Welcome to the 29th edition of ‘The Lighthouse’!
I have a lot of stuff on my mind, and instead of overwhelming everyone with those thoughts, I put them out one at a time in my weekly blog posts.
This week I’m writing to you about my personal time machine and how you can have one too. In fact, you may already have one, but you haven’t realised it yet. I have used it many times, and I hope you find it useful to ride on this back into the past.
Let’s dig in.
My Time Machine
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I was at the local store picking groceries. I was reaching out for a pack of biscuits on one of the higher shelves, and I hear a familiar piece of music playing from the speaker above. It was an old Hindi tune, "Ae malik tere bande hum...". Zoop. I go back in time, way back in my life, to my school days - the years 1994/95 when I was part of a choir to sing this song. Vivid memories flooded me, about standing in the first row, the microphone a few inches away from me. I was wearing a red full-sleeved T-shirt and a pair of blue trousers. That pair of trousers was a favourite for a long time. It was an incredible feeling reminiscing about that song and all my friends who sang along with me. A funny incident preceded it when one of them was speaking with the microphone switched on - that was a blunder!
7th of May 2010, after a tense few minutes in the hospital, the doctor announced I was a father to a baby girl. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. When my daughter was first handed to me, I whispered the almighty's name in her ears. She was restless, new to this world, and was trying to seek comfort in her new environs. I sang an old Hindi tune, I don't remember why I chose that particular song - "Aa chal ke tujhe, main leke chalun, ek aise gagan ke tale...". Since then, I've sung it every day of my life. I sing it even now. It takes me back to the hospital, to those magical moments - a feeling of love, gratitude, and thanks. My wife thinks I've gone overboard with this song. But decades into the future when I want to remind myself about how it felt to hold her for the first time, I can sing this song, and I'll be back in that ward holding my bundle of joy.
I had figured this out around 20 years ago - I could pick a particular song, listen to it, and go back in time and relive the moment in its entirety. The time and place engulf me. It reminds me - of friends I spent hours together with, of losses, of life, gone by, of suffering, of happiness, and of course death.
I thought this was a phenomenon associated with sound till about 6 months ago.
It was early in the morning. I had finished my morning meditation and was brewing my coffee. It was going to be my first cup of black coffee in 3 months. The instant I poured hot water into the French Press, the rich aroma of roasted coffee snaked its way out of the French Press and hit my nostrils. In an instant, I was transported to this small cafe in Tokyo where we had our breakfast every day. There was nothing special about the place; it was a cafe in the Hamamatsuchō Station. An old gentleman owned and operated it. He had our order figured out 2/ 3 days into visiting them. On the fourth day, our order was ready by the time we reached the billing counter. They brewed some great coffee, and I would savour this against the backdrop of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Ennio Morricone.
I was immediately able to piece this together with what I used to experience when I was listening to songs.
Since then, I started paying careful attention to smells. They took me back to memorable events in my life. Incense reminded me of a temple I loved to visit. Earl Gray tea took me back to the airport; I used to sip this almost always before catching a flight. Sanitisers and disinfectants - that have become commonplace now - reminded me of troubling times when my mother was in the hospital.
I have been ruminating on why, unlike sight, our sense of smell and hearing ties us strongly to these specific points in time? When I look at old pictures, there is a sense of nostalgia associated with it. Still, it doesn't tug at my emotions like listening to a song does; or, when I smell a cup of coffee. Another thing that struck me was this - despite being able to make such strong connections, we take both these senses for granted. We stress a lot on the power of sight in our everyday life - there's a whole science about how to grab eyeballs. Has anyone come up with something for the ear and nose?
The strong connections that we associate with certain sounds and smells could be a consequence of our evolutionary history. Having evolved from animals, the sense of smell and hearing connect to ancient and primal parts of the brain. What we experience could be a consequence of this. It is a well known and established fact that most animals have heightened awareness of their senses of smell and sound to either hunt or avoid being hunted. But as humans, we can use this to experience a fuller life.
Whatever the reason is behind this, I'm grateful for the experiences I have gone through in life and that I have this trick up my sleeve to relive those experiences time and again.
This is my Time Machine, and I hope it becomes yours too.
Here’s some interesting stuff I came across:
The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino: We may have come across someone in our lives who has a chronic life-long illness, but very few of us would have asked them how they feel. I have refrained from doing this sometimes; not because I was unaware of their suffering, but because I did not want to make them conscious of their illness. But I didn’t realise that it was something they have to live with for the rest of their lives. Asking them about it would probably help me understand their situation better. The spoon theory is moving, grabs at your heart and will shed light on what a person going through chronic illness feels like. Read this, share this, and spread the word. Christine has done an enormous favour by coming out with the Spoon Theory to explain with words what could not be described till now. H/T to Thibaut for sharing this piece.
!!LINK OF THE WEEK!! A Journey To The End Of Time by Melody Sheep: Ever wondered where we are on a cosmological timeline? Ever wondered how long before we could see the end of the Universe? Watch this. The first thing that came to my mind after watching this was our insignificance in the Universe. We are but a sliver of thought in the lifetime of the Universe. Yet we masquerade on as if the Universe must bow to us, and grant every wish of ours. This time-lapse video explores one of the many possibilities of our Universe - it was birthed from a bang, but it dies with a whimper, just like you and me. We are born shouting, crying, and making a lot of noise, but in the end, we lay still and silent as if we have achieved our life’s purpose. H/T to Thibaut once again for sharing this.
Relativity As A Mental Model by Shane Parrish: Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity doesn’t just give us an insight into Time Dilation, or why light bends around Black Holes but, it also gives us insights into how people think and behave in various situations. Using relativity as a mental model, you can appreciate why people who have undergone a traumatic experience in life see things with tinted glasses. It isn’t anybody’s fault, but our perception of what we undergo that determines our behaviour. Here is a great Twitter thread about this mental model.
First Principles Thinking: The Building Blocks Of True Knowledge by Farnam Street Blog: There are principles, and then there are the First Principles. First-principles are those that cannot be further broken down or simplified. They’re the root of the tree you are looking at. When there’s a strange problem staring at you in your face the next time, try to solve it using the first principles technique. Going to the roots of why the problem occurred will help resolve the issue instead of trying to address the symptoms, which is where most of us fail. The symptoms are not the cause. Start with what is true and head out from there.
A thought I’m ruminating on:
Till next weekend, take care.
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