Is this the end of joy? Or the beginning? The fridge is sterile white, empty except for a single terrified tomato. Continue reading
What if you woke up in the pure exquisite knowledge that every decision you’d ever made had been wrong? Because they led you here, where every moment is either an agony or an escape. Would you have the courage to call out to your tribe? Would they welcome you? Would they even recognize you after you’ve been gone so long? Continue reading
When we untether ourselves from a set of behaviours and/or beliefs (however unhealthy) that have anchored us in this mad mad world, we must face the inevitable hell of ‘the void’. You’ve been there, when your brain chemistry is crashing hard and your whole universe turns in on itself and any semblance of hope dissolves into putrid stringy traces of vomit in your tortured throat – not to be too dramatic or anything. Welcome to the glamour of the void.
6:25AM – you’re sprawled on your bed in a frenzied state of wanton despair, with nothing to look forward to but the bland blind routine of daily responsibility – lucky you. No bullshitting, such purity of emotion is a rare and magical thing in our age of diffusion through screen and language. There’s something so fabulously indulgent about waking up to a viable world where everything good and beautiful exists only as a mockery of self.
We’re taught to fear the void, to stay in the arms of abusive lovers and abusive substances rather than embrace its grim romance. But no sense pining for bygone Byron days of poetic emotional abandon. Let’s get real. The void can be navigated and negotiated just like any other system state, provided, of course, you’ve got the balls.
5 tips to help you survive the void:
1) Accept the void with unrelenting compassion. Breathe. Feel the horror, the pain, and the misery as it is, as an eternity.
2) Go through the minimal motions of a day. Respect your system state and don’t pick a fight, do the dishes, or ask for a raise. And make sure to avoid news media!
3) Dress the part. Above is a 2014 collection of void-approved designs inspired by fashion design houses Chanel, Dior, and Alexander McQueen. But you don’t have to style your pain in haute couture. Even if it’s just apocalyptic back-of-the-drawer underwear, just be sure to carry a symbol of today’s truth. Note: Tragically, Lee Alexander McQueen didn’t make it through the void… a man gifted and cursed by a genius sensitivity.
4) Give yourself permission to force-feed your system: maximize your nutrients, drink lots of water, get some exercise, connect with your social support. Trust system state logic, it hasn’t failed you yet!
5) Don’t force hope. Today, there is none. And that’s perfectly OK. You may have the vague memory of being someone who had hope. Other people around you may provide precedent of hope. Whatever. That’s enough for today.
The void, just like a craving, is one of our most intimate human experiences. If we accept it for what it is, without panic, it can be an interim glamour in and of itself. There is no bridge. You must brave its black waters to get to the other side. Trust time and system state support to balance out your brain chemistry. But more importantly, trust the larger system to carry you up and along with it into the future. Reach your body into the current and let go… float, glassy eyed and screaming, into the glamour of the void.
Ever been wrong? I don’t mean “oops” wrong, but completely, horribly, soul scorchingly WRONG? If logic loops and paradoxes are sure signs of a stale paradigm, what happens when our current model for the understanding and pursuit of happiness stumbles headlong into both? Well, dear readers, as you’ll discover below, the answer is anything but pretty…
When you read any recent scientific article/paper/post about happiness, a common link shines through. Whether describing hedonistic (drugs, alcohol, the ingestion or wearing of whipped cream) or eudonic (volunteering, goal meeting, exercising talents) rewards, there’s always the same sentence squeezed in somewhere: “… causes certain chemicals to be released in the brain.” AHA! Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. The conclusion is obvious: happiness is a function of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc.). So logically, everything we do, from pouring ourselves a glass of wine after work, gunning for that promotion, taking SSRIs for depression, getting a pineal gland buzz from meditation, to tying ourselves up in faux-fur, is done in dedicated service to that one magical organ – the brain – and its darling little chemical messengers.
Why do people ‘get off’ on different things? Depending on our genetics and environment, we learn to respond to (and thereby pursue) a unique set of glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls. Innate personal activation energy thresholds and social/cultural vulnerabilities help determine whether we end up junkies, or well-coiffed queens of the PTA. Simple enough… or so it seemed until I, young, naive, and as intellectually masochistic as Newton probing behind his own eyeball, decided to test this theory on myself.
