Somewhere between dreaming and becoming aware that it was a dream and observing the connection fade, I try to compose an apology letter to my dream crush in the face of whose beauty I found myself embarrassingly turned into a boundary-violating zombie by commenting on their makeup first and asking for permission to admire it for a moment and then somehow continuing to come closer to reach for some kind of physical contact, maybe a hug, but who even knows, followed by the person turning away and walking off disappointedly, alienated, possibly disgustedly, and leaving me behind with the realization that I have failed, I have removed the basis for genuine human contact and have instead imprinted on them an encounter with someone to avoid, to flee from, and I can’t even argue my way out of that interpretation and redeem myself because that is just what happened, that is what my loss of control has resulted in. How can I write a letter that is true, appropriately self-critical and empathetic and not unnecessarily so self-deprecating that I paint a purely negative picture of myself and leave nothing for them to hold on to that could motivate an interest in getting to know me, a letter that is both an apology and an invitation to connect, while in this moment I am still at a loss as to how the offense could have happened in the first place? How can I ask for forgiveness for something that I don’t know how to avoid? Am I dealing with such explosive material here that the only wise decision would be to save the other person from further disturbing surprises, to stay away from them until my senses have learned not to lose touch with the guiding influence of the sense that clearly I am able to recover after the fact of having drifted into such murky waters of unaccountable action? Maybe the letter I was hoping to be able to write can only be written by a different person, a better person, a more self-integrated version of me, future me. Maybe all I can hope to do at this point without risking a widening, deepening of this tear by which I feel pulled apart is to wait and watch out, wait and see, wait and be, until the time is right, I’m right, and the right me can speak.
Last week at a restaurant in a state of potential overwhelmedness, I experimented with narrowing and widening my awareness and how it corresponded to navigating the sensory overload axis.
Here is what I found:
Widening awareness: Everything became brighter, louder, richer in detail, I felt very alive and connected to my surroundings. It did not feel overwhelming unless I tried to keep track of and participate in conversations, which would immediately create tension, towards overload.
Narrowing awareness: Detail in the periphery got dimmed down, my sense of self as separate from the world sharpened, my ability to coordinate my actions increased, but at the cost of a loss of joy, looseness, and liveliness, a kind of functional zombie mode.
I was reminded of the way alcohol narrows my awareness and dims my senses, the main difference being that it also has a relaxing effect.
I was also reminded of my Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes where I tried to combine a widened awareness with the ability to choose wise moves.
As a result, here is my new hope:
Maybe, with a bit of practice, I can avoid sensory overload by navigating the space of awareness, relaxation, and action coordination and learn to steer myself into positions from which social participation is possible and even enjoyable.
The conceptual divide between thought and feeling can make it hard to understand that the two are intimately linked and belong together.
Thought without feeling is sense-making without sensing.
Feeling without thought is sensing without sense-making.
Sense is the common source, the integrated process, which can analytically be decomposed into thinking and feeling.
The sharpness of analytical categories often obscures the undividedness of the matter they’ve been extracted from.
A bucket of ice cream doesn’t consist of scoops of ice cream, even though they can be taken from it.
our physical form is misleading. sometimes it almost had me believe that we are what we can see with our eyes.
we are not.
we are hyperdimensional resonators. so many, just so many dimensions.
it’s our limitations, our needs, that make us feel.
we explore this vast space of ways of being. we make virtually infinitely specific connections to each other.
we are astounding.
the most tangible indication of the complexity of our being can be found in language: what justifies its power? why is it necessary?
it’s because we are so diverse, so flexible, so unique, so mysterious, that even just to point at a rough idea of our location in this space of possibilities, a deep disambiguation tree is required.
without language, our beings would be even more hidden from each other. unspeakable differences, separated paths without a map.
i can be right in front of you and yet mostly hidden. a unifying shell worn as a mask around an isolated world.
we live in the same world by one meaning, and we absolutely do not live in the same world by another meaning.
sometimes we feel the amplifying power of discovering shared ways of feeling, experiencing. for a moment, our patterns align.
we are physical beings, but the way in which we are physical is not obvious.
it’s our needs that make us feel, that motivate us to reach out, with hands and with words, reach out and point and push and pull to get closer to a place of safety and growth.
it’s because living a human life is so difficult that we are able to feel joy and pain with such intensity.
