A blog about nothing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

WHERE THE FUN'S AT


This is fascinating. I mentioned earlier an instance of Jung's synchronicity in my own life. That is, I was witness to a meaningful coincidence, or two related events happening simultaneously without any causal connection. I had been watching a baseball game and as a batter hit the ball I said inwardly "he smoked it" only to hear a second later the announcer use the very same descriptive verb. Having heard my father use the term synchronicity to describe such a phenomenon I researched the term and found that it was Carl Jung who coined the word in the early twentieth century and years later elaborated upon the subject in a treatise of the same name. 

Then, whilst taking a shower yesterday, I found myself thinking about a certain girl, and about our astrological chart comparison. And from there to wondering whether horoscope compatibility had ever been formally studied by those less partial than myself. Astrology had been a cherished pursuit of my mother's ever since as a teenager her cousin introduced her to the monthly horoscope. Years later my mother studied under a professional astrologer, supplementing her lessons with books she purchased on her own. By the time she married my father, he was fully convinced of the validity of astrology as a determiner/indicator of personality and its utility in guiding interpersonal relationships. My mother made certain that I too was a convert, and by the age of twenty I knew the placement, both in signs and in houses, of all the planets in my horoscope. 

I have since had an on-again, off-again relationship with the ancient science-slash-pseudoscience. At times I live or die by the compatibility interpretations I still generate between myself and romantic prospects, while at other times I dismiss astrology as a hoax and allow the relationship to take its own course. But I cannot deny that those aspects which astrology maintains are frequently found in the chart comparisons of marriage partners - such as the sun/moon conjunct, the moon/moon conjunct, and the moon/ascendant conjunct - have, whenever present in my own romantic history, exerted a stabilizing and satisfying effect. Aside from testimonies from astrologers and my own personal experience, what, if anything, did the research say?

And so I look it up. What turns up first in my search record is Jung's Synchronicity, in which the author himself conducts the experiment I had in mind. His researches indicate that in the charts of committed couples the aforementioned aspects occur about twice as frequently as in randomly paired strangers. In other words twice as frequently as you would expect if the occurrence were attributable to chance alone. And my being referred to Jung's Synchronicity is in itself another instance of synchronicity, if only tangentially. The sequence of related events is as follows: my uttering the word "smoked it" at the same time as the announcer, which led me to a topic in Jung's book, then my thinking of astrology, which led me to a different and seemingly unrelated topic treated in the same book! Excuse the exclamation, but I don't often get this excited. 

As a result of this curious coincidence I have purchased the book, which I am about halfway through. I also have renewed faith in astrology as a serious science. Where will all this lead me? To a career as an astrologer? Wouldn't that make my mother proud! To a search for a mate whose moon is in Aquarius (my sun) or Cancer (my moon) or Sagittarius (my rising)? Or merely to the assurance that everything in this world is related, the Universe is indeed the body of God, and as Jung says, quoting Paracelsus, "the philosopher does not find anything in heaven and earth which he does not also find in man." In other words, know yourself and you know everything. Which is me quoting Socrates. And also my definition of perfection.

How to know yourself? If you listen to Sai Baba speak, self-knowledge starts where vice leaves off. Listening to this modern philosopher caution against the use of alcohol, tobacco and meat, and repeatedly cut off the interpreter, is a worthy source of ten minutes' amusement. What an adorable little man he is! Sai says alcohol makes you silly and self-forgetful, tobacco robs you of your health and meat increases animal tendencies. 

Fine, but if you take Sai Baba to be God incarnate as his devotees believe, this prohibition seems odd. Here God is, having created these substances as well as the humans who so copiously indulge in them, vehemently urging humans to do the very opposite. Why not just banish whisky and weed from existence or not create them in the first place, or not permit the urge for them to take root in the human breast? But really, since these substances exist, and all that God created is good, what's wrong with getting a little high once in a while? Yes, it builds character and is an exercise in willpower to avoid these treacherous vices, if that's what they are. And refusing to self-medicate leads to perfection of the human being. 

For as one author writes, "No [spiritual aspirant] must have ... one affection or desire that chains him to the world. He must be pure from the love of woman, free from avarice and ambition, free from the dreams even of art, or the hope of earthly fame." For: "if happiness exist, it must be centered in a self to which all passion is unknown."

Okay, maybe I answered my own question. And so much for those chart comparisons. With significant aspects present only 10 percent of the time in compatibility reports, good riddance! But clearly the decision whether or not to partake of life's many sensuous enjoyments depends upon your perspective. Just as you could look at my tendency to spend almost all my time at home alone, divorced from the world and interaction with others, as an instance of living life to the fullest or merely as a form of cowardly escapism. But when you don't drink, smoke or eat meat as Sai advises and everyone else fails to abide, you find reliable company hard to come by. Not that I mind. Of note, the Moon/Mars opposition, which is also frequently found in amorous affiliations, is present in my own horoscope. In other words I turn myself on, which I've known since that time in my parents' friends' Jacuzzi when I was ten years old.

My idea of perfection, in addition to knowing myself, is to stop clearing my throat and compulsively floss my teeth. And I have an idea how to achieve both by doing neither. Although like you with your meat and your martinis, I have no interest in giving up coffee or visiting the dentist. The space between knowing what you should do and actually doing it is as large as the distance between the philosopher's heaven and earth. And it's where all the fun's at too, I suppose.


WHAT SILENCE LOOKS LIKE


Imagine if there were a remedy for all the world's ills, some elixir that would guarantee unending happiness. A panacea that instantly makes you perfect, fresh, eternally youthful and free. Okay, I've exhausted my repertoire of synonyms for the coveted cure-all. But indeed a miraculous magic bullet does exist. But the wonder drug cannot be found in your medicine cabinet. It can only be accessed through meditation.

The Buddha said: "What we think, we become. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world."

Meditation, or contemplation, or introspection - or as I describe it, closing the eyes, quieting the mind and remaining still - is an end in itself. But meditation can also be used to achieve various worthwhile results. For example, by lying flat on your back and taking ten slow, deep breaths, you are instantly made calmer. In today's harried age, unflappable composure is at such a premium that we pay hundreds of dollars per ticket to watch athletes perform feats while in the zone - and while we stuff ourselves with soft pretzels and soda. Evidence of the de-stressing effects of meditation can be measured even in the layperson. You'll have to look beyond free throw percentage and wins over replacement and other sabermetrics to the indicators used not by sports analysts but by scientists. You will observe a slower heart rate and breathing rate, as well as lower blood pressure. All three are indicators of inner peace, and bode well for a lifetime of good health.

