Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The simplest theory of human nature is that we work as hard as we can to avoid such experiences. We pursue pleasure and comfort; we hope to make it through life unscathed. Suffering and pain are, by their very nature, to be avoided. The tidying guru Marie Kondo became famous by telling people to throw away possessions that don’t “spark joy,” and many would see such purging as excellent life advice in general.

But this theory is incomplete. Under the right circumstances and in the right doses, physical pain and emotional pain, difficulty and failure and loss, are exactly what we are looking for.

Think about your own favorite type of negative experience. Maybe you go to movies that make you cry or scream or gag. Or you might listen to sad songs. You might poke at sores, eat spicy foods, immerse yourself in painfully hot baths. Or climb mountains, run marathons, get punched in the face in a gym or dojo. Psychologists have long known that unpleasant dreams are more frequent than pleasant ones, but even when we daydream—when we have control over where to focus our thoughts—we often turn toward the negative.

Some of this is compatible with a sophisticated version of hedonism, one that appreciates that pain is one route to pleasure. The right kind of negative experience can set the stage for greater pleasure later on; it’s a cost we pay for a greater future reward. Pain can distract us from our anxieties and help us transcend the self. Choosing to suffer can serve social goals; it can display how tough we are or serve as a cry for help. Emotions such as anger and sadness can provide certain moral satisfactions. And effort and struggle and difficulty can, in the right contexts, lead to the joys of mastery and flow.

But many of the negative experiences we pursue don’t provide pleasure at all. Consider now a different kind of chosen suffering. People, typically young men, sometimes choose to go to war, and while they don’t wish to be maimed or killed, they are hoping to experience challenge, fear and struggle—to be baptized by fire, to use the clichéd phrase. Some of us choose to have children, and usually we have some sense of how hard it will be. Maybe we even know of all the research showing that, moment by moment, the years with young children can be more stressful than any other time of life. (And those who don’t know this ahead of time will quickly find out.) And yet we rarely regret such choices. More generally, the projects that are most central to our lives involve suffering and sacrifice…

But chosen suffering is a different story. A life well lived is more than a life of pleasure and happiness. It involves, among other things, meaningful pursuits. And some forms of suffering, involving struggle and difficulty, are essential parts of achieving these higher goals, and for living a complete and fulfilling life.

Some people report more meaning in their lives than others. In a landmark 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Roy Baumeister and colleagues asked hundreds of subjects how happy they were and how meaningful their lives were, and then asked other questions about their moods and activities. It turns out that some features of one’s life relate to both happiness and meaning—both are correlated with rich social connections and not being bored. They are also correlated with each other: People who report high levels of happiness tend to say the same about finding meaning in their lives, and vice versa. You can have both.

The more people report thinking about the future, the more meaning they say they have in their lives—and the less happy they are.

But there are also differences. Health, feeling good and making money are all related to happiness but have little or no relationship to meaning. Moreover, the more people report thinking about the future, the more meaning they say they have in their lives—and the less happy they are. The same goes for stress and worry—more meaning and less happiness.

All of this suggests that meaning and struggle are intertwined. In another study, done by the software company Payscale, more than 2 million people were asked what they did for a living and how much meaning they have in their lives. It turns out the most meaningful job is being a member of the clergy. Others at the top of the list include teachers, therapists, physicians and social workers. All of these jobs involve considerable difficulty and a lot of personal engagement.

What about day-to-day experiences? In a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2019, Sean C. Murphy and Brock Bastian asked people to think back on their most significant experiences, to describe each one in a paragraph and to rank them for how meaningful they were. Participants were also asked to indicate the extent to which the experiences were pleasurable or painful. It turned out that the most meaningful events tended to be on the extremes—those that were very pleasant or very painful. These are the ones that matter, that leave a mark…

Few of us voluntarily surrender our appendages in the pursuit of a good life, but we often do seek out more minor negative experiences, in part for their transformative effect but also because we might simply want to possess these experiences later. We want to store them in memory and consume them in the future. As the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it, “Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.” They are part of what we see as a meaningful life…

Perhaps the self-conscious pursuit of happiness makes you think a lot about how happy you are, and this gets in the way of being happy, in the same way that worrying about how good you are at kissing probably gets in the way of being good at kissing.

