Many years ago, I learned how to fly. I’d jumped before, but had always fallen back. I can remember lying in bed using my preteen physics and philosophy to argue that silly adage: “What goes up must come down.” When I took my first flight I knew I’d finally won the debate. I reached into the clouds, then higher, and higher. Continue reading
Like any fool, I thought I could know change before change. I thought it could be an intellectual exercise, a well insulated thought experiment – like Einstein sitting cozy on the train. But I was wrong. Continue reading
Freedom, pushed to its purity, becomes the opposite of its definition. I have tested freedom, bravely or foolishly – I’m still not sure. I have followed every low limbic permission to its end expression – and nearly my own. I have walked alone, naked, on the shores of a lost lake deep in the woods of Quebec – without my glasses. And in that freedom, that genetic honesty, I chilled with the recognition of our true vulnerability. Continue reading
I can barely form this sentence – I want! – my mind has no patience for language – I need! All words have been conscripted in service of a craving and my executive functions are shutting down. Just as frostbitten fingers are first to have their blood siphoned away, this cold Calgary morning has redirected all my neurotransmitters to the same goal – survival. Continue reading
What is your time perspective? For some of us, every breath is a lifetime lived in full. After all, at our end, it is the last observable measure of our humanity that cannot be quantized any further. But when every graduation, from micro to macro, is as equal an entirety, how do we balance the poignancy of the present with investment in the future? Continue reading
Introvert or extrovert? We humans are so eager to integrate b/w labels into the complex construction of our self-concepts. Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator draw us in with delicious promises of ‘the big reveal’ – as if by comfortably categorizing ourselves we can gain some sense of control over this mad world. Bullshit! This left brain lunacy closes us off to the real magic of our beings, that we are everything, the entire universe, all at once. But when these Jungian divisions feel so intuitive, how can they not be real?
Introvert or extrovert? These two paradigm dependent words come loaded with data (neural linking to other words/ideas) involving energy exchange, information gathering/processing, and social habits. But let’s take Jung out of the picture. Are there two other, paradigm independent, words that conceptualize these intuitive system state differences with more organic accuracy?
Let’s try protection and connection.
Now let’s play. Our self-concepts are, by their nature, self-reporting and frighteningly subjective. Myers-Briggs (and in my opinion most, if not all, psychoanalysis… but don’t get me started!) really tests for who we think we are. Key word here, ‘think’ – a disturbingly limited, decidedly prefrontal activity of the brain. Our thoughts, born, yes, of true emotion, lead to our actions, which are reflected back to us by our viable worlds. This process is an extremely fluid back and forth, with change and influence happening concurrently in both directions. Anyone else see the loophole here?
Hypothetically, one’s proclivity for protection could be influenced by multiple factors and still be then categorized into a biological – and incredibly self-limiting – introversion. Dear readers, I sit before you as a case in point. For seven years now I have been rolling paper. This is my job. The perk? Downtime. All I’ve ever wanted is to be left alone to learn, explore, and create. And when the universe gives you exactly what you fully believe you desire, and you find yourself itching, rasping, flailing, at some point you’ve got to sit yourself down and ask yourself WTF!? It’s time to do some double feedback loop learning and challenge our assumptions.
What if I’m not such an introvert after all? What if the very concept of introversion is actually a layered blockage of our innate human drive to connect? Like any argument, the key here is evidence – tracking back through history, science, and critical thinking to build a new case. Key to Jungian introversion is the dependence on an internal world, a re-storied reality to stand in for a truly shared viable world (guilty!!). This essentially prefrontal cortex construct already requires huge amounts of energy to sustain. Why do introverts feel so drained after social interaction? Couldn’t it be because they’re ‘thinking’ through the interaction (guilty!!), about self, about eye contact, about appropriateness? Mirror neurons automatically mimic our conversation partners. Couldn’t social appropriateness/rules be equally neurologically automatic for some people, requiring less processing and therefore minimal energy requirements? With an introvert’s dependency on the part of the brain responsible for self-awareness and advanced pattern detection/creation, doesn’t it make so much sense that less energy is expended when the pattern is more predictable and/or pre-wired, such as interacting with intimate family and friends, and one-on-one vs crowds? And what happens when we look at what shuts down this prefrontal middleman between us and ‘them’? It’s no coincidence that alcohol is know as the ‘social drug’.
Early social trauma could lead to another layer of cognitive protection. I grew up with two highly creative, top-of-their-field, yet highly isolationist parents, a social pattern I’ve found myself copying – which can put incredible pressure on one’s partner. We moved homes and/or schools almost every year of my early childhood. At one school I literally had zero friends. No one would talk to me, nobody, and I played the most pathetic solo-hopscotch at lunchtime (single tear). My daydreams, and my family’s love (I’ve been incredibly fortunate), were my only true consistencies growing up. Sure, my genes come from my parents, d’uh. But epigenetics is finding that which genes get turned on/off is highly dependent on experience.
