Love and Beauty

…for a poet is a light and winged thing, and holy, and never able to compose until he has become inspired, and is beside himself, and reason is no longer in him. Plato

Let’s start at the end. What gives us joy, reason, meaning, and a feeling of being alive, connected, loved and loving? Is it not, as Plato, the poets, the mystics and many other ordinary persons have shown from time immemorial, a deep and abiding personal experience with love and beauty?

In his most recent book, Secret Body, Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions, Jeffrey Kripal takes us on a deeply satisfying exploration of the relationship between modern currents of discontent, political division and concern for the future humanity, culture and the planet itself, compared to the state of our spirituality, or lack thereof, and specifically the loss of a deeper, more personal experience of the divine.

Consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know, or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell at the moment, this presence is entirely sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we would know later we would only know in, through, and because of this same consciousness.

There is then, by way of intimate and direct apprehension, no knowing outside of the experience of one’s conscious mind and body. Whether a metaphor or not, we are in, or within, an unseen parameter of the limits and expansions of conscious experience.

Embedded within the confines of our experience is a sense of dualism, strangely apparent, whether from the experience of being a separate body immersed in so many naturally occurring instances of “two,” or from the habits of mind in which language seems only able to abstract and translate immediate perception and sensation into discrete sequences, ideas and parts. Time and space, as primary conditions of embodied life, will always have their way with us. The sense of duality at root of embodied existence, may however provide more than what meets the eye, but also what meets the heart.

Like some immeasurable kabbalistic structure, all of reality is really made of letters, words, thoughts, in short, of a writing mind, but we only catch glimmers of this Logos, this Meaning of all meaning. As a result, we are not the writers but the written. “We are not the artists but the drawings.” And so we submit to the inherited scripts of our ancestors — so many fake worlds, unreal identities, and simulacra. (Philip K.) Dick gave all of these constructions and discourses a name: the Black Iron Prison.

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Perhaps as humans first began to use language, unburdened from the library of one’s cultural historical past, language may have been, more or less, an expression of immediate experience. The accumulation of “so many fake worlds, unreal identities and simulacra” had yet to carry with it a thread of the past, as it so clearly does today, so much so, that we’ve incorporated within our identity, histories, arbitrary and incomplete as they might be, conditioned and contextualized by how we hear and understand them today. While threads can be useful for carrying forward patterns and trends, knitting together coherency, an ongoing heroic, but futile, struggle of life against death, to our detriment, has dominated both land and mind in every culture and era. The arrow must fly, but care should be taken to know what we’re aiming at. All the random aiming of arrows over the vast expanse of the universe will ultimately fail to bring us closer to the divine, in which a fuller experience of love and beauty awaits, if we continue to shoot in the dark.

Non-human animals also compete in a struggle for life, but without the aid of technology, the damage to themselves and others remains quite limited. Although seemingly less than ever at the mercy of the elements and the powers of nature, such as they are, we moderns are out of shape and psycho-spiritually out of shape for any real struggle. Our hubris for fixing what we have in fact broken, seems to know no bounds.

We really think we are our masks and language games. We privilege our religious egos over our humanity, our societies over our species, our cultures over consciousness as such. We have it exactly backward. This book is about reversing that reversal. There is no more urgent political project than this.

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What then, can be said to the ways in which we go “about reversing that reversal?” Although we could go on forever describing our current dilemma in terms of the inherent limitations imposed from within and without, is there perhaps something available to us, from time immemorial, continually overlooked by the distractions of the day-to-day struggle, immersing us not only into our storied lives, but keeping us from stepping out into what may only present itself as impossibly remote possibilities of our future selves? And can language, story and imagination, that which immerses us, according to the prevailing myths of the day, in the “bad play” we currently find ourselves in, be the very vehicle that moves us into those future selves we currently envision and hunger for?

The one as two

Although ideas of wholeness may attract us as ways to heal division, and integrate the broken pieces of ourselves, others, and the world divided, we might question whether or not a more useful means of perceiving, which reflects more closely the physiology of the body, could prove to be useful. Surely, wholeness is a seductive word which points to a truer reality in which both love and beauty flourish, but is there any hope that mere mortals can find an access point in which we can truly commune with the divine?

