Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I Hate Sitcoms

Sitcoms (so called "situation comedies") suck.

The men are selfish idiots, the women are vindictive colluders, and lies abound. So much so that dishonesty is often the basic premise of any given plot, covered up through successively outrageous acts until they all reconcile in the last 10 minutes (so that the non-sequential re-run viewing won't have to rely on absolute canon) with little consequence. The general sense of dissatisfaction is still maintained for the next episode.

The suspension of disbelief required to even humor the characters is also intended to make even a mundane, common sense pithy statement come across as profound. Because real insight is probably too expensive.

I'd take a good pie-fight over the typical sitcom - at least there isn't any delusion about more grandiose treatment of the elements of which they're constructed. And meringue is good for cleansing the pallet.

Friday, October 14, 2005

End of Meditation

9 years ago tonight (October 14th) I sat alone in my dimly lit bedroom, cross-legged on the floor with my back against the door (I don't like surprises while I meditate).

This was a time of amazing discipline for me both physically and mentally (emotionally was another story, and has been a focus for the last several years to look after that adolescent deficiency). The level of meditation I regularly achieved was immersive and potent - intimate and poignant reflection in a state of focus and rest completely detached from time and layered against a sense of different space. Even now as I remember it my pulse accelerates, breath deepens, pupils dilate, and I even begin to salivate: responses similar to withdrawal from chemical dependency.

Imagine if you will, an endless and featureless plane stretched out before you. There is no light, though if there were it would be dim and all things only roughly outlined. Eyes here are useless - it is the sense of the plane which matters, and only to serve as a baseline to say "here is this world." Despite the perpetual distance there is also a sense of fall-off where it leaves the mind's eye, where it ceases to be considered because it does not matter.

Upon this plane, sitting in this meditative posture, is the shape of self: myself, yourself - the self of the observer. Again, this is simply isolated shape - inside and outside, separated by a simple barrier to define the boundary and nothing else. The primordial non-light is thicker and darker within this shape, but it too is endless. This shape is the meditative self, only in a familiar physical form because that is how it is imagined, and belongs to this world. Now introduce the first object into this place: a candle.

This is not how my meditation would typically progress - candles are a nice ambiance but didn't provide anything meaningful for me personally. It serves here to illustrate a sensation that I have no other reference to describe.

Ponder the heat of the candle in this place, as it radiates against the skin boundary of that imagined self. The candle is then placed within the self, and the radiance felt from within. The foreign object is nevertheless internalized and incorporated into the awareness of the abstract specter.

Here comes the real kick: change the (still internalized) candle into the radiant shape of another person - a similar sense of self, belonging to another. The stream of subverbalized thought, the depth of emotion and spiritual conviction comprising the conscious essence of the individual, creating an undeniable personal signature. A signature already imprinted on the subconscious of the viewer but only produced to awareness in this specific context.

It's amazing to me what the mind remembers that it never seemed to know before when given an opportunity to explore and a vocabulary with which to speak. In this case, that other signature already is present, but not contemplated or remembered until here.

In this context I would meditate - feeling the hearts and thoughts of those close to me, both in proximity and as entrusted with my affection or confidence. This active and intimate connection takes place on the level of unspoken emotion and bits of spirit, or so it would feel to be. Words take a back-seat as a clumsy and inexact metaphor to frame this much richer world of sensation. Communication takes place, but in a literal heart to heart way (emotion may originate physically in the amygdala, and be expressed via complex endocrine secretions throughout the body, but in this sense of depth "heart" is a very good and very real label for how they can be referenced).

During my meditation on that fateful Monday night something happened. I descended to the state described crudely above, and connected to someone close to me. She and I were in the process of breaking up, actually - but still on good terms. However, something she had said in our conversation earlier that night (on the telephone) hadn't rung quite true with me - that "[I] wasn't ready for [her]." Which is not to say that I did not believe her; rather, in listening closely to subtle verbal cues it sounded as though this was the best way she knew to express a feeling and conclusion for which she had no other words. Perhaps similar to taking a picture of a hologram - some level of detail is lost in the verbal translation. Dissatisfying, but the best she had to work with and that was that.

For her. I was still dissatisfied. Without concrete understanding of the situation, how could I hope to remedy whatever flaw had led to the demise of the relationship? Not between her and I - we had been growing apart for some time. Instead, for the future, for myself as a point of growth. Also to achieve closure in general and not leave the unresolved taste in my mouth; I needed to know. I still have difficulty letting go of unresolved questions like this.

The connection with her was immersive, as always. Tender and honest - there is no other way it can be done - and unique. There was, this time, an extra edge to the reality of the experience, a raw element of energy playing in a pseudo-physical aire. Continuing to abuse the visualization laid out above, the plane became filled her essence. Thought and emotion ran together to create shapes in a spatial display to make the complex environ navigable. I found the conscious thought stream, and felt her pondering on the things of that night as I had been. I prodded - she knew I was there, and that this was part of my way - this was not an unfamiliar intrusion, as we had similarly been effused many times before. The interjections I made were to steer in the direction of the feeling she had voiced. A question of, "what exactly was it [she] felt?"

Her frustration at the incomplete expression surfaced, and I retreated to show understanding - not out of the connected experience, but from the prodding. Indicating I had no wish to cause distress but rather to understand, and she needn't attempt to define the motivation: only show it to me, if she could. More relaxed, she continued. Just around the bend of thought I felt it coming, that elusive and nuanced article.

None of this represents the strangeness of that evening, and so far is par for this form of meditation. The strange thing happened next: something hit me, almost tangibly.

