Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Placebo Effect & the 3lb Universe

My dear friend Rahul got me thinking of the placebo effect today (thanks Rahul). I've written about this before. The more I think about it the more I think that we have very little knowledge of how the mind really works. Every study that is done is still a reflection of human factors. Studying the brain using the brain we have as humans seems like a vicious circle. And yet it's all we have. Unless some alien life form steps in to analyze us and study us, our perspective is the only one we have.

It seems that we go through life seeking chemical fixes, whether outright as in drugs, prescription or otherwise; or the chemical fix we receive as a result of our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. As much as I'd like to think otherwise, some days I feel no more sentient than the cat sleeping on the floor next to me. I am a product of and a slave to my 3lb universe. If the neocortex is what separates us from the "lower" life forms, it seems obvious that we don't know what the fuck we're doing with all this brain power. Evolution my ass.

tall penguin

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Dating Scene

I must say it feels strange and exciting to be back in the dating scene. I say "back" in the relative sense since as a jw I never really "dated" per se. The dogma stated that dating, or courting, as it was known, was always with the intention to marry. So there wasn't much opportunity to just go out with someone without a lot of expectation. And perish the thought of casual sex. Sex was reserved only for the married folk. Of course, most of the jw's I knew ended up doing the nasty before their wedding day. They just kept it secret.

Oh so many secrets.

tall penguin

Monday, June 25, 2007

How happy are we supposed to be?

Saturday's edition of the Toronto paper The Globe and Mail carried an article on the search for happiness, which many self-help gurus have latched on to and made millions from. It brings up the question of how happy we're really meant to be. It details the many studies done on depression and happiness and looks at the self-help movement and how the industry may be hurting us more than helping us.

As a former self-help junkie, I can attest to the effects of the happiness cult. As I've stated in this blog previously, it all seems to feel like mental masturbation after awhile. There is an underlying sense of blame in the movement, that if you aren't happy, it's because you have drawn negative experiences to yourself. That's a pretty heavy burden to carry. And not one that the research supports.

Shit happens. Sometimes we're up. Sometimes we're down. Sometimes we're somewhere in the middle.

I agree with the article's conclusion:

"In other words, happiness, as a state of being, is fleeting at best. As humans, a restless contentment is probably the best we can hope for. A benign acceptance of life as it is, rather than an optimistic yearning for endless bliss."

Accepting what is. I think that's the most challenging of all life lessons. One I'm still in the process of learning.

tall penguin

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fascinating Self-Tests

Continuing on in my research on the Highly Sensitive Person I have come across what is termed the Sensory Seeking Person. They may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum but may actually coexist in some people. Check out these links for the tests and see if you might be one or the other. Or you may be both or you may be neither. It really has to do with your nervous system and the environment in which you were raised.

I scored 25 on the HSP test and only 5 on the SSP test. Interesting stuff.

HSP self-test

SSP self-test

tall penguin

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Are you an HSP?

I've been doing some research on what is termed a "Highly Sensitive Person"(HSP). From the wikipedia article on the subject:

"(HSP) is a condition hypothesized by Elaine Aron in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person. It claims that highly sensitive people process sensory data exceptionally deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems. This is a specific trait with key consequences that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, inhibitedness, innate fearfulness, introversion, and so on. Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, the trait is present in nearly all higher animals."

According to research, "15-20% of humans and higher animals have a nervous system that is more sensitive to subtleties. This means that regular sensory information is processed and analyzed to a greater extent, which contributes to creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail, but which may also cause quick overstimulation and overarousal."

I can relate to this. I've spent most of my life feeling as if I have no skin on. Like I have no filter, no protection between me and the outside world. Interestingly, this description of feeling like you're walking around without skin is a common statement made by people with this condition. I was in tears as I read it in one of Aron's books.

Aron describes this HSP condition not as an illness but as a genetic selection, similar to being tall, or having blue eyes. Some people just sense their environment more acutely.

I realize this trait is my blessing and my curse. On a good day, it allows me to sense what other people are feeling, without them even needing to voice it. On a bad day, it allows me to sense what other people are feeling, without them even needing to voice it.

I can empathize on a very deep level. It's the reason I don't watch the news or really violent films. All the sensory information is too much. I feel it in my body as if I'm there. It's also why I find crowds difficult. Imagine trying to filter the conversations of 100 different people if they were all speaking directly into your ear at the same time. Then add in light, background noise, smells and emotions. That's what it's like some days.

And it's why I spend a lot of time alone. I need time to get back in my body. To feel like I'm in my skin again. Sometimes I don't leave the house for days at a time. But I'm content. I like my company.

tall penguin

Who are we really?

The longer you live, the more you realize that we all have these personas we project out into the world. We can become seemingly different people depending on who we're around. And certain people bring out different versions of ourself. But who are we really? Are we all of those people? None of them?