But another explanation is that the happiness-pursuers often focus on the wrong things. A meta-analysis by Helga Dittmar and her colleagues, published in 2014 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, summed up more than 200 studies and found that “respondents report less happiness and life satisfaction, lower levels of vitality and self-actualization, and more depression, anxiety, and general psychopathology to the extent that they believe that the acquisition of money and possessions is important and key to happiness and success in life.”

Consider the work of the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust. In his early years practicing in Vienna, in the 1930s, Frankl studied depression and suicide. During that period the Nazis rose to power, and they took over Austria in 1938. Not willing to abandon his patients or his elderly parents, Frankl chose to stay, and he was one of the millions of Jews who ended up in a concentration camp—first at Auschwitz, then Dachau. Ever the scholar, Frankl studied his fellow prisoners, wondering about what distinguishes those who maintain a positive attitude from those who cannot bear it, losing all motivation and often killing themselves.

He concluded that the answer is meaning. Those who had the best chance of survival were those whose lives had broader purpose, who had some goal or project or relationship, some reason to live. As he later wrote (paraphrasing Nietzsche), “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’

The good news is that we don’t have to choose between meaning and pleasure.

The good news is that we don’t have to choose between meaning and pleasure. We know from the work of Baumeister and others that a meaningful life can also be a happy one. There are plenty of people who have lives of both great joy and great struggle.

Human motivation is a lot richer than many people, including many psychologists, believe. The point was nicely made by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 novel “Brave New World.” He described a society of stability, control and drug-induced happiness—a society that sacrificed everything else for the goal of maximizing pleasure. Near the end of the book, there is a conversation between Mustapha Mond, the representative of the establishment, and John, who has rebelled against the system. Mond argues heatedly for the value of pleasure. He goes on about the neurological interventions being developed to maximize human pleasure, how convenient and easy it all is, and he concludes by saying, “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

And John responds, “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” There is no better summary of human nature.

[Read more…]

Walking. Beneath the Plimsoll line of conscious control.

4:26 a.m.

Dark Sky app: 48º F. Feels like 42º F, with wind gusts up to 27 mph. Cloud cover 95%. Light rain forecast in one hour… and, then, 100% cloud cover.

I slide on hoodie, with down jacket on top. Tuk over the ears. And out the door.

I ease into the front seat. Lower back, to hamstring, to thigh to left knee, sizzles. With both hands on the steering wheel, I close eyes, clench teeth, inhale, and wait for lightning to pass. I shift in seat, right, then left, then up straight, trying to locate the pain-free zone. Can’t shake it. I fire up the ignition, and drive.

With a sliver of time, a narrow window for light, I need to hustle. I slide out of the front seat, gingerly place right foot, and then left foot on the ground. I stand for a moment and wait for pain to subside. A few deep breaths, and sizzle settles to simmer, and its go-time.

390 consecutive days, like in a row. My morning walk at Cove Island Park. Backpack. Camera. And I’m off.

I walk. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 N. Free the Bird in the Net.

Cervical spondylosis, was his diagnosis. December 19th. And the start of 30 days of physical therapy.

And a maniacal routine of daily stretching exercises. And tracking the activity on an IOS App. Because that’s how Obsessive’s roll.

The slow heal arrives. Then Relief.  And the bliss of pain-free days. Ah yes, Youth returns. A few days of lolling in Full Gratitude…I’m as Good as new!

This is followed by the suspension of physical therapy. The total cessation of daily stretching supplements. And the IOS App is dumped into a folder with other apps left to Die.

Then we have a slow roll back to habits, to Life, to Work, and The Return to Sedentary World.

It’s late yesterday afternoon. The commute home. I gently turn my neck to check for traffic in my blind spot, and find its motion restricted, followed by a lightning dart down the shoulder and down the arm. It’s back. Heaviness sets in – Mood darkens.

I return my attention to traffic, and sit frozen in place. Puffs of breath working to provide relief.

And, I replay The Week Day. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. No Wings.

Tuesday.

Low 30’s F.

Walking to catch the 6:16 a.m. train to Manhattan, irritated that I have a late jump, and finding a seat is now a 50% probability. $15.25 for a ticket, and I have to worry about getting a seat.

I’m 1000 ft away from the stairs to the platform, and the cyclops eye beams through the morning fog illuminating the track.  This is followed by a short horn blast signaling its arrival at the station.

It’s 3 minutes early.

I run.

I catch the train.