Meditation can be used to cure addiction. If, like Pavlov's dogs, you begin salivating for that martini or cold beer when cocktail hour comes around - or like me, who just got finished draining the old lady's liquor cabinet - try this: instead of reaching for that gin, find yourself a quiet place to recline in solitude and withdraw into yourself. The craving for a "tasty beverage" is really just a desire to relax. But alcohol, a potent hepatotoxin and central nervous system stimulant, is not the proper prescription in this case. What you need is to power down, even to unplug, and there is no better way to do this than by simply being still. This practice also works for food cravings and hypersexuality. Just be sure to keep your hands by your side.

Meditation allows one to live more consciously and love more fully. The goal of meditation is the thoughtless state, where you as pure consciousness enjoy your true and perfect nature, which is spaceless and timeless and eminently free. But going beyond mind takes a while to achieve, and on the road to an empty head you will observe your thoughts and learn to detach yourself from them. Then, in quietude, you will find that your senses become more acute. You notice sounds and sensations more fully. Your taste buds are awakened, as is your sense of touch. Life takes on a new meaning and you are more able to enjoy the perfect nature of someone else.

You will also be inspired in meditation. The mind is like a radio, and the thought frequencies are different stations. If as you commune with your deeper nature you don't like a particular thought stream, simply tune it out! Depression may surface, or anxiety, or worry. Catch yourself in these thoughts and feelings and instantly they disappear.

Through meditation you become more creative. As you reduce mental static and weed out upsetting thoughts, you open yourself up to inspiration. The voice of God, which is your conscience, always gives the right answer. All you have to do is open up and listen. By tuning into the Self you can solve pressing or tricky problems, create a beautiful work of art or simply delight in the presence of a higher power, which is the Real You.

You can then take this mental quietude, this clarity and acuteness, with you into your daily activities. You are instantly a better friend and relative, a more efficient employee or employer, a more conscientious citizen and an all-around more useful human being. The purpose of life is Self realization, and it is through meditation that you can achieve this lofty aim and so much more besides. Five minutes is enough, or twenty, or five hours. There is no end to the riches that will pour forth from the stillness. It is like deep sea diving. What exquisite treasures await your discovery in the calm depths of the heart!

Perhaps the grandest boon of all is that meditation provides one with a socially- acceptable excuse to sleep in an extra hour, or to take a much deserved nap. It is like the cigarette break back in the days before smoking became a stigma. And in this sleep-starved modern society, you can't put a high enough price on some good ole shut-eye.

If you desire a more detailed approach to the hallowed art of meditation than the one I have provided in this post - which to reiterate consists simply in lying on your back, closing your eyes, taking ten deep breaths and letting come what may - then check out this book. I haven't read it yet. Afterwards maybe we can get together and compare notes. Ponder the Buddha's words and ask ourselves what the world is like in the absence of thought. Or, as the artist says,  "see what silence looks like."

There are, of course, issues that meditation alone cannot adequately address, despite my assiduous attempts. Like the pain of an aching tooth. Regrettably, the exercise resulted in emergency medical intervention. The Self may be the source of all, but in case of a root canal, visit a dentist.



Monday, May 29, 2017

THE SINGLE MAN'S ORGASM


In the winter of 1913, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung embarked on a process of what he called "active imagination" during which he gave free rein to whatever fantasies occurred to his mind. He carefully noted what he observed in his Black Books, which serve as records of self-experimentation. Months later World War I broke out, and Jung realized that a number of his fantasies were actually "precognitions" of this event. This led him to interpret and elaborate upon his imaginings in order to understand to what extent they could be seen as actual prognosticators of the war to come. The result was his wildly famous (for a 20th century psychoanalyst, at least) Red Book.

This information I have borrowed from the foreword to the 2010 edition of Jung's Synchronicity, and reading it reminded me of a curious instance in my own life of "foreknowledge of an event, especially foreknowledge of a paranormal kind." It has been known at least since the time of Herodotus, which is to say for 2,500 years, that dreams have predictive value. Jung understood this, provided that dreams be correctly interpreted. But the language of the unconscious, which is the engineer of dreamland, is symbolic, and to the rational mind can seem bizarre and nonsensical. 

In the beginning of 2010 I had a dream in which I was in a dilapidated building with my mother. We were in some sort of postindustrial war zone. The building, abandoned except for the two of us, was being bombed in every direction by fighter planes. Oddly enough, given Jung's imaginings, the setting was just like what I imagine World War 1 to have been like. One by one the rooms of the huge building my mother and I were in were being destroyed, and I was trying to lead my mother to safety somewhere within the building. But the safe zone was shrinking and shrinking. Much of the building's exterior had been blown to bits and it stood like a mere skeleton of twisted girders and broken glass smoldering amidst the rubble. When I could no longer find a room to take her we reached a ledge leading to the bright light of day outside, several stories from the ground below. It was either face sure death by staying inside the doomed building or jump into the light of day and into an uncertain fate. I held my mother's hand tightly and looked into her eyes. But before we made our decision, I woke up.

This dream, like Jung, left me worried for months that humanity was on the brink of a third world war and nuclear holocaust. Instead it turned out to be a precognition of my mother's subsequent diagnosis with cancer and the part I was to play in the six years of life which afterwards remained to her. The diagnosis was made the following summer. The cancer, which 16 years before had begun as a lump in her left breast and had been treated with surgery along with chemoradiation, had metastasized to the lining of her lungs and to the bones of her rib cage and spine. As the years progressed she took one medication after another to contain the cancer's spread, and I used my medical education to interface with doctors and to guide holistic treatment. But our life had become a war zone. Clearly the dream building represented my mother's body. The bombs were the advancing tumor, and the damaging drugs used to treat the tumor. And the various rooms of the building were parts of my mother's body. For the next six years I stood by her side, holding her hand sometimes literally, as when I accompanied her in for lung drainages, sometimes figuratively by interpreting test results and scientific jargon - as the cancer decimated her body. After it had spread to the colon and other areas my mother, like the dream's building, was left looking like a skeleton. In life, as in the dream, I accompanied her through the wreckage in our journey to the light on the other side. She took the leap and woke up from the dream we call life. She's safe and sound, I'm sure. And I hope the same goes for our world.

Of course, my dream and its interpretation didn't occur to me until months after my mother's death last August. I don't know that it would have been possible for me to understand the symbolism prior to her diagnosis. And even had I been able to predict my mother's illness and clinical course and my role in it all, I don't think it would have changed the way the drama played itself out by one single whit. But a revelation is an exciting thing. It is the single man's orgasm. And it just goes to show you that though the conscious mind only perceives and understands an infinitesimal part of what takes place in life, the unconscious mind knows everything. And the more you sink your conscious mind into the unconscious, perhaps by spending a bit extra time in la la land, the more aware and all-knowing you become. If that ain't a good argument for a nap right about now, I don't know what is. Ta ta!

Friday, May 26, 2017

GRAY MATTERS



I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked. 

