Soulmates

Do you believe in soulmates?

I believe there are people with whom you can share a strong, profound, mutually fulfilling, loving bond (not exclusively of a romantic nature), and that this type of connection has the potential to enhance the lives of those involved by enriching their perspectives in life, as well as helping them feel inner peace and become better versions of their authentic selves. This requires mutual transparency, vulnerability, and, implicitly, trust. You can explore the depths of your souls (or minds, if you prefer) and find delight and substantial meaning in your explorations. I believe in serendipity. I acknowledge the importance and influence of brain chemistry and mental configuration in experiencing soul connections, the ontological subjectivity that requires us to design and give meaning to everything, to every encounter, every thought about others, every experience. I believe that when it comes to profound connections, this design really fluctuates from person to person, because of both nature and nurture (literature, philosophy, exposure, upbringing, family models, attachment theory), but that we can all find relatable ways to describe these intimate experiences, although language is ultimately limiting. I believe in passion. And I believe that sometimes passion can be a fleeting thing, and it can also be associated or confused with obsession (limerence) or infatuation.

However, I’m not fatalistic, I don’t really believe in destiny; I don’t believe or agree with the view that you are incomplete and need to seek your other spiritual half – even though some people function better within and grow as a (healthy) couple. Self-development and awareness can be achieved outside a conventional romantic formula, and outside the parameters of romance altogether (through art, spirituality, hobbies, your career path, etc). I would also deem a mentor, an academic tutor, a friend, or a family member as my soulmates, depending on how well we connect and how inspired or close to my authentic self I feel when I’m around them. I also don’t believe strong, meaningful bonds need to persist throughout time or be lifelong in order to be valid, impactful, or life-changing. What I do believe is that each human being ultimately creates their own meaning and narrative in life, and for many people, the concept of soulmates makes a lot of sense in the way they construct their world, as they’re more likely to reach their potential that way; and poetic, dreamy souls may attribute otherworldly or cosmic connotations to this connection. There is always the other side of the coin- some people tend to ‘lose themselves’ in a relationship, in which case it’s better to nurture your soul first in other ways. Personally, for the majority of my life, I have found myself on a paradox-resembling spectrum, between a dominant rational view on this subject & a poetic one, with a tinge of romance and magical realism and sprinkles of “je ne sais quoi”. Ultimately, in my case, intellect tends to rule over my feelings, and even my feelings seem to go through the filter of my intellect first. What I aspire towards is love in a wide sense, as a state of being and seeing and relating to the world. It would be amazing if love surpassed fear as the driving force in the world, if people were not maneuvered by their shadows and emotional baggage. The first step is acknowledging this aspect. And then, the harder part, is re-structuring the mind in your favour, to form beneficial patterns. To get back to the topic of romance, whenever I think about or try to describe my thoughts vis-à-vis romantic connections, my discourse comes across as ambiguous, even contradictory, and that’s because of that area of “je ne sais quoi”- I find this hard to describe. It’s one of those things where I tend to know it when I see it or live it; where a new experience might shape a different answer, or my perspective might shift when I enter a different chapter of my life in which this aspect will be re-contextualised.

Inner discourse

Window view.

I have always wondered what other people’s inner lives are like. Some of my greatest strengths are my perceptiveness and empathy, so I can quite easily figure out what someone is feeling, how they are likely to react, or what I should say in order to make them respond a certain way. Then again, maybe that is delusional, or surface-level stuff. Ultimately, you don’t really get to know what other people’s inner voices and discourses sound like and how they piece together their narrative. (Don’t even get me started about the unfathomable unconscious)
My external life isn’t something I tend to write about, in any direct way, as it seems quite uneventful. My inner life has always been complex. One thing I used to dream about was eternal life, as a sci-fi narrative (i.e. uploading our consciousness into an eternal body or merging with AI), rather than in a religious sense. This is a polarising subject: some are horrified by this, others see the positive side of living forever, in whatever way. Since I always felt that those unafraid of – even at peace with – death were made of a different substance from myself, I used to be part of the latter category, thinking it would be amazing to find a way to preserve my consciousness, what makes me who I am, somehow. Yet I had never viscerally contemplated how the elusiveness of this ontological concept can work against such futuristic dreams, turning them into frightening dystopias.
There have been a few shifts in my inner world. One was spiritual, taking me on a path of Enlightenment. It gave me a distinctive sense of control and harmony. Unfortunately, it was a transient feeling, experienced whilst reading a book on a relevant subject; yet it offered me a glimpse of another perspective, another lens to see and feel the world through – one that was free of worries and other negative attachments. As opposed to the mental state of an emotionally detached person to whom you could also attribute the previous description, what I am referring to is on a different wave length; it’s not emotional distancing or numbness. It’s acceptance, surrender, experiencing the lightness of being, and the sense of inner peace and control arising from that state. It must be amazing to live your whole life that way, as people who fully dedicate their life to esoteric knowledge, practices, and meditation do. Although in my case it was ephemeral, recalling the experience, knowing that it is possible to view life through that filter still marked a long-term shift in my world view, albeit less impressive than the actual experience. Similar life-changing shifts have been experienced by people on prescribed pills such as anti-depressants. A second, poetic shift happened after watching a film that constituted an uncanny experience which temporarily projected me into a derealised world. The same type of experience was repeated at a later point, in other, rather peculiar circumstances, which I will not elaborate on in this.
I look at neighbouring houses and sometimes see unknown, pensive faces behind windows. Thoughts and narratives about their inner lives form and dissolve. Enlightened masters say We are One, but our egos (in Eckhart Tolle’s use of the word, his view of ego as the self that’s stuck with negative attachments and patterns rather than the psychoanalytic use of the word) separate us. E. Tolle says true compassion for and deep understanding of other human beings are based on the acknowledgement of the duality of our ephemeral-eternal nature. I don’t know if I believe in eternity in a spiritual sense. It seems likely, though, that if we manage to transcend life and our egos, we will supposedly be at peace with everything.

