Where I was in March

Has the universe joined me, sympathetically, in my partially self-imposed celibacy? Are no silk stockings pushed down to form runnels around taut calves while creamy thighs bear the slap and shudder of insistent thrusting?

The minutes between consciousness and oblivion stretch interminably as my heightened night-hearing strains to catch the slightest whisper of a woman moaning in pleasure – mock or otherwise.

It’s into this tense hiatus that I introduce some web porn. Not much – just enough to kick start the neighbourhood. But the street, suburb, city, remain platonic as if to spite my efforts.

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Modern symbolism

The nerd in me coming out – I was thinking about mail merges in the shower (yes, I know, there are considerably better things to get up to in the shower) – you know, where you create a form letter or some other document, set up merge fields (for the purposes of this dissertation let’s call these symbols), then apply some data to create a series of meaningful correspondences.

It’s the process I like about this. The merge fields themselves have no meaning (apart from placeholders, or signposts), the data is raw information – when unfiltered like this it’s also largely meaningless – but the process of applying one to the other by way of the symbols strikes me as a beautiful fractal metaphor for life.

We humans attach to symbols (brands, the Crucifix, the Star of David, numbers, alphabets) as a doorway to something deeper. We associate all sorts of significance with particular icons – but it’s important to remember that it’s not the icons nor the significance we place on them that create meaning – it’s the process of merging the two. Going through the doorway. Maybe?

Precognition and confirmation bias in the daydreamer

Preamble

I was reading in Astrology for the Soul about the astrological classification of my north node a few weeks back (for those interested I’m a Virgo). The author (Jan Spiller) had a lot of interesting stuff to say about my proclivity for daydreaming.

It may seem odd, but I never realised just how much time I spend in my head. Within half a second of meeting, say, a cute girl, I can have built a crystal castle of thought beautiful enough to rival the works of the big guy upstairs himself. (NB: I use the term ‘big guy upstairs’ with my tongue firmly in cheek – the last thing I want to do is align myself with any particularly mainstream religious persuasion here.) The issue, you see, with crystal castles of thought and mindstuff are that they paralyse me into inaction – either by not needing to act because I’m happy in my fantasy, or because it’s so beautiful I lose the moment wondering how I can get to the projected future.

Obviously this is less than ideal. The simple answer is to remain present (though that incites the hard task of actually managing to stay present). Spiller suggests focusing on the superficial but practical aspects of the moment to bring one back to earth – the colour of the clothes people are wearing, the sounds nearby. The tang in the air (if, indeed, there is a tang in the air).

Confirmation Bias

If you haven’t heard of confirmation bias, it’s the tendency to filter your experience such that you only “see” those things which confirm your existing beliefs. In a nutshell, if you think all VW Polos contain pretty girls (as I do) you’ll only see pretty girls in VW Polos simply because you make a conscious note of any pretty girls you see in VW Polos and dismiss everyone else who you happen to see in such a vehicular configuration.

Confirmation bias in imaginative individuals => precognition

Thinking about this fantasizing, and my firmly held belief that I have, with fair regularity, predicted the future with uncanny accuracy (see also overconfidence effect) I come to the conclusion that, possibly, a vivid imagination which can play out myriad possible outcomes could lead to a form of precognition when coupled with confirmation bias. I am faced with a situation, immediately start daydreaming about all the possible ways it might play out, then when one of them happens I feel validated and forget all the others which had come to mind.

There’s probably a cognitive bias for that, too.

Someone was calling on the telephone. Universes of thought passed through my mind between the first and second rings. I answered on the third.

Life by proxy

Differentiation as a metaphor for enlightenment

The more I think about Bowen’s discussion of differentiation, the more I feel it’s synonymous with enlightenment. When you’re completely yourself, totally genuine and accepting, you do not emotionally fuse into relationships (and this does not mean that you are disconnected or feel a sense of disconnectedness from others), I would say this is a pretty close approximation of spiritual enlightenment. Bowen doesn’t say he’s ever met anyone who is completely differentiated, so I believe I can pretty safely say the schools of thought around higher frequencies of vibration which are purported to accompany enlightenment don’t have to be dismissed at this early stage. Not that they’re relevant to my discussion anyway.

Fusion as a way of merging with the mother

Take Bowen’s emotional fusion discussion (high fusion happens in individuals with low differentiation) where the person has traded their large psuedo-self in order to fuse into the emotional system and lay it over Scarf’s (amongst many others, from what I hear) assertion that we all aim to lose ourselves in the blissful merging with our mother, as we were as babies, mouth to breast – totally lost in a world void of responsibility or care.

This makes sense to me, as I, and everyone I’ve ever met, has – at some time or another, in some way or another – tried to shirk the responsibility all of us enjoy as adults.

