Saturday, October 24, 2015

NO JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION; THINGS DON’T HAPPEN FOR A REASON; GLUTAMATE AND SCHIZOPHRENIA

Lenticular clouds near Mt. Rainier
 
ODYSSEUS IN BARSTOW

 

If you knew what suffering awaits you,
you would stay with me and be deathless
,
croons Calypso of the Tidy Braids —

but bronze-armed Odysseus 


only broods on the beach.
His gaze caresses the watery horizon. 



He wants his own life, its breakable glory. 


He wants to be Odysseus. We praise forever
the man who chose not to be a god.

Yet I wonder: would I choose a life  


rich with the journey, yet doomed to lap
at the shore of less and less —



I could sail an infinity of sunsets,


be it shipwrecked in Barstow, California, 

in a tract named Desert Meadows,

married beyond return
to a gun collector, TV on loud,
scrawny palm trees rasping in dry wind —




My morning walk, the hills carved in crystal. 

Petting the neighbors’ dogs and cats;
returning home to read about Odysseus.



I build a monument of pebbles
to the pebbles in Barstow, California.
Memorialize a dung beetle’s march, 



every cloudlet with its knife-blade shadow.
every fissure in the sun-struck ground. 


I trace faces of the dead in the dust —

the silent dead who sing life’s siren song: 

the mere joy of existence. Even in 
Barstow, caressed by the moonlight.

~ Oriana © 2015


Odysseus disguised as a beggar.
 


This poem is one of my personal favorites. I take joy in announcing that Nietzsche was wrong and what doesn’t kill you does NOT make you stronger. After a traumatic experience, you are lucky if your PTSD isn’t too disabling. It’s being happy and fulfilled and loved by the right person that makes you stronger. The less stressed you are, the better your health and your brain function.

In the same contrarian spirit, unlike Odysseus, if offered immortality I would take it, even at a price. I identify with Odysseus to a significant extent, but I would take immortality. Why? Simply so I could go on having consciousness. I enjoy the company of my mind. There’s never a dull moment; my mind keeps surprising me.

(True, there came a time when depression got to be repetitive and boring; that’s when I became fed up with it and ready to let go.)

I love my own mind. I love having a mind, having a consciousness. Always new adventures! And yes, I can imagine being shipwrecked in a dull place. I don’t need to be “where the action is.” I can take that for a short time only. The favorite part of every trip has always been returning home.

The worst deprivation? Not having a home (home = a refuge from stress; a place where I can be myself and do what I love doing). I am not a wanderer, except in the inner sense. I have to have a base camp, my queendom, my very own corner of the world. I'm like a cat: if I have a home, I am happy.

Remember that at seventeen I left home in a very big way. It wasn’t any kind of “running away from home.” Nor was it a hero’s setting out on a quest. I don’t identify with warrior heroes setting out to kill a dragon. I can’t imagine what woman could, even though the media have introduced female warriors, ludicrous escapist imitations of Superman — tall, athletic women who fight the forces of darkness. They never shop for groceries or change diapers. If such wonder women exist, I know I'm not going to run into them where I live.

Is there even such a thing as a heroine’s journey to begin with?  There are patterns in women’s lives: betrayal in love and self-discovery are frequent. Is self-discovery and simply “being yourself” a heroic achievement if you happen to be a woman? Is “having your own life” rather than being mainly a service person to a man still far from what an average woman ends up with?

All we can say is that there is no single “heroine’s journey.” But whatever these journeys are, they are not those of a “warrior princess.”

For a while I strongly identified with an “artist’s journey.” It took a bad wreck, and some related hurtful adventure, to end that particular phase of my life. Again, it was my mind that made me survive the end of what at first seemed infinite. My mind kept whispering that it was still there, and much larger than a device for writing poems, which was challenging but also terribly restrictive and time-devouring.

You may ask, “But isn’t a woman’s journey about love and family?” For most women, that may be true, and the supportive role needs to be honored as much as being the quester and achiever. But for a growing number of women, their journey is neither about achievement nor about raising a family.
 

Still, there is the importance of affection. The longer I live, the less I worship achievement and the more I treasure affection. Looking at the clasped hands that survive of the statue of the Pharaoh Akhenaton and his wife Nefertiti and Beautiful (1350 bc), I feel that the most important part survived. 

 
Likewise, I’ve come to see cooperation as an essential part of achievement, not just the lonely individual struggle.

But, above all, life is much larger than “achievement.” That’s where “mere existence” comes in. It’s fantastic simply to be alive, taking in the astonishing world, both the outside world and the the thoughts mysteriously arising, like clouds passing through the sky.

Even in Barstow, to see the moon is a joy. To smell the wind. To hear the coyotes laugh in the hills.

As long as there is consciousness to take it in, just to exist is transcendent. 


 

HAROLD BLOOM: YAHWEH AND JESUS ARE INCOMPATIBLE; THERE IS NO “JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION”
 
There is no Judeo-Christian tradition anymore than there could be, say, a Christian-Islamic tradition.

~ "Harold Bloom: All through the Hebrew Bible, the prophets perpetually proclaim that the Jewish people, that Israel, has failed to keep the covenant with Yahweh. Nowhere do they say what is palpably true on the basis of Jewish history and of human history in general, which is that Yahweh has failed to keep his covenant with the people.

I say in the book again and again that when Yahweh, which is the name of the high god ultimately in the Hebrew Bible, that when Yahweh is asked by Moses to give Moses his name and in the Hebrew, Yahweh punning on his own name, massively says, ‘Tell them that  [words in Hebrew] has sent you’, which is translated in the King James Bible ultimately as ‘I am that I am’, which I translate in order to get it into an English that will make sense, ‘I will be present wherever and whenever I choose to be present’, which also implies its rather frightening corollary, ‘And I will absent wherever and whenever I choose to be absent’. It seems to me that he has chosen to be absent throughout most of human history, including Jewish history.

NPR: Well, if Jesus is like Hamlet for you, Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Bible, comes closest to King Lear, a passionate, impulsive figure.

Prof. BLOOM: I think that Shakespeare probably founds his extraordinary figure of King Lear — irascible, jealous, intense, immensely awesome, angry, bereft, dangerous
on the Geneva Bible's version of — which is essentially not very different from what is now the authorized, the King James...

There are four different layers in the five books of Moses. The original strata of Yahweh as written by the author we call the Yahwist is of a remarkably impish kind of a person. He is not God the Father. He is something of a mischief maker. He conducts on-the-ground inspections all the time to satisfy his curiosity. He is very much a human being. He prefers the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden because evidently he gets hot as human beings get hot. He picnics on the side of Mount Sinai with Moses and 70 elders of Zion, who stare at him silently while he sits there silently and he eats and they eat. He closes the door of Noah's ark with his own hands. With his own hands, he buries his prophet, Moses.

And most of all, with his own hands, at the beginning, almost like a child playing with a mud pie, he plays with the moistened Earth and makes there a figurine. And then he breathes life into that figurine, and man becomes, as the Hebrew Bible says, a living soul and this is Adam.
That is not what most people, I admit, think of as God.

God the Father is a later invention, on the one hand, of the Talmudical rabbis but primarily of Christian theology when they devise the Trinity, when Jesus of Nazareth, the more or less historical figure, has become an absolutely different figure, a Greek dying and reviving, God, a theological God. Yahweh is not a theological God at all. He is a human, all-too-human God.

The basic argument of this book, “Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine,” is that we have three very different personages or beings: the more or less historical Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew of the first century of the common era; the Greek theological formulation, or God, Jesus Christ; and the original God of the Hebrews, now greatly shrunken into God the Father, Yahweh, he who will be present wherever and whenever he chooses to be present and will keep himself absent when perhaps we most want him and need him. These three figures are so incompatible with one another that I don't believe it is possible to bring them coherently together in any single statement. They come out of totally different realms of discourse. Trying to think them together is really an act of psychic violence.

The operations of the mind have got to become extremely distorted in order to bring the more or less historical Jesus, the Greek theological God Jesus Christ and the human, all-too-human God, Yahweh, into some coherent relationship. The normal processes of thought are being disturbed, and an act of imposition is taking place.

NPR: Now you write that a Messiah who is God and who dies on the cross as an atonement for sins is irreconcilable with the Hebrew Bible. Why is that?

Prof. BLOOM: Yahweh does not commit suicide. And if one is to take the argument of Christianity, then Yahweh is, in effect, committing suicide through his supposed son. Yahweh also does not, even as a descending dove upon a human female virgin, bring forth a son. This is material that comes to one out of Greek and pagan traditions but has nothing to do with traditional Judaism.

I quote the great scholar of Hebraic matters Jacob Neusner as saying, "Judaism and Christianity are different groups of people talking different languages about different Gods to very different people." There is no Judeo-Christian tradition anymore than there could be, say, a Christian-Islamic tradition.

