Sea of Troubles

“It is characteristic of many neurologists (and patients) that they mistake intransigence for strength, and plant themselves like Canutes before advancing seas of trouble, defying their advance by the strength of their will. Or, like Podsnaps, they deny the sea of troubles which is rising all around them: “I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!” Neither defiance nor denial is of the least use here: one takes arms by learning how to negotiate or navigate a sea of troubles, by becoming a mariner in the seas of one’s self. “Tribulation” dealt with trouble and storm; “Accommodation” is concerned with weathering the storm.” – Oliver Sacks, Awakenings

In our lifetime of troubles big and small, we must learn to accept and manage every situation as it arrives. It must be done so with as little ego as possible, for trouble is trouble enough.

 

How to survive living with others

“In that long time of captivity I had also come to know all the many people that were in me. Here again, I saw the same: many different qualities in each man and each of them looking and seeking for expression. Though we were all different, our shared suffering had made of us a collective community. We sought to complement each other, to understand the different aspects of each others’ personalities and meet with them meaningfully. By so doing we were always aware of each others’ mood swings and frustrations. […] But as I came to know each of them in the confines of this room, I began to re-understand that each man’s humanity and capacity to love expresses itself in different forms. In those sharing moments I discovered qualities that were lacking in myself.

[…]

The squabbling, when it did come, came over insignificant things. Always it is the case that when the mind is empty or tired or when like a child we need to be fed, we cry out in tantrums. Some men needed to be proved right to gain a small victory over their neighbour. It was a means of restoring identity. We all needed these things and we sometimes turned squabbling like hungry birds fighting over crumbs. At other times we realised the pettiness and futility and turned away embarrassed.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling

The above excerpt provides advice on sustaining a marriage, or any other relationship that involves living closely with another:

  • We have many different qualities in each of us. We can be inconsistent.
  • We should understand these qualities and
  • meet with them meaningfully (i.e. not to pick a fight).
  • We must be aware of our own and their moods and frustrations.
  • We should seek to understand their expression of love.
  • We should discover qualities to learn from.
  • We should not care too much about squabbles.
  • Remember that both of you are a collective community.

All in all, we should seek to understand another, with patience and an open heart.

Laugh!

“As we suffered with a friend his deep moments of loneliness and grief, that awful renunciation of life itself, we each of us acquired, almost instinctually, a deeper and richer capacity for joy, for humour, for laughter. When you have so little you find joy in insignificant things.” – Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling

What We Miss About Music – A Human Connection

Music, as much as it is an auditory experience; requires a face – a personality.

In this Spotify age, we are spoon-fed with playlists of reasonable music and only so rarely do we hear something of character, that we go back to the main player to identify the song and singer. Even then, these identified songs will eventually be forgotten, as other new hits come along.

So, how does a singer get and retain our attention? Firstly, as mentioned, the song must have character. It must be pleasing (of course) and slightly different according to our various tastes. For me, indie songs are a dime a dozen and the only ones that stand out are those with great vocals and awesome lyrics. Of course, everything about the song has to be genuine, and not sound pretentious, if you know what I mean.

Secondly, the singer must put his/her face, or rather the personality to the music. That is the only way to make a lasting connection. The reason why some people loved Nirvana and still do, is because of the personality of Kurt Cobain – someone so sad and intense, but doomed by heroin. The reason why people will always remember Prince and Freddie Mercury is because of their larger-than-life persona on stage.

Being able to observe a singer – the way he/she performs, and what he/she says – gives one a deeper understanding of the music created, and enables one to form a connection with the singer, albeit through a screen. When one looks at another’s facial expression, so much is told without words, and that is when music becomes human and human-connected.

When I observed a video of Hozier at the Mahogany Session, I saw in his brief introduction, a humble musician. I was immediately drawn towards him and his great vocals carried me through the rest of the song. When I watched Jeff Buckley’s performance, I saw his intense passion for music, and how genuine he was; needless to say, another musician remembered.

Hence, in order for singers to retain an audience, they must put their personality to music. The greatest indulgence is an unplugged session – only vocals and simple instruments. Perhaps then, Spotify should consider generating more content: videos, short biographies and quotes, to create lasting connections between artist and audience.

Our Limited Abilities

It is common for us to tell ourselves, “I can’t do math.”, “I can’t write poetry.”, “I can’t etc…” and it is only so because we are limited by our environment.

I refer to environment strictly from the viewpoint of an average middle-class citizen of a first world country, as it is not the purpose of this post to consider those limited by poor circumstance.

For most average middle-class citizens, our lives flow in general monotony: work – home – work – home. We live in a structured economy and society that enables us to have regular incomes, regular spending and regular lives. This is why we have become quite regular too. We are predictable, functional and exceedingly normal. Our environment has shaped us so.

Hence we shudder to consider acquiring new skills or knowledge that demand commitment or a leap of faith. How many of us will start learning piano in our 40s or even in our 20s? We have work to do and money to churn. How many of us take up a new sport in our 30s? We have enough exercise running after our kids.

To take this inertia further, I propose that we have an inability to create new skills and knowledge.

Consider this: You are locked in a cell, and have absolutely nothing to entertain yourself with. Day after day, you edge on the madness of boredom. In order to occupy your mind, would you turn over what you have learnt and create something, anything?

Such was the experience of Brian Keenan, an Irish teacher who was unfortunately kidnapped in Lebanon. Together with journalist, John McCarthy, they devised elaborate hand signals to communicate with two Americans in an opposite cell. How many of us consider it possible to devise a method of communication? (and without Google’s help)

In our safe and comfortable lives, we deny ourselves the possibility of learning, creating, of becoming so much more than we can. Yet, what is there to complain of, when we are not imprisoned; or are we?

Be Morbid

A sense of morbidity is healthy; for the ponderance of death informs life.

Most of us live in relative monotony and take comfort in the lack of change. This sense of continuity causes us to take for granted – life. We deny the possibility of sudden death as that would be too impossible to happen to us, right? Yet we all learn from the news, that young men die in marathons and good folks pass away in accidents. It is definitely possible for us to die without reason.

Hence, blessed are those who know when they may die; and the rest of us should maintain some fear of dying. We should ask ourselves, “If I were to die tomorrow, would I be satisfied with life?”, “If I were to die after we part, have I told you that I love you?”, “If I were to die tonight, have I left a mark?”