Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Overall Energy Levels Affect a Conversation, the Damage of Assumptions, and the Necessity of Time Spent Away from Others

On Monday night, my mom, my brother, and I were on the highway next to the hidden mountains that were silhouetted by the cover of night. As we headed back to our condo at SF, my mom brought up a conversation topic that had great potential for depth. My mom mentioned she feels alone and away from society as she drives back home after dropping us off. Being the only car on the road for stretches at a time, and the darkness of the night on the highway with the only source of light emanating from the headlights and moonlight, she feels a momentary yet noticeable loneliness. As my brother responded, I sat back in my seat, observing the dynamics of the conversation and determining the level of depth being achieved in the conversation. About 10 minutes into the conversation, I could tell a certain amount of depth was lost. There was a small annoyance occurring that, prior to observing that tonight, made me feel uncertain whether it would be considered a major distraction. I have come to the conclusion, now being back at the condo, that driving itself is a distraction from deep conversation and the sharing of more intimate thoughts and feelings. The noise on the freeway is too loud. We were sitting and talking, but there was noise. The act of driving also acts as a distraction from expressing our more inner thoughts and feelings. Although driving on the road by ourselves can become a passive activity without requiring an immense amount of focus, it is still a distraction. I have come to the conclusion that deep level conversation in its deepest form can only be achieved by doing nothing but sitting and talking. 

What about walking and talking? I went on a hike with a friend where I attempted to take it deeper, and I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of depth I had achieved. I’ve thought about it. The power of a story or revelation of intimate thoughts and feelings are partly lost due to the distraction of walking. We were walking at a decently fast pace. Perhaps if we were walking side by side instead of me in the front and him in the back, and if we walked slower and took our time, we could have discussed and shared that moment more intimately. Our energy level could have made a difference as well. Let me explain. Throughout different times of the hike, we had different energy levels. In the beginning of the hike, we were energized and ready to go, therefore affecting the depth of the conversation. Higher body energy results in lighter and upbeat conversation. Higher energy level is also impacted by the time of day. Imagine hiking in the early afternoon. It’s going to have decently-high energy and thus lighter conversation, especially if we are also walking fast. Earlier times of the day, such as early morning to early-mid afternoon does not yield deep conversation as easily because the time of day affects our mood. While late-mid afternoon to hours late at night or early AM hours yield deeper conversation more easily in a quiet environment free of major distractions. The energy level of the day has gone and the atmosphere and mood matches one of deeper level conversations. What about getting up real early to watch a sunrise on the horizon? Does that yield a good time and place for deeper conversation? Although the time is early and for early birds, it may seem perfect, for night owls, we might be a bit too tired for deeper conversation. Then again, it depends on the amount of energy present overall. The thought and prospect of seeing a beautiful sunrise may boost that low energy of night owls at early morning hours, making deep conversation more of a possibility. To conclude from what I’ve learned regarding energy levels and its relationship to having deeper level conversations, high energy level situations do not yield good opportunities for deep conversation. Whereas, lower energy situations have a high chance of deeper level conversation as long as there are no significant physical, visual, or auditory distractions. Mid-level energy will most likely result in conversations with relative depth. It may go towards lighter and deeper at different parts of the conversation, but is not as likely to swing too far in either direction, although it is still possible if the topic of the conversation can sway the energy towards more depth. A good example of a mid-level energy situation that can go deep is one of being alone, one on one, while sitting down somewhere on a quiet mountain, overlooking a field of yellow grass in a spacious area with the sun radiating its warmth down on us. I know the description sounds a little romantic, but in my imagination it’s with close friends in this situation, and no homosexuality intended. The energy level is not too high and not as low as night time, but just enough for deeper conversation to take place.      

Throughout the drive, I felt myself becoming irritated. My mom was making assumptions about things my brother or I were saying. I expressed how I viewed something, and she went on to make assumptions on what she believed I would say, but in reality, it was not how I felt and I would not have agreed with what she was claiming. This is a lesson to be learned: ask the other person what they think and come to understand holistically, instead of assuming what they would be thinking. And definitely, do not, state for them, what you think they will say based on your assumption. If your assumption is wrong, they will know that you do not understand them. When we feel we are not understood, we can’t feel accepted, and therefore, not connected. Acceptance must come before connection. When someone reveals something about themselves, they must be understood, accepted, and finally, connection will be made.

I want to address a few things I did well when it came to speaking and expressing myself. In this case, the noise from driving on the freeway didn’t allow the listener to be clearly present in the conversation. It’s best to vary our tone of voice, the volume of our speech (at times, speak softer and at other times, speak with more emphasis; this is something my friend does really well when expressing himself), and the rhythm and speed of our speech. These differences in voice tone, volume, and speed of our speech all communicate how we feel. In times of intimate, quiet discussion, a soft, quieter, and slower speech is what naturally occurs, due to the lower energy level. When speaking, it’s also best to enunciate our speech. To speak clearly, place your hands above your waist, express what you want to say, and naturally allow your hand gestures to flow. I know it also helps for me to briefly close my eyes when speaking to get the right words out. Avoid using filler words such as, “like, uummm, you know”, to fill the gap in between our speech. While thinking about the proper word choice to express ourselves with, by not using filler words, our communication will seem much more eloquent.  

Two thirds into the drive to SF, we began to bicker more than discuss, the love we get from family and how that compares to the love we get from close friends. From our discussion, it’s clear to me that spending time away from each other is necessary in a relationship to prevent feeling fatigued from seeing each other. We may not all admit it initially, but for me, when I see the same people every day, deep down, there’s a part of me that is tired of them, and needs time away from them. Unfortunately, family members see each other every day. That’s part of what a family is. The more time we spend with each other without time spent away, will eventually accumulate and manifest itself into an inner desire to get away. It’s absolutely nothing personal about the individuals. I care about my family members deep down, but with many families, the love is shown through constant worrisome behavior, usually shown by the Mom. Brothers and Sisters bicker many times, so that only leaves Dad who I don’t feel the inner desire to have as much away time from since I don’t see him too much. And with the majority of families, they are all dysfunctional. We treat friends much better than we treat family because we don’t see them as often. Therefore, time spent connecting with them is valuable and important to us. At the same time, it’s partly because we spend time away from friends, so that we desire and value the times when we are together. I guess too much of anything, truly becomes overbearing.    

Monday, March 26, 2012

Creating a Safe Environment to Talk

Something interesting has just happened. I had briefly told my mom, “I bet you were wondering what I was doing in the backyard yesterday by myself” and she proceeded to ask what I was writing about. She knows I keep a journal of my thoughts and feelings. Right after she asked, I felt a hesitation to tell her, and I’m curious to know why I felt that way. I also want to know what I can do about it for future situations where I try to bring conversations deeper with other people.
This article relates to a previous article, but this one is slightly different. Creating a safe environment for another person to express themselves emotionally is very important. It is a must, to bring the conversation and relationship deeper. What constitutes a safe environment? I know for me just when my mom asked me what I had written about, I was hesitant, because deep down, I wasn’t sure how she was going to react to it. This is one that is huge. The person telling someone personal about themselves needs to know the listener will accept them for who they are without any negative retribution. This means the revealer needs to know they won’t be teased even in the slightest manner, especially in the very beginning of attempting to take it deeper, in the relationship. How can the listener show the revealer that what they say will be accepted and free of judgment and teasing? The only way is to have that reputation of being someone who is nonjudgmental, accepting, respectful, and understanding of everyone, no matter who they are. This means, in prior conversations, they have to feel like this is a person they can trust and tell things about. So initially in the relationship, or as new start for when the next time we meet them, we to convey through our voice tone and body language that we are accepting of them. This means open body language, an appropriate amount of soft eye contact (avoid giving them the feeling that you are trying to stare them down), and with your voice tone, speak more gently and softly. Inside, genuinely feel what they are feeling, that way our voice tone will naturally express understanding and acceptance.

Demonstrating to other person that they can trust us is absolutely crucial when we ask them slightly more personal questions about themselves. Again, I believe we have to start slightly deep and gradually go deeper and deeper from there. It all depends on the atmosphere of the conversation. If the atmosphere is one of depth already, it’s not necessary to start light again. If it’s not deep yet, it would be difficult for the other person to jump straight into a question with lots of depth. But when we ask them a question that slowly helps us understand who they are as a person, we must, show them that no matter what their answer is, we will be free of judgment, understanding, accepting, and respectful of them. This means absolutely no teasing in word choice or voice tone. Starting with slightly deep questions, asking out of genuine curiosity, listening actively, showing them that we respect them and accept them, and really allowing them to express who they are to you is the crucial first step to go deeper in the relationship. That is why before we plan to take a relationship deeper, we should not be teasing other people. Imagine seeing someone who is loud, talkative, and slightly condescending through his jokes and attitude. Are you going to feel safe revealing yourself to him? No, you won’t. You will keep the conversation to surface level and will try to end the conversation as soon as you can. Compare that to someone who is curious, understanding, and accepting of others. That is why if we ever find ourselves joking around a lot and teasing, even in the most harmless manner, know that in the back of our minds, that we are destroying the chance of taking the conversation deeper. This is not to say you can’t ever joke, but it does mean, avoiding any cheap-shot jokes, insulting jokes, and anything that may be perceived as competitive, indirect-insulting banter. We can laugh by all means, but laughing at the expense of lowering the other person’s social status kills the opportunity of taking the conversation deeper because we have made it unsafe for them to reveal themselves.

