Monday, 29 July 2013

Love: Coupling of pleasure and pain

Love is an untamed force. When we try to control it, it destroys us. When we try to imprison it, it enslaves us. When we try to understand it, it leaves us feeling lost and confused.
–Paulo Cohelo

What is love? Commoners say “love is coitus.” Scientists say “love is neurological condition.” Psychologists say “love has many guises: friendship, family, couples, humanity, narcissism etc.” Philosophers say “love is a passionate commitment.” Novelists say “love is the driver for all the great stories.” Religions say “love is free yet binds us.” Now, a question arises, are they talking of the same thing?

A story pops in my mind about an elephant and the six blind men. Once, a mahout came with his elephant in a village to show some stunts of elephant as a part of his livelihood. News spread in the village. There lived a family of six blind men who also heard the news. They knew nothing about elephant. They were excited about the show but soon realized that they were not able to watch the show. They decided it didn’t matter, at least, they could request the mahout to let them feel the elephant by touching it after the show. They approached and touched the elephant. One of them touched the elephant’s leg and shouted "elephant is like a pillar." Second touched tail and shouted "no, elephant is like a rope." Third one touched trunk and said "you both are wrong; elephant is like a branch of tree." Fourth shouted "don't fool yourselves; elephant is like a hand fan." He touched its ear. The fifth man felt it like a wall by touching its belly and the sixth person touched the tusk of the elephant and thought it as a solid pipe.

The problem is same with commoner, scientist, psychologist, philosopher, novelist and religion as with the six blind men who felt the different parts of the elephant and concluded the elephant to be that specific part. Commoner, scientist, psychologist, philosopher, novelist and religion talk about the same thing but with different perspective and stick to their versions.

Love is physical but not only physical. In fact, the language of love is touch. Suppose, someone is crying and someone other told her to stop crying, what would happen? Would she stop crying? Well, may be or may not be. It is also likely possible that her crying would become more loud, more intense. On the other hand, if one wipes her tears with his hand, it is more probable that she would stop crying.  If a child is devoid of all its attention, cuddling, hugging and touch but fed properly and timely, it would die soon because the child would not receive a special kind of nourishment called love.

The language of love i.e. touch, is not only valid among humans but also understood by the animals and is a useful tool while communicating with animals. One day Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son tried to get a calf into the barn. Emerson pushed and his son pulled. But the calf stiffened his legs and stubbornly refused to leave the pasture. The housemaid saw their predicament. She put her maternal finger in the calf's mouth and let the calf suck her finger as she gently led him into the barn. Those who are fond of pets could better understand what fondling and patting means.

Evolution reveals love as a survival tool as compared to hunger. Plato also described love as need or urge, almost impossible to stamp out; he said “the God of Love lives in a state of need.” Evolutionary psychology emphasizes that humans are dependent on parental help for a large portion of their lifespan comparative to other mammals and therefore love has been seen as a mechanism to promote parental support of children for this extended time period.

On the other hand, evolutionary biology, explains love as a survival tool purely on biological basis. Protozoa, the primitive cells, the progenitors of the whole animal and vegetable kingdom grow by feeding on the minute particles which they find in the fluid surrounding them. The growth continues, till ultimately, reaching the limit of convenient size, a cell divides into two or more portions; and so reproduces itself. This is called asexual reproduction. Their life is simple: hunger, growth and propagation. This continues for many generations without change until a time comes when the growth-power and energy decays and the vitality diminishes.  But then a variation occurs. Two cells unite, exchange fluids, and parted again. It is a new form of nourishment; a primitive form of love. It is a very intimate form of nourishment; for it appears that in general the nuclei themselves of the two cells are shared and in part exchanged. And the vitality so obtained gives the cells a new lease of life. They are in fact regenerated. And each partner grows again actively and reproduces itself by asexual mode of reproduction such as binary fission, budding etc. And so far there is no distinction of sex, in the sense of male and female. It is a union between similar; and it leads to growth and reproduction. Later, at a certain stage in general, when “animals” have already been formed by the conjunction of many protozoic cells in co-operative colonies differentiation sets in, and some individuals specialize towards activity and the chase, while others (of the same species) specialize towards repose and assimilation. The two sets of qualities are clearly only useful in combination with each other; and therefore it is quite natural that the two corresponding groups of individuals should form two great branches in each race, diverse yet united. These two branches are the male and female.   It is in the Metazoa generally, and those forms of life which consist of co-operative colonies of cells, that sex-differentiation into male and female begins to decisively assert itself. It is well developed and distinguished in complex forms of life such as mammal. The concept of sharing of nucleic material between the two distinguished individuals is still of primitive type and simple but its execution has become complex. The progeny still receives its nucleic material from both parents in the ratio of 50:50. Rolph said “the process of conjugation is only a special form of nutrition, which occurs on a reduction of the nutritive income, or an increase of the nutritive needs”