There seems to me to be this untouched, quiet, ever-present, ever-watchful me that sits in my core. It is the me that seems the most real. Yet I have few words to describe that me. It is an odd feeling. It is that me that objectively sees all, without attachment, without yearning, without judging, without feeling, without acting. It is the being of me. The being.

All the other stuff feels like doing. The personas defined by their behaviour. They can be shed or put on like clothing. They are changeable. They are fleeting. They just don't seem so real to me anymore.

Odd. Very odd.

tall penguin

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Got Snogged Last Night...

I went to see James Hunter in concert last night. Hunter is a gem of a singer/songwriter from the UK. His sound is reminiscent of Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole with a bit of Ray Charles thrown in. Van Morrison is a huge fan. He says, "James is one of the best voices, and best kept secrets, in British R&B and Soul." I would have to agree. I heard his CD earlier this year and fell in love with Hunter's soulful voice.

The concert was great. He played for over an hour in a small intimate venue in Toronto. He then mixed it up with the audience; signing CDs, napkins or anything else you wanted signed. I brought my ticket stub up to James to be autographed. My friend told him it was my birthday. With that James leans across the table, pulling me into a full snog. So, I've officially been snogged by a soon-to-be-too-famous-to hug-random-groupies recording artist. I'll be able to say I knew him when. Very cool.

tall penguin

Being noticed...

Of late, I've noticed men looking at me. Not all pervy like, but looking at me, like they think I'm pretty or something. My first reaction is to think, "Why are they looking at me? Do I have something stuck in my teeth?" I then quickly do the tongue wash.

Then it's "Hmmm...why are they still looking at me?" I do a quick body check to make sure I haven't forgot to put on pants today, all the while still wondering what it is they're seeing.

It was typical practice in the past for me to avert my eyes from a man's gaze, once I realized they were looking at me for reasons other than to let me know I had pen on my face. Now, I find myself lingering a bit longer. Meeting their gaze. Watching them watching me.

Yesterday, on the bus ride home, I noticed a man staring at me. He smiled. I coyly smiled back before darting my eyes to the floor. I would bob my head up occasionally and again our eyes would meet. We would both smile. Sometimes, he'd turn away first. I guess this is what normal people term "flirting". It's all new to me.

As he was stepping off the bus, he turned towards me and winked. My heart fluttered. It's nice to be noticed.

tall penguin

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Birthday Girl...

Tomorrow is my 33rd birthday. My brother asked me what I wanted. I said, "After everything I've been through, just being here, alive and breathing, is enough."

So, tomorrow, if you feel so inclined, share in my celebration of life with your breath. Be conscious of every breath you take. Be aware of the gift you have in being here. Whether you're experiencing pain, heartbreak, joy, grief, anger...whatever you are feeling, whatever you are going through, wherever you find yourself in this life, stop and notice your breath. Where there is breath, there is life. Where there is life, there is hope. And sometimes, hope is all we have.

tall penguin

Monday, June 18, 2007

Coma Craving...

According to the wikipedia article on coma, a coma can "be deliberately induced by pharmaceutical agents in order to preserve higher brain function following another form of brain trauma." How does one go about arranging such a service?

tall penguin

Forgiveness...

Forgiveness has become a four letter word in my vernacular. I am in the process of giving the word new meaning for myself. Last night, I was thinking of my mom and why I have such a hard time with the idea of forgiving her. I realized I hold this belief around forgiveness that somehow if I forgive her, it means I have to have a relationship with her again. That I'm somehow obligated and responsible for making the relationship "right".

I remember as a JW how the idea of forgiveness became so emotionally charged. If you had a grievance with someone in the congregation, you were expected to forgive them and go back to being their friend. There was no choice, no option for saying, "Yes, I forgive them. But I choose to no longer be in their close acquaintance." If the elders found out that you'd made such a choice they would often mark you as a "bad associate", indicating that you were a "spiritually weak" person.

And yet, if someone transgressed the religion's lofty tenets, the elders could judge that person as "unrepentant" and not only withhold forgiveness but have that person expelled from the congregation and subsequently shunned by all of its members. It's a bit of a mindfuck to say the least.

No wonder it's been so difficult to keep healthy boundaries all these years. My tendency has been to feel bad if I choose to no longer maintain relationships I feel are currently unhealthy. It's a choice I am learning to exercise now with greater freedom. To be able to say, "Yes, I love and forgive that person. No, I don't want to be part of their life right now." And to let go. Ahh, the letting go. Powerful, yet ever challenging. I'm learning.

tall penguin

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Columbian Extravaganza!