 It all depends on the familiarity, level of comfort, and trust between each individual towards each other. With my mom, we had never talked about anything of real depth before, so suddenly wanting me to reveal something relatively personal about myself did not make me feel too comfortable. My thought was, “you don’t normally ask about my life besides academics, so why do you suddenly want to know about what I write in my journal? And my journal contains the deepest, most personal things about me.” In my mind, it went from superficial topics about my grades and classes to suddenly, “I want to know the most personal things about you.” It felt scary and felt unsafe. I answered with an answer that did not yield any further questioning. Another reason did not feel too safe was because my mom tends to react in a voice tone that conveys worry. Although I can understand why she may worry, as what moms tend to do, it does not make me feel safe to reveal myself without her trying to probe more and more only to answer in a more worrisome tone. The main problem is that I can feel that she was asking out of worry than out of genuine curiosity. Worry can be perceived as a form of curiosity, but it has a negative feeling attached to it. When we convey that worry tone of voice, the listener can feel it, and in turn, feel unsafe to talk further because the revealer won’t know if the listener will react in an unaccepting, judgmental manner. Again, we can see how important it is to convey to the revealer through our voice tone that we are accepting and nonjudgmental of them.

Being nonjudgmental requires a pause and response mechanism when reacting to the revealer’s response to a question. If we react without the pause, we may convey with our tone of voice and facial expressions a form of judgment without even verbally responding to what they said. Remember yourself the last time when you were in a joking, teasing mindset, and before the person had even finished talking, you had already decided in your mind how you were going to react? Exclamation responses of, “Oh wow, are you serious?! You’re joking right?”, all happen because we were in a teasing mindset, hence judging them. Before they had finished responding, we could feel that urge to burst out laughing. Teasing can seem fun when it’s not us being teased, but it kills the safety in the conversation for the one being teased. Therefore, I suggest we should pause, really hear out what they are saying, and using curiosity, lead them deeper.  

Another reason I didn’t feel comfortable revealing what I was writing about to my mom was the lack of safety in the conversation from my brother and sister being in the room next to us. More introverted individuals are not likely to tell people personal details about themselves when there are other people nearby who can potentially here the conversation. Again, it’s a loss of safety. We can’t guarantee that the people who overhear the conversation will react in an accepting and understanding manner. As an introvert, I am sensitive to having people overhear conversations of more personal detail. I’ve read that more extroverted individuals don’t mind sharing more personal details about themselves out loud in situations where there is less privacy. That is why I stated one on one conversation in a quiet place, without major distractions, is absolutely necessary to take a conversation deep.

From analyzing why I felt hesitant to express what I wrote about, I’ve learned a few things from the mistakes my mom made. One, her worried voice tone conveyed an unsafe feeling to me as I felt like she might react negatively. Lesson learned: use a calm and genuinely curious tone of voice. Two, my relationship with my mom has showed me that she tends to react in a judging manner. She may be trying to understand, but the words she’s used and worried voice tone she’s used comes across as judging and not completely accepting. Lesson learned: avoid teasing and laughing at others as that destroys the safety in the conversation. Laughing with others is fine when it doesn’t lower anyone’s social status. Showing others through your voice tone and body language that you understand them, accept them for what they are saying, and you aren’t going to judge them is crucial. Remember to use the pause and response mechanism to avoid reacting negatively if you find yourself in a judging type of mindset. The mindset to adopt is, no matter who you are, and what you’ve done, I will learn and hence understand where you are coming from and your point of view. The fact is that people view things due to the way they feel about them. People don’t view things based on the logic. Feelings always have a basis for its development. People don’t feel depressed out of nowhere- unless it’s purely a chemical problem in the brain. Find out why they feel that way and then it’s easy to understand their viewpoint. Plus, when we learn about why they feel a particular way, we can come to accept them for it as we can empathize with what they’ve been through. Three: having a private one on one conversation is a must to allow more safety to be felt in the conversation. 

To conclude, I’m going to mention some other necessities to allow for safety in conversations. So to continue from the previous list, here’s number four: Both sides must realize deep down that each person has the same common purpose in the conversation- to spend time with each other, to learn about each other, and to connect. People have to feel like there is no specific agenda of the other person. We become suspicious when we feel that the other person is trying to get us to help them with their financial trouble. We then feel like they aren’t in the conversation to actually get to know us and we begin to judge their character and inner motives. Five: we have to show genuine care and interest in their well-being. We show them that we aren’t trying to get them to do something for us, besides social needs of course, so that’s good. But what if they don’t show us any interest and care for us? They aren’t in the conversation for us, but for themselves socially. No relationship will last when it’s a completely one-sided interest. Six: Common respect is crucial and never act condescending to others. People who aren’t respectful of others are seen as condescending pricks who think they are above everyone. Even if the person taking the insult doesn’t seem to care, deep down, they will resent us for acting superior to them.

Seven: Listen attentively, show present minded focus on the person who is talking, and don’t interrupt. I have a friend who will say, “oh, I’m sorry, what were you going to say?” when he accidently interrupts. It shows respect and deeper down, it communicates, “What you have to say is important, so I’m going to do you the honor of listening to you and allowing you to fully express what you feel.” When someone interrupts, they are saying that what you have to say isn’t as important as his own. They are impatient as they feel like they have to blurt out their own thinking before they forget it, and interrupting can be seen as a general disregard for common courtesy. No matter how painfully slow it may be to listen to a person get their thoughts out, as it can be when they do not know how to express themselves, we need to give them the patience that they probably do not experience in their own lives, and we can show ourselves to be the better by not interrupting.          

Eight: avoid criticism. I don’t believe I need to explain this one any further. Nine: Drop the pretenses and be real with other people. Tell people what you really think and feel and don’t try to hide something up with half truths or a clever phrase. I need to work on this one. Ten: avoid gossip and rumors. This is a tough one but it needs to be done. Gossip and rumors feed drama and energy to the conversation. It may be funny to laugh at people when they don’t know we are talking bad about them, and it makes us feel better about ourselves, but if we could talk about ideas and possibilities related to those people and dramas, we become better people. I believe in talking good about other people, and for those people we may dislike in our lives, talk about how you feel about them, but avoid having gossip and bad-mouthing others be the main staple of the conversation. I don’t judge people who talk gossip because I know how tempting it can be. For me, I’ve been taught since an early age to not do something to someone else, what I don’t want done to myself.

Lastly, number eleven: treat everyone as if they are the most important person in the room. This shows genuine curiosity for other people and it will really get them talking about themselves. Even for those who may be silent and barely speak their minds, when shown a genuine amount of curiosity, they will talk on and on about their own lives, their past, what they think and feel intimately, the dreams and fears they have, and brilliant insights they have to things they think a lot about. I know so because I am one of them.

A lot of these are really just basic communication skills, but many times, with many things in life, it’s the basics we need to get back to. Dropping the pretense and being 100% genuine with my more intimate thoughts and feelings is one I need to work on. I have just sat here for more than two and a half hours writing this and I even after so much writing, I still don’t feel like I’ve done enough justice to my thoughts and feelings towards expressing how I feel about creating that safe environment for deeper conversation. I’m just trying to learn all I can to develop those deeper relationships. Perhaps all these writings I’ve done will really pay off one day in ways I can’t imagine. Until that day comes, work hard and stay true to who you are Michael, and everything will take care of itself.       

"When the Heart of this Star-Crossed Voyager Beats in Time with Yours"

I’m sitting in my backyard. It’s officially 10:39 pm of Sunday; March 25, 2012. The sky is no longer cloudy as I can see the stars. It’s absolutely quiet out here and it’s a bit cold as I can see my breath when I exhale with the dim light provided by my laptop screen. As I am writing these words, my ear buds are in and I am listening to one of my favorite songs. I have never taken the time to officially rank my favorite songs, but if I did, this song would be on the top of my favorites. I had a unique thought that came to me as I was walking my dog, Lucky, with my brother through our suburban neighborhood earlier. It was a thought, a desire of wanting to sit under the stars, listening to songs and soundtrack from the Lion King, gazing up at the stars every once in a while, being present in the beauty of the moment, and writing an article on how I feel about one of my most beloved songs of all time. As I’ve said, it’s a song from The Lion King, and if you’ve read my previous articles so far and the title of this article, you probably know what it is. 

