Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Forgotten Post

In my tiredness last night, I made the mistake of writing about the day I was posting on and not the day before, as I usually do. So now I will correct that mistake by writing to you about Monday.

Before lunch on Monday, I went to a mini SPOT reunion picnic on the Oval. Unfortunately, only Aurelia, Michael, Fabian, Lauren, and I showed up. Still, I brought some Ben and Jerry's ice cream (two inside jokes in one) for us all to share, and we had a great time. Everyone else missed out.

Aside: Leading SPOT has probably been the best thing I have done all year. The freshmen were all great. Working with Aurelia was great. Backpacking was great. All of it. I look forward to doing it again this coming September.

After lunch, I went to Green Library to check out Austin Powers.

I had dinner with Liesl at Ricker. I am sad that I did not spend more time with Liesl the past two quarters, but it was good that I got to see her before I left. She's graduating this June, and she's almost definitely going to be leaving the area. She got a fellowship through the Haas center that sounds like it was designed specifically for her, it's so perfect for her. It pays her to do work in social change through art. In her case, the artistic medium is theater, and it is basically what she has been doing for free for the last four years. It sounds like she will most likely be doing her internship in New York, which makes perfect sense for her.

I was just so happy to hear that she is doing so well, and that she's getting this amazing opportunity. It's just refreshing to know that there are (paying) opportunities out there for college grads that can really make them happy.

After dinner with Liesl, I went to the Financial Literacy class that she's auditing, just because it's interesting. The class was full of seniors about to graduate. Not that much of a surprise.

Then Laura and I watched Austin Powers. For some reason, everyone else had work or other things to do. I don't understand.

Reflections for the moment:
I ran into Joe Gettinger earlier today here at the Hillel computer cluster, and then we ended up hanging out with him for a while. Somehow we go to talking about living a balanced life, and it reminded me of a couple different philosophies about how to achieve that.

The approach my (former or current?) roommate, Ben, takes is that he finds a bunch of activities that are meaningful to him - push-ups, stretching, learning Japanese kanji, reading, meditating, writing a blog/journal (when he was in Japan), etc. - and making habits of doing them every single day without fail. I have taken the same approach for this blog, at least for the time being. He does these things a little bit every day - one set of push-ups, 20 kanji, and so on. After doing this for a long time, he has really accomplished a lot without sacrificing too much of any one day. By building these regular habits, he has developed all sorts of random skills and improved himself in all sorts of different ways.

The other philosophy I heard comes from the book/movie Eat Pray Love. I don't particularly recommend watching the movie, but my mom enjoyed the book and said it was much better than the movie. To summarize, both are autobiographical accounts of Elizabeth Gilbert traveling to Rome, India, and Bali trying to improve upon an uninspiring life by learning from these radically different cultures. I think "eat" comes from Rome, "pray" from India, and "love" from Bali. While she is in Bali, the author writes about her relationship with a Brazilian man, also a divorcée. She becomes worried, though, that her time spent with him would detract from learning what there was to learn in Bali and from putting into practice all the things she learned in India and Rome so that she could live a better life. Someone then gives her the advice, "To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life." To me, this also said something much more general - that you may not have to be living a "balanced" life at any given time to, in the end, have lived a balanced life. It made me think that, perhaps, living a balanced life necessitates being constantly off balance in one way or another.

In talking to Joe about this, I decided, at least for now, what should be obvious - living a balanced life necessitates a balance of the two life philosophies. Of course, I am sure Ben and Elizabeth Gilbert would say the same. I think a lot depends on what aspect of life I am trying to balance. As Joe said, it is important for him to go to Israel, but he can't go every day for a little bit. Building off of that, I think it is important, for me as well, to go to Israel regularly. In the case of Israel, I used to go every other year or so for short visits. However, I don't think that alone would give me a "balanced" life. It really took living in Israel for almost a year to really connect with Israel. To feel, many years down the road, that Israel is a real, important part of my life, both the short, regular visits and, hopefully, the few, long stays there will be necessary parts of that. I don't think it would be the same to have one without the other.

There are ups and downs to both approaches. The positive part of doing something either every day or on some regular basis is that it becomes a part of my life, my identity, and my character. By thinking about things regularly, my thoughts develop. Especially for building skills or relationships, regular practice or interaction is crucial. Some things I need to get into muscle memory or into habit. I think a neurologist would agree that the brain is not infinitely malleable. It has a characteristic, finite response time for everything. Our brain learns patterns and makes connections, but often only by regular, continual conditioning. I think this effects  relationships with people as well. To get really close with people requires interacting with them over a long period of time. I start learning their habits, mannerisms, ways of speech, humor, logic, and so on. Even if I spent 20 straight hours with someone, I don't think I would learn some of the things I get from being with a person every day for 40 days and interacting directly with them for only around 30 minutes every day.

The negative aspect of this is how things become routine, thereby losing importance or excitement in my mind. With any activity or person or whatever, there are somethings you can't learn or feel experiencing them only in small bits. Some goals can't be accomplished by dividing the task into small bits. You can't learn to play an hour-long symphony only by practicing 20 minutes a day; you can't build an arch one section at a time; you can't get to really know someone by talking with them for 10 minutes a day.

To me, it would be hard to claim that something is important to me without being willing to sacrifice for it at some point. By focusing on something or, as in Eat Pray Love, someone very intensely, I am making a sacrifice. Time I spend going to Oxford will disrupt my regular learning habits, interaction with the Jewish community, social dance, etc. here at Stanford. To focus intensely on something almost always means neglecting or disrupting other activities, responsibilities, people, and so on.

If travel is important to me, though, I have to be willing to go on more than just short little trips around California. I need to really get away, see something different, and spend serious time there. The same is true with people. There are plenty of people whom I like. With my closest friends, though, we can always talk about some time where we really spent a lot of time together by ourselves and did something awesome. Maybe it was a weekend trip or maybe it was a year long relationship. I don't think I could call my relationship with someone close if I am not willing to, at some point, ditch the rest of what I am doing and spend some serious time with him.

What does this mean for Oxford? I don't know. That I should go, I guess. And I should enjoy it without worrying too much about other things going wrong. I don't think that's quite the right answer, but I'll figure things out soon.

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