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The experience of ourselves as not one, not whole, but rather as having two modes of perceiving, or what we simply refer to as an ability to both perceive through the senses while reflecting on that which is perceived, is somewhat obvious to most of us. This double vision can be seen structurally throughout the physical senses, from the two distinct sides of the brain, both with unique modes of perception, to the stereo-optics of our vision we are naturally equipped with. The mind and imagination too, see two-fold; inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, self/other, dead/alive, male/female, true/false, along with a myriad of other polarities that easily get our attention. Perhaps though, instead of being compelled to choose sides, opposites might present an opportunity to see as two, in stereo, forming a syzygy rather than a conflict.

The “one as two” dynamic appears throughout the ages in a variety of personified forms, including, the spiritual twin, guardian angel, Daimon, Genius or doppelgänger. These others may serve as necessary agents whose purpose is to engage us in dialogue with an autonomous figure in dreams or reverie. These are not only convenient fictions, but for some, living presences, visible or otherwise, that we engage with as partners in life’s journey. They offer us the opportunity to relieve the ego of its claim to that of sole purveyor of conscious experience by presenting an invisible otherness through reflective moments, offering to us messages that grace our steady movement throughout the day and night, and opening us up to a fluidity in our interpretation of reality along with an opportunity to deliteralize any stringent claims we’re tempted to settle upon, from the perceptions we are immersed in and influenced by. This would be akin to James Hillman’s perspective in which we share a “being in soul.” The soul for Hillman is necessarily a perspective, rather than a thing. Soul in this sense acts as a mediator, a carrier of the universals, downward, to the root of each personal embodied life.

We desperately need a new theory of the imagination (or a revived old one), one that can re-vision the imagination not as simply a spinner of fancy and distracting daydream but also, at least in rare moments, as an ecstatic mediator, expressive artist, and translator of the really real.

Ecstatic mediator? Perhaps the only way to entertain the possibility of such an idea requires that one incorporate a practice that acts as a portal to the impossible; for facilitating the experience of something present that is more than just “me.” The recognition that one indeed has habits of perception which can be seen through and reworked towards something more satisfying, can serve as an initiator into seeing habit itself as that which constrains thinking, exposing us to the susceptibility of falling into belief as an end point, a conclusion, which ultimately stifles the senses and constricts access to the universals. This codification easily becomes a death of soul, in which we no longer engage the living waters of life, but settle for drinking from the swamp.

Jeffrey Kripal sees the need to revitalize the quality and value of our spiritual experiences, if we ever hope to revitalize the human experience and end the current death spiral. Perhaps too, what we’ve come to call “paranormal” may just be a term that has come into use alongside an increasingly modern prejudice in which our fear of the esoteric, its relationship to the erotic, and invisible realities has gone underground.

All quotes: Kripal, Jeffrey J.. Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions (Kindle Locations 4076-4078). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

Oh Noah, where art thou?

” “It’s in Genesis,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday. “Noah is saving the animals; he’s not out there saving innocent babies, he’s saving the animals, he’s saving creation.” 

“It was very clear to us that there was an environmental message. To pull that message out of it, we think, would have been more of an editing job than just sort of representing what’s there.” ”  CNN blog

What do you get when you cross four verses of a biblical story found in Genesis with modern-day film maker, Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of that story as an environmental tale of caution and message for our times? In this case it’s an epic movie called Noah, named for the character in Genesis who as the story goes, is instructed by God to build an ark and save two of every living kind from the flood he is sending to wipe all living creatures from the face of the planet.

The truth about Noah and the event of a flood, like all historical accounts, serves its believers by supplying a predictive value. In a culture where linear thinking and literal historical fact takes the place of relationality that come from appreciation of myth, poetry and story, we no longer need a belief in Christianity to sustain an interest in apocalyptic visions. As we still serve the monotheistic god of historical, cause and effect narrative, to know something means the same in the secular square as it does in Judeo-Christianity; what is true is restricted to historical, material, real public events. One god has come to mean one reality, and one reality equals one truth.

The Christian apocalypse comes from the promise of separation of sinful humanity from the saved, Aronofsky’s apocalypse comes from the human destruction of the planet through disregard for animals and other lifeforms.

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Noah was a great movie for me and perhaps for anyone who enjoys movies that reflect back the current cultural mythology. I can’t take issue with any of the liberties Aronofsky is accused of taking, because I don’t have a need to defend any particular historical narrative re-presented, whether in a book, a movie or a first-hand account. Going one step further, the preference for the historical view as the truer account of what is now referred to as reality is, to my mind, an impoverished, soulless, beauty-deficient way to look at or experience life’s most precious gifts of love and the splendor of being alive and aware in the mysteries.

