Thursday, May 31, 2012

Differentiation Example

Last Friday, I woke up with this thought: It is so nice to have friends who are independent, make good decisions, and you do not have to worry about them constantly. Then, I realized that I cannot change people around me. I cannot force them to become more independent, etc. After a while, I realized that what I can do is to make better decisions, take good care of myself, complain less, and be more independent.

Since then, I have tried to implement that realization within my capacity. In particular, I have been trying to avoid "correcting" people around me, suggesting them ways to improve. I need to focus on who I am and what I want to do. Within my constraints, and this is particularly important, within my capacity, I would like to make better decisions for my life and take more responsibility for my actions. At the end, what really counts, for me, is who I am and what I make of my life.

Why is this an example of differentiation? When we do not separate ourselves from people around us, we tend to think of their virtues and vices as our own. We feel compelled to change them, to make them more complacent with our standards. Possibly, because it seems easier to push others to change than to try to change ourselves. Until, we realize that they are not us. They do not reflect who we are. The surest, if not the only, way to improve things for us, is to improve ourselves.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Revelations: Emotions and Responses

Emotions pass, our responses to them shape us. --- Lotu
I love someone one moment, I feel jealous of him/her the next moment, then I hate him/her, and so on. Our emotions and feelings change over time, sometimes abruptly. They do not define us. The way we respond to theoe emotions, however, shapes us over time; makes us who we are.

I used to think of finding my essence as digging up a ground to find a treasure.

Now I have the image of a piece of dough that goes into an oven and becomes a loaf of bread. We may think that the potential, to become bread, was always somewhere inside the dough. Yet, without the temperature from the oven, the essence never comes to existence. In fact, if the oven temperature is not "balanced", the dough may never become the bread, or may burn altogether.

I find myself through my choices, my actions, and how I respond to my emotions and environment. I face an important choice: How much pressure, anxiety, competition, love, hate, anger ... I want to endure at any point in time. This is not a trivial choice. Too much life adversaries will burn me out, and too much of a peaceful life will spoil me. 

I have to go through the oven. Sometimes, the oven is something as simple as staying with the moment and being bored.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I am so afraid of ...

I am so afraid of sleeping tonight,
of starting a new week tomorrow,
of facing all the damn decisions to make,
of failing, failing miserably.


An amazing passage from ``The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,'' by Haruki Murakami.

Most of the time, the power of fate played on like a quiet and monotonous ground bass, coloring only the edges of his life. Rarely was he reminded of its existence. But every once in a while, when the balance would shift (and what controlled the balance he never knew; he could discover no regularity in those shifts), the force would increase, plunging him into a state of near-paralytic resignation. At such times, he had no choice but to abandon everything and give himself up to the flow. He knew from the experience that nothing he could do or think would ever change the situation. Fate would demand its portion, and until it received that portion, it would never go away. He believed this with his whole heart. ---p.509, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

Sometime, I feel like I am swimming against the flow and that's why every movement, every decision, is so grudgingly difficult for me.


If I leave,
       it's not a reflection
                 on who you are:
The time has come.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Dream and a Song

This song from Shajarian brings back a lot of memories. A perfect balance of traditional Iranian music and western orchestration, plus a simple and powerful poem by Siavash Kasrai:

Last night, I had a beautiful dream. In that dream I was signing this song in public, very well and without feeling shame! I was walking out of a classroom and was aware that some of my students and colleagues would see me singing, but did not care. Then, I saw horses in that dream that were being walked by their jockeys. It caught my attention that horses and their jockeys had similar faces! At the end horses were dropping huge manures the size of a dog. In the dream, I thought I would be grossed by the smell, but I realized that it did not bother me at all. I had a realization, in the dream, the the components that I just mentioned were very important.

This morning, I woke up light and happy, contrary to the last night's feelings of despair and hopelessness (as reflected in my previous post, [Searching for the bottom]). Immediately, I found the solution to a question that was bothering me last night. (Something a friend had told me and I apparently completely forgot!) More importantly, I felt that I am close to finding answers to a couple of work-related questions (important decisions to be made) that have been bothering me for the past week.