NO SEAT.

I stand for 55 minutes.

I’ve started a new book by Niall Williams titled “This is Happiness.” And this ain’t bloody Happiness. [Read more…]

And then the butterfly rose, weightless, in the wind

The butterfly’s loping flight
carries it through the country of the leaves…
for long delicious moments it is perfect
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze on the soft stalk
of some ordinary flower…
One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond…
some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain…
For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then
the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
“don’t love your life
too much,” it said,
and vanished into the world.

~Mary Oliver, from “One or Two Things” in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver 


Notes: Poem – Thank you Make Believe Boutique. Photo: Photomarc by Marc Gijsbers

Trail Therapy: Watch. Just Watch.


Steve Fugate lost both his children–his son committed suicide, and his daughter overdosed. Sixty-four years old, Mr. Fugate has walked across the United States seven times to raise awareness for depression and suicide and to inspire people he meets to “love life.”

Stick with it to the end…This Man is something special.

Zeke. RIP.

vizsla

Here’s Zeke at 4:54 p.m. yesterday, minutes before he expired.

Words? None. Not today.

Zeke (December 26, 2007 – September 5, 2016).

RIP.


Related Posts: Zeke

Zeke: Fallin’ Forward.

dog-noise-close-up

Zeke, in his Countdown, stumbles forward.

We pinch the drip tube on the meds. He’s woozy coming down, he grasps for his footing.

The morning 5-milers, have been cut to half-milers, or less, this routine interrupted indefinitely.

A rash here, a rash there, in the most personal of his private parts, all swollen and inflamed from being scratched raw. (Is there no mercy?)

His left eye, now red and goopy, fails him badly in snatching nuts tossed from a few feet. His depth perception askew, his jaws pathetically snap at air.  He can’t see them.

He limps, his back foot drags a broken toe, an affliction caught chasing a friend he could not catch. His muscles atrophied, his bones snap like twigs. (This is painful to watch.) [Read more…]

Muro 128

rodney-smith-book-ready-upside-down

I’m freakish about putting anything near my eyes (and anything touching my Adam’s Apple like a turtle neck – I tug and tug and tug at it to Free Willy. Get it off! Get it off!  Or the mouth guards dentists use to take impressions of my teeth and the chalky putty sliding down my throat, the eyes tearing, the gagging reflex, the choking, God, help me…Jesus that escalated quickly.)

It has become a necessary ritual to solve the eye-thing: Recurrent Corneal Erosion triggered by the back story here: I need to read.

The right hand grabs the 2.5 inch tube of Muro 128 5% Sodium Chloride Ophthalmic Ointment. I’ve made the switch from the cheaper generic. Raisin Bran maybe, but generics with eye lube? Saving a few bucks on chemicals you’re pouring into your eye balls, really? Are you nuts?

I think about why it’s Muro 128 and not 130 or 100 as I squeeze the salve in the lower lid. The hands tremble like an addict. I need this. I really need this. What I need is, to pay attention to the trembling hands inadvertently driving the aluminum tip of the tube through the eyeball into my brain.

One dab in each eye before bed time.

I pause, the chemicals coat the eye balls, the world goes blurry, I feel my way to bed. [Read more…]

A Slow Walk. Back.

back-light-pain-hurt

Monday

Bliss.
All systems go.
Light gushes in and warms.

The day was crisp and bright, the atmosphere quivering with life.”

Tuesday

Morning shower – a slow bend to soap.
A twinge in the lower left back.
A punch in the stomach. A kick in the…
Hands stretch to reach for the wall.
Cannot straighten. Will not straighten.

“Ash, bits of bone, a handful of sand”

Wednesday

Shifting and shifting and shifting on train seat.
I stand and let the up escalator work – can’t take the jarring from the stairs.
I ease up and down from curbs as I cross-town.
I shift my briefcase from left to right to left hand to transfer weight.
A slow walk, yet breathless. Sweat beads on my forehead.
A low throbbing migraine. Knee bone connected to…
Rain falls, a light mist, cooling.

“We are wooed, then mocked, plagued like Amfortas, King of the Grail Knights, by a wound refusing to heal.” [Read more…]

Morning Call

sleep-anna-vihastaya-photography

You start with a wisp of memory, or some detail that won’t let you be. You write, you cross out. You write again, revise, feel like giving up. What pulls you through? Curiosity.

