Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Anansi and Gods

Someone told me about ``Neil Gaiman'' a couple of months ago and I picked up his ``Anansi Boys''. I was not impressed by the beginning of the book and about to leave  it unfinished when I read a passage about a boy that was always embarrassed by his father and it stirred up a lot of similar memories from my childhood. I felt specially awkward when my father talked with pretty women and girls, which felt like him cheating on my mom. I also felt that I was not able to match him in smooth talking and entertaining women. This feeling of inadequacy until very recently.

Anyway, I finished ``Anansi Boys'' and believe it to be an excellent novel. I am reading his ``American Gods'' now and it appears to me a masterpiece! Here is a strange quote:
The telephone in Shadow's apartment was silent and dead. He thought about getting it connected, but could not think of no one he wanted to call. Late one night he picked it up and listened, and was convinced that he could here a wind blowing and a distant conversation between a group of people talking in voices too low to properly make out. He said, ``Hello?'' and ``Who's there?'' but there was no reply, only a sudden silence and then the faraway sound of laughter, so faint he was not certain he was not imagining it. ---p. 365, American Gods

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Evening thoughts

Every word they say
is false
and every word
is true
but that's how
can be

The manner of feelings
and the feeling of manners
are, on the other hand,
something else

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Meeting at Dawn

I met an old friend at dawn. We have been fighting for thirty years now. During the past year, however, I came to appreciate the positive aspects of our relationship. This morning, she came in peace. I was ready to accept her in peace.

Dawn hours are the best time to meet ghosts of the past. I wake up and stay up for a while, but if I can go back to sleep, I usually have interesting experiences.

I don't remember the dream. In a couple of seconds, I experienced this feeling of dread, fear, and sadness. I realized that I met the source or essence of my depression. It was a deep sense of insecurity. A child who realizes that ``things won't be okay and there is no hope for the future,'' kind of thing.

Depression is not my enemy anymore. It keeps me modest and is a good remedy for vanity. It also drives me to retreat periods that are necessary for recouping and getting over a big hurdle. Its company is not pleasant, but dare I say, it's necessary in my life?

Monday, December 01, 2014

Long-term Decisions and Commitments

  • I have developed a simple and elegant framework for non-abusive decision-making and have used it---experimented with it--- in the past couple of years. The only lacking element relates to  ``long-term decisions and commitments.'' I have come up with partial answers, as to how to make decisions with long-term consequences, but I am not really satisfied with them.
  • I first need to elaborate on an amazing connection between our inner world and the outside reality. When we dream, the amount of direct sensational input from outside world is minimum, and our mind constructs a dream-world populated by figures and `things' that resemble outside reality. People have speculated on the mechanism behind dreams and their function and purpose. I have an alternative view: The dream mechanism is always present in our mind, but it only comes into full blossom during some states of sleeping. In waking states,  inputs from outside world are very powerful and dominate our dream-mechanism. In sleep, the dream mechanism becomes dominant and creates story lines and pseudo-sensations!
  • Why/how is this important? We can all agree that in most dreams, the purpose/meaning/plot is mainly a production of our mind. When we see a person behave in a certain way, the reason (for it) lies within our own mind. It's not that person's will and wishes that appear in our dream, but what our mind attributes to, or projects on, that person.
  • I learned the lesson in the previous paragraph the hard way. It took a year or two of my life. But that's another story.
  • In wakefulness, we are under the illusion of interacting with real world, whereas we mix the outside reality with a lot of our own mind's attributes and projections. The only way that we can make sense of `outside' is by projecting `inside'. It is `impossible' to be fully awake!!!!
  • We can use this ever-present link between inside and outside worlds. For example, when a person makes us really angry, it is useful to realize that the roots of our anger is in an internal conflict that is projected on the outside situation. Instead of being overly focused on changing the outside world, which is out of our control in many ways, we can turn our attention to learning about our inside world and its conflicts.
  • A long-term decision, in the inside world, corresponds to a long-term relationship, in the outside world. One possibility is that one part of our mind (for example, the rational and logical part or the emotional part) makes a decision and then uses our `willpower' to follow through the decision. In outside world, a relationship (say a family) can be dominated by one figure (either the father-rational figure or the mother-emotional, for example) and would be forced to behave a certain way.
  • Just as weaker members of a group can sabotage the leader's decisions, in our inside world too the weaker (subordinate) parts can undermine the dominant part's decisions. That 's a much too common situation when we make a decision but cannot go through with it. Or worse, we can see what's the best and most rational choice for us, but something prevents us from doing that!
  • The best forms of long-term relationships exhibit an element of respect for all members of the group, even those who are weak and seemingly useless. All members are `heard' even though in every situation there is ultimately one choice to be made and some members end up sacrificing their wishes. The art of `listening' is crucial here ...
  • I believe that some form of internal/external listening is very important when we try to make long-term decisions and commitments. I am not sure exactly how.
PS 1. I just watched this TED talk and it seems relevant to my points:

Emily Balcetis: Why some people find exercise harder than others

PS 2. I solved the problem. Things came together after the evening tennis. It may take a while to put it into word coherently: I tried to explain it to Sima today and it made some sense, but needs more work. I am happy and excited.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Circle and Spiral Symbolism

``Circle'' is a symbol for repetition. Moving in a circle does not take you anywhere, you are always at a point that you have visited many times before.

``Descend''  (a downward move) symbolizes sadness. ``Sadness'' is an affect that works as a grievance mechanism for a loss by promoting withdrawal from external engagements and an inward focus.

``Downward spiral'' is a combination of ``circle'' and ``descend'' and symbolizes depression as a state of sad repetition, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Descend/sadness adds a direction to circle/repetition. Once we become aware of this direction, there comes the possibility to reverse the direction and start an ``upward spiral'' that symbolizes growth!

How do you change the direction? My standard answer is that deep and lasting change is the outcome of awareness and acceptance.

I came up with this symbolic image (circle and spiral) a few weeks ago. It is intriguing for me because it offers a framework for understanding and even appreciating my depression periods. My underlying assumption, and motivation, is that our emotions and affects do have a purpose and function. Depression is not an evil to destroy, it is a signal, containing useful information, and we can work with it!

In Eliot's Ash-Wednesday, we watch the poet painfully climbing a spiral staircase. This image is reflected in the twisting sentences of the verse, which often revolves upon itself, repeating the same words and phrases, apparently making little headway, but pushing steadily forward nevertheless. My own life has progressed in the same way. For years it seemed a hard, Lenten journey, but without the prospect of Easter. I toiled around and around in pointless circles covering the same ground, repeating the same mistakes, quite unable to see where I was going. Yet all the time, without realizing it, I was slowing climbing out of darkness. In mythology, stairs frequently symbolize a breakthrough to a new level of consciousness. ---pp. xix--xx, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, Karen Armstrong [Amazon Link]

Tool: Lateralus

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Integration and Faith

In the previous post [Happiness and Meaning] I mentioned at the very end that a cycle of growth and self-knowledge involves a process of ``inner integration'' and a process of ``purifying destruction'' (making things real). I want to expand on both themes and I start with the first.

This morning I was reading an article from Michael Eigen's ``Electrified Tightrope,'' [Amazon link], which is a collection of very interesting papers. (I bought it mainly because it contains an amazing article first appeared in a 1981 issue of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, ''The area of faith in Winnicott, Lacan and Bion,'' an exceptionally beautiful paper!) The article I was reading this morning was on ``omniscience,'' in which Eigen argues that letting go of the illusion of omniscience (knowing everything) is important in the process of healing and growth. He describes `unintegration' as a condition of openness to new experiences and a state of playfulness.

What does enable us to open ourselves to new experiences? This is such an exciting and broad question, but if I have to give a short answer, I would say, a form of trust is necessary that I call `faith'!
I proudly present my own definition of `faith' as a condition of acting in the presence of basic imperfection in three areas of ``knowledge'' (not omniscient), ``ability'' (not omnipotent), ``responsibility'' (not omniliable, lol). Faith, in my view, contains not only letting go of the illusions of full knowledge, power, and responsibility, but also being able to decide and act in face of the disillusionment! Faith is a deep trust that we can, and should, live with these imperfections.

I emphasize that trust or faith is not an intellectual phenomenon. It's not enough for me to convince you that faith is a good thing and, boom, you would be open to new experiences. Almost anything worthy of being discussed needs deep understanding at the emotional, or even a lower, level and requires lots of practice. Here, many different form of practices such as meditation, mindfulness, Zen, playfulness and more come to mind.