It was as though a voice had been speaking the whole time in the background, unheard until the volume increased and/or proximity decreased. I felt it move from ahead of me and to my left to directly before my imagined face, and heard as it did so, "...and this is over." It came across as a stern reprimand with startling (but not violent) finality, and immediately upon hearing the words I found myself as I was - sitting on the floor of the room with my back to the door, and nearly an hour's time passed. The voice had not felt like hers.

I could not reestablish the connection. Nor the next night. Other's around me began to take notice as I failed to have my typically projected presence around me (on the plus side, I could sneak up on them again). Even J, a friend skeptical of the whole process, was forced to proclaim, "Dude - your brain's like Swiss cheese!" Indeed, I felt broken.

Eventually I reclaimed a minor measure of the same control - but the candle has never been within me since. I can see it afar, feel its radiant warmth, but never bond or connect internally. There is a bitterness hanging over the imposed distance, and I feel robbed.

There were too many experiences throughout the 5 years of developing the talent for me to dismiss this all as a fanciful trick of my mind in creating a spatialized reference of imagined (or remembered from the subconscious from previous interaction) content. Too many active examples, some with documentation; most, however, difficult to put to those terms.

I have no glass to raise in remembrance. No ritual of mourning or moment of silence. This is the first homage I've paid to it with any energy. Recalling it has been both painful and intoxicating. Mostly painful.

I long to touch it all again.

Is this fiction? Leave your comments.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dispelling Notions of a Misunderstood Genius

The Harry Potter books are wildly successful throughout the world in large part because the title character with which the reader is intended to identify possesses some tremendous capabilities not yet fully revealed, and surprising even to himself. This foreshadowed greatness, rather than creating a weight of responsibility and expectation of equally great burdens, instead focuses on the "hey, look how awesome it will be" factor.

This taps very directly into a typically under-developed sense of personal potential in the reader. Especially in the United States, where the conflicting cultures of "you can do anything you put your mind to" and the mundane reality of "would you like fries with that" create an unresolved inner belief that one is destined for greater things than "this" (current circumstance); and thus never fully accepting the present reality, but detaching, dissociating, and responding with great frustration until much of it collapses unsupported by daily care and attention.

These impressions of unfettered success waiting to be discovered are compounded and artificially inflated by a national preoccupation with celebrity and the massive success of those already well acquainted with privilege. The inner turmoil arising from an inability to reconcile the reaching for stars with the feet on the ground often lead to the middle-management whining and passive-aggressive behaviors so commonly found in the work place; illustrated be the defining points A.2, A.5 and A.6 from the *DSM-IV (TR):

  • (2) complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
  • (5) expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate
  • (6) voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune

These (among the other points in the same text) create a self-reinforcing perspective of buried greatness, the fulfillment of which is continually deferred. Not wanting to be the reason for the perceived failure (amplified in weight disproportionately high even to the exaggerated concepts of potential), the blame (and often proposed impetus for resolution) is pushed firmly on to others. In its most developed form, any attempted aspiration is also sabotaged by the aspirer in order to maintain the un-happy status quo wherein the identity now lay, and responsibility is still firmly beyond the horizon.

This post is about the mythical genius though, so I'll get back to that.

This desire then, to see oneself as phenomenal (even if unfulfilled or unsupported by evidence, and if not descending into the passive-aggressive behavior pattern) can cause an incompetence expressed in the confidence of the individual so-believing. This person is then unable to see the possible drawbacks of his or her proposed plans of action, feels exempted from the mundane rules (created for "others" to follow), and finds ways of twisting perception of nearly any outcome into a success - which measure of success may often in reality come "in spite of" rather than "because of" the decisions which were made. Give them a little financial backing or relationships to a few connections in "the biz" (whichever "the biz" it my be) and voila: incompetent leadership in prominent and visible positions reinforcing the lot of the stereotypes outlined here (to which I will also add the belief that one need not actually do anything / exert effort to achieve such success).

Genuine successes do exist, with examples of astounding capability untempered by formal training: musical genius of previous centuries (Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky [less recognized in this capacity because he was celebrated somewhat in his own life time, but this can be discussed later]), touted contemporary intelligence in science (Sagan, Eintstein, Hawking), the celebrated savant (a la "Rainman") where supposedly latent mental capacity is brought to light. These extremely rare circumstances do exist.

However, mistaking desire for capacity, and uninhibited confidence for success, do not a savant make. I do firmly believe that most success is as a result of the hard work of those who achieve it, over many many long years of toil. I also believe one must know and recognize inherent limitations and struggle to overcome the same as opposed to deferring to another path still intent on finding that buried genius (for example, believing that some other easy path of little resistence will still yield the unbridled capacity for greatness).

I need to recognize and remember this as much as anyone. Much of my life I've not had to work hard at the acquisition of talent - the environment in which I was raised presented ample opportunity for self-actualization with exposure to sciences, the arts, good literature, and imagination. However, this will only carry me so far - the extents to which I have become much better acquainted in recent years. I'd rather not be satisfied with the limitations as I've encountered them, but I will not be able to easily dismiss or circumvent them. I must better myself through concerted effort in formal education to advance and improve one small step at a time until the hurdles are overcome and I can stand victorious. Much patience, much time and effort. Hopefully with great return.

Wiser people than I have made mistakes I should be learning from - otherwise I, and most all the world, will at best be gifted amateurs.

*p.791 - "Research criteria for passive-aggressive personality disorder": American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.