Sometimes love is considered only as medium of propagation. Indeed, love is mode of propagation but not through progenies only. Love is also a form of propagation of oneself over others.  Aristotle said “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” In my childhood, I heard many stories of magicians who secretly kept their lives in some birds so that they would not be killed directly. I see love is that magic which transfers one’s life element into others which Rumi said beautifully as:

You try to be faithful
And sometimes you're cruel.
You are mine. Then, you leave.
Without you, I can't cope.

And when you take the lead,
I become your footstep.
Your absence leaves a void.
Without you, I can't cope.

You have disturbed my sleep,
You have wrecked my image.
You have set me apart.
Without you, I can't cope.

Psychological analysis indentified three basic attributes of love as craving for emotional union, obsessive thinking and involuntary will. Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and leading expert in the topic of love, divides the experience of love into three partly overlapping stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust is the feeling of sexual desire; romantic attraction determines what partners mates find attractive and pursue, conserving time and energy by choosing; and attachment involves sharing a home, parental duties, mutual defense, and in humans involves feelings of safety and security. The three circuitry systems, associated with lust, romance and attachment are testosterone guided circuitry system, dopamine guided circuitry system and oxytocin guided circuitry system respectively. The three worked together as well as independently. It is due to their independency; we have attachments with few, involved in romance with others and at the same time could sleep with some others.

The knowledge of how things work and the knowledge of mechanism involved is not sufficient to start something unless one knows why it works. I heard a story about a boy who heard Dr. Helen’s lecture on romantic love and knew about the involvement of dopamine in it. And he knew that the moments of fear and excitement also elevates dopamine level in brain. He loved a girl madly but she is not in love with him. He decided to put science to work and devised a plan to make her love him. He invited the girl for a ride with him. He bribed the driver for rash and adventurous driving. Everything went according to the plan. She was squealing and squeezing him and laughing and having wonderful time. An hour later they got down off the cab and she threw her hands up and said “Wasn’t that wonderful? Wasn’t that cab driver handsome!” Loretta Young said “Love isn't something you find. Love is something that finds you.”

Love is not always a golden crown but sometimes a crown of thrones. Love is always compared to fire. It is said that love is a fire pond and one needs to cross by diving.  

Fire runs through my body with the pain of loving you
Pain runs through my body with the fires of my love for you
Pain like a boil about to burst with my love for you
Consumed by fire with my love for you

I remember what you said to me
I am thinking of your love for me
I am torn by your love for me
Pain and more pain

Where are you going my love
I am told you will go from here
I am told you will leave me here
My body is numb with grief
Remember what I said my love
Goodbye, my love, goodbye
- Anonymous

 To be continued………………

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Doubt and Faith: Sides of a coin

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.       
-Khalil Gibran 

A fever or pain is itself not a disease but an immune response in a form of an indication that a struggle is started within the body; something went wrong whether an outsider intrusion or internal imbalance which needs immediate attention and some remedial action. The same is true with the feeling of doubt. Doubt is an indication of somewhat disturbed belief system which needs immediate attention and some remedial action. In the words of William Shakespeare, “Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.”  

I heard a story about Gautam Buddha who once was taking rest outside a village. A passerby recognized him and greeted. He, despite being theist, asked Buddha “Do God exist?” Buddha replied “No.” He passed with a state of despair on his face. Another passerby asked the same question to Buddha but he was an atheist; the reply came “Yes.” He also walked with desperate face. Third one came and said “It doesn’t matter for me whether God exists or not, but, since I met you it is not unwise to ask you so I am asking do god exist?” Buddha said “May be may not be.” Buddha’s disciple sat beside him and was listening all questions and answers and finally asked “All of them asked the same question but you replied differently I don’t understand why? Which one is correct?” Buddha replied sheepishly “All of them were correct for those whom given and none of them for you. The thirst of truth could not be quenched by firm belief in prejudice but through curiosity i.e. asking smart questions and meeting their answers. I was just breaking prejudices of the first two and the third one was already in that state.”

