Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Cats' Relationship

Pushkin and Gilda are pretty good friends, now. I see their little rituals of communication. Pushkin was laying at the base of my chair. Gilda walked in and sat down. Pushkin got up into a sitting position. They each, in turn, tentatively explored getting closer, and gradually sniffed each other, culminating in the touching of noses. They sniffed backward a bit, and settled into neutral sitting poses. Gilda laid down first, signaling she was comfortable with their proximity. Then Pushkin relaxed. Gilda pushed it a little farther, slowly rolling on her side, and lifting her paw in a playful gesture. She reaches toward him tentatively a couple times, finally just touching Pushkin's chin.

"Play?" I hear her saying. But when she touches Pushkin with her paw, he recoils with a "ghrr?!". Like, "Hey, what's up with touching me?"

Other times he might run away, fight back in a gingerly fashion, or hiss. Or, he might back off, move ten or so feet away, and settle into a waiting position, on his belly with his feet under him. He might watch her for a while. In which case, she is likely to casually lick a paw or stroll away, which brings Pushkin up to a stalking crouch. Slowly he steps forward, silently, one foot at a time. At some invisible signal, he rushes toward her, and she takes off in the other direction. But when she reaches a place of cover, she settles into waiting or stalking mode. Every other chase is likely to be turn-about-fair-play.

This is not how it was when Gilda first came to us. We knew from experience that Pushkin tries to make friends with every human and animal he meets. And he know how to do it. He holds back, and approaches slowly. If he sees a negative response, he goes about his business, and tries again later.

Random Thoughts

We know from the quality of our entertainment, that anything can be faked. This may have always been true - that the powerful leaders of society had secrets and means beyond the knowledge of ordinary folk, and could mislead them in whatever direction they wanted. But we in this era have been witness to so many unveilings of things we formerly thought were true, that we should be skeptics even if we didn't