The movie is not without some obvious flaws; the barren scenery wouldn’t feed one person let alone the population of people and animals shown living there. But they were minor distractions for me. The barren setting was fitting for the apocalyptic feel to the story. Noah is shown as a man who has dreams of the flood and whose desire for justice for the animals creates a conflict over the ultimate value of humankind that culminates in a very tense ending in which Noah chooses whether or not humanity will be allowed to reproduce after the flood. My reflections on the movie come primarily from the idea of the effects of historical time on our modern mythology and especially our notion of “reality.”

In what ways does historical thinking shape our awareness and does it create imagined boundaries and divisions by partitioning us off, one from another, group from group? The Protestant reformation, while not the only example, gives us a picture of endless divisions over smaller and smaller issues. Once the Church splits off into division, splitting never ceases as the thousands of ways to understand and define a theological point or idea serve only those seeking power to control the narrative. The historical narrative in which time begins in paradise, followed by a fall, offers us the promise of restoration and for some, a trip back to paradise.

These divisions have created an atmosphere of defense and offense in every social aspect of modern culture. Partly perhaps, because as humans become more aware of each other through the advance of technology and mobility, who is “self” and who is “other” keeps getting redefined. But the result seems to be an inclination to pit all contenders of the one and only truth through comparison to the notion of “what really happened,” rather than “what does it mean.” What “really happened” demands that we strip away superfluous information, to get to the facts and to the point, slicing reality into as many pieces as it takes to defend a truth we expect to find. But reality slips out of reach as its ungraspable nature can never be completely objectified by our limited subjective perspectives.

“A lot of people are going to be like “What? Noah, drunk and naked? How dare you?!” It’s in the Bible. People are going to say, “Giants walking the earth? Fallen angels? How dare you?!” But it’s in there.” Darren Aronofsky

The attempt, if one must, to depict a story, or even a myth, as a literal account, as Aronofsky by his own admission falls prey to, is a tough one for us moderns to do without. We are still, especially in our public exchanges, caught up in seeing the historical perspective as the truer one. This insight might explain why the parallel universe story is so appealing. In the interview linked to above, Aronofsky tells us that the controversy over the film not being a literal account of the biblical Noah does not concern him because he doesn’t take the Bible literally. But he doesn’t escape from his own literalism as he goes on to defend the details of the film as a more realistic (historical) approach.

No surprise here because the blind spot created by historical thinking permeates our modern mythology. That we don’t see beyond history to the mythologizing in our depiction of reality, or can only see mythology in someone else’s worldview happens as we mistake the content of a worldview for the archetypal forms it shows up in.

Not to say there aren’t in some ways an objective aspect to reality, but to see reality in its totality directly contradicts the approach of slicing and dicing events into facts, parts and divisions. You can’t get there from here…

The fall into history may be necessary to recover the vision of unity, but not the unity of undifferentiated nothingness, but one where the pieces fit or at least belong, bridged by love, meaning and acceptance of the nature of existence. And through a vision of unity of many, many pieces, history can then take its place as one mode of perception among many others.

And where we might agree with storyteller Michael Meade that, “the fact of the matter is a story.”

Life Against Death – Part II

A consideration of the aim and purpose of artificial intelligence (AI), provides a fitting introduction to this followup post on Norman O. Brown’s book, Life Against Death. AI seeks to build a model of human intelligence for the purpose of:

1) The thrill and power of creating, fathering and possessing a better than human machine, a substitute for flesh and blood body.

2) Putting AI to work as servants so we save time for some other purpose.

3) To reach immortality either through an AI computer programmed to replicate itself, or to perfect our flesh and blood bodies with mechanical replacement parts allowing humans to at last say goodbye to death.

File:Robot Fish (4651519523).jpgA desire to recreate intelligence that matches or surpasses our own is perhaps the climax of a long history of our struggle against death. Does not attempting to mimic our likeness in an AI machine reflect back to us a sense of ourselves as discardable matter, preferring mechanical automatons better than we but without the messiness of life; our flesh, blood, pain and guts? Does it not also seek to be rid of the heart, the center of feeling?

