Saturday, April 13, 2013

Combating stress and seeking happiness: A monologue

Life has its own mechanism for approximately balancing the desirable and undesirable virtues in life. While an everlasting bout of happiness is an impossibility, a period of agony with no end is equally impossible. The factor of approximation in the equation lends us a precious space to manipulate the balance in our favor: shrewd people do everything in their capacity to rationally multiply the moments of happiness in their lives and vice varsa.


Somebody has said: “I was born intelligent but education ruined me”. I was born a mere child, as everyone is, and grew up as an ordinary teenager eventually landing up in youth and then adulthood. The extent to which formal education helped me to learn about the world may be debatable but it definitely did not ruin me.
 
There were, however, things that nearly ruined me. There came moments when I contemplated some difficult choices. And there came and passed periods when I underwent through an apparently everlasting spell of agony. There came bends in life from which it was very tempting to move straight ahead instead of following the zigzag course.


But eventually, life and joy triumphed. I am immensely thankful to people who supported me through those difficult periods of time.

Now in the safety of a remarkably welcoming world, I carry very little burden of disdain and remorse.

Moreover, I can look back to the past with some degree of detachment and I have found intense interest of people in such accounts of others, however unimportant he/she may be to their lives. Also, such writing is a sort of catharsis for me.  For propriety’s sake, I omit or disguise some details and generalize some specificities but that little impacts the overall narrative, I hope.

What do you do when the odds in front of you are unassailable, at least with the means you have in your possession?  Moreover, life does not proceed so long as you do not tackle them. Do so badly and life may well further screw you up. In such a situation, two things prevail in life: gloom and frustration.

It is in those gloomy and frustrating days that the life takes some of the harshest tests from the individuals. Write a single foul answer and you may end up as a failure for rest of your life.

I have no pretensions of a psychologist (at least so far) but I can certainly put forward some insights that I have learned through a painful process in my own life. It is none of my fault if this very thing is already articulated well by some psychologist, of course.

What do you do when you are cornered by the circumstances? There are only two options: first is to fight back. But this is not always feasible and sometimes it is undesirable too. The second option is to wait: until either the tiger gnawing at you retreats or the wall at your back gives away. It is during such agonizing moments of forced patience that life teaches you to cope with enormous amount of stress. At the end, the outcome would be determined by how shrewdly or intelligently you chose between the two evils, the options of fighting back and waiting still.

The logic is that, if there is little that you can do to improve things, there is no use further aggravating the problems. And despite people’s complaints about unstoppable nature of time, it is a great healer. With a larger scar or smaller, it will heal every wound.   

My second and more personal realization really amazes some of my friends. How do you maintain your productivity in the face of enormous stress and distraction? After all, you have to work to feed yourself and no work in this world is a piece of cake; you need a level of devotion and concentration to it. Do it badly and it may well increase the amount of stress and start a vicious cycle. Moreover, things like writing a readable work of fiction or analyzing an event known for its controversy need much more concentration than the routine daily works. So, how is that possible?

I do not know what the psychologists call this particular method of mental defense but I call it ‘compartmentalization of emotions’. If it were not for this capability, I would have never studied most of things I have done so far and never written most of what I have written so far. Unrelated things should not just mix up with one another. Let the frustration from yesterday’s failure to linger today and you are surely poised for a ruined tomorrow. With some exceptions, I was mostly able to get away with most of the moments with extreme trouble relatively unscathed. The mechanism was: when I changed the location from the place where trouble prevailed, every thought related to the trouble was forgotten as if nothing had ever happened. With troubles of higher magnitude, it was impossible that way and I had to take the help of the overnight sleep. 

As the famous Nepali adage says, you have to die to see the heaven. So is the case with this compartmentalization thing. You cannot just practice it when under little or no stress. My case was peculiar in the sense that I went through the shock therapy for such a concentrated stress that I had no way other than compartmentalizing my emotions to keep the bare minimum of daily productivity needed to sustain life. I will, however, never suggest such a course for anybody else. Also, I am really sorry for those people who have underwent through the period of stress the way I did, yet failed to develop that compartmentalizing capability. It is my sincere belief that with perseverance, an incremental development of such capability is perfectly possible in people who are lucky enough to bear the stress in retail scale.

Now comes the clincher of this monologue. I sometimes wonder if I would be the same person now had the periods of stress and trouble not intervened in my life the way they did. I am rather slow at learning things that are not shouted at me. But even then life has taught me some precious things. At the top of the list is the fact that life has its own mechanism for approximately balancing the desirable and undesirable virtues in life. While an everlasting bout of happiness is an impossibility, a period of agony with no end is equally impossible. The factor of approximation in the equation lends us a precious space to manipulate the balance in our favor: shrewd people do everything in their capacity to rationally multiply the moments of happiness in their lives and vice varsa.

To conclude, however, I add that it is impossible to achieve happiness at individual level by isolating the self from the surrounding, as noisily preached by the modern day Babas and Gurus. Liberty and success, both at the individual and collective level, are some of the best ingredients of happiness for large number of people in the society. One who seeks detachment from a miserable state of the society to seek happiness for him/herself is unlikely to achieve it. It is, however, a different matter to combat the stress in personal life so as to maintain the productivity and help the whole society to move forward in positive direction. While I can boast of my ability to manage stress in my personal life, I have no pretense of having contributed anything meaningful to the society so far. Hope this does not remain so forever. After all, hope is also one of the important ingredients of happiness. Hopeless people are among the unhappiest in the world. 

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Why I write...

I do not know why I often tend to view people rather grimly: they usually are not as benevolent, well-intentioned and capable or strong as they appear to be. This assumption is founded on my own self-assessment, though I don’t have a clue as to whether it is justifiable to generalize an observation made in one individual. This being the fact, my views of writers as ‘capable’ people are not that encouraging: I tend to see them as people who intend to create really great and world-changing writings but most of the times end up producing parochial pieces. Also, given the fact that the society where we grow and learn is full of dishonesty, treachery, deceit and above else, mundanity, it is rather unrealistic to expect an entirely reinvigorating work of writing from every other person who scribbles words in paper.


On life's challenges

Somebody has said: “I was born intelligent but education ruined me”. I was born a mere child, as everyone is, and grew up as an ordinary teenager eventually landing up in youth and then adulthood. The extent to which formal education helped me to learn about the world may be debatable but it definitely did not ruin me. There were, however, things that nearly ruined me. There came moments when I contemplated some difficult choices. And there came and passed periods when I underwent through an apparently everlasting spell of agony. There came bends in life from which it was very tempting to move straight ahead instead of following the zigzag course.


Read more