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Lessons from Mindfulness

We can distinguish circumstances as considered intended (whether they’re actually intended is another story) or unintended – situations deemed as deliberately chosen, or contingent. The consciously intended ones can never be ideal or pure; this is why we help ourselves to labelling them (forcing illusory statuses), or in other words idealizing them. Contingent phenomena don’t fundamentally differ from the intended ones (for they belong to the same ensemble) – those could too potentially be brought into consciousness as pieces of some experience endowed with significance. However due to the limits of our awareness they merely provide a background (a stage) to the creations, out of which we weave an illusory tapestry of meaning.

A meeting with a friend at a cafe, a bus ride to work or a whispered prayer, all drown into oblivion without the lifeline of meaning that we create. The broader context is indifferent to phenomena that we neglect to consciously privilege with some intrinsic value or unique character. This is merely a sketch of general tendencies of our relation to being which were intended as an introduction to examining a few particular instances of this existential predicament, which reveal some surprising consequences.

As a first example, as we proceed in degrees of diminished generalization, consider couples finding themselves in relationships. I feel that I don’t need to list the limitless incompatible idealized projections (dissonant interests and expectations) on the phenomenon of two people living together and how those projections cause notorious difficulties. Being forced to fulfill a cultural expectation is not the same as a romantic fantasy of kindred spirits sharing the current form of being. Equally incompatible are the pride of a ‘good catch’ (which is an end in itself), and a desire of devotion and loyalty to the loved one. I’ll stop there before I commit the blunder of listing something bitterly familiar to the readers.

Now that the character of the potential incompatible idealized projections has been adequately outlined we can examine our more particular interactions with others. A phenomenon of two friends engaging in discussion is an interesting case, and one which I have been reflecting on at length over the last few weeks.

There is one particular aspect I certainly consider as dissonant to the admittedly rather vague concept of friendship, and that is competitiveness. It can manifest in various subtle ways and it seems to aim at quite the opposite of the phenomenon of friendship intends to offer. Take the example of discussion – competitiveness hinders the nourishment of a calm, peaceful and relaxed state of enjoying the other’s views and thoughts – a mutually shared intellectual journey of discovery with a fit companion. Instead it takes form of a race with the implication that there can only be one winner. In this sense friendship has the quality of unity which competitiveness shatters. In a less metaphorical sense it often takes form of a series of monologues which are no more or less than exercises in vanity. The presence of the other becomes purely instrumental; for it could be just anyone witnessing this torrent of pretentious eloquence, and if so, then why bother with the label friend? We should be able to distinguish between companion and rival, and I don’t think the two attitudes are compatible.

Naturally this is not particularly troublesome when dealing with professional or academic peers. In some sense there is some value to a healthy competition. But we need to be careful: there is a time and place for everything, and competitiveness has no place in friendship. Mind you, envy is not too far away. Those miss-match attitudes prevail in all of our interactions with others. Depending on the degree of dissonance of interests and expectations, the degree of awkwardness or disenchantment will also vary.

With all that said one would expect that such prolonged reflections should yield some profound realization – some ultimate conclusion – possibly a novel, sophisticated and full proof one? The seeker of novelty will be disappointed, for I conclude and dedicate the above reflections to one attitude – empathy.

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