Interacting with mental constructs

Have you ever felt like someone interacts with an image or representation of you, that they’ve created and are feeding in their mind, rather than the reality of who you are? You can usually sense it while it happens, it’s often tiring, you might get uncomfortable; depending on the discrepancy between your identity and your interlocutor’s concept of you, your response might naturally be to emotionally distance yourself from them, your body may recoil in distaste, and you might feel like you wanna stay away from such situations. It takes too much energy to interact with people who are trying to define you on their own terms, to shape your reality, to induce that they know how you feel or who you are better than you do. You may perceive it as an attack on your self-concept, it feels perversely counter-intuitive- if everyone did this we’d all be trapped in illusions, interacting with our own minds and their fabrications…the distances between us would grow and grow and there would be no genuine connection; authenticity and understanding the reality of another human being completely thrown out of the window. These fabrications are often based on archetypes, on previous experiences, on patterns we have formed in our minds, and shadows bred there. To a certain extent, there is something natural about it, as, in its purer forms, this process helps us make sense of everything. Everything is mediated through the filter of our consciousness and making associations and creating our concepts of others is inevitable. Labelling. Establishing connections between subjects, to have a point of reference and know what to expect, in the process of interpreting reality and personality. Identifying differences in others, to see ourselves as separate and unique, to define ourselves in the light of this separation, to reinforce our ego’s supremacy. It’s also a survival mechanism, recognising red flags, so you know what or whom to stay away from, whom to trust, who may or may not represent a threat to your well-being. Thinking of people in patterns – the field of psychology is based on this. In the case of someone who has a personality disorder, for instance, it can be very helpful to have a name for what they are experiencing and how they see the world, it can make them feel understood, give them a sense of belonging, a sense of control over themselves and their emotions, encourage them to make a conscious effort to identify with the awareness behind their thoughts and emotions, rather than with a particular emotion (especially if it’s a negative emotion, like anger, fear) or a thought they may be experiencing, that may be intrusive, obsessive, and dictated by a disorder. Of course, on the other hand, there is also the stigma that comes with such labels, risking to be put in a negative light, being seen through that filter, being defined by a certain disorder or affliction. Unfortunately, some can internalise this, thinking of themselves and their disorder symbiotically, it can affect their self-worth. In general, it is quite limiting. Thinking of people in patterns or associating them with something you create in your mind can be limiting. It diminishes them, distorts their essence, reduces their whole identity to a tendency, an idea, a bunch of words, an echo- in the mind of ego-led individuals with narcissistic tendencies. If you interact with representations of people, with mental constructs, with objects, you don’t really allow yourself to see people for what they are. This is often because you may have internalised certain superficial ideas about the world and may be applying them to everyone, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes it happens out of fear. Of the unknown, the uncontrolled, the unpredictable. A representation is something you have control over, an image you can mould to fit your world view, your ego’s supremacy, something you can annihilate in your head; a real person is something you can’t control, they exist outside the realm of your ego, and thus can be a threat to ego.

Re-defining someone, re-structuring their narrative and identity is problematic, because people don’t tend to like being told who they are, why they do the things they do, what their motivations, feelings, or thoughts are. They often dislike being told they are wrong in some way, faulty in their behaviour, life choices, thinking, identity. It will put them in a position of defence. Such interpretations can be offensive, and often deeply ingrained in the adviser’s specific belief system and incomplete perception of others and they function through projection. You can’t help but dislike or avoid someone who assumes or acts like they know you better than you know yourself, who tries to re-define you in ways you don’t identify with, it’s a natural response of self-preservation. It’s unpleasant to have someone interact with a version of you that doesn’t exist. In my case, someone giving me advice with such constructs in mind would find themselves stepping into a minefield. I know I have a resistance to accepting advice, in general, because I feel like I’m the one who knows what is best for me, but, often, if it’s reasonable advice, devoid of projections, formulated in a constructive way, and if I can feel it comes from a genuine place in someone’s heart, someone who doesn’t interact with a false mental construct, someone who believes in me and doesn’t claim to know what I want better than I do, doesn’t try to dictate how I feel, who wants to see me do well and be the best version of me, then I appreciate it. If, however, I can feel that a piece of advice is insincere, in the sense that it is centred around the adviser, it’s all about them and not me, all about their self-image/ego, their need to be in control, to reinforce their belief system, then I have resistance to it, I find it distasteful. (Unsolicited advice is distasteful in general.) There are some descriptors and emotions that I don’t associate with my self-concept, and I can’t stand it when others imply or assume it about me. Okay, this does sound like an egoic defence, we all have them. What matters is not letting ego dictate our interactions with or perceptions of others, and not defining ourselves in conscious or unconscious opposition with others.