Near the end of the book, Norman O. Brown quotes Henry Miller:

“The cultural era is past. The new civilization, which may take centuries or a few thousand years to usher in, will not be another civilization— it will be the open stretch of realization which all the past civilizations have pointed to. The city, which was the birth-place of civilization, such as we know it to be, will exist no more. There will be nuclei of course, but they will be mobile and fluid.

The peoples of the earth will no longer be shut off from one another within states but will flow freely over the surface of the earth and intermingle. There will be no fixed constellations of human aggregates. Governments will give way to management, using the word in a broad sense . The politician will become as superannuated as the dodo bird. The machine will never be dominated, as some imagine; it will be scrapped, eventually, but not before men have understood the nature of the mystery which binds them to their creation. The worship, investigation and subjugation of the machine will give way to the lure of all that is truly occult. This problem is bound up with the larger one of power— and of possession. Man will be forced to realize that power must be kept open, fluid and free. His aim will be not to possess power but to radiate it.” Henry Miller

Brown offers us a big view of the history of consciousness through an examination of Freud’s ideas alongside those of Whitehead, Bachelard, Goethe, Blake and Boehme, Rilke and others. He delves deeply into the question of how the disconnection between mind and matter/body at the level of human consciousness has turned us against our animal nature and in so doing, pitted life against death. By sacrificing the infantile pleasure instincts for the common good, repressed instincts become sublimated; turned away from oneself in service to the group through work, art, sport and religion. But in postponing and repressing the ability to feel pleasure, the all work becomes compulsive and all pleasurable states bring guilt. We then seek to possess, to become immortal through the legacy of building and owning stuff. 

In a long chapter on anality, an important theme in both Freud and Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Brown makes the point that from primitive to modern man a split between mind and body can be associated with our discomfort of the dirt and filth of matter. Increasingly in Christianity we see the ancient split come into light:

“This paradox means that the Christian is split into two dimensions, spirit that belongs to Christ and flesh that belongs to the Devil…The whole realm of visible reality, the world and the flesh , belong to the Devil; God has retired into invisibility— Deus absconditus.”

Quoting Luther:

“It is nothing new or strange that the world should be hopeless, accursed, damned; this it had always been and would ever remain.”

The world as forever corrupt, the domain of the devil leads to an expectation of suffering, pain and misery as inevitable for the flesh, which we abandoned by retreating into spirit, a separated mental realm. This division between spirit and flesh increases our alienation to bodily pleasure and sense which in turn extends our alienation to the world of matter which we seek only for power and possession.

Although the eventual secularization of protestant beliefs in the modern world could not sustain a belief in the devil, we also fail to seek a grace or redemption of matter, still unable to break the chains of the compulsion to work and postpone pleasure to some imagined future.

“But as long as (to quote Tillich) “the Protestant principle cannot admit any identification of grace with a visible reality,” and cannot repeat with conviction the traditional Christian faith that the time will come when grace will be made visible, and that this goal is the meaning of history, it looks as if neo-orthodox theology will remain incapable of casting out demons, and therefore will be of limited service to the life instinct in its war against the death instinct. It diagnoses, but it does not cure.”

History itself can be seen as part of the problem. Through our sense of time we defer pleasure, looking to the future, saving time as we go to have more time, always necessary to those who cannot live in the present. Our inability to be present leaves us unlived, and so guilty, unredeemed, haunted, suffering from sins of both our personal and ancestral past. We do not easily live in the present, even if intellectually we know that’s all we have. We are bound by our sense of time which keeps us out of the eternal present.

Brown sees the intensification of the split and neurosis as necessary to bringing the repressed unconsciousness into consciousness. In the modern industrial era of capitalism:

“The alienated consciousness is correlative with a money economy. Its root is the compulsion to work. This compulsion to work subordinates man to things, producing at the same time confusion in the valuation of things (Verwertung) and devaluation of the human body (Entwertung).”

Capitalism may have emerged along with a more secular world, but Brown reminds us that the focus of our worship has moved from the god of church to the god of money and the power and hope in possessing things:

“The money complex is the demonic, and the demonic is God’s ape; the money complex is therefore the heir to and substitute for the religious complex, an attempt to find God in things.”