Things were better today. I have a good feeling about the not-doing-anything practice of yesterday. I did it today, briefly, and I am going to repeat it in the future. I feel that some old doors, slowly, are opening. I can hear a cracking sound :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Searching for the bottom:

I feel very lonely, maybe deserted.

Today, I spent 4-5 hours in a coffee shop I found randomly, doing nothing. Did some drawing, a little writing, and a little painting with color pencils, but at least 2-3 hours of doing absolutely nothing, except looking at the leaves dancing in the afternoon breeze.

When the boredom gets deep, it tears through my body. I feel as if I am beginning to disintegrate.

Where am I going? Will I ever be able to stand on my own feet, make my own decisions, and take responsibility for them? Do I have a core, an essence? Why do I need the approval of people around me, specially those whom I love?

Will I ever be able to feel happiness from within? Tonight, at the High Museum, I showed one of my favorite works, an amazing work of a Canadian photographer in a giant size, of a bridge at night, to a friend. Why did I do that? Why can't I keep my treasures to myself? Why can't I enjoy my life, my interests, my little discoveries, without sharing them with others and then feel stupid and humiliated?

I understand that photograph, the depth of darkness in it that reaches to, and combines with, my internal darkness. I understand a lot of things that I cannot even describe. Why can't I appreciate this, live with myself and for myself?

Other people's happiness makes me mad. Their independence, their power, their contentment, makes me envious, jealous, furious. What if I can never reach my own essence, my own version of life?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Empty Shell

Reading this book, Passionate Marriage, has given me a new understanding of myself: I am an empty shell. All my life I have reflected things that I have seen in other people and liked, things that I have read in books and liked. I have no substance: A good event, a deep insight, carries me away and a bad event, a difficult situation, throws me off into the abyss. I cannot make decisions. I cannot figure out who I am and what I want from my life. Nothing. A nothing covered in an elusive shell.

I feel a strong pull to shut down: To close these blogs, to disappear, to end my relationships with everyone I know. Unfortunately, this is not a solution either. I cannot run anywhere from the emptiness inside. There is no place to hide :)

I am not depressed. I look around my room, at all the books in the shelves, and I realize that I am trying to fill the void inside myself with words from these books. If I had a grain of courage somewhere inside me, I would get rid of these books and start experiencing the life for myself. But I cannot. I am afraid. Afraid of what, I do not know.

Some Passages

A few passages from ``The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,'' by Haruki Murakami.

``I don't want to stick my nose in where I'm not wanted, but just let me say this: you really ought to sit down and think hard about what it is that's most important to you.''
I nodded. ``I have been thinking about that,'' I said. ``But things are so complicated and tangled together. I can't seem to separate them out and do one thing at a time. I don't know how to untangle things.''
My uncle smiled. ``You know what I think? I think what you ought to do is start by thinking about the simplest things and go from there. For example, you could stand on a street corner somewhere day after day and look at the people who come by there. You're not in any hurry to decide anything. It may be tough, but sometimes you've got to just stop and take time. You ought to train yourself to look at things with your own eyes until something comes clear. And don't be afraid of putting some time into it. Spending plenty of time on something can be the most sophisticated form of revenge.''
``Revenge?! What do you mean, `revenge'? Revenge against whom?''
``You'll understand soon enough,'' said my uncle, with a smile. ---p. 328, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

 But still--but still---it absolutely does not bother me that I'm now just a part of the work I do. I don't feel the least bit alienated from my life. If anything, I sometimes feel that by concentrating on my work like this, with all the mindless determination of an ant, I'm getting closer to the ``real me.'' I don't know how to put it, but it's kind of like by not thinking about myself I can get closer to the core of my self. ...

I don't quite know how to put this, but lately I've been sort of thinking about the boy who got killed in the motorcycle accident. To tell you the truth, I haven't thought too much about him before. Maybe the shock of the accident twisted my memory or something in a weird way, because all I remembered about him were these weird kind of things, like his smelly armpits or what a totally dumb guy he was or his fingers trying to get into strange places of mine. Every once in a while, though, something not so bad about him comes back to me. Especially when my mind is empty and I'm just planting hairs in a wig base, these things come back to me out of nowhere. Oh, yeah, I'll think, he was like that. I guess time doesn't flow in order, does it---A, B, C, D? It just sort of goes where it feels like going. ---pp. 447,449, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Practices

Today, I came across a couple of simple and yet interesting practices in the ``Passionate Marriage'' book. I added them to my other blog [Life Practices] related to my book project. So far two posts: [Practice: Hugging till relaxed] and [Practice: Differentiation Stance].