                                 Can You Feel the Love Tonight by Elton John. 
This is the song that changed my life. It feels weird for me to say it, even as I imagine myself telling this to the people closest to me. As a guy, I feel like I’m not supposed to love this song. We listen to songs because of the way they make us feel no doubt. It’s strange to think that it was also due to talking with a friend that I mentioned in my last post, that made it extremely clear what it is I love about this song. I know I’ve listened to this song in high school, junior year, once every few months or so as it was in my YouTube favorites at the time already. I knew I liked the song, but back then it did not impact me the way it did after I saw The Lion King last October (2011) in 3d for the first time since I was a kid. As a Kid, when I watched the Can you feel the love tonight scene with Simba and Nala reuniting, I didn’t think much of it. I felt like they were happy and in love, and I did not really know what true love felt like. I certainly did not think that the feeling of love could be duplicated for close friends as I’ll explain. Watching it at age 19 made me look and feel about The Lion King in a completely different way. I feel much more able to connect with the emotions of The Lion King than when I watched the movie as a kid on VHS. 

The climax of my new found awareness of the emotions in the movie came during the CYTFLT scene in the movie. Nala’s piercingly beautiful eyes as she lowered her jaw and looked at Simba suggestively implied in my mind of being sexually aroused and swept away in the moment. It was a sexual turn on for me to be very honest. I felt those emotions of Simba and Nala reuniting after not seeing each other for a long time, and with the reunion came those feelings of childhood love they had for each other as cubs, and now with the song playing in the background, I felt their love for each other and the sexual tension in the air. The music, lyrics, and sexual tension of the moment, all accumulated to create that romantic moment. On a brief side note, I find it extremely interesting how the creators built up the sexual tension in that scene. I may very well write my observations on that soon. 

 What is CYFTLT about? And what does it make us feel? Many people would say it’s about romance. For someone just thinking about the concept of romance, it may seem like a vague loving feeling we can’t put our fingers on. Is romance the love between two people who feel they were brought together by fate mixed with the emotion of finding each other sexually attractive? That seems like a reasonable description. For me, CYFTLT song sung by Elton John, is the ultimate song that expresses and represents the feeling of true love for another, regardless of their gender. It is not specifically about romance, although love is huge component of romance. This is one of the few songs out there that I will listen to for hours on end. I want to remind myself and others that may be reading this, my definition of love. It has nothing to do with hormone levels after puberty and a desire to have sex. Romance only happens between a man and a woman. But romance and close friendships have one huge similarity, and one difference. Romance is a combination of feeling a deep emotional connection with someone and having sexual attraction towards each other. As an extra, having that sexual chemistry and sexual tension in the relationship spices up the romance. As I deducted from my last article, true love for another person, regardless of gender, is achieved when we genuinely connect with them on an emotionally deep level, and is usually felt when connecting on a vulnerable emotion. It’s during these moments, where nothing else matters, but connecting with each other, that it seems like the surroundings and quiet neighborhood merely are the extras of a movie scene put into place perfectly to make that special moment happen. That’s true love. And as anyone can see, gender is really irrelevant to making that happen. The only difference between romance and the relationship between really close friends is obviously the sexual interest, and the sexual chemistry in the relationship. I would even argue that the feeling of romance can happen in an opposite sex relationship without needing much sexual chemistry present. If we connect with someone on such a deep, emotional level, it may not even matter if there is flirting and sexual tension for that moment and feeling of fate to happen. All you really need is that feeling of connection and being physically attracted to each other. 

Sexual chemistry in a relationship definitely increases the sexual feelings of romance and intensifies it to a certain degree, but the feeling of deep connection with another is still the most important to sustain romance. Would the feeling of romance still be present if the emotional connection was weak and the two of you were merely sexually turned on by each other? I think most people would agree with me that the answer would be no. That would merely be a one night stand with hot sex, but it’s no longer romance. Hence deep emotional connection is the ultimate and only necessary component to feeling true love or romance. I know for a fact because when I talk and connect with a close friend of mine, I feel exactly the same way I feel when I listen to CYFTLT. Sounds scary for those who don’t necessarily understand the difference between true love felt from deep connection with that of feelings of sexual arousal. It’s a big difference. Even for those people who don’t talk as deeply and intimately with their friends, the reason they even look for people to have friendships with is because they want to feel loved, connected, and happy. Now can we truly feel happy if we do not feel loved by anyone? No. No amount of money in the world or promotions at work can replace that feeling of love. It’s just that some of us desire a deeper level of love.

And unfortunately, not everyone who subconsciously desires deep, meaningful, intimate relationships realizes it consciously, as I was definitely one. Looking for connection after watching The Lion King 3d in theaters, I went to YouTube and rewatched the Can You Feel The Love Tonight scenes over and over again. Then as I scrolled down and read one of the comments for the video I have posted several paragraphs above, and I immediately connected with one comment even more than with the others. I felt so connected to what the commenter was saying I later copy and pasted the comment onto my YouTube channel’s comment section as a reminder of how I felt that day and the truism of the comment. This is what user Godzilla00X said, “i love this scene but it always makes me feel so forever alone”. For some reason I could completely understand what the user was feeling. At the time I didn’t know why I felt like a song that made us feel love, made us feel so alone. My theory is that after listening and feeling the love from the song, I ended up feeling empty because the feeling of love was gone after the song ended. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way as the comment received multiple thumbs up.     

Deeply discussing, truly understanding, feeling a vulnerable emotion, and connecting on that feeling with someone is felt the strongest the very first time. This is not to say that the feeling of connection and love wanes, because it’s still a very strong feeling of love. That night, as described in my last post, where I deeply connected with my friend, was life-changing to the point where more than a year since that happened, my memory of that night is still clear in my mind. When I truly connect with someone for the first time, I really do feel grateful to have the opportunity to connect so deeply with another. I truly appreciate the emotionally deep friendship I have as this friendship has helped me realize the type of friendships and romantic relationships I want in life.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Paradox of Pain in Our Lives and Its Relationship to Happiness

As I listen to Josh Groban's "Remember Me" featuring the movie Troy, there has been an interesting thought, a paradox, that has been swirling in my mind here and there for a couple weeks now. It’s the paradox of experiencing emotional pain in our lives and its relationship with happiness. I think for many people, happiness can be found through a few different ways. Happiness can be felt through feeling the love of another person when we connect with them. My friend made a good point that happiness is completely momentary and happiness is experienced when we are completely in the moment experiencing something pleasurable. It can also be felt in anticipation to something with a pleasurable reward. To put it simply, any pleasurable feeling can be equated to happiness. Pleasurable feelings are temporary so happiness is also transient. What I want to delve into specifically is the relationship of pain in our lives to that of the feeling of connection with another person, which then equates to love, and then happiness.

It’s no doubt that we all have pain in our lives. Whether we tell people or not is another thing. Everyone, although to different degrees, experiences feelings of hurt, loneliness, feeling left out, lost in the world, lost in life, worry, fear of our lives going downhill, regret, envy, and to put it simply, emotional pain. These things in our lives, they cause us pain and stress, and when we are in the midst of our own world, and feeling the pain in its varieties and degrees, we feel like our lives are worse than everyone else’s. We know intellectually that some people have got it worse than us. We know there are people starving everyday in third world countries, children too poor to see a doctor and as a result suffer through the chronic pain of diseases and illnesses. We know that in the back of our minds, but in these moments of despair, we feel our lives are at such a down point that our judgment and view of life heads for the worst. Many times I keep these feelings to myself. I have never fully expressed to people face to face the things that bother me deep down. There are many reasons for that, as I wrote about in my last article. For the majority of my 19 year life so far, I have never considered telling other people when I’ve felt down, hurt, or when things were going bad and still did not tell anyone. By looking at it from the perspective of having a chance of people laughing, rejecting you, humiliating you, teasing you for things that bother you, it may very well seem reasonable to keep our painful emotions and past to ourselves.

It wasn’t until over the past year that I gradually came to realize that showing vulnerability and expressing the things that bother us can actually do great benefit for us. It very first started over a year ago, as I am writing this. I don’t know the exact date, but it was the beginning of a new era where I would gradually learn and understand the power of vulnerability.
Small update here (put in as of 1:07 AM of Sunday; May 13, 2012; officially five days left before my last two finals on Thursday and the start of summer after sophomore year of college): I was sifting through my old emails when i found the date of this night. We were planning to surprise my friend on Sunday afternoon with a cake. It was Saturday night (March 19, 2011) into early Sunday morning (March 20, 2011).   

