Thoughts and Reflections 10: Achieving Ourselves
The goal of life is to learn to live in the moment. Not bothered by past experiences, not worried about future possibilities. Living means experiencing now, because you can only live in the now.
But we lose that understanding of life progressively as we get into adulthood.
We learn all the wrong things. We start learning how to stay in the past or travel to future all the time.
Then we decide that we need to unlearn them.
When we decide on that, this is how the natural process of unlearning goes:
We get obsessed with a future goal; fail to get it; try again; fail to get it again; try again…
Until that one moment comes and we decide that obsessing over that goal is not that meaningful after all.
When we repeat this process for many other goals, we make a generalization: obsessing over the future often does not work out in the intended way.
Then, in the meantime, we also get stuck with past experiences. We try to forget them; we still remember them; we try again; fail again; try again; fail again.
When we repeat this process for many other experiences, we make a generalization: obsessing over the past does not help in our quest of how to live in the moment.
Then, we repeat this process for many other experiences until we generalize it to our whole past.
Once we get to a good point on both of these sides, past and future, we start living more in the moment.
But here is the catch: If we look at the two sides of this natural process, there are two words that that repeat more than others:
Try and fail
Because in that process, we try many times and fail many times.
We keep trying because unlearning brings in resistance.
We fail many times because we lost how to be in touch with reality of the now long ago. We don’t know how to do it.
At the end of this process, if we are consistent enough, we will certainly achieve something.
But not necessarily a future goal.
But we can certainly achieve our selves.
Thoughts and Reflections 9: Strong People, i.e. All of us
I used to have a different definition of strong people. In my mind, it used to refer to people who were infallible; who had solved the workings of life and were in perfect alignment with life.
Until I realized that there were no such people.
There were strong people. But not infallible, always-perfect people.
Strong people were those who did fall but did not give up. They got up and tried to continue, despite all their injuries.
And while they continued, they told their experiences to other people so they would not fall into the same traps. And they tried to help them.
Strong people used their falls as an opportunity to keep going and reach out to people.
Then I thought: “Who does not learn from experience and not help others?”
My answer was ‘No one’.
Because everyone is strong.
How do I know this?
I talked to many people.
And when you talk to people in person, they open up.
Then you know what everyone is experiencing behind closed doors and you admire their ability to keep going despite all that happens to them.
And when you talk to people in person, they also talk to you. They want to understand you so they can help you.
So far, I have not seen one exception to this.
That is why I am confident to say that everyone is strong. There are no weak people. There are just people who we have not talked to yet.
Thoughts and Reflections 8: No Time for Anything
‘Humans are social creatures.’
We hear this sentence a lot, right? It is because we are. By our nature, we need to see people, talk to them and interact with them. We need to feel that people like us exist and they can understand us. They can console us when we need. We need to feel that there are our likes out there that can support us. That can pick us up when we fall.
Do we have them?
Jein (Combination of Ja ‘Yes’ and Nein ‘No’ in German).
Yes, because we have them.
No, because there are much fewer now than ever. In fact, sometimes to such a small extent that it is impossible to have anyone to find emotional support from.
The reason is that life is fast now and we are busy.
So busy that we don’t even have time for ourselves, let alone other people.
The fact that we no longer can make almost any part of our schedule feeds that vicious cycle. Our schedule is all determined for us (I almost want to say ‘against us’) by external sources and that schedule does not include other people. It doesn’t even include a long enough time to eat, a basic need we have, so we end up eating on our way. Eating is no longer a social event.
In the rare instance of having a bit of free time, we choose to sleep. Well, because even that basic need is taken from us. It is not in the schedule. It is considered a burden, whereas it should be considered the most natural need we have.
With that activity of sleeping to fill in the little empty time we have, we are still left with no time for people.
I am guilty of yielding to this forced schedule, as we all are. I don’t want to do it. But I do. I have to.
Because otherwise, I can’t survive in this speed of life.
No one can.
I have a feeling that we are either going to crash bad because of this fast speed or we will adapt to the new system at some point.
For some reason, I feel like the former is happening.
What do you think?
Thoughts and Reflections 7: Process or Product? The Dilemma of my life
Process versus product. The dilemma of many people in the workplace. The dilemma of having to decide which one is more important and implement it.