It is not that we don’t know answers but we don’t know how to ask questions. The moments of doubt could be used to learn asking question. Most people thought being a part of question as failure and want to be a part of solution. It is okay but when the same principle is applied to doubts then the opposite happens. Doubt doesn’t teach answers but questions. It is the question that meets answer. Dennis Palumbo, a former Hollywood screenwriter and now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, said “The plain fact is, the more willing you are to mine the landscape of your own doubts, the truer and more recognizably human your characters will be.”

Quantum physics reveals nature as a realm of knowledge. The physical theory has become converted from a theory about `physically reality', as it had formerly been understood, into a theory about human knowledge. Freedom is granted to each experimenter to choose freely which experiment he will perform, i.e., which aspect of nature he will probe; which question he will put to nature. Then nature is allowed to pick an outcome of the experiment, i.e., to answer to the question. These elements of `freedom of choice', on the part of both the human participant and nature herself, lead to a picture of a reality that gradually unfolds in response to choices that are not necessarily fixed by the prior physical part of reality alone. The basic building blocks of the new conception of nature are not objective tiny bits of matter, but choices of questions and answers.

Doubt is like a situation where one stands at an intersection of roads and does not know which one is correct for his destiny; which one to choose. Doubt is a state of mind in which one is struggling between opposite propositions and unable to stick either of them. Doubt is not the situation of multiple choice options but doubt against each option in terms of its validity whether it is true or not. On the basis of logic, doubt could be understood in two ways: one in which logic could be applied equally by both side, i.e. for the proposition or against the proposition and second in which logic could not be applied by any side due to lack of evidence. In either case logic could not be of much help but faith. Logic needs axioms to spin arguments. Mark Twain said “when in doubt tell the truth.” Truth could not be an interpretation of brainstorming but a direct message. Truth is something that sprouts from within and requires faith to act upon it. William James said “faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.”

A child was born in the year 570 and raised from the milk of nomad, vicarious mothers in the desert of Arabia. He tended sheep and soon hired out to a rich widow as leader of her caravans. In 595, the widow aged 40 and was 15 years older than he, looked upon him with favor and married him. He continued his living as a rich and respected trader. Each year during Ramdan, the ninth month of lunar calendar, he wandered in mountains surrounding Mecca to refresh himself with solitude and prayer. In the year 610, at the age of 40, the humble trader took himself on one of these retreats in the cave of Mount Hira and suddenly found someone calling him to proclaim. He terrified and ran out of the cave. At first, he thought, it had to have been a hallucination; a trick of the eye or of the year or his own mind working against him. He even thought worst about being possessed by an evil spirit to deceive him and to crush life out of him. He was deeply distressed and resolved to commit suicide. The man who fled down the mountain that night was in a state of stark, primordial fear and overwhelmed not with conviction but by doubt. Slowly and gradually he learned to have faith along with confusion and struggling. He continued his prayer and fast. After three years, once again, he heard from the same source “By morning brightness and by the stillness of the night, Your Lord has not forsaken you, nor has He become displeased, and surely what comes after is better for you than that which has gone before.  And soon will your Lord give you so that you shall be well pleased.” He was Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam and this was the beginning of holy Quran and faith in one “Allah” which started with a terrifying doubt. Lesley Hazleton, author of ‘The First Muslim’ said “It was precisely Muhammad’s doubt that brought him alive for me, that allowed me to begin to see him in full, to accord him the integrity of reality. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that he doubted, because doubt is essential to faith.” In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Faith keeps many doubts in her pay. If I could not doubt, I should not believe.”  

As it is said that excess of anything is bad, so is with doubt. Excess of doubt creates fear which ultimately leads to frustration and misery. One should make a stand and act accordingly with faith. On the other extreme, if all doubts are abolished, then what remains is not faith but absolute heartless conviction which leads to self-righteous arrogance.

All innovations whether scientific or spiritual are results of doubt: doubt over existing system. They are the answers put forward by nature as a result of the questions raised in doubts and nurtured by faith. All religious system did not origin at the same time but gradually doubting over the previous system as Buddhism from Hinduism and Islam and Christianity from Judaism. But the followers stop asking questions and show their blind faith which resulted in decline of religions because the questions have changed and they are still giving the same old answers. If they do not assimilate current questions then they are preparing grounds for new religions. The existence of many religions is the outcome of fundamentalist thinking prevailing in the religion which is not ready to accommodate new questions.

Faith has no easy answers. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt in a never ending conversation with it and sometimes in conscious defiance of it. What drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair and insist on faith. Consider the ambivalence as put by Frederick Buechner, “If you don’t have any doubts you’re either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Faith and doubt both are needed not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.

-Lillian Smith