When M. Gandhi or Dr. King spoke of civil disobedience, they were greatly aware of the consequences of “an eye for an eye.” It does make the whole world go blind, but not just literally.
There’s a well known experiment in which monkeys in a cell were given electric shocks each time one of them tried to climb a ladder for a banana. This eventually conditioned the monkeys to prevent (even resort to fighting) anyone else who would climb the ladder. One by one however, each monkey was replaced with a new one; until the entire lot was of new monkeys. The electric shock was removed as soon as the first one was replaced, but the memory was already conditioned into reactionary behavior. So now, when one of the monkeys climbed for the banana, even though the electric shock was removed, the monkeys would fight out of reaction instead of reason.
Everyone was fighting and the reason was long forgotten. If we keep seeking revenge long enough, or fight with ourselves for a long enough time, we often become blind to the reason we started in the first place. An eye an eye, but why was the first one taken? Most of the time, the thing we believe taken from us is often still within our possession.
Uncertainty is a terrible thing to wake up with; uncertain if we want to go to work today, uncertain about the partner we wake up with, uncertain if we are doing the best we can for ourselves. It diminishes our enthusiasm for the day, as if our car tires hit a patch of quicksand. When we are slowed down, instead of choosing what to do, we revert to old habits (and by extension, our old life): brush our teeth, have our coffee–then autopilot–end up at work again. Years go by because we become accustomed to the uncertainty, habits and worrying. I think the answer to uncertainty is audacity. Ask for that raise, apply for a better job, tell people how you truly feel, go after the things and prove your self-doubt wrong. It might feel like familiar things are breaking down at first, but we can’t create something new unless we move on from the old.
If there is anything faster than the speed of light, it is the speed of imagination. It can take billions of light years to travel anywhere in space, but only milliseconds to imagine being there: we can imagine travelling to the Sun, survive its immense gravity and heat, and get there much faster than on a spaceship (that has yet to be invented during our lifetime). Back on Earth, we can imagine being at the bottom of the ocean much faster than actually travelling there. Our thoughts and imagination are immensely powerful because they are not bound by physical limitations. And although thoughts may not be tangible, they do affect our lives in every way because our perspective of the world is the world we live in, and how we think about ourselves shapes our own unique experience and reality.
An increased mindfulness for the way we talk to ourselves can determine the type of energy we radiate into our personal lives. The nuclear bomb was possible once we understood the relationship between E=mc^2, in which c represents the speed of light and m represents mass. It took some imagination (which provided the framework for the scientific trials later) to understand that the larger the mass of something, the more potential energy it contains. Likewise a small object with great speed, like a bullet, could yield just as much energy. A nuclear bomb gets it energy from displacing the nucleus of a tiny atom. And yet such a small change in internal structure is enough to wreak havoc on entire civilizations. What if we began to think of our thoughts as powerful weapons?
Thoughts may not have actual weight, but they affect everything in our lives. Thoughts have an unquantifiable mass and they move at immeasurable speed. Thoughts lead to action, and action carries weight in our world. How we imagine ourselves and others shapes our own unique life experience. We can create immense positive energy by increasing the frequency of gratitude, kindness and patience in our lives. Or we can “nuke” positive thoughts about ourselves instantly with negativity, self-doubt and entitlement.
Just as the center of the stars have billions of nuclear reactions happening simultaneously, the center of our brains are constantly reacting a myriad of opposing thoughts and generating great amounts of energy. As Carl Sagan once said, “We are all made of star stuff.” It’s no coincidence that we are, in many ways, just like the stars and cosmic energies to which we feel so tiny. Our thoughts may seem like nothing, but our perspective is everything.
The other day, I was waiting to checkout at the grocery store. Next to me, a short elderly lady wearing a golden plastic tiara (like the ones you get from party favor stores) was having trouble reading something on a movie box. She finally turned to me and asked, “Excuse me hun, but could you read this for me?”
“Yeah, no problem!” I sat my groceries down, grabbed the box and read: “Fifty Shades Of Grey.” She noticed the surprised look on my face and laughed.