This is particularly problematic when you think about the well-known mental process of ‘other’-ing when it comes to racial, gender, nationality, or sexuality differences, different religious or political beliefs, although it’s not restricted to these areas, for it can apply on many levels, personal and cultural. This process can have a great negative impact on human connections, because it obstructs the capacity to have empathy for fellow human beings; and it can manifest itself through passive-aggressiveness, animosity, or it can become especially toxic when it facilitates aggression. Narcissistic tendencies are prevalent in contemporary society. If you pay attention, you can see the seeds of narcissism very easily, and recognise the narcissistic way of relating to others as mental constructs, even in yourself. Depending on the degree of resistance determined by your ego, this awareness might make you more open to seeing beyond these representations. With an awareness of inner pride and prejudice, of the constant process of mediation, you may no longer be quick to reduce people to fabrications, project any misplaced thoughts and traits onto them, and interact with mental constructs. We are human, we are fallible, our perceptions particularly so. Since this often centres around the demands of the ego to see itself as superior to others, let’s have a look at narcissism. Sam Vaknin, a psychologist who specialises in narcissism, who is a diagnosed narcissist, provided an insightful description of the way narcissists relate to inner objects in their fantasy world. Additionally, he talked about the beneficial nature and use (beneficial to the narcissist, detrimental to everyone around them) of this defence mechanism and way of relating of the narcissist, refuting the common thought that (pathological) narcissists lack the capacity for emotion. They are simply no longer in touch with their emotions, and don’t have an understanding of them, because, at some point, they may have decided that emotions can be debilitating and destabilising, hence it’s better to detach and alienate themselves from them. Their emotions are experienced through a “cognitive analytical filter”. They also interact with others through these filters, rather than forming a genuine connection. The extreme cognitive distortions of others happening in the minds of pathological narcissists can be seen as an amplification of the process that even people of a more sound and reasonable mental configuration indulge in, albeit with more restraint.

“The narcissist has impaired reality testing. And the very essence or definition of pathological narcissism is a grandiose fantasy. A narcissist can’t make the difference between fantasy and reality. Also, because they interact with inner objects, they confuse inner objects with outer/external objects. You know the famous mechanism of snapshotting, where they interact with a snapshot of you. They take a snapshot of you and then they interact with it, with your representation, your avatar, your introject, not with you. What they do is they internalise external objects, especially significant objects, especially objects that can cause them pain by let’s say abandoning them, so they internalise these objects and then they continue to interact with representations within a shared fantastic space. And they can’t tell the difference. This is why they mislabel emotions. Narcissists can feel intense emotions. Many scholars speculated that perhaps narcissism and psychopathy are reactions, defensive reactions, defensive attempts to avoid very deep emotionality. Perhaps narcissists emote too much, too intensely. They are about to be overwhelmed by their emotions, so they isolate themselves from their emotions, they put up a fire wall, a fortress to avoid their emotions. The thing is they feel, they experience the emotion, but they don’t know what it is. Because they are divorced from reality, […] they experience their emotions through a cognitive analytical filter. They have to ask themselves what they are feeling. And then they compare their experiences, their reactions, their wounds, their affect, their behaviours, they compare all this to an internal database. A database where they have entries and listings for how people behave when. How people behave when they are happy, and so on.’” – Sam Vaknin

If we extrapolate this description beyond the context of pathological narcissism, and we recognise the resonance of this mechanism beyond those around us who are pathological, not only does the aforementioned process lead to an alienation from others because we don’t really see the reality of others, but also to an alienation from ourselves and our emotions. Because our culture becomes increasingly narcissistic, our relationships with reality tend to get warped, the filter between us and reality gets muddled. Since we don’t integrate certain parts of ourselves as it’s more comfortable to live in a fantasy world where we and the constructs in our minds are infallible, we also don’t properly integrate other people’s realities within our conceptual world. This happens especially when other people embody specific aspects that are reflections of parts of ourselves that we dislike or deny, that we consider to be negative.

Consciousness is a complicated terrain to navigate, even our own, let alone others’. This awareness, that everyone has an internal life we either know nothing about or only have a glimpse of, that all people identify and see themselves in particular ways, that their inner lives shouldn’t be confused with our mental constructs, and shouldn’t be reduced to the way we consciously or unconsciously restructure their existence in our minds- this awareness can only have a positive impact. Because it fosters connection and care, discourages violence, and makes us more attuned to the emotions and realities of others. Perhaps if more people had this insight, this awareness of discrepancy, there would be more understanding and kindness in the world. Perhaps in a less narcissistic society that values authenticity more than ego fortresses and self-centredness, kindness and empathy would be viewed as signs of strength, not of weakness or fakeness.