My brother, my friend, and I were at a friend’s house. I believe we had just watched a movie and we were talking in the car as we drove back to our friend’s house. When we arrived outside his spacious two story house, we parked on the curb and we talked inside the car. About 10 to 15 minutes into talking, our friend’s mom opened the door and waived, signaling us to come in. It was late at night, and we did not want to talk inside their house because my friend’s brother was asleep. Not wanting to seem rude, and feeling like our friend’s mom was worried we were up to something in the car late at night (maybe she thought we were doing drugs?), we went in and talked quietly in the living room. We were discussing our plan to surprise another friend of ours the next day as he was turning 19. We were going to show up at his house, get him to answer the door, shoot him with Nerf guns, and give him a cake that we would buy. It was past 12:30 AM by this time, and we felt our friend’s mom was becoming a little irritated with us making noise late at night. We had finished our plan for our friend’s birthday surprise and feeling it was time to leave, my brother, my friend who drove the car, and I attempted to convince our friend to come back to the car with us. After several minutes of attempting to persuade him, he decided he would go to sleep. In hindsight, I’m glad he chose to head to sleep, because if it was the four of us in the car, our conversation might have strayed down a different topic. The three of us went back into the car to talk as it was drizzling outside. At the time, the friend I was with was taking the first step to take the relationship deeper, but I didn’t realize it at the time. We met each other senior year and we were only friendly acquaintances than good friends at the beginning of that night. This was after senior year had ended, and it might have been during the summer or a break during freshman year of college. I can’t remember exactly. There were few street lights, so the suburban street was dark, but we could still see. The rain drizzled lightly and the quiet neighborhood made it a perfect spot to develop what was about to happen over the next hour and a half. 

He proceeded to tell us the story of him and his ex-girlfriend, what had happened, how he felt about the whole situation, and how his diagnosis of epilepsy affected him, his life, and his relationship at the time. Needless to say, he told us his story of pain, frustration, loss, and feeling a sense of nothing going right at the time. I was captivated by his story, and could feel the emotions he was experiencing as he told his story. We weren’t done talking about the topic. I could tell that we could have talked for hours more about it, but when I finally looked up at my phone to see the time, it was close to three in the morning. Initially when he asked if he had told my brother and I about the story of him and his ex-girlfriend before, I thought to myself and I was genuinely curious. I didn’t know he was going to be expressing the deeper more vulnerable side of him, but no one had ever told me about a story of their own relationship- perhaps it was because talking about girls just made me feel my own inadequacy of not meeting up to society’s image of teenage life and girls. Deep down, I wasn’t too comfortable talking about myself and girls, however that’s not to say that I didn’t want to talk about it though. I know that sounds a little contradictory. I was afraid of having other people find out I had never had a relationship with a girl and that was inadequate in something important for people that age. I was curious at times, which girls my friends liked, but the topic was never brought up, and I didn’t want to take the initiative. So when this friendly acquaintance, who I was decently comfortable with at the time, asked if he had told us his story about his relationship, I was open to it. About half way through his story where he began to tell us about the pains he felt about himself, his life, and the relationship, I gradually began to feel connected with him. It wasn’t a superficial connection based on having similar interests, hobbies, and classes. It was an emotional connection based on feeling like life wasn’t going right, and that life was full of pain and despair. It was an emotion I could really connect with subconsciously and in my own life. Even if I tried to not feel connected and empathize with how he felt, I don’t think it would have been possible. I truly don’t believe the English language could do enough justice to the depth of connection I felt towards the feelings he was expressing.

To think about it, it’s amazing how fast I connected with him. Over a span of an hour and thirty minutes of conversation, I knew this friendship was one of a kind. It was going to be different than most of the superficial friendships I had had before. In a way, I have felt a deep connection and intimacy with my friend over the year after that night. We constantly discuss about our more inner thoughts and feelings. I’ve learned about the power of connection through vulnerability. It’s absolutely ironic that it’s the things in life that have caused us pain, that have bothered us, and made us flawed and not perfect humans, that are the things that will connect us with another human being on such an emotionally deep level. Of course this has to do with the person listening to the story as well. There are a few people out there who lack empathy. Scientists have linked the ability to feel empathy, remorse, and regret to a certain gene that some people lack.

It was through expressing his vulnerability, and a painful time in his life that I’ve felt such a deep connection with another human being. It comes to the point where it’s scary to think how much love and affection I’ve gotten from this friendship. I want to keep it very clear to the few people that may be reading this. I do not have any sexual feelings towards my friends. I am not at all sexually turned on by males. Developing an authentic feeling of caring about someone else’s well-being, understanding, and empathizing with where they are coming from in life is what I mean by love. It was through a genuine, human, emotional connection that I felt love. 

This has gotten me to realize that, it’s through experiencing times of trials and tribulations and feeling emotional pain in areas of our lives that can lead to deep connection with another human being. This then begs the question, what happens if our lives are absolutely perfect? I am not going to discuss whether our lives will ever be perfect because I don’t think our lives will ever be perfect. It’s in our nature to adapt, and even the most pleasurable feeling wanes and loses its potency. Therefore it makes this question a little pointless in discussing, but let’s see where it leads. If our lives are perfect, and we feel no pain and negative emotions in our lives, can we still feel that deep level of connection with another human being? If the needs in our lives are all taken care of automatically, can we still feel love and that deeper level connection? I would argue no. Even if someday in the future, if we can feel no negative emotions, we may be able to feel euphoria forever. If euphoria is permanent, we won’t feel love. Euphoria is that feeling of “nothing in my life bothers me, I truly feel not bothered by anything”. Perhaps in the future we will feel ecstasy permanently instead of euphoria. What will we have become? People who won’t care about anything, because everything already feels awesome. Drug tolerance will build, but even if scientists are able to find a way to shortcut that, our society and lives will change drastically. Pain in our lives is not only what makes us human and not robots, but it allows us to feel that deep connection and love for someone when expressed properly. Therefore I think the pain in our lives allows us to feel love, and hence happiness. Perhaps we should truly be grateful for our problems. In a way, it’s a cruel irony. We must feel pain and suffer to feel love. Perhaps that also makes sense why the most touching and emotional songs people love to listen to also have an element of sadness or pain to them. Songs about ecstasy or euphoria are rarely listened to. If we talk with someone who is very successful in his career, and if we are successful as well, we can connect on that. But how deep is that connection? Compare that connection to one felt when you really understand and feel for your friend when he is telling you how he feels despair and anguish about something. The depth of connection to a story about pain is levels deeper than that of a story about success.

I now intellectually view people who act successful and always happy as a mere cover up for their more vulnerable and sensitive side. The way I see it, even the most successful person will experience areas of pain in their life. Being at the very top of what you do can be stressful. They will be constantly worried to stay on top. They know other people secretly envy them and hold remorse against them for their success, and successful people may feel lonely at the top as few people can understand what it’s like to be incredibly successful, and thus leading to loneliness. This is not to say that this is true for all successful people, but this is only to present a new side to those who believe success leads to true happiness. Happiness can only be found through love for another human being. Again, the love I talk about is not relevant to the love of finding your partner in life. Anticipation and excitement can temporarily make us feel happiness, but only deep connection with another human being, the love we get from them, and the memories we have with them, can last a lifetime.  


Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to Take a Conversation Deep

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed that help take a conversation deeper. These are my observations from conversing with a good friend of mine in which we constantly delve into deeper conversation.

1. As with most conversations, begin with small talk to get a feel of their current feelings and catch up to see if there are any major events in their life. Begin to probe for areas in the conversation that have more emotional substance. By listening actively and being genuinely curious in what they are saying, begin to ask questions that will yield more emotions, feelings, and thoughts. The real meat of the conversation begins here. To take it even deeper, delve appropriately based on the flow of the conversation for more personal and private thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are ones that have an element of vulnerability in them. These are personal thoughts and feelings that will make us seem less than perfect. These private feelings we reveal will express pain in areas of our lives. It is these intimate thoughts and feelings that others can connect with so well that allow connection to be built easily and deeply. Revealing something that has been bothering us, something that we are afraid of, something that made us feel embarrassed, angry, or hurt can all count as being vulnerable in a relationship.