Speaking of genes, let’s look at a common introvert combination which I like to call “the nerd cluster” (guilty!!), a phenotype combo expressed as proficient pattern recognition/processing (why we get off on math), extreme sensitivity to both emotional and environmental (allergies/asthma/eczema) factors, and compromised eyesight. Recognizing facial expressions is hard enough, but try spending a portion (before glasses) of your childhood spent in a blurred world. Note: my full, impassioned, sympathies to anyone on the Asperger’s/Autism spectrum! All of these factors facilitate and/or encourage a protective prefrontal where interpersonal connection is concerned.
So how can we test this theorizing and overcome introversion’s potential negative consequences: anxiety, isolation, addiction, and depression? Why bother becoming more social? Click to read the definitive, if extreme, argument. How do we journey from protection to connection? I’ve been testing this out lately, with surprisingly encouraging results. Or maybe not surprising at all considering the interconnectivity of our universe – our true natural system state. Connecting to self with unrelenting compassion is the first step – this is your grace, your strength, your training. Be fully present in your next interaction, not cognitively cupping your ego to protect it, but giving of your bare soul with wild generosity – eventually to the other person, but start with the moment. You can always trust time. I spent my twenties going out dancing, often by myself. My total abandon to the music, the present, was all the protection I ever needed. No more thinking, only being. I was free. I was the crowd. I was joy. Dance your next encounter and even if you stick your foot in your mouth and f*ck it all up, know that you’re nurturing a soul to come home to that will never never never let you play hopscotch alone again.
Humanity, at its most raw, is heroic. We celebrate those among us who live the glamour of our extremes and brave the consequences. When sensations and emotions are freed from social conventions to engage with the paradoxical poles of existence in an honest dialogue… well, you get On The Road.
Jack Kerouac typed his seminal Beat scroll in three mad benzedrine fuelled weeks in 1951 after seven years riding alongside its hero, Dean Moriarty – his friend Neal Cassady. Through chronicling Cassady’s untamed (let’s be honest – adolescent) humanity, Kerouac became our hero. For more than 50 years we’ve been wanking off to Kerouac’s rhythmic angst and Cassady’s inspirational intensities. But what happens to our heroes?
Jack Kerouac drank himself to death hiding away with his mother. Neal Cassady stumbled into oblivion… literally! Words have caught them at their most luminous, in that one brief brilliance when an exceptional adult intellect can sing true to its child’s soul, before the brain is forced to mature or push its truths into death. Awful, really.
Sensitive? Overwhelmed? Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac? Do you live your extremes or document them? Do you give of yourself, or your production? The pain is the same, and the joy, but the difference is what is offered up to time and to the broader human system. But here’s the thing. Our heroes don’t give a shit – not about legacy, humanity, or even (through legacy and humanity) immortality. Their brains care about feeling good and whatever story supports that truth – just like ours. But fame and fortune don’t matter to our heroes, social awards and ‘doing the right thing’ don’t feed or sustain – that’s why they’re our heroes!
Maybe we don’t have to choose. Maybe there’s another way. What if we make the exploration of our humanity the article of production? What if the act of life without limits becomes a chronicle in real-time that can only exist with continued participation of that life? What if we take Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle into our own systems? What if “look what I did” becomes “look what I am”? What if we let the act of writing, the mood of the day, even the choice of outfit, build our stories?
What if we dare to become our heroes?
For those of us whose minds and mouths seem so much more adept at forming questions than answers… For those of us who swing wide on the flexibilities of our viable worlds… For those of us who can never stop exploring… Is it possible to overdose on philosophy? If there is one solid answer in this world, it is to this question. And three days ago it smacked me upside the head… YES!
It was the last dream before the morning. In the boundless, though tremulous reality of my dream’s gestalted storyline, I am teaching a small toddling self to play catch under a purple sky.
“OK, here we go,” I said. “I’ll throw you the ball, then you catch it and throw it back to me.”
My mini mirror caught my light toss with expert ease. But then she hesitated, looked up at me and asked, with blue eyes wide and questioning…
You desired. You ate. You were satisfied. Is there anything more exquisitely human? More worthy of celebration? But at the same time… so shackling? Sure, you can go full-on Buddhist and meditate to cognitively cancel out the dualities – been there bought the T-shirt – but enlightenment is an unnervingly unipolar, and surprisingly uncreative state of being. I prefer to grind brilliantly through life – but how do we honour our glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls, without becoming their slave?
Your conscious mind is only one small poignancy in your body’s comprehensive system state. Any arguments it puts forth should (ideally) be vetted against the needs of the entire system – wherever you’ve placed your flexible system state boundary. Test your ‘logic’ to see if it supports the three features of a successful system: its ability to adapt, accommodate, and regenerate. But here’s the thing. We project human designed systems into our society as reflections of our own internal biology. But our projections, in the forms of municipal governments, transportation systems, or even current weight loss programs, are invariably filtered through our left brain world of categorization and quantization. We find ourselves craving rules, numbers (BMI, calories), and all the social bell curve bullshit that add up to turn something as gloriously human as satisfaction into a moral issue of right/wrong and good/bad rather than how it supports the system as a whole.
