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Zoom, Immortality, Donkeys...

· Introverts,Connection,Suffering,Donkeys,Lex Fridman

Firstly, I should never glance at previous posts, because each seems so naive and superficial in retrospect. Oh well, hopefully I live and learn.

I listened yesterday to episode #298 of Lex Fridman's podcast - his conversation with Susan Cain, who wrote the excellent book 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking'.

How odd that she simplified her explanation of introversion -v- extroversion so much that she didn't even mention the Myers-Briggs framework upon which it's based.

Anyway, it was an interesting discussion and precipitated a few miscellaneous thoughts I wanted to share.

Both Susan and Lex agreed that Zoom/Teams meetings are just as tiring as in-person meetings, but were unable to suggest why this is so. I'd like to provide the answer, and it will seem obvious.

Consider an in-person meeting: people look in various directions, at each other or at the speaker, and the group can fragment into sub-chats. The tiring effect of too much personal contact can be diluted.

But contrast an online video meeting. Everyone's face is displayed face-on, as if everybody is staring straight at you. The effect is similar to, and as terrifying as, public speaking -  all eyes trained on you. 

At my workplace I was part of a small team of mostly introverts, and during the Covid pandemic we would hold online meetings. After the first one, without discussion, we all turned off our laptop cameras, and I certainly felt less tense.

Susan and Lex talk about, or rather grasp towards, the question of what 'everyone is longing for', and mention immortality, and the idea of connection. They don't use the word 'connection', and I can't recall how they express this exactly, but their meaning was connection.

It seems obvious to me that immortality and connection are a unity at a deeper level. Being part of something greater than yourself, whether a grand enterprise, membership of a group, or connection with a single person, creates a feeling of immortality. Something of you continues after death, and the present moment feels timeless. The immortality is a by-product of connection.

There are two sides to this. the above paragraph describes a positive aspect, coming from a place of joy or fullness.

The other aspect is kind of negative, a level of aversion. Of fearing death and loneliness. These come from a place of scarcity, of self-protection and fear. But there is a unity here also. To desire immortality is usually the ego fearing its finitude. And desiring connection is the fear of being alone.

To the question of what we are all longing for. It’s transcendence, whether this is manifest as connection to the cosmos, or to another person romantically. A feeling of oneness, of feeling at home wherever you are. It might be the longing to create a great body of work or contribute to a humanitarian project. Again this is simply another means of genuinely connecting with reality.

If we feel connected or strongly embedded in the world, then we are no longer thinking with our ego, and we experience a kind of immortality.

Susan explained that when something bad happens, it's important to accept it. She gives the example of her children realising suddenly that befriending two donkeys during a holiday entailed parting from those donkeys at the end of the trip. Her children were at first deeply upset, but calmed down when Susan told them that this kind of loss is a natural part of life.

What happens is that we tend to add an additional layer of suffering, by feeling victimhood, or anger, or self-blaming, or telling ourselves that the cosmos hates us personally. And so on.

So in addition to the initial distress (which will abate with time), we decide to add a meta-level of suffering (which we can keep stoked for years).

This is unskilful management of our emotions. It’s unnecessary, it doesn’t solve the original problem, and it creates more suffering for us.

I already knew this, but Susan Cain's words today really clarified that we often needlessly multiply our suffering with self-generated anger. I will aim to be more skilful with my thinking from now on.

Susan also reminded me of multiple encounters with donkeys and horses illegally tied up in the fields of Milton Keynes, England. Owned by Irish travellers, I would see these neglected animals and bring them bags of carrots and apples, and a little bit of love. 

Around the year 2001, when I was working on my astrophysics PhD, I remember one creature in particular. It was a beautiful small donkey alone in a field. I gave it delicious apples and carrots, and fussed it, ruffling the shaggy hair on its sides, and speaking to it quietly. 

I paused, and to my delight it reciprocated. It gently nuzzled me and tugged my sweater and coat with its teeth. Its rubbed my chest with its face. It was petting me just as I had petted it. What a delightful moment. 

I only met it the one time, but I often think of it fondly and wonder what kind of life it has had. And it's only just this moment right now that I realise that that lovely animal, and others, like Molly & Dolly at Over Farm, Gloucester, have led to me leaving a bequest in my will to The Donkey Sanctuary.

Anyway, that's enough donkey blah blah.