Shirking responsibility: masks and roles

We humans are manipulative, adaptive and clever. Take the idea of pseudo-self and you come up with wearing masks and playing roles. Couple this with our desire to re-experience the bliss of wholly merging with our mother and you get a quagmire of falsehoods all leading to an empty pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. My therapist, in a discussion this afternoon, described all this as: babies are in a state of pre-differentiation (they simply don’t have the faculties to differentiate); children and adults go through the process of differentiation (with varying levels of success); finally the ideal: post-differentiation where we realise we are all one, seeing the demarcation as an illusion (dare we say enlightenment?). In light of this (not that I’m suggesting my therapists words are gospel), trying to regress is a pipe dream, easy to confuse with post-differentiation.

Contemporary proxies

Let’s call these masks and roles what they really are. They’re mechanisms for interacting. They are vehicles we use to engage various systems. They’re proxies. I’ve written before about the disembodied spousal mask I engaged to relate to my ex. He was a proxy. I wheeled him out in order to negotiate whatever it was I was hoping for at the time. But I would like to propose that possibly proxies have gotten out of control.

Under the guise of societal structure and order, I think we may have lost sight of our safe proxy boundaries. Although I appreciate that proxies in our society (such as governments, project managers, etc) are a shit-hot way of utilising scale, getting the cats herded and the cathedral built, where does it stop? At a micro level, where we interact in one-on-ones, to a macro level where I use an anonymous persona named “Dissolution of Self” to relate my feelings and thoughts to the entire connected world (NB: my reader base at the time of writing is exactly 1.5 people apart from myself, all of it casual) – where does it end? Governments: we elect and pay big bucks to have basic civil rights fed back to us. Fashion over function: we hide behind brands so we don’t have the awkward feeling of not knowing what to wear (catch 22 as the awkward feeling was invented by the fashionistae). Garbage collectors. Insurance: the catch-all. And don’t even get me started on religion (how much of ourselves do we give up to toe that line?). When we look at the old patriarchal orders (yep, they’re still here, albeit slightly better concealed), such as monarchies, the far-fetched points in my argument, proxy at one end and mother-merging at the other, hopefully move a bit closer together.

On nice guys finishing last and differentiation

I’ve been reading Murray Bowen’s work on differentiation within one’s family of origin. I’ve also been reading Charlotte Kasl’s book on spiritual relationships (Zen and the Art of Falling in Love).

Parenthetically, I’ve also been listening to a lot of Closure in Moscow, but that’s neither here nor there.

On masks

It was about three or four years ago, not long after I broke up with my last serious girlfriend, that I woke up in the middle of the night to a sunken, miserable figure standing at the end of my bed, eyeing me with longing. He was jauntily dressed (think Elizabethan court finery), but seemed to be a much taller man collapsed in on himself. Like Violator, that demonic clown from Spawn. I fell back asleep almost immediately after the initial shock (you know what it’s like seeing ghosts), but over the next few days/weeks I started to understand what he was. I realised he was the displaced embodiment of my spousal mask. He was the facade I wore in my relationship and now that my partner had flown the coop he was starved and needed love. At the time he hung around for a while, sighing pathetically and lurking in shadows, and I just drank, watched TV, etc, in order to lose consciousness and not have to deal with him. If I knew then what I know now, I would have hugged him into oblivion. Where, in my public schooling and what I learned from my family, did we ever cover how to deal with disembodied spousal masks craving love?

On differentiation

Bowen talks about differentiation as a psychological panacea. He believes that we have an immutable basic self, which contains our core values, what we will and won’t do; we also have a pseudo-self, which is negotiable. We barter and trade our pseudo-self in relationships, this is where and how we compromise who we are to fuse into the relationship with the other person. The overlap between Kasl’s work (quoting Maggie Scarf) and Bowen’s would suggest that this fusion hearkens back to our earliest days where we merged with our mother, attached to the breast, totally unified emotionally, spiritually, phyiscally.

Low differentiation, Bowen maintains, leads to conflict, dysfunction, illness – through expending so much energy negotiating oneself in the relationship, one opens oneself up to these things. Plus, throwing in a thought of my own, presumably you begin to resent people for whom you trade so much of yourself just in order to maintain a thin veneer of equilibrium.

It’s important to note that intelligence, socio-economic status, etc, has no bearing on one’s level of differentiation.

On nice guys

What are nice guys? I think it’s something of a misnomer. I am a nice guy. I’ve always been a nice guy. And I think when we say ‘nice guy’ we’re talking about guys who fuse too heavily. I’m not talking about Bunny Boilers here, I’m talking about disproportionately large pseudo-selves. I was trained from early on to do others bidding, I am incredibly empathetic, I “get” people and what they want, and I thought this was being nice. My role in the family (the fact that we even have defined roles in my family is cause for concern) was to provide emotional and financial support for everyone else. I have three siblings, one mother, and I am the youngest. Not that this matters, but it shows the extremity of the situation.