Whether 50 years from now, there will be of the 14 million now self-identified Jews more than a mere scattering, I would not be prepared to say. What that means about the existence of Yahweh is also a very interesting question. He is, after all, covenanted. Would he survive the disappearance of the Jewish people if that, indeed, is what happens? I do not know. I may, as I say, lack trust in the covenant, but though I keep asking Yahweh to go away, I say so many times in this book, he won't go away. He haunts me.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5048309


Oriana:

It struck me way back, in my teens, that no Hebrew prophet speaks of Yahweh as “my father” —  it’s The Lord, it’s “Boss.” Then comes Jesus, who seems to be a messenger of an entirely different god, a non-punitive god (there are exceptions, but the non-punitive god shines through)  — a god endowed with radical non-judgment and compassion entirely uncharacteristic of the times. I agree that trying to reconcile the two testaments is an act of psychic violence. And it doesn’t work. As Bloom observes, Jesus is a dying-and-resurrecting Greek mystery god. Yahweh is not the sort of  deity who’d commit suicide, even with the idea of resurrection later. He’s too full of ego for that.

I like Bloom’s parallel between Yahweh and King Lear. I would add: the need for flattery. That’s a very strong trait the two have in common.

ALREADY THE GNOSTICS OBJECTED TO THE RETENTION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
The observation that the Old Testament and the New are incompatible is not exactly new. The Gnostics were a major group who said, "Look, no way was Jesus the son of Yahweh. Yahweh is evil. Jesus is the messenger of the true god." They were entangled in the imaginary, but at least their true god (Pleroma, or "fullness") wasn't as distasteful. There was also a major figure of Sophia, Wisdom, who also was the Divine Feminine. The Gnostics were seen as such powerful opposition to the church that they were exterminated. As usual, Catholicism triumphed by exterminating the opposition. The first time they failed was with Luther (there was of course a price on his head).

There were other voices calling for letting go of the Old Testament god and making Christ the sole deity — but those were mainly “heretics” who got burned at the stake. Then came Swedenborg, who doesn’t make an explicit case for dropping Yahweh, but simply pays no attention to the archaic deity. Swedenborg’s god is Christ. But Swedenborg did not attract many followers. The denomination exists to this day — I stumbled into a Swedenborgian church in Boston — but to avoid extinction, the church has latched on to New Age concepts.

Still, the voices calling for liberation from the Old Testament exist, but they are feeble and scattered. I think the movement will gain strength in the coming decade: why don’t we just drop the Old Testament, and make Christianity about Christ? Let’s take only those stories which we find inspiring (this would mean excluding some of the New Testament too). Let’s focus only on that which we find uplifting, which helps us live. But that’s still a huge step, and people are still too timid. And most people are too indifferent, and don’t want to think about the difficult issues. And after all, which are talking about choosing between two unreal beings!

By the way, the selective approach would mean that we don’t “revere” the ancient texts as revelation — or else claim the authority to decide which stories we will accept. That is close to saying, “We will decide what in here strikes as as holy and gives us moral guidance; the rest is an  archaic encumbrance.” It would be an admission of how human, all too human, the whole enterprise is. We would know we are dealing with mythology.

*

The elevation of Jesus to the status of deity required the invention of the Trinity. Well, a binary deity was possible, but three was a magical number, and the Greeks were already familiar with one god in three forms, though this seemed a more female pattern: Maiden-Mother-Crone.

The divinity of Jesus was precarious, given the Jewish origins of Christianity. There could hardly be a greater blasphemy to the Jews than to say that Yahweh had a mortal son with a mortal woman — though later this son sat on the right hand of Yahweh, and was actually co-eternal with his father, his stay on earth having been only temporary. The church was defensive about the concept of the Trinity. We were warned against trying to use reason (because reason will always choose against god, and god must be chosen at any price) — but we especially warned not to even try to understand the Trinity. It was forbidden to think about the Trinity.

Fortunately children have no particular inclination to contemplate the mysteries of the Trinity. I was more interested by far in why “Mr. God” (as we politely called him) was hiding — why didn’t he show himself, why didn't he speak, or at least give a sign? Why didn't he answer prayers? Those, to me, were the burning questions, and not the Trinity.

Even so, I was suspicious of the foreign, Hebrew roots of Christianity. Why were we learning about a remote place with camels and deserts, and people who worshiped by slaughtering lambs?  And back then I didn’t even know that the Catholic mass was based on the Temple ritual of animal sacrifice. But that gets into yet another angle of the awkward fusion of the Old and the New Testaments. Even as a child I sensed that it was not a good fit.



STEPHEN MITCHELL AND “THE REAL GOD”

Mitchell: “People have been trying to rationalize God’s lies for thousands of years. These stories are very powerful and are at the root of our culture. But you have to realize that the God of Genesis is a human creation, and not the God at the center of the universe,” says the celebrated translator Stephen Mitchell in an interview with Psychology Today, November/December 1996. Later he speaks of “the ultimate intelligence of the universe, which some call God or Tao.”

Mitchell states that he believes that there is absolute justice in the universe, but not in the sense of punishment and reward — more in the sense of surrender to whatever happens and bearing it with grace, without resentment, trusting that all is as it should be (I dare say: here is someone who didn’t grow up under a dictatorship, raised by an Auschwitz survivor . . . who, by the way, was not broken by her camp experience, in a way bearing out what Mitchell says)

Mitchell’s wife, Byron Katie, said about him, “Stephen is brave enough to be married to the impersonal.” Maybe more and more people are becoming brave enough to regard the divine in impersonal terms, but there is still a craving for a someone or something “out there” that cares. We can’t help it: we want the universe to be friendly.


 
“SPIRITUAL NO MORE”: TO HEAVEN AND BEYOND    (redux)

The last time I set foot in a New Age bookstore I happened to be in Encinitas, that Mecca of New Age eclectic esoterica. In one of the several Lotus-something bookstores, I saw the title “To Heaven and Beyond.” AND BEYOND — as in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, a realm beyond mere bedrooms and bathrooms, new horizons that open as you part the shower curtain.

“To heaven and BEYOND.” Heaven is not enough any more. Heaven is so yesterday!

I stood there with a smile on my face – and suddenly the title of my third book came to me. You see, years ago I had an unforgettable dream of trying to save the manuscripts of my three wisdom books from the fire — then realized they were charred beyond salvaging and I’d have to re-create them. The title of the first one was The Serpent and the Dove (“Be ye as subtle as the serpent and gentle as the dove”).

It took me many years after the dream to “see” the titles of the other two books. The title of the second book was to be Letters to a Middle-Aged Poet. The third book remained a puzzle until the doors of perception were cleansed that evening in Encinitas and I saw it: Spiritual No More.

And the weight I didn’t even know I was carrying fell off me, and a feeling of great joy enveloped me as I ascended into clarity.

Now I can agree with Mary Oliver’s “You don’t have to be good” if I translate it into “You don’t have to be spiritual.”

Furthermore, I’d like to translate “what the animal of your body loves doing” to “what your mind loves doing.” If my mind is happy, my body is also happy.

I had this thought before, but now the realization was complete: instead of attending lectures on emptiness, chanting, meditation classes and the like (all wonderful for those who find nourishment in those activities), I needed to spend more of my time doing what I loved doing. Insights tend to have a stunning simplicity. Mine was: FORGET “SPIRITUALITY.” JUST DO WHAT YOU LOVE DOING.

Well, of course, a friend indulgently smiled. That stuff is for people who still haven’t figured out what to do with their lives. And I did, quite a while back, but I kept having crises and doubting my vocation.

I love having insights, especially life-changing paradigm shifts. Imagine — released from having to attend lectures on emptiness! No more chanting, unless seized by a sudden nostalgia for those vibrations setting up an odd tingling in my nose . . .  No more the stench of incense, which I always hated, going back to my Catholic childhood. No more twangy music, no more wind chimes jangling my nerves.

The energy and sense of effortless accomplishment that comes from doing what you love, and afterwards, blissfully tired, falling asleep smiling to yourself — it’s a magnificent surprise. It’s “beyond heaven,” that dull place with nothing to do. It’s the bliss of knowing, pardon the trite expression, that you are on the right path.

You can imagine people’s consternation when they’d say to me — out of habit, I suspect — “I'm a spiritual seeker,” and I would calmly reply, “I'm not.”

I wasn’t trying to shock or offend. I was trying to give them the courage to drop the cliché. It’s OK NOT to be a spiritual seeker, to be on a perpetual quest. Perhaps you’ve already found a place where you feel at home and do your best work. That place won’t necessarily remain the same for the rest of your life, no. But life will evolve as it will, quite without the aid of seeking aid from “spirit guides.” If anything, that’s trying to be too controlling. The unconscious does its best work without such meddling. Just wait.