Learning to trust and have faith requires a change at the deepest regions of brain. Stephen Porges (http://stephenporges.com) `polyvagal' theory is relevant. (I have mentioned his work here, for example, in From Cesar Millan to Stephen Porges. This theory is so interesting and multifaceted that requires a couple of posts of its own.) The condition of trust and playfulness requires a form of coordination/integration across reptilian brain, mammalian brain, and neocortex. If this appears circular (trust is required for uninegration which is a prerequisite for integration, but trust requires integration itself), it is circular, and that is one reason why it is only obtained with practice.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Happiness and Meaning

The previous post, [Surviving Self-Destruction and Self-Knowledge], ends with a thought on ``inner integration.'' What do I have in mind by this expression and why is it important? (See also an older post: Journey to the Heart ...)

A couple of days ago I was reading the last several pages from the Viktor Frankl's ``Man's Search for Meaning,'' [Amazon link], and came across an interesting idea. Just as one cannot force himself to laugh (there needs to be a context and a motive---a joke, for example), one cannot force himself to be happy and content with life. This is a simple, fundamental point that 99% of the self-help books get wrong (even the best of them like Brene Brown's ``The Gifts of Imperfection,'' [Amazon link], which honestly goes a long way above and beyond a self-help book) by assuming that reading and rational/logical understanding and reasoning can make us happy or, more generally, cause lasting changes in life! (Direct pursuit of happiness would make your life miserable.)

So what is the context and motive for being happy in life? Viktor Frankl suggests ``finding a meaning and purpose for life.'' Even the most hopeless situations become tolerable (and dare I say enjoyable?) if one can devise a strong meaning and purpose for it.

And how do you come up with the meaning of your life? I guess here even Frankl goes wrong because he implicitly assumes that one can fabricate a meaning and purpose for his life using conscious, logical/rational thinking! But why not? An indirect argument uses the failure of the self-help literature and psychology in general in making lives more meaningful and happier. But a more convincing and direct answer was first revealed to me after reading Arnold Modell's ``Imagination and the Meaningful Brain,'' [Amazon link], and is being confirmed now as I am reading Antonio Damasio's ``Self Comes to Mind,'' [Amazon link]. These authors suggest that the set of meanings and values we give our life are deeply rooted in the ancient, emotional parts of our brain. We may offer beautiful, sophisticated expressions of our purpose and goals but they have to be rooted in our emotional side. Life meaning is closely related to our passion.

I suggest that finding our purpose in life and living a more meaningful and happy life requires working on two dimensions. First, a process of ``inner integration'' (that incorporates different aspects of our mind, body and life)  increases the chances of finding our purpose in life. An imperfect analogy is looking for a treasure on an island. The more areas of the island are integrated in the search area, the higher are the probability of success. Second, a process of making things real, in the sense of solidifying our sense of self and our top priorities. This brings us back to my previous two posts [Separating Fantasy from Reality and Surviving Self-Destruction and Self-Knowledge].

Surviving Self-Destruction and Self-Knowledge

I have not been able to find a rigid sense of ``self'' within, after a few years of introspection and different practices. I have moments that answering a simple question regarding my preferences is difficult for me. I am very emotional and sensitive, and yet, there is a disconnect between my emotional world and my decision-making. This inner disconnect, I believe, has been the driving force behind my depression. (With a slightly different combination of genes and environmental factors, I could have  ended up more like a sociopath. That is why I identify so much with some parts of the book, ``Confessions of a Sociopath,'' as I mentioned in [Confessions of a Sociopath] post).

In the previous post, [Separating Fantasy and Reality], I mentioned Winnicott's provocative idea that the way we confirm the reality of outside world, its separateness from our inner world of thoughts and emotions, is by unleashing imaginary destruction on it and verifying its survival. The imaginary destruction, in practice, becomes talks and acts of destruction and violence. In the context of our relationships, if the other person does not retaliate against our unrestrained anger and destruction, we (gradually?) become convinced that s/he exists outside our internal world. (Because small children do not posses the power of destroying their parents, this is done relatively naturally and harmlessly. In fact, the process infuses love, destruction, and joy for a child whose parent survives the destruction!)

My main question in this post: Can we use the destruction process to gain self-knowledge?

Between ages of 16 and 24, I became severely depressed, I cut my hands and burned them with cigarettes, and twice I attempted suicide. The memory of those days is hazy now. But recently, when I have episodes of acute depression that are accompanied with suicidal thoughts, I come out of it with a deeper understanding of myself, some revelation, or at least a sense of renewal. Even though on the surface these episodes are full of self-hatred and imagined violence and destruction, I would like to think of them as a self-verification of the type Winnicott suggested between a child and his parent, or between a patient and her therapist.

I have always thought of the episodes of emotional turbulence (including severe depression or anxiety) as signs of being alive. People like me tend to saturate their lives with self-imposed, imaginary constraints and constructs that enslave the soul and drown it to death. Just like the involuntary panic and distress of a drowning person, a lot of apparently illogical activities of someone enslaved in an imaginary prison of own thoughts are the last resort, and in a way, positive and meaningful.

When we see acts of violence and destruction, if we genuinely wish to improve the situation and not simply respond to it with violence, it becomes vitally important to ask ourselves, Why? If we cannot think as the person who commits the violence, there is no hope of having a lasting effect for us. And the main prerequisite for that, is a process of inner integration. We need to confront and accept the destruction and violence inside our selves at the deepest emotional level!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Separating Fantasy and Reality

I finished the previous post [Confessions of a Sociopath] by alluding to the mystical notion of removing the veil of fantasy and waking up from the dream that we call life. Incidentally, I was re-reading D. W. Winnicott's masterpiece ``Playing and Reality,'' [Amazon link], the 6th chapter, ``the use of an Object and relating through identification.'' It took me more than a year of studying psychoanalysis before I could start to understand this article (originally published in 1969 in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis), and even now I am not sure I can explain it clearly. I'll try.

The basic question is that, from a child development point of view, when/how does a child distinguishes ``objective reality'' from ``subjective fantasy,'' realizes the separation between self and the other, and accept that the other (mom) lies beyond the control of his mind. The implications, though, are much more widespread because, surprisingly enough, many stages of (child) development will have to repeat themselves throughout the life over and over. Therefore, even for an adult, it frequently happens that s/he needs to separate objective reality from subjective fantasy. (Moreover, the most exciting aspects of growth and creativity happens in the transitional space between objective reality and subjective fantasy, the area of ``Playing''! But that's another fascinating topic.)

The answer is simple and provocative and I am beginning to develop a deeper sense of its meaning: Imaginary constructs (of our mind) cannot survive the destructive power of our minds and our destructive wishes. Reality must survive imaginary destruction! Anything that you can change by the power of your mind is -NOT- reality, it is a product of your mind in the first place.

But things get even more exciting. So far, I have described a ``thought experiment'': If you can destroy something/someone in your mind, that thing/person is not real. However, when people confuse objective and subjective (e.g. children) they tend to act out their thoughts and feelings, and we end up with acts of destruction (via speech or actual action). Therefore, ``survival'' becomes something more than simply existing after the attack: it becomes non-retaliation which is specially meaningful in the context of human relationships (as objects do not and cannot retaliates naturally!)

Here are my own wild conjectures. First, I think we can generalize the idea to understand the acts of violence in a much larger context, even by groups of people and societies. (I guess people must have worked on this before, but I am not aware of it.) Second, and this is more original and exciting, I think you can apply the  idea to examine your self, to find out what is real about your self and what's imaginary! And this brings me back to the starting point. One thing I liked a lot about the book, ``Confessions of a Sociopath,'' was the author's description of a lack of rigid self/identity. I think this absence of the sense of self is deeper, more pervasive, and ultimately more important than its manifestation in the forms of sociopath/psychopathy, severe depression, or different types of personality disorders.

Confessions of a Sociopath

is a book [Amazon link] I finished last night. Even though I am not a sociopath but I enjoyed reading it very much. It offered me valuable insights and posed difficult, relevant problems and questions to ponder. But more importantly, I felt a deep understanding of the author, as if I have a sociopath "persona" inside and under different circumstances that persona could have dominated my life.