She revealed that her daughter was into the Fifty Shades series, but she didn’t know much about it herself. Her eyes widened when I told her that I never watched any movies from the series myself:
“Oh gosh, there are more of these things?” Time seems to move quickly when having conversations in line because it was finally my turn to check out. I asked the cashier if she could help her find a box set for Fifty Shades. Turned out, the cashier Tina was a huge fan of the series herself. and even Googled a coupon for my new friend. It made me wonder: what causes someone to go above and beyond to help another person out? She didn’t have to “google” a coupon, nor have the conversation that followed after the initial exchange.
Perhaps it is the courage to ask, to initiate a conversation. In the simple process of asking, the little old lady created a moment for us three random strangers to connect and share a fun moment. Often times, we pass up potential moments of connection when we are hesitant to talk to someone new. But ultimately, most people welcome conversation about things that they happen to be interested in. There are plenty of reasons not talk to someone new. So that’s why I encourage you to find just one reason to talk to someone today. Talk to a few new people, and see where the conversation goes. Through conversation, we learn more about about ourselves, and connection makes the world a better place.
One of the things that I learned growing up was that we should always keep our promises. But there have been several times in my adult life where I’ve wanted to stop helping someone once I got to know them and their intentions better. But should we consider ourselves a lesser person if we negate our promise with someone?
Many years ago when I was a college student, one of my colleagues would often ask me for help on their chemistry homework. Eventually, I found that I was just being used to do their homework while they were out partying and posting on social media; I resented the fact that I was giving up my time so that someone else could have more to enjoy life. During the semester, they asked several other students for help on the other assignments, and they passed the entire semester on pure charisma, charm and cunning genius. I thought I could say “no” whenever, but instead I kept “helping” them while continuing to seethe inside–hopelessly expecting this person to realize how crappy they were. The truth was that I was an insecure doormat of a person who hated confrontation. Eventually we all finished the semester and I never saw them again.
I’ve seen this pattern appear in my personal life again and again. Looking closer, I realize that this (generally good) habit was learned from my own family. The problem is that boundaries aren’t often taught with “helping unconditionally” and the latter becomes a disguise behind “not being able to set boundaries well.” I think that as new information is gained, it is important to change our actions. When we help someone, we should do it without expectation. But if that “help” turns into the harm of another person, or resentment for the person we are helping, we should consider that a boundary has essentially been violated.
If someone helps us with the expectation of getting back help in return, we should be beware: that help has strings attached and is often costly to pay back. The act of giving unconditionally, which makes us uniquely human, becomes a transaction. Ideally, we want to develop an abundant mindset that doesn’t depend on the help of others, with the understanding that we are moving away from independence to inter-dependent relationships.
Like dating, every relationship is a risk. So it’s important to get to know people as best as possible before becoming vulnerable and giving out unconditional energy. And just like a relationship, breaking up with someone isn’t a bad thing–but someone who has multiple exes will be portrayed as someone who has commitment issues, regardless of how great a person they really are. The goal is then to become such a self-sufficient (not prideful) person that when we help others, we forget the favor as soon as we offer it.
We’ve finally made it to one of the most sought-after days of the week: Friday. The majority of the week is behind us, and now we can start planning to do some actually fun stuff! Except, this is probably not true for most of us. As the week progressed, the “laundry list” of things to do (including laundry) piled up and now we have a shit-ton of things to catch up on. But still, its not so bad because for at least a couple hours this week, we will have some time for ourselves to sleep in, listen to music, see more of our family, friends, dog, and others we care about.
But, we’ll probably be exhausted and trying to recover from taking the beating of the week. Driving somewhere far might not seem so fun. Staying out late means adding to the sleep-deprivation we already experienced throughout the week. Our bodies are literally in a state of trying to re-establish an equilibrium, except we are only giving it just a few hours to undo the entire wreck of a (minimum) 40-hour work week. And that’s only if we are lucky and not working a salaried job, or coming in on the weekends to spend more time doing work. But at least we made it.
