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remembering names

I write this (admittedly random) post as somewhat of a disclaimer, an apology, and a public service announcement. Everyone has those qualities about themselves that are of utmost annoyance. (Admit that you do.) For me, my inability to remember names really causes me a lot of grief, stress, and embarrassment. People laugh whenever I say to them, “It is so nice to meet you! I will try so hard to remember your name, but please forgive me if I don’t.” The truth is, nine times out of ten I do forget that person’s name and have to battle the shame and humility of asking again. This really isn’t a good quality to have. People like it when you remember their names, naturally, and it may come across as an insult if you don’t. This post isn’t a “I struggle with this but here are three things to do so you don’t”, because I haven’t figured out how to remember people’s names. If you know a way, please enlighten me.

Let me start by explaining why I don’t remember names. First and foremost, I feel that a name is somewhat meaningless and insignificant. I could meet you and say my name is Samantha and then proceed with every other accurate description of who I am without changing anything about who I really am. A name is a label, literally, and I don’t think labels are as important as the objects they describe. You could call my coffee “valendwarf” and I would still love it because I love the object of coffee, not the name that it holds. So when I meet someone, yes, their name is often the first fact I learn about them and often the first I forget. The other stuff, the good stuff, is what matters so much to me. I care more about a person’s interests, passions, ambitions, relationships, and every other aspect of their life way more than a name. SO forgetting a name isn’t as bad as it seems – it just means someone is paying more attention to the other details that are more important.

I have tried ways to remember names. I first Googled, “Ways to remember names” which later escalated to a frustrated, “Why do I forget names?” search. These two proved to be helpful as I was met with some useful tips. Some of the most common ones include things like as soon as you meet a person, connect their name with a physical quality about them. Sarah has red hair and blue eyes. Or connect their name to an aspect of their personality. Auguste is very outspoken and likes to talk. Another helpful tip I’ve discovered: use their name almost immediately in a sentence. I have found that this actually is helpful. I don’t know the psychology behind it, but it seems that by taking an external, arbitrary name and internalizing it into your own vocabulary helps establish its importance in your short-term memory and later long-term memory. This reduces my rate of forgetting to about 50%, which is a big increase from 90%. Nonetheless, these little tips are helpful but not totally effective.

I guess I’m trying to say, if you forget names, don’t beat yourself up about it like I do. Maybe it just means you’re more interested in the other aspects of a person instead of a simple label they use. I love meeting new people and hearing about their life and goals and personality, but I hate forgetting names. It is one of my worst qualities and something I hope to improve on. If you have tips for improving this, let me know – and I’ll try to remember your name 🙂

 

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adaptability

It’s time to talk about change. I’m not talking about national campaign agendas or world peace or equality or restoration of the constitution or any of the pressing issues that are featured in the tabloids and news websites. I’m talking about the changes we experience on a personal level throughout our lives. Change is undoubtedly hard. Our human nature encourages us to maintain an inertial groove that we have established for ourselves. We hardly discuss the mechanisms that are necessary to deal with change, and especially the methods that we use to deal with change that can actually optimize our lives during change.

We often experience change. Throughout our entire lives we move through school, changing grades every year with new teachers, new material, and possibly new classmates that we see everyday. Some people may have experienced more profound changes, like moving schools, houses, or even states. We experience change when we switch jobs, learn something new, or gain failure or success. Our lives are constant waves of change, sometimes small and unnoticeable and other times crashing, extraordinary waves. I think our reactions to change largely determine what we gain throughout the experience.

I speak from a very personal experience with change right now. Nothing in my life right now is as it was this time last year. For the first time in 17 years I had to leave my family vacation early, I flew home alone and stayed at my house alone washing my clothes and packing myself to move away for the summer, I am not being in my hometown for the summer (for the first time in my life), I am living with people I have never met in a place I have never lived doing something I have never done. I am experiencing one of those crashing, extraordinary waves of change. I have learned a few things about change that have really modified the way I both approach change and deal with it.