In the spirit of mental conversations with authors, I will include a more pessimistic view by the supreme lyrical nihilist, Emil Cioran, who believes we are all living embodiments of our own private dogmas, and we celebrate ourselves for it. Whilst his view doesn’t clash with what I wrote, since it reinforces the idea that each of us lives within the parameters of his or her inner universe, the pessimism lies in the fatalistic rigidity of this narrative and his conclusion that awakening from our “dogmatic sleep” would equal death.

“Life has dogmas more immutable than theology, each existence being anchored in infallibilities which exceed all the lucubrations of madness or of faith. Even the skeptic, in love with his doubts, turns out to be a fanatic of skepticism. Man is the dogmatic being par exellence, and his dogmas are all the deeper when he does not formulate them, when he is unaware of them, and when he follows them.

We all believe in many more things than we think, we harbour intolerances, we cherish bloody prejudices, and, defending our ideas with extreme means, we travel the world like ambulatory and irrefragable fortresses. Each of us is a supreme dogma to himself, no theology protects its god as we protect our self. How to escape the absolute of oneself? One would have to imagine a being without instincts, without a name, and to whom his own image would be unknown. But everything in the world gives us back our own features; night itself is never dark enough to keep us from being reflected in it.

The man who does not adore himself is yet to be born. Everything that lives loves itself; if not, what would be the source of the dread which breaks out in the depths and on the surfaces of life? Each of us is, for himself, the one fixed point in the universe. And if someone dies for an idea, it is because it is his idea, and his idea is his life.

No critique of any kind of reason will waken man from his “dogmatic sleep.” It may shake the unconscious certitudes which abound in his philosophy and substitute more flexible propositions for his rigid affirmations, but how, by a rational procedure, will it manage to shake the creature, huddled over its own dogmas, without bringing about its very death?” – Emil Cioran on Unconscious Dogmas

Postmodern

Writing will always feel like a strange paradoxical venture to me because you’re supposed to curate your thoughts and words to establish an image, a style, an angle, a niche, fit into a genre, or take into account an audience, but not so much that you compromise with yourself, just enough.
Doesn’t that make writing inherently inauthentic, deceitful?
Or at least, incomplete? Perhaps dual? Every word, sentence, stanza or paragraph tinged with both presence and absence, permanence and transience, openness and confinement, revealing and concealing?
Writing is about the world inside and the world outside, about an appreciation of them, about the connection between them, about reducing the space between self and other.
It carries a compromise between subjectivity and objectivity, between an understanding and a lack of understanding; because every mind functions somewhat differently, every consciousness having a different set-up due to nature and nurture.
And yet, with increasing (especially spiritual) awareness comes the realisation we are all both different and alike.
Perhaps writers are aware of the limitation and power of language the most, followed by psychologists.
I have an infinite fondness for the postmodernists and the beautifully unhinged nature of their work, their literary and psychological fragmentation
Sometimes I see or feel characters and I incorporate what they represent, I give them a voice, in doing that, I give myself a voice- and vice-versa- by integrating them within my self.
This is sometimes exhausting.
It’s also bewildering, cathartic, empowering, a blessing and a curse.

When I write, I know nothing and I know everything.
How avant-garde.

On social chameleons, self-monitoring, and other thoughts along the lines of connection and the self

Where do we draw the line between adapting ourselves and our personalities to the people around us by making ourselves liked in order to connect with others and blend into social environments, caring about what people think just enough for it to act as a catalyst for fulfilling connections and successful interactions, and holding onto our individuality and sense of self based on inner beliefs? Up to a certain point, adaptability is normal in any interaction because, as social beings, we tend to bond by relating to another person’s experiences, thoughts, views, and so on, and for that we can’t be rigid or left unchanged, we need to be open to invite all this information from someone else’s world into ours; when inevitable differences arise, they should ideally be respected and sometimes accommodated. It’s also normal in the sense that, sometimes involuntarily, your personality and energy tend to be influenced by people you interact with and their own vibes, especially if you’re an empath, so, attuned to the moods and sensibilities of others. There is also a necessity for a certain degree of conscious adaptability and flexibility ingrained in many social interactions, in entering new environments, and facing a variety of people from different backgrounds, ages, and cultures. The social chameleon (I prefer this term rather than ‘people-pleaser’ which sounds pretty sad) is highly skilful in impression management and Self-Monitoring, being self-aware and aware of others; he or she thrives by reading social cues and charmingly acting and adapting accordingly to specific situations and types of people. Since adaptability is one of the main transferable skills you are asked to prove in interviews and job applications, this is a quality that is often valued in society and viewed as being linked to interpersonal and professional success.

When does this become a problem? When you bypass your personal boundaries and needs, such an attitude or way of living can take on a self-sabotaging quality and an unnatural influence over your life, that is ultimately detrimental to your well-being and your individuality. This happens when the focus you place on adapting to different personalities or social groups by making yourself liked and likeable at all costs becomes an impediment to living authentically and to being in touch with your feelings, interests, and desires. It can make you feel alienated from yourself and it can make others feel like they don’t really know you. The first steps you might take down this slippery slope could be silencing or diminishing your voice to accommodate someone else’s ego (particularly relevant to women tiptoeing around the male ego, or even around other women’s egos), switching between social masks and doing things to accommodate people in general, at the expense of corrupting your spirit, practising unnecessary humility, gaslighting yourself and doubting yourself too much when something goes wrong or when someone puts you in a negative light, putting up with (whatever you may see as) adverse or unfriendly treatment and making excuses for it, blaming yourself, and wanting to fix the situation, and so on. There is a fine line there between being empathetic and understanding of other people’s feelings and being unhealthily willing to compromise on your expectations and needs.

