I was in the kitchen, making my morning half-cup of coffee, and found myself thinking about a conversation I had had with Leon a couple of days ago. We had talked about our relationships with our biological families, and while he is understanding of my position to some degree, he casually mentioned that he hoped I wouldn’t someday have regrets about my decision.
I was wondering about the possibility that I might ever have regrets, imagining various scenarios of visiting/not visiting, and I gravitated toward sadness about the human condition. We develop fantasies about how our relationships with people might be, and those fantasies develop into expectations which are subsequently disappointed. Then we imagine strategies about how we might nudge the relationship in the direction of our desires, try them, are disappointed again, keep trying, hoping, being disappointed yet again…
At some point, if we’re lucky, we face the reality of the situation and realize that our fantasies will never be realized. They diverge too much from how the people we’re involved with really are, and those people have their own fantasies and desires—they will never become who we want them to be.
Then we’re faced with the decision of whether our relationships with these people are valuable as they are, with our fantasies abandoned, or whether their reality is so distant from how we want it to be that there is nothing worth sticking around for. Do we hang on to what is, or do we move on to more rewarding relationships—or none at all?
What seemed sad to me was that human beings inevitably develop unrealistic expectations based on their own desires. They want the world to be as they imagine it can be, and condemn themselves to continued disappointment.
At this point in my thinking, I realized that I had drifted into an unpleasant, downward-trending emotional state. What’s this? I wondered. Where did this come from? The human condition is what it is, and getting emotional about any particular aspect of it is optional.
Then I remembered the short story I had read in the August, 2007 issue of The Sun earlier this morning. Actually, I didn’t read the whole thing. After the first few paragraphs, I realized that this was not a happy story, skimmed through to the end, and confirmed that this was not a place I needed to go. I had begun another piece, an article by Lauren Slater, and ended my session when I read how she imagined her death might be: “…my very last nanosecond spent thinking, This isn’t nearly as scary as I thought. I wish I’d worried less.” The irony of that gave me a laugh, and sent me into the kitchen for coffee.
I read The Sun for at least a couple of reasons: There are sometimes genuinely insightful ideas that contribute to my understanding; and otherwise, there are many artful depictions of the human condition as it is experienced in its more emotional moments. The emotional parts are reminders of how most human beings live—carried along by the coping strategies evolution has devised for us; feeling but rarely understanding why we feel.
These emotionally charged pieces are a way of staying in touch with the rest of humanity, but there is a danger, as I experienced this morning. Allowing someone else’s input to arouse emotions runs the risks that we may get caught up in them in subtle ways. Our thinking may be nudged in directions it might not have gone otherwise, and we may find ourselves immersed in thoughts that are not characteristic of our preferred point of view.
Marvin Minsky discusses these kinds of emotion cascades, chain reactions that propel us from one way of thinking to another. After reading his latest book, The Emotion Machine, I put a sticky on my desktop that says, “Meditation: maintaining alertness for the beginning of cascades.”
I wasn’t as alert this morning as I might have been. Still, better late than never. Perhaps, next time, I won’t be fooled for quite so long before the alarm goes off.
Open To Suggestion