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's comforting to know there are others like myself who appreciate a well-formed booty. The producers blur out the contestant's front parts, since we are in America and this isn't cable TV; sometimes the contestants themselves piece together make-shift garments of leaves or thatch or let their satchels - supplied by the show, along with one tool of their choice - double as skirts. Alas! Because there is nothing quite so delightful as seeing a fit and filthy girl sit back on her haunches to make fire and unwittingly present her butt crack to the camera. It is a moment of exquisite pleasure for me, and it happens much too infrequently! 


Browsing the Bible, as I sometimes also do, I chanced upon the passage which I believe served as inspiration for the show's title. The passage is found in the Bible's first book, Genesis. In Chapter 3, which is set in the idyllic Garden of Eden, the serpent (played by Satan) persuades the first couple (played by Adam and Eve) to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree (called the knowledge of good and evil). Adam and Eve do so and instantly are made aware of their nakedness. So they cover themselves with fig leaves and hide. When God calls out to Adam, the first man says (Genesis 3:10): "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked." There it is. He was naked and afraid. Just another little useless tidbit from me to you. 

Sometimes the show features a "pop-up" edition, with tidbits that aren't so useless. In one episode, an introvert (and also a former marine) gets paired with a bubbly extrovert from Georgia. Initially they lock horns as a power struggle ensues. Each has a different way of operating. The extrovert is always in motion, jumping from task to task, while her partner is slower to act. A pop-up appears which says something to the effect of "studies have shown that introverts have more gray matter in the area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is associated with decision making and abstract reasoning. This is why when making a decision introverts often deliberate for long periods while extroverts jump in." 

Introverts also make more capable leaders, the show tells us, because they don't let their egos get in the way and are more receptive to the suggestions of others, even of their inferiors. I agree, having the temperament of an introvert. At least that's what personality tests tell me. And when I read Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking I was brought to tears. It was so a vindication of me! And in outspoken LA, where introverts are a rarity, I am not so alone after all. Maybe I should get out more.

When I do get out, I can be gregarious and even loquacious if the situation calls for it, like at keg parties. But my personality is such that I rarely put myself in such situations. And so I commune with silence. My mother, an extrovert, used to give me a hard time for not opening up and communicating. I don't like idle chatter, gabbing for its own sake. Communing doesn't have to involve words, I used to tell her. I do it in nature all the time, among other equally pleasurable solitary activities I won't get into. When I was in high school my mom gave me a journal one year for Christmas, hoping I'd fill it with my feelings. I knew she'd rifle through these feelings when I was at school so I left the pages blank. Nice try! After graduating college I did develop a diligent diary-keeping habit which I still maintain today. You're reading it now. How do you like them feelings....

Scientists have known the location and history of the frontal lobe for over 150 years. Neurology textbooks often mention Phineas Gage, who in 1848 was accidentally struck by a pointed iron bar projected by an explosion. The projectile damaged his frontal lobes and destroyed a portion of the left prefrontal area. Gage went on to develop personality changes resulting in behavior which left him virtually unrecognizable even to his closest friends. After recovering from his accident and surgery, Gage was, in the words of one doctor, "fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, manifesting but little deference for his fellows." He had the intellectual capacity of a child but the animal desires of a grown man. A dangerous combination and in stark contrast to the shrewd, smart, energetic businessman Gage had been before getting impaled through the skull. Luckily for our hapless victim, some of the more unsavory traits wore off in the twelve years between the tragedy and his death. 


The Gage case led to breakthroughs in the relationship between the brain, specifically the front part of the brain, and personality. The prefrontal cortex isn't fully developed until around the age of 25, which explains why so many teens can exhibit reckless behavior and often fail to consider the consequences of their actions until it's too late - read: until after the car is trashed or they've vomited back the bottle of tequila into their bedroom hamper, or both. I speak from experience, but not my own. Not initially at least.

As an adolescent I was rarely reckless or rash. My parents bought me a car for my sixteenth birthday, to reward me for earning all As and so I could relieve them of their duties and take myself and my brothers to school. On the weekends which followed my still-underaged buddies would beg me to drive them to keg parties. I preferred to sit at home by the fire, often in a robe and slippers, and commune with myself. If you ask me, I was born with all the gray matter I needed. My parents used to tell me I came out of the womb already an old man - and with my double chin and shiny bald head, I looked like one too. 

Seriously, I distinctly remember when my prefrontal cortex finished filling itself out. It was around the age of 20. Before then, my perspective was very narrow. I'd block everything out and deal with the task at hand, be it conversing on the phone with a girlfriend, writing a term paper or hitting a fastball. Wherever I was, I was there. Books are now written on being here now and the power of now, but as any child demonstrates, living in the moment comes naturally to everyone until they grow up. I had two younger brothers who were constantly making mischief in my midst, and to this day I have no idea what they were doing or saying, so immersed was I in my own private life.

And then shortly before my 20th birthday, something happened. I became considerate and aware. I could hear my brother's conversations in the other room with his friends, or my mother chatting on the phone with her coworkers. Not only did I hear, but I listened. I noticed what my family ate and drank, I was receptive to their moods. Imagine you're watching TV but you only get the basic channels, then your friend comes over and fiddles with the box outside and suddenly you have access to all the stations, cable too. You get nature channels and the psychic network and adult TV of course. I speak from experience. My mind rapidly expanded, and it was initially quite unsettling. For it felt as if I was getting to know these people, flesh and blood family who I shared a bathroom and sometimes a bedroom with for all my life, for the first time.

Life opened up, but it became harder. With knowledge comes responsibility, is a misquote from Spiderman. Suddenly it wasn't enough to bury myself in my school work. I had to be a conscientious brother and son. Doing merely what I was told wasn't enough either. I had to filter matters through my enlarged gray matter. I sometimes deliberate for days or months or even years before making up my mind on weighty issues, such as whether to get married, which I'm still mulling over. You add up the pros and cons and sometimes they cancel each other out. So what do you do? I often toss a coin. If there is a higher intelligence that governs the universe, it can communicate with me through the U.S. mint.

Of course, like most red-blooded American men I too had my wild stage, only it happened later in life. After a few family tragedies marred my early 20s, I spent the latter half throwing caution to the wind, and how it blew! In even the most serious individual, mind-altering substances produce some erratic behavior, like taking your clothes off at parties and heading South to pen your memoirs - which drip with imagined sexual interludes and riotous excesses - merely as an excuse to get naked some more and have sex with prostitutes. Okay, one prostitute. Those were sunny days. "But all days aren't sunny, there are gray ones too, and cold ones and wet ones that made me feel blue." A line from my poetry of the time. 

Given my early awakening into adulthood, my so-called precociousness, I'm left to wonder whether acting like a frat guy ten years removed makes me an early bloomer or late to the party. Or whether it even makes any difference. Like the brain, the matter is gray, as in not black or white. And as you can gather from my poem, gray is not my favorite color anyway.

