Tag Archives: science

Open your Heart

A dear friend sent me a link to an interesting TED talk on love and relationships given by Mandy Len Catron. The theme of love and relationships had already been playing on my mind.

After watching the clip, I confessed to my friend that I long to share intimacy and affection with someone of the male variety. I quickly added that I’m just feeling impatient and that I should simply be present.

My friend replied: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a special connection with a man. What you mustn’t do is ever make yourself feel bad because that want is there. It’s human nature.” It was nice to read her words.

Mandy Len Catron’s TED talk came about because Mandy, in the midst of a breakup, turned to science to better understand love. While researching the workings of the heart, Mandy discovered a study undertaken by psychologist Arthur Aron 20 years ago.

The study involved having two strangers ask and answer a series of 36 questions designed to make the participants fall in love. Six months later, the participants were married.

One evening, Mandy described Arthur Aron’s study to a university acquaintance. He proposed that they put the questions to the test. And they promptly fell in love!

Mandy went on to write an article about her experience for The New York Times. Since then, she has received endless calls and emails from people who all want to know one thing: Are Mandy and her university acquaintance still together? And the answer is that they are.

This may seem like the happy ending that we’re all hoping for. But what Mandy learned from this incredible experience is that there is no happy ending. There is no ending.

Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge lies in the decision to continue loving each other through the good and the difficult times. The hard part is to allow yourself be vulnerable and to give your heart to someone who may or may not choose to love you back.

These are the parts of love that many single people forget about when we crave a relationship. We want the smiles and the glances, the cuddles and the kisses, the electricity of attraction and the rush of romance.

However, closeness with a partner can really trigger you and bring all your issues to the surface. The choice then is to succumb to the temptation to close your heart and retreat (or defend) or you can deal with these issues and expand, both as a human being and as a couple.

It’s exciting and scary to open your heart to another human being. Being loved can make you feel blissful and secure one moment and out of control the next.

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Today, I told another friend about all of this. She excitedly suggested that we ask one another the 36 questions. “Imagine if we fell in love,” she laughed.

My friend and I answered all 36 of Arthur Aron’s questions. The questions encouraged us to share our life stories, embarrassing incidents, favourite memories, fears, problems and dreams. We were also invited to tell each other what we liked about one another.

Did we fall in love? I can honestly say that my heart was bursting by the end of the exercise. In truth, my friend and I already love one another.

However, this exercise highlighted how much we have in common and how much we value our friendship. Being let into my friend’s life in this way deepened my love for her. Answering these questions also reminded me of how far I’ve come, how great my life is and how wonderful I am.

How do a series of questions make people fall in love? I believe that these questions inspire you to share yourself with another human being openly and honestly. This vulnerability allows someone to get to know the real you. And this can greatly speed up the falling in love process.

I’d definitely recommend completing this exercise, preferably with someone dishy. It may just make you fall in love – with your friend, your partner, or an attractive stranger. It may also make you fall in love with your journey, with your life, and with you, the real you.

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Are You a Pessimist?

Over the years I’ve noticed that any time I get into really bad form, it’s because I’ve started believing the thoughts that are telling me that everything has gone to shit.

I’m lazy and useless. I’ve gained weight. I’m ugly. I’m alone. I’ll never amount to anything.

Recently, I observed that I was slipping into one of those moods. Rather than dwell on it, I switched on an interview with Dr. Joan Borysenko, psychologist and mind-body medicine expert.

I was half-listening as I got ready for bed when I heard Joan speaking about pessimistic thinking. Joan says that you can inherit a pessimistic world view. This type of thinking happens when you lose hope and can’t see a way out of things.

When something bad happens, Joan suggests looking at your explanatory style. How do you explain this negative occurrence to yourself? Martin Seligman put forward the Three Ps of Pessimism. They are as follows:

1. You take things Personally. You blame and even hate yourself. You can see from above how I was telling myself that I was lazy and useless.

2. Your thinking is Pervasive. Nothing in your life is good. Relationships, family, work, body-image: all crap.

3. Permanence. You’re in a mental rut and you can’t imagine that your life could be any different. You feel stuck. I was telling myself that I’d never amount to anything and that I’d always be alone.

This was a revelation to me. I was relieved to realise that I am not alone in this type of thinking. And once I become aware of it, and own it, it immediately loses its grip on me. I can choose the way I think.

Joan suggests disputing what you say to yourself. When you watch your mind and witness your thoughts, you can see that you’re telling yourself a story, one that isn’t true. This creates distance from the thoughts so you can observe and even learn from them.

Joan explains the science behind all of this, which I won’t go into in detail now. Basically, she states that you can change your brain circuitry. Brain plasticity allows for the rewiring of your nervous system. So you don’t have to be stuck with pessimism for the rest of your life.

Joan doesn’t suggest shifting from pessimism to optimism. Rather, she speaks about the benefits of stress-hardy or I-can-do-it thinking, which is more realistic.

Suzanne Kobasa introduced the Three Cs of Stress-Hardy Thinking. They are as follows:

1. The stress-hardy thinker will want to rise to the Challenge.

2. Commitment. The person will stick with the challenge and see it through.

3. Control. The stress-hardy thinker doesn’t try to control the uncontrollable. Instead, they focus on what they can control.

And if you can’t see yourself making the leap into stress-hardy thinking just yet, Joan suggests a few quick and simple tips to calm down your fear responses. Deep breathing, exercise and just a five-minute meditation can be enough to bring you back from your pessimistic thinking.

Do you recognise yourself in any of this? If you get caught in a spiral of pessimism every now and again, don’t beat yourself up. You’re human. But you do have choices. Change your thinking, change your life. Are you up for the challenge?

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Life as Miracle

Life is miraculous. From pregnancy to childbirth; fingernails and eyelashes, involuntary muscle action and the healing process; sleep and dreams, tears and laughter, memory and pain, pleasure and love…

Miracles abound in plant life and in the world beneath the ocean; from sleeping flowers to deep-sea bioluminescence. In the moon’s effects on the tides. In the stars and the planets that glow. In the ever-changing, ever-moving clouds and the simple strangeness of a rainbow. In rivers and mountains and volcanoes. In the mere 62 miles from here to outer space.

Miracles can be sensed in the steady growth of a seed, in the sweet scent of yellow furze, in a silent snowfall. A miracle can be witnessed in every lamb, lion, peacock and panther. In every earthworm, elephant, foal and firefly. In the astonishing metamorphosis of frogspawn, caterpillars and eggs to frogs, butterflies and soaring eagles. In the transformation of chunks of wood to keening violins, the deep tones of a cello, the heartbreaking ambience of a piano and the flamenco dancers invigorated by the passionate plucking of guitar strings.

Miracles can be felt in the beauty that arises from sweeping paintbrushes, from words that tumble from vision to feeling to pen to paper, from a voice that channels raw emotions. Miracles can be found in mathematical genius, geometry and quantum physics. In spirituality, creation, destruction and creator.

A miracle is born with every breath and birdsong; when the leaves dance in the wind, the weeping willow sways and the cherry blossoms fall. Miracles rejoice in the delightful chuckle of an infant, in a lover’s touch, in the awe-struck appreciation of a sunset…

The miracle of life is found in the searching, in the connection, in the bliss and in the discovery of self. In the present moment, in the here and now, in the being beyond language and analysis and definition, in the space between everything else; this is where magic happens. This is life as miracle.