~ Abigail Thomas, What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir


It’s an all-night dance at The Alibi.

The strobes, the churning, my personal whitewater at the base of a long spillway of a hydroelectric dam.

I pull the left shoulder back and tug it hard to roll away from a throbbing right, and then settle heavily on the left. A desperate search for comfort.

A handless re-positioning of the knee pillow, a defensive moat shielding bone on bone impact, a life-to-date action now into the tens of thousands. And counting.

Voices drift into the dreamless oblivion. The unreal is more powerful than the real…Stone crumbles. Wood rots…But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.¹

A chill, a pulling up of the covers, and the play repeats.

Left shoulder pull
Right shoulder roll
Right knee tuck
Left knee slide
Voices
Covers

They can go on and on…


Notes:

Those nagging what ifs

hands-black-and-wife-resignation

Everyone who gives up a serious childhood dream — of becoming an artist, a doctor, an engineer, an athlete — lives the rest of their life with a sense of loss, with nagging what ifs. […]

Only a very few loves can disappoint you so fundamentally that you feel you’ve lost yourself when they’re gone. Quitting music wounded me as deeply as any relationship in my life. It was my first great loss, this innocent, awkward failure to live with what I heard and felt. For more than ten years I avoided music. It hurt too much. My anger went as deep as my love had gone. I suppose this is natural. In the aftermath of something so painful, we subsist on bitterness, which sustains us against even greater loss.

~ Glenn Kurtz in Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music


Photo: By Majewska via banishedagain

Lurching. Lurching. Lurching.

sam_harris

This Believer of Convenience warily tiptoed into Sam Harris’ new book titled Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. I’m a 1/3 of the way in. He’s managed to settle under my skin, burrowing into my consciousness.  I’m deeply ambivalent about the message. The polarity of my emotions is stark – it’s as if I’m split in two. I drift in and out of darkness and I find myself empty in my quiet moments of contemplation. I’m certain that this wasn’t Sam’s objective with his Guide.  Yet I find it impossible to disagree with certain messages, such as yesterday’s post titled Carpe Momento. And another this morning which I’m sharing below.  I’m leaning heavily on F. Scott Fitzgerald to function: “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” – – as I need to function, I need to function. Here’s Sam Harris with another one of his “pow, right in the kisser” messages to me:
[Read more…]

To Live & Learn

taste-woman-art-painting-water

I want to taste and glory in each day,
and never be afraid to experience pain;
and never shut myself up
in a numb core of non-feeling,
or stop questioning and criticizing life
and take the easy way out.
To learn and think:
to think and live;
to live and learn:
this always, with new insight,
new understanding,
and new love.

Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

 


Credits: Quote Source: Petrichour. Painting: Ufukorada

 

Bang our very bones to roust our own souls

woman-tattoo-guitar

Unless we learn to let experience play upon our inner lives as on a finely tuned instrument, we will try to manufacture inner intensity from the outside, we will bang our very bones to roust our own souls. We crave radical ruptures when we have allowed the nerves of our inner lives to go numb. But after those ruptures— the excitement or the tragedy, the pleasure or the pain— the mind returns to what it was, the soul quicksilvers off from the pierce of experience, and the kingdom of boredom…begins the clock-tick toward its next collapse.

~ Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer


Photograph: Beza17

We must look wider than what hurts

yellow throat,bird,

“We begin so aware and grateful. The sun somehow hangs there in the sky. The little bird sings. The miracle of life just happens. Then we stub our toe, and in that moment of pain, the whole world is reduced to our poor little toe. Now, for a day or two, it is difficult to walk. With every step, we are reminded of our poor little toe.

Our vigilance becomes: Which defines our day – the pinch we feel in walking on a bruised toe, or the miracle still happening?

It is the giving over to smallness that opens us to misery. In truth, we begin taking nothing for granted, grateful that we have enough to eat, that we are well enough to eat. But somehow, through the living of our days, our focus narrows like a camera that shutters down, cropping out the horizon, and one day we’re miffed at a diner because the eggs are runny or the hash isn’t seasoned just the way we like.

When we narrow our focus, the problem seems everything. We forget when we were lonely, dreaming of a partner. We forget first beholding the beauty of another. We forget the comfort of first being seen and held and heard. When our view shuts down, we’re up in the night annoyed by the way our lover pulls the covers or leaves the dishes in the sink without soaking them first.