I realized that all my “spiritual” thrashing around — normally described as “seeking” or “quest” — was like staying in a relationship with the wrong person. And there is a terrific difference between a “default” infatuation and being in love with the right person.

 
JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S “SPIRITUAL PRACTICE”

Some people are likely to ask, “But isn’t writing your spiritual practice?” No. To me writing is writing. It’s not a ritual. It’s not the least bit like prayer (at least as I’ve experienced prayer — practically the opposite of writing, which wells up from the unconscious, and progresses by a “stairway of surprise,” as Dickinson put it).

For me writing is writing, just as a tree is a tree. How magnificent to see a tree as a tree, in its beautiful tree-ness, and not a “manifestation of the Spirit.” I see only the tree and the wind in the leaves, and love the tree as a tree and the wind as wind.

Others are welcome to see the tree as the Spirit, or Gaia, or the more archaic the Earth Goddess, or Intelligent Design. “It’s a free country,” as people in Milwaukee were always telling me (oh Milwaukee, the city where I learned to say “It’s a free country,” as well as quickly mastered all the “bad words” in English).

From a poem of mine:

The same moon moved between
darkness and light-wounded clouds,
winter’s hungry Wolf Moon,

adding phantom beauty to beauty.
“That is all,” the master said.
That is all but it is splendid.”

*



 
as I see the Spirit of Milwaukee

I don’t have any special time set aside for writing. It’s not a practice – it’s writing. I write whenever quiet opens up and thoughts arise like the flight of an owl. Non-fiction prose is effortless, inspiration abundant. With poetry, it’s been more of a love-hate relationship. In the case of poetry, I write if the knocking of words inside my head becomes too painful to ignore.

Deep reading actually comes ahead of writing. Joseph Campbell was once asked, “What kind of spiritual practice do you have?” He replied, “I underline in pencil sentences in a book.” Now that brings a big smile to my face. Yes, that’s my “spiritual practice” too.

At the same time, I am happy to announce a new arrival in my scriptorium: a heart geode – it could also be called a womb geode. It’s gorgeous: beautifully polished, lined with a wealth of amethyst crystals. It’s the most beautiful thing in the house, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever owned. We carry on little conversations, the geode and I.  “Amethyst” means “not intoxicated.” In the past, my chief intoxication has been delusional, depressive thinking. Amethyst, a philosopher’s stone, keeps me cool-headed. How can I sweat the small stuff with such beauty next to me showing me what’s really important?

Crystals. Geodes. This may sounds like a throwback “spirituality.” But that’s the part of me that has always worshiped beauty. Creating and sharing beauty is at the center of my vocation. Beauty for the sake of sheer delight in beauty — not beauty as “spirit” or “pathway to the divine.” Why try to put unreal labels on the real?

Tree as tree, amethyst as amethyst. A crystal I can endow with a personal meaning, but above all a crystal whose physical structure is more profound that any theology. All actual beauty is more profound than any pathetic, world-rejecting theology (and they all reject the world for the “beyond,” don’t they?).

A friend observed, “So you too are a crystal-waving rationalist. Welcome to the sisterhood.”

At last I belong.

**

DOES EVERYTHING HAPPEN FOR A REASON?

 
When people have to cope with difficult situations in their lives, they sometimes reassure themselves by saying that everything happens for a reason. For some people, thinking this way makes it easier to deal with relationship problems, financial crises, disease, death, and even natural disasters such as earthquakes. It can be distressing to think that bad things happen merely through chance or accident. But they do.

The saying that everything happens for a reason is the modern, New Age version of the old religious saying:  “It’s God’s will.” The two sayings have the same problem – the complete lack of evidence that they’re true. Not only is there no good evidence that God exists, we have no way of knowing what it is that he (or she) wanted to happen, other than that it actually did happen.  Did God really will that hundreds of thousands of people die in an earthquake in one of the world’s poorest countries? What could be the reason for this disaster and the ongoing suffering of millions of people deprived of food, water, and shelter?

Why do people find it reassuring that the Haiti earthquake happened for a reason such as the will of God, when such terrible events suggest a high degree of malevolence in the universe or its alleged creator? Fortunately, such events can alternatively (and with good evidence) be viewed as the result of accidents, and possibly even of chance.

The idea that chance is an objective property of the universe was advocated in the nineteenth century by the great American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, who called this doctrine tychism, from the Greek word for chance. Scientific support for the doctrine came in the twentieth century with the development of quantum theory, which is often interpreted as implying that some events such as radioactive decay are inherently unpredictable.

Even if events that affect human lives do not happen by quantum chance, many of them should be viewed as happening by accident, in the sense that they are the improbable result of the intersection of independent causal chains. The deaths in Haiti, for example, came about because of the results of many causal chains, primarily (1) the historical events that led to millions of people living near Port-au-Prince, and (2) the seismic events occurring in the tangle of tectonic faults near the intersection of two crustal plates. These deaths were accidental in that the intersection of the unconnected causal chains was unpredictable.  Neither history nor seismology are random, but their intersections often are so unforeseeable that we should call them accidental.

The doctrine that everything happens for a reason has intellectual variants.   The German philosopher Hegel maintained that in historical development the real is rational and the rational is real. Similarly, before the recent meltdowns in the financial system, it was a dogma of economic theory that individuals and markets are inherently rational. Some naïve evolutionary biologists and psychologists assume that all common traits and behaviors must have evolved from an optimizing process of natural selection. In history, economics, biology, and psychology, we should always be willing to consider evidence for the alternative hypothesis that some events occur because of a combination of chance, accidents, and human irrationality. For example, Keynes attributed financial crises in part to “animal spirits”, by which he meant the emotional processes that can make people swing between irrational exuberance and pessimistic despair. 

But if the real isn’t rational, how can we cope with life’s disasters?  Fortunately, even without religious or New Age illusions, people have many psychological resources for coping with the difficulties of life. These include cognitive strategies for generating explanations and problem solutions, and emotional strategies for managing the fear, anxiety, and anger that naturally accompany setbacks and threats. Psychological research has identified many ways to build resilience in individuals and groups, such as developing problem solving skills and strong social networks. Life can be highly meaningful even if some things that happen are just accidents.  Stuff happens and you deal with it.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hot-thought/201002/does-everything-happen-reason-0

(from another article)





 “WHATEVER the origin of our belief in life’s meaning, it might seem to be a blessing. Some people find it reassuring to think that there really are no accidents, that what happens to us — including the most terrible of events — reflects an unfolding plan. But the belief also has some ugly consequences. It tilts us toward the view that the world is a fundamentally fair place, where goodness is rewarded and badness punished. It can lead us to blame those who suffer from disease and who are victims of crimes, and it can motivate a reflexive bias in favor of the status quo — seeing poverty, inequality and oppression as reflecting the workings of a deep and meaningful plan.

Not everyone would go as far as the atheist Richard Dawkins, who has written that the universe exhibits “precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” But even those who are devout should agree that, at least here on Earth, things just don’t naturally work out so that people get what they deserve. If there is such a thing as divine justice or karmic retribution, the world we live in is not the place to find it. Instead, the events of human life unfold in a fair and just manner only when individuals and society work hard to make this happen.

We should resist our natural urge to think otherwise.”


GREAT CHANGES I’VE WITNESSED OVER THE DECADES

 
I’m pondering the great changes I've witnessed:

less abusive child rearing — I think this is the foundation of many other psychological changes

more respectful treatment given to the average person (the "dignitarian revolution" — human rights for everyone, greater kindness to animals); women’s right, children’s rights, animal rights

the older generation is more affluent than the younger one; a reversal of help between generations

greater cultural diversity, an opening up of America to cuisine beyond hamburger and meatloaf, and various kinds of "artsiness"; the decline of religion, the conservatives losing the "culture wars”



HIGH LEVELS OF STRESS-INDUCED GLUTAMATE IN BRAIN MAY KICK-START SCHIZOPHRENIA

An excess of the brain neurotransmitter glutamate may cause a transition to psychosis in people who are at risk for schizophrenia, reports a study from investigators at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) published in the current issue of Neuron.

The findings suggest 1) a potential diagnostic tool for identifying those at risk for schizophrenia and 2) a possible glutamate-limiting treatment strategy to prevent or slow progression of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders.

 In patients who progressed to schizophrenia, the researchers found the following pattern: First, glutamate activity increased in the hippocampus, then hippocampus metabolism increased, and then the hippocampus began to atrophy.

Theoretically, this dysregulation of glutamate and hypermetabolism could be identified through imaging individuals who are either at risk for or in the early stage of disease. For these patients, treatment to control glutamate release might protect the hippocampus and prevent or slow the progression of psychosis. Early intervention may prevent the debilitating effects of schizophrenia, increasing recovery in one of humankind’s most costly mental disorders.