Since I started reading the book, I felt this urge to contact the author and share some of my own thoughts and experiences with her. Finally, last night I emailed her (via her blog) and thanked her for writing the book. I wanted to say more, but I did not. I read a post on her blog (Empathizer) that described an important and meaningful (for me, personally) situation, and I realized that most of the things I want to say, is already said to her by her enormous blog readers.

More importantly, I have learned through difficult and grueling experiences, that when I want to tell people my insights, it is for the most part a fantasy: the fantasy of being able to talk to part of my self that identifies with that person. Maybe the main sort of enlightenment that I have reached in the past year or so is that I can, sometimes, pull back the veil of fantasy and see the real world and real people. If you don't follow, it's a famous saying in Islamic mysticism/Sufism that the world is a veil to be removed by the seeker, or a dream to be woken from, and I am feeling half awakened now!

Friday, June 06, 2014

Journey to the Heart of Darkness - Stop 1: Energy

Self-knowledge requires accepting and integrating all aspects of the self. There is no way around getting into our innermost dark places. And our first encounter in this journey is with "energy/intent". Energy is beyond good and bad, and that's why it is so frightening. Here is a story from Richard Strozzi Heckler's ``The Anatomy of Change'' that captures the encounter very well. It's long but worth reading:

… until we identify, accept, and integrate our own feelings of aggression, all of the political and social processes, however sophisticated, will be inadequate in dealing with the human dilemma of life on planet earth.

A friend had an experience that relates directly to this issue. It was at a time when he was a single parent for about five weeks while his wife was away on a business trip. During this period, he grew much closer to his children, and his relationship with his thirteen-year-old daughter particularly became more intimate. One evening they stayed up late talking, and when it came time to go to bed the daughter, as he told it, ``looked directly in my eyes and said in both total innocence and with the voice of the eternal woman, 'Papa, can I sleep with you tonight?' '' My friend recounted at that point ``a huge wave of energy rushed through my body. I suddenly didn't know who I was or how to respond. There was so much heat in me that I felt like I was on fire. I was both confused and turned on. I then became angry that I was turned on and made so vulnerable. At that moment I understood, in a flash of clarity and insight, why so many fathers begin to distance themselves from their daughters. I understood that a tremendous amount of child abuse and sexual molestation in our society comes from the father's inability to identify and deal with the energy that arises out of his attraction to his daughter. In the moment that I felt `wrong' about my feelings, I could feel how I wanted to lash out at my daughter.

The taboo against incest is such a strong ``no'' that most fathers feel that something must be wrong with them when these rushes of energy and attraction arise. Not knowing how to face this charged situation, they project their confusion and anger outward. Not taking responsibility for their own feelings and energetic streaming, they make the daughter wrong for their experience. Misunderstanding and unable to tolerate this level of bodily aliveness, and having no tools for being centered and grounded in the experience, they try to rid themselves of these feelings, emotions, and thoughts by blaming the child. ---p. 132, The Anatomy of Change

A key phrase here is ``unable to tolerate this level of bodily aliveness.''

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Words and News

Can you
travel the path
without moving
or being alive
for that matter
Because I
am disintegrating
from inside
And I know myself

Clash of Reality or Ego?

Today is difficult. I feel that experiences like the one I had yesterday, no matter how wonderful and amazing, set me up for depression. As soon as I come back to the reality of the everyday world, BOOM,  I am overrun by the sudden fear of losing my mind, life, and everything within and without. And yet, at the same time, I feel like I am protecting an image, something that is not me anymore, and that is the driving force behind my sense of hopelessness and depression.

I do -not- like Deepak Chopra's view of the inner world, for the most part, but this short article on LinkdIn that I received in my email today made sense to me:


Here are some excerpts:

In India the right way for a person to go is known as their Dharma, and "right" means that the whole universe is organizing your way forward. To many people this sounds like a mystical idea, and yet all of us can say, at one time or another, that things turned out in an unexpected way beyond our control. The biggest obstacle to finding your Dharma is ego.

The ego stumbles to stay connected to a person's Dharma. You have to learn that your biggest allies along the way are instinct, intuition, staying true to yourself, standing up for your truth, and self-awareness. Your adversaries are naked ambition, blind competitiveness, self-importance, a craving for status, and following second-hand opinions as if they are your truth.
Most people are divided between their allies and their adversaries – I certainly was, and must confess still am, when I find myself in moments of struggle. The ego is a permanent part of the self, and a valuable one. But when it decides to run the show, your inner world becomes distorted. You start to live according to an image you want to protect rather than searching for the connecting thread – the Dharma – that subtly unites every moment of our life. What I learned from my career train wreck was to trust my allies, and as the years passed, one of them – self-awareness – became the ally I could rely on the most, no matter whether I was going through hard times or times of great fulfillment.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Revelation: Cannot Earn Content!

I have had a series of revelations recently, many of them in the form of body awareness, a sense of completion, but the last one is more intellectual: Cannot earn content!

The deepest sense of happiness, being content and full, is not earned through hard work and focus and grit. It is more like a state of surrender and serendipity. All these years, I have carried this deep, unconscious association between happiness and hard work. To be fair, it has motivated me to work really hard and gain a lot of things in life, a lot of things except happiness! This is not really complicated or philosophical; it is as easy and mundane as this observations: Whenever the weather is nice and pleasant, I feel this compulsion to play tennis, not only because I enjoy playing tennis, but more importantly because, deep down, I believe that I need to earn ``enjoying pleasant weather'' by running and playing hard and sweating a game of tennis.

The weather is very nice today and I could be playing tennis this evening. Or I could go to the regular coffee shop to read and write. Either way, I would try to earn my way into being happy and content. Instead, I spent a little time in the back yard cleaning and now am sitting there, a bottle of beer besides me, and writing this post. I may be far, a long way, from letting happiness happen to me, without trying to earn it, but I have a feeling that I am on the right path.

PS. It's 9 and in the three hours since I wrote the above, a number of interesting events has happened and I came across some more realizations. I spare you all the details and go to them directly. First, I realized that our actions and decisions do not correspond to, and guarantee, our happiness and content. The overall effects of our decision is like a path that we take in life, and it may be a more direct path to self-realization, or an indirect, bending road to no destination! In any case, true happiness and deep content are serendipitous events that may realize when we surrender. That is an amazingly liberating observation,
I was sitting outside the coffee shop, annoyed, hurt, and feeling insecure. As I watched the clouds pass slowly, colored by the evening sun, suddenly something shifted inside me. I was watching something spectacular, and felt close to all people (specially native Americans, for some reason) who would have watched the same scene over hundreds of years. I then realized that what I observed was a unique present for me, something that no one could get from me and I felt more secure.
I will have very difficult moments in the future. The moments of understanding and ecstasy come and go, and they do not guarantee anything because, going back to where I started this post, true happiness and deep sense of content are gifts, they are not the results of our efforts and determination, but our acceptance and surrender!

PPS. It's 11:30, and I have mixed feelings about what I wrote here, what if I wake up tomorrow and feel totally stupid for writing them? Anyway, I just had an image that I am walking in a desert and everyone that I have known, friends, family and loved ones, are all scattered behind me in the distance. I want to talk to someone, but no one is near. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Three Facets of Self-Awareness

In my attempt to understand and articulate my intuition in the previous post [Tribal Spirit], I am reading the last chapter of Joseph Newirth's ``Between Emotion and Cognition: The Generative Unconscious.'' Here is an extremely important and insightful paragraph:

Continental philosophers rejected the Cartesian paradigm of the isolated thinker, … They conceptualized subjectivity, or self-consciousness, as a function of interaction with other human beings, and awareness of one's subjectivity as a social experience. The continental philosophers held several alternative views of the structure of subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and the development of self-consciousness: a phenomenological perspective in which individual self-consciousness precedes the encounter with the other and is inherent in infantile states of prereflective  awareness; a dialectical perspective in which subjectivity is a result of a struggle with the other for recognition; and an existential or generative perspective that conceptualizes subjectivity as an emergent quality of the rootedness of human beings in a cultural matrix. These three philosophical positions can be thought of as parallel to contemporary psychoanalytic positions of subjectivity and intersubjectivity: the phenomenological subject, subjectivity as a dialectical struggle for recognition, and subjectivity as generative of symbolic meaning. From a broad perspective, subjectivity and intersubjectivity include all three perspective; … ---p. 211, Between Cognition and Emotion
To be honest, it is this expression, ``subjectivity as an emergent quality of the rootedness of human being in a cultural matrix,'' that makes me VERY nervous, and in combination with ``subjectivity as generative of symbolic'' and the idea of ``a tribal spirit that constitute identity'' from my previous post [Tribal Spirit], that excites me in an extraordinary way! LOL

Tribal Spirit

A few passages from the Barry Holstun Lopez's, ``Of Wolves and Men.'' They inspire an important intuition in me that I cannot articulate well, not yet.
The spirit that kept a people together through time, even as individuals passed away, was one of the most deeply felt emotions in the native American soul. Every year in small and large ways the spirit of life, of tribal identity and solidarity, of the individual's place in tribe, was renewed. And the wolf played a role here too. …

Tribal initiation in the wold ceremony was central to one's sense of identity with the tribe, and participation was necessary before one could take part in any other ceremony. It also renewed a sense of tribal identity for former initiates who participated.

