on any regular day, but now, it was honestly just a mess of vegetables and an ex carnivore staring at them in a puzzled, sort of lost kind of way.

If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian. Paul McCartney

But, things have changed. I filled peppers with mushrooms and rice, made pasta with a delicious goat cheese and veggie sauce, and my fridge is filled with stuff I actually know what do with. Overall, I’ve been feeling lighter, less sluggish, just … happier. In fact, my cooking probably improved and recently, I even started doing sports again. All in all, it’s been a great experience. And yet, I found myself puzzled. What was it that had been able to change my perspective so suddenly and, above all, so drastically? Well, a couple of days ago something else hit me: shortly before the Holocaust-like associations started to invade my thoughts in the store, I’d read Hermann Hesse‘s – indeed, you know him from my very first postSiddharta.

Taken from animalethics

Siddharta’s story has of course nothing to do with eating meat. It’s about Brahmin’s son who travels India to find Enlightenment. He’d grown up among people who claimed to have found it and yet he felt he wouldn’t be able to learn about life through their – or anyone’s – teachings, not even the Buddha‘s. He wanted to leave and experience life (something Steppenwolf had yet to learn from someone else), instead of relying on the insights gained from third party experiences .. or as he puts it

Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness.

It’s a long journey and I won’t tell you the whole story (for one, because you should read it – preferably in German), but here’s the important part. Somewhere near the end of the book, his childhood friend Govinda, whom he hadn’t seen in many years, asked him whether he found what he had been looking for all this time and Siddhartha said yes. He’d learned from his path (and especially from listening to the river), that there was an intrinsic connection between all things. This connection, he believed, was eternal and so every thing that existed in this world was too. Or, to let Siddhartha speak his own words:

 This here […] is a stone, and will, after a certain time, perhaps turn into soil, and will turn from soil into a plant or animal or human being. In the past, I would have said: This stone is just stone, it is worthless, it belongs to the world of the Maja; but because it might be able to become also a human being and a spirit in the cycle of transformations, therefore I also grant it importance. Thus, I would perhaps have thought in the past. But today I think: this stone is a stone, it is also animal, it is also god, it is also Buddha, I do not venerate and love it because it could turn into this or that, but rather because it is already and always everything – and it is this very fact, that it is a stone, that it appears to me now and today as a stone, this is why I love it and see worth and purpose in each of its veins and cavities […].

Consider it for a while, I (now) know I did. If you’re anything like me, one day, you may never quite look at yourself or the world in much the same way you used to and, surely, you’ll never sink your teeth into a cow’s thighs again without thinking twice about it. Because hey, for all you know? You were what you eat.

Taken from toplifequotes

Can you see me?

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. Oscar Wilde

It couldn’t have been much more than a year ago that a guy (let’s call him Frank) asked me for my hand. Romantic, isn’t it? Not so much. See, the problem with Frank was that I didn’t have much of a clue who Frank was. Sure, we’d exchanged a bunch of messages on Facebook, but I do that with so many people I meet online. It really startled me and since I had absolutely no idea how to respond, I ended up saying nothing at all. A few days later, Frank deleted me off his friends list. I couldn’t pretend to be all that disappointed because, to be honest, my mind still hadn’t come up with anything to say. And yet, something about it kept on bothering me, but it wasn’t the lack of Frank’s presence in my inbox. No, what bothered me was how on Earth he’d been able to fall in love with someone profile-to-profile?

Taken from brizzdazz

Well, not too long ago a TED talk caught my attention. In the The Future of Lying, Jeff Hancock illustrates the problem of deception, something that’s been fascinating us for thousands of years. From Diogenes and Confucius right down to the modern day, we’ve wondered time and time again: why is it that people can just make things up? Not that we wouldn’t enjoy novels or tv series, but still, people don’t limit the use of their imagination to just storytelling. Even where the most mundane and boring parts of our lives are concerned – we lie. Research has shown that we do it approximately one to two times a day. It would be easy to assume that online – free from reality’s constraints – we’d be even less honest than usual, but oddly that’s not the case. According to Hancock we lie only by “a little bit”. Thus, although we may not be telling the truth per se, it’s close enough.