The first thing involves perspective and the second involves emotions. When it comes to change in life I feel there are many ways to view it. The two most important ones for me personally are terms I have identified as reflective perspective and progressive perspective.

Reflective perspective puts your vision in the past, focusing on the ways in which your life is different now than what it was previously. Reflective perspective invites feelings of nostalgia, past memories, and often times, homesickness. This type of mindset encourages you to compare your life during change to your life pre-change and can entice feelings of anxiety, worry, and uncertainty. I think reflection is really important but not at the brink of change. A reflective perspective means that you are constantly contrasting your past to your present, and with it the person you were then, the people you had around you, and the experiences that you had during that time. You live in the past and find yourself yearning for that time. Reflective perspective can make change seem inconvenient and negative.

Progressive perspective is the vision of where this change is taking you. Although not all changes are necessarily positive, their outcomes can always be. Progressive perspective means that you are controlling your change and not letting it control you. When we experience great movements of transition we typically feel helpless and out of control. A progressive perspective means that you view the change as what you can extract out of it for the future. Instead of the change compromising what you had in the past, you actively use it as a tool to enhance your future. Progressive perspectives rely on comparing your current situation during the change to where you are headed in the future. I have found progressive perspective to give a more positive aspect on change. Although it is surely scary sometimes to imagine where life is traveling towards, it is important to be watching out the front window towards the future than staring blindly through the back.

I mentioned emotions as another important part of handing change. I want to briefly mention this and plan on writing about it another time because it is very important to me and has transformed the way I hold myself towards my emotions. Emotions are entirely controllable. 100%. We are thinking humans with the ability and the capacity to manage our emotions. Emotions are these tricky little things that can really alter the way we behave and view our world. Emotions can send someone from smiling and laughing into a raging fit of anger. They can turn a truly enjoyable experience into one that is anxiety-inducing. When you learn that you have control over how you feel towards certain things you can learn how to create the best possible outcomes for those things. I’ll give an example.

You get a new job at a new place. When you arrive, you keep thinking about the old job and the people that you will miss and the memories that you have there. The people at your new job are kind, welcoming, and attempt to make conversation. You are so consumed with feeling sadness for the loss of your old job (reflective perspective) that you are incapable of allowing the future to come into play. You then decide that this is your new job and you feel excited to have the opportunity. You make friends and decide that you can use this to strengthen your portfolio and gain skills for your future (progressive perspective). Throughout all of this, you have fleeting emotions of anxiety, worry, joy, contentment, excitement, and uncertainty. I don’t think you should suppress these very real emotions, in fact I think they are a fundamental human trait; however, I don’t think you should allow emotions to control your perspective. Feel them, acknowledge them, but then remember your ultimate goal is to embrace the change and maintain a steady emotional peace. Truly experiencing and allowing these emotions to capture your mind will feel like a roller coaster during times of immense change. Just food for thought (and discussion) on the importance and adaptability of emotions and our control as humans over them.

I am going through change right now with my research internship. It is new, exciting, overwhelming, encouraging, and has required some shifts in perspective and emotions. I cannot wait to experience the next ten weeks, accompanied by all of the failures and successes that I will encounter. I know that change is inevitable but with mindfulness and contemplation, there is a best way we can all seek and attain optimal joy, fulfillment, and happiness.

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reasons

After reading When Breath Becomes Air, it caused many moments of self-reflection, recognition, and realization. The most profound of these moments was certainly the correlation that Dr. Kalanithi feels between the morality of humans and the principality of science – and the deep and undeniable connection between the two. My own experiences with realizing what morality is and how we as humans can approach understanding truthfully moral ways has heightened my awareness of the breadth, complexity, and utter incomprehension we have of the meaning and value of life. I don’t say this morbidly, because if you know me you know I am quite the optimist (insert cheesy smile), but I do say it with sincerity. There is such a truly bold connection between humans as spirits and souls that feel love, mercy, pain, and an array of emotional qualities, and the humans that are comprised of varying physiologies of biological and chemical pathways and processes. We are such a complex and deeply intertwined species, that pure science and pure metaphysics do not explain us. They require themselves and a few other important things for a full, robust and accurate description of what it means to be alive.