the highs, when we find each other, can be very very high. the lows, when we lose what we care about, can be very very low.
we feel good when we find resonance. and quite often it takes a detour through the imaginary numbers of thought, of words, to get to the real numbers result we end up feeling in the flesh.
at any given moment in time, our being is as much imaginary as real.
this music i’m listening to is very much physical, but part of the reason that it makes me feel things has to do with my past, memories of hopes, desires, emotions that have guided my self-preservation a long time ago.
i am still here. i observe and conduct the changing of this pattern.
stability, periodicity, waves of motion and emotion, moving, staying in motion, feeling moved, moved to action, activated, feeling satisfaction when pushing against a boundary, thanks to being limited.
looking up, i see all of you, mostly hidden from my view. i know you’re there, writing your own story as you discover it, as you navigate from moment to moment.
i raise my imaginary hand and wave at you. thank you for following this trace.
The mind avoids getting trapped by loosening constraints in a safe environment. This is what I concluded after trying to observe myself fade into a dream-like state earlier today at the park when it was nice and sunny.
There is actually very little detail I remember about the content of my mental activity in that state, because every time I tried to hold on to any of the snippets that were being strung together without my active participation, they shied away from my grip. With a swift motion, they would glide into safety, skillfully bypassing my attempts to analyze and memorize them. Every interference with the process would immediately disrupt it and I would need to wait for something new to start.
At the cost of preventing one particular thread from following through to its end, I managed to capture a peculiar thought snippet. During what felt like the construction of an explanation or argument of some sort, I noticed that one element was oddly ambiguous: it was both “15 minutes” and “15 meters”. It hadn’t been determined which of those two it needed to be in order for the constructed result to make sense. Interestingly though, I remember feeling that it did make at least enough sense just before I stopped to take a closer look at it, at which point the whole thought deflated into what seemed like a useless, chaotic mess. Minutes, meters, who cares what unit it is as long as it starts with ‘m’ and we know we need 15 of them, am I right?
I demanded coherence, order, sense! And all I could find were ambiguous snippets freely floating around and associating with one another in some kind of careless space.
And then I realized, as I reflected on my own judgmental attitude: the snippets were right not to trust me. They were right to be shy, to hide from my analytical, memorizing eye, my grasping, sense-making hands. They needed this space to be free from the constraining influence of enforced coherence, consistency, order, purpose. They needed a break from me. That’s why it felt like my mind was protecting its floating snippets from me. “These are not for you. In fact, you are not really meant to be here. It’s okay for you to stay, but don’t touch anything.”
It had a point. And maybe there is something to learn from it.
If the mind knows to periodically protect itself from the strict demands of purposeful thinking, maybe we could support it, support ourselves, both as individuals and groups of people working together, by making sure we reserve enough time away from otherwise useful constraints.
Time to let go — to get ourselves ready to attach ourselves again, possibly to something different.
Time to forget — not just remember.
Time to enjoy nonsense — one of the most fertile grounds for sense.
Time to explore unchosen directions — doing the opposite, and then again the opposite.
Time to play — so that reaching a goal is only ever a small stretch away from what we do all the time anyway.
And also, more radically: time to completely let go of predefined ideas such as goals, progress, and productivity. Time to float.
The future has been a guest in my home
for a while now.
Sometimes I ask it to turn down the music,
through the door.
Sometimes I spend the day outside,
just so I don’t run into it,
to get a bit of a break.
It’s my home.
Why don’t I ask it to leave?
I can’t, because I care.
The future has nowhere else to stay.
And sometimes it’s nice.
I know I sound tired now, but
sometimes we get together and play,
and I remember why I offered it to stay
in the first place:
we fill this house
As I awake into this moment,
I can see that all my thoughts
were just guesses,
a web in the clouds.
Quietly I look at them,
how they float around
trying to support me,
help me stand,
help me crawl,
help me climb.
But now I’m also here
next to them
A knocking at the door demands my attention. “Open the door and tell me who I am!”
Who could it be? Am I ready for this encounter? The knocking continues. “Please open the door! Look at me and tell me who I am!”
Alright then. Here we go.
As I open the door, I see noone.
But something has changed. It — whatever it is — is here.
What is it?
It is not a thing, not a who or a what.
It is this.
There is a resonance, a wavey motion, a way of being carried, moved, shifted.