The mystic basis for the initiation ceremony … was the stealing of a young man by a pack of wolves. The wolves tried to kill him but could not and so they became his friends. They taught him about themselves, then sent him back to his village to teach his tribe the rites of the wolf ceremony. The young man told his people that it was necessary for the strength of the tribe, for their success in war, and everything else they did, that they should be like wolves. They must be a fierce, as brave, and as determined as the one who is the greatest hunter in the woods. In this ceremony people are ``stolen'' by wolves, go through a terrifying confrontation, and emerge wolflike. ---pp. 128-129, Of Wolves and Men

The social fabric of the Naskapi tribe is the result of an acknowledgement of dependence on each other for food. The young, the old, the sick, they cannot hunt. The social system of the Naskapi bestows prestige on the successful hunter; that us what is exchanged for meat. Each man hunts as he chooses, calling on personal skills, but with a single, overriding goal: to secure food. The individual ego is therefore both nurtured and submerged. A man's skills are praised, his food is eaten, his pride is reinforced. ---p. 89, Of Wolves and Men

Alpha animals do not always lead the hunt, break trail in snow, or eat before the others do. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason, and, it should be noted, is alpha at the deference of the other wolves in the pack.
The wolf is a social animal; it depends for its survival on cooperation, not strife. Human beings, particularly in recent years, have grown accustomed to speaking of ``dominance hierarchies'' in business corporations and elsewhere, and the tendency has been to want wolf packs (or troops of chimpanzees) to conform to similar molds. The social structure of a wold pack is dynamic---subject to change, especially during the breeding season---and may be completely reversed during periods of play. It is important during breeding, feeding, travel, and territorial maintenance, and seems to serve a purpose when wolves gather to reassure each other of the positive aspects of their life-style as reflected in this social order, one that enhances survival by collective hunting and natural population control. ---p. 33, Of Wolves and Men

Friday, April 04, 2014

Holding Opposites

My explorations won't end until they end.

In an unusually difficult Monday I discovered the extension of ``Mahan Method'' to decision-making set-ups with a long-term/commitment dimension, but that will be the topic of another post, or maybe not. In the ensuing discussions with my sister, my focus shifted to the issue of listening to diverse inner conversations (see, http://www.intervoiceonline.org), and then to the idea of holding opposite thoughts (see the last paragraph here: http://blog.ted.com/2014/01/08/the-science-of-willpower-kelly-mcgonigal-on-why-its-so-dang-hard-to-stick-to-a-resolution/). Then, I first acquainted myself with the ``cognitive dissonance'' (Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance) and then Jung's idea on the tension of holding opposites (for example, http://jungiancenter.org/essay/jungs-challenge-us-holding-tension-opposites). Finally I got to the Kathleen A. Brehony's book, ``Awakening at Midlife,'' and the following paragraphs caught my attention, specially the idea of surrender. And the way I can make sense of surrender, to something inside, is using my own ``Mahan method'' of decision-making. Full circle, lol
Riptides occur when two opposing currents meet; it is a natural collision of opposites. These currents create a swirling action that forms channels. When a wave recedes, water rushes through that outgoing channel with great power and speed. …  riptides are to be respected because they can drag even the strongest swimmer out past the breakers in a heartbeat The natural Impulse is to swim as hard as you can back toward the shore. But when you are caught in a riptide this is the worst thing you can do. You cannot overpower this natural force. Even very competent swimmers drown by trying to fight the force of moving water that is taking them out to sea.

Instead. a riptide demands surrender. If you simply float, taking care only to keep your head above water, the riptide will take you out about fifteen hundred feet or so and only then can you begin to swim parallel to the shore and find your way back. We are used to being in control of our lives, but a riptide teaches that sometimes it is necessary to “go with the flow." Not knowing where you will end up and feeling helpless in the face of the power of forces that are much stronger than you are terrifying experiences. Surviving a riptide demands trust in your own ability to keep your head above the water and trust in the natural force of the event to take you only so far away from shore.

In the midlife passage it is necessary to trust in the integrity of your own inner process, the wisdom of the Self. and your own strength. As with a riptide, it is necessary to believe that the emerging intrapsychic forces will take you only so far from shore.

Jung called his own midlife transition an “encounter with the unconscious.” He wrote: “I frequently imagined a steep descent. I even made several attempts to get to the very bottom. The first time I reached, as it were, a depth of about a thousand feet; the next time I found myself at the edge of a cosmic abyss. It was like a voyage to the moon. or a descent into an empty space. First came the image of a crater, and I had the feeling that I was in the land of the dead. The atmosphere was that of the other world."
My understanding of holding opposites is different. In most significant situations in life, all options are possibilities (with possibly different probabilities, of being true). Everything is right, correct, possible under certain conditions. There is a possibility that I have lost my mind. It's possible that I am depressed. But it is also possible that I am finding myself and re-creating my identity. It's possible that I am reaching new and interesting conclusions. I cannot be sure. I may have a deep, hidden passion in life. Passion may also be a big lie. Everything is possible and it should not really bother us.

I cannot explain this any better. Maybe later I can, maybe not, lol

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Keeping

My period of flirtation with Cesar Millan was short and ended a couple of weeks ago. Nothing against him though, I just learned whatever I wanted to learn from him and am moving on. I am indebted to him for some very interesting insights. Also finished the novel, ``Before I go to sleep,'' a few days ago. I learned a lot from that novel too. Today, I bought a book about wolves by Barry Holstun Lopez, ``Of Wolves and Men,'' from Book Nook store. It seems that I need to read something interesting at all times :)

I had an amazing day today. The issue of "helping others'' was one of the last questions on my list and today I finally made significant progress toward answering it. I have been lucky to find answers to all of the difficult questions that started me on my personal pilgrimage a few years ago. I am sure new questions will pop up, and I will have very dark and depressing moments in the future, but I will get through them, and will experience moments of indescribable joy and gratitude too.

PS #1. NPR on Cesar:


I hate those motherfuckers who criticize Cesar for brutal behavior toward dogs. It's like they have not lived in the real world, where animals kill animals with outmost brutality! I just hate them and their idiotic vision of a peaceful world, lol

PS #2. How about a piece of music to mend and fix our differences? Stravinsky 's ``Pulcinella Suite":


PS#3. An honest talk:


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kerman, Mahan, Color, Music

A piece on Kerman, my hometown:


A quote from the above link:
One time in Keman, my grandmother sent me to the bazaar for cumin. I asked for a quarter of a kilo. Perched comfortably on his chair, the spice seller looked me in the eye and raised his brows in a "no".
That's the stereotypical Kermani attitude for you, too blasé to even speak. Trying to trump him at his own game, I pretended not to understand the gesture until he was finally forced to reply: "We don't have any."
I pointed to a huge sack of cumin in the back.
He grumbled like a bear deep in winter slumber. "You said you want a quarter of a kilo. You want me to get up and walk to the back and open the sack and weigh your purchase ... do all that work, for a quarter of a kilo? Nope, my child, I don't have a quarter of a kilo."
Such incidents aren't rare here. A merchant unwilling to rise from his seat might ask you to come back the next day when the shop is busy and he's up anyway, or he might just ignore you - gaze through you with eyes half closed until you go away. I always react to rudeness in other circumstances, but somehow these shop owners don't bother me. The bazaar exemplifies Kerman's whimsical, lazy spirit, often exacerbated by the region's avid taste for opium. (Kermanis distinguish traditional leisurely use from addiction.)
My father was born in Mahan, a small city close to Kerman. Our last name means "from Mahan" in Persian.