In an accompanying commentary, Bita Moghaddam, PhD, professor of neuroscience and of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, suggests that if excess glutamate is driving schizophrenia in high-risk individuals, it may also explain why a patient’s first psychotic episodes are often caused by periods of stress, since stress increases glutamate levels in the brain.”

http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/blog/2013/04/17/high-levels-of-glutamate-in-brain-may-kick-start-schizophrenia/




The worst thing to give a schizophrenic is an upper (e.g. amphetamine). The brain makes its own natural "uppers." Dopamine and glutamate are excitatory neurotransmitters. Dopamine is in part converted to noradrenaline, another excitatory neurotransmitter. In the acute stage of schizophrenia, the brain is OVER-EXCITED. What follows is burn-out. But there is a genetic component as well, so stress reduction/de-excitement can probably help only so much. But even so. 

ending on beauty:

TWO OWLS IN LOS ANGELES

They fly over the roofs
in a ghostlike flight;
disappear into a tree

like the night into the night.
Then they perch in parallel,
each on a TV antenna.

Absolute in upright stillness,
silent overlap of feathers,
urn-shaped bodies on the metal branches

that draw signals from pale city sky,
the owls are ambassadors,
come to relay messages

even to us,
unvisited as we are
by the gods.

Only my lover and I,
meeting here in secret,
see them.

~ Oriana © 2015 





THERE IS NO JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION 

Darlene:

The interview with Harold Bloom is powerful. “Trying to think of them [Yahweh and Jesus] together is really an act of psychic violence.”


SANTA CLAUS FOR ADULTS

Oriana:

One attempt to avoid the psychic violence of putting together a god of punishment with a god of mercy has been to get rid of the god of punishment (GOP) and retain only Christ — Swedenborg is among those who tried. This is emotionally much more comfortable, but it reveals wishful thinking with screaming clarity. A convincing deity should be not exactly as we'd like it to be, not simply a mirror of our desires. But then if god is an emergent phenomenon, as some have argued (on the basis of chaos theory, no less — science!), then it's surprising that anything but a sweetheart kind of god, totally nurturing, purely benevolent, has not universally emerged. It's a minority belief associated with liberal Christianity, and liberal Christianity is declining fast, while the punitive fundamentalist churches are the only ones to have shown growth.

It seems that, on the whole, children who grow up in nurturing families are attracted to the idea of a merciful god (and tend to grow up to be politically liberal), while children who grow up in punitive families tend to believe in a punitive god and become politically conservative.

But it’s possible that a merciful god is more obviously non-existent — a Santa Claus for adults
unless you admit it’s an imaginary friend you create now and then to help you in crisis situations. Likewise, if you start thinking about matters such as “Does it really make sense that Eve was created from Adam’s rib?” — without expecting to be thrust into hell for asking that question — you may distance yourself from the mythology a lot sooner, and stop attending your nice, liberal church. I’m speculating here. 

As an aside, 12-Step programs realize that many (perhaps most) people were raised with toxic theologies, so they encourage imagining the kind of god you’d like to exist — again, a Santa Claus for adults. For some, it apparently works! Having a supportive group seems to be a primary factor behind what effectiveness those programs do have, but the idea of a helping, benevolent deity may also be of use. The brain is very flexible, and will usually do whatever serves survival, never mind the pursuit of truth. 








Sunday, October 18, 2015

YAHWEH HAD A BODY; WORD THAT DISSOLVES ANXIETY; ADVIL AND SCHIZOPHRENIA; FIRST HALF OF LIFE AND EXPECTING TO BE PUNISHED

Joan Miro: Constellation-Awakening at Dawn, 1941

ATLANTIS

We’re wreathed in robes of seaweed,
air bladders’ amber beads,
the hood of water
over the face of things.

Fish weave in rainbow veils.
Kelp sways like soundless bells.
we cannot tell one day
from a thousand years.

Here are our amulets, good-luck
crystals, diadems and crowns.
Here tilts the headless
statue of our god,

Lord of Mercy in whose name
we killed. Mudworm burrows
in the marble palaces.
Our purses fill up with silt.

We remember pine forests,
resin scent of the wind.
We remember having held
someone’s hand.

This glitter on the waves
like bent echoes,
those are our last words:
Hold hands. Hold hands.

~ Oriana © 2015

I know that one of the Buddhist masters said, as his final message, “Attention. Attention. Attention.” My own version would be “Affection. Affection. Affection.” 

 

DID YAHWEH HAVE A BODY?
 
During our first religion lesson, the nun told us about a strange being called Mr. God who lived in the sky. “Why can’t we see him?” one brave child asked (it wasn’t me). “Because,” the nun smiled indulgently, “god is invisible.” Even though we knew fairy-tales in which you could become invisible by holding a magic feather or putting on a magic cloak, the idea that the man in the sky, Mr. God, “could not be seen because he’s invisible” was unsatisfying. “God is invisible because god is a spirit,” the nun finished her explanation. We pretended to know what “spirit” meant. (In Polish, the word is derived from “breath,” but not identical with it.)

The first giveaway that alerted me was that in Eden “god walked in the cool of the day.” Why would
the cool of the day” matter unless you could had a body that could enjoy coolness but suffer in the later oppressive heat of noon and afternoon?

The part with Moses wanting to see god and finally getting to see Yahweh's
backside is also very telling — and much is made of this being the backside and not the face. If Yahweh is a spirit, then there would be no “backside.” (By the way, is Yahweh naked? Is he anatomically correct?) But assuming that Yahweh can temporarily assume the human form, why the danger — why allow only the view of the backside? Greek heroes got to speak with gods face to face (e.g. Odysseus spoke to Athena and Hermes).

And later Moses is in fact allowed to see god, but by then the reader is used to contradictions. What were the editors thinking? Or was there no thinking going on? The bible warns against relying on “understanding.” Incoherence is next to holiness.

Does the Hebrew bible ever state that Yahweh was a spirit? No. He is called a "living god," which probably implies breathing, and thus having a body. Yahweh was a breathing god. The ancient Hebrews did not believe in the soul apart from the body. And in the early books in particular Yahweh is described in pretty corporeal terms (hands, feet, walking in the cool of the day, looking for Adam and Eve when they are hiding in the bushes, etc)

But then there is the famous passage about the “spirit of god” hovering above the waters —  probably meaning his life-giving breath. The Hebrew word for spirit is “ruach,” which means breath (and also wind — more generally, a movement of air). Breath is of tremendous importance in the Hebrew bible. The “breath of life” is mentioned many times. But the Hebrew bible never states that god is a spirit in the sense of not having a body any more than it mentions an immortal soul.

(It’s interesting that the word “spirit” comes from “spirare,” to breathe; cf respiration, inspiration.)

We underestimate how very concrete and body-based the early Hebrew was. There were no mentalistic words like “think”, “believe,” “imagine.” Life starts with the first breath and ends with the last breath. Why else have the resurrection in the body? Because there was no such thing as a soul apart from the body. There was only the body, living (i.e. breathing) or dead.

That lack of dualism is more apparent in the early bible, where for instance you have angels come down and mate with human women (so obviously the angels had genitals, and did Yahweh; considering the active love life of the Greek gods, that was fully consonant with the mentality of the times). Later there is an increase in mentalism, but without the knowledge of brain function and unconscious processing mentalism can easily lead to body/mind dualism. In spite of their beautiful and fully embodied gods, the Greeks, influenced by Egyptian mysticism, fell into it early on, creating a whole sexless theology of the imaginary. 



So, did Yahweh have a body? I suppose the most accurate answer is yes, at the beginning — but  there was no complete clarity on this matter. Yahweh was corporeal, but with special Superman powers he could assume a different form, as Zeus could shape shift into a swan or a bull — though with Yahweh it's not as explicit as that, and he stays away from animal incarnations (Ezekiel's chariot vision is perhaps a throwback, three of the four faces being animal). There is a vagueness — deliberate, I think, but also stemming from lack of clarity and trying to make Yahweh different from other gods, less limited by being a kind of Superman who’s actually visible to his favorites for many generations after Adam and Eve and strolling through Eden in the cool of the day.

In summary, the more I think about the early books, the more it seems that Yahweh does have a body that looks and works like the human body. But he can also speak from a burning bush and from a whirlwind, so there is an ambiguity. 


Still, the frequent references to feet, hands, face, walking and talking, coming down a mountain to see what’s up with the Tower of Babel, drawing in the smell of sacrifices into his nostrils, etc., do seem to imply a body. When he allows Moses to see his backside, is he mooning Moses under the pretext that it would be dangerous to see the face of a “living god”? — though later he lets Moses see his face anyway. 