When it came to relationships, I have always done what I did in my family of origin: bent over backwards, sold my soul, call it what you will. Sought partners who were emotionally closed (or whose emotional connection I could not understand, bringing it to the same thing) who were pathological enough that they did very little for me, but for whom I could do everything. I subverted a number of people into their part in my dance – women who wanted to do things for me were not to be trusted.

Since accelerating on my path (merely a turn of phrase, we’re all moving just as fast as we can) the last couple of years, I have been questioning my methods of attachment. I have gone through a long period of mistrust – mostly of myself (I cannot be trusted to select an appropriate partner, now that I know what kind of things I am drawn to), but especially of women. I think the mistrust of women is borne mostly of sheer exhaustion and responsibility burn-out. I simply haven’t had the energy to do everything for someone else.

I have noticed, casting my present perspective back over my history, that those times where I dealt completely honestly, even what I thought that the time was arrogantly or harshly (stating my mind, openly, clearly and without hesitation for how it might be received), women have really responded positively. This scared me (I wasn’t being nice) so I didn’t keep it up. I told myself I have too much respect for women. So I continued wearing masks.

The hypothesis

My hypothesis, then: that “nice guys” are undifferentiated guys. And, with societal white noise causing all this confusion around selecting a partner (i.e. interrupting and corrupting our internal mechanisms for assessing a mate, like ‘listening to our heart’ [read: intuition]), “assholes” (who can be mistaken as differentiated, merely because they are dancing to their own tune without a care for anyone else) are getting much more airtime. So what if we start to look deeper than “nice” or “asshole” (subjective labels anyway) and consider being genuine; honest; true to oneself and not wearing a mask when trying to connect with people? As with all things in life, walking the balance of the middle ground sounds like the goal.

A sense of balance

A hypothesis: what if the universe spins around an energetic fulcrum, sustaining a profound balance.

Not just cause and effect, physics, etc, but what if the whole shebang is in balance. That I have an equal number of supporters and opposers. That the only difference between myself and Oprah is an exposure of the scale. I say exposure, because if people were to know my values (if I were to advertise them broadly enough), I would expect a similar result to Oprah’s lovers and haters.

Not that I’m suggesting this is the way to go, but even extreme ends of the scale have their yea and nay crowd. Murderers, for instance, seem to have a similar number for and against, it’s just that the against is more socially accepted (at least it’s more advertised).

Strip back the socially-constructed veil and see what we can see… But of course we can’t strip back the veil. You can’t objectively observe the system you’re a part of, because you can’t get outside it. Check mate. Here comes religion. Just have some faith, why don’t you?

By mid-afternoon I felt fine

The more work I do on myself, the more fucked up I feel. It’s like there’s a deep-seated misery in me, itching it’s coarse fur within my skin, caught between liberation and obliteration through light-exposure. It wasn’t always this way. For a while there I felt some mistrusted sense of peace.

Show me a happy person and I’ll show you a fool (or a liar). With all due respect, I’m coming to understand the fools, harnessing universes of ignorance, are the more enlightened of our species.

This may be due to the equation h a 1/e (h is inversely proportional to e) where h is happiness and e is ego. Ego, in this context, incorporates the breadth of the thinking, problem-solving mind (i.e. the capabilities offered by the presence of a prefrontal cortex) and not just the fashionable use inspiring images of arrogant, buzzword-shootin’ hotrods in the executive suite.

But then I sit next to this column heater and consider the type and level of energy it puts out and I have to consider whether or not the ache in my head parallels the ache in my heart and all is due to some chemical imbalance caused by the present epoch’s mod cons.

When I consider the (now unfolding) ramifications of my ostrich-like retreat from the world, I wonder how the fuck any of us are meant to find peace or happiness with the human strength (read: failing) of turning the profound into the mundane. I’m coming to believe that perhaps assuming the role of the observer from a lofty perch, seemingly removed from society in order to observe society, simply makes me soul-sick. Society is a system and whatever mental barriers or abstractions I lay over the top of it, I am still a part of it. Worse, these barriers and abstractions are functions of the system, so all is delusion.

But the system is not evil, nor is it purposeless, nor is it meaningless. It has its own intelligence, but is, like our bodies, a representation of the cells within it. Mental retreat can simply obscure the profundity and beauty such that we forget the good and come to believe that frustration and angst rule (couldn’t be further from the truth).

Connect, my siblings. Hug a stranger. Forget the past, try not to rehearse the future, notice with amazement the unfolding moment. And then, just when you start to get an inkling of the awesome wonder of it all (via consciousness: our feeble minds are incapable of comprehension), try to have a meaningful conversation with your family.

It is true that any strength is also a great weakness. But it is worthy of note that by the same token, any weakness is also a great strength.