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Finding True Self Through Relationships

The basic idea is quite simple. You discover who you are by enduring pain! You are in a close relationship and things get difficult. If you stay with "it" and do not escape, either to your partner by dissolving yourself, or out of relationship, then you will be forced to get to your core self and find who you are! Fascinating idea! From my experience, this can be much more painful than it sounds. But for me, who have been on the search for a way of finding my essense, this seems worth trying.

It is inevitable and necessary that intimacy occur without trust and affirmation from your partner. Other-validated intimacy is nice when you can get it. But when you don't, you can attempt to rise to the occasion and validate yourself. Trying---and succeeding---to validate yourself when your partner does not validate you isn't as improbable as it might seem. In Chapter 12, we'll discuss how infants by age three months do the equivalent process for themselves. Being out of synch with their caregiver stimulates their ability to regulate their own emotional equilibrium. This forces you to draw upon what is solid within yourself. Intimacy involves your ``relationship with yourself'' as well as your relationship with your partner. If you're strong enough (sufficiently differentiated) to master your own anxieties and maintain your position, you will feel better about yourself. This is self-validated intimacy, which is part of the process of increasing your differentiation. In other words, it's a circular process: differentiation is both the basis for, and the result of, self-validated intimacy. Self-validated intimacy is the means to two ends: becoming more of a person and developing a more resilient  intimate relationship. ---p.119, Passionate Marriage

Friday, May 11, 2012

Birthday Present

Yesterday, Thursday, was my birthday. Thursday is Sima's baking day and she is quite busy, so she has invited a few friends for this evening.  Yesterday, I went to office to meet a couple of students. I was planning to go some place with a friend at work, as typical of Thursdays. I was excited. Things, however, did not work out and my friend turned out to be busy. I was disappointed. I usually get angry and frustrated in such situations and leave with bitterness and resentment. Yesterday, I deviated from my typical behavioral pattern. I stayed in the office for a little while and finished some work, then went and chatted with my friend a little. When she asked about my birthday plans, however, a wave of self-pity washed over me and I finally came back home disappointed and sad. Hugely disappointed and depressed. I even cried for a while because I felt rejected and hurt. Nevertheless, I did not take my anger out on my friend, as much as I could. More importantly, I avoided taking it out on Sima. I was able to differentiate between myself (and my emotions) and other people in my life.

Could I have managed the situation better? Possibly. But I felt that by deviating from my typical pattern of behavior, I initiated a good change. Small steps.

Today, Friday, I was still depressed in the morning. After breakfast, I did some work. But then I decided that I had done a good job in handling my disappointment and for that reason, as well as my birthday, I deserve to give myself a present!

I stopped work and went to play tennis at noon. It was alright. I got angry in the middle of the game and also managed to injure myself. Something inside my rib cage tore while I was practicing serve. (I had had a feeling beforehand that I would injure myself today.) After tennis, I decided that I need more attention from myself.  I went to a Thai restaurant nearby (Thai Chili) and had lunch alone. (Sima was busy all morning.) I got Pad Thai and it was not very good either. Then I went to the Atlanta Coffee Roasters and got a cappuccino. I stayed there a couple of hours, reading, smoking (outside). watching people passing by. The cappuccino was very delicious, but overall it was a lonely afternoon.

Nothing special happened today. An ordinary day. I had a few hours all by myself. I tried to treat myself well. I did not super-enjoy any of those activities. But it was important that I did it for myself, as a gift, no matter how good or bad the gift turned out to be. Most importantly, I did not do any of these activities in anger or despite. It was not an act of revenge, punishment, or sulking. It was an ordinary day, an ordinary birthday present from me to myself. Happy birthday old boy!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Escaping Pain?!