Tonight I visited some friends from Colombia. They made us a traditional dish called Bandeja Paisa. Oh my. I don't think I've ever consumed more protein, carbs and fat in one sitting. And it was glorious. As you can see from the picture, the meal consists of many different dishes. And yes, that is considered one serving. Needless to say, I took half of mine home in a doggie bag. Traditionally, Bandeja Paisa consists of beans, rice, fried plantain, chorizo, shredded stewed beef, pork chop, a fried egg, roasted yuca and a slice of avocado and banana to round it all out.

With beautiful Colombian music playing in the background and the alcohol free-flowing, it felt like I was transported to South America. After gorging myself, I dragged my very satiated self to the couch where I caught a quick nap. Apparently, this is typical after such a meal. In Colombia, a meal of this size is usually eaten midday and followed by a snooze before returning to work for the afternoon. We're doing it so wrong here in North America.

After my refreshing siesta, it was dancing time. My host snapped me up onto the living room floor and taught me some merengue and salsa steps. And I taught him a few steps too. (You do remember how much I love to dance don't you?) Then it was off into the breezy warm evening for a walk along the harbourfront. An absolutely delightful way to end the weekend.

I must say, I could get used to this kind of living. Why do I live here again?

tall penguin

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Hmm...

From the Archives
May 30, 2005

I'm dreaming. Someone I love and trust is holding me. And their squeeze becomes tighter and tighter. My skin hurts. My body aches. I can't breathe. It's as if this person wants to push me to see how much I'll take. They're smiling like they think they're doing something good for me. I endure the pain, feeling shame for not wanting it to continue.

"It's for my own good," I tell myself. "Learn to endure the pain now and you won't suffer later."

Finally, I wake up screaming and panicking. "Please don't do that," I say to you, your warm body attached to mine. I am terrified. I am angry. My heart races. I can't breathe. And yet I still say "please". You turn away and go back to sleep.

tall penguin

Friday, June 15, 2007

Calling Back Our Spirit...

I read this some years ago and it came back to my mind recently. It's the story of a man named David Chetlahe Paladin, who went through some incredibly traumatic life experiences. At the lowest point of his life, he'd lost the use of his legs and resigned himself to life in a military hospital. He returned to the Native reservation where he grew up to say a final goodbye to his friends and family there and experienced a profoundly life changing ritual.

From his story:

"When he arrived at the reservation, his family and friends were horrified at what had become of him. They gathered together and held council to figure out how to help him. After the council meeting the elders approached David, yanked the braces off his legs, tied a rope around his waist and threw him into deep water. “David, call your spirit back,” they commanded. “Your spirit is no longer in your body. If you can’t call your spirit back, we will let you go. No one can live without his spirit. Your spirit is your power.”

“Calling his spirit back,” David told me, was the most difficult task he ever had to undertake. “It was more difficult than enduring having my feet nailed to the floor. I saw the faces of those Nazi soldiers. I lived through all those months in the prison camp. I knew that I had to release my anger and hatred. I could barely keep myself from drowning, but I prayed to let the anger out of my body. That’s all I prayed, and my prayers were answered.”"

This act of confronting the past in all of its horror and emotion resonates with me. I have been going through some very visceral experiences of pain, anger, grief and despair. I have seen the faces of people from my past. I have felt them roaming about my body as if I am possessed by them. I have smelled them, tasted them, felt them breathe within the recesses of my soul. It has been the most terrifying experience of my life. And yet, also liberating.

The symbol of being immersed, as if baptized, is one I can relate to as well. I love water. I love the feeling of coming up from the depths toward the sun. Feeling reborn. Feeling as if you are cleansed, purified, made new. I understand why the symbol has been adopted by so many religious paths.

I find myself making a daily practice of calling back my spirit from the past. Retrieving my power from all those who've hurt me and all those I've hurt. Blessing these people with love and freeing them from haunting my body any further. And in turn, freeing myself.

tall penguin

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Atrophy

Brain cells forever changed
Fuck neuroplasticity
Devolve me.

tall penguin

Viral Insanity

I soaked you up
Every last bit of your madness
I am saturated by you
I smell you seeping out of every pore
If I could tolerate the taste, I would vomit
Until there was no trace of you left in my soul.

Letting you into my heart was the slow drip of death
Wish I’d chosen the bullet instead.

tall penguin

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Life Foreshadowed...

I don't really even have words to convey what I'm going to use words to try to convey. The past few weeks of my life have been grueling, exhausting, enlightening and terrifying. I have been going into the depths of my soul. Feeling things on a level I've never felt before. Gaining insights into things I've wondered about my whole life. It is as if pieces of a very large puzzle, a lifelong puzzle, are coming together. And the picture culminated in that photo of the two year old version of me, which I shared in my last entry.

Let me go back a bit first. I will transcribe from my journal so that you can read my impressions of this event when they happened. Then I will continue on from there.