Brown concludes on a positive note by seeing that all of history has brought us to this moment in which the abolition of repression may free us from the split between mind and body into a resurrection, or a giving of life back to the body:

“The life instinct, or sexual instinct, demands activity of a kind that, in contrast to our current mode of activity, can only be called play. The life instinct also demands a union with others and with the world around us based not on anxiety and aggression but on narcissism and erotic exuberance…The death instinct is reconciled with the life instinct only in a life which is not repressed, which leaves no “unlived lines” in the human body, the death instinct then being affirmed in a body which is willing to die. And , because the body is satisfied, the death instinct no longer drives it to change itself and make history, and therefore, as Christian theology divined, its activity is in eternity.”

Finally, Brown sees in the vision of mystics, gnostics, kabbalists and alchemists, both east and west, the healing between mind and body where Freud’s polyperverse pleasure of the infant is found in the experience of the eroticsim of the entire body and the transformation of historical time into eternal time:

“But there is in the Western tradition another kind of mysticism, which can be called Dionysian or body mysticism, which stays with life, which is the body, and seeks to transform and perfect it.

In Boehme’s concept of life, the concept of play, or love-play, is as central as it is in Freud’s; and his concept of the spiritual or paradisical body of Adam before the Fall recognizes the potent demand in our unconscious both for an androgynous mode of being and for a narcissistic mode of self-expression, as well as the corruption in our current use of the oral, anal, and genital functions.

The “magical” body which the poet seeks is the “subtle” or “spiritual” or “translucent” body of occidental mysticism, and the “diamond” body of oriental mysticism , and, in psychoanalysis, the polymorphously perverse body of childhood. Thus, for example, psychoanalysis declares the fundamentally bisexual character of human nature; Boehme insists on the androgynous character of human perfection; Taoist mysticism invokes feminine passivity to counteract masculine aggressivity ; and Rilke’s poetic quest is a quest for a hermaphroditic body.”

Science too, adds to the split in its attempt to get outside of its own humanity, subdue nature and discard the pleasure and importance of the senses:

“the only historian of science who uses psychoanalysis, Gaston Bachelard, concludes that it is of the essence of the scientific spirit to be mercilessly ascetic, to eliminate human enjoyment from our relation to nature, to eliminate the human senses, and finally to eliminate the human brain.”

“To eliminate the human brain,” brings us back to the question of AI’s quest and hopefully for you who have read this far, as it does for me, explains not so much why AI is a problem but that it is not a solution.

Except where noted, All quotes taken from Brown, Norman O. (2012-04-15). Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History. Wesleyan University Press. Kindle Edition.

Remembering Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger2 - 6-16-07 Photo by Anthony Pepitone.jpgI was saddened to hear of Pete’s passing today at the age of 94, but grateful, not only for having seen Pete perform, but for his service to the community that enriched so many lives, and particularly for his contribution to help clean up the Hudson river.

While still living in New York, I had a few opportunities to attend Pete’s concerts playing and singing alongside Arlo Guthrie. Through songs and stories, their performances were always spirited with a love of music and their sharing that love with us. The more Pete could get the audience to participate, the more excited he would get. It would have been a challenge even for the most hardened among us to not feel some enthusiasm witnessing his raw, energetic presence.

Through and beyond the music, Pete had a vision of peace and opportunity for all. Making good use of the time in which he was banned from commercial television, he shared his love of music with school children, encouraging them to sing along. Even after financial success, he kept to a simple life living on a 17 acre farm in upstate New York. Up until the last few days of his life, friends say he still chopped his own wood as he had done most of his adult life.
Here is an excerpt of what I wrote about Pete back in the summer:

Recently, watching a documentary, titled Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (2007), I was struck by the life of this man; one of music, authenticity, energy, controversy, along with contributions to the community that I was unaware of. I have always been a fan of his live performances with Arlo Guthrie, and am thankful to have seen them perform together a few times in 70’s, and the 80’s in small venues on Long Island where I lived at the time. Through interviews, the movie showed Pete’s efforts towards making a more peaceful world both in the way he lived his life and in local causes he embraced.

Bear Mtn Bridge.jpgOne of Pete’s legacies was his initiation of a successful community based effort to clean up the Hudson river in NY by raising awareness of the issue and funding for a non-profit organization dedicated to cleaning up the river and advocating for corporate responsibility for damages done and better stewardship in the future.

There are many others, alive and dead, famous or not, that have dedicated their lives to working for peace. I applaud Pete for working at the local level to make a difference to the local and not so local community.

