THE ROOSTER IN CHULA VISTA
It’s a shy rooster —
an immigrant, perhaps,
embarrassed about his accent —
his crowing muted, as if he came
from a fog-laden century.
No roosters to reply.
If not for the neighbors,
I’d crow back, out of charity.
Maybe this displaced rooster
crows a warning. Location,
he crows, location.
Here even an archangel
would be muted by the stench
of burnt barbecue. Save yourself —
he struggles to sustain
the last unraveling note —
Go to New York and network
with the gilt-throated Pavarottis.
Here there is no one to listen
to the aria I send out at dawn,
creating the world, no one.
I feel sorry for the rooster,
but I’m waiting for the owl
bringing me message
from the Goddess of Wisdom.
Will it arrive in soundless flight,
an overlap of cunning feathers?
Or is the rooster, a priest of Light,
the wise one, not posing over and over
the same question to the dark?
He practices his sacred art
so we don’t die of the answer.
~ Oriana © 2015
When I came to the U.S., I was so young and naive that it took me a while to realize I would be an immigrant for the rest of my life. True, immigrant “Americanize” to a various extent. The more you “adjust,” the more you realize that the price is giving up your own soul. It’s not just the culture of your native country that you give up (some immigrants try to cling to it, but the culture in exile is artificial, already hybridized, a poor substitute) — it’s also the person you used to be. The pressure and power of popular culture are tremendous. And the people you meet are mainly the product of popular culture, and not, say, of reading Shakespeare.
There is also the pressure to be more extraverted, semi-manic (what used to be called “perky” — now it’s just perpetually busy), and shallow. It takes a while to create a refuge where you can be quiet and not feel bombarded by incessant advertising and other interruptions. Meanwhile it can feel like being destroyed. There is only one word I want to say to those who are considering immigration, but whose lives in the native country are not really all that bad: “Don’t.”
Nothing is all good or all bad. The upside is the mental enlargement that comes from the exposure to a different culture. And yes, I did get to read Shakespeare in the original, and it was not a disappointment.
ESTHER PEREL: DON'T EVEN THINK OF CONFESSING YOUR AFFAIR
In the past we derived our sense of security and of self not just from marriage, but from our bonds with the wider community, she says. Consequently, marital intimacy has become burdened with expectations, some of them highly contradictory. In short, love and security need closeness; passion and desire need space.
“This wholesale sharing and constant transparency deprives us of a certain mystery, of an ability to remain curious about one another,” says Perel. “It is a real experiment to try to bring together two fundamental human needs – our need for security, and our need for adventure – in one relationship, to ask the same person to make us feel safe and stable, and make us feel playful, mischievous and adventurous.”
So, are the two fundamentally incompatible? “Not incompatible, no. It is a tension, a finely calibrated balance. It is a paradox to be managed, not a problem to be solved.”
Furthermore, we have come to see sex as the barometer of the health of a relationship – for the first time in history it has become not a function for procreation, but a defining factor in marital happiness. “And happiness has, in turn, become the defining feature for staying in a marriage or not. Before, happiness was in the afterlife,” she says.
The only real backlash over the book [Mating in Captivity] – which has been published in 25 languages – concerns her assertion that infidelity doesn’t need to be confessed. “There is a moralistic aspect to infidelity in America, that is not universal,” says Perel. “There is more emphasis on the lying, on the definition of honesty as confession.”
How she approaches it with patients sounds unorthodox. “Several times already this week I’ve asked [male] clients, ‘Why did you tell her?’ They say, ‘I wanted to be honest,’” she cries, slapping her palm on the table in frustration. “I say to them, ‘For what? Who benefited from this? You? Your conscience? Your marriage, which is completely in shambles? Couldn’t you just finish this [infidelity] off and move on?’”
Our increasing life expectancy, Perel believes, also complicates matters, and raises questions about whether lifelong monogamy is a culturally constructed ideal. “It is something we have never had to consider before: 60, 70, 80 years with someone,” she says. “Many of us are going to have two or three marriages in our lives. Either we will reinvent ourselves with the same person, or we will reinvent ourselves with another.”
And while she emphasizes that she does not spout tips on putting the sizzle back into their sex lives, she does have some simple suggestions about how space and closeness can begin to co-exist within a relationship. Go to the cinema solo, to see the films you want to see, not only those that both of you agree on, she advises. If your partner loves to stay longer at parties than you, take two cars, or let him arrange a lift home for later. If he hates to travel, go away for a long weekend with some friends instead.