2. The environment needs to be one that is quiet with no visual, auditory, or physical distraction. So for example, conversing with a friend one on one while shooting hoops presents a source of distraction for both people. Deep level conversation requires concentrating on talking and listening to each other. If we are in a loud place, this destroys all chance of going deep. We can’t talk and learn about the other person if we are having trouble hearing each other. Also, if we are having a conversation in a car in a nice quiet place but there are flashing lights outside, we are going to be distracted as well. Having a comfortable, quiet place with no distractions except having a conversation is absolutely essential to take a conversation deep. This is all the more true because when conversations delve into personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions, there may be some anxiety going on. I have noticed this to be true for myself. Many times when I reveal something more personal or vulnerable about myself, I become a bit anxious. This doesn’t mean I do not want to take the conversation deeper. However this may not be true for all people though. So just remember that nervousness in a conversation from going deep does not mean the other person does not want to go deeper. Nor does it necessarily indicate the person does want to. They may be a little bit too scared at times, which can be observed through their body language and voice tone, so the thing to do then is the bring the conversation slightly lighter by laughing a bit. Laughing releases the social tension that may be there. It does not need to be something funny for the both of you to smile and laugh when conversations go deep and anxiety is present. When there is anxiety, even statements not meant to be funny can induce laughter.

3. I may have briefly mentioned this one in a previous bullet point, but this one is quite important. For me, one on one interaction is absolutely necessary to take a conversation deeper. My twin and I have a friend who we delve into deep conversation with, and although on the surface my brother and I may seem similar, deeper down we both have our own independent thoughts and feelings. However, many times I feel we are viewed as one, that, what I say and feel is assumed to be true for my brother and vice versa. When we talk, we aren’t so much three people conversing, but more two people conversing. If I did not know the third person as well, going deep would be more difficult. It is the trust factor playing here. If I do not know the third person comfortably, I would feel quite hesitant to share my more personal thoughts and feelings. We would all need to feel that we can trust each other when sharing our thoughts in order for deeper level conversation to be achieved. Also, all three people need to desire taking the conversation deeper. With three people, it can be harder to direct the conversation especially if the third person continuously cracks jokes, changes the topic, and thereby influencing the conversation to be lighter. With one on one interaction, I can direct the conversation without having another person redirecting. Even if the third person enjoys deeper conversation, they may ask more fact based questions than emotion filled questions. They might not know they are unintentionally redirecting the conversation away from as much potential depth. One on one conversations are easier to direct and have less chance for misdirection.

4. Asking the right questions is a must to bring the conversation deeper. Asking questions that will elicit personal thoughts, feelings, emotions, and stories are necessary while asking questions to get the facts are not as important. Girls tend to do this naturally whereas guys tend to care more about the facts of the story. This is a reason girls tend to have more close friendships than that of guys. Keeping in mind a few power questions is always handy. Power questions are questions that require more thinking. They require the person to spend a certain amount of time in introspection, which is another reason why introverts are better able to go deep, and they are questions that elicit personal thoughts and feelings. I have a list and a few books that are filled with terrific power questions that will elicit interesting, deep conversation; I may post that list onto my blog soon.

5. Vulnerability. It is a must to develop intimacy. Lack of vulnerability can stem from fear of intimacy. Intimacy is a deep emotional connection formed by taking the time to share our personal thoughts and feelings, the areas of pain in our lives and understanding and empathizing with the feelings of others when they express emotional hurt. Courtesy to for my definition. My definition of intimacy matches the definition women tend to have for intimacy. I feel a certain amount of embarrassment for how much I love intimacy. I guess I’m afraid people won’t understand and I would be subject to ridicule. While imparting something in your life that is painful, you must, must convey with your voice tone and body language that you are telling them something personal about yourself because you like and trust them. You are not looking for their help, nor do you want their help. You want to tell them something about yourself that not many people know because you feel you guys have something special going here. You must convey with your voice tone and body language that you are not going to suffocate them with neediness and insecure behavior when you tell them something about your past that may have caused you lots of pain. This is absolutely essential. If we act like we desperately NEED their help or are trying to get them to do something for us, they will run and do as much as they can to avoid us. Clingy and neediness will drive people away. Use a calm, quieter, softer tone of voice and speak slower when expressing your more inner feelings and thoughts. Open body language is best to show others that you want to talk about what’s at hand. Feel those more vulnerable feelings and let your voice tone and body language flow naturally.

6. Look for more introverted individuals to talk deeply with. Introverts tend to prefer and enjoy small, intimate get-togethers rather than parties. Introverts generally spend lots of time thinking and reflecting over their own lives, making intimate, deep discussions more likely. More introverted individuals also prefer depth to variety, so more introverted individuals love thinking deeply about things. All these reasons and more make introverted individuals the preference for having deep conversations with. However, here's the catch 22. The more introverted the person is, the more time they need to fully express themselves. My communication style often times revolves around listening and asking questions that will allow them to reveal their personal thoughts and feelings. However, I know for myself, who is an introvert, that I need time to warm up to get to the point where I can find the right words, become fully invested in the conversation topic, and fully express my thoughts and feelings. I believe this to be true for more introverted individuals. There is actually a scientific basis to support my belief. In “The Introvert Advantage”, the author delves into the differences in the brain between more introverted and extroverted individuals. Introverts require time to think over questions and come to terms with what they want to express and how they want to express it. This explains why introverts tend to be good writers. Writing gives us time to completely formulate how we want to word things and express ourselves. The main lesson here is that the more introverted individuals usually need time to warm up to be able to fully express what they want to express. Since I have not met a person who asks deeper level questions for me to the extent I feel I do for others, I know from my experience that when asked a relatively personal question, I’m thinking how to word it in the way I want it to sound and have my message be communicated in the most concise and eloquent manner. For me to feel like I’ve fully expressed my thoughts and feelings, it definitely takes the patience and time of someone who will ask deeper level questions without going back to talk about themselves right after asking. When a question is posed my way and I begin to answer the question (deeper level questions), I’m beginning to work to find the right way to express myself, and I often feel frustrated when someone asks me a deeper level question and resorts to talking about themselves after I give my initial and incompletely expressed answer.

It’s helpful to remember that when asking deeper level questions about other people, start simple. Weeks ago, I felt my friend made this mistake. I believe we shouldn’t ask, "What was your biggest challenge in high school?" right off the bat, especially if they were taking part as the listener and questioner for a while- remember that introverts need time to warm up to get their train of thought going. I think we should help them remember by leading their memory back. Ask instead, "which year of high school was toughest for you?" "How would you describe yourself?" and slowly probe deeper and deeper from there.

The way I see it, part of not being able to fully express myself is an inherited flaw in my communication style. Again, when I meet a friend one on one and we begin to delve into deeper topics, I listen, ask deeper questions that elicit more personal thoughts and emotions, and allow them to fully express what they want to say. The flaw is that now they are fully engaged and invested in the conversation. They feel the urge to express themselves and have the other person understand them. This means that occasionally they will pose a question your way out of genuine curiosity and perhaps also because they don’t want to seem like they are only invested in talking about themselves in the conversation. I want to show them that I enjoy and desire deeper conversation, so I reciprocate by being interested and curious about them. This usually results in the other person talking a lot about themselves, and I completely understand why that is. This is not to say that I don’t want them to fully express themselves. I love one on one conversations and delving into the mind of others. I want the other person to be able to fully express himself and for me to be able to empathize with what they are feeling. At the same time though, I desire to express myself, who I am, how I feel and think about things. I desire to have others understand and accept the more personal and intimate sides of me, but partly due to my own lack of initiative to talk about myself and communication style, many times I end up feeling frustrated. I need to find a balance.

There have been a few occasions where I’ve felt satisfied with what and how much I got to express of myself, and l know in hindsight that I also failed to ask the other person their thoughts and feelings on the topic. In those moments when I was completely expressing myself, I felt a powerful urge to be heard and understood. This is another reason I feel compelled to express myself in my blog. My blog allows me to think and fully express what I feel with complete focus. I require lots of focus when expressing myself and distractions throw my focus off course. This is another tendency of introverts according to “The Introvert Advantage”. It takes us a lot of energy to refocus back to our thoughts after being interrupted and brought to the surface from deep conversation. That is the flaw in my conversation style, but I think this style may be necessary to show the other person that I want to take the relationship and conversation deeper. If I don’t take the initiative to take the conversation deeper, with most people, they won’t bring it deeper themselves. I have a friend who freely shares his more personal thoughts and feelings. Our desire to have deeper level conversations allows us to transition into meaningful conversation without too much effort. I need to work on expressing my own personal thoughts and feelings more freely. To do that, I have found that I need to adopt a mindset of being curious, listen actively, ask questions that elicit emotions, personal details and stories about themselves, connect with what they are feeling, and reveal my own more personal thoughts and feelings related to the topic. The great thing about having this blog where I express my personal thoughts is that if a familiar topic arises, I can express how I feel and think about the topic through reading out loud the post I have already written. Many times my mindset is geared towards asking deeper questions and allowing them to express themselves. And while this is good when they are really expressing how they feel deeply about something, I may have to be a little more self interested. A good way to ensure this is to reveal your own personal thoughts and feelings about the topic every two or three questions that you pose. If you don’t do this, your mindset will be conditioned to keep asking and very little disclosure. It’s all conditioning. The more you ask and the less you talk about yourself, the more this style of communication will continue throughout the conversation. “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, while an object at rest tends to stay at rest.” Be interested in their life, make the topic something about them, but gradually reveal your personal thoughts on their thoughts and feelings and reveal your own personal thoughts and feelings of a time when you felt like that. I know that the revealing part is more difficult when they are talking a lot about themselves, so reading a post from your blog that relates to their situation will allow you to express your inner feelings deeply and without much interruption. I am currently thinking, when I read a post that relates to their situation, I should allow them to talk every so often about what they think and feel about what I’m reading to them, without having them wait all the way to the end of the article, since my articles tend to be quite long and they may forget their thoughts or insight that spontaneously comes into their mind. Perhaps every few paragraphs or wherever appropriate, I should let them talk about what they think and allow them to fully express what they think and feel about what I read. This way I don’t make the same mistake of talking all about myself until I feel done expressing myself completely and forget to address what they fully think about the topic.