"A few weeks ago, at the store where I work, a young girl, maybe 3 or 4, passed me in the aisle. She was holding her father's hand. As she walked away, she turned back to look at me. We locked eyes. She kept looking back at me all the way down the aisle. If felt like an eternity.

As she looked at me and I at her, a wry smile spread across her face. It was if we were sharing a secret that no one else knew. I can't explain it but it was like I was looking at myself at that age.

Eventually, her father noticed what was happening between us. He just looked up at me and nodded. And that was it. I never saw her again."

This past weekend, I reconnected with a family that I grew up next door to. I considered them like a second family to me. We cottaged together in the summer and spent time at each other's house. Even before they had children, my brother and I would go over and spend time there. This neighbour and my mother were friends. And eventually when she and her husband had children, those kids became like my siblings. But when I was 19, they moved away. And we lost touch. For many different reasons.

I recently got in touch with the oldest daughter, now 28. We've been exchanging emails for the last year. This past weekend, my brother and I drove down to visit her and her mother and her two brothers. I hadn't seen them all in over 12 years. Much had changed, but that kinship, that love we shared for each other was still there.

Shortly after we arrived, the mother took me into her room, pointed to her closet and said, "I have something to show you."

She took out a box from the bottom of the closet, opened it, took out a manila envelope and pulled out the photo of me as a two year old that I shared in my last entry. She said, "This is you. You were two."

The tears welled up in my eyes. It was her. The girl from the store a few weeks before. It was me. The girl I'd been looking for my whole life. I cried. My whole body tingled.

This girl. This girl. This girl with a secret. As I walked home tonight, that same wry smile worked its way across my face. I found myself laughing aloud as I walked. It all just seems so funny somehow--this life. The drama. The story. All of it. It's so meaningful and yet so meaningless. So painful and yet so beautiful. That girl, that two year old me, she knew. It took me 31 years to get back to her. And now I know too.

tall penguin

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Look Who I Found...


So, I went looking for the eight year old me and found a whole lot of other girl versions of me as well. There have been many insights. I'm keeping them with me for now. But I did want to share this photo.

It is me. I'm two years old. I only saw it for the first time this weekend. The story behind it is amazing in and of itself. For now, just let me say that this little girl is an incredible and strong person. I'm glad to know her.

tall penguin

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Going Offline for a while...

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wrote for herself, because she enjoyed it. Then there was a girl who wrote for the approval of others--teachers, judges, editors. Then there was a girl who wrote because the paper she wrote on was the only thing she trusted to hear her. And then there was the girl who wrote to win the attention and affection of someone who would hear her in no other way.

I feel drawn to go back and meet that girl who first started writing at the age of eight; the girl who writes for herself. That girl doesn't blog. She doesn't do email. She doesn't do msn. That girl writes with a medium-point Papermate pen on plain, lined paper. That girl capitalizes and punctuates every sentence. That girl doodles as she writes and doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks. And she sure as hell doesn't use spellcheck. That girl uses a thesaurus and a dictionary, the kind you open and close with your own hands; the kind you thumb through until your fingers get black and icky. That girl keeps her writing in a Rubbermaid tub and protects it as she protects her own heart, sharing it only with those who have proved worthy.

I suspect that girl is still there, patiently waiting for my return. I've gone to meet her. See you when I get back...

tall penguin

Unblock my heart...

I'm coming to realize how the internet, cell phones, email, facebook, and even this blog have become ways of connecting with people, obsessively so. Sometimes, I use these mediums to express things from a safe distance, things I might not be able to say to your face. And I think we've all become just a little bit cowardly as a result. Gone are the days of sitting around in rooms for hours, face-to-face, ala any number of Jane Austen novels, and talking, really talking, about nothing, about everything. Talking where we can see the other person's reaction. Where we can notice those subtle changes in their body language that say what their words may not.

Long are gone the time of letters and snail mail when you could deliberate and pour over a letter from a beloved, savoring their words and your response. Now it is all too easy. At the click of a button you can send off any old shit you felt like saying at the time. And when it's all over and you no longer want that person in your life, you can hang up on them by phone, block them on msn, bounce back their emails, remove them from your facebook "friends". You can even go invisible on your msn and just watch them like some twisted stalker. "I can see you but you can't see me." As if that gives you some power, some upper hand in the healing process.

Technology has allowed us to cut people out of our lives in any number of rather violent and impulsive ways. But how do you sufficiently remove someone from your heart? There is no coronary scroll down list asking you who you'd like to block. There is no way to bounce back all the the joys, all the hurt, all the pain. There is no way to hang up when your heart brings up yet another image, another experience, another memory. It's just not that simple.

There is no quick way through. There is no magic button to press to make it all go away. There is no CTRL-ALT-DEL for the heart. No way to reboot the system. We are irrevocably altered by every life we touch and every life that touches ours. It is painful. It is raw. It is beautiful. It is what makes us human.

tall penguin