“It is about not being threatened by the difference of the other, not being threatened that if you don’t do everything together, then it means that you’re not close, that you are not intimate. We need multiple connections, multiple attachments. If you start to feel that you have given up too many parts of yourself to be with your partner, then one day you will end up looking for another person in order to reconnect with those lost parts.”
Perel is careful not to sound in favor of infidelity. But she asks her readers to understand the reasons for it, the complexity of it, the benefits as well as the price. She encourages tolerance.
Here is some more from Esther Perel:
In America, infidelity is described in terms of perpetrators and victims, damages and cost. We are far more tolerant of divorce with all the dissolutions of the family structure than of transgression . . . Adultery becomes a moral failing as we move to a description of character flaws: liar, cheater, philanderer, womanizer, slut. In this view, understanding an act of infidelity as a simple transgression or meaningless fling, or a quest for aliveness is an impossibility.
An affair sometimes captures an existential conflict within us: We seek safety and predictability, qualities that propel us toward committed relationships, but we also thrive on novelty and diversity. Modern romance promises, among other things, that it’s possible to meet these two opposing sets of needs in one place. If the relationship is successful, in theory, there is no need to look for anything elsewhere. Therefore, if one strays, there must be something missing. I’m not convinced.
The lamentations I hear most include feelings of loneliness and emotional deprivation. There comes a point when one no longer can tolerate feeling devalued and taken for granted. Lack of attention and the sense of having become a function rather than a person can instigate a wish for escape. Sexual boredom and frustration, or plain sexlessness, can lead to what Steven Mitchell dubs “acts of exuberant defiance.”
Sometimes, we seek the gaze of another not because we reject our partner, but because we are tired of ourselves. It isn’t our partner we aim to leave, rather the person we’ve become. Even more than the quest for a new lover we want a new self.
The men and women I work with invest more in love and happiness than ever before, yet in a cruel twist of fate it is this very model of love and sex that’s behind the exponential rise of infidelity and divorce. We ask one person to give us what an entire community once provided —and we live twice as long. It’s a tall order for a party of two.
It’s interesting that Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, said something similar: We often seek not so much a new partner, as a new life. We become a different person with the lover, someone we rather like. The alternative can be emotional deadness.
Moore also observed, “Relationship at a distance can do things for the heart that a closer, day-to-day relationship cannot.”
Neither Perel nor Moore advocate “open marriage.” At best they hint at a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — taking great care not to hurt either partner.
I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt. ~ Maya Angelou
Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find out.
~ Roger Ebert (1942-2013)
ARE YOU NARCISSISTIC ENOUGH? IS THERE GOOD AND BAD NARCISSISM?
“They’ll never make it,” a friend said, pointing to two women poets at Beyond Baroque. “Not brains enough.” “Now, you have brains enough,” she continued. “What you don’t have is experience. You need to travel and have affairs.”
The two women indeed never “made it.” Neither did I, in the sense of wider recognition — though when a stranger says to me, “I love your work,” I feel the reward is sufficient. Still, some people feel puzzled about my obscurity. I no longer do. There is also another question: “Are you abnormal enough?” Friends agree I meet that criterion as well. I fail when it comes to connections and living “in the right place at the right time.” But most of all, there is yet another question: “Are you narcissistic enough?”
Perhaps narcissism isn’t monolithic either. Could there be good narcissism — or at least the kind that’s absolutely necessary if you are to get ahead as an artist? Or even simply “succeed in life,” however we define it?
“Freud, who considered narcissism primarily a female matter, used it as part of his question about what women want, and his answer: a penis. Women adorned their faces and figures—that is, became narcissistic—to compensate for the lack of the desired organ. This focus on their physical charms made them self-satisfied and, therefore, emotionally impoverished.
The primary characteristic of narcissism is grandiosity. Narcissists exaggerate their achievements and what they are certain will be their future triumphs. They believe that they are special and can be understood only by special people, of high status. They feel entitled to extraordinary privileges. (They have the right to cut in line, to dominate the conversation, etc.) They show no empathy for other people. They envy them, and believe that they are envied in return. They cannot tolerate criticism. In life, we make moral judgments about such behavior.
