Finding depth in fleeting connections
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Merry-go-round people, kama muta, and why consistency isn't the answer to deep connections
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying hard to make sense of the fragility of connections. I’ve brought down my dilemma to a single, pressing question: why are humans, despite their best intentions, sometimes unable to uphold the connections they value most?
Amidst the inevitable fleetingness of connections, I found myself holding onto tiny moments. Like the time a close friend came out to me over text and we planned on cooking together the next time we met, as a little coming out party. Or that other time when a person I had known only for 10 minutes made me my favourite brand of coffee with the cavalry of equipment he travels with [coffee enthusiasts are nuts!]. Or the time a friend sent me an email detailing his life’s highlights since he moved to Canada, which made me smile hard and feel like I was living the journey with him. Or the time I hung out with a friend from work, and we went bar hopping while talking about startups, valuations, and life...
I’ve found myself holding on to the glasses of wine shared, food cooked in great company, sights seen in mutual appreciation, and thoughts exchanged with frantic, wide-eyed nodding in awe of a book, a coffee brand, a musician, an artist.
The best connections spark something deep inside of you - like a lightbulb flickering, causing the air around it to become warm as a result of the sudden jolt of electricity. That warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re ‘moved by love’ is called kama muta.
Kama muta is closely related to, but not the same as, love. Love is an enduring sentiment, whereas kama muta is the momentary emotion that occurs when love ignites. That is, you feel kama muta when new love emerges (such as a first kiss, or someone shows you kindness), or existing love suddenly becomes salient, or a sense of belonging, connection, and identity emerges, for example at a march or demonstration. The suddenly created or intensified love can be romantic, platonic, or religious. It can be with one person, with a family or team, or with the entire Earth. It can be the gratitude for an unexpected kindness, or the sense of connection and belonging at a warm welcome. [Source: Christian Jarrett for Aeon] I realised that the tiny moments I was holding on to were all kama muta moments: times I felt moved by love.
Kama muta inducers walk into your life and make it feel like play. Like you’re on a merry-go-round that doesn’t stop turning. It’s perfect. You’re dizzy, giddy with laughter, and you want the feeling to never end. You notice that their presence is changing something within you that you can’t quite articulate. Everything is seemingly the same, and then you look at yourself one day, and all of a sudden you’re a different person - a better version of yourself.
Because you want to hold on to this feeling forever, you instinctively rush to define it. “What should we call it? Something precious. Magical. Ah, yes. Soulmates. Best friends.” We’re so predictable in our need to own, label, or define something that brings us joy.
I don’t understand the concept of soulmates. I think it’s restrictive. It perpetuates the idea that there are only a few specific people who should be inhabiting your playground. That merry-go-round people ‘happen once-in-a-lifetime’. That all other relationships will forever fall short [convenient, for a society obsessed with monogamy and marriage].
But if we look beyond the fanfare of definitive connections - platonic friend; lover; best friend; acquaintance; soulmate; person I just met - aren’t deep connections really just your inner child recognising this other person as your own? The child says, ‘oh hey, we’re the same’. Despite how starkly different some people may seem, you end up finding [even if just] a sliver of sameness. And as a result, the child feels loved & seen. It wants to hold on to this feeling because of its natural instinct to perpetuate joy.
But is perpetual joy realistic?
Inner child: 0 World: 1
What do you do when your friends have gone home for the day and you find yourself standing alone in the playground? Sometimes the same people may not be able to make your life feel like play. No more kama muta from the kama muta inducers, unfortunately.
People are messy. We drift in and out of our own best selves, and that affects how we interact with the world around us, especially those we hold close to our hearts. Definitions come to bite us in the back when the people we expected perpetual love and joy from aren't able to provide it anymore, so we rush to end [or uphold a seemingly endless grudge] the relationships, and in the process, put ourselves through the dramatic pain of having lost our ‘soulmates'.
Really, how are we the smartest species?
So, how do we evaluate a connection then? How do we bring some semblance of certainty in our connections without being bogged down by the weight of expectations that come with them?
connection = f (depth, time) Misconceptions: 1. long = deep = good 2. short = shallow = bad The solution? Take time out of the equation. connection = f (depth)
Simple. Define depth with whatever makes the child in you feel loved and validated. Irrespective of the time involved. Let people walk in and out of your life. Give them space. A meditative view of friendships tells me that connections, among other things, are exactly what they are right now. And life’s really made up of millions of ‘right now’s [just another way of saying the present moment is really all we have, without sounding corny?]. Connections tend to flow beautifully when we let people come as they are, and love them from what we are in the moment.
But.. aren’t you just justifying being an inconsistent friend?
I know consistency develops trust and trust perpetuates a deepening of the connection, but when we take the pressure of expectations off, it allows people to be themselves for us; and also allows us to return the favour. And isn’t being yourself the deepest form of trust you can offer another person? I find it’s easier to connect with people who are their real selves. People who aren’t always the ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ friend. People who are messy. People who forget to reply for weeks but also apologise for it because they didn’t really intend to leave you on ‘read’. I’d much rather have real friends than nice ones. Consistency is good for habits; for personal growth. But human connections aren’t nearly linear enough.
I’m learning to look at connections meditatively: appreciate them for what they are instead of losing sleep over what they should be. Most importantly, I think I’ve realised ‘merry-go-round’ is a state of being, not a type of person. Kama-muta-inducing isn’t [shouldn’t be] a full-time job; it’s a momentary spark, often induced without intent, which makes it all the more beautiful.