If I haven’t previously blogged about their situation, and I have some things I want to express, reveal them and slowly up the ante. It does require making an effort to express yourself when you’ve made them to be the center of the conversation. You need to get that ball of vulnerability and expressiveness rolling into motion. You can ask a question to get their thoughts and express your side of the situation as well. For example, “what do you think about…because for myself, I feel that…”. It doesn’t have to be a huge insight, but talk about yourself as well. Don’t hide how you feel about something just because they didn’t ask. Take the initiative and assume that they want to know the same about you. They probably do but remember how we tend to forget to ask other’s opinions when we feel that urge to completely express ourselves? Remember again that the exception to this is when they are really expressing how they feel about something deep down that is/ was important to them and you want to help elicit the most emotions as possible. Then it would be a great idea to listen actively, ask deeper and deeper questions without butting in and talking about yourself.

I have noticed that when both sides really desire to express themselves, and there isn't that one person who will ask deeper questions, it tends to become an “Oh, I really have something to say about that!” conversation where depth is lost because both sides are trying to express how they feel deeply about something, at the same time. Neither side is fully listening to the other as both are in their heads. They are feeling a lot about the topic, they are lost in their heads both trying to express themselves fully, and they both feel that powerful urge to be understood. This almost always results in both sides feeling not completely expressed and understood. In my opinion, this type of relationship will begin to breed a certain amount of hidden resentment, as both sides feel the other person is only in the conversation for themselves. As both sides talk about themselves, the other person butts in and talks about themselves, thereby interrupting the train of thought of each other. It’s also funny to watch two people trying to talk louder than the other. This is why it is essential to be that person who will listen, ask deep questions, be patient and give time to allow the other person to completely express themselves, and then go on to express who you are and your own more intimate thoughts and feelings. I believe this method will work better for getting into deeper conversation because we need to allow each other to fully express themselves uninterrupted. This will allow them to feel understood and they will love you for it. Remember the last time when someone showed a genuine interest in who you are and you felt like they really got to understand you? Treating that person like they are the most important person in the room is the quickest way I know to make a friend. This is my own take on it and I can’t say if this is true for everybody.

I’m glad I’ve found what I want for myself at age 19. I’ve been searching for what I want to do with my life since junior year in high school. This is another step to getting me closer to developing the deeper relationships I desire in my life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Adventure vs Relationships or Adventure and Relationships?

As I look at the photo of a star filled sky in the African Serengeti on Picasa Web Albums, I feel a sense of intrigue, desire, and focus towards this picture. Intrigue because of the beautiful African sky and wild surroundings. Desire because there’s a fire burning inside me to experience moments of splendor with my whole body present, and to be sharing that moment with someone I feel close with. There is something about me that desires to be there in these quiet and serene moments in time, yet in the mist of the beauty, feel incredibly lonely and empty if I did not have anyone to share that moment with. It’s not the same to share that moment through a picture. I would enjoy looking up at the vast sky and my thoughts would run wild thinking, “Wow. It’s these moments that I live for, to be able to experience the absolute majestic wonder and beauty of nature.” I would think to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually here seeing this.” These would be my superficial thoughts. Deeper down, when I sit there by myself, alone to my thoughts undisturbed, my inner feelings would begin to come to the surface. Looking up at the sky, I would sigh, wishing I had someone I was emotionally close with to experience it with. My body would be flooded with a feeling of almost overwhelming loneliness. Even though I would be camping in the Serengeti, lying down and looking at the stars, I would not be able to enjoy it without having someone close to me to share it with.

Here I am imagining that I am on an adventure with one of National Geographic’s adventure trips. There would be other people present, people I don’t know. If I am there with no one I know, I would still feel lonely deep down. If I don’t have a close friend to go with, will having strangers around help alleviate my loneliness? Inside, I would feel a tad less lonely, but to be honest, it would depend on the type of people who are on the adventure with me. If the other group members are loud, noisy, typical 20 something year olds who you would imagine dominating in a bar, I would feel annoyed and irritated. It’s pretty obvious now, that I do not like very extroverted individuals who drink, are loud, rude, and only care about looking cool. I know as I am expressing this in a very teenage-minded viewpoint, particularly because I am still a teenager, and I feel many people of this generation are mindless, no good, immature individuals. Going on these prepackaged adventure trips, I will not be able to choose the type of people I will be with. I can only hope the people who go on these trips enjoy nature the way I do. I feel that these types of people are less likely to be the typical teenage-minded individuals. I know I tend to get along with introverted individuals better so when the occasion arises where I find myself embarking on these adventure trips with no one I know, perhaps I shall seek out the more introverted individuals for connection and share the moments with. I am thinking about this relatively early in my life. I still have a little more than two years in college before I can even start working and have the money to pay for these trips. Perhaps I am worrying too much and it’s not going to do me any good worrying. At the same time I feel like I need to know what I desire to do and do as much as I can to make it happen. Worrying is not a wasted emotion if we leverage it to help us prepare. It’s when we’ve prepared to the extent we can control, and we still worry to the point where it impacts our daily lives, that worrying becomes a wasted and damaging emotion.

I’ve digressed, but this brings me to another thought and worry I often have. It’s clear that I have a desire for adventure and deep, close relationships. Being a travel nurse will allow me to travel around the United States and possibly abroad, earn decent money, and have the time off between assignments to do whatever I want. However, travel nursing assignments are usually about 13 weeks. This poses the problem of not having much time to spend with those deeper friendships. It’s not that 3 months isn’t enough time to develop deep friendships, but deep friendships last much longer than three months. I imagine it would take a toll on me emotionally if I had to leave to a different place every three months and would have to leave behind the meager deep friendships I can develop in that time. It wouldn’t just take an emotional toll on me, but also for the few true friends I become close with. This is the ultimate quandary for me. If I choose travel nursing, I will be able to make decent money, travel, have time off to travel abroad, and live an adventurous life, but travel nursing might not be very compatible for me since I desire deeper relationships. Adventure is a deep desire of mine that is at the essence of who I am, but so are deep relationships. At times when I think about this, I feel heart-broken that I may have to choose between the two loves in my life. The ultimate win-win situation would be if I could have the deep relationships and adventure in my life.

Is it possible to have close friendships and experience adventure at the same time without having to give up either? It’s definitely possible, but to what extent will I be able to have both? With the potential travel nursing scenario, I would get to know more introverted individuals who also favor small, intimate gatherings as opposed to parties. To be able to meet up with them and get to know them on a deeper level will depend on my social skills and confidence. I know I don’t need many friends in my life. I am perfectly fine with only having one or two really close friends, and a few good acquaintances to talk small talk with here and there. Unfortunately I’m sure there will be challenges along the way to developing friendships, but this is something I will have to manage. I do worry about the prospect of having to leave someone I grow close to, especially if they do not have any other real friends. I believe this is all the more true with the majority of introverted individuals because we want and intensely value the few true friends we have. Whereas with more extroverted individuals, the type and level of friendships they desire can be made by going to a party and talking. For socially skilled and confident extroverts that love parties and loud, crowded places, their friends can become plentiful relatively fast no matter where they go. After thinking about this, I’m just going to have to get better at meeting people and seeking out friendships with more introverted people whom I get along with better. This isn’t to say that I should avoid all extroverts because there are extroverts who are really nice and happy whenever they see you- although that they seem happy around pretty much everybody. These are the extroverts I can tolerate, and like as people. The type of extroverts I want to avoid are those that are loud and use their social aptitude to behave arrogant and condescending towards others. Even if they don’t mean what they say, they still come across as being insulting and superior through their jokes. Unfortunately, these are also the assholes that seem to be naturally adept at attracting women.