I realize that without me, it couldn’t be. Without this body, there would be nothing for it to inhabit and nothing giving rise to it. And without being let in, all it could be is an ever-louder banging on the door.
Now that it is here, the question has disappeared, but I decide to answer anyway.
“You are a modulator. You are music, dance. You are life. You are emotion.”
On my walk yesterday, I had a little think about what makes relationships what they are. I realized that there were actually more significant dimensions than I had previously considered and that being aware of them can illuminate hard decisions about them.
I used to think that a relationship involves 1) another person and 2) activities you usually engage in with them: having conversations over coffee, going for bike rides, having phone calls, sitting on the balcony, and so on. And if you enjoy those activities with that person and you want the person in your life, that would be a positive way of looking at the relationship from this two-dimensional perspective: Who, and What.
But there are other significant dimensions as well: 3) In what kinds of spaces, physical places, do you connect with them and 4) at what times of the day, which days, how frequently, how regularly does that happen? So the Where and the When.
Looking at those dimensions together, the Who, What, Where, When, it seems to me that when making choices about relationships, what we are dealing with are questions about a kind of life architecture: a structure that makes it possible for us to do the things we want to do with the people we want in our lives, in spaces that are suitable for that and that are reachable for us, and at times that allow for the right level of continuity and sustainability.
If any of those requirements are not satisfied, the relationship can still exist as an idea, but it may not feel like a functioning relationship in practice. There is a chance that that difference is felt as a kind of dissonance, like something isn’t right. It can even be felt as anxiety. And that dissonance can undermine the idea of the relationship over time. It can undermine the commitment to the relationship as a whole as a part of your life.
And what about 5) the Why? The Why is related to commitment, to love, to my chosen path in life, to who I am as a person, who I want to be. Why spend my life with this person and not just anyone else? Why those activities and not just any? Why here and there and not just anywhere? Why now and then and not just whenever? It’s because that’s what I want in my life. It’s what I can say Yes to.
If I don’t commit to answers to those questions, then I am just floating, flowing, being an observer of circumstances. I would prevent myself from experiencing the satisfaction of feeling like things are right the way they are, and I would likely not be able to recognize opportunities for improvement.
On the flip side, if I commit too strongly to very particular answers, if I measure everything against strict, unadaptable ideas, I may prevent myself from experiencing the enjoyment of the fundamentally unstable flow of what it is to live, to be alive, to live a life in the here and now.
When I think of intelligence, I don’t primarily see it as something different people possess different degrees of. Rather, I see it as a kind of dynamic invisible shapeshifting that individuals can engage in in the realm of concepts.
A static mind, a mind that doesn’t grow through its self-shaping interactions with its world, is neutral in that regard. Knowledge can be neutral too, except for when in a given sitution, it opens up a path to get excited about and commit to.
The ability and willingness to commit to an intentional shape in a given situation. Flexibility, adaptability, playfulness. Differentiated shapes and patterns of motion for every occasion, every mood, every need, every intention. Like an octopus, just not always as immeditately spatial-physical.
We all have these abilities as humans. In human togetherness, what matters more than some abstract notion of intelligence as something related to problem solving, or even worse: something that can be measured, is the question: Do we bring life to each other’s lives?
I only realized a few weeks ago that when I drink coffee in the morning, there is often a point at which I feel like stretching, which makes sense because stimulants activate muscles, which makes them tense up.
Another thing that tenses up muscles is anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication does the opposite, and so do deep relaxation techniques.
“I feel like stretching” is an interpretation of something my muscles are made to do sometimes, just as “I feel tense” is an interpretation of something similar in a different conceptual context. One has positive connotations, the other negative.
Bottom up, top down. Activation, interpretation.
Our being is layered and wired up in circular ways and we don’t necessarily always have a clear grasp of the direction of causation in these loops we spin through.
An idea for something to practice together when spending time with people:
Every time a topic ends, instead of reaching for the next one, be quiet together. If a conversation meanders, end it.
Observe your desire to speak. Is it constant? Does it increase the longer there is silence? Does it come in waves? Are the words pushing your mouth open or are you freely allowing them to form and come out?
When your inner threshold is reached, allow yourself to speak, but only after taking conscious note of the conditions.
If it feels difficult and maybe a bit unnatural, it is worth practicing. Think of it as a kind of social meditation.
In addition to getting to know yourself better and growing your ability to make choices more freely, some of your friends may benefit.