Tuesday, September 23, 2014

happiness is...

If life's a bitch, what are we really missing if we just get straight to the dying part?  In Buddhism, life is suffering, but the source of that suffering is craving, the perpetual wheel of discontent, that really has a whole lot less to do with us personally than we tend to think.

Craving, though, comes from the view that things can get better.  That even if we're not happy at the moment, we can be, if we just work at it.  Life may be suffering right now but hang in there, it'll be worth it.

It can even look like craving is all that keeps people thinking they're happy.  Most people seem to be at their happiest, when they think they're going to be.. soon.  When they finally do get what they thought was so important, it slips by so quickly, and they're already thinking about what will really make them happy, next.  In the culture I'm familiar with, it sure looks like the happiest people are the ones who crave the most, and the miserable people are the ones who can't find any reason to believe things can ever get better.

Of course, looks are often deceiving, but on closer inspection, I've simply found that sometimes it's true, sometimes not.  Buddhism is all about making peace with the moment, regardless of circumstances.  It seems to work for some, better than others.  Materialism is all about getting excited for whatever new toy you talk yourself into looking forward to next, and that also seems to work for some, better than others.

I'm not really sure what to make of all this.  Being the miserable curmudgeon that I am, I've been trying to figure it out, all my life.. People have all sorts of explanations for why they are the way they are, and how well it works for them, but nobody's been able to offer up a whole lot of solid evidence that their rhetoric actually helps anyone else.

Lately, it sure looks like it's mostly just a lot of nonsensical misinterpretation of conditions almost entirely biological, in nature.  This is still a leap of faith though.  It's just the explanation with the least gaping holes in it.

This would all be pretty funny, if I weren't too overwhelmed by my own present circumstances to laugh about it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

cognitive behavioral stigma

If my self-esteem is a bit lacking at times, maybe it has something to do with how others seem to view my situation.  Most are a pretty far cry from enlightened on the subject of mental health, but especially during my formative adolescent years, people were pretty hard on me.

Given how little was known about my condition, it's somewhat understandable.  I was not behaving in a healthy way, and no one understood why.  It makes some fairly obvious sense to attempt to correct that behaviour, right?  Even making sure to get it through my head how very wrong I was to insist on being the way I was?

There's even a whole school of psychology devoted to the idea that mental health can be remedied by healthier thoughts and behaviours.  Certainly, there's a measure of indisputable truth to that, but its limits and dangerous side-effects tend to be ignored.  Of course, it can seem incredibly harmless.  Just smile more, you'll feel better.  Think more positive thoughts, engage in more positive activities.  How could any of that be bad?

It's bad when you think it's a real solution, for serious underlying problems that are not going to be solved that easily.  It can create a dynamic of stigma, where the person who fails to follow such advice, or even just fails to find success in it, becomes at fault for that.  It risks blaming the victim for being responsible for their own plight.  Even when there's a degree of truth to that responsibility, anyone who actually cares, might want to consider treading carefully when going there.. or at the very least, try to be sympathetic when said advice doesn't exactly pan out.

So much of how the mind works is still beyond the scope of modern medical science, but that's not really much of an excuse for ignoring the harm that good intentions can cause.  Before it was even considered how pituitary function might play into mental health, it was clear that I had serious problems, and no one had any idea how to help me.

Now that it's better understood, and I've done my best to highlight that as a very likely contributor, at the very least, it makes even less sense to point out my behavioral issues.  Granted, to an observer, it sure looks like the problem is that I don't do anything, but whatever the cause, that has a whole lot to do with the crippling mental conditions I've been trying to navigate my entire life..  Even after all this, I still feel like I'm locked away in an invisible prison no one really believes in.

Take away this crushing weight, and of course my behaviour will change.  I sure as hell don't like living this way, but an emphasis on changing behavior would be putting the cart before the horse.  It's an understandable attitude, but its just not very realistic, exposes a lack of sympathy for the gravity of what I'm actually dealing with, and reinforces blame, when I'm already pathologically prone to blaming myself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

whatever, man

One reason weed helps me feel better seems to be that it elicits a feeling of being ok with who I am.  As anyone versed in any sort of mental health reality can tell you, that's kind of a big deal, but all the more so, when we're talking about anxiety/depression issues.