While we were growing up, a family member or some person of authority told us that “life would be hard” and that we had to, in one way or another, “suck it up.” And somewhere along the line, we equated doing things we didn’t want to do as a part of life. But often, the people who say these things live the majority of their life doing things they don’t want. We definitely need to work hard, but what if what we are working towards in not something that we even want for ourselves? What if this whole time, we’ve been subconsciously following the rules of people who, like us, don’t really have life figured out any more than we do?
Are we not as qualified to disagree with them, and make a better quality of life for ourselves? What’s the point of working hard and doing things, when we cant even fully be present with the company of others, see our family often, and go on a trip without being a stressed-out physical wreck?
I hope that as you’ve joined me on this journey this week of breaking down each day, that we had the opportunity to reflect and make sure that we spent some time each day to work towards a way out of this unpleasant cycle, and creating a new one that would at least let us enjoy our lives a little more. I hope that each day that you daydreamed this week, you did a small action that will allow you to achieve those dreams into reality, be it a hiking trip in Hawaii, delicious food-trip in Thailand, building-gawking in Europe, or a spiritual journey through India. In any of those endeavors, I wish us well in our actions, to be that much more peaceful and happier. You can do it, we can do it. Because the next thing we know, Monday will be here again. Let us meet each week as a different person each time. Happy Friday.
One more day until the goal. But for now, we must work and make sure we get through the day. But depending on what we have planned for the weekend, the day can go by either quickly or last forever. And if the day is going by slow, there are many stimulants and pointless conversation to help kill time. During my college days, I remember many of the local bars would have weekday happy hours. When I later started working full-time jobs, I thought this was a great idea, because it would make the time go by so much faster by hanging out with equally bored friends. The more I was bored with my day, the faster I wanted it to go, so that I had time to do the fun things.
But the irony is that as we get older, we often wonder where the time flew by; we passed it by ourselves, not realizing that even though there are several ways to “kill time” there is no way to get it back. We never know when life gets unexpectedly busy until it actually happens.
The reason why it’s so important to start that thing you wanted to do today, is because only today is guaranteed. You are the youngest you’ll ever be today. As Elon Musk once said, “your responsibilites will only increase as you get older.” Instead of being bored and waiting for the next best thing to come, let’s create that best moment here and now. Otherwise, the future that we look forward to so much becomes just like that Friday: always fleeting.
The minds of different people see the world differently. Some people can have minds that process a lot of information like a powerful V8 engine. And others may have a 4-cylinder that is more than enough power to sustain analytical productivity. Do you know what type of mind you have, and is it suited for success in what you’re doing?
More powerful doesn’t necessarily mean better. Often times, people with overactive minds tend to process a lot more information than others. This doesn’t mean they are better or more intelligent, but rather that they are better suited for making connections between things. For artistic minds, if all of the cylinders are not fired to accomplish a large, complicated task, the leftover energy gets transferred into boredom, self-analysis, and creation of falsehoods about ourselves. An artistic mind needs a more challenging path in the form of complex problems.
Every path we take in our lives has its own challenges, so it’s important to use the right tool for the right job.It doesn’t matter how powerful of a car you have, a 500+ horsepower engine driven into the ocean is a massive failure. In this instance, even a rowboat is more efficient than drowned car. From childhood, we start learning societal social norms and are expected to follow the paved path/freeway that is often: work your 9-5, raise a family, be amiable, retire, travel. There is nothing wrong with this path, but if the thought of this makes us uncomfortable then we are not meant for that life. Unfortunately, the majority of people today have falsely convinced themselves that this is the most secure path for them in life. But people that are not meant to belong in the corporate machine are adding more misery to an already overpopulated demographic. People have become so accustomed to travelling on this “normal” path, they forget to exit to refuel, to go fishing, to smell the roses, to go off-roading, to go camping. They forget why they were ever on this path or freeway in the first place. The V8’s are wasting way too much fuel idling in traffic, whereas they’re meant to go off-roading or something with that power elsewhere. People feel restless from having unused energy because their engine doesn’t match their road. They need to exit. Weneed to exit.