Gray matter is where all the synapses are at, in case you're wondering. Synapses are areas where the brain communicates with itself. Or communes, silently. Like me. Another fun factoid from my new favorite show: many animals spend their entire adulthood in solitude. Among them is the skunk. I wonder why this is, while also no longer feeling so alone. Thanks for being here now with me.





Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE THIN LINE


There is a thin line between love and hate. In addition to being true, the phrase is also the name of a Martin Lawrence dark comedy which hit theaters in 1996 and earned a profit. Being lucrative is something Martin Lawrence seems no longer able to do. Join the club. The film's title was borrowed from a song of that name recorded in 1971 by the Persuaders. There's a little multi-media history for you. And some unintentional comedy. Watch the Pretenders perform and if you suppress more than a few giggles at the musicians' expense - their outfits, their facial hair, their Jheri curls and even the songs' lyrics are so much fodder for amusement- you will think twice before using your selfie stick or wearing your hipster jeans or that ridiculous mustache or getting that tribal tattoo, as all these fads will not only fade one day soon but will also make you look even more ridiculous in the eyes of posterity. 

Or maybe not. I still think the bell-bottoms my mother wore before I was born were cool, and on many a cold day I reach for my father's old leather jacket from the seventies. Vintage is always in. There are at least two ways of looking at every situation, which is finally the point I am trying to make. 

It has also been said that hate is misdirected love, which probably inspired the Shakespearean line that "all's fair in love and war." I was contemplating these truths when I read an article in this month's Atlantic magazine on child psychopathy. That's right. Mass-murderers in the making can now be identified in what used to be the sacrosanct period of life known as toddlerhood. Experts say that a child shows signs of anti-social behavior as early as age 3 or 4. The article features a girl given the pseudonym of Samantha, a foster child who at age 6 began drawing pictures of ways to kill people. She tried out her methods on stuffed animals, and went so far to choke out her two younger siblings before finally being committed to a treatment center, where she still lives nearly a lifetime later. When you're only 6, a lifetime isn't that long, and by 12 she hopes to return to her adopted family. The method of treatment explored by the article is to reward psychopaths, who it is estimated represent about 1 percent of the child population, meaning in a high school of 2000 people (like my alma mater) there are 20 kids who exhibit "callous and unemotional traits," or more if you include freaking to gangster rap, tagging and ... I really don't know what kids call fun these days - anyway the new treatment of choice is to reward budding psychos for good behavior rather than punish their delinquency. 

Leaving aside the root cause of psychopathic behavior - and researchers believe that both nature and nurture, or environment and heredity, play their parts, such children display a cool detachment in settings in which other kids might grow agitated, say for instance when watching another child cry. This reward-centered approach is based on the fact that "the best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate," which reflects "lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts." An alternate hypothesis is there exists some "optimal level of physiological arousal," and psychopaths, who are constitutionally blase, seek wild and extraordinary stimuli to achieve a normal pulse and be like the rest of us. Unfortunately these stimuli sometimes involve cutting your pet's ear off or sticking pencils up your dog's butt. I speak from experience, though not my own. Indeed I once wrote an essay about my brother Justin, the perpetrator of the aforementioned pranks, and entitled it "Fearless." Fearless is as fearless does, God rest him.

Many can remember that scene from the movie Silence of the Lambs, in which the psychiatrist Dr. Frederick Chilton tells Clarice Starling that when Hannibal Lecter killed a woman his "pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue." That's composure in the face of (another person's) adversity. Oddly enough, it is such equanimity that the sages of the East advise. To be unflappable. To regard every situation with the same calm detachment. One spiritual adept was asked to speak in front of an audience. As he approached the stage he noticed signs of nervousness - sweaty palms, dry mouth, elevated pulse - and promptly quit the auditorium, saying he was not fit to address the crowd, since doing so would reveal him (at least to himself) as a fraud. Presumably he retreated to some cave or secluded haunt and went back to meditating. And yet these child psychopaths, whether  because they grew up in poverty or were abused, or because they are wired to be foolhardy, possess the very trait that is otherwise only achievable through years of rigorous austerities and observation of the mind.

Viewing pathology in this light, it is natural to feel hope for the unfortunates of the world. I mean the depressives. In medical school I learned the mnemonic "SIG E CAPS" as a reminder for the symptoms of sadness. The phrase itself was taken from an old prescription for energy capsules (E CAPS) doctors used to give these patients. SIG is short for signetur which means "let it be labelled." The symptoms of depression are sleep changes, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, guilt, energy fluctuations, difficulty concentrating, appetite changes, psycho-motor retardation and suicidal thoughts. Many people experience some or all of these symptoms on a daily basis, and call it modern living. Strangely, the sages of India suffered the same, but they weren't suffering. Take a personal hero of mine. Ramana Maharshi was an Indian saint of the 19th century. Starting in adolescence, he spent years seated cross-legged with eyes closed, focusing his attention on absolute reality. During these years he didn't sleep or speak, lost interest in childish games and pursuits, hardly moved and almost never ate. His body was pelted with stones by village ruffians, bitten by vermin and ridden with festering pressure sores. It seemed suicidal, or at least bent on his own bodily destruction. To the untrained eye Maharshi was either depressed or out of his mind. Or one of the most perfect individuals the world has ever known.
It shows you that reality is how you perceive it. There is a thin line not just between love and hate and courage and cruelty but between all opposites. And so whether you are saint or sinner is finally up to you. Maybe rather than give young rowdies Pokemon stickers for attending class on time, researchers should harness these hoodlums and turn them into heroes. Psychopaths could be the saviors of humanity! It might make an entertaining film. I should call Mr. Lawrence and see if he's interested. Like Samantha's heart rate, both our careers could use a boost.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE BODY OF GOD


I am currently reading Edward Lyton's Zanoni (1842). It is my favorite novel, and not just because it's the one I'm halfway through, though if this were the case it wouldn't be the first time. Zanoni, which I plan to include on my upcoming "ten must-read books that are free" list, if I can ever get around to writing it, is a mystical novel treating the occult. The titular main character evinces super powers which make the Man of Steel seem like a wimp and which include predicting the future. Or in the author's own words, "It was as if this dark and wondrous being could convert the most ordinary events and the meanest instruments into the agencies of his inscrutable will." 

The character reminds me of Sai Baba, an Indian holy man my parents took my brothers and me to see several times when we were kids. Sai Baba possessed miraculous powers of his own, not the least of which included materializing jewelry out of thin air, healing the sick and predicting the future. He even foretold that I'd be a medical doctor. Hear him discourse playfully on the 5 minutes of daily happiness, at most, one can hope to wring from a fortunate marriage - or about 2 minutes if plagued by premature ejaculation - and it's no mystery why I'm still single.