How it works this way, I'm not sure.  Neither the mechanism by which it works, nor even if this is a direct reaction, or more the consequence of something else - e.g. If I'm more forgetful, does this include forgetting what I'm supposed to be so down on myself about?  Or does it have something to do with THC stimulating cortisol levels?

There are also nuances to it that still elude me, such as how it can make a world of difference to some moods, but be completely useless for others.  That is, certainly not a psychological cure-all, and possibly explaining why some people like it more than others - maybe depending on what sort of chemical balance they're naturally prone to.. but I'm not even sure what it does cure, exactly.  Only that when I'm stoned, my superego feels a bit more on my side.

This isn't entirely a good thing.  Painkillers can be invaluable, but pain does serve a purpose, too.  It's nature's system for warning against circumstances which have proven to be detrimental for survival.  It is our way of getting the message that we might be doing something wrong.  That we should be trying to change.

This is a major element of the human condition.  That we should always be trying to change.  To improve our situation, to make ever more of what nature gives us, from mud huts to skyscrapers.  We seem to take it a step beyond every other animal, that just relaxes, when they're not actually feeling the physical pangs of hunger, exposure, or fear of some other imminent danger.   As humans, we think bigger, we know there are always potentially imminent dangers, even when on any given day, our lives have been pretty safe and uneventful.

We seem to have a deeply rooted aversion to being content.  We have a whole lot of other words for pretty much the same thing, with much more negative connotations.  Statistically speaking, reality is a pretty dangerous place, and this has a lot to do with why we've improved on that dramatically over the past few millennia.  I'm not exactly attempting to pose an argument against any of that.

I'm just saying, it has it's pros and cons.  Sometimes it's important to work for something, to achieve what we can.  A certain amount of work ethic is definitely a good thing, but sometimes it's also important to recognize our limitations and the reality of our situation, and learn to be ok with it.  I believe there's a cliche that goes something to that effect, but I don't think people generally apply it inward, to the circumstances of who we are.  We'd rather think we can be anyone we want, yet still make the, honestly questionable, decision to be ourselves.

Mental health can do a real number on that illusion, though.  It can force us to be more realistic about aspects of ourselves that we'd normally prefer not to face.  "Being yourself" becomes unacceptable.  As if there's a real difference between the chemical imbalance differentiating an illness from the myriad of chemical balances defining all of us.

 We should all strive to make the most of what we can, but not to the point of thinking that improvement absolutely must happen.  It's important to strive for the future, but not so emphatically as to hate the present.  Not only does that suck in itself, but it's self-defeating.  It sabotages the mental state often necessary to make any healthy progress.

So maybe for some, cannabis can lead to lazy apathy, but for me, I think it helps achieve a more acquiescive balance, where I don't hate my life so much as to think I'd be better off without it.  I'm pretty sure that's a good thing, and believe me, it's been very far from the first thing I've tried.

Friday, September 12, 2014

this is, very serious kungfu

I loved taking martial arts, but I've had trouble finding a new place.  It feels like the problem is that I'm very picky.  I have this criteria that I need a school to meet, and if it falls too short, I'm not interested.  Either, not at all, or just, not enough to find the motivation to actually bother with it.

So, as far as motivation goes, it may really be an underlying component of needing to meet an exceptionally high bar, for getting any motivation happening at all.

Still, keep coming back to what exactly I want to get out of it.
For example, it needs to be good exercise.  This is central to my justification for actually doing this.  Even if a case could be made for it being utterly impractical in every other way, no one should be able to argue that it's not even a good workout, or that exercise isn't practical.  As I've made my way through my thirties, this has seemed increasingly important.  How active we can be as we get older has so much to do with how active we choose to be, while we have the chance.

This just feels inarguably important to me - and yet, there are some schools that go way too easy on their students, to the point of being of only marginal physical benefit.  Better than doing nothing, but not much.  There may be plenty of exceptions to this particular one, but not as many as one might think.

A lot of it really contributes to how seriously the practice is taken.  If it's just for kids, it's fine if it's not the best exercise, isn't really authentic to any real tradition, or even all that effective as self-defense.  That it's fun can be the most important of all, but as an adult, I need it to be about a little more than that.

When it comes to the tradition of martial arts, there are two distinct sides to whether that contributes or undermines said seriousness.  On the one side, there's Traditional Martial Arts, which does explain a whole lot of what it does as tradition, and how accurate that is can be important to its practitioners, who may not be happy to find out one day that their instructor really just makes it all up himself while watching Van Damme movies.