If it appears that you have people-pleasing tendencies, a lot of people pick up on that vibe and your boundaries may be challenged. There is also a shadowy side to people-pleasing: whilst it might seem like an altruistic act and it can be, it can also be a somewhat manipulative approach to get people to like you so that you maintain control over situations, but this is not inherently bad and not everyone who does this is conscious of it or a control freak or has a conscious ulterior motive. And the most harmful aspect is that people-pleasers associate their worth with the capacity to gain other people’s approval. You can be pleasant to be around- as that is clearly an advantage in most situations- but without being a push-over and without relying on people’s reactions and impressions of you, on their response to your behaviour. For this, you need to have a decently stable self-image- so know yourself- and what your expectations and standards are. And then you need to ideally spend your time with people who match those expectations and standards or otherwise, to communicate that need. Go beyond being pleasant. Be an inspiring, uplifting presence. Learn to truly listen to someone and allow trails of their consciousness to permeate yours, without filtering them through your fixated thought patterns too much. Just as I previously mentioned in an article that the best approach in the process of reading a book is to suspend your interpretative frameworks initially, you can do the same thing when you read another person, so you can invite their world into yours.

I’m glad to have reached a stage in my life journey where, after meeting someone new and chatting for a while, instead of wondering “Does this person like me?” it’s more important to first ask myself “Do I like this person?”. I’m not a passive or self-sacrificing person, I’ve never been, but I haven’t always claimed my social and emotional agency to the point where my likeability becomes irrelevant or less relevant than authenticity and personal satisfaction-so there have been times when my self-presentation has overpowered aspects of my life which should have been more important – though not in a ‘blending in’ type of way. These days, instead of impression management, I ask myself questions such as: Does this person add a positive contribution to my life and well-being? Are they a presence I like being around? How do I feel around them? Shift the focus this way. It’s liberating. What value or qualities do people add to your life? It could be that they’re kind, they make you laugh and are fun to be around, they’re thoughtful, relaxing, considerate, helpful, interesting, they just get you, they have a stimulating mind in addition to similar interests or an openness to discuss your interests- or a combination of such traits that you simply click with. If my assessment is positive, then, I value their response to me on a deeper level. Anyway, people are more than a combination of factors, so I don’t believe in having a rigid checklist of traits for friendships or other connections because our minds often override pre-established ideas when we click or feel drawn towards people we wouldn’t have expected to do so or when we don’t click with people we apparently had so much in common with. I personally only have a clear, uncompromising checklist of what I profoundly dislike or am repelled by in interactions. When there is reciprocal appreciation and things really work out, that ‘pleasing’ part is organic and ingrained in your interactions, there is no need to perform or control as it’s all spontaneous and there is definitely no need to feel like you compromise your self.

If your focus is on people-pleasing, it can be self-effacing or, to sound more dramatic, self-annihilating, as you tend to lose yourself in the process of presenting yourself in the way you think others expect you to. This could mean your fashion sense, your personality, the current version of your identity. Identity is fluid, I’ve always believed this, and some of your personality variables are, in fact, altered by interaction. My life mantra seems relevant here: “I am rooted, but I flow” (Virginia Woolf’s words). You have a core, the part of you that is grounded, rooted, true no matter what happens. This is surrounded by waters in which you flow and with which you can merge, meaning you can be open to new experiences and be shaped and re-shaped by them. But be mindful of where you flow and don’t be scared to swim against the current when you have to. Meet new personalities, be amicable and let the right worlds enter yours, without losing yourself in the other.

Life observations and tips on how to pass through life with awareness

– Empowered people contribute to the empowerment of those around them.
– Avoid judging things at surface level. You need to dig a few layers deeper without closing your eyes when you find treasure rooms or catacombs. On the surface, you might be trapped in a Fata Morgana.
– It’s true that high expectations often lead to disillusionment with the world; however, as long as you don’t let yourself be disillusioned with your self, high expectations can be used as fuel to build and improve your life.
– Falsity contaminates. Authenticity inspires; it’s contagious, enveloped in light, and arouses kindness. Its adepts are a dying breed, so value them.
– We all have both light and darkness within us. Some will see the angelic, others the devilish, and such judgements are partly reflections of the watcher. I wouldn’t say you should never see yourself through the eyes of another as that could inhibit empathy and diminish your humanity, or simply prevent positive things from happening- instead, be selective of the eyes you borrow, why, and when…
– …and whatever you do, never lose your own vision, lest you be swallowed by the mouth of the world and become a watered-down version of yourself.
– Sometimes you won’t know if something is right or wrong for you until you try it. If you realise it feels wrong, give up. If it feels right, carry on, regardless of external views. Not all compasses for life navigation reveal the same directions.
– Your beliefs, perspective on, or perceptions of many subjects will shift over time. This can manifest in your response to and interpretations of the world around you, which can, in turn, re-shape your world.
– You should create your life, not just react to it. Relinquish fatalistic views.