In the future I think I need to be careful when it comes to attracting women. I desire attractive women and want to have an emotionally deep connection with them. It’s the attractive women I can develop a deep connection with that I want to have a lasting relationship with. Again, with the adventurous lifestyle I want to live, and being a Tom Leykis advocate in many ways, I can see how there is going to be a problem here. The only way I can imagine a lasting relationship that COULD work is if, she is attractive, we have a deep connection, she is pretty much financially independent, and she does not want kids. This is of course, what I ideally want. Many times people settle for something that they do not completely desire. I know the ideal type of relationship I want with women will be difficult to last. I hope I don’t get to the point where I am blinded by love and out of insecurity, to decide to marry her. I know intellectually that marriage benefits only women, and the relationship and sex are most likely going to go downhill after marriage. I need to keep an objective side in dating to avoid making decisions out of love or lust.

What’s the difference between a deep relationship with a close friend and that with a lover? Well, the only differences are sex and that your friend won’t cost you money. Maybe there will come a time in my life, perhaps older middle age when my libido slows down, that I will find that relationships with women just won’t be necessary. Having true friends gives me a lot of the love that I need. Women will only be needed for sex. I don’t want kids, and to be honest, I believe I would prefer having my own place to live as opposed to having a wife in the house badgering me after work about a list of chores I need to do because she’s too lazy to do them. It’s alright if my apartment is not up to any girl’s liking, as long as I’m fine with it. Again, the only things I want to out of a relationship with women are emotional connection and sex. I don’t know how many women out there would not want marriage after being in a relationship for a long time. That number is out of my control. I just hope my life will be under my control and not influenced by others. I truly desire that my goals of adventure and close relationships will be accomplished. Regret and loneliness are two of the worst feelings we can experience. Times may get tough, but deep down, I know my love for these two things will allow me to persist. I will, and must, find a way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Drop Your Ego and Embrace Your Flaws

Do humans prefer acting stuck up and insensitive to other's feelings over apologizing when we have hurt someone's feelings? This seems to be especially true between family members more than with friends. Why are we quicker to apologize to friends? Well, friendships are conditional. How we treat our friends is how we get treated back. If we treat them poorly, the relationship can potentially end. With family, regardless of age or living location, we have the familial obligation to visit on holidays and special occasions. We believe our family will always be there regardless of how we treat them. Therefore, we are more likely to mistreat, argue, and act unapologetic towards them. It's the scarcity principle that comes into play for any relationship. Unfortunately this is human nature.

Remember the last time you had an argument over something seemingly trivial and insignificant? For me, it was this past Saturday. My mom, sister, brother, and I had just left Costco. My brother bought a cake and my mom felt buying a cake undermined her attempts to help my dad lose weight. My dad is significantly overweight and my mom has been trying for years to get him to lose weight. I would certainly agree with her as my dad is jeopardizing his health. Here’s the thing though, my mom practices baking and decorating cakes at home. After she makes them, we all eat them. Some of us more than others. The cakes my mom makes are not as sweet as those bought outside, so they are healthier. Yet, my brother believes that if he should eat dessert, he’d rather devour the sweetest, tastiest, and therefore unhealthiest food. My brother says that the cake he buys is responsible for my dad’s weight gain, but since my mom makes cake herself and is thereby also contributing to my dad’s weight gain, he feels he has more righteousness to buy the cake. When it comes to buying or making cake, both sides are not helping my dad lose weight. But instead one side letting go and toning it down, both sides added more fuel to the fire by getting more emotional. As the argument continued, the more righteous side, my brother, pushed it too far. I don’t remember what he said exactly but we all felt it once we heard it. It was one of those situations where someone yells something out of anger, and immediately, we all recognize what was said was out of line. It had gone too far, and was hurtful to my mom.

Everyone in the car fell silent and my muscles tensed up as I felt the discomfort and tension in the air. My mom said very little to us for the rest of the day and even when she did, we could tell from her tone of voice that she was still fuming, ready to blow like a boiling tea pot. Instead of apologizing for saying something that hurt her feelings, my brother and I acted stuck up and insensitive. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel bad for what we said, but for some reason, it feels strange for me to say “I’m sorry” to someone in my family. With friends and acquaintances, I feel comfortable saying it, especially if I truly feel bad for doing or saying something that may have hurt their feelings- not that I have hurt many people’s feelings, at least to my knowledge. I guess the question is, why do I feel like I have a hard time to get myself to say “I’m sorry” to my mom or anyone in my family in particular? Perhaps it’s cause saying “I’m sorry” requires us to show one of the most caring and vulnerable emotions possible. A genuine apology requires us to be completely sincere. It requires us to show them that deep down we feel bad for something we did. There’s potential risk for rejection, we don’t know if our apology will be accepted. Fear comes into our mind if our apology goes unaccepted. In a way, we’ve put our heart out, our true feelings out, and the fear of the other person scolding us and judging us can be terrifying. In my past experience, when I’ve said “I’m sorry” to friends, it wasn’t something I was truly, deep down, whole heartedly sorry for. Those “I’m sorry” were more out of politeness and something you would say if you accidentally stepped on your friend’s toes.

To put it simply, I’ve never truly apologized for something I’ve felt bad about. It’s not easy to admit to ourselves that we can act insensitive, hurtful, and unapologetic during arguments. It takes someone truly special to leave his or her ego out of arguments. It’s rare to meet someone who will admit to the other party during a heated debate that what he or she said may be wrong. We put so much importance on who is right. During arguments, we all want to be right and to be completely honest, we want to destroy the other person’s argument. This is all the more true with arguments between family members as again, as previously stated, regardless of how bad we make our family feel, they are still family. At the end of the day though, would we rather be right, or have a happy relationship with that person? There are more important things than being right. So what if you are wrong? So what if you spoke out of emotions and not logic? Someone foiled your argument? No problem, you were wrong. It’s no big deal. It only becomes a big deal when we become emotionally involved. When we feel like we are emotionally invested in the debate, we have already lost. Even if we are right, our relationship is on the rocks, and the other person is going to do all they can to avoid looking like their argument was a complete joke. If we try to push it further to destroy their argument and humiliate them, they will resent us. After the heat of the moment, we may have destroyed a friendship or damaged a relationship, and days later, we think about how hurtful we acted.

With family, apology can be communicated nonverbally. Slowly beginning with small talk again, slowly standing closer to each other as opposed to giving each other wide berths. With friends, how are we going to show them that we are sorry if we are not living with them? The only way is to apologize. The question then is who is going to do it? Both sides are still angry with each other. It’s going to take someone who values relationships over being right. At the end of the day, the person who takes responsibility and shows humility to repair the relationship will be seen as the better person. Even the person who receives the apology will think that in the back of their minds. Now if the breakup of a relationship is truly a result of a one-sided affair and act of insensitivity, then that would be a different case. But how often is that truly the case? Most arguments ensue and destroy relationships because of both sides. We will have to be 100% honest with ourselves.

There is a saying that whichever feelings are not talked about, are acted out. Ever see yourself in this type of situation? You feel angry at someone so you slam the door extra hard as you walk out? Ever find yourself poking the airs out of someone’s tires because they hurt you in some way? Everyone’s engaged in this type of behavior one way or another. A situation related to this has just come to my mind. When I play a 5 on 5 basketball game every once in a while now, there is this guy that behaves a bit cocky towards me. I know in my mind that if I were to play him one on one and really tried, I would beat him with not much competition. I wonder to myself why he seems to care about beating me. My first reaction is one of arrogance. “He can try all he wants, he can’t beat me” is what I usually think to myself as I attempt to bolster my ego. However, next time when we are not in a competitive atmosphere, I could tell him personally that I understand where he is coming from. I believe that before I came along to their group to play basketball, he was one of the best players in his group. Perhaps he felt intruded and threatened that I was taking over the competition and dominating the games. I could think that, “oh that’s what competition is about, don’t be so soft, don’t care so much about that!” or I could say to him privately, “you know, I get the feeling that you really dislike losing. In the beginning when I first started playing with you guys, if you ever felt like I was being intrusive and ball-hogging these games, I’m sorry. I understand that you are one of the better players here and I suppose you might have felt a bit threatened when I started playing here so often. If I ever made you feel like that, I apologize.” Which one will better allow me to connect with him? The answer is obvious. Maybe I’m all wrong and that’s not how he felt at all. The latter response will still allow me to connect with him better as that will allow him to open up and talk about how he feels about it.