But not everyone needs to exit, because some are on a path that gives them true happiness. Just like how creatives are happy doing deep work, analytically-minded people cringe at the thought of processing so much data. What seems crazy to them, is easy for the V8 mind. And what V8 mind finds difficult (marketing, hitting deadlines, etc.) is where this mind is expert. Everything and everyone has their place in this interdependent web. The Analytical V4 is an efficient engine that gets shit done. Every bit of energy has a task or purpose, unlike the V8 mind that constantly needs direction and information. These V4 people are better suited for being goal-oriented and being to the point. Unlike the rowdy, boisterous artistic mind that thinks laterally from concept-to-concept to make connections, the analytical V4 thinks vertically in steps, from task to task. The analytical minds know their purpose. The artistic minds are conquering uncharted territory. They both need each other because the analytical minds are the ones that help the artistic minds realize their goals into reality. If Shakespeare was a V8, the entire cast of people, set design, lighting, etc. were the V4’s that helped realize his dream and plays. And each person was happy doing what they did (or so one would hope).
We both need each other to make movement happen, like Yin and Yang. The kind of engine or brain that we have isn’t an indication of our worth or ability. Each brain requires a different level of maintenance, and a different path to conquer. We shouldn’t be comparing abilities in the first place, but rather, how we can better help each other, and by extension ourselves by practicing self awareness. Success is different for everyone. Each person requires their own type of care and fuel: the care is meaningful relationships and the fuel is gratitude. Instead of being convinced by others to stay the course on the beaten path, let’s recognize the power of our engines and drive accordingly.
Jay-Ram is a former Industrial Chemist turned writer who aims to help others use deductive reason and the scientific process to gain deeper insight into people, and create deeper, meaningful relationships between his fellow humans.
Whenever we revisit the past, we must make sure to enjoy the good moments as much as we scrutinize our bad moments. It’s easy to spend time scrutinizing every mistake you’ve ever made – who else besides us knows every mistake we’ve ever made? But for some reason, it’s so easy to forget the things we do correctly: the good decisions. The decisions where present-day you would be proud of younger you for making that choice. Most of us (when invited) would easily celebrate the victory of a good friend or someone else we care about, but why do we forget to celebrate our victories as greatly as we scrutinize our pain? Perhaps we’ve contlditioned to look for the faults in others, instead of improving ourselves, because the former is much easier than the latter – judging others is easy, yet changing ourselves requires a lot of failure, pain and introspection. Is there a painless way to learn? No. Pain is an integral part of the human experience. Suffering however is optional. What we choose to do with the pain is what ultimately transforms us into the person we want to become. We’ve learned to become who we are from the pain of our mistakes. Pain is guaranteed, but suffering is optional.
Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest athletes of our time, but his opponents extended far beyond the boxing ring. We too can be the champions of the battles we fight each day if we are adaptable and courageous.
Being a black Muslim in the 1970’s produced its own challenges in the forms of racism and Islamophobia. One of the characteristics that made Ali so remarkable was his ability to stand firm in his beliefs, regardless of who was opposing him. If you look up any video today, you’ll see ferocious confidence in his self-expression.
Being unique today requires tremendous courage to challenge the status quo. Heroes are scarce in our generation because most of us have been taught to limit our critical thinking for a paycheck; by fitting into society like a standardized cog in a machine. Ali found courage within himself and became an individual. You can also cultivate this courage for self-expression.
In nature, a butterfly is able to float because it is light, agile and curious. On the other hand, a bumble bee has similar capabilities but different mindset: workers that’ll defend the queen and hive with their sting. Humans however are not restricted to any particular pattern, because self awareness allow us to change our perspective when presented with new information.
When Muhammad Ali’s saying, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” was also a comment on how humans can adapt their nature. We can be light on our feet and observe like a butterfly, but change and strike with purpose like a bee. We are not restricted to nature’s patterns, but to recognize and change them requires self-awareness and that courage deep inside you. Adapt, and you will overcome anything.