Amazing photos of colors one can only see in a mosque:


Some pictures:

Let's add a piece of music to the end too :)


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Feeling Secure and Playful ...

A state of feeling secure is a combination of outside and inside conditions that is accompanied by calmness, openness, and curiosity. In the secure state we have compassion for ourselves. We are forgiving and at the deepest level of our mind believe that our value is independent of our actions and decisions. We can see multiple possible narratives and therefore have a choice amongst them. Choice inspires a sense of agency. The inner sense of security is manifested outwardly in playfulness. For some people this state of security is more widespread. For others, it only takes place in their sleep and dreams. 

As we approach the boundaries of the secure state, we become more tense and our vision of the situation become monolithic. Our choices seem to shrink and we attach more and more of our self-worth to our actions and decisions. In the domain of insecurity, we cannot stop judging ourselves and our actions. We become self-centered and label our single narrative either good or bad. In a ``good'' narrative, we become grandiose, feel powerful and independent of everything and every body. In a ``bad'' narrative, we become desperate, critical, depressed and hopeless. Because most real-life situations are complex, neither of the good and bad narratives can be stable. Therefore, states of insecurity are associated with sudden changes in mood with some kind of manic-depressive presentation.

Extending the secure and playful state of being is a difficult but worthwhile challenge. There are some known approaches like therapy (psychoanalysis mainly) and arts. I have come up with a method of decision-making that I call ``Mahan method.'' I have used it for the past year or so and it has had interesting and useful results for me.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Zen? Here and Now?

For the past twenty years or so, I have been fascinated by the Zen idea of living in the here and now. Until now, that is. Reading the S.J. Watson's novel, ``Before I go to sleep,'' I am beginning to question the whole premise. It seems that being human is closely related to our personal history and stories, our understanding of our past and possibilities we imagine for our future:
I can't imagine going on like this for much longer. I know I'll go to sleep tonight, and then tomorrow I will wake up and not know anything again, and the next day, and the day after that, forever. I can't imagine it. I can't face it. It's not life, it's just an existence, jumping from one moment to the next with no idea of the past, and no plan for the future. It's how I imagine animals must be. ---p. 194, Before I go to sleep
I am glad that I am developing healthy suspicion of everything I believe, including Zen! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy NowRouz!

The Persian New Year, 1393, started today at around 1 in the afternoon. Baba (dad in Farsi) called 15 minutes earlier and as the moment of ``Tahveel: change of year" approached, held the phone in front of their TV so that we can hear those few minutes. He does this every year for the past 15 years or so, since we came to the US. I am not a big fan of the whole NowRouz and the New Year celebration though. In fact, last year I slept through the whole thing intentionally.

I have not felt real grief in my life, even though I have lost uncles and grand parents, but never felt the deep sense of losing someone precious. Today, after the New Year phone call, I had a very painful moment. In an instant, I saw the day in the future that my mom and dad will have passed away. I saw their empty space in their apartment. But the most devastating vision was that I saw there was no "baba" anymore who would sit by the phone and try calling me over and over, with his amazing patience because the lines are so busy. I saw the phone in their apartment and an empty space besides it, and something inside me gave in and I broke into tears because there was nothing else I could go except to cry.

We laugh and we cry. But living with the whole heart is painful. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Little One?!

The truth is … almost … that …. there is no truth, really.

I started reading S.J. Watson's ``Before I Go to Sleep,'' at the suggestion of my sister.

The truth about the previous post, [Big One …] , is that I was listening to music last evening and then I missed all those people whom I loved at some point in my life, and just wanted to be close to each one of them, maybe hold them, touch them, and tell them how much I loved them, and I couldn't, so I ended  up cursing them, which is a very natural response.

Everything becomes its opposite, at some point. This is very important. It is also important that we understand outside world by projecting our inner world, but I have written this before, never mind.

Some music from commercials that I liked and found tonight --- they are better in their commercials, lol

1- Brenda Lee - I'm Sorry (A carpet cleaner?)

2- I Will Be There by Odessa (Subaru)

3- Ladyhawke - Blue Eyes (Verizon)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Big One ...

This post serves as a big "Fuck You!" to all people whom I passionately loved, or had a crush on, or was infatuated with, or whatever the hell it was I was feeling when I was feeling,
because the irony of the situation is that no single individual from that group reads this blog and I can write whatever the hell I feel like saying without having to face the actual possibility of them reading it, lol

And at the end, who gives a fuck about love anyway, right?

Inspired by a bunch of music clips on youtube, the last one is from a French girl, with powerful music:


And to create a contrast, this is the one I was listening to before that:


Monday and  Tuesday of the last week were horrible, some of the worst days of my life, and I got through them anyway. The fucking life goes on whether we like it or hate it, for a while we are with it and them it goes on without us. Big wisdom!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Clouds, Pyramids and …

We make pyramids out of our emotions, emotions about emotions, and so on and so forth, until we reach clouds. In clouds, emotions and words are dissociated and therefore concepts are suspended, with no anchoring to reality, and hence, can be confusing and harmful. It is not words' fault when they become meaningless, it is simply the ``pyramids and clouds'' effect.

New Revelation: Emotional truth is in depth of memories.
Objective truth is connected to physical reality, whereas emotional truth is related to how we remember, the depth of our memories rather than how close they are to objective truth!

I am afraid of so many things ... and I want to accept this. And talk about it. First, with Sima. Later, close friends and family, and maybe here too.

We went to Tara Cinema last evening and watched ``Philomena'' [Link]. It was better than other movies that we watched this past couple of months. I hated ``12 years a slave'' [Link] a lot, the worst best picture in Oscar history in my opinion.

I am getting ready to start job search. It is quite scary.

What is emotional openness? What is emotional numbing? If I close my eyes and cover my ears, or completely lose myself in a novel or a game and do not sense anything, the outside world continues. Similarly, our inner emotional world happens whether we observe it or not. The common apparatus between the two words is our beam of attention. We can focus our attention inside, be present with what happens inside, and ultimately try to describe the landscape, the emotional events, in words.

What if our inner space, our subconscious, mirrors our view of the outside world? Obviously, we project a lot of our inner world onto the outer world, but what if the reverse direction also applies? Then, things like religion and our basic trust in life translate into the structure of our inner world. As I think about it more, I realize that when I observe someone's interactions in the outside world, specially his/her point of view about life, relationship, work, and such, I can map the inner world of that person!

An interesting TED talk on creativity:
His page on IDEO:

Monday, March 03, 2014

Change of Seasons

[Sunday, February 23, 2014] I am alone, entering a strange land of unknown, where words and their meaning are suspended in the air, whirling  and twisting. Everything is as usual and yet it feels different. Everyone I know travels in his or her own direction and I am fine with it. As much as I love many of them, I can respect their own being as a sacred individual. I can see their strength as well as mine.
Maybe I have finally reached the solitary life that I was always fantasizing about.

[Monday] Maybe I need someone's attention and because I am not approaching the need directly, I am caught in a passive-aggressive mood of sulking :)
It's just that the last few weeks have brought me a new set of ideas and practices that I initially tried to share here and with my friends and family directly, but I realized more and more that I cannot describe these new things well, or sometimes at all. It strangely feels as if I cannot love anyone anymore!
Well, we will see how things will turn out, quite soon probably.

Last Friday I watched this episode of Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer (Season 7, Epsiode 11) and I became very emotional:

As I watched the Belgian Malinois Viper, I could easily identify with the dog's extreme fear/anxiety and at the same time its excellence at its job, a reminiscence of my own past!
Today, I was reading the Cesar Millan's book, ``Cesar's Way,'' and I felt a deep connection to the following parts:
When we humanize dogs, we create a disconnect for them. By humanizing them, we are going to be able to love them the way we would love a human, but we're never going to achieve a deep communion with them. We're never really going to learn to love them for who and what they truly are.
…  people … who are reluctant and sometimes downright unwilling to let go of the picture they have in their minds of their dogs as cute little people. Their dogs are their ``babies'' and by thinking of them otherwise, their owners are afraid they'll somehow lose the connection between them instead of strengthen it. … Often when I leave a consultation, I fear that the dog I've just met is never going to get the chance to live a peaceful, balanced life because her owner seems unlikely and unwilling to change. … Think of getting to know your dog for who she really is as an exciting new adventure! Consider the great privilege you will be given, being able to live side by side with and learn to see the world through the eyes of a very special member of a completely different species! … You are giving another living creature the highest form of respect, by letting that creature be what she is supposed to be. ---pp. 84-85, Cesar's Way
The wisdom in this quote can be extended to my relationships with myself and others! I cannot describe it very well as I have ventured into a realm these past couple of weeks that is not captured by words.