– Don’t fall into toxic ego traps.
– As you age, years start flying by in a blink. I’m young, and I already feel life slipping away so quickly. Don’t live in the past and don’t spend too much time lamenting the death of past moments or things that are out of your control.
– Don’t become complacent. If you ever feel ‘there is more to life than this’, whether you’re thinking of your job, lifestyle, or experiences, you are probably right. Explore and feel new things, pump up your dopamine and adrenaline levels. Take risks, but have a safety net.
Embrace who you are. Maybe in your adolescence and your twenties that’s a meaningless or elusive statement since you’re constantly learning new things, going through changes, growing as a person. Well, hopefully your whole life will consist of that. But embracing yourself encompasses that fluidity too, it means giving yourself a break, recognising all aspects of yourself and accepting them (if they’re not harmful or toxic). It’s okay to cultivate happy thoughts and it’s okay to be cynical sometimes. It’s okay to be funny and it’s okay to be serious. Intense and light-hearted and giggly. Sociable and reserved. Impulsive or stoic. It’s okay to explore your provocative side and it’s also okay to be timid.  To see yourself as a collection of thoughts and memories. To be made of many things, without any single aspect defining you by itself. It’s okay to be real.

Cognitive biases

Many people live their lives jumping from one cognitive bias to another, with a reluctance to delve deeper or look beyond. They see what they want, they perceive things, events, and people around them in a light that reinforces what they already think or fear of the world or hope the world to be like, and often in a one-dimensional way. This can range from something superficial like snap judgements and the famous halo effect -for instance seeing an attractive person and automatically, sometimes unconsciously attributing them other good traits like being good-natured or intelligent (although there is also the reverse effect, in which people associate some positive assessments with negative personality traits), from the Barnum effect with practices like astrology and certain personality tests, to having confirmation biases such as unsubstantiated interpretations of ambiguous events and situations which fit some pre-existing beliefs or the illusory correlation of behaviours or events. People also tend to have selective, biased memories, often more likely to remember emotionally-charged events more vividly and subjectively. They often have a filter through which all information and their perception of reality goes, which reaffirms some values they hang onto and – sometimes unwisely- attach their sense of self and their interpretation of others to.

 

This may seem like an effective and useful self-defence mechanism in many cases, because it means you can always stick to your own little bubble, never having to confront points of view which don’t match your own and which will make you contemplate and potentially doubt the beliefs that you’ve relied on for a long time. However, this approach to life is pretty clearly a double-edged sword. It can often prove to be delusion-inducing, divisive, and toxic as it prevents genuine connection among people and can even turn everything into a -sometimes subtle and insidious- war of ideas, with every person being uncompromising and unwilling to let their guard down and be open or receptive. This war is not always transparent or even vocalised, it can be silent, low-key, as well as appearing disguised as something else-i.e. power trips – because of feelings of repression and the fear or rejection of the unpredictable and the unknown. Things get particularly problematic when the subject concerned is something of importance to people, something related to someone’s core beliefs or nature such as views on life purposes, career choices, relationships, kids, religion, etc.

 

What would be the solution then? To judge appearances and only hang out with those who never challenge any of your beliefs? This scenario is quite problematic and actually impossible unless you only seek superficial connections and you’re not truly connected with others- because otherwise, you will most likely never be on the same page with anyone else entirely. Whether that’s a partner, friend, acquaintance, family member, there will always be a situation in which your views on some subject diverge. Because everyone has had unique experiences which shaped them differently. If you’re lucky, one of you will be more diplomatic about it and drop their view to prevent reaching a point where you’ll be pulling each other’s hair out. But is it such a good thing? Always relinquishing one’s standpoint in order to stay away from any semblance of confrontation is not a long-term, or constructive tactic, because it doesn’t stimulate change or self-development and doesn’t really benefit anyone in the long run. It normally only provides moments of relief and passing through life as lightly as possible- although even that depends on what the voice of your ego says.

 

I anticipate what one might think: maybe that’s all you want sometimes, moments of relief and bliss. Choosing your battles seems like sensible advice, after all, doesn’t it?  Indeed, and in the end you will inevitably also weigh how much you value the opinion and judgement of the other, as well as how much you value your own opinion, how important it is to you; if you decide it’s a matter of significance and, simultaneously, that it’s a person whose opinion matters to you, and you can’t just brush things off, then you need to be aware of how you tackle the subject, don’t try to make it seem like you’re imposing your perception of reality on someone else. People might be less inclined or willing to digest and properly, openly process information communicated with an ostentatious holier-than-thou attitude. Even though you may find it difficult to act in an emotionally intelligent way if it’s a subject you feel strongly about, like an ingrained belief, it’s not impossible. Promote acceptance by embodying an accepting and open approach to the world around you. Sometimes this implies accepting that people have different opinions, some of which you may view as wrong; other times the best approach is to educate, where there is ignorance. The more you get to know yourself and others, the easier it will be to know when to be assertively relentless in your convictions, and when to let go.

