Saturday, 31 July 2010

Wake up!

"Wake up! How many people really know that they are alive!" So bellowed Jim Morrison in a live concert recording of The Doors in my youth, thirty years after the recording took place.

The appeal of this sermonizing from a Rock God, lay in all what was unspoken in my life as a sixteen year old. The unquestioned necessity to get a job ASAP. In my household, the issue was making a living, full stop. Questions about fulfillment were never even discussed. The music raised the questions no one was asking.

The question about human fulfillment is a difficult one, for it creates uncertainty. There is the possibility that you will start working against other peoples' expectations.

Maybe the factory job is not what you want to do with your life. Nor is the marriage and the 2.4 children. Perhaps family and friends will resent the fact that you even dare question the ways in which they are living. Wanting to do something else may be viewed as a veiled form of criticism.

Eighteen years on and I finally know what I want to do. It will take a little time to prepare the funds to jump. I have to hold back from the temptation to escape every weekend. I will hold firm, knowing that in a short period of time - I will have finally started living my own life.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Philip Roth: Everyman

This short novel starts with a funeral. Friends and family of the departed are gathered, standing by a grave in a Jewish Cemetery. The most remarkable observation is just how ordinary this scene is. The most obvious fact of our life is that one day, we too will have died. This fictional beginning is paradoxical. This fictional beginning touches upon the end of our facticity.

The book then describes a life of mistakes, of unthinking self interest and ultimately grace. Throughout this very ordinary life, there is no real security as everything is in flux. Broken marriages, sibling rivalry and sexual desire liter the pages, describing a half formed life not fully lived.

There is also an allegorical quality to this work. The main character is a secular Jew. Yet, for all the disasters that happen, allusions are made to the Book of Job. Every disaster signals a stripping away of perceived security.

This allegory links the religiosity of Judaism with a secularist American outlook. Indeed, the title of the book, Everyman, is the name given to a Jewelry shop stripped of a Jewish signifier. This book therefore deals with cultural aspects of Jewish society, describing how one family integrated itself.

Still, it would be wrong to suggest that this is a book is primarily written for American Jews. As the title suggests, the book is for everyman. The disasters described are part of a process of learning humility and finally accepting death.

This small book is poetical. Words grace the pages and read like a hymn.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

A head full of sweetie mice.

There are various methodologies that we can employ to stop thinking authentically. To think authentically, means confronting issues in a critical manner that goes beyond our self interests. This can be a painful process.

(1) Labeling: There are many examples. "William is a nut!" "His head is full of sweetie mice!" "He lacks confidence."

Often when we label, we give ourselves permission to stop thinking on an issue. We employ a thought-stop. By labeling someone 'a nut,' we naturalize their behaviour, so that we can stop thinking about why they are behaving in a particular way. What we are effectively saying is this: "William's abnormal behaviour has nothing to do with how he has been treated - that is just the way he is."

(2) De-humanize.

In times of conflict, it is easy to take part in mass murder, if we de-humanize the enemy. We can do this by simplifying the characteristics of a whole nation. We deny depth, not meaning. So during World War Two, the allies might characterize the Germans for their 'cold efficiency.' Still, if we think at all, we know that not all Germans are cold or efficient. Likewise, individuals can change all the time. So why do we characterize and deny people their natural ability to grow?

When we characterize people as lazy or stupid, we are de-humanizing them somewhat, because change is more human than the stale caricatures we normally work with in our everyday lives.

Change in others can also be interpreted as an affront to our own stagnation.

(3) Escapism:

There are many means of 'escape.' The obvious ones are alcohol, drugs and computer games. We might even consider some of the major arts: literature, music, sculpture. There is a sense of rapture in such escape, a gorgeous release from the difficulties we encounter constantly. This can be a good thing, such as when a patient is given painkillers after surgery. If the patient gets addicted to painkillers, however, that is a different matter.

To keep an open mind: that is the thing.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Is Romanic Love an Obsessive Compulsion?

We tend to think of mental illness as something that only happens to the few. We like to think that way, due to the real difficulty we have of confronting our own emotional and spiritual problems. Yet, from an anthropological point of few, the idea that only a few people will suffer from serious mental illness at some point in their life is absurd.