And then, sometimes it seems to me that everything that I have done this past few years has been a dream … all my thoughts have been hallucinations … baseless, simply and utterly wrong, and I just have to go back to my medication. It is very frightening. Breathe in, and breathe out … don't panic … all these thoughts will pass … stay calm, just stay calm and open. There are certain things that I experience, a lucidness, fluidity, and instability of thoughts and emotions, that no one talks about. As if by opening myself, through meditation and mindfulness practices, to experience the full range of emotions and thoughts I have gain a freedom but that freedom has rubbed me of an anchor. When I do not define my life based on other people's expectations, society's norms and expectations, then I have nothing solid to rely on. My habits, good or bad, stabilize me and without them I am floating aimlessly through life!

Well, actually searching on ``dangers of meditation'' brings up many results, although most of them are nonsense, but I guess there are bits and pieces of truth to be found in some of them :) Some better links:

[Tuesday] Last night I went through many sites. I was worried and anxious to start with and by the end of my web browsing I felt angry and disappointed. This morning, however, all last night worries seem far. I cannot even remember what exactly triggered all those thoughts. :)

[Wednesday] Today I received this book in the mail, ``The Masters of Private Equity and Venture Capital,'' by Robert A Finkel and David Greising. The reason I bought this book was the following part from the introduction:
But, as I reviewed Doriot's writings recently, I found a passage that captures the essence of his thinking and shows why his voice rang so powerfully, not just among Harvard Business School graduates but also among a new industry of private investors:
The study of a company is not the study if a dead body. It is not similar to an autopsy. It is the study of things and relationships. They are very much alive and constantly changing. It is the study of something very much alive which falls or breaks up unless constantly pushed ahead or improved. It is the study of men and men's work, of their hopes and aspirations. The study of the tools and methods they selected and built. It is the study of conceptions and creations---imagination---hopes and disillusions.
What Prof. Doriot described, in the misleadingly simple phrase as ``the study of a company,'' is really the essence of what private investment is all about. ---p.2, The Masters of Private Equity and Venture Capital
I am fascinated by the idea of thinking about companies, or more generally human organizations, as living things. I even go as far as imagining them having some primitive form of subconscious, if not full-blown consciousness!

[Friday] This morning I watched another powerful episode of Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer TV show:

This episode ends with the information that "Baby Girl" is diagnosed with bone cancer and dies about 3 months after the completion of the show. Does this additional piece of information change our view of this dog's behavior? What is the true purpose of keeping an animal alive against her wish to starve to death? What is the point of fighting the nature?

[Monday, March 3, 2014] When I started writing this post a week ago, I had no idea that it would end like this! I was feeling a change, a chapter closing and a new chapter being opened. The prospect of finding a new job that would suit me better and so on. But the past several days, since Thursday evening to be more specific, have been difficult, perhaps one of the most difficult and frightening episodes of my life. I feel a force pushing me to change my current situation, as I am bored with not doing anything. And I am facing a deep fear, hesitant to move forward. Nothing seems to come easy to me these days, which is worrisome. There is no ease and grace in my life, just struggle after struggle.

Speaking of fears, one of my deepest fears surface when I confront the possibility of error and mistake by myself or someone close to me, like Sima. It is dreadful and causes a sense of falling apart within, with excruciating pain. It may be the outcome of observing my mother falling into a nervous breakdown when I was a child.
I internalize the fear of the outside world and its order falling apart and feel it as if my own body is disintegrating. All I can do is to stay calm and open, as much as I can, and let the things evolve without overreacting, so that with repetitions I gain the confidence that, in fact, I won't disintegrate, that I can survive. I know I will survive, if I  stay calm and open to what happens inside and outside me.

I will survive and things will be better.

Friday, February 14, 2014

From Cesar Millan to Stephen Porges

Let's start with a quote that has many useful points condensed in just a few lines:
I didn't need to not be angry. I just needed to stay with my anger long enough to see what it actually was and how it arose (or co-arose with my chicken heart). …. Spiritual work is not the same thing as self-help. It is not meant to ``everlastingly improve'' or fix you. It's a means to help you see clearly what's been there all along, beneath the surface, both in the larger sense and within yourself. You don't have to change things. Just see them properly, bear witness and they fall into place. Attention, not intervention, leads to true healing. If you spend all your time and energy trying to become a better person or ``change the world,'' you miss a profound opportunity to see how all the imperfect, muddled, fucked-up things in our world come together, find their place among each other, and then form something far greater. ---p. 199, Zen Confidential
Now the main point of this post: You can ridicule me as much as you want for quoting Cesar Millan, but first, fuck you all!, and second, I am proud of myself because not only has my study of Cesar Millan work with dogs been very fulfilling but it has also guided me to other interesting places. One of the most exciting things I found, or in fact rediscovered, is the ``polyvagal theory'' of Stephen Porges. Here is a link with good introductory information:
Stephen Porges info site:
Let's look at a part of the transcript of his interview with Serge Prengel from SomaticPerspectives.com.
Link: http://www.stephenporges.com/images/somatic%20perspectives%20porges.pdf

I like to say that a goal of society is to be able to immobilize without fear. This statement might initially sound strange. However, when you think about it, isn’t immobilization without fear really a goal of therapy? You don’t want your clients to remain “tightly wrapped,” anxious and defensive. You want your clients to be able to sit quietly, to be embraced without fear, and to be hugged and to hug others, to conform physically when embraced, and to be reciprocal in their relationships. If a client is tightly wrapped with a tense muscles and a highly activated sympathetic nervous system state, the client is conveying this state of defensiveness to others. A state characterized by tense muscles and sympathetic excitation is an adaptive state that prepares an individual to move or fight. This state unambiguously conveys to others that it is not “safe” to be in close proximity with this person. ---pp.4-5
This is exactly what Cesar does with the dogs, when he tries to bring them into a calm-submissive state.  So, let's go back to Shozan Jack Haubner for another quote, on the importance of tension in spiritual growth:
… the proper relationship between an individual and a tradition is one of tension---healthy, creative tension. This is what produces spiritual growth, both in the individual and in the tradition itself: not the individual's solo efforts nor the traditions overarching forms but the two locked into a single struggle/dance, from which a new kind of person---and practice---emerges. ---p. 211, Zen Confidential
There is an amazingly simple and yet important relationship between balance and alert calmness. We know in our bodies that keeping our balance requires a calm and alert state. Extremes such as certainty and perfection are out of balance. To remain open, and work with, imperfections and uncertainties we need to stay calm and alert. This sort of openness is best evidenced in the eyes. I can look at your face and tell you how calm, open, compassionate you are, lol.

The feeling of safety seems to be at the root of openness and a lot more. Here is a quote from Stephen Porges interview by Ruth Buczynski of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of behavioral Medicine (NICABM) about the Polyvagal Theory's use in treating trauma. (Link: http://stephenporges.com/images/stephen%20porges%20interview%20nicabm.pdf)
Safety is a powerful metaphor. And it is a metaphor that carries with it a physiological state. So if we feel safe, we have access to the neural regulation of the facial muscles, we have access to a myelinated vagal circuit that is capable of down regulating more traditional fight/flight and stress responses, and we have an opportunity to play.
I actually wanted to bring into this discussion the concept of play. An inability to play is a frequent characteristic of many individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis.
And what I mean by play, is not playing with a Game Boy or computer. Instead it requires social interaction. Play requires an ability to mobilize with the sympathetic nervous system and then to down-regulate the sympathetic excitation with face-to-face social interaction and the social engagement system.---pp. 17-18