 

The key is to aim towards becoming the best versions of our selves. Let’s be aware of our cognitive biases and not trust them blindly, let’s be open-minded and non-judgemental and non-dismissive towards other perceptions of reality. Let’s build bridges. Let’s do this whilst still being authentic and true to ourselves and to our own core system of values, but also true to the people around us. Let’s choose understanding first and foremost, which ultimately leads to happiness anyway, and let’s defy the narcissistic tendency of our contemporary society by practising empathy and fulfilling self-interests simultaneously, rather than treating them as mutually exclusive.

 

 

 

 

The adapted version of The Proust Questionnaire

As a fan of Marcel Proust who loves the way he perceives the world as depicted in À la recherche du temps perdu, I thought I should write down my answers to the most popular version of his iconic questionnaire in my first unequivocally personal blog post, even though my answers may very well change tomorrow:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Time travel. Interplanetary travel. As for a slightly more down-to-earth answer, visiting the most beautiful, inspiring- ethereal or eerie- places, absorbing every moment spent there and feeling connected to the place, living in the present, and having a cultivated soul.

What is your greatest fear?
Death. Non-existence. Annihilation. Oblivion. Aging. Bugs.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Literary figures: Virginia Woolf & Sylvia Plath.

Which living person do you most admire?
Tilda Swinton. Richard Dawkins. David Lynch. Plus anyone who positively influences the world, who is aware of the whole picture and manages to focus on the good rather than the bad in the world, overall.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I will mention a few, although I have conflicting feelings about these traits as I don’t always deplore them: cynicism, the low-key need to be in control, fickleness in some respects, ricocheting between emotional frostiness and impulsiveness, scepticism to the point where I start being sceptical of my own scepticism, and taking myself too seriously (but otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able or feel propelled to write!).

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Duplicity, hypocrisy. Prejudice. Lack of empathy and inability to listen. Arrogance. Wrong life values. Underestimating me.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My luxury perfume collection. Not sleeping at night.

What is your favourite journey?
towards self-awareness and self-development, through self-indulgence and creative fulfilment.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Patience. Sympathy (not empathy). Contentment. Humility and prudence in women’s case. 

On what occasion do you lie?
When the conversation doesn’t matter, or when I’m convinced that telling the truth wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone involved. 

Which living person do you most despise?
anyone who uses their power to negatively influence, harm, ruin, or eradicate the lives of innocent people, either on an individual level, or on an organised level.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
aesthetic. surreal. oh my god. yeah. no.

What is your greatest regret?
caring when I shouldn’t have. not caring when I should have.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
perfume, cinema, music, labyrinthine architecture

When and where were you happiest?
I don’t remember exactly but I’m gonna say it was probably a case of frisson- “aesthetic chills”- that I experienced whilst watching a hypnotic, revealing, or epiphany-inducing film or piece of art.

Which talent would you most like to have?
a mesmerising, emotion-inducing, magical singing voice.

What is your current state of mind?
introspective. conflicted.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d give myself an infinite dose of productivity and the capacity to love the world freely and unconditionally. Getting rid of grudges. Being less fickle/wishy-washy in some respects.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
rising from the flames like a Phoenix.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
a fairy or a nymph.

What is your most treasured possession?
my perfume collection, my films collection, my velvet dresses collection,

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
not living the life you want, letting obsessions or demons consume you, feeling trapped.

Where would you like to live?
in a beautiful place adorned with paintings and different styles of decorations on each floor or in each room (Gothic, minimalist, dreamy, airy fantasy style etc). Also in the distant future, maybe on a different, ultra-advanced planet. Either that or in one of the many film fantasy worlds I love.

What is your favourite occupation?
maladaptive daydreaming

What is your most marked characteristic?
being artistically-inclined. being headstrong, perceptive/astute, experiencing derealisation and zoning out (this sounds contradictory to the astuteness, but it’s actually not!); inquisitive, independent-minded, and a freethinker. looking sad or annoyed when I’m actually in a neutral or thoughtful mood.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Intelligence (including emotional intelligence), genuineness, confidence -not cockiness, self-awareness

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
strength, genuineness, intelligence, confidence, self-awareness

What do you most value in your friends?
kindness, authenticity, having my best interests at heart, trustworthiness, & respecting confidentiality

Who are your favourite writers?
Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Vladimir Nabokov, Hermann Hesse

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Jessica Jones, Vanessa Ives, Jean des Esseintes, Violet Baudelaire, Rogue

What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I like my appearance overall, but there are two or three things I would/will probably change if I can.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Inspiring women who are unapologetically fierce and do whatever they feel like (unless they are psychopaths or something equally worrying).

What are your favourite names?
Morgana, Diana, Ariadna, Artemis, Mordred, Crystal.

What is it that you most dislike?
pity, prejudice, labels.

How would you like to die?
Knowing that I will be revived as an immortal goddess, mostly because I want to live forever, but all the other perks would be fun too!