I personally want to believe with all my heart that it is the process that really matters and hope that the product follows from the process. But real world does not agree with me.
When we get into a new project, job or habit, we need time to get used to it, right? Then, it will hopefully click with us, eventually resulting in good products. Well, if only it was that smooth.
First, real world may not be willing to give the necessary time to us. We might be expected to speed up the process or even skip one or two steps so we can get the product as quickly as possible.
Second, this process is not linear. There are failures that cause us to go back and then start moving ahead again. Guess what this does to us. It makes us lose time. What does the real world want? Product. When does it want it? As quickly as possible. Losing time is unacceptable. So, there you go. The conflict. The conflict as it is caused by a natural part of the process (failures).
This dilemma exists in all jobs and for all people. So, it applies to me as a PhD student as well.
PhD student job description: do research in your field (ignoring the teaching aspect, which is also quite a common addition to the main job description).
Doing research is very much a process by its nature. Why? Because it means we try one thing and see if it works. If it does not, we try something else. This goes on until we can find something worthwhile. Usually, things are too complicated to solve in the first try. So, it takes multiple attempts to get something tangible. Sometimes, you need experience. Say, you are designing an experiment. The first few attempts usually yield null results. So, it takes experience to get it right.
Not to mention the fact that we start with little trials and aim to extend it. So, the initial stages are usually not product-material anyway. They need extension.
All that requires time.
But eventually, the judgment is made based on the product. We are not judged on what we have learnt from our failures, but rather on how many successes we have had. That is my dilemma.
This dilemma is still unresolved from my end. I don’t know if it ever will be. The best thing to do is to learn how to live with it. But even that requires process.
Do you experience this dilemma? If so, do have a solution for it that works for you?
Thoughts and Reflections 6: Blogging, from the perspective of a new blogger
I am still in astonishment that I am writing as often as I do now. When I started this blog, I was not sure how consistent I would be. How many pieces I would write. Or even what I would write.
Yes, I had warmed up for writing for several years before and that gave me some confidence. But still, I had not written for many years prior. In fact, I don’t think I wrote anything between ages 12 to 25. 13 years! So, I definitely lacked the writing experience.
In addition to that, I don’t think I am as good a reader as I should be. It is only in recent months that I am forcing myself into the habit of reading daily. This is the result of my struggles to establish this habit for the past two years or so, when I read consistently at times and did not read at all at other times. Before that, I probably read one book a year or none. So, I lacked the reading background as well.
But I had one thing: the inspiration trying to flow through me since I was a child. The inspiration that found a way out in writing before age 12. But the inspiration that I blocked constantly after that.
For this blog, I could only trust my inspiration because that was the only thing I had. And I did.
But that did not help me get rid of the thought that I would mess it up. I was thinking that I would be inconsistent and my inspiration would not flow as much as I wanted it to.
Well, I guess I did not. Not so much. This is mainly due to the unexpected experiences I have had so far. For example:
I am consistent: I never thought I could write short stories as often as I do (one every two-three days). This blog gave me a reason and an urge to write them. To let the inspiration flow. I started having ideas from even the smallest things. I was not expecting that. For me, this was the measure of success and that gave me more confidence.
I meet people that view the world similarly: I am still surprised at how many people there are out here that understand each other well. I was not aware that bloggers formed this kind of connection. I am still trying to get used to this but I have to say, I like it. This is another reason that helps me keep blogging.
I started feeling the power of words: I am not a very literary person. Well, maybe my academic background has something to do with this. But as I read people’s posts, I see how beautifully written they are. How deep they are. How much emotion they convey. How much they can help people theoretically or practically. How they can give a sense of sameness of experiences, thoughts and emotions. All posts are gifts from one person to the other. I am not sure if I was expecting this either. And I am definitely liking this.
All in all, my muse wanted to come back to life more energetically, after a 13 years of sleep, with this blog. It is now reflecting its energy with the constant ideas it is giving me.
May it never sleep again.
Thoughts and Reflections 5: Feelings: Why do we have them after all?
Why and what do we feel? Why do feelings exist? If feelings are unstable and relatively unreliable, how do they help us at all? Why do we have them at all?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions (well, technically, they are just one question and I don’t have an answer to that question). But I have some thoughts.