The main mode of worship was animal sacrifice — this should give us a pause right there. Of course it was practiced in other cultures too, but what kind of god does that presume? Not the kind who is a spirit. Would a spirit draw in with pleasure the smell of Noah’s first sacrifice after the Flood? Or, much later, complain that the stench of sacrifices prickles his nostrils?

Greek gods also had bodies — perfect and immortal, but bodies nevertheless. They could choose to be in a different form, e.g. Zeus as lightning (that's why Semele was “consumed"). It makes perfect sense to me that Yahweh was imagined as having a body (never mind that people were not suppose to try to imagine him).

Conclusion: the Hebrew bible does not say that god is a spirit, anymore than it says that there is such a thing as an immortal soul. God is a living, breathing body, just as people are (allegedly made in his image).

Eventually god becomes more and more abstract. He is seen and heard less and less. He hardly does anything and finally he pretty much disappears from the late books of the Hebrew bible. This was splendidly demonstrated by the bible scholar Richard Friedman in his Disappearance of God. But let’s not forget the beginning, where Yahweh walks and talks, quite in the image of man. 

Charles:

I think that the reason God was so anthropomorphic in earlier writings is because the Israelites needed an image they could understand. It would be too drastic all of a sudden to have God be the spirit without a body.

 
Oriana:

I’ve heard this countless times, starting in religion lessons: “god is described in those terms so that the people of the time could understand.” But I don’t think that the emotional part of the human mentality has changed all that much over the centuries. We can have a real relationship with others, and also with our pets, because the creatures have a certain appearance, they do things and are responsive to us. A god that’s not human is not a god we can relate to.

We can ask, “What would Jesus do?” and give some kind of answer. But if we ask, “What would Yahweh do?” things break down. Answer from the whirlwind to the effect, who are you to bother me? ~ “Where were you when I laid down the four corners of the earth? Can you draw the leviathan with a hook?” Or command you to stone the disobedient child? This is not a god who knows what it’s like to be human — or at least you are forbidden to think along those lines. 

So it’s not just back then that people needed to have an anthropomorphic god — even today, that’s the only god they can relate to. But the clergy and the theologians announce that this is too primitive, and we need to “grow beyond” the image of a parent in the sky, or, in the case of Jesus, perhaps a dear friend (“Are you running with me, Jesus?”)

I say forget it. We just can’t. We can have a great loving relationship with our dog, but not with the god of the theologians — whether it’s a person without a body, or not even a person but some kind of cosmic consciousness.





*

Once I gave outrage by speculating that Yahweh began as an actual person, a Middle Eastern warrior-god. ~ Harold Bloom, “The Daemon Knows”

*

THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS  

Overcoming the monster (Beowolf, Jaws)
Rags to Riches (Aladdin, Oliver Twist)
The Quest (Odyssey, Watership Down)
Comedy (Aristophanes, The Marx Brothers)
Tragedy (Oedipus, Macbeth)
Rebirth (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol)
Voyage and Return (Peter Rabbit, Brideshead Revisited)

Christopher Booker says that a few works even combine all seven basic plots, and the one example he gives is The Lord of the Rings.

Do you have a favorite plot?

Linda A:

The one forbidden thing!

Oriana:

Yes! Excellent! Thanks for reminding us of this, so abundant in mythological tales.

John G:

When I was a kid I loved end of the world stories. Asteroids heaving for earth. Plagues. Zombies. Aliens. Recently I saw a film called "seeking a friend for the end of the world." It grabbed me the way those old films grabbed me. Where does a story like that fit in? Tragedy? Probably. Or maybe overcoming the monster. But what if the end isn't overcome, and finally there is just death. Maybe the 8th basic plot should be: an old guy's story, a story that ends in silence and nothing. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1307068/

Oriana:

Yes, that's another recognizable plot pattern: the apocalypse, but without the religious element. I was told that having dreams about the end of the world typical of being a victim (I was indeed going through a very stressful period when I had a lot of dreams about nuclear missiles on their way or the post-apocalyptic world with only women, children, and old people, weeds growing through cracks of the freeways). And no, there is no happy ending: either imminent destruction, or adjustment to a very sad kind of existence.

It’s tragedy, but a pattern of strength and survival can be a major sub-theme. As for the old person, the only “happy ending” is “death with dignity”: the person realizes that his/her life made a difference.

In movies where an old person dies, there is sometimes a symbolic rebirth: for instance, we see a child water a newly planted tree.




ALWAYS EXPECTING TO BE PUNISHED: a pattern in the first half of my life

In the New York Review of Books, an article about a woman who had not bothered to have an amniocentesis (these days there is a blood test) and ended up having a child with Down Syndrome. The paragraphs on the “medical freak show” interested me only slightly. Mainly I thought about my youth and the recurring thought that just because I valued the life of the mind so much, I’d end up having a “mentally handicapped” child (apologies for not knowing the current politically correct word). It would be my punishment for loving books and ideas. It would be life’s corrective action, humbling me, saying See? You wanted your child to be a genius. What a laugh!

No man expects to be “punished” by life or society for loving books and ideas. Perhaps there is some notion that reading books is unmanly, but women’s attraction to intellectual men would be a corrective. A man who can talk about literature realizes that he “speaks woman.” Tony Hoagland carried a copy of Rilke’s Duino Elegies for seduction purposes. I know it not only because of his poem where he confesses to using this ploy, but also because I remember how we met at the Yaddo Arts Colony, lined up for dinner. He was holding a red-cover copy of The Duino Elegies in his left hand (the side that showed).

Why on earth did I expect to be punished, humbled, “corrected”? I grew up in a milieu where reading and intellectual achievement were encouraged -- not that I needed to be encouraged, being a compulsive reader. Nor can I point to the slightest streak of sexism in this regard. True, I overheard my parish priest saying, “Girls . . . They are so stupid.” But I can’t claim that this harmed me in any significant way; even as a ten-year-old, I realized that the comment said something about the priest and nothing about me. (Nor did I retaliate by sending him a note: “Priests . . . They are so stupid.” No, I was a nice quiet girl. Anyway, I was too busy reading.)

So I don’t really know why I expected to be punished for being who I was. Perhaps it had something to do with the way life kept shattering my dreams. Perhaps I picked up sexist judgment from the larger culture. Or perhaps it’s more universal than that, more “female.” My mother said, more than once, that she had terrible nightmares during her pregnancy about giving birth to an abnormal child. Such nightmares, I read, are perfectly normal. Nor do I think that my brave and resourceful mother would not have managed to cope somehow. Fortunately she didn’t have to.

And for all her ability to cope (the child would probably end up in an institution), her life would have been blighted. My father, too, would have suffered terribly.

And it has crossed my mind that with my mother’s access to anesthetics, perhaps she would at least have considered euthanizing the child. Nor would I have blamed her. Nor am I horrified that my own fantasies in that situation would be to smother the child with a pillow or otherwise cause a quick death . . .  not that I’d act on such fantasies. I’d certainly explore other solutions. But that I’d have such fantasies, of that I have no doubt.

Most fears don’t come true. It’s what we didn’t think of fearing that tends to happen -- IF anything happens. And then it’s not the end of the world.

Also, I realize that I had that “doomed” feeling that I would be punished no matter what —probably the legacy of my Catholic upbringing. I expected to be punished simply for being me.

For women, it's often being kind toward themselves that's the hardest. Most of them received the message during childhood that they are of lesser worth, and don't deserve good things (e.g. a good salary, a meal at a nice restaurant rather than McDonald's, etc -- both the big things and the small). I don't generally recommend anything New Age, but Louise Hay's YOU CAN HEAL YOUR LIFE can be a life-saver, especially for women. Louise definitely confronts the “I will be punished” mindset.

I’m also happy to report that I don't seem to have the belief anymore. I know I’ll suffer because we all suffer, but not because I’m being punished. No one is being punished by god, life, fate etc. I've seen too much innocent suffering to believe in that kind of "justice" (usually a euphemism for "revenge"). That humanity ever came up with the god of punishment (GOP) is a real shame.

But I don’t really need to analyze the possible sources of those long-ago fears. It’s in the past, irrelevant now. Onward. There are real bridges to cross.



THE SURPRISING MAGIC WORD FOR DISSOLVING ANXIETY

 
“Dr. Stanley Hibbs, an anxiety expert, shared at a conference, an innovative strategy involving a powerful, anxiety dissolving word. As Dr. Hibb's puts it, "This magic word helps combat discouragement and turns potentially disastrous days into productive ones. It's good for your health, your self-esteem, and can make you a more productive, better person." The magic word is NEVERTHELESS. Here are some examples of how he uses it:

"I'm tired and I've earned the right to goof off. Nevertheless, I can get a few more things done and then relax."

"It's very cold outside and I don't feel like walking today. Nevertheless, it's very important so I'm going to do it anyway."