I feel so blessed to have met Sai Baba in the flesh. He is by far the most charismatic, dynamic, fantastic individual I have ever come across either in life or in books. And I've studied Zorro and Don Quixote and some of Don Juan. Whether the diminutive guru was God himself or merely human like the rest of us is no matter to me, because he was a walking miracle. Once I sat in the pouring rain watching him walk among his followers, and wherever he stood the rain ceased to fall, just so he wouldn't get wet. I swear this is the truth. Plus he had rock star hair! What a beautiful man. Kind of looks like Lisa Bonet.



In one interview Sai Baba told us about a disciple of his who wished to see the world through God's eyes. Of course God's eyes meant Sai Baba's, since to his followers God and Sai Baba are one and the same. Sai Baba granted the man his wish. He promptly lost his senses, went bonkers, nuts, fell off his rocker, or fill in the descriptive expression of your choice to describe someone who goes stark raving mad. This story of Sai Baba, whose followers believe to be an avatar, or incarnation of divinity, reminded me of the Hindu holy text the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna, the ultimate avatar, reveals himself to his follower Arjuna.

After being granted the vision, which is at once terrifying and wonderful, Arjuna says, "When I behold Thee so, with awful brows a-glow, with burning glance, and lips lighted by fire, fierce as those flames which shall consume, at close of all, Earth, Heaven! Ah me! I see no Earth and Heaven! Thee, Lord of Lords! I see, Thee only-only Thee!

"Thou, that hast fashioned men, devourest them again, one with another, great and small, alike! The creatures whom Thou mak'st, with flaming jaws Thou tak'st, lapping them up! Lord God! Thy terrors strike from end to end of Earth, Filling life full, from birth to death, with deadly, burning, lurid dread!

"God, make me know why is Thy visage so? Who art Thou, feasting thus upon Thy dead? Who? awful Deity! Why hast Thou face so fierce? Whence doth this aspect horrible proceed?"

And Krishna's reply: "Thou seest me as Time who kills, Time who brings all to doom, the Slayer Time, Ancient of Days, come hither to consume."

After Arjuna has had enough of staring death straight in the face, he says, "Retake, Dear Lord! for pity's sake thine earthly shape, which earthly eyes may bear! Thou of the thousand arms and countless eyes! This frightened heart is fain to see restored again my charioteer, in Krishna's kind disguise."

Krishna complies, resuming human form, and saying, "Let no more trouble shake thy heart, because thine eyes have seen My terror with My glory. To view me as thou didst, dear Prince! The gods Dread and desire continually to view! Yet not by scriptures, nor from sacrifice, nor penance, nor gift-giving, nor with prayer shall any so behold, as thou hast seen! Only by fullest service, perfect faith, and uttermost surrender am I known and seen, and entered into! 

"Who doeth all for Me; who findeth Me in all; adoreth always; loveth all which I have made, and Me, for Love's sole end that man, Arjuna! unto Me doth wend."

If you find yourself falling short of perfect surrender to divinity, if you are not cut out for mortification of the flesh, extreme austerities, and if when the collection basket is passed around at church you stare at your toes - and then are racked with guilt when you rise for communion and eat the "body of Christ" for free - a shortcut to beholding the body of God and seeing life through God's eyes is to see divinity everywhere you turn. The moment you can regard friend and foe with the same kindness, turn your affection indiscriminately upon all, experience wonder in life's little miracles as well as the big ones, then like Arjuna you have beheld the Lord on all the Lord's grandeur. And you get to keep your marbles!

If you don't believe me, let's hear it from Krishna himself. A more prosaic version of the last line quoted above runs: "The one who does all works for Me, and to whom I am the supreme goal, who is my devotee, who has no attachment, and is free from enmity towards any being attains Me."

Or if you prefer Lytton's language: "Not in the knowledge of things without, but in the perfection of the soul within, lies the empire of man aspiring to be more than man." But: "Though all earth were carved over and inscribed with the letters of diviner knowledge, the characters would be valueless to him who does not pause to inquire the language and meditate the truth." 

Nature is God's body, and the language that describes it is love. And by the way, like Zanoni, the Gita is also free.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A NEW BREED OF BROTHERLY LOVE


I had a hard-on watching UFC last night. I didn't notice it till after the bout was over. For those of you who don't know, the Ultimate Fighting Championship stages fights in an octagon steel cage where two half-naked men can be as vicious as they want to each other. There are few rules. No hair pulling or groin shots. But the standard prohibitions of boxing and other contact sports - no kicking while down, no elbows to the nose, no kidney punches, etc. - are absent. There is something so visceral, so primeval about watching two guys - savage brutes, is the more accurate term - kicking the shit out of each other. 

I sometimes surf YouTube videos of street fights just to see guys knock each other out. Kimbo Slice was my favorite fighter to watch. He was a street fighter literally, beating up anyone who was dumb enough to challenge him to a brawl. And Mr. Slice also made it to the UFC. He even had a professional boxing career - until last year when he passed away at 42 of a heart condition unrelated to fighting. 

My friend Pete turned me onto UFC back in 1994 around the time of the inaugural match. He was studying Jiu Jitsu and I had dabbled in Kung Fu. The Gracies, a family of brawling brothers from Brazil, dominated the sport early on amidst public outcry that the brutality be banned. The brothers would strangle into submission men twice their size or more. The early matches had the feel of chess, if sweaty and played on the floor. It was all about technique. Although some fighters, unskilled in the sweet science of grappling, lost teeth and consciousness in the first minutes of the first round. Later iterations of the sport have focused more on punching and kicking, and only when the fighters are exhausted do they drop to their knees and "ground and pound." And only a true connoisseur of the sport can appreciate two grown men, marinated in their own body fluids and wearing skivvies, locked in a twisted version of the modern hug while a burly man in black hovers over them to scrutinize form. A new breed of brotherly love I guess.

When I was twelve I used to masturbate beneath a blanket on the couch while watching baseball, just so nobody would find me out. In a family of six bathroom time is at a premium, and locking yourself inside with the water running for fifteen minutes raises quite a few eyebrows. So I took matter in my own hands literally. But popping a boner watching grown men duke it out is like ... nothing I've ever experienced. So why the semi? How could I be aroused by all that gruesomeness and gore? It's not as though I'm attracted to the fighters themselves. Indeed they are some of the ugliest bruisers in professional sports, though some were once handsome. God didn't these men monsters. Getting pulverized did. The result is so many flat-noses, cauliflower ears, Neanderthal-esque furrowed foreheads. Of course the bodies of most of these modern gladiators look as if chiseled out of marble. There are exceptions. Tank Abbot, now retired, needs to go easy on the greasy. Just don't tell him, or he may do to me what Mr. Slice did to him! 

I am no pug myself. Aside from brief forays into martial arts as a youth at my mother's behest, I've hardly ever been in a physical altercation. Once when I was in 8th grade I met a bully after school to chastise him for picking on a classmate, and after exchanging insults we clenched arms but never got so far as to throw a punch because my friend's father broke it up. And for the two or three brawls that occurred on sports teams I was on, I was either not at the game or not on the field. I took this as a sign I wasn't supposed to get physical, in the violent sense. 