A petition for a Nobel Prize for Pete Seeger:

http://www.nobelprize4pete.org/

Love and Mercy

There may not be a word used as frequently in our day that’s so lacking in a precise definition as the word Depression. Literally, to depress is to press down, which we still recognize when a doctor uses a tongue depresser to see the back of our throat. But since the latter part of the 19th century the word has been used to describe a state of our psyche, and more recently, the word itself has perhaps become victim to its own original sense by having its meaning “pressed down.” Rather than clarifying – repeated use of the word depression has given the idea a quality of vagueness. Perhaps it is the vagueness that allows the psychiatric community to take liberties in the diagnostics and treatment of what we now call depression.

But it seems to me that when we are depressed we cannot quite say what it is we are. Are we sad, tired, weary, hopeless, lonely, or have we lost our sense of meaning and purpose, becoming disillusioned? Maybe we don’t feel much of anything at all and so, we’re just not ourselves. But is every uncomfortable psychic state experienced an illness in need of a cure? In America it seems so.

So, you may ask, what’s wrong with that, isn’t there science aplenty to prove that our moods are just a by-product of brain functioning? And in taking drugs to regulate that functioning – if we do in fact feel better we must have had a chemical imbalance right? …and therefore an illness? Well not if double blind tests show that every method used to treat depression, including a placebo, show at best a 50% rate of alleviating symptoms in the short term (4-6 weeks).  But there’s lots of commercial interest in manufacturing depression as an illness when your business is selling cures.

The DSM-IV clinical definition does not attempt to explain how or why one would come to be depressed and doesn’t care. Their definitions of pathology attempt to convince us that we have a disease, something gone wrong in the physical state of our brain and body. Like most organizations with a vested commercial interest, there is a reason for the APA’s framing of conditions. They have a deep, long standing relationship with organizations that are benefitting from marketing depression. It’s not so much that depression or its symptoms do not exist, but that we don’t have definitive answers as to how our mental states relate to things like diet, habit, or other environmental influences.

There has never been a time when we humans did not seek to alter our moods through some form of substance or chemicals. But until recently there has never been an organized attempt to define a symptom as a disease. We do so now because the pharmaceutical companies have spent the last 60 years investing time and resources to develop their chemical cures that they can sell. Our ability to trust and believe in medication should be questioned, especially when the cure is occasionally much worse than the so-called disease. With revolving door relationships between the FDA and the drug manufacturers, the definition of illness and the drugs marketed to cure them have gained legitimacy and acceptance in the culture and that should be suspect.

According to the experts, for one to be diagnosed with a Major Depression:

“Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning. Some of the symptoms: (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. (3) Feelings of worthlessness (4) Poor concentration (5) Thoughts of death.” These might as well be symptoms of stress or chronic pain or illness, but in this case they are symptoms of a so-called illness. With criteria as unscientific and commonplace as this, diagnosing a depression and prescribing drugs for a cure have led to an epidemic in mental illness in the United States. Again, 2 weeks constitutes chronic?

How about Major Happiness? If it’s true that lowered serotonin levels cause depressed states wouldn’t it also be true that heightened levels cause too much happiness? Of course you’ve never heard of this because the idea that serotonin levels are responsible for depression are speculative. And besides, who would want to cure themselves of happiness – even if it were a disease?

In many cases the psychotropic drugs prescribed for mood disorders do help people, by their own assessment. Who can argue with that and who would want to deny anyone their right to be medicated? But who decides what is best for us in a culture that relies on expertise with commercial interests judging the value and safety of both the definition of illness and the drugs used to treat them?

This is where we fail the most in a culture that is increasingly experiencing the breakdown in the quality of our relationships. No wonder we’re depressed. We should be, if not for the current state of the culture and the world at large, then at least for the mysterious, vulnerable predicament that humans have found themselves in since the dawn of existence that we moderns seem sometimes to have forgotten.

Depression, as a descriptive, is only useful for those interested in defining a marketable illness, and those willing to embrace an identity of themselves as pathologically in need of a label to understand themselves. If you take the word away, what other language would you use to define what is going on?  What do we mean when we say we are depressed?

I, for one, have always struggled with words and concepts used to define me because not only is it not helpful, but definitions attempt to keep us from the natural motion of living and because all attempts at embracing an identity tempt us into believing we are static beings, when we are clearly not. Life is hard, we often live in conflict shifting between competing ideas, we struggle daily to meet our basic needs, to give and receive love, and to make peace with ourselves and others. And in our modern world, where the level of comfort has reached unprecedented standards, we have heightened our expectations for perpetual happiness against a background of an often unacknowledged increased vulnerability. We have so much more to lose as much has been given.