Deriving from my own experiences as a student, Christian,  and human (surprise!), I have found many truths and many troubling thoughts. Philosophy is something I have grown to love and hate at the same time, which I have commonly found is not unique just to me but to others who study philosophy as well. You may ask, what even is philosophy, and you may laugh at students that say philosophy is their major, but I encourage you to exercise some tact when approaching those who enjoy philosophy. But first, to answer your question in my own, rudimentary knowledge of the subject, I would say that philosophy is truly a search for meaning. Meaning of life, meaning of people, meaning of actions, of religion, of science, of thoughts, of generally anything that is worth searching for. And my own experiences with this quest have been… circuitous. Oscillating between why does this matter? and how could this not matter? has left me in a comfortable, but strange, place with philosophy. Almost at peace, so to say. I have found innumerable truths reading though the great minds of thought, peering into their own opinions on the most important matters of life: happiness, virtue, God, and learning to name a few. I have experienced these inquiries from mathematicians, career-philosophers (ha ha at that term), atheists, scientists, Christians, and teachers. What I have found is a universal truth: that we are humans, and that we take our experiences and we develop our own values, our own morals, our own ethics, our own vocabularies, our own meanings, and we are all developed differently but still the same. For me, this has allowed me to see Christianity in a newfound strength (insert: Go read Rene Descartes’s Meditations). It has allowed me to see the necessity with which there needs to be God. God is the true foundation for which all life, thought, and meaning is derived. He is the unifying alikeness that all humans possess, and He is the only thing that can complete science in its discrepancies and shortcomings. Maybe philosophy has the opposite effect for others, but for me it has challenged my thoughts in unseen ways (sometimes scary ways), but has allowed me to truly integrate every piece of my being – my desire to live a good life, my love and faith in Jesus Christ, and my infatuation with science. I don’t credit philosophy with helping me understand more about myself. I do credit philosophy with teaching me how to think, how to speak, and how to formulate my own ideas and opinions. I see the connections in my life, the concrete existence of a God that no, cannot be empirically proven, but can be proven by merely examining humans and experience. I have seen different parts of my life woven into a fabric that just makes sense. In a way, I felt it has set me apart more than before I had studied my own self and values so extensively (as a by-product of philosophy) and has made me difficultly different than other people in this way (hopefully other students can agree with me on this). Ultimately, I have realized the importance of dependency. The importance of friendship; the importance of conversation; the importance of sharing your life with others; the importance of NEVER thinking you are above others and cannot learn from them; the importance of bringing together all parts of your life and finding where you are genuinely the most happy.

This has been me incessantly rambling about how happy I am to have learned something about my life. The truth is, there are many, MANY, many things I do not know. In these are where my trust and faith in God prevails. I know not what my life holds, but I do know who has been entrusted with my future. And I do know that He has placed meaning, importance, and value in every life on this earth. I see these not just through a lens of spirituality but also a lens of philosophy. Until I am made fully aware of these things, I will keep striving to understand more about what God wants for me, how He wants me to live, and the ways in which I can more fully be His humbled, faithful, and loving daughter. I can pray we can do this together. (I also HIGHLY, highly encourage you to read When Breath Becomes Air… It is beautiful.)

 

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a reflection

Written below is an essay I was required to read for one of my classes. I always enjoy reading these essays, because even if they are not very enlightening, or liberating, or moderately interesting, they always provide me with some kind of insight – either positive or negative, but always advantageous to some degree. This essay, Happy Like God, is written by Simon Critchley, professor and chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research.

“What is happiness? How does one get a grip on this most elusive, intractable and perhaps unanswerable of questions?