Imagine that all we have is the mind and the observable facts. Everyone learns the same things and sees them the same. We go to school, learn facts and done. We experience something, learn it, done. Easy.
But then, what would make any of us unique? Who would produce stories and movies? Would art exist? Would even scientific debates exist (well, here, I believe that science is not really purely objective. It depends on the person who interprets facts)? Would friendship exist? Friendship is valuable when the friend can provide you with a new perspective and can broaden your horizon. If everyone was the same, the friend would know you all over and there would be nothing to discover about each other nor to improve. The only improvement would be based on who knew more facts. Straight, bland, linear.
This sounds boring.
Feelings spice us up. They excite us. They motivate us.
But feelings also mess us up. They are not always understandable. We cannot see them. They are changeable. They are not always reliable. The give us the fear of the unknown. They make us feel insecure.
Will there be a day when we understand them better so we can avoid the negative effects? Maybe.
If that happens, maybe they will open up things that we never realize for us. Unknown, unseen dimensions.
Do we need this to happen? I am not sure. Humans usually have the craving to discover things beyond what is seen. This gives us curiosity. Maybe, we really need this to happen.
Will that mess us up too? Probably. We will face a new fear of the unknown. We will feel insecure.
But it might be one of the steps towards understanding ourselves and the universe better.
In a nutshell, feelings exist and they are here to help us improve. But they cannot do so until we understand them better. For now, they mess us up as much as they help us. Hopefully in the future, they will mess less and improve more.
Thoughts and Reflections 4: Movies that Relate
Image from: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1392214/
There are many movies from across the world (Hollywood, Bollywood, Turkish, Korean etc.) which are based on a good character –good no matter what- and an evil character –evil at all times-. There was a time when I loved these types of movies. They idealized the world for me. They gave me an idea about what the ‘best of the world’ could be, which I could not see in the apparent chaos that was/is prevalent.
But I can no longer relate these movies. They seem far from reality. Too ideal to be true. Now, I like what is closer to reality. Movies that have a main character that is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Movies that project the intricacies of human character.
This realization of the shift in my taste came up several weeks ago, when my friend asked me to list my top ten favorite movies. I realized that at least my top three are movies that are based on the complexity of their main or side characters, rather than, say, a complicated plot. I realized that I like anything that is close to human reality. If it is not close to reality, then it should be as far away as possible, so it will not bother me. That is why some of the movies on my list were those that were unrealistic entirely.
I think now I like those movies because I see in them the confirmation of my own observations that I wrote in various posts (here, here or here, in that order): no one is good all the time and no one is bad all the time. I also like them because they allow me to get into a character and follow the character along, which is what I always do to myself. I like following my thoughts and feelings along to see where they take me. So, it feels like by following those characters on their path, I actually end up following myself. By following myself, I actually end up following all humans. That confirms my stance: all humans are the same. All humans go through similar processes, have similar thoughts, feelings and reactions. Maybe just at different times and situations (thanks to my neighbor James for giving me these ideas).
All that said, if anyone needs recommendations on such movies, I would definitely suggest any movie by Jake Gyllenhaal. My favorites are Prisoners (2013) –Hugh Jackman’s reflection of his character is also a very big factor in this movie- and Nightcrawler (2014). He has a way of projecting his characters’ internal conflicts really well and finding the scripts that will allow him to achieve that. Go ahead and watch them if you have not already. They will give an idea about what humans are really like.
Thoughts and Reflections 3: Number of People=Number of Personalities
Have you ever thought how boring it would be if we all had the same personality? I have and I am convinced that I would not be interested in the human mind as much as I am today if that was the case. I think one of the reasons why humans are interesting is that we all have unique personalities. Each and every one of us.
I have said in my previous posts (starting with this post here), becoming the best person we can is the ultimate goal of life. But becoming the perfect person is an unreachable goal. All we can do is to try to become better at every step. So, it is the process that matters. And we are all on this process. We are all progressing. That is what unifies us.
But we are all progressing in our own way. Each person’s journey is unique. And our unique personalities are one of the factors affecting how we progress in our journey towards becoming a better person (for another potential factor, see this post).