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dog Behavioral Therapy

The previous post is quite confusing. Can/should we influence our behaviors? I am not in favor of influencing behavior of a whole human being as it easily turns into mental and psychological abuse. I may choose to promote or discipline a state of mind by providing appropriate feedback. Is there a difference? As I write this, I am not sure anymore. I have learned the need to accept and work with inconsistencies and contradictions in the past few years.
So, here is a kind of related idea, that there are no good and bad behaviors, just adaptive responses. A quote from from Stephen Porges interview by Ruth Buczynski of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of behavioral Medicine (NICABM) about the Polyvagal Theory's use in treating trauma. (Link: http://stephenporges.com/images/stephen%20porges%20interview%20nicabm.pdf)
That is the other point I always make: there is no such thing as a bad response. There are only adaptive responses. The primary point is that our nervous system is trying to do the right thing and we need to respect what it has done. And when we respect its responses, then we move from this more evaluative state and we become more respectful, and we functionally do a lot of self-healing. ---p. 20
Anyway, here is the approach Cesar Millan suggests for training dogs (providing a balanced environment for them):
These are the basic skills everyone in the family needs to master in order to manage a puppy's behavior:
1. Have a picture in your mind of the behavior you desire.
2. Clearly and consistently communicate that desired behavior. In this communication, energy, intention, and body language are more important (and more easily comprehended by your puppy) than verbal command.
3. Ignore very mild misbehaviors using the no-touch, no-talk, no-eye-contact rule (they usually correct themselves when they aren't reinforced).
4. Immediately and consistently give corrections to more obvious misbehaviors.
5. Always apply corrections with calm-assertive energy---never take your puppy's misbehavior personally!
6. Always give your puppy an alternative acceptable behavior every time you correct an unwanted one.
7. Reward good behaviors---with affection, treats, praise---or simply your silent joy and approval, which your puppy immediately senses and understands.
--- pp. 134-135, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Next, let's address the issue of emotional openness specially in relation to surrender. Here is one approach:
What does it mean to be open? The outside comes in and the inside goes out, freely. Where before there was a gatekeeper---your self---between these two worlds of inside and outside, now there is an open door. Though it often feels more like an open wound. … the workaday world has its own rules, geared mostly toward the survival and success of its institutions and not personal or spiritual growth of its members. And so, staying truly open and soulful … can be downright agonizing … ---p. 182, Zen Confidential
I do not agree with everything in the above quote, but the basic message seems worth emphasizing, that openness is very much like an open wound!
The third quote is related to separation anxiety, in dogs that are very social animals, just like us humans.
Dogs are not programmed to live by themselves. In nature, the constant presence of the pack is what shapes their identities. The only time they have to learn to be alone is when they live among humans. We shouldn't be surprised that they are distressed by it. But even though we are asking them to do something unnatural, we can't feel bad about it or stress out about it, because this is the reality of how we live today.
… A dog, and specially a puppy, can adjust to this new style of life with very little difficulty, if we help her to do it in stages, and if we stay calm and unemotional about it. That's what we want to communicate to her---to relax. ---pp. 135-136, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
And finally, let's have another look at the problem of openness and how it works.
In crowded public spaces … I almost always unconsciously regulate my breathing. It's as if I don't want to fully take these places in. But if I remain open to all the filthy and aggravating details on my journey's way, if I breathe them in, make them part of me … I inoculate myself to their hellish aspects. Whatever you become one with cannot harm you. ---p. 188, Zen Confidential 

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Emotional Path

I cannot define  ``emotional opening'' or ``emotional truth''. There are other important things too that are hard to define and directly characterize. For example, the question of ``Who am I?'' Or, what does ``surrender (to something, a God, inside)'' mean? Sometimes, it is easier to think about the negation of the thing or concept: what it is not, rather than what it is.

For example, to operate in a society we conform; we create an acceptable image, an outer shell. We can ask ourselves: is this my outer shell, the image I hold up for others, or is this what I would really want if there was no pressure on me (from within and without)?
… the need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.
It is when competition is thus used as a means of creating a self-image relative to others that the worst in a person tends to come out; then the ordinary fears and frustrations become greatly exaggerated. ---p. 105, The Inner Game of Tennis  
Now back to the ``emotional path.'' We can ignore our emotions, not acknowledge them properly, and even misidentify them and be deceitful about them (with ourselves and others). ``Black magic'' can be a metaphor for the horrific experience of confronting our distorted, misshaped, and deformed emotions. It's one of the most frightening experiences I have had.

As we become more open to our emotions, by acknowledging them, they can become very strong and overpower us. [2014-03-17, PS] Here is a relevant quote from the article, Loewenstein GF, Weber EU, Hsee CK, Welch N (2001) ``Risk as feelings,'' Psychological bulletin, 127:2 Mar, pp. 267-86, that I am reading now:
From a neurophysiological perspective, the finding that emotions exert a powerful influence on judgments is not surprising. As LeDoux (1996) noted, “emotions can flood consciousness … because the wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems” (p. 19). ---p. 9
If we stay mindful of our capacity and follow a gradual process of opening the hidden, buried emotions, we can always trust that our emotions are transient and they pass. This basic trust in our power to get through is beautifully captured in the following passage:
Never comfort a whining puppy. … your puppy is going through some distress at this moment, but it's important to let her work through it. The only way possible for her to get past that anxiety permanently is to learn to solve the problem for herself. … If you turn to soothe her every time she cries, she will learn very quickly (a) that she controls you and can summon you by vocalizing, and (b) that you are agreeing with her whining because you are positively reinforcing it with comfort, attention, or a treat. … For now, buy some foam earplugs at the drugstore, have a glass of warm milk before bed, do a little meditation, and repeat to yourself, ``This, too, shall pass.'' … ---p. 110, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
The key point here: Do not reward undesirable emotions and states of mind, but do not traumatize the subject either! All emotions are natural and they are naturally transient. By feeding and rewarding an undesirable state of mind, we reinforce it and make it more permanent than it needs to be! Yet, be aware and mindful of your capacity. If you open all gates of a dam at the same time, you will flood the city and destroy it altogether. What are the internal signs of being flooded with emotions before it gets to a trauma stage? The feeling of certainty! This is one of my most amazing discoveries. Although, later I found out that I was not the first one to discover this. The famous saying that ``love blinds lovers'' is a good example:
He could only marvel once again at the dogged determination some women had when it came to wanting a particular man, at their ability to see life from a completely private viewpoint, as if love, or whatever the particular emotion was called, were a state of mind that could temporarily blind them to all reality and limit their outlook to a narrow, walled-in track, a scenic railway of their own invention that ran only in one direction they wanted it to go. --- p.121, Love Lies Bleeding
The state of certainty is a dangerous state, because most likely, it is associated with emotional flooding, being overpowered and blinded by emotions. It is important to differentiate between the two states, calmness (in the face of uncertainty, pain, and discomfort) and (blind) certainty. The first state is closely associated with my definition of ``faith'', as the acceptance of imperfection in knowledge, ability, and responsibility, whereas the second state is the popular, but misconceived, notion of faith as blind following! Once we see the difference between calmness and certainty, we want to reward the first and avoid the second. Here is an example for how:
To minimize this common first-night trauma, I recommend that people set up their puppy's crate or bed near or in their bedroom, for the first few nights after arrival. The first night of whining may still keep you awake---and, no, you still can't respond to it with cooing or comfort---but if the crate is near your bed, you can tap it once and make the sound you want your puppy to associate with a behavior you don't agree with. This will stop the escalation of the behavior, sometimes long enough for relaxation to set in. If your puppy quiets down for a significant period of time after that, you can reward with praise or even a treat. A bully stick is great for this because it engages the nose and distracts the mind. Only reward a calm state of mind. Then put in your earplugs and ignore. ---p. 110, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
But if emotions and states of mind are transitory, then why do we need to be open to them, acknowledge them, in the first place? Can't we live a logical life, following what's best for us, our society, our family … ? Emotions not only enrich our lives and make it more interesting, but ultimately, they give it meaning! As the philosopher, Giambattista Vico, has said (and neuroscience is beginning to document), ``Meaning is embodied in our total affective interest in the world.'' Moreover, when we ignore our emotions, thoughts, and states of mind, they continue to influence us in hidden ways and resurface as self-destructive tendencies and addictive behaviors. What we fear most, and escape from, directs us most strongly!
The most puzzling question, then, is that what/who should direct our life? If emotions are transient, and our ego self is an image that we construct to conform to social structure, then who is left to guide us, to make important decisions in life? The answer is surrender, to something inside, that is different from our logic, emotions, our ego. But what does this mean? It means not surrendering to emotions, logic, ego, …
``I have never listened to the crowd,'' he said. ``It has always been just like the bull to me, a thing you can work with, change: but only when you can control your principal enemy, your own self. … People think that fighting the bulls is a matter of passion, of inspiration, and valor. They speak of duende and death. But none of that is important. Because, first of all, a torero has to create emotion in the public. And just because you feel an emotion does not mean you can transmit it. Ultimately you must feel it, of course, but only once you have gained control of yourself. …
… the big fear every torero feels, every artist: the fear of not being able to perform, which is bigger than the fear of cornada. … afraid of being made to look ridiculous, which is the same thing you face when you try to write. That is when you can tell if a man has valor, when a man is able to face the responsibility of his profession, of his art, if you like. For you write with your cojones, too. With your mind, of course, and with passion when you are lucky. But mostly you write with your cojones, always, every day, even when you have to force yourself to do it, on the days when you write with duende, and on the days when you find you have left your duende behind you in bed when you got up. That is why it is easy to do a thing once, one book, or one afternoon with the bulls. But to do it for many years, day after day, that is what is difficult, that is the proving of a man.'' ---pp. 108-109, Love Lies Bleeding  
There is an intimate and deep connection between surrender and (emotional) truth, that is what I feel.  Only if it, the emotional truth, was as simple as expressing your deepest feelings or thoughts, or acting on them, then it would be no less frightening endeavor, but at least more straightforward. It is something more, I feel.
Zen practice can be a tricky thing, because, done right, sooner or later all the issues and energies you've been repressing your whole life will ooze, tickle, and burst to the surface through your tight little smile. … This is one of the greatest misconceptions about spiritual work: that if applied correctly, it will make us ``better people'' (whatever that means). Zen is not a psychiatric or therapeutic discipline it's a spiritual one. It's supposed to get energy moving on a deep, fundamental, life-changing level. Its purpose is to orient you toward the truth, toward reality, whatever this takes. It's not supposed to boss you around with behavioral or self-help dictates or to shoehorn you into the slipper of well-adjusted citizen hood.
In other words, spiritual work isn't always just ``instructive''---it's also transformative, and this kind of transformation can get messy. The Sanskrit term for this is clusterfuck. ---p. 165, Zen Confidential

