Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Universe of People

The Universe of People

It is interesting to see people as being different, diverse and full of surprises. I see the people around me as unfinished paintings. The picture within each painting is always emerging but yet never fully complete. Everytime someone does something or utters a word, it adds another dab of paint, another artistic stroke onto his personality canvas. I see a fuller picture. But I always assume that it is a work-in-progress. What a joy to see these works of art coming fuller and fuller to life everyday!

People are extremely dynamic systems. When a person makes a decision to do something, I am always intrigued by the process that led him to his action or decision . What is his worldview? What is the paradigm that he is adopting? What are his assumptions?

How a person comes to a certain conclusion is more interesting to me than the conclusion itself. Sometimes we call this the "thinking process", but thinking is only part of the total picture. Most of the time, all our actions are the consequence of a combination of thought, emotion and instincts.

When we decide, say, to marry someone. How do we come to that decision? What are the emotions that are involved? What is the "thinking" behind it? Do we always marry someone we love? How much of that decision is guided by fear ( of old age, of being lonely, of not conforming to society) and how much of the decision is determined by practical considerations? Or are we just reacting to our biological instincts?

A convenient way of looking at people is to see them as four-layer stacks: the physical layer, emotional layer, intellectual layer and spiritual layer. People have needs on all four layers; they seek fulfilment by bonding and making connection with other people. Very rarely do you see married couples bond on all four layers. The interplay of forces on all these layers will take them an entire lifetime to resolve.

Bear in mind that each layer is "thick". There are "lower" and "upper" strata within each layer. Biological instincts operate on the physical and the lower emotional layer. Hunger, sexual desire and the need for companionship are examples of instincts that operate at these layers. Education, culture and upbringing develops the higher emotional layer and the lower intellectual layer. The spiritual layer is not easy to discern as it is usually not fully developed yet in most individuals. Some people choose to ignore it completely. But it is only a matter of time before it materializes.

One must also be careful here: the lower spiritual layer is where most people get stuck in. Like I've mentioned before: spiritual awakening is like first love (lower emotional layer)--it can be very dazzling and overwhelming, because you are crossing one layer to another. But hey, you've merely touched the lower stratum, there's much more to discover further up within the spiritual layer!

Allow yourself to grow spiritually first, just like how you have allowed yourself to grow physically, emotionally and intellectually. Take your time. Let each stratum firm up before depositing the next. Over-enthusiasm often leads to fanaticism. And this has caused mankind a lot of grief.

Similarly don't assume that there are only four layers involved! This we've-figured-out-everything attitude has proven to be the greatest intellectual trap of all. To quote astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington: "Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."

So let's also approach the mystery of people with awe and humility. Every individual is a universe that begs exploration. And the things that one discovers within is often stranger than we can imagine.

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