"I'm upset and ice cream is my comfort food. Nevertheless, I will find a better way to deal with my feelings."

"I think I will fail this test; nevertheless, I am going to start studying and give it my best.”

If you try using this word in earnest you'll likely see its power. Dr. Hibb's states that "Nevertheless" allows us to pause and realize that we have choices. There are always reasons (or excuses) to succumb to anxiety and to do what's unhealthy, unproductive, or morally questionable. Nevertheless, we can still choose to do the right thing.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/liking-the-child-you-love/201410/you-can-lower-your-anxiety-thinking-about-one-word?tr=MostViewedTh



Oriana:

If “nevertheless” seems an awkward mouthful, you can substitute HOWEVER.

I also used the mantra “May the best outcome manifest itself.” This reminds me that I don’t know that the “best outcome” would be, so it’s best to relax and not try too hard (or at all).

Nevertheless — a word of victory. Nevertheless — what triumph!

My first “nevertheless” came at 18, when I was reading Saul Bellow’s Herzog, the first novel I got to read in the US. Herzog lists his many flaws, then concludes, “Nevertheless, how charming we remain.” It stayed in my memory forever, that saving bit of narcissism. 



MY OWN ‘NEVERTHELESS’: “THINK SMALL”

 
Would you rather be pretty good at many things, or extremely good at one thing? This question kept battering me over the years.

Instantly I chose the second option. Of course I’d rather be fantastic doing just one thing — anything, just as long as I could learn to do it supremely well. But what exactly was the one thing I could devote my life to? This question kept returning — except for the respite I enjoyed in my mid and late thirties and early forties when I was a poet and just that. I felt I had found my calling. The siren call of all the other “fun” things was drowned out by the adventure of writing yet another poem and the rapid initial progress. A poet’s life is full of surprises: you never know where the next poem will come from. A poem is found more so than made, and that’s exhilarating as hardly anything else.

Then, unfortunately, I started publishing. This meant 99% rejection rate, which eventually — success! — went down to 95%, perhaps even 93% in my best year. I was told that was not a bad rate, and in fact I was doing great! Nevertheless, the time and energy siphoned off into “marketing”, combined with exhausting my central subject matter, did cause the predictable burn-out. Maybe it was a question of starting too late and/or living in the wrong place to find a mentor. The unthinkable happened: after finding my vocation, I lost it.

For me, alas, poetry was trauma-driven. When I was sufficiently recovered from personal wounds — not 100%, but that's neither possible nor necessary — my life as a poet was over, and I switched to prose. If I ran out of my own trauma, I wrote persona poems that still turned around similar themes, e.g. Moses being denied entry into the Promised Land, like Kafka's K. "All poetry is about loss" — you'd think that's inexhaustible, but after I ran out of the loss of homeland, the loss of great love, and the loss of the promises of youth, only mortality was left, and the celebration of life and beauty. Maybe that should have been enough, but it wasn't. After the nostalgia poems, and the suicide poems — one of my lovers had committed suicide — it was blah.

Ah, the strangeness of life! After discovering poetry and developing great love for it, suddenly I didn’t even like reading poetry all that much. And, frankly, most poetry is not worth reading. It’s instantly forgettable. I preferred quality non-fiction. Fortunately being a writer is multi-potential, so it’s not as if I had to take up working with stained glass just to have a creative outlet — any kind of creative outlet (which seems an absolute necessity for me).

Hence my blog and a variety of micro-musings. There is no ambition to become a great non-fiction writer. When writing a blog, I want to write a good blog. That’s all. I'm no trying to be a superb blog writer. Whatever wells up from the accumulated riches of my mentality is fine. One revision is enough. I know I'm not writing for the ages, but it doesn’t bother me to be writing for the moment to which I belong. There’s no long-term goal.

Having said this, I still think I owe whatever depth and skills I have to have stuck with one thing long ago. The very first thing to have come into my life was the project of mastering English. The second was of course poetry. That was my foundation in self-discipline and learning how to write in a crisp and vivid manner. Having gained the foundation, I could afford some “butterfly” behavior, delving into all kinds of flowers. I could trust my unconscious to integrate this wild collage somehow.

I no longer feel I must achieve anything. I don’t have to prove myself in any way. But I can still enjoy my microprojects. And the great thing is that when you think small, success is guaranteed.

I still think that everyone should have at last one thing they are very good at rather than go off into all the directions at once. The latter can be done recreationally, but it better not be the center of one's life. Again, the wonderful thing about writing is that with an agile mind, you can pick up what’s vivid and is likely to interest the reader. Or you an go off into a reverie and produce an atmospheric piece that takes off from a poem, or a pebble found in the woods. And I suspect the process is not all that different for other creatives, be they carpenters or gourmet chefs.

Note that I dropped words like “fantastic” and “supreme.” Just getting to be very good is challenging enough. And even that hinges on some factors not completely under our control.

GRATITUDE FOR THE PAST

Sometimes I look at an old poem of mine and I can hardly believe that I wrote it. I couldn’t produce anything that imaginative now, that beautiful. It takes peak brain function, on top of all kinds of other circumstances all coming together at once.

But it’s amazing that I did produce such poems, even if that’s in the past. What a privilege. So I am grateful for the past, its misery notwithstanding.

And I still am moved to tears when a stranger comes up to me and remembers a poem s/he heard or read twenty years ago. To have touched someone’s life with words is a great privilege.

Other writing? Only the poems count, really. Only they can provide sufficient delight.

Prose is craft. Poetry is art.

Poetry — that which lasts. The news that stays news.

JOY IN THE PRESENT

What fascinates me is the growing perception of the beauty of life the more “posthumous” it becomes. It’s ironic that we grow to love all the more intensely that which must be left behind. I love beauty more than ever — now un-distracted by career, romantic drama, etc. Those immense intensities, passions, and driving goals of the past — how unimportant they seem next to everyday beauty.

I loved having one overwhelming, obsessive vocation as long as it lasted, but in time I discovered that I also enjoy being post-poetry. For instance, I’m a cloud-watcher again, as in childhood — and as in childhood, I don’t feel compelled to describe the clouds. It’s pure, useless joy.



 EMERSON’S NEVERTHELESS: THE AFFIRMATION OF A “SECOND BEST”

Though Melville and Henry James thought Emerson knew too little of loss, they were mistaken. The three people he loved best died early: his first wife, Ellen; his brother Charles; his little son Waldo. We all know suffering and evil: Emerson had the wisdom not to let himself be darkened prematurely. Stephen Whicher is the best guide:

“His later thought is characteristically an affirmation of a second best. If a perfect freedom was clearly out of reach, man’s fate as he found it still turned out to allow him adequate means to free himself. The two chief second-best mans of freedom that Emerson found were “obedience to his genius” and “the habit of the observer” — Vocation and Intellect.” ~ Harold Bloom

Emerson managed to avoid depression. He turned to his work. If only that precise kind of wisdom had visited me earlier in life, the useless suffering I would have avoided . . .  But it would be  useless and ungracious to complain rather than celebrate the fact that the wisdom of turning to productivity visited me at all, no matter how late.

As for affection rather than passion, I don’t see affection as “second best.” Together with vocation, it’s a secure foundation for contentment. We need not yearn for happiness. It is a great blessing to have contentment. And I wouldn’t call contentment “second best” either.



COULD IBUPROFEN AND OTHER NSAIDS HELP PREVENT AND TREAT SCHIZOPHRENIA?

~ Schizophrenia could be treated with cheap, accessible anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, according to new research.

The study, published on Friday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that people at risk of developing schizophrenia showed high levels of inflammation in their brains, which was also true of patients already suffering from the disorder. They also discovered that higher inflammation levels resulted in a greater severity of symptoms in persons likely to develop the disorder.

The findings mean that, if detected early enough through brain scans, schizophrenia could potentially be prevented or at least mitigated in at-risk patients using simple anti-inflammatory drugs.

Peter Bloomfield, a doctoral student at the Medical Research Council's (MRC) Clinical Sciences Centre and the paper's lead author, says that the findings could change the way schizophrenia is diagnosed and treated. "There's potential for us to treat very early and also this is a completely new type of theory of schizophrenia, so a whole new range of medication could be produced based on this research," says Bloomfield.

He adds that over-the-counter medication could be used to treat the mental disorder in the future, subject to clinical trials. "It could be something as simple as [ibuprofen]. It would need to be tried and tested...but something like ibuprofen or just any anti-inflammatory."

The study assessed the levels of activity of immune cells in the brain—known as microglia—of 56 patients in total, including current sufferers of schizophrenia as well as those at risk of the disease and those showing symptoms of the disorder. Researchers injected the subjects with a chemical dye which sticks to microglia, which they then used to record the activity levels of the cells.