Logic loop: If happiness is a modulation of our neurotransmitter levels, and the brain is wired for efficiency, why are all these idiots jogging when they can be…
Within a surprisingly short amount of time I found myself too fat for anything but my Viking man’s track pants, lying spread-eagle with a bad back on a candy wrapper covered carpet, watching reality TV reruns while doped up on a nauseating (not to mention dangerous!) cocktail of alcohol, muscle relaxants, Gravol, painkillers, and – just for good measure – marijuana. Happy? Not so much. Solution? I figured all I had to do was switch my primary goal to longevity, rather than happiness, and train myself on a compatible new set of glamours and insatiables. Since I was already living in a Viable World without heroin (I had to draw the line somewhere!), couldn’t I just exclude my problem glamours from my viable world?
Paradox 1: If food is one of my insatiables, and there can be no viable world without food, how do I escape the efficiency logic loop that led directly to the track pants?
Paradox 2: In a world where there are people who fear public speaking more than death, how can a prefrontal cortex goal of longevity overcome eons of limbic evolution and enforce the pursuit of less than maximum-by-the-moment happiness?
What’s the horrifying truth about happiness? It’s that so many of us have gotten it all WRONG! Solution? Full mind/body/spirit paradigm change. F*ck neurotransmitters! Let’s explore how to live with the brain, not for the brain! Curious? Let me introduce you to systems theory’s naughty little kid sister: Pragmatic System State Theory.
If these words are yours, own them. Wear them. Go to Walmart and buy the widest, ugliest muumuu you can find. Take it home and drape it over your naked body. Be brave. Look in the mirror and see your true reflection. This is reality. This is what your brain has done to your life. There is no shame here, only pattern and practice. This is habit, addiction, and insatiable desire…
“I’m so sorry,” says the woman trying to squeeze herself through the doorway of my Blank Canvas Living Creative Counselling office. She’s wearing what’s got to be the most horrifically unflattering muumuu ever created.
“Don’t apologize,” I tell her. “The only thing you have to be sorry for is, quite frankly, that awful muumuu. Why on earth would you do that to yourself?”
“I’m lost,” she says, and bursts into tears. She’s in the room now, but she can’t even sit down. There’s some unspeakable bulk, all sharp corners and clinking sounds, writhing under the synthetic pink and orange atrocity.
“You’re here now, and that’s huge. Not as big as that muumuu, mind you, but major non the less.”
She gives a weak smile at my even weaker joke and looks at me expectantly. This is how it always goes. There’s this idea that I’m going to make some diagnosis and write a prescription or trace some emotion back to its pattern of childhood origin. But that’s not the way creative counselling works. I’m not here to waste anybody’s time. My job is to strip the problem down to the story and brain habits that are causing it. And I know this woman’s not going to like what I’ve got to ask her to do.
“Take it off. For the love of gawd,” I beg her, “take off that hellish thing so we can see what we’re dealing with.”
“What?” She says, giving me a worried look. “Seriously? But I’m not wearing anything underneath.”
“Good, all the better. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to be perverted or anything. Just trust me on this.”
Bottles of white wine, cases of diet coke, cigarettes, tabloid magazines, 12 boxes of Peek Frean cookies, television remotes, Facebook screens, automatic negative thoughts, phones waiting for calls from bad men… the baggage is a tonnage of habit and addiction. The woman’s body is creamy and lovely at the center of it all, but her face is red with shame. She won’t even look at me.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispers, “I never realized how bad things are, how much I’ve been carrying around. It’s ugly isn’t it?”
“Not near as ugly as covering it up with that gawd awful muumuu like you’ve given up on yourself. Look, if you’re brave enough to show me your body and brain like this, then you’re brave enough to change it. You don’t need all this shit. I can give you a new language and way of maximizing your humanity without needing to rely on external emotional regulation. I’m not talking about yoga rituals or 12 steps. I’m talking about a way of real-time dialoguing with your brain’s perception of reality. You just leave that muumuu with me and I’ll transform it into a tactile demonstration of what this process is all about. Sound like a plan?”
“This isn’t some new-age-y bullshit, is it?” She asks. I can’t blame her; I’d be suspicious too.
“No bullshit. It’s already saved lives, including mine.” I leave her curious as I go to find her another outfit to wear home.