Elizabeth Lunbeck, a professor of history at Vanderbilt University, has just written a book, “The Americanization of Narcissism” (Harvard), in defense of this condition. Her argument is an attack on the “cultural critics,” as she calls them, who wrote about the American society of the nineteen-fifties through the seventies. To her, that means, above all, Christopher Lasch, whose best-selling “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” (1978) was a scorching denunciation of what seemed to him the moral emptiness of life in the postwar United States.
Lunbeck finds Lasch’s complaints ridiculously exaggerated, but what annoys her most is that he tied his critique to the psychiatric definition of narcissism, with the whole range of disabilities that this entailed. A new kind of person was being born on our shores, Lasch proclaimed. Literally, he said, the “underlying structure of personality” was changing. Americans, formerly stoical and severe—Grant Wood types—had become addicted to instant gratification. They were mouths, sucking and whining.
Lasch, needless to say, was not an admirer of the counterculture of the nineteen-sixties, but neither did he like the better-behaved bourgeois—the counterculturalists’ parents—with their insatiable consumerism. Modern technology, he claimed, had made Americans, especially women, dependent on commercial products, and thus deprived them of self-reliance. He disapproved of washing machines and birth control.
Freud claimed that an analyst’s position with regard to [narcissistic] patients—indeed, to all patients—should be one of “abstinence.” The analyst should say little, just listen. Sandor Ferenczi’s view was the opposite: what patients, especially narcissistic patients, needed was empathy and affection. They had not got this from their parents, and that was their problem. Ferenczi wrote that with difficult patients he wanted to be like “an affectionate mother.”
But Lunbeck’s discussion of Ferenczi is only a lead-up to her portrait of Heinz Kohut, a Viennese doctor who, fleeing the Nazis, immigrated to the United States in 1940. It was partly because of Kohut that narcissistic personality disorder became a live issue in American psychiatry in the seventies. In that decade, Kohut was building a new theory of the disorder, based, in large part, on Ferenczi.
Like Ferenczi, Kohut claimed that narcissism was due to low self-esteem, the product, in turn, of a mother’s failure to support her child’s natural sense of omnipotence, his conviction that his finger painting was the best finger painting in all the world. (Lunbeck says that Kohut blamed this maternal negligence, in part, on the women’s movement.) The child’s grandiosity, Kohut believed, would diminish in time, but it would still be there—in the bank, as it were—to protect him later, in the face of disappointment and failure.
Kohut acknowledged that there was such a thing as “bad narcissism,” akin to the DSM definition: arrogant, demanding, and so forth. But from this bad narcissism he split off a new “good narcissism,” the feeling that brings color to your cheeks, boosts your self-esteem, makes you vivacious and creative. It also makes you loving, he claimed. Whatever else people said about narcissism, the essence of it, most of them agreed, was selfishness. Kohut ridiculed this idea. The problem with selfish people, he said, was not that they were narcissistic, but that they were “not narcissistic enough.”
Kohut had a huge influence on child-rearing, which is still in force.
The charismatic leaders, possessors of good narcissism, [are] “attractive, successful, lovable, and good in bed.” The victims, on the other hand, are characterized as “deficient in self-esteem, perpetually seeking care, protection, and love” from these alluring folk.
Simon Blackburn, author of “Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love,” counsels a golden mean. We should be reasonably kind to ourselves, he says, but we should not make our decisions in “pure and lofty indifference to the world.” We should care what others think. “Good manners are a small but constant adjustment to the reasonable expectations or needs of others, little tokens acknowledging their right to a certain space.”
He doesn’t regard sin as a big, Faustian choice. He thinks that if you fall it’s in the direction that you were leaning, and that whether you fall or not depends mostly on what your parents taught you. He suspects that there is no such thing as the “self”—bad news for narcissists. Like many philosophers and psychologists, he believes that what we call the self may be not a wonderful inner thing that is ours alone, and the framer of our destiny, but just the sum of our experience.
[Blackburn takes] a middle position on narcissism. Be nice to your narcissism, he says, but not too nice. Think of others.
The most provocative statement here is no doubt: The problem with selfish people, Kohut said, was not that they were narcissistic, but that they were “not narcissistic enough.” I think this is pretty much the current view as long as we substitute “self-esteem” for “narcissism.”
It’s commonly noted that in women, not being “narcissistic enough” often translates into the martyr or victim syndrome. One way or another, a healthy self-love is needed for a healthy, non-self-destructive generosity to others. And when it comes to artists, some degree of grandiosity may simply be a necessity.