Microglial cells are the primary immune cells of the brain and spinal cord (or the central nervous system), where their function is to destroy pathogens and clean up debris. The cells also prune connections between brain cells, known as synapses.

Bloomfield explains that abnormal activity levels in microglia can lead to patients developing the symptoms of schizophrenia—including hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusional thoughts—by changing the way in which the brain is hard-wired. "If they're over or under active or active in an inappropriate way, then you would end up with the wrong number of synapses or inappropriate connections between different parts of the brain, which would fit very well with our hypothesis of how schizophrenia is actually manifesting," says Bloomfield.

Oliver Howes, head of the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre's psychiatric imaging group and the paper's senior author, told Sky News that the advance was the most significant in schizophrenia research for decades. "We're still using treatments that were essentially first developed in the 1950s and we desperately need new avenues and new approaches," said Howes. ~

http://europe.newsweek.com/anti-inflammatory-drugs-could-help-schizophrenia-treatment-study-334918


 ending on beauty

Lost Landscape

Why do I remember a strange village
Like a secret I knew long ago,
Where a crowded flock of branded sheep
Filled the lane, now forever gone?


Why do I watch them so in memory today?
Recreate every movement, proven in a dream?
Time was passing. They strayed into the ignorance of time,
And, suddenly breaking rank, disappeared past the bend.


Why do I feel within a choked, divine weeping
That I will never hear the wind murmur in those fields,
Never see the distant dawn fill with light,
The shrubs littered with the lost wool of the sheep.


~ Boleslaw Leśmian, tr. Oriana Ivy
 
Rafał Borcz: February

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

FROM ARIEL TO CALIBAN; HEALTH BENEFITS OF WHISKY; LENNON'S “IMAGINE, THERE IS NO HEAVEN”: THE EQUIVALENT OF “GOD IS DEAD”?

 
NOT EVEN IN THE AFTERLIFE

I always thought it would be him
my great love my cruel one
he with a luminous mind
body of a wingless dragonfly

rounded at the edges but I thought
dying would improve him
he’d be the radiant spirit
waiting for me on the other side

with his inaudible stutter
his invisible scars
growing up in the mean streets
small weak lying to survive

but I thought that improved by dying
he’d take me by the hand
and we’d walk forever across
the black velvet of infinity

I thought like Dante and Beatrice
we’d stand on a ring of Saturn
his hair still mahogany
a Conquistador’s burning eyes

I thought that improved by death
he’d shimmer like a crystal butterfly
but instead this empty room
blank walls only he and I

he doesn’t take me by the hand
only starts scolding me
for something so long ago
so small I don’t remember it at all

the searing flame of his mind
pours into putting me down
he is carrying on and on
and will never stop

the room has no door
there is no welcoming white light
so this is hell a small room
alone with my great love

~ Oriana © 2015



I remember that after waking up from the dream I felt shattered all day. It took me a few days to recover. It was the final loss of a great love even in its ghostly form. As Anna Akhmatova said in “The Last Toast,” “ [I drink] to my life too awful to tell about.”

He was a narcissist, but not entirely unaware of how unworthy he was of my love. He was the one who said, “People will despise you for having wasted yourself on me.” In another poem I had another lover say that — yes, poets do lie to make the poem simpler and thus better. Art relies on the simplification of messy complexities.

It was no revelation to me that that particular man was a sadistic narcissist and it had been an emotionally abusive relationship — I didn’t need a nightmare to tell me that. I thought I had already gotten over the realization that my greatest (or at least the most intense) love had been for a man of that sort — that was just one of the misfortunes of my life. But apparently my love for him had been so great that in my wishful imagination I transformed him into a future good person, a brilliant talker I could enjoy without the pain. The fantasy still lingered in my mind for decades until the dream of hell killed it. And I did feel shattered for a while, never mind the unreality of it all.

But nothing compares to the shattering I experienced when I truly, truly understood that I wouldn’t have not just the national recognition I first dreamed about but any recognition whatever, aside from a few poet friends (whose luck wasn’t any better). I’ve recovered considerably, but is there a true recovery from that kind of emotional crash — losing the dream that guided my life during my so-called best years? I survive mainly by not thinking about it, concentrating on small goals and pleasures, counting my blessings, etc. I am in fact happier than in a long time. Except for the last years in LA when I was rapidly developing as a poet and each new poem seemed a miracle, these are the happiest years of my life. Right now I feel blessed. I feel lucky — I, who was officially pronounced as “having been born under an unlucky star.”

As I revised the poem this came together: the greatest love of my life and the greatest dream of my life (in a more legitimate form: to be a great poet) — both such sad ruins . . . The misfortune of passionate love for a man with whom a real partnership was impossible, and life circumstances that stranded me away from potential mentors . . .  All in the past now, with nothing to be done about it except to live every day that remains. Well, most people don’t get what they most want in life, do they? The Buddha had something to say about that. 


An aside: The dream was a compelling depiction of hell as non-stop put-downs from the man you loved madly in your youth — the way you can love only once. There is still some romantic glow smoldering in your psyche because he was your “great love,” however misguided or downright disastrous it turned out to be. The trembling, the held breath when you merely heard his voice in the hallway in the distance. And then waking up to reality — forever. Yes, that would be hell, that kind of ultimate disillusionment and denial of romantic fantasy. In my twenties and thirties I was already fully aware that it was the fantasy I needed, never mind the reality; the fantasy of loving and being loved was enough to keep me going.

But a simpler vision of hell was provided by a vision described by Teresa of Avila: each soul is cramped into a cubicle, alone, tearing itself to pieces. That’s the self-loathing so masterfully imparted by the Catholic church and other fundamentalist religions — and/or by having experienced an abusive childhood or abusive relationships. You don’t need an outside tormentor — you internalize the put-downs and very efficiently torment yourself. 


Another aside: some have famously imagined hell as the inability to get away from people. Sartre didn’t go for the perennial joking about hell being a place where you meet all your friends and all the interesting people besides — all the freethinkers and creatives and eccentrics. No, for Sartre it was being locked up with people with whom you can’t forge a connection, people who reject you and despise you. But others have suggested that hell is solitary confinement. Perhaps in the end there would be an equivalence: we’d grow numb, stop hearing the nagging voices of others, and feel entirely alone. That’s what happened in my dream: even though I was with my former great love, after a while I automatically tuned him out, and felt completely alone.

George Bellow, The White Horse, 1922

DO NOT PUT DOWN OTHERS, DO NOT PUT DOWN YOURSELF 
 
The dream also seemed to comment on the viciousness of constantly criticizing someone. Neither suffering or being criticized improves people. Centuries of being brainwashed to the contrary need to be overcome. This is the propaganda of bullies, and the generational chain of giving and receiving verbal abuse. 


Perhaps the most awful part is the fact that we internalize this abuse, believe it, and continue to put down ourselves long after the abuser is gone — sometimes dead. A lifetime of self-loathing can follow unless the chain is broken by awareness and conscious action to liberate oneself from this pattern of un-love.

A teacher I knew once said that she can walk into a classroom and tell at a glance which children are receiving a lot of love, and which not enough. Indeed I am tempted to divide people into those who have been treated lovingly and received more praise than criticism, and those who received mainly put downs and verbal bullying. For most, it’s a mixed pattern. But the extremes stand out.

The man in my dream fell into the first group. He had the misfortune of growing up in a family that belong to that underclass that’s dismissed with the particularly cruel label: “white trash.” Being bright, and being born at the right time in history, he availed himself of the GI bill to get educated and ultimately do well in life — at the financial level. He also learned how to appear charming and seductive. But the love he received from the women he manipulated into loving him never seemed to heal the deep wounds of childhood. He was always compulsively showing off — or, if angered, and he was easily angered, using his intelligence to put down others.

Eventually I lost touch with him, so I can’t say with certainty with recovery never happened. It happened for me, so perhaps some degree of recovery happened for him too. Perhaps.

Not all stories have a happy ending. Sometimes hell is permanent. Some people live and die never having experienced what it’s like to love and be loved. But we need happy endings because no one’s story is just an individual story. It’s part of our collective human story. The more we move away from abusive child rearing (which used to be the norm in the past — think Dickens), the more we can hope for a kinder world.


 Chagall: I and the Village, 1911

JOHN LENNON’S “IMAGINE THERE’S NO HEAVEN” — THE EQUIVALENT OF NIETZSCHE’S “GOD IS DEAD”?

Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people
Living for today.

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace--

You may say I'm a dreamer.
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the world will be as one.

