wake up!

28 01 2009

from Arcade Fire’s song “Wake Up:”

Children, wake up.  Hold your mistake up.  Before they turn the summer into dust.
Children, don’t grow up.  Our bodies get bigger but our hearts are torn up.
We’re just a million gods causing rainstorms, turning every good thing to rust!

In case you’d like to hear it:

I spend a lot of my time airing out my conflicts with my culture, and other cultures, but I’ve lately thought that I should perhaps just let others do it, since I find them often doing so more eloquently and beautifully.  “Wake Up” is a grand example, and this passage is particularly great to me.

In fact, it’s so good, that I’m not even sure how my experience relates to the songwriter’s.  I think about the fully automated nature of our economic system and the droids it seems to make of us–promoting the need for continuous consumption, cradle to grave, from the utilitarianistic educational system to the imposition of fears of financial inadequacy and everything in between–and I want to grab everyone I meet and yell “Wake up!” myself.  I walk amongst robots in my mind, and they’re all full of largely thoughtless mechanisms that fiercely avoid or defend their programming when they are challenged, no matter how clear any evidence provided.  And they march through their lives as their seasons pass…. and sooner or later, their summers turn to dust.

My favorite bit is the admonition against growing up.  We physically grow but our hearts get torn up.  We don’t learn to take care of our and each others’ hearts, and they, neglected, are eventually wrecked.  Not irrevocably!  I don’t believe that, ever.  But wrecked nonetheless.  I think the point is that it’s important to continue to foster a belief and an engagement in the magical aspects of the world.  It’s such a huge world, such a mysterious place, and so many of us allow ourselves to be creatively bottlenecked and pigeonhole ourselves, our skills, our interests.  It’s the silliest thing I can imagine, and yet it is the norm in our society.  It’s normal to stagnate our learning, or to follow the mandates of others’ ideas of education.  It’s normal to learn to perform a highly specified vocation and to do it repeatedly for many years.  It’s normal?

Ahem… we’re just a million gods causing rainstorms, turning every good thing to rust!


hooded sweatshirts

21 01 2009
the aviator glasses are optional... but awesome!

the aviator glasses are optional... but awesome!

so, i don’t have a job or nothin’, but i still make purchases on occasion.  over the past few weeks, i’ve been wearing my only hooded sweatshirt a disproportionate amount.  far more often than some would consider hygienically reasonable, but that’s their problem, frankly.  it just felt right.  when i’d put on a sweater, or a jacket, or even a t-shirt over a complimentarily colored long-sleeve t-shirt, i couldn’t keep my mind off of the soft, encompassing warmth of the hood i’d so recently worn.  so i went out and bought a second.  except this one was a zip-up!  and brown!

let me tell you, i love the zip-up.  you don’t have to be committed to wearing it like you must be when you decide to wear the pullover.  it’s not as bulky but still keeps you warm in the chill of the houses of people who graciously house you briefly but are too cheap to crank the heat above 60.  i mean… who are deeply concerned with energy conservation and are brave enough to make the mindful sacrifices that must accompany the heroic preservation of our planet.  on the other hand, the pullover has the tunnel-thru handwarming pocket, and i’d be lying if i said i didn’t miss feeling a little like a kangaroo when i don the zip-up instead.  there’s something about being able to clasp one’s hands together inside a single pocket, and the size of it is great for carrying anything you need around with you.

so really, they’re both great, and i can’t really claim to love one above the other.  and, of course, the salient feature of these newly beloved articles of clothing, the hood, is the pudding.  but why?  for years and years, i’ve never cared whether i owned or didn’t own hooded sweatshirts.  i had them, i didn’t, i wore them, i didn’t, i sweat in them, i didn’t (which is curious, given the name).

let me tell you this:  the prevailing effect of this affect falls beautifully in line, i’ve found, with general life philosophy that i tend to be agreeing with lately.  it is focus without blinding.  it is shelter without being sheltered.  it is realizing the moment and reaffirming that you’re in it.

think of it:  the head is the primary entrance for your senses.  and your senses are everything that you know in this world.  sure, you’ve got the sensation of touch everywhere, but smell, sight, taste, and hearing all begin and end in the head alone.  sometimes, all that stimulation can numb you.  it’s a lot to handle.  i’ve read somewhere that 99.997% of all stimuli presented to a human passes unnoticed, simply because the conscious mind couldn’t possibly pay attention to everything that is sensed by its body.  and still, it’s a lot to process.