I teach philosophy for a living, so let me begin with a philosophical answer. For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view. Our lives are filled with the endless distractions of cell phones, car alarms, commuter woes and the traffic in Bangalore. The rhythm of modern life is punctuated by beeps, bleeps and a generalized attention deficit disorder.

But is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous? Might there not be something in it? I am reminded of the following extraordinary passage from Rousseau’s final book and his third (count them — he still beats Obama 3-to-2) autobiography, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker”:

If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. (emphases mine)

This is as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine. Rousseau is describing the experience of floating in a little rowing boat on the Lake of Bienne close to Neuchâtel in his native Switzerland. He particularly loved visiting the Île Saint Pierre, where he used to enjoy going for exploratory walks when the weather was fine and he could indulge in the great passion of his last years: botany. He would walk with a copy of Linneaus under his arm, happily identifying plants in areas of the deserted island that he had divided for this purpose into small squares.

Our lives are filled with endless distractions, but is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous?

On the way to the island, he would pull in the oars and just let the boat drift where it wished, for hours at a time. Rousseau would lie down in the boat and plunge into a deep reverie. How does one describe the experience of reverie: one is awake, but half asleep, thinking, but not in an instrumental, calculative or ordered way, simply letting the thoughts happen, as they will.

Happiness is not quantitative or measurable and it is not the object of any science, old or new. It cannot be gleaned from empirical surveys or programmed into individuals through a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. If it consists in anything, then I think that happiness is this feeling of existence, this sentiment of momentary self-sufficiency that is bound up with the experience of time

Look at what Rousseau writes above: floating in a boat in fine weather, lying down with one’s eyes open to the clouds and birds or closed in reverie, one feels neither the pull of the past nor does one reach into the future. Time is nothing, or rather time is nothing but the experience of the present through which one passes without hurry, but without regret. As Wittgenstein writes in what must be the most intriguing remark in the “Tractatus,” “the eternal life is given to those who live in the present.” Or ,as Whitman writes in “Leaves of Grass”: “Happiness is not in another place, but in this place…not for another hour…but this hour.”

Rousseau asks, “What is the source of our happiness in such a state?” He answers that it is nothing external to us and nothing apart from our own existence. However frenetic our environment, such a feeling of existence can be achieved. He then goes on, amazingly, to conclude, “as long as this state lasts we are self-sufficient like God.”

God-like, then. To which one might reply: Who? Me? Us? Like God? Dare we? But think about it: If anyone is happy, then one imagines that God is pretty happy, and to be happy is to be like God. But consider what this means, for it might not be as ludicrous, hybristic or heretical as one might imagine. To be like God is to be without time, or rather in time with no concern for time, free of the passions and troubles of the soul, experiencing something like calm in the face of things and of oneself.

Why should happiness be bound up with the presence and movement of water? This is the case for Rousseau and I must confess that if I think back over those experiences of blissful reverie that are close to what Rousseau is describing then it is often in proximity to water, although usually saltwater rather than fresh. For me, it is not so much the stillness of a lake (I tend to see lakes as decaffeinated seas), but rather the never-ending drone of the surf, sitting by the sea in fair weather or foul and feeling time disappear into tide, into the endless pendulum of the tidal range. At moments like this, one can sink into deep reverie, a motionlessness that is not sleep, but where one is somehow held by the sound of the surf, lulled by the tidal movement.

Is all happiness solitary? Of course not. But one can be happy alone and this might even be the key to being happy with others. Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud when walking with his sister. However, I think that one can also experience this feeling of existence in the experience of love, in being intimate with one’s lover, feeling the world close around one and time slips away in its passing. Rousseau’s rowing boat becomes the lovers’ bed and one bids the world farewell as one slides into the shared selfishness of intimacy.

…And then it is over. Time passes, the reverie ends and the feeling for existence fades. The cell phone rings, the e-mail beeps and one is sucked back into the world’s relentless hum and our accompanying anxiety.”

Essay found on NYtimes.com.

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