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Of Dogs and Men: Cesar Millan

Through a series of interesting incidents, I have come to know about Cesar Millan and to appreciate his work with dogs. Here is an interesting paragraph from his book, ``How to Raise the Perfect Dog Through Puppyhood and Beyond.''
As humans we are very attached to the process of mourning, even if that means grieving a being we haven't met yet. … For dogs it's all about the greater good, the survival of the whole litter, and, in the bigger picture, the survival of the pack. A mother with a dead or sick puppy may make an attempt to revive it, but she will never linger to mourn. … Mother dogs do not ``coddle' their young. In fact, if one of the pups in her pack has trouble finding a place to feed, she will help him only up to a point. If he can't keep up with the rest of the litter, she may even let her die. When it comes to raising puppies, we humans have to remember that this calm-assertive pragmatism is the natural state of mind of their very first pack leader---their mother. … keep in mind that puppies naturally respond to this matter of fact way of being in their world. Their feelings will not be hurt when you set the kind of firm rules their mother will set. In fact, they are just waiting for those rules, so they can be assured of secure, balanced futures. --- pp. 73-74, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
I find Cesar's practical wisdom about dogs fascinating. Watching how this man works with dogs has a calming and balancing effect on me. But more than that, I have a strong intuition that a lot of his wisdom helps me in dealing with my emotional self (which might be a combination of a dog and an ox, lol).
Let's read another quote which applies to puppies between one and two months old, as they start exploring the world and are very curious:
Says Diana Foster of her German Shepherd pups,
At this point, they don't need the mother for survival anymore, but we like to keep them with her as long as possible, because of the natural way she disciplines them. For instance, she tells them not to touch her bone or stops them if they start getting too rough with her. Her correction is quick. The puppy may yelp and run away with his tail tucked. And what does the average person do? Pick them up. ``Oh, you poor thing. Come here!'' Everyone wants to rescue them and feel sorry for them when anything new happen. What they're doing is reinforcing the fact that something bad just happened. But in their world, what happened wasn't bad! It was just a learning experience. Their real mother couldn't care less. She allows the puppy to work out the situation on his own. … He may run away whimpering, but after just a couple of seconds he's back playing with his friends.  ...
--- pp. 86-87, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
I had already discovered part of the lesson from the above passage. We tend to assume, at a deep level, a weakness in ourselves and people around us when we overprotect them.
Finally, at around two months of age,
… a puppy usually hits a phase where he goes from being outgoing and recklessly curious to becoming extremely cautious again. … The best breeders take special care at this age not to overprotect their puppies but instead help them to develop real self-confidence on their own. …
This cautious period can sometimes coincide with the time a breeder releases a puppy yo his new home. New owners often interpret a puppy's understandable reticence as something that must instantly be comforted. When they don't permit him the honor of overcoming his own insecurities in his own way, they can actually undo some of the meticulous hard work that his natural mother and his breeder have put into his education up to this point. … To prevent a puppy from developing fear or anxiety issues, owner shouldn't interfere with the nature of the learning process which includes feeling uncomfortable and also making mistakes. --- pp. 87-88, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Let's finish on a totally different note. A very dark passage from the bullfighting novel I am reading:
Who was it that said success wasn't enough, that finally a man requires the disasters of his closest friends in order to make himself feel truly happy? Some goddamn writer, he said, answering his own question. And did that apply even when a man being set upon from all sides? Even when he was fighting to survive? It probably did, for how else could a man join in the general inhumanity of the entire race. That's enough cheap philosophy, he warned himself, and straightened in his seat. ---p. 102, Love Lies Bleeding
PS-1. And … I found this today. The man tried to kill himself a year ago:
Bitten by tragedy, Cesar Millan returns wiser

PS-2. Cesar has his own fierce opponent, many of them disgruntled dog trainers/veterinarians and human right activists, lol

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Talk and Quotes

Here is an interesting talk on TED by the New York Times columnist David Brooks based on his new book, ``The Social Animal,'' [Amazon Link]. I like the talk but ultimately he is emphasizing much more the positive aspects of emotions than their dark side, which can be misleading.


Working with emotions requires practice. As you open yourself to your hidden, suppressed emotions, they can initially overwhelm you, take over you like strong waives in a wild storm. Ironically, an important sign if being overpowered by emotions is a false sense of certainty! You may feel quite sure about future, or someone else's state of mind, or about a course of action. I have not seen anyone talking about this, and I feel this is a real danger.

Talking about our emotional life, I am reading a novel about bullfighting, ``Love Lies Bleeding,'' by Peter Viertel, and so far I like it a lot. Here is a quote:
``In Spain, every man dreams of being a torero,'' he continued, once the car was safely on the dirt road. ``Every uncle sitting up in the tendido, every waiter, every shoe salesman. That is the reason they howl and scream when we fall down in the ring. It is a little of their own disappointment that they are getting rid of. Fairy, pimp, coward, they yell, but they are yelling in part at their own failure. Which is why it is important for a torero never to listen.'' ---p. 35, Love Lies BleedingPeter Viertel,
Here is a piece of guitar music that about a year ago brought back memories of watching bullfighting on TV, when I was a kid. I think of this song as the bulls plea with the torero for his life:
Also, the quote above point to a general theme in watching sports. We use the games to project our own emotional life, often times hidden and forgotten, on the players. That is one reason why watching sports becomes such an important part of the modern individual who has abandoned a good part of his/her emotional life.

The last quote is from Arnold Modell's ``Imagination and the Meaningful Brain.'' I am reading this book very slowly and have one more chapter to finish.
There is a facet of one's self that is intrinsically personal and unknowable. Donald Winnicott wrote, ``Although healthy persons communicate and can enjoy communicating, the other factor is equally true,  that each individual is an isolate, permanently noncommunicating, permanently unknown, in fact unfound'' (1963). ---p. 195, Imagination and the Meaningful Brain, Arnold Modell
There is something mystical about D.W.Winnicott's approach to psychoanalysis, for sure, but this quotation is very puzzling and interesting. We are inherently unfound! Maybe, we have a core that is behind knowing. And maybe, that unknowable core is what drives us to know ourselves better, to offer ourselves to be known by others. If I have learned one thing in the past few years, it is a respect and acceptance for contradictions and puzzles :)

Which at the end brings us back to this little amazing clip:

I think our sense of beauty and wonder when we confront the world comes from the fact that we have that unknown and unknowable inside.

IT'S NOT ...

.. ``It's not your spread, and it's not how strong you are, and it's not how fast you are, because you have all those thing...