In actuality, misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything. So, when feeling miserable, we must look wider than what hurts. When feeling a splinter, we must, while trying to remove it, remember there is a body that is not splinter, and a spirit that is not splinter, and a world that is not splinter.”

~ Mark Nepo


Quote Source: Whiskeyriver. Image credit of Common Yellow Throat

Ever think of that?

photography,black and white

Most of the pain you’re dealing with are really just thoughts.. ever think of that?

– Buddhist Bootcamp

 


Credits: Image – Journal of a Nobody.  Quote: Thank you Karen @ Karen’s Korner

Norway owns Gold. How?

Norway-Olympic-team-Sochi

Excerpts from wsj.com: How Norway Scores So Much Olympic Gold?

…Norway itself is a Winter Olympics marvel: With only five million people, it has won 303 Winter Olympic medals, far more than any other country on the planet. To find a country smaller than world-leading Norway on the all-time Winter Olympics medal table, you have to travel down to Croatia, which ranks 24th with 11 medals.  And this month, Norway is fielding one of its strongest teams in almost two generations, with some experts considering it the favorite to win both the highest gold and total medal count, a feat that it last achieved in 1968.

Other countries long ago took to shrugging off Norway’s Winter Olympics medal haul as the unsurprising inheritance of a people whose young are born with skis on their feet, as an old Nordic adage goes. But skiing is also fundamental to the culture of other Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, which has about twice the population but, with 132 total, not even half the medals.

Instead, many experts think the answer lies in the culture and lifestyle of the country, where an extraordinary egalitarianism runs through youth sports. Before age 6, Norwegian kids can only train but not formally compete in sports, and before age 11, all children participating in a competition must be awarded the same prize.

Still, most experts say the biggest reason behind Norway’s success is the culture that propelled it atop the medal table from the outset. Norway’s cities are relatively close to the wilderness, and children are encouraged to play outdoors even on the coldest days.

In those disciplines, attaining world-class status typically takes years of training. This is one reason that the Meråker school accepts students whose passion for sport may outshine their performances. In the long run, desire and perseverance will play the greatest roles in shaping future Olympians. The school’s coaches say the main lesson they teach is the importance of training relentlessly for years beyond high school.

In addition to physical work on the farm in the afternoons, weekends and holidays, he was regularly charged with what his father refers to as “incredibly boring stuff,” like picking stones from a field, just to improve his psyche. Every time he hurt himself, his father would tease him until he stopped crying. Eventually, he came to believe pain is cool. “My father taught me at an early age to tackle pain—I think that’s my strength. I can go for hours in pain without giving up,” he said. His childhood mentor, a star skier turned coach named John Thomas Rena, agrees. “I think a big part of Jenssen’s talent comes from the way he grew up,” he said.


Image Credit: Best and Worst Dressed Olympic Nations in Sochi

like this one, like that one, like this one

robert creeley

“I think
I grow tensions
like flowers
in a wood where
nobody goes.

Each wound is perfect,
encloses itself in a tiny
imperceptible blossom,
making pain.

Pain is a flower like that one,
like this one,
like that one,
like this one.”

– Robert Creeley, ”The Flower”


Robert Creeley (1926 – 2005) was a major American poet of the 20th century. He was born in Arlington, MA and was a teacher, a scholar, and a fierce presence: “I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption either as a man or poet.” He lost the sight in one eye in a car accident when he was two years old. The loss of his eye and his father, both early in life, affected Creeley profoundly. For the first half of his life he travelled as an outsider, his heavy drinking often leading to brawls with friends and strangers. Creeley was sometimes an angry young man who wanted “the world to narrow to a match flare”.  Unable to sign up for World War II because of his sight problem, he joined the American Field Service and drove ambulances in India and Burma. He returned home with two medals…Just days before he died, he gave his final reading — in Charlottesville, Virginia — breathing from what he called “portable wee canisters of oxygen about the size of champagne bottles”. In between the poems Creeley said very simple things that rang true: “There has been so much war and pain during the last century. We need to learn how to be kind; kindness is what makes us human.”

(Read full Bio by Robert Adamson @ Jacket 26)


Credits: Poem – sleepwalking.nu. Portrait: beatbookcovers


Pain is not exclusive to humans

birds-pain-cry

birds2-pain


Source: Youreyesblazeout

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