Anger truly is a manifestation of fear, frustration, or feeling hurt. If we can stay calm ourselves the next time we see someone reacting angrily, perhaps we can feel better towards them as we know that they are feeling hurt in some way. How vulnerable of an emotion is that? Hurt emotionally. Anger is someone hurting emotionally. Why is it that we react angrily when we are hurt emotionally? Anger tends to drive people away from us. Evolutionary speaking, wouldn’t anger work against us? I guess this question is beyond me. When we express we feel hurt in a calm manner we are expressing vulnerability. Vulnerability can be scary. I find myself feeling my heart beat when I disclose about my more personal self. It’s scary but vulnerability deepens our relationships. Ironic isn’t it? It’s the things in our lives that we feel the most pain in, the things that have bothered us in our lives that allows us to connect with another human being on such a deep level. Those who always appear strong, confident, flawless, and do not let other people know about their true feelings are depriving themselves of deep connection with others. Drop the ego, as hard as that may be. Flawless human beings do not exist. Embrace who you are and the pains you experience in your life, as these are keys to true and lasting relationships.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Life Goes On

As I am sitting here by myself in my room, listening to my favorite Tupac song, I am reminded of my junior year of high school, also known to me as the Tupac era. Life Goes On, I used to listen to this song for hours for days at a time as I did my homework. Thinking back now, more than two years has gone by since the end of junior year, and the inevitable question arises, what is it about Life Goes On that resonates with me? I have found that there are few songs out there that I will listen to over and over again. These are songs I’ll listen to for hours at a time. It’s the amazing power, the feeling we get when we listen to a song that we really connect with. Life Goes On is a song that most people can relate to, whether we’ve lost someone important to us in the past and/ or potentially in the future. The lyrics, “Be a lie, if I told you that I never thought of death” speaks to anyone who has or currently is going through some emotionally painful strife. The thought of, “why is my life like this?” “Why does it seem like my life is so hard, while others around me seem so happy?” This couldn’t be more evident for me throughout my career as a student. This is not to say that I have suffered more than other people; I believe everyone goes through times of difficulty throughout life but that some of us have had it tougher than others no doubt.

Junior year, the first thought that comes to me is a third person view of myself walking outside the classroom and slowly ambulating to my next class. My movements were slow and calculated. From how fast and long my strides were, to how fast I would move my head and blink my eyes. Deep down inside of me, I was trying to convey an attitude. On those cold mornings, my head was cloaked in a hoody or beanie to cover my head which was absent of hair as I had buzzed it all off. If you were to look at me from the side, my face would be hidden. Even if you were to see my face by walking in the opposite direction from me, you would see a face cold, devoid of emotion. A passer byer wouldn’t think twice about who I was. Deep down, I felt out of place. Almost like an invisible soul that would go from class to class not to make a sound. Boring, cold, stoic, not to be thought twice of about anything, are words I would describe myself with if I were an observer. Inside my head, thoughts of counting down the classes, wanting school to be over with as quick as possible, and fear of being seen as a loner troubled my mind. Feelings of being an outsider, loneliness, jealousy while not understanding why other people seemed to have people to talk to as they got out of every class, and fatigue from a life that felt as cold as the morning air. Brunch and tutorial were spent shooting hoops and playing basketball with people I only felt comfortable with due to familiarity of repetition. I knew their names, made small talk occasionally, but inside I felt distant from them. But then again, that’s what people call friends right? People they do activities with? At the time, I didn’t have the same depth of insight and understanding I do now of how I categorize people as friends. I didn’t talk to people during class, as I was mentally tired, as other people would be talking to their friends, and the thoughts and feelings racing through my mind didn’t help. I only had one true friend at the time that I would meet up with outside of school. There were people whose personality were compatible, and were good people, yet I didn’t take the initiative to get to know them outside of school. Why? Shyness, lack of social skills and confidence, introverted personality, and insecurity (the thought of “why do you need me to be your friend, don’t you have friends?” scenario played out in my mind). As I write this, I am reminded of a quote from the US special forces that goes, “In war, your mind is your greatest enemy”. In other words, “in times of fear and insecurity, your mind is your greatest enemy”. As much as I know that our brains operate to keep us alive and steer us clear of potential threats, it is beyond frustrating to know that your brain is working against your chances of success by creating irrational fears in your head. Your feelings scream loneliness because you see everyone else laughing and talking and you desire companionship, but your brain works against you. What a predicament shyness can cause.

Throughout junior year, I really began to question the purpose of my life. I wondered why my life felt empty. After 5th period, I was done with classes for the day while most other people had other classes. Not really having a solid group of friends, I didn’t stick around for lunch. I would walk home alone from school through the quiet neighborhood. Rainy days really emphasized how I felt. The clouds would be grey and dark. The clouds would be thick, not allowing any beams of sunlight through. With my hood on and slightly baggy clothes, I would look up at the sky and blow a sigh. I thought to myself many times, during these walks where I would have complete alone time, if this was all there was to life. I walked slowly, not rushing home as I had little to look forward to for rest of my day. I was glad I was out of school, but I didn’t have anything exciting to look forward to. I would be sitting at my desk for the majority of the rest of the day. I attempted to study and do homework, but my effort wasn’t there many times. My mind would be lost feeling a lack in life. This can’t be all there is to life, I thought to myself. Where did all the passion and excitement for life go? Doing a job I hated, was and still is one of my worst fears. Doing a job that won’t allow me to have the time to travel, go on adventures, and pursue the hobbies that excite me, only to take up all my time and freedom just isn’t what I want. People may say, that’s what life is. I can’t believe that. I can’t give in to believe that. I will not sentence myself to a life of working a job only to buy things I don’t need and to impress people that I don’t care about.

A minimalist’s life is what I need to live. Minimize my expenses. Spend only where necessary, save the rest for travel experiences, adventure traveling, and hobbies. Fuck new clothes, fuck expensive and cool-looking cars, fuck expensive tv’s and cable. I have wasted so much of my life studying and doing things that I do not enjoy. That part of me was nearly dead. That part of me to live a more exciting and adventurous life exploring the world and feeling that excitement and zest for life was on its last breaths. It was crying out to me every time I walked home alone by myself and alone to my thoughts and feelings. I will not live my life working and consuming unnecessary items. Save that money. Live on the bare minimum. Someday I’ll be able to do something that’s always intrigued me since I was a kid watching those nature shows. The beauty of nature, the whole wonder and mysterious draw of wanting to stand on top of a mountain. If I save, someday I’ll be able to do something so important that will make me scream out in joy, amazed at what my life has become. All this time growing up, society has told us that we want the American dream. Buy a big house, have your own car, two kids, and a full time job. Pardon my language, but fuck the American dream. That isn’t what my dream is. To anybody that desires the American dream, go for it. We’ve been conditioned our whole lives into thinking that dreams are a big house and a happy family. Dreams are not made of bigger houses, having a wife, and children. Houses are houses. If someone brags to me about how beautiful and large their house is, how great their marriage is, and how well their kids are doing, I find myself saying in my mind, “great, if that’s what you really want”. I find renovating houses to be a huge waste of money. It looks better, but are you really doing it for yourself? Or are you trying to brag about it to your so called friends? A house is still a house no matter how fancy it is. Novelty fades. That brand new car there, it looks good now, but give it several months. There’ll be a newer car. More beautiful and shiny, with better features. There is a saying by minimalists that whenever you buy something, be ready to live with the life of that object. When we buy something, we have to take it into our home, it becomes a part of our lives. We are taking on the life of another object into our world. Objects take up space in our homes. Electronics require power. Items need to be maintained. These all require more money. Not to mention that having more stuff causes distractions and stress. We have to constantly move things to get other stuff into the house. If we move, we have to take it with us. Over time, things may become of emotional value to us. Are you then just going to get rid of it? Or pay for a new place to keep that stuff? I could go on and on but the point is that nothing is free, even if it doesn’t cost anything. Whatever you bring into your home, be ready to deal with the life of that object, and the life you’re going to have to give up to own it.

I am not going to let a consumerist-based society stop me from my dreams of adventure and excitement. A dream is just a dream unless you do something about it. If we all stop spending our hard earned money on a perpetuating cycle of consumption, we will one day have enough money to do what’s important to us. Living that type of life where you are excited about your life is what I want. I’m not saying I want my life to be perfect, because it won’t ever be. Happiness is a temporary feeling and it can never last forever. Anyone whose goal is to live life happy without any periods of sadness or gloom is purely deluding themselves.

Make every cent you spend count for absolute necessities. Move to a smaller house or rent one that costs less. If you can, get rid of your car, and take public transportation. Save the rest for your dreams. You’ll have way more money saved up faster than you ever imagined.

This was my young life crisis. All these things I realized came over a couple years and I can only really say I’ve figured out what I want in my life since a few months ago. I’m at that age where people may say, you’re too young to know what you want in life. Things will change. Your thoughts and desires will change. Deep down, I know there’s a possibility for that. Maybe in the future I’ll be recanting all these statements I’ve made here. I just hope that whatever road my life leads down, at the end of the day, I can say I’ve really done all I can to live my dreams. Life after all is exactly how Helen Keller stated it, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Which one will you choose?