I also heard the view: “Teach your child to esteem others, and he’ll have good self-esteem.” There is much to be said for the view that if we teach a child how to value others, the child will also come to value himself.
By the way, I don’t think supportive love is needed only in childhood. We need it in every stage of life. And any supportive love is therapy for what we may have lacked before. It doesn’t even have to come from a human being. I’ve seen a woman transformed from a bitter sarcastic type to a perfect sweetheart after she acquired a husky. It was stunning to see her become a different person once love entered her life — never mind it was a dog. With another friend, not quite as dramatically, it was the stray two kittens she took in.
And now for bad narcissism:
DUALISM: THE STRONGEST PREDICTOR OF SUPERNATURAL BELIEFS
"In recent years, psychologists have come to understand religion and paranormal belief as resulting, in most people, from simple errors in reasoning. You believe in God or astrology or a purpose in life because you apply ideas about people—that they have thoughts and intentions—to the natural world. Some display this tendency more than others, but it’s there in everyone.
Dualism was the strongest predictor of the three types of supernatural belief. It’s the foundation for belief in God, a disembodied mind. It’s also necessary for belief in spirits, part of the paranormal package. And it may encourage belief in life’s purpose because people see disembodied intentionality acting everywhere, or because belief in the afterlife enhances life’s meaning. . . . Cartesian mind-body dualism, the idea that a mind can exist independently of a body, allows for souls, ghosts, spirits, and Gods, all made of disembodied mind-stuff.
Another psychological process related to mysticism is anthropomorphism, the tendency to apply human-like traits to non-human entities or concepts. (See chapter 6 of my book: “The World is Alive.”) God or the Universe is hearing your prayers. Your laptop meant to crash during your presentation. Your dog understands you. Anthropomorphism can be motivated by loneliness or the need to predict and control our environment. It’s a form of pattern-seeking in which the pattern is another coherent mind.
Anthropomorphism could lead to paranormal belief if you see the world as alive and receptive to your thoughts or spells, or predictable through astrology. It might lead to belief in life’s purpose if one sees the whole world as conspiring to help or harm you. “Anthropomorphism of ‘life’ or ‘the universe’ shouldn’t be any different from anthropomorphizing the ocean, albeit a little bit more abstract,” Willard tells me. “Life has intentions for you.” Anthropomorphism does not increase belief in God, however. Somehow seeing the world as alive doesn’t translate into conceiving of one central personality pulling all the strings."
Poznań, Poland: Before and after the mural. Photo: Beata Kowalczyk
Clouds are so wonderful, who needs god? One of the great pleasures of atheism is being able to look at the sky and loving the sky; to look at a tree and loving that tree; of loving beauty and nature in general, without the barrier of inserting an invisible man into everything and worrying about your salvation. The world becomes so rich and enlivened once you know that that disastrous figment of human imagination truly doesn't exist.
Then suddenly I remembered: it’s about fear. The early man didn’t understand clouds and thunder, so there had to be a malignant storm god up there casting the lightning, a cruel deity to be appeased with lots of animal slaughter.
IS IT NECESSARY TO BELIEVE IN GOD? ONE REFORM RABBI’S REPLY
After this year’s Yom Kippur services, a friend of mine approached his rabbi with this question: “Is it necessary to believe in God?” He expected the rabbi to dance around the question, but what came back was straightforward: “No. What is important is how we treat people.”
And if it's not necessary to believe in god to be a good person, and prayers aren't answered unless already part of the Master Plan, then god is entirely useless, even as a fictional entity. These days the only use may be to justify the horrors commonplace in the most religious countries, and sectarian warfare.
And those who delight in the thought of hearing from heaven the screams of non-believers in hell (I just read a comment that expressed precisely that joyful anticipation as the chief -- in fact, for that commentator, sole and sufficing pleasure of heaven) should be further disappointed to learn that according to the more recent teachings, the elect will not be aware of those in hell, not even their family members. I say “more recent,” since Tertullian, one of the earliest Christian theologians (1555-240 AD), wrote that watching those in hell would far surpass the pleasures of going to the circus.
ONLY 58% OF AMERICANS STILL BELIEVE IN HELL
It doesn’t surprise me that the belief in hell is waning, since there is less and less tolerance for cruelty, and besides, as soon as I arrived, I noticed that Americans don’t see themselves as sinners (a huge change after Polish catholics) deserving any kind of punishment, much less eternal. The most recent (2013) Harris poll found the belief in Satan and hell down to 58%. I expect this to slide below 50% soon.