Some people like surprises. Those kinds of people usually progress though major abrupt steps. For example, they will continue eating very unhealthy until that one moment. At that moment, they will suddenly leave it, never to come back to it again.
Other people like getting used to it. They will prepare themselves for the upcoming change. They will read about what too much unhealthy eating does to one’s body and mind. They will try to have ‘healthy eating periods’ every now and then. In time, these periods will get longer and longer, eventually becoming the default way of life.
Based on my observation of my own progress, I think there might be a third group of people. Those who belong to neither, or both. I can make very sudden decisions and go with them till the end. I have done that many times. But I also have a feeling that, there is hidden, subconscious psychological preparation behind it. That is, I subconsciously prepare myself for a big change. So, some people might combine elements from both groups.
This is just one example of how our personalities may affect how we progress in our journey towards becoming a better person. There are many other factors that might play a role: laziness level, enthusiasm and curiosity are some of these.
Part of this journey is learning how we make progress and take the journey ahead in an appropriate way: we should not go against our own unique nature, otherwise we will not make much progress or it will require much more effort than it should. Once we figure out our way, the rest is probably easier. This is because we align with ourselves and move ahead without much distraction. (I am not there yet, so I am just taking a guess of how that could go).
This leads me to the same conclusion as the previous two posts on this topic: We are all on the same journey, which is the universal fact about us. But we all are at different points in our journey. This is because we all progress differently. That is what is unique about each person.
Thoughts and Reflections 2: Culture vs. Universality, An over-stated dichotomy
I wrote about the similarity between people before here. I said that we all are equally good, but just in different phases in our journey. Now, what I want to do is to focus on one of the factors that defines our journey. That factor makes us different, but it is also a big indicator of similarity. That factor is our background, i.e. environments we grow up in.
We all grow up in certain environments and we get attached to them. This can be our family, school, neighborhood, city or country. Our natural instincts force in us the need to belong somewhere and the environment(s) we grow up in is the biggest candidate for this. That is what we end up doing. To achieve that sense of belongingness, we do a lot of things: we align our worldview with those prevalent in these environments; we talk and behave like others in them; we eat similar food etc.
However, the problem is, especially for those looking for commonality in humans, that there are countless environments in the world.
Well, the idea is simple. The environments are actually similar, no matter how distant they look. They are similar because they are all structured around similar goals such as survival and sharing (and living, which is bigger than survival because living is surviving for a higher purpose).
To me, one of the biggest signs that all environments are similar comes from people who immigrate to other countries.
Immigration is when the natural bond we have with our original environment is broken. Therefore, we need that bond to be fixed to keep our goals of survival, sharing and living intact. But when one migrates, the broken bond cannot be fixed easily, simply because we are not in the environment that would normally provide us with the tools we know anymore. So, problems arise in that stage, the confusion stage. Everyone goes through this phase no matter how many extenuating circumstances they might have (e.g. one might not be attached to their old culture that much anyway or the new culture could be very accepting of others).
The confusion stage is defined by a search for what parts of the new environment one can adopt and what parts of the old environment one can keep. Eventually, a mixture arises. A mixture that has elements from both the old culture (since it is impossible to erase your old culture from your individuality) and the new culture (since one needs to adapt to this environment to survive and live).
This example may be a radical one. But similar ideas apply to everyone, migrated or not. We all grow up in multiple environments. We have our national culture, but also our school culture as well as a family culture. We travel back and forth between all, get confused every now and then, and eventually end up making a mixture.
This sounds very chaotic because it is very individual-based. But it is not so chaotic really. Yes, it is true that no two people are the same ever, but we all share the fact that we are on the same journey: we are all trying to make our own mixture. That is, we share the goal. Not only that, the fact that we can actually mix cultures/environments means that we are not so different after all. If they were too different, they would be irreconcilable, right? So, we not only share our goal, but also the basic elements that we need on the way towards our goal.
This boils down to the same idea that I posited before: We all are on the same journey, but at different stages. This is very universal, but also very specific. That dichotomy is what makes human nature exciting.
Thoughts and Reflections 1: Differences between People? No, thanks.