So I really don't know how to explain the dance in my pants. Maybe I just needed to pee. Anyway, sitting there with my woody, salivating, pulse racing, hyper-alert, I thought, "This is how I used to feel as a teenager whenever a sex scene would come on cable television." When my parents weren't around, of course, because in most households convention still prohibits sex-starved minors from beholding the deed on TV. And yet here is UFC on one of the basic channels, and parents don't ban their kids from viewing, and nobody gets stigmatized for watching these animals knock each other senseless. You can't watch a real sex scene as graphic as Ultimate Fighting - rarely do X-rated actors shed blood, and if they did I for one would look away - but if you watch porn you do so while looking over your shoulder with one ear on the door, poised for an unwelcome visitor to barge in your room.



And yet, sex is just sex. What happened to "make love not war." Maybe society's general aversion to gratuitous hanky-panky is because the intercourse is just pretend. The actors locked in passionate embrace don't love each other any more than street fighters locked in rage's embrace do, so their staged antics mock those lovers who do have real feelings. While the UFC fighters are really causing brain-damage. And yet the WWE is pretend, and it does just fine, ratings-wise. Indeed it's one of the most popular spectacles on TV! 

The things humans embrace and the things we deplore are among life's greatest mysteries to me. I'm just poised for the day that "real sex" airs on TV. I know one person who'll tune in. Oh wait, that too has been done before. It lasted for 29 years before its final episode aired in 2009. I actually remember watching the show on HBO, and liking it! Maybe we should bring legitimate love-making back to the general audience. Or maybe it's about time I stop being a spectator and participate in all the fun and games myself. Just as long as she is no Tank.



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

THE RULE OF ATTRACTION



Bret Easton Ellis is a favorite author of mine. The movie version of Less Than Zero, which hit theaters in 1987, is an anthem to excess that spoke to my generation. It may have even been set in Beverly Hills, where I spent some of my formative years. I discovered his twisted American Psycho while living in New York in 2000. After seeing the preview I went straight to the bookstore and picked myself up a copy and read it through and through in a matter of days, usually while sweating off the previous night's six-pack on the Precor machine. Who says you can't do two things at once?

The serial killer genre is tricky. If it is treated seriously, as in the films Zodiac and Silence of the Lambs or the horrific Henry, I'll watch it, even though the gruesome scenes will seed my nightmares. But if all the slash and gash is sophomoric, insensitive, comedic, then I'll usually steer clear. This is what I told a friend who asked me to read his slasher screenplay. I couldn't get past the first third. He tried to do for the serial killer genre what the writers of recent zombie movies have managed for that breed of horror: turn it on its head and generate some laughs. But American Psycho thoroughly and cleverly develops its protagonist (Patrick Bateman) and devotes great attention to detail. It is too unreal to be believed, and so the viewer is distanced from the gore. Besides who doesn't like watching Batman as Bateman stare at himself in the mirror while having sex. "His hair was perfect." The protagonist is the quintessential metrosexual, basking amidst skin care products and trips to the gym and designer suits. I enjoyed it all in my frivolous twenties.

On another note, I have been getting amazing sleep. Each night I go to bed at 9 or 10, and the next morning my dog wakes me up at around 6, and in between, I lie like a stone, getting up once or maybe twice to tinkle. And what vivid dreams! I haven't slept this soundly or awakened so refreshed since probably I was in my teens, and I really can't explain why. But me like.

On another note, I was thinking of calling this blog "Free Association," since that's what I always seem to do. I forgot exactly why I mentioned Ellis and his books. Oh yes. He also wrote a novel called The Rules of Attraction. I didn't read it. And the movie wasn't all that good. But there is a rule of attraction I'd like to mention, and it is this: "Opposites attract." This is contrary to what I learned in Introductory Psychology back as a college sophomore. The thinking then was that birds of a feather flock together. And while it may help to have things in common with your partner, it is where you don't see eye to eye that all the fun lies. Like Rocky said about Adrian. "I got gaps, she's got gaps, together we fill gaps." His parents told him he didn't have much of a brain so he better use his body, while her parents advised her to use her brain because she didn't have much of a physique. And together they achieved completion, and a fictitious son along the way.

The notion that opposites attract is reinforced wherever I look. Opposite poles of a magnet stick together, while similar poles repel. And the book on the four humors or temperaments I just finished reading, by Randy Rolfe, emphasizes this point. The choleric personality is controlling and take-charge, while the phlegmatic personality is supportive. They "intuit a special complementarity between them." Likewise, the melancholic and sanguine, or moody and friendly natures, complete each other, the sanguine lightening the melancholic's moods and the melancholic encouraging depth and introspection in his breezy partner.

Science also weighs in on this important topic. Gene research suggests that opposites attract. As the Guardian reports, "A comparative survey of couples suggests people are more attracted to those who have very different immunity genes from their own, even though they are not aware of it." These genes, located on chromosome six, help us ward off infection, and also influence our body odor. So we gravitate to those who smell differently from us, as this increases the likelihood that their immune systems complement our own and increase our future children's ability to fight disease and grow up to reproduce themselves.

Speaking of genes, the one for blood type is on chromosome one. The Rh antigen, named for its similarity to one found in the Rhesus monkey, is a major cause of immune reactions between mother and fetus and between blood donor and recipient. If a mother is Rh negative, or doesn't have this Rh protein, and gets pregnant with an Rh positive kid, her body will launch an immune attack against the fetus and kill it. This was a major cause of miscarriage and infant mortality until the invention of a medication used to neutralize the mother's immune system and allow her developing fetus to thrive. Scientists cannot understand why a gene which adversely affects an individual's, and thus a species', chances for survival wouldn't have been weeded out by now. And "ancient alien theorists" believe that the gene is evidence that extraterrestrials mated with humans to produce a hybrid race. Indeed only about 15 percent of the population is Rh negative. 

But the truth is that many more individuals carry the gene, which is recessive. So you must have two copies of the Rh negative gene to be Rh negative yourself. For example my mother was Rh negative, and my father Rh positive. She had two Rh positive kids, myself and my brother Justin. But my brother George is Rh negative like my mother. This may explain why George breastfed for 3 years, as opposed to as many days in the case of mom's other two kids. My mom liked to say that Rh negative people were part of the alien race. Of course, because she was one herself. But I am also a carrier of the gene, and my brother Justin was as well, God rest him. There are some interesting books on the subject. One I'd like to read is called Bloodline of the Gods. I'd buy it if it weren't so expensive. My upper limit for a Kindle purchase is like $3.99 and it's over twice this price. For now I'll have to look elsewhere to discover the missing link in our ancestral lineage.