Wait, what? Yes. He’s used diary studies in order to determine our honesty across different media. A number of people were asked to record “all of their conversations and lies for seven days”. He then calculated “how many lies took place per conversation within a medium”. First, Hancock mentions e-mail (which is the most honest medium) and the phone (the least honest), but he also talks about Facebook. And, surprisingly, it really helped my confusion quite a bit. Why? Well, I suppose I’m not the only one who simply assumed that Facebook’s only showing us the most “idealized versions” of people, or to quote Hancock “no way are my friends that cool!”. But oh no, we may all be very much mistaken. By comparing the description of someone’s personality made by four of his closest friends to that made by a number of strangers based on his profile…Hancock and his team arrived at the following conclusion:

Those judgments of personality were pretty much identical, highly correlated. Meaning that Facebook profiles really do reflect our actual personality. – Jeff Hancock

Taken from mycareerbuzz

Possibly, Frank’s been playing the speed-dating game at much higher level than most – by profile hunting people. Our semi-lame exchange of messages might’ve had nil to do with him throwing his hat in the ring. It could’ve just been my taste in movies or the way I (usually don’t) do my hair. Plus, speaking as someone who’s always had a lot of “virtual” friends, I really do understand how great it can be to talk to someone who isn’t even remotely connected to your environment. So, who’s to say that these well crafted profiles we feel so comfortable hiding behind aren’t giving away much more of ourselves than we think and that some people, like Frank, are more attuned to this fact than others? Oscar Wilde – who was after all the master of artful lying – may have been on to something rather important. Namely that, whenever we’re dealing with any kind of mask, what we actually end up with is the bare naked soul of whomever is wearing it.

The Heart of the Event

Everywhere what is sought is the ‘heart of the event’, the ‘heart of the battle’, the ‘live’, the ‘face to face’ – the dizzy sense of a total presence at the event, the Great Thrill of Lived Reality – i.e. the miracle once again, since the truth of the media report, televised and taped, is precisely that I was not there. But it is the truer than true which counts or, in other words, the fact of being there without being there. Or, to put it yet another way, the fantasy. What mass communications give us is not reality, but the dizzying whirl of reality […] – Jean Baudrillard

On April 25th, Matt Buchanan posted his article The Medium of The Moment on The New Yorker‘s web page. It’s an interesting little piece, arguing that Twitter is the medium of the moment because its primary aim is to deliver information in terms of nowness which isn’t exactly the same as newness:

Nowness is not simply newness, or the new: the question Twitter used to ask of users when they went to compose a tweet, “What’s happening?” is a direct inquiry about the state of now.

Fair enough, Facebook’s been asking very similar questions – “What’s happening?”, “How are you feeling?”, “What’s on your mind?” (stop harassing me!) – and yet … Buchanan has a point. In 2010, Nicholas Carr published a book named The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr describes how he began to notice a decline in his overall ability to concentrate. Not only were he and some of his correspondents distracted much more easily, they also felt a high ADHD-like need for stimulation and appeared less able than before to focus deeply on anything for prolonged periods of time. The speed with which, he says, data can now be gathered online has made the reading of an entire book seem a tiny bit obsolete. Instead of going over hundreds of pages to find the bits and pieces of information you need, it’s a hell of a lot simpler to just google it. Thus, in a bit of a McLuhian fashion, Carr sets out to link possible neural changes to the age of cheap, fast, always available data by retracing what happened to society whenever a new medium was introduced (be it maps, the transition from oral to written culture or Gutenberg’s press – in case you’d like to know a bit more, watch this video).

Taken from Lehrblogger

What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net […] but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. – Nicholas Carr

In short: according to Carr, any new medium has the power to change society by affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity. The way we surf the Internet heavily impacts the way we think. Twitter and the like, for instance, provide our brains with a shot of dopamine each time we check our notifications and messages – a shot we become addicted to so easily, we barely even notice it’s happening. It’s such an entertaining and seemingly harmless drug, that it’s quite likely the most socially accepted one to date. But, coming back to Buchanan’s claim, why in this world of free dopamine shots would Twitter be the medium of the moment? Why not Facebook? Well, here’s a suggestion. I don’t know about your Twitter timeline, but mine quite literally exploded during Europe’s annual eurovision song contest – while Facebook, in comparison, felt a bit like attending a (really boring) funeral. Although I refused to watch, I know of almost every single thing that happened during eurovision, which even prompted me to rename it – I now call it the eurovision tweet contest. But it doesn’t stop there, we’re constantly witnessing Twitter’s dazzling speed. Remember the pope, or Buchanan’s example of the Boston Marathon bombings (and the many mishaps associated with it), and yes .. even Steve Job’s death.

Taken from Tweeteronix

At the heart of the event, without having to see it or tune in, without ever having to be there. A web version of reality that is, just as Baudrillard predicted in 1970, more dizzying than reality itself, more explosive, more direct, more now than now: nowness. It’s a speed thing, and (with the possible exception of Reddit) no social media platform’s better able to satisfy this need than Twitter. A total presence, that is always both listening and watching. A constant stream of messages, all-delivering, all-devouring. Also, a lot more sloppy, more emotional and more fragmented (the most glaring omission often being… objectivity). But Twitter isn’t alone of course. Nowness is just as much Google’s business – after all, your click-stream data sells like ice cream on a hot summer’s day. But, is it all bad? Carr, who like most of us likes and regularly uses the Internet, doesn’t necessarily seem to think so. However, he does leave us with a warning:

The Web’s connections are not our connections—and no matter how many hours we spend searching and surfing, they will never become our connections. When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.