The most prominent scene of the movie My name is Khan for me is the one in which the mother tells her son that there are two types of people in the world: good people and bad people. It was referring to the distinctions people make based on religious affiliation: you are good even if you are the cruelest person in the world, on the condition that you belong to the same religion as me. But the reality is, according to this quote, that there are good people in any religion or society and any distinction within humans is purely based on the goodness of your heart.
And I have believed this ever since, but I also started having a slightly different interpretation of it later. An interpretation that builds up on the main idea in the quote.
Before I start explaining my understanding, though, let me note that my discussion of this quote will not focus on religious aspect. Rather, it will apply to a broader set of criteria people use to emphasize differences while ignoring similarities. This could be religion, nation, race, gender, age and countless other things. This is, in essence, what the quote intended to do as well. Please also note that I do not believe that religion, or any spiritual practice for that matter, is bad intrinsically; just like belonging to a nation, race or gender is not. They all address different humans needs.
Starting off, when I first heard that sentence in the movie, it felt like I had found the healing philosophy for the ever-continuing distinctions people were making to emphasize differences among each other. I was very tired of it at the time, and I was looking for some solution. It also came at a time when I had started seeing how similar everyone around me was, despite external differences. So, it had come just at the right time. It was confirming the shift in my thinking. Humans were not so complicated after all. They were either good or bad. This minimized all the other things we used to differentiate ourselves to just one criterion: goodness of your heart. This gave me a big sense of unity.
But then, it started occurring to me that maybe we do not even have that one distinction. No one is good all the time and no one is bad all the time. Everyone has good and bad actions, with some people inclining more towards bad actions and others more towards good actions.
That made me think about when and why we do bad things, because I was and am of the opinion that the default human nature is good. What makes us diverge from that good nature? That was the question I wanted to have an answer to.
Then came the realization that people who do bad things (which refers to, well, all of us) were not always doing them because they want to torture or just because they want to be bad. Many times, they behave as such because they do not know how else to handle situations. So, they are not literally diverging from their good nature. They are just finding immediate solutions for their problems so they can survive. They are bound and drowned by their many problems, which leads them to cover up for those problems with bad actions temporarily. In those situations, bad behavior is a reflection of helplessness rather than show-off for power or pure evilness.
So, how does this apply in life?
Let’s say your friend always gets angry at everything and shouts all the time. For example, s/he gets angry whenever something differently than they imagined and they start yelling at everyone around them. What do we usually do? We either shout back or just cut ties with that person because that much anger shows some kind of bad nature. What else can we do? We can think that anger is usually a reaction to things that we cannot solve internally. So, we try to ignore those issues by showing extreme reaction via anger.
Or let’s say you have a friend who lies to you often. We can jump to the conclusion that that friend is not a good person because lying is not good. What else can we do? We can also try to understand why s/he might be lying. Oftentimes, lying is a way for people to get away from problems they cannot solve or face. Because they cannot solve these issues, they try to ‘cover up’ for them by lying so the problem can be buried deep-down and will not be visible to them.
In either case, changing our perspective on ‘bad behavior’ will show us that what we think of as ‘bad behavior’ is not that simple. It hides so many complications under it. The major take-away from this is that labeling people as ‘bad’ is not that easy.
Upon coming to this conclusion, the one last criterion I had to differentiate people was gone. Therefore, now, I believe that we all are equally good. We just differ in how well we become in facing our problems more in depth rather than resorting to temporary solutions. And that is a gradual difference, not a categorical one. So, it is extremely difficult to draw lines between people.
Once we can adopt this view, the next step is to step in and help people address their problems (and we should also address our own problems, first of all). That is a whole different side of the story and I will not get into it here.
Now, all I said so far mainly applies to our daily interactions, friend-to-friend or within-family interactions. But I will draw my line when we look into broad and systematic torture. For me, that is bad, without a question. Though people who show this kind of tendency might also be reflecting their internal problems that way, humans also have free will (After all, there are many other people who had similar problems but did not end up oppressing others). So, when the bad behavior becomes intentionally bad and turns into a tool to oppress people, people who do these are the real bad people. But this is not what I intended to focus on here.
My conclusion then is that all people, regardless of religion, race, gender etc., display some bad behaviors. But these behaviors crucially do not define us. They are just passing human system failures that need to be fixed so we can get closer to our good nature.