On the other, you have the side that cares only about how effective it really is, as far as kicking ass goes.  Be it in in the ring, a bar fight, or if assaulted on the street - if it works, it doesn't matter what sort of pedigree it's got.  If someone comes up with a proven more effective way to do an armbar, then we should learn that, because that's what it's all about.

Although in an overlap of those two sides, you've also got the sport fighters, who want what they're taught to be effective, for the given sport, but they also want it to be true to a real sport, with a tradition of sorts.

Lastly though, you've got the actual artistic aspect of it.  Art could just be a word for technique, but try looking up some youtube videos of Wushu, and tell me how that isn't meant to be a bit of an art form.  Some might look at that as decidedly not-serious, because it isn't practical, it isn't even a competitive sport, in the sense of competitors going physically head-to-head in any way.

Personally, how seriously I take a school has more to do with how honest I feel they're being about which of these roles they really fill.  If it's mostly about art, that's great, as long as it doesn't pretend to be about self-defense.  If it's about tradition, that's fine if it's based on actual traditions.  If it's a sport, the sparring should be heavily emphasised.

In a way, I was spoiled by Hwa Rang Do, which claimed to be about all of the above, but turned out to be surprisingly accurate about it.  I say surprising because, I think there's always going to be a trade-off.  Jack of all trades, master of none, and all that.  Some can fall pretty far short on some counts for trying to do too much.

I felt the school I went to struck a pretty impressive balance between it all, and looking at somewhere new to try, there isn't anywhere like that.  There's a Taekwondo place, and a Jiu Jitsu place, but at my age, if I'm going to be at all serious about it, I should try something with a lower risk of injury.  Maybe Wushu would be best.

Whatever it is though, they have to know what they're doing.  Literally and figuratively.

Oh yeah, and it needs to be within a mile or two, because I don't drive.  In theory, I could spend countless hours riding public transit, maybe even going into Manhattan a few times a week.. but in reality, I'm having trouble getting over my anxiety about just leaving the house.

Friday, September 5, 2014

going in circles

My neurochemistry is fucked up.
Have I mentioned that?  Oh right, I bring it up almost every day, like a tired worn out old excuse.  As people often do, excuses are repeated the most, when they don't seem to be working.  We repeat what we believe to be the honest truth, over and over.

In every way we can think of, in the hopes that maybe it will eventually be understood.  Instead, people just get sick of hearing it.

It's strange, how when it comes to all sorts of things, everyone seems to insist on believing whatever they want to believe.  We talk as if we're all so rational, as if our every decision is based on our best possible attempt at a well thought out logical decision.. and then go fucking everything up, same as we always have.

I am forced to have this dialogue with myself.  Going over the ramifications of biochemistry on our beliefs about free will, again.  Who really does find something new and interesting to discuss every day?  No, things start to feel the most circular when we really don't like hearing them, in the first place.  So yeah, oddly enough, I've had to spend most of life talking to myself.  Posting it publicly, just so that there will be some record of my existence, beyond the vague memories people have of an awkward quiet person who mostly just keeps to himself.

Repetitive as it may be, this is who I am, but everyone I've ever known is similarly repetitive.  We have our beliefs, our patterns of thought, behavior, and conversational interests - and the uncanny tendency to find our way back to it all, no matter what happens.  When we relate well to others, these patterns tend to feel like a good thing.  When we don't relate so well, we get sick of hearing about it.

The biochemistry of experience is all we ever really know. It is the closest thing to an actual substance known as self or will.  It's all anyone is, and whether it's fucked up or not really depends on what we're trying to do with it.  Are we striving to be something different, or working with what we've got?  Are we living a life that's conducive to our potential, or flopping around like a fish out of water?  Do our relationships reinforce our sense of self, or undermine it?  Do we live in a world, in which we function adequately, or one for which we're painfully ill-equipped?

So yeah, I'm feeling pretty fucked up, these days.  I'm depressed, I'm tired, I try not to think about the future in any way, because I can't even imagine how I have one.  At this point in my life, I'm feeling like an experiment that's failed.  I guess for a long time, I held onto the idea that I could figure out some way to make it work.  Or I could find my way into circumstances that I could work with.  I thought that one way or another, I'd figure something out.  Who I am isn't working out, though.

Self-esteem based on what we think of ourselves requires the luxury of circumstances that allow it to matter.  Relationships to life and the people around us, in which it matters.