Of greater interest to me is why iodine is an essential nutrient. Iodine is a component of thyroid hormones, which govern metabolism, regulate energy levels and perform a whole host of other necessary functions. The human body cannot manufacture iodine, and without a dietary source of iodine the thyroid is starved and goiter results, manifesting as a bulge in the neck. This is still a major problem in third world countries. To avoid iodine deficiencies the "civilized world" has taken to fortifying table salt with the nutrient. Sea salt, on the other hand, does not contain iodine. The recommended intake is 150 micrograms a day, or up to nearly twice as much if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Natural sources of the mineral include seafood, seaweed, milk and eggs. Beans and potatoes also contain iodine, though in much smaller quantities. You can meet your daily requirement of the mineral by eating 5 ounces of fish such as cod, or drinking a cup and a half of milk. But if you're a vegan you'd need to eat 3 medium potatoes or 2 1/2 cups of beans each day. Or just use half a teaspoon of table salt. 

This is very interesting to me. Perhaps iodine is similar to vitamin C. All animals can synthesize vitamin C with the exception of humans and monkeys and I think guinea pigs. It is theorized that primates (including humans) lost the ability to make this antioxidant due to the prevalence of the vitamin in foods, mainly fruits and vegetables. This would point to our natural diet being plants, since animal foods such as the fish and eggs and milk mentioned above contain none.

But  what of the days before iodized salt? What did our ancestors do to fulfill their iodine requirements? Milk, eggs, potatoes and beans are all products of the agricultural revolution. They didn't exist before 10,000 BC. But homo sapiens as a species is over 20 times as old, not to mention the progenitor hominids that gave rise to our great race and date back millions of years. This leads me to believe that our ancestors stuck to the coasts and ate a diet rich in seafood. Then I remembered that Jesus Christ was himself a fisherman, and when he gave the Sermon on the Mount he fed the multitudes fish and loaves of bread. I told this to a patient of mine during a psychiatric rotation in med school. She was a vegetarian and said that Jesus Christ was a vegetarian too, and just because he fed the masses fish didn't mean he ate it himself. This logical thinking is a rarity in our iodine-fortified society, and I found it in the loony bin of all places! I wonder what other gems await our discovery within those padded walls. I'm kicking myself that I didn't ask my patient about the missing link. I'm sure her answer would have been if not informative at least entertaining. 

Of course our ancestors also lived inland, and without a steady source of iodine they didn't seem to suffer all the ills of deficiency that plague some parts of the world today. Except the Neanderthals, whose larger brains may have required more of the mineral than smaller-brained humans. Which may explain their extinction, if you don't believe the alien theorists that extraterrestials visited this planet long ago and conducted a genetic experiment (of which we are the product) which erased the Neanderthals from existence for failing to make the bar. Who knows, maybe they didn't have Bateman's great hair.

I'm beginning to sound crazy myself. What does that say about my opposite? Is she thoroughly sane? Wouldn't that be boring? I can tell you what my temperament test says. I'm equal parts phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholic, which I take to mean I'm pretty self-contained. The only traits that lag behind are the choleric ones, which points to my potential need for a woman of action, an aggressive competitor and undaunted leader who takes charge and makes quick decisions without ever looking back. Sounds pretty exhausting. I am not much of a follower, so I think I'd rather develop those habits in myself. But first I need a nap.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

S.O.S


To be spontaneous or systematic, that's the question. Or SOS, as the Police sing. Within me these two opposing characteristics are ever at war. I suppose we're all born more of the former. What child is not up for a trip to the candy store on a whim? But our educational system drums in the systematic approach to problem solving. You must progress from number 1 to 10 on your test. Each class is 50 minutes long. Etc. And indeed having a schedule and being methodical can lead to greater material success. If you only do what you feel like you may never study math, or organize your closet. But enslaving yourself to a ritual can suck all the fun out of life. To reconcile the two approaches we've evolved the weekend, which is basically a short vacation from the rigid workday, a time to play in an unstructured way. The athlete has his rest days, a time away from play. The family has the trip to the Bahamas. There are semester breaks in school, though having an entire summer off is sadly on the wane. 

To determine whether you are more of a planner or an impromptu, ask yourself how you would spend your ideal day. Would you prefer to chart each activity to the last detail, or let the experience unfold? I, who love mostly to do if not nothing then as little as I can get away with, am somewhere in between. I'll make a short mental list of things I must get done today, but the when and in what order I'll leave to my fancy, which may involve washing the windows naked. 



Another question: Is it  better to observe yourself throughout life, to become the witness as Eastern spirituality urges, or to lose yourself in the moment (as Eminem sings)? Both approaches have been advocated by self-help gurus. The detached perspective allows you to rise above the lower self, the little ego with its wants and whims. But anyone who has ever become so absorbed in a puzzle or a piece of art or a workout as to become self-forgetful and lose track of time, knows the satisfaction that can be derived from sinking yourself into something you really dig, or someone.

As with most things, the happy medium is the best approach. The middle road. A compromise. On my day's to-do list was this essay. Glad I can check that off. Next up: find someone to sink my lower self into. You may prefer to recreate with impressionist paintings. I am more of a realist myself. As they say, different strokes for different folks.



Monday, May 15, 2017

FROM TIME TO TIME


What is the aim of life? What does it mean to live fully? Rudolf Steiner writes: "The student must, from time to time, glance introspectively into himself, sink back into himself, take counsel with himself, form and test the fundamental principles of his life, run over in his thoughts the sum total of his knowledge, weigh his duties, and reflect upon the content and aim of life."

Bertrand Russell weighs in: "In regard to every form of human activity it is necessary that the question should be asked from time to time, 'What is its purpose and ideal? In what way does it contribute to the beauty of human existence?'"


In both of the above quotes we find the expression "from time to time." We must ask ourselves how often this should be. Twice a year? Once a decade? Thrice in a lifetime? 


I nominate every day. Nay, several times each day. Moment to moment.


You are already doing everything for a reason. The unconscious mind, which is largely hidden from awareness, governs most of your actions. Even mistakes are intentional! But part of the inner voyage is to find out the reason for your every thought, word and action, to bring your motives out from the depths of the unconscious to the surface of your mind. This is how you expand your awareness. This is how you connect with the divinity which dwells within.


Some of the common reasons for doing things include to earn money, to win praise, to distract oneself, to be creative. Less common reasons include to be of service to others, to contribute to the beauty and grandeur of existence. Or simply to pass the time. But if as the scientist says every action has a reaction, the spiritualist replies that every deed also has a reason. 


As I observe myself going about my day I see that everything I do is for a purpose. I eat to nourish myself, brush myself to maintain white teeth and avoid cavities, wash my laundry in the interest of cleanliness, and because my dog vomited raw chicken on my sheets. I exercise because I enjoy it, and because afterwards I enjoy food all the more. I take sun for the vitamin D, and because I look good with a tan. I walk the dog because that makes him happy. Etc. I put myself in social situations at times to watch how I will behave in unfamiliar settings, and listen to the words that come out of my mouth when I'm around strangers. A subtler side of you is revealed in your interactions with others. But it is harder to determine the cause and purpose of thoughts. Every thought that arises has a source and a stimulation. Often it is something we see in the environment that reminds us of something else. Then up springs a thought and we call it inspiration and wonder whence it comes. If only we knew!