Pragmatic system state theory asks the question: what is the true system cost of being fat? Now, I’ve always been attracted to bigger boys – in so many more ways than one – and I even recently found myself reconceptualizing my own “before picture” into a secretly indulgent celebration. But the hard (or rather soft) truth of the matter is that excessive fat prevents the body’s systems from effectively adapting, accommodating, and regenerating. Everyone’s optimal body set-point is different (due to genetics/hormones/stress) but when you tune into your most intimate biology you really get a sense for what keeps you humming along at your best. Leave your social and rational mind out of this! Your brain is only too eager to bullshit you back to the buffet! I have held tight to the truth for four years. But now, risking the wrath of big-bliss trolls, I feel brave enough to share it with you…
Body Worlds Exhibit Calgary 2010: A middle-aged obese man comes face to face with a plasticized slice of himself. I watch in rapt, almost gleeful, horror, as he is forced to acknowledge his own suffocating internal geography: intestines twisted and squeezed, skin stretched and distorted, liver puckered with yellowed lard… This is not fat as a cuddly blanket, a warm protection, but an invasive, merciless systems takeover by leaching grey/white masses of gelatinous flab. It took me five full blocks of my walk home to come up with a description of the man’s expression… “stern indignance.” I can still see his face.
Strip down and take a good long look in the mirror. Your reflection is the photo-physical manifestation of every decision you’ve ever made, your unique genetic relationship with time and externals, and your current system state. Which is to say… this is you, now. This image is the fullness of your humanity expressed in a single quantization of time. Reject it, and you reject the entirety of your existence. Accept it with unrelenting compassion, and you – maybe for the first time – discover love.
But what use is philosophical intellectualization when your whole body wilts with shame at the mortification of having allowed your dimensions to start sliding off the bell curve of culturally indoctrinated hotness? Actually, you’d be surprised. But you’ve got to get down and dirty if you’re going win over your limbic mascot (your emotional brain) and get your whole system on board for celebrating and loving ‘The Before’.
My hallway mirror and I had been ships in the mist all fall and winter, so it was quite a surprise, come spring, to discover I was a honkin’ 30lbs heavier than my bikini ideal. Philosophy’s fun, sure, but damn it I’m a girl! I hardly recognized my own body; I had become a ‘Before’!! No one else to blame. Sure I’d been dealing with grief, and a winter that dragged me along with it to its bitter slushy end, but I was also digging deep into my humanity in an exploration of… Ya, ya, truth is I lasciviously maxed out my glamours and insatiables in an unrestrained orgy of debauchery, mostly while wearing extremely unrestraining track pants – hence my surprise.
“Oh shit,” I said, looking down, “this is not good, not good at all.”
I happen to be one of those lucky bitches who gets off on broccoli and hiking, so losing weight wasn’t my biggest concern. But I really didn’t want to feel like shit for the next few months while I whittled myself back down to my ideal system state proportions. Solution? Push the boundaries of permission (introduced last post).
I’m not kidding about down and dirty! OK, first up, permission to experience gratuitous joy in sensory context of body, connecting experience of body with ebullient brain state. Homework: new morning routine of dancing naked to fave tunes in celebration of being a woman who peaks her pleasures with total abandon. Hell ya! Next, take fun (strategically flattering!) ‘before’ pic that is a celebration in itself (see pic – pssst missing letter is M). Note: I know I look ironically, infuriatingly skinny in mine – one word people… ANGLES! Rework wardrobe to accept and accentuate new curves to improve aesthetic and social feedback. Done, and done.
But we’ve got to get our primitive brains primed if we want a true visceral change in perspective. I had to somehow seduce Mitch-the-insatiable-itch. Dressed as full-on Christina Hendricks from Mad Men sexy buxom secretary, I “took my new tits out on the town” – objectively ignoring anyone who was ignoring me and replaying any and all ogling to imprint it in my memory. I also made sure to engage in some very strategic boob-centric flirtations – figured hubby wouldn’t mind since it was all in the name of ‘research’ ~wink.
The internet will give you precedent of permission for almost anything. Thus, I discovered ‘gainers’ and the men who love them. Google if you dare! Defining the extremes can help you find your place in between. Nerd that I am, I made notes. I paid close attention to the specific language the women used when talking about their bodies and expressing their fantasies. I also made note of the luxurious, sometimes surprising, ways their men touched/fondled/caressed different areas.
Permission to celebrate ‘The Before’ must come from within, so once again I left my own man on the sidelines so I could take permission into um… er… my own hands. All for brain science! Now, without getting too TMI here, I can only say this: training a new glamour by incorporating the gainer language, visualizations, and tactile techniques into my own experience made for an… um… ‘transformative’ event – the first time, the second, the… But I’m afraid my brain training may have worked a little too well. I’m actually sitting here thrilling in my own cleavage. So why am I still bothering to lose the weight? Find out in an upcoming post!