sight:  the hood cuts the periphery from your vision.  i once found this to be disconcerting, but now i love it.  whatever it directly in front of my face gets my visual attention.  i catch more of what’s there instead of scattering my focus into numbnitude.  do you like my new word?  i thought of it with the part of my brain that wasn’t being used up looking at useless junk.

hearing:  the hood walls buffer the ears from unnecessary noises.  you still hear everything that you need to hear.  in fact, you probably still hear everything, just at a lower volume.  i liken it to being just old enough to have the kind of hearing loss that entitles you to ignore whatever displeases or annoys you without being socially culpable.  it’s kind of awesome.

touch:  the only sense possibly negatively impacted by the hood, i’ll admit.   sometimes, if you don’t get the hood up, over, and into place cleanly, it’ll take some tuft of your hair or two and put them in unnatural positions.  and you can feel it.  the offended hairbit is invariably pinned to the head dead-opposite its natural position, and the hairs contained therein invariably sprout from the spot on the head with the highest nerve end concentration of your entire body.  it’s annoying and must be dealt with until rectified.  even then, sometimes a turn of the head reveals some unsavory friction between the cloth and the plumage.  my only consolation is that you do learn to deal with it and soon enough, it’s removed (nearly) entirely from your consciousness.  on the upside, sometimes the front edge of the hood brushes your face or bumps your nose, and it feels pretty cool.  not to mention it’s a great reminder that you’re wearing a frickin’ sweet hooded sweatshirt.

smell and taste:  these senses do not seem to be greatly hindered or enhanced by use of hooded sweatshirt.

the verdict, my friends, is that going about many daily routines while wearing a hooded sweatshirt really puts you in the moment:  your tasks are ahead of you and your diversions are a thick cottony layer of world away.  anything you don’t accomplish is pretty much on you.

to see things as they really are

15 01 2009

in the west, as i see it, we traditionally divide healing into two basic groups:  physical and mental.  plenty of other cultures, both past and present, don’t.  the holistic approach to health is difficult to understand from a born and raised westerner’s point of view.

psychology is the western study of the human mind, and the science we use to try to heal the mental part of our livelihood when we feel that it is out of balance or sick.  the basic method of the psychologist, from what i understand, is to help the patient revise his or her perspective; to see something differently is to take oneself out of the sickly point of view and affords them the opportunity to approach their problem with a set of new eyes, as it were.  gaining objectivity helps the person to judge more accurately the situation and to affect themselves positively.  that’s the healing of a mind that is out of balance, in a seriously simplified nutshell.

when a person’s balance is upset by a traumatic event, the methodology could be different.  i’m not knowledgeable in this arena, but i’ve certainly read about some pretty interesting treatments.  i know that it’s common for someone to forget all about, or sometimes just aspects of, the event that so strongly affected them.  this affects their ability to deal with the new problem, to face it and eventually, even if it’s quite a daunting task, to resolve it.  so memory loss is a common response to trauma; it’s a coping mechanism to the extreme emotions that accompany the trauma.  a song lyric i like, by modest mouse, says that “the mind is just made up of strings to be pulled.”  in this case, the difficult event was accompanied by terrible feelings, perhaps physical pain, or intense fear, and the mind, not desiring to feel these feelings, blockades the memory so that the person can’t recall it, which would also pull the strings to retrieve these terrible feelings to relive, as they accompany the memory.  the problem, i guess, is that when the mind is terrorized, there are a number of ways that those strings can still be pulled without recall of the exact memory.  then someone can have horrifying feelings without understanding why, and can be subject to otherwise irrational and paralyzing fears or anxieties.  this is what i suppose is the goal for more intense psychotherapy:  to find a way to get that person to re-access the source of the fears or pains or anxieties so they can appropriately deal with it and eliminate the symptoms from every day life.

this is what i find so interesting, and which i don’t understand.  how is it that simply acknowledging and talking about some traumatic event is usually necessary to curb these undesirable emanations?  why do these symptoms exist if the mind has shut off the access to the root of the problem?  it makes me feel like the subconscious, which is a term i don’t think is really so accurate, is more powerful than people would want to believe.  that everything that’s affected you is always affecting you until you process it and put it away.  that the more important things are constantly being pushed up from below (since i have to use this “sub” conscious model, that’s how i’ll put it) because it knows it’s something important with which to deal.