We all get physically sick. We get chicken pox, german measles and an array of unnamed 'bugs'. We do not treat these with any sense of embarrassment. Human beings, however, have real difficultly confronting emotional pain head on. This, I believe, is a big part of the trouble when dealing with mental illness.

To offer one example, someone in the mist of Romantic Love displays all the traits of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (OCD) The individual can forget about long standing friends, their credit card bills and their course or work responsibilities. Nothing else matters apart from what is in the centre of the obsessive's gaze. In addition to this - is it possible that two people can reinforce each other, both suffering from the same disorder. This 'double lock' - reinforces the compulsion.

At some point, however, 'real life' will click in. Maybe the bills weren't getting paid and the house is repossessed - or maybe a baby is expected, throwing the courtship off course. Three is a crowd after all.

My argument is that all obsession is a devious refusal to get well. When we avoid the real challenges that life throws at us, it is easy to regress into a fantastic fantasy - the rest of the world becomes like a phantom as what persists is a sense of unreality in our everyday lives. This 'unreality' litters the history of western philosophy. To question what is real, is to ask about the nature of Being - the fundamental task of all philosophy. Note that this task is also closely connected with love.

When I say that Romantic Love is one form OCD can take, I don't mean to suggest that all love is an obsession. When we truly care about another person, we are able to look beyond our own needs and recognize that the beloved is a separate human being, with an unique outlook and journey to take. Sometimes, this might mean letting someone make their own mistakes. Or, it might mean letting go of a friend we have known for years.

Nothing ever stays still. Life is painful. By accepting this pain, we learn how to grow and become wise. By rejecting this pain, we try to become children again, playing games of make believe.

We get to choose every minute which path to take.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

being attentive to the unconscious and dream analysis

In M. Scott Peck's seminal work, The Road Less Travelled, one of the main conclusions is that we should remain attentive to our own dreams. They are, in Scott's opinion, a language that we should attend to. By attending to this language, we can start to listen to what the unconscious has to say to the conscious mind. Moreover, the symbols and practice of attending to one's dreams he considers positive. This difficult work of confronting the contents of the unconscious should be considered a means of extending oneself and of aiding spiritual growth.

On a haphazard basis, I have occasionally thought about the contents of my own dreams but this week I have paid more attention.

Last night i dreamt I was in an airplane. I was right in the front and to my left were three or four empty seats. The senior stewardess, stood beside me to make an announcement.

We were half way home from the Canary Islands. She mentioned there was no need for panic, but that there was an emergency on board. We would have to land the plane. There would be an ambulance waiting to take care of the issue.

The next thing I remember, I was outside, watching as we came into land somewhere in France, on what appeared to be a ring road. A moment later, I was told that a person on board had passed away.

I then woke up feeling relieved. This is not the sort of reaction that you might expect, after hearing someone had died.

While thinking about this dream, I have many associations that really make sense to me as the dreamer. The sense of a specific journey, the feeling of being on a plane, the emergency landing and then finally the death.

There is a reason why I have been to Tenerife three times since last October. The notion of being on a plane journey is also important - once you are up in the air, you have no control over your destination. You only regain control once you land. So the emergency landing is also significant - and the death of the person is actually symbolic of the end of one specific dream. My journey with that dream, (note: not real person) has been aborted.

Without going into specific detail - I now feel able to walk away from a situation in my life, without any feelings of ill will or regret. What has happened has come to pass.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A delusional frame of mind.

It is amazing the lies that we tell ourselves.

There are those who believe that they are members of a very select few, who have been granted immortality by the author of all creation.

There are those who believe that they are destined for stardom, to be adorned and adored by millions across the globe.

There are those who convince themselves that their words will be discovered years after death, to be celebrated and discussed for millennia to come.

There are the pitiful loners, who delude themselves that when the stars align, their beloved will come rushing home.

We all on occasion need affection and recognition. Yet, when this is lacking, it is so tempting to self-mythologize, to lie and convince ourselves that our day will come.

On that day, all pain will be forgotten and all history wiped clean.