It becomes more evident to me that as long as we look for perfection in life, as long as we try to avoid the inherent pain of living, we cannot go beyond a certain level of self-awareness and self-realization. Here is an interesting exposition of the idea in the context of psychotherapy:

Becoming more differentiated is possibly the most loving thing you can do in your lifetime---for those you love as well as yourself. ...

The problem is, becoming more differentiated isn't easy. The many small steps toward core transformation involve more than a self-indulgent search to ``find yourself.'' ....  No one ever wants to differentiate. You'll probably do it for the same reasons most people do: differentiating eventually becomes less painful than the alternative. ...

... We've promised ourselves paradise through self-knowledge: love, sex, and transcendence will be easy once we know ourselves and our partner. But that's often when you need to soothe your own heart and calm you own anxieties to take care of yourself. That's what differentiation offers. ---pp.73-74, Passionate Marriage

Reflected Sense of Self

When a person is emotionally undifferentiated, his or her overpowering needs for togetherness can feel like a burdensome neediness to be loved and accepted. Many people who feel this way attribute it to having had an insufficient emotional connection with their mothers or fathers. ... In lots of cases, however, their emotional hunger is caused by the presence of a compelling connection that is an emotional fusion. ---pp.58-59

When we have little differentiation , our identity is constructed out of what's called a reflected sense of self. We need continual contact, validation, and consensus (or disagreement) from others. This leaves us unable to maintain a clear sense of who we are in shifting or uncertain circumstances. We develop a contingent identity based on a ``self-in-relationship.'' ---p.59

Differentiation is more than what sets us apart from others---it determines how far apart we sit. Highly differentiated people have strong emotional bonds. They don't require physical distance, infrequent contact, or totally consuming careers to maintain their separate identities or moderate their reactivity to others. They're not indifferent to others---just the opposite. They can choose contact with others out of deep liking, without being compulsively driven toward them or away. ---p.64, Passionate Marriage


This is a follow-up on my last four posts [Fusion?!, Break Through, Living through, and Joy and Sorrow]. I am feeling ecstatic tonight. I have a hope that all I went through in the past few three years is finally paying off. I risked everything: I risked my job and in fact lost my current position at gsu. I risked my marriage but so far have saved it. I went through nights of endless pain and frustration, and got very close to leaving everything and ending my life. But I feel good tonight!

I know it sounds premature and childish. But I want to keep a record of what I am feeling tonight. I reminder for later on, when another storm of disappointment, frustration, and depression seems to be taking everything away. That there are good moments. And there may be some hope at the end.

Tonight, I feel like the following poem from my dear friend, Hafez:

دوش وقت سحر از غصه نجاتم دادند         واندر آن ظلمت شب آب حیاتم دادند
بیخود از شعشعه پرتو ذاتم کردند             باده از جام تجلی صفاتم دادند
چه مبارک سحری بود و چه فرخنده شبی     آن شب قدر که این تازه براتم دادند
بعد از این روی من و آینه وصف جمال        که در آن جا خبر از جلوه ذاتم دادند
من اگر کامروا گشتم و خوشدل چه عجب     مستحق بودم و این‌ها به زکاتم دادند 
هاتف آن روز به من مژده این دولت داد       که بدان جور و جفا صبر و ثباتم دادند
این همه شهد و شکر کز سخنم می‌ریزد      اجر صبریست کز آن شاخ نباتم دادند
همت حافظ و انفاس سحرخیزان بود          که ز بند غم ایام نجاتم دادند

Shajarian and Zolfonoon:

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


About three weeks ago, after I wrote that another chapter was closed in my self-awareness journey [Another Chapter ...], I had a vague idea that my next phase of journey would be related to ``sexual intimacy''. I did not have a clear idea of what would come next though. The first confirmation came in the form of an NPR email that was introducing three books on love, sex, and marriage. So I went to a local used book exchange store (Book Nook) and found one of them (Mating in Captivity, by Esther Perel). In the process of browsing books, I also found the David Schnarch's book, Passionate Marriage, quite randomly. Something in the book caught my attention. Now, the latter book is changing some of my views on life fundamentally. It makes so much sense, so perfectly, that it worries me! Why? Let's look at a quote from the book :)

Emotional fusion is the opposite of differentiation. Fusion is an invisible-but-tenacious emotional connection. Notice that the opposite of differentiation is neither connection nor lack of connection---it's a different kind of connection. ...