What is your favourite motto?
Do no harm, but take no shit. // C’est la vie. //
Incantation-“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”
Quotes-“I stopped explaining myself when I realised other people only understand from their level of perception.”
“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”


Write your own answers to all or some of these below, I’m interested to see!

Reflections on reading

Published in Education in the Digital Era, March 2019

Books are not only the arbitrary sum of our dreams, and our memory. They also give us the model of self-transcendence. […] They are a way of being fully human.”- Susan Sontag

The multifaceted nature of literature encompasses an abundance of purposes when it comes to the act of reading, such as functioning as a vehicle of escapism, working as a tool to enhance self-awareness, setting in motion cultural and social change starting from individual transformation, inspiring metaphorical deaths and resurrections of selves, summoning childhood magic and nostalgia associated with books we grew up with and memories entangled with their reading, perceiving the human spirit as shaped through time within specific historical and cultural frameworks, as well as strengthening our connection with others by making us recognise ‘the other’ within us, and providing a mirror that we can use to face the world with empathy and acceptance as we fully acknowledge its realness and complexity.

Reading can be seen as a spiritual journey, since it inspires a form of awakening. Stories we read during our formative years, during an early stage in our lives that is of utmost significance memory-wise, those stories will potentially remain the most enchanting reading experiences, because they enter our mind at a time when we tend to simply absorb every evocative image, every symbol, indiscriminately, unassumingly, with naivety and curiosity, and when simple yet vivid memories are formed. Later, as we mature and acquire more knowledge- not exclusively literary, whilst we learn to be more discerning, selective, as well as developing critical thinking, we are encouraged to deeply reflect on the strings of words in front of our eyes- sometimes, however, at the expense of the child-like wonder and the child’s way of seeing, of disappearing, and truly living within a story.

While expressing her views on reading, Virginia Woolf emphasises that, whereas we should follow our instincts in reading rather than having someone else dictate the way in which we experience a literary piece, we should also avoid falling into the trap of projecting our pre-conceived ideas and judgements onto a piece of writing immediately, and instead, at first, decrease the volume of our critical voice in order to embrace the author’s voice and the creative process, to open our minds and let the thoughts of another flow into them. Afterwards, as cultivated readers, we can ponder on underlying themes and psychoanalytical symbolism, stylistic categorisations, meta-references, the larger aesthetic value of the work, character development, feminist interpretations and critiques, and the historical, socio-cultural, political or conceptual frameworks. As a Literature and Film graduate, I have found that temporarily tuning out certain aspects of this critical side that became a natural inclination in my reading is ideal if I wish to retain the pleasure of the act and to prevent disillusionment. Otherwise- and I have known Literature and Film students at university who faced such concerns- the enjoyment of a piece of writing or art in general might be diminished. When we let ourselves be fully engrossed by the words, something pure and beautiful happens: we disappear and live within a story, we allow ourselves to be bewitched by lyricism, to recognise the emotions evoked in a poem, to let them inspire us; we perceive and visualise the world conceived by another mind, unfolding within our own mind. That is when we can identify with a character, as well as finding traces of this character within ourselves, savouring every mental image, finding something interesting and revealing in every echo while devouring a good book. This way, we shift from clichés to something more intimate, from patterns of thinking to a unique taste of and insight into individual consciousness.

During literary studies at university, our way of reading pieces of literature is, indeed, interestingly shaped, to a certain degree, by the modules we opt for and their structure, particularly the recommended critical interpretations and analysis of the works in question or, more broadly, of literary movements, periods, and other divisions. Once you place everything in a cultural, social, or historical context, or consider the psychoanalytical dimensions of a text, or interpret narratives from a feminist point of view, it can influence your process of experiencing other works and how you delve into them. This aspect is also facilitated by a tendency towards syntopical or comparative reading, which is recommended within an academic context- particularly in analysing critical theory books and essays- and rightfully so, since it is a useful tool for finding your own voice, forming your own opinions, gaining perspective, and developing critical thinking skills which are so essential in various areas of life. As a result, while reading prose fiction for instance, our minds may involuntarily jump to underlying commentaries and themes, paying more attention to connotations of nuances and how they fall into a wider sociocultural, ideological, or psychological framework. This may seem like a double-edged sword because it appears to be in contrast to the previous idea of experiencing a written story viscerally, intimately. However, as previously mentioned, the mind can be trained to read differently for pleasure, inspiration, or educational purposes and everyone can shift between different methods of reading.

Placing a literary piece into the complex puzzle of history, can be particularly revealing and useful, for instance, when we read literature associated with silenced voices and with otherness: such literary works give us the chance to get an insight into the psyche of figures whose lives seem so distinct from ours and explore uncharted mental territories, an inner journey which will also prove to be self-revealing, whilst at the same time requiring transcendence. Reading can, indeed, often initiate us into a ritual of self-transcending. Language mediates our connection with our own selves as much as it mediates our connection with the world around us. Reading can be viewed as a process of merging contrasts: between temporality and atemporality, the tangible and the incorporeal, presence and absence, closeness and remoteness, self and other, the intimate and the universal, the evanescent and the eternal, a grasped world and an elusive one.

status quo

The universal shift of focus
from being to seeming
permeates our age of confusion.