“It is increasingly difficult to convince educated people that they and their friends and children deserve infinite suffering for finite failings—or that a god who acts like an Iron Age tyrant (or domestic abuser) is the model of perfect love. A group called Child Evangelism Fellowship aroused intense opposition in Portland last summer in part because outsiders to biblical Christianity were appalled that insiders would try to convert small children by threatening them with torture.
The appeal of hell as a part of the faith package appears to be in decline, even among Evangelicals. According to a 2011 survey, while 92% of Americans claimed some sort of belief in God, only 75% believed in hell. A 2013 Harris poll put belief in the devil and hell at 58 percent. As one theology professor, Mike Wittmer, put it: “In a pluralistic, post-modern world, students are having a more difficult time with (the idea of) people going to hell forever because they didn't believe the right thing.”
The decline of hell-belief may be due to the same factors that may be causing the decline in bible belief more broadly — globalization and the internet. It gets harder to imagine oneself blissfully indifferent to the eternal torture of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and atheists when those people have names and faces and are Facebook friends.
THE DEVIL EXPLAINS HEAVEN
The last man pats the devil’s furry paw.
There, there, he says.
And they embrace.
The devil feels the warmth of human arms;
he receives affection for the first time
in eternity. He smiles, and his face becomes
And confides what heaven really is:
a replica of Circus Maximus,
just larger, almost infinite.
The devils were bred like pitbulls,
for fights, bets, entertainment.
Angels abuse them
to keep them mean.
They love to throw a human
like a bone into the pit,
and watch the devils
go for it.
FUCOSE AND FUCOIDAN
Fucose (6-deoxy-L-galactose) is another important simple sugar., one of the eight essential sugars It exists in our cells mostly in the form of a fucoidan.
Fucose and fucoidan are found throughout the body. “Fucose is found in the photoreceptor layer of the retina of the eye. Fucose is also found in the skin, brain cells, and kidneys. Fucose is also excreted in breast milk and may play a part in the transfer of immunity to the newborn. In addition, fucose has an active role in the immune system and in red blood cell function.
According to research, fucose is important in regulation of the immune system, which may affect the activity of inflammatory diseases in the body. Fucose has also been found to inhibit the ability of bacteria to adhere to cells, without which infection cannot occur. In addition, research has also shown fucose to inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells.”
Fucoidan is a sulfated polysaccharide of fucose; it may also contain some glucoronic acid, xylose, or glucose It’s commonly found in brown marine algae and in shiitake. Fucoidan has aroused interest because of the exceptional health and life expectancy typical of people who consume a lot of seaweed — mainly the Japanese.
Eating foods rich in fucoidan can help your immune system fight off infection and disease. One of the most powerful health benefits claimed for fucoidan is its functional support of the body’s immune system. Numerous studies have focused on this aspect of fucoidan’s medicinal properties. The polysaccharide gives the immune system a big boost by enhancing phagocytosis, the process through which white blood cells attack and destroy pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. Fucoidan also increases the number of mature white blood cells that are circulating in your body, thus bolstering the first line of defense against infection and disease.
Fucoidan helps activate specialized immune cells called dendritic cells, whose function is to present information to other immune cells and prepare them to mount an attack against a pathogen. Fucoidan also activates T cells, as well as enhances the antiviral and anticancer response of the immune system.
Thus, fucoidan can stimulate acute immune response, but it also dampens immune over- activation that can lead to autoimmune diseases.
Fucoidan can also hinder the migration of of cancer cells by inhibiting molecules called SELECTINS. Cancer cells can use these molecules to spread to other parts of the body.
It’s also by inhibiting selections that fucoidan prevents inflammation (which relies on the migration of white blood cells) from becoming excessive.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, fucoidan helps reduce the pain of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. It also shows promise in multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.
In summary: “Fucoidan blocks action of selecting molecules that promote adhesions between cells and blood vessel walls. This prevents excessive infiltration of inflammatory cells into tissues, helping to prevent and mitigate arthritis and other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Selectin-blocade is one of the anticancer properties of fucoidan. Blocking selectins helps prevent metastatic spread of many types of cancer.
Fucoidan promotes better response to vaccines, improves immune competence, ad suppresses chronic inflammatory reactions.”