~ Words and music by John Lennon. 1971 Northern Songs Ltd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwUGSYDKUxU

Someone commenting on Facebook said that Lennon was imagined a world without cultural diversity (“no countries”). I don't think he was imagining a world without different cultures —  just without nationalism. And I'm sure he felt passionate about music and beauty — it's just that you wouldn't kill for those things, as people have for country and religion. For me it's mainly: no religion, no nationalism, no predatory capitalism. But it's interesting that it starts with “no heaven” = no afterlife. Imagine, people living for today. That's the truly visionary part, especially back in the seventies when saying "There's no heaven" was still a pretty daring thing. Without going to a  “better place,” you have to make this world a better place. Or, without such grand goals, at least to cultivate your own garden.

I remember that when I first heard the song, I couldn't believe I heard it right: "no heaven"?? I kept replaying the opening to make sure. It struck me as equivalent of Nietzsche's “god is dead.” But people (at least in the US) wouldn't talk about it. It was ahead of its times.

"Above us, only sky" is the motto of the Liverpool Airport. And I'm amazed, frankly, that the American fundamentalists have not objected to the song. I guess they pretend it doesn't exist. And a lot of "spiritual but not religious" people cling to the idea of the spirit world — the astral realm — as a kind of heaven, at least between incarnations. I think those who like the song say it's about world peace, and pretend the part about "no heaven" isn’t there.

“Above us, only sky” is the motto of the Liverpool Airport — in post-Christian Europe, that’s a natural thought. But I'm amazed, frankly, that the American fundamentalists have not objected to the song.g. I guess they pretend it doesn't exist. And a lot of "spiritual but not religious" people cling to the idea of the spirit world — the “astral realm” — as a kind of heaven, at least between incarnations. I think those who like the song say it's about world peace, and pretend the part about "no heaven" isn't there. Saying "There is no heaven" is even more radical than saying "There is no god." The promise of heaven has been the most attractive promise of religion, even if Christian heaven is rather tepid next to the sensual Islamic paradise. And the threat of hell has of course been the greatest tool of keeping people afraid and blindly obedient.



FROM THE TENDER ARIEL TO THE TOUGH CALIBAN


Come downe and sit in the dust; a virgine, daughter Babel, sit on the grounde: there is no throne. O daughter of the Chaldeans: for though shalt no more be called Tendre and delicate.
                      [Geneva Bible, Isaiah 47:1]

This unexpected quotation in Harold Bloom’s chapter on the Temptest (“Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human”) moved me profoundly.

“Tender and delicate” — that’s how people used to see me. But the “tender and delicate” was some years ago — the princess years of being physically attractive. A fairy child, a “little doll.” That’s when it was enough to just sit there looking pretty. Age dethrones women; now they tough “nasty women” and they “can take it” (whatever coarseness is dished out to them).

Age, which often coarsens one’s features, can create a deceptive appearance of sturdiness. “What! Martha had a heart attack? But she was tough as nails! She could take anything!”

A man is strong, an admirable trait; a woman is “tough as nails.” Interesting that the imagery is macho-shop. Did a carpenter come up with this phrase?

And anything can indeed dished out to that tough woman — no tenderness and delicacy. That’s for children and young girls. A young mother might at first encounter some protectiveness. Later, middle-aged, you’re on your own, O daughter of the Chaldeans. Tired? No man will rush toward you with a chair, much less several men, as they used to. Just be glad the ground will still accept you.

You’ve been demoted from Ariel to Caliban, who is of course expected to fend for himself without receiving any affection. Even if you were once a loved child and adored bride, who loves you now, immigrant from the past, that unknown world?

But let us end on something magical from that play. I was struck not by the famous “Our revels now are ended” — though that expresses the theme of life’s dissolution in lyrical eloquence — but by Caliban’s tenderness in explaining to the castaways that the island is enchanted:

Be not afeared; the isle if full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I wak’d,
I cried to dream again.

There is something tender about telling someone not to be afraid — one’s voice naturally becomes soft. No need to invoke Ariel’s spirits making music. It’s enough to think of a forest — a true forest, with huge oaks and pines — and all the magical sounds you get to hear, be it only a bird, unseen, rustling in the brush.

This speech is full of such delicacy that I get sentimental and think of Hans Christian’s Andersen’s “Little Match Girl” freezing to death on Christmas Day, but in her last vision, having decided to like all her remaining matches, she sees a vision of a warm room with a beautiful Christmas tree in it. A tear-jerker, yes, along with countlesss movie scenes in which the protagonist dies seeing in delirium the wish-fulfilling scene of love and beauty.

Here it’s the dispossessed orphan Caliban, the dark-skinned outcast — “the beast Caliban,” as Prospero calls him — who has dreams of riches about to his as he lies penned in the hollow of a rock (“here you sty me / In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me / The rest o’ the island”).

But: be not afeared — there is much beauty in life to make up for the sorrows, and tenderness to make up for the coarseness. The human world may reject us, but never the ground — never the forest.

And those are the sacred places — not the ones “consecrated” by a priest with some absurd “holy water.” The earth is sacred, and so are its children — both Ariels and Calibans. 


 
THE SURPRISING HEALTH BENEFITS OF WHISKEY (IN SMALL AMOUNT)
 
Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made of some type of grain mash. There isn’t much to whiskey except for alcohol, but whiskey is also exceptionally rich in ellagic acid, which is a very powerful antioxidant, and is responsible for a great deal of the health benefits from whiskey.

Dementia: Studies have actually shown that whiskey can successfully boost your cognitive performance and reduce your chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Although studies are ongoing and there is quite a bit of controversy regarding alcohol as a treatment/preventative method, there is no denying that ellagic acid is extremely powerful in terms of fighting against free radicals within the body. These free radicals are often associated with interrupting neural pathways and contributing to the slow decline towards dementia. Whiskey can reduce that mental decline and improve our quality of life as we get older. Once again, this is useful when consumed in moderation; too much alcohol kills brain cells and does the precise opposite of protecting our cognitive activity.

Heart Health: A number of studies have shown whiskey to be a major player in protecting heart health. As our bodies get older, our systems become more frail, resulting in less efficient functioning of various organ systems, and weakness of our cardiovascular system. However, a study has recently revealed that those who consume a moderate amount of whiskey on a regular basis have almost a 50% lower chance of experiencing a stroke or heart attack, which is exceptional news for those at risk of cardiovascular issues.

Blood Clots: In a related note for heart health, whiskey has been shown to significantly reduce blood clotting. Blood clotting is important when you are wounded so you stop losing blood, but internally, if your blood clots at key junctures in your blood vessels or arteries, it can be disastrous. Atherosclerosis, which usually occurs due to a large build-up of cholesterol, can combine with blood clots to result in thrombosis, heart attacks, strokes, and death. Whiskey is a blood-thinner, so it significantly lowers your chances of excess clotting. It also increases the amount of “good” cholesterol, which counteracts the effects of “bad” cholesterol, further protecting your heart.

Cancer Prevention: Cancer is one of the most devastating and globally relevant diseases known to man. We are also constantly looking for ways to prevent and slow down the disease. There are new anti-cancer schemes and fads all the time, but many of them are just that, popular fads with very little medicinal information to back it up. However, whiskey has an extremely high level of ellagic acid, one of the most powerful antioxidant compounds that we can consume. An antioxidant is a compound that neutralizes free radicals, the harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism that cause a wide range of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and premature aging. This powerful antioxidant makes whiskey a very effective preventative measure against cancer.

Immune System Boost: There have been certain studies that have argued for the immune system-boosting capacity of whiskey. Alcohol does have a traditional role in preventing illness and improving the function of the immune system, but firm evidence was never in hand. Now, we see that the antioxidants and trace levels of vitamins in whiskey do in fact stimulate the immune system, thereby helping to fight off normal colds, illnesses, and infections. All of those old movies where they would pour whiskey on a wound to disinfect it is not just fiction! You can pour whiskey on a fresh wound to make sure it does not get infected!



Diabetes Control: Whiskey has been consistently shown to reduce the chances of diabetes, sometimes by as much as 30-40%. A moderate amount of whiskey can significantly improve your body’s ability to regulate insulin and glucose levels, thereby lowering the possibility of developing diabetes.

Note: Oddly, whiskey delivers antioxidants more efficiently than wine, so arguably it’s more beneficial. The whiskey used in the studies was matured in oak for 12 years. This will of course be reflected in the price.

Warning: If you show even a slight tendency to alcoholism, you have to forget all about these benefits, and substitute . . . raspberries, pecans, walnuts, strawberries. These are good for you regardless. It's just that whiskey matured in rye is a particularly rich source of ellagic acid.

But you MUST be sure you are not genetically susceptible to alcoholism before you decide to avail yourself of the health benefits of small amounts of whiskey. Since alcoholism runs in families, and since first experiments with alcohol tend to take place in one’s teens, adults generally do know. 

Please note: Ellagic acid supplements appear to be useless. They simply aren't absorbed. So we need to get ellagic acid from food and . . .  surprisingly enough, whisky.