but why is it important to deal with?  why doesn’t our subconscious just say “hey, it sure was horrible, but it’s blocked off now and therefore isn’t a problem and we can forget all about it?”  it makes me believe that there is actually something very important about not letting things go; about taking the time to feel what was unavoidably put into our tracks and to process it all.  as though it was a lesson laid before us and the whole of our mind knows not to let it go before we’ve taken from it what we needed.

i mentioned, i think, that i had read a book and a half of dr. brian weiss’ (psychiatrist) work in hypnotic regression therapy.  people with serious anxiety disorders or the like would come to him and he would try to regress them to the time that the conscious mind forgot so that they could revisit the root of the issue, and more often than not, the problems they were experiencing in the present would then be largely cured.  this is the only concrete example of what i’m speaking.  i’m not incredibly well versed in therapy techniques or theory–just what i’ve picked up in various psycho-stuff i’ve read or classes i’ve taken and such.  nevermind, for now, that dr. weiss’ work led him to accidentally (and then intentionally) regressing people to past lives to find the sources of their issues.  that’s just interesting icing on the cake.  the basic premise is yet the same.

so in the way that the western psychologist is a guide to navigating the workings of the mind and to the absolution of the symptoms their patients have, so have i found in my personal research in various shamanistic practices and in the theory behind the Vipassana meditation to which i’ve been initiated a very similar model.  there are reasons for any fears or anxieties you may have, and a guide will, through varying methods, take you to the sources so that you can work them out for yourself and then be free of the problems.

like i said, what i’ve found seems to be that all these different disciplines all direct a person toward accomplishing the same goal; they just do it in radically different ways.

more than half of the population of Gabon believe in and “visit” the god Iboga.  They pulverize the bark of the Iboga tree and eat it in heaping bitter spoonfuls to produce a consistent effect:  they are visited by a man-tree, Iboga himself, who scrutinizes them before taking them on a journey through their lives.  they see, as if they are corporeal visitors to the scenes, all of the important moments in their lives, where they intuitively realize the harm that was done to their spirit during the scene and how it affects them to the present.  and in doing so, Iboga affords them the opportunity to revise their psyche and heal the problems presented.

in the amazon, shaman prepare brews (sometimes called yage) with ayahuasca (vine of life) being the main ingredient that they use to help their patients enter unbelievable realms where demons and dark spirits torment them.  they explain that these dark forces manifest themselves in our daily lives as the anxieties and problems that we face; if we successfully abolish them from this realm, we abolish them from our lives.  the shaman have the ability to enter the patients’ visions and help them any time they think the force is too strong for them.  the accounts are unbelievable.  tours are becoming pretty popular for westerers.  they come back reporting miraculous things:  sudden liftings of depression, dissipations of long-held crippling fears, and the like.  one person that i know told me of her uncle, who was diagnosed with brain cancer, had aggressive treatment that failed, was given 6 months to live, decided to go to the shamans of the amazon, and came back a while later claiming to be healed.  his doctors could find no trace of his tumors, so it seems he was indeed healed.

native americans (southwestern, and the name eludes me presently) i’ve read about believe that we’re all just sounds.  particular vibratory callsigns that manifest themselves, as our brains perceive them, as what we appear to be (our world entire is born of sound, in fact).  they use flutes that they calibrate precisely to re-center our tonal frequencies to keep their spirits and energies properly aligned.  i’ve read the least about this, but i is endlessly fascinating to me all the ways that this basic belief/understanding of the world can fit into everything above, and into the chinese energetic fields concepts, and pretty much everything else the world of which i know.

it is as though every region, every culture in the world, has the tools to find its way to clearing the energies not conducive to their well-being.  several of them see the physical problems as being closely tied, even directly related, to issues of the mind or spirit.  but everything can be construed, as i’ve seen it, as being conceptually cohesive no matter how different the viewpoints are.

i’ll put a stop to myself there, without even getting into what i experienced through Vipassana meditation, or about how Gotama the Buddha described 2500 years ago many of the concepts that modern physics and superstring theory are describing now, or about how the 11 dimensions purported to exist by physicists leave us 7 dimensions that we don’t have the sensory capabilities to experience, or how a Yaqui Indian “man of knowledge” sees more in this world than others seem to and claims that the world appears as it does because that’s how it’s been described to us and is thereby agreed upon by most–though i think their “worlds of sorcery” or the appearances of Iboga or the realms of demons and malignant spirits all might easily be inhabitants of one or more of these other dimensions that humans can and do sometimes have the ability to see or experience under certain circumstances–some through plant ingestion, some through dumb luck, some through intense effort, and on and on.