It is said that in the afterlife, we are judged not by our achievements but by our motives. It seems that while on earth, outcome is given precedence over intention. But at death it is the other way around! So in the hereafter the massively successful investment banker who has amassed a huge fortune effectively and often times legally swindling others is far inferior, in the soul sense, to the nearly homeless janitor who cleanses his soul with every toilet he scrubs. And if the investment banker cries, "I did not mean to take advantage of other people's trust, and when I told those gullible clients that I could make them a profit if they parted with their hard-earned cash on that 'once in a lifetime opportunity,' I truly believed my lie!" the answer that he will give himself when he dies is "Of course I knew what I was doing, I just wasn't aware of the fact at the time." 


But the unconscious sees all. And the more you expand your consciousness to include hidden motives, secret desires and private agendas, the more your actions and thoughts and words are purified, the more you become an instrument of the highest good, and at the very least you save yourself a ton of aggravation (and possibly reincarnation) when your time on earth is done.

How much less chaos there would be if more people first asked why they do what they do, and acted only after verifying that their motives were pure! There would be a lot more harmony, and fewer brands of cereals, that's for sure. The Sanskrit chant is "Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu." Translation: "“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

Peace be unto you.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

F IS FOR FUN AT KEG PARTIES


Okay, I finally caved. I had been debating whether to take the Myers & Briggs Type Indicator to determine my personality type ever since reading about the pervasive and powerful influence of personality in all aspects of life. It started when I read Mark Twain's story What Is Man? The author has his character discourse on the importance of temperament, saying a man "must content the spirit that is in him—he cannot help it.... YOU CAN'T ERADICATE YOUR DISPOSITION NOR ANY RAG OF IT—you can only put a pressure on it and keep it down and quiet."

As Twain would have us believe, our temperament, which is always "born, not made," is our personal "master." It is our "spiritual appetite." And we must satisfy it or be forever unfulfilled. Beliefs and convictions strive in vain against a person's innate bent, so it pays, as Socrates says, to "know thyself." It also costs, but we'll get to that.

Not only famous novelists and ancient Greeks but also modern psychologists (for instance Carl Jung, on whose theories the MB test is based) have emphasized personality's primary importance in how we relate to the world, ourselves and each other.

As Rudolf Steiner says, "Temperament, that fundamental coloring of the human personality, plays a role in all manifestations of individuality that are of concern to practical life." Even Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Tipping Point, names three types, which he says dominate our day-to-day engagements. And I have dabbled in astrology, which is itself a sort of personality assessment, with each of the twelve signs having its distinct features. Of course, a person's horoscope wheel is a complicated creature, with ten planets each governing an aspect of life, and twelve houses besides. The expert astrologer is rare, and the novice is often led astray at the drugstore magazine rack. While not as simple as the humor system devised in B.C. Greece, with its 4 temperament types, the Myers & Briggs with its 16 is a suitable compromise.

I had sat for the Myers & Briggs test once in my thirties. It was mandatory for all the medical residents in the family medicine program at the University of Colorado. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the program director hoped to foster interdepartmental relations by pairing up compatible types, or divvying up duties. This would make sense, as some temperaments make better writers, while others are more at home in a research setting. Anyway, I refused to let the powers that be (or were) peer into my soul, and I don't like being told what to do, so I filled out the test at random, seeing what lively patterns I could make with the bubbles. Maybe this aversion to coercion says more about my personality than the test itself. I can't remember my results exactly, other than that I scored high on "introversion." Which is how I scored the other day when I took the test again, this time seriously, and for $50. I paid this amount without thinking twice, because it was my own decision. Liking to be the boss of oneself is probably a universal trait. 

The test  generates a personality type based on the four dichotomies "specified or implicit in Jung's theory." Within each dichotomy are two preferences, somewhat opposite each other. The first dichotomy is called "favorite world." The question that is asked is whether you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world. This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)

Then comes information. Do you prefer to focus on the basic information or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)

Decisions comes next. When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)

Finally, structure. In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

The 16 distinctive personality types result from the interactions among the preferences. When you decide on your preference in each category, you have your own personality type, which is then expressed as a code with four letters. I suppose a quick way to determine your type is to simply answer the above four questions, and the form has 93. In the interest of inclusivity, I suppose, earnest ploy to separate you from your lunch money.

When I took the test on the Myers-Briggs website, I scored INTP. Intuitive introvert who emphasizes thinking and perceiving over judging and feeling. Ideal jobs for such types include research, mathematics and engineering, but also psychology and philosophy. I am somewhat interested in some of these pursuits, but I don't spend much time pursuing any of them. Instead, I write a blog. So this type doesn't seem to be a perfect fit. But according to the website, the test is "both valid and reliable. In other words, it measures what it says it does (validity) and produces the same results when given more than once (reliability)." And as Twain states, "men's inborn temperaments ... remain unchanged through all the vicissitudes of their material affairs." 

Maybe, but apparently not for me.

I took a version of the test a second time and scored INFP, meaning in decisions I am more swayed by people and special circumstances over cold logic. I took it a third time, on another website, and this time scored INFJ, and finally INFP again. In my case F stands for fanatic. But I identify most closely with the INFP type, since these "mediators" are most at home in the fields of poetry and writing, especially of blogs. They are also actors. I'm cool with this, especially because the mediators of the world include Johnny Depp, who is also cool.

Of course I know that reliability only applies to re-taking the same, rather than similar versions of it. And as even the Myers-Briggs people allow, the preferences within each dichotomy exist on a continuum. So my results merely indicate that I am fairly balanced in the ways I make decisions and deal with the outside world, but that I am an introverted intuitive through and through. Unless I'm at a keg party. Then F is for fun at keg parties.

Of course temperament is not everything, and you are not its complete slave, as even Twain says. Training is also important. Education and instruction, whether compulsory or elective, polish the personality and smooth out any proverbial rough edges. And one of the perks of living in the modern age is you have instant access to all forms of knowledge. You can truly be a student of the world, and without ever leaving the couch.

Remember that your personality, like your physical body, is merely a vehicle that gets the spirit through life. Just as you are not your arm or your leg, but these are merely appendages of the living corpse you happen to inhabit in this moment, the true you is not merely an introvert or an extrovert, a thinker or a feeler. The successful individual is able to effectively employ these methods of relating to the world in any given situation, at will and with ease. However, your essential nature encapsulates all these traits and goes so far beyond all that is. As free consciousness you are beyond characterization. You are the air that carries fragrance but has no scent, the light that ignites the world in which objects are seen. You are the light. Thanks for shining your mind on me.