Lack of differentiation alienates us from those we love. Emotional fusion deceives us into thinking that we're not connected and we move away in defense. But the deeper truth is that we have to move away to counterbalance the tremendous impact we feel our spouse has on us. Or, unable to turn away, we turn ourselves over to the connection, but it feels engulfing. ---p.57, Passionate Marriage

One example of fusion for me is in the intellectual realm. When I read a new book that fascinates me, I give up all my critical defenses and absorb the ideas from the book like a sponge. It takes me a while to establish a healthy distance between myself and the book/writer and regain my own differentiation! :) I have many examples in mind, the most important is the Rober Boice book, Nihil Nimus: Advice for New Faculty, which captivated me for more than two years!!!  (The careful reader notices that the current name of the blog, Nihil NimIs, is the correct version of the books' title, Nihil Nimus, lol)

Break Through

I am on the verge of a breakthrough in my understanding of life and my relationships with myself, my job, and my spouse. It all started with the idea in the previous post [Living Through]. In a long-term relationship, we do not start from perfection, we start from a reasonable match, and we work through difficulties in order to improve it little by little.

Here are more about the concept of ``differentiation'' from David Schnarch book, ``Passionate Marriage.''

Differentiation involves balancing two basic life forces: the drive for individuality and the drive for togetherness. Individuality propels us to follow our own directives, to be on our own, to create a unique identity. Togetherness pushes us to follow the directives of others, to be part of the group.  ...  Differentiation is your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others---especially as they become increasingly important to you. Differentiation permits you to maintain your own course when lovers, friends, and family pressure you to agree and conform. Well-differentiated people can agree without feeling like they are ``losing themselves,'' and can disagree without feeling alienated and embittered. They can stay connected with people who disagree with them and still ``know who they are.'' They don't have to leave the situation to hold onto their sense of self. ---pp. 55,56, Passionate Marriage

I feel this quote very deeply based on my experiences in the last couple of years.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Living through

Here is a very simple but deep and profound observation about life. It is simple to state, but very difficult to implement and "live through" :)

We like to believe that ``communication problems'' underline most relationship difficulties because we welcome the idea [that] we can talk our way out of anything. We love the fantasy that we can ``understand'' and ``express'' our way out of our dilemmas.
But this is not what happens. Instead, in unwitting partnership, couples create emotional gridlocks. ...
... I have concluded that some dilemmas aren't meant to be ``fixed''. All problems aren't meant to be ``smoothed.'' The solution we seek sometimes come from living through them. ...
... Hugh and Gail Prather write in Notes to Each Other :
Did I pick the right person? This question inverts the starting and ending point. We do not pick our perfect match because we ourselves are not perfect. The universe hands us a flawless diamond--in the rough. Only if we are willing to polish off every part of ourselves that cannot join do we end up with a soul mate.
This polishing process in marriage is what I referred to earlier as differentiation. In a nutshell, differentiation is the process by which we become more uniquely ourselves by maintaining ourselves in relationship with those we love. It's the process of grinding off our rough edges through the normal abrasions of long-term intimate relationships. ---pp.50--51, Passionate Marriage

Joy and Sorrow

غم و شادی  ٔبر   عارف چه تفاوت دارد؟
ساقیا با ده‌‌‌ بده، شادی ما، کین غم هم از اوست

 Joy and sorrow, for the seeker-lover, is there a difference?
Bring me wine, for that joy and this sorrow, all from "Him"!

I have experienced moments of indescribable joy and sorrow in my life. Tonight, I remembered simple moments of joy. Drinking a bottle of my favorite chocolate milk in the childhood. A moment of intense pleasure while swimming that made me cry in joy. A walk with a friend in a Chicago neighborhood. An evening of going to art galleries in downtown Atlanta with another friend, as I was walking up the stairs of an obscure gallery, hearing an opera being played upstairs. Driving very slowly, after playing a few hours of tennis, hearing the sound of leaves under tires and remembering childhood memories. An amazing feeling of peace and freedom while taking a nap in the afternoon.