For myself, having lived with a life long struggle with life itself, I had to examine my need for an over reaching sense of satisfaction and remember daily to forgive, both myself and others for failing to be all I envision us to be. Being human means being separate, limited, vulnerable, and making our way in a finite existence that includes sickness, pain and death. That is life’s premise, and although challenging, the greatest task may be to simply make our peace with that and do the best we can to be who we are and listen for what is calling us.

The one great thing about being an individual is the freedom we each have to define for ourselves a purpose and meaning that touches us (and hopefully others) enough to sustain us in the day to day. Never sell yourself short on what calls to you. Instead of pursuing happiness, perhaps we should embrace what, where and who we are now.

Some thoughts from James Hillman on depression: http://www.newtherapist.com/hillman8.html

“Today this depression has lost the confines it had in earlier psychiatry. It’s in youth, children, and the term is used very broadly. But it is so important to get back to what experience that person (depression sufferer) is in.”
“In practice, for people to say I am depressed is insufficient, it won’t do. I want to know what, where, how, what are the physical correlates, what do you eat, what happens when you are in that chair and when you get up out of the chair. I want to know an enormous amount about your body.”

Thanks Brian, Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.

I’d Gladly Lose Me to Find You

As happens in all eras of big technological leaps, our modern world is changing us. No longer does our struggle to survive bring us the amount of direct contact with the raw elements to secure food, to build and maintain shelter, or to stay safe from both human and animal predators as our ancestors once experienced. Our struggles have leveled up to something a little more abstract. Our needs haven’t changed, but the means to meet those needs have.

The movie Life of Pi presents in film a powerful portrait of a very raw and direct struggle brilliantly showing how it is that otherness reflects our needs and purpose back to us.

But survive we do and on a pretty grand scale now days. Everything from refrigerated food storage, antibiotics, running water, to the transformation of fossil fuels into energy has redefined how we live our lives – perhaps increasing our expectation of peace and safety. Maybe that is why our modern plague of senseless crimes is shocking because we live in relative peace and safety.

And so, we cannot seem to avoid the curse of evil and the threat of darkness no matter how much technology enhances our creature comforts. We’ve increased the speed, breadth and amount of the information we can access through technology and find it harder and harder to opt out of its influence in our lives. Opting out must be a willful, conscious decision, with trade-offs we’re not always comfortable with.

Perhaps opting into an increased volume of information decreases our ability to digest and reflect. The speed of reception and the speed of reaction are driven by the technologies themselves. But it is through the slowness of  reflection that we are often moved to amend views that we no longer find adequate, meaningful or truthful compared with our knowledge and experience.

Because access to the internet is easy and fast – it invites a rapid response from us. How much time do we give ourselves to reflect and digest information exchanged through email, facebook and twitter? Are these exchanges more than invitations to like or dislike using prepackaged social, religious and political picture-grams posted by others? Just as an increase in the money supply deflates our currency, the increase in information supply deflates its value, bringing the exchange to new levels of absurdity:

WORLD OF CONSPIRACY 2012

The faster information comes to us, the quicker we must determine our relationship to it. Is it friend or foe? Do we duck, embrace, or swat at it? Either way, we respond quickly because technology works quickly. What the technology does not encourage us to do is spend much time reflecting on the meaning of events or our emotional responses to them. I don’t want my understanding of life to be defined by the culture being created through the use of high-speed technology, however much benefit can be derived from it.

I do so much enjoy reconnecting with old friends, keeping informed about local happenings and bridging some of the geographical distance with my family through the internet. And perhaps we are after all learning something about ourselves because the medium of exchange is different from direct, personal two-way contact.

And, I have found plenty of time for reflection in spite or even because of my use of technology. My views and understanding of life continue to shift because of new information. Yet, I remain skeptical that the benefits of what technologies provide outweigh the harm they might bring. Whatever their influence, they’re here to stay even though I am doubtful that the changes they bring will move us any closer to the peace and security we long for. Maybe longing needs to stay with us, prompting us to move towards finding a truer and more lasting purpose in our lives.

“And I’m looking for that free ride to me
I’m looking for you” Pete Townshend