Now, I’m not saying I want us all to give up on the Internet, or alternatively ourselves. No, I wouldn’t want that. What I would want however is to know that by the time I have children, instead of learning how to use a tablet, or connect to social media with Google Glass, they also learn how to read and understand lengthy arguments. I hope they will still enjoy sitting under a tree holding their favorite book (even if it’s the e-reader version, which frankly might help us save some trees). Yes, I hope we’ll remember that contemplation matters and cannot be replaced with being connected all the time. For, outside this heavy whirl, far beyond the constant penetration of nowness, there is a place in our minds which needs to be fed. And, despite what some media gurus may believe, to survive and grow, it needs a lot more than constant stimulation. Instead of being at the heart of the event, the live, the schizophrenic condition of the 21st century, it needs to remember how to be at its own heart, how to be in a state of absolute tranquility. What it needs is the right to be by itself, in its very own here … and its very own now.

Loneliness & Time

Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym. Stephen King

So, today I’d like to talk a bit about loneliness. In many ways, it’s a very personal subject, even though I do have wonderful friends and great parents in my life, but having a good buffer against loneliness doesn’t necessarily protect you from feeling it every now and then. I’m pretty sure you’ve all felt it a time or two, creeping up in the dark hours of the night, or while you’re at the movie’s all alone because your friends were simply too busy to join but you refuse to let that stop you from doing what you enjoy. Yes, you may even be in the most loving of relationships and still, when communication fails for one reason or another, despite being with two, you may feel lonelier than ever. And Facebook surely won’t be of much help.

beach, cute, loneliness, love, teddy

Taken from Favim

But what is it about loneliness? Why can it turn some of the most sparkly people in the world into sobbing little creatures in less than a second? Well, for one, it’s simply dreadful. Apart from the stress it causes and some of the possible resulting health conditions (yes, too much loneliness can even be dangerous), it weighs down heavily on your self-esteem. Feeling lonely equals a complete disconnect from your environment and the people around you, as if you’re stuck inside a bubble, screaming, but remaining unheard. You want to reach out but you don’t, because you feel embarrassed and you’re unable to see just how many people in the world are experiencing the same thing – you’re cut off from yourself, and everyone else.

For another, it’s as if when you’re lonely, something happens to your sensory experiences as well. Just this morning, I read an article written by Robin McKie for The Guardian (which you can find here). It talks about BBC’s Radio 4 presenter Claudia Hammond‘s view on our perception of time, and how it “differ[s] greatly according to circumstances”. She gives a cute enough example: “A watched pot never seems to boil, but go and check your emails and it will be boiling over before you know it”. Personally, I tend to experience this issue most commonly when frying meat – when did it get so black? But then again, in my case time isn’t only elastic, it’s very spongy too. Anyway, Hammond mentions a trial, in which some students were made to believe nobody on their psychology experiment liked them and a bunch of others were told exactly the opposite.

Is your teen an outsider in school?

Taken from High School Mediator

Conclusion? I’m sure you can guess: while time passed rather quickly for the second group, the first “reported times that were far longer than [those of] the test subjects who had been told people liked them”. See what I’m getting at here? It’s absolutely normal for loneliness to have such a deeply agonizing effect on people. Not only do they feel like crap, unloved, undesirable and whatnot, no, they’re quite literally stuck in a bubble, a bubble in which time passes a lot slower than usually. And until they find that picker-upper, that little bit of something that reminds them of their true worth, life may feel so slow it may just as well be running backwards – and in a way it does.

Taken from moonstruck

Memories of that day you spent on the beach drinking with friends, your first true love, the ease that comes with knowing that no matter how deep you fall – your parents, or someone, will be there to catch you. But when you’re alone, when you feel lonely? These moments seem as if they don’t even belong to you, as if you remember a past life or, worse yet, somebody else’s life. Yes, time may, as McKie tells us, “be the most widely used noun in English”. But why then, as King suggests, would “alone” be the worst? Maybe because, while in death there is no time, in loneliness there is simply too much of it. So when someone tells you “don’t worry, you won’t be alone forever”, believe them, but know that this “forever” you’re experiencing isn’t just a figment of your imagination.

Well yes, it’s true that loneliness can’t kill you. And yet, as King remarks, that makes it worse than death – the absence of time – and more excruciating than hell – the absence of everything. For, as Epicurus said already a very long time ago, where we are death is not and where death is we are not. But wherever we are and whomever we are with – the feeling of being completely alone doesn’t mind being there too. So, the best way to beat it? Fill it. With something, anything, that makes you feel alive. If you’re lucky, you’ll be up to speed in no time.