My natural reaction to such amazing moments has been a tendency to control, keep, and repeat them, a tendency to share them with others, and a tendency to feel grateful towards people who provided me with such a joy. Now, I realize that I am so grateful to my own body, with its incredible capacity to feel joy and pain, and get through them. I am so lucky to experience all this, even though many times I have been close to death. It's easy to reproduce pain and regret. To experience joy, we need patience and need to let go of the urge to control and force such moments.

I feel lucky for this amazing life, with all its pains and pleasures.

به جهان خرم از آنم که جهان خرم ازوست    عاشقم بر همه عالم که همه عالم ازوست
به غنیمت شمر ای دوست دم عیسی صبح      تا دل مرده مگر زنده کنی کاین دم ازوست
نه فلک راست مسلم نه ملک را حاصل          آنچه در سر سویدای بنی‌آدم ازوست
به حلاوت بخورم زهر که شاهد ساقیست      به ارادت ببرم درد که درمان هم ازوست
زخم خونینم اگر به نشود به باشد               خنک آن زخم که هر لحظه مرا مرهم ازوست
غم و شادی بر عارف چه تفاوت دارد            ساقیا باده بده شادی آن کاین غم ازوست
پادشاهی و گدایی بر ما یکسانست             که برین در همه را پشت عبادت خم ازوست
...سعدیا گر بکند سیل فنا خانه‌ی دل           دل قوی دار که بنیاد بقا محکم ازوست


I was listening to this song (the second version) just now and suddenly a great sense of loneliness cam over me. I felt as though all my connections in life are at the surface, and there is something/someone below, at lower depths, who is extremely lonely and sad.

Here are two versions of a song, "ALA YA AYOHASAGHI", that I like (and is one of my mom's favorite songs too :) 

الا یا ایها الساقی
 1- Shajarian:

2- Iraj Bastami:

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Crimes and Punishments

Why do we punish ourselves and those close to us? Not everyone does that. I do and I have seen other people doing it.

I have written about this before. In two posts, [New Self Discovery: The Delicate Force of Despite] and [Delicate Force of Despite: Example],what I describe as "despite" is one form of self-punishment. In my post, [sulking], I described my withdrawals and how they are ultimately done to hurt/punish myself and people close to me.

Here is a new insight. Self (and close people) punishment may be related to personal integrity. Here, integrity refers to the distance between who you think you are and who you aspire to be.

I wanted to write more, but after a few peaceful and depression free weeks, my depression seems to be coming back, albeit in a different shape and form now.

2:30 in the morning, a full moon night, roaches are out, horses are mad, and I am watching "Winter's Bone", a depressing and disturbing (but beautifully made) movie about shitty life in Missouri, perfect!

PS. (Sun, 8:22 pm) Things were fine today, no sign of depression :)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Limited Thing

I am reading ``The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,'' a novel by Haruki Murakami. In the middle of the novel, there is a very powerful story, it even seems out of place, and it hits some nerves in me. In some strange ways, I feel a familiarity with the core point of story which is encapsulated in this passage:

I happened to lose my life at one particular moment in time, and I have gone on living these forty years or more with my life lost. As a person who finds himself in such a position, I have come to think that life is a far more limited thing than those in the midst of its maelstrom realize. The light shines into the act of life for only the briefest moment---perhaps only a matter of seconds. Once it is gone and one has failed to grasp its offered revelation, there is no second chance. One may have to live the rest of one's life in hopeless depths of loneliness and remorse. In that twilight world, one can no longer look forward to anything. All that such a person holds in his hands is the withered corpse of what should have been. ---p. 209, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The core idea in this passage makes me uncomfortable. The issue is not that I believe it or not, but it is the fact that such an idea has been a force, hidden for a long time, behind my depression. Only recently I was able to recognize it, and for the past few weeks neutralize it, to some extent.

PS. This subject is much deeper than I first though. It is related to the thought experiment in [this quote] and also to one of my revelations, [Intense Moments].

A Moment, A Touch

How did the love story begin?
In a moment of vulnerability
when you were craving a touch
she came behind you
and straightened your collar,
"There you go!"

IT'S NOT ...

.. ``It's not your spread, and it's not how strong you are, and it's not how fast you are, because you have all those thing...