i will say that Vipassana translates as “to see things as they really are,” which implies that how things appear isn’t the reality one may think it is.  i will try to get to explaining that when i can.  i find it quite a challenge to put my experience into words that serve it properly.

not feeling yourself disintegrate

12 01 2009

what is wisdom?  is it simply knowledge handed down from those who came before?  can we live our lives according to the principles of those who have already lived and learned, and told the tale so that others could benefit from their folly?  we could, i’m sure, though i’ve noticed in my years here is that people love to make their own mistakes, that no amount of telling someone that they’re on the wrong track will engender change until that person comes to the end of that road or somehow is able to detect the wrongness of their action from within.  think about that.  you’ve done all kinds of dumb things that you probably knew were dumb; that others explained to you was dumb; but that you had to experience before it became part of your operating knowledge.  so really, is conventional wisdom all that it’s cracked up to be?  can we actually expect to be better off than our ancestors simply because we came along chronologically after them?

i’m afraid that we’re all doomed to make most of the mistakes we may have made if we were the first people even though we’re so far from it.  every person seems to need to experience a mistake or, perhaps better, the intuitive understanding that it is a mistake, in order to progress personally beyond that folly.  the intuitive understanding is tricky, though.  if we’re born with such an ability, it seems to be trained right out of us as we march a trail of explicit-logic-is-Truth toward adulthood, and if we find ways to reconnect with this skill, it’s difficult to be able to trust it, even after we convince ourselves that it’s real.  so, most of us continue to learn from mistakes–which is quite effective any way.

i remember once i was sitting at a table with six friends and one unknown (to me) girl, and though i knew from intuition AND from conventional wisdom not to speak ill of people (golden rule, anyone?), i said approximately the rudest thing i could about someone who wasn’t there, whom i thought nobody but a couple of us knew, and whom nobody had seen around for at least a year.  the silence and averted eyes at the table were bad.  but it was better than learning that the unknown girl happened to be the offended party’s best friend.  it was kind of incredibly awkward.  i knew i shouldn’t have been rude.  i was.  and then i learned by example the pain that such an indescretion could bring.  truly, there couldn’t be a more elementary and obvious piece of handed-down wisdom–yet it wasn’t enough to save me from my own sense of imperviousness.

so i was thinking about tv.  i was thinking about the ramifications of an unprecendentedly huge world population taking most of their information from a very small number of information outlets that happen to strive to be, more or less, aligned with one another anyway, and of course, it’s a little worrisome.  compared to the “old” model of smaller communities and more localized information, the implications get the illumination they deserve.  hopefully lessons from thought like this can be the teacher, rather than the impact from continued thoughtlessness.

i don’t think you’re stupid.  i just wanted to state it:  one thousand people in ten villages (one hundred per) are taught in each village how not to accidentally poison their drinking water.  one of the ten teachers has it wrong.  oops.  mistakes happen.  the next year, there are 900 people alive and armed with good knowledge on maintaining potable water.  but if those thousand people watch 2 television stations teaching them the same thing and one of the teachers is wrong, that’s 500 dead.  that’s all i’m saying.  not everything’s life or death, though.  a lot of the fallout can simply be people being wrong about dumb stuff.  but that can get to as divisive and polarizing as anything.  and when you’re living in a world where the decisions of the population have enormous impacts on the environments and other people around them…  well, it can be not so good, i think.

americans in particular are so proud of their immensely varied backgrounds–this “melting pot” provided us with many points of view and historical wisdoms that enabled this country to be as great as it is today (jingoistic words, not mine).  but what do we have today?  we have a huge wall of homogenized culture that is continuously stared at and compulsively agreed with by our populace, which is becoming incredibly homogenized as a result.  nearly every piece of corporate culture shakes hands with the next, from news broadcasts to car design to reality television shows.  all the news places import upon the same basic “issues,” and if i’ve learned anything in my time, it’s that there are literally boundless interesting, amazing, and important things to look into in our world.  but we don’t see most of them.  we see just a little.  usually what someone trying to sell something wants us to see.

i see this wall of fake culture as preventing millions of people from really being alive in their lives.  who disagrees that death is part of life?  you’ll never avoid it.  it’s pretty much the only thing that’s impossible.  then why all the “stay young” products for purchase?  why the craze?  what’s wrong with getting older?  with feeling less strong and not getting upset about it?  it’s part of life, to disintegrate, little by little, until the body is ready to rest.  stop telling me that it’s not, or that it’s avoidable, stupid wall of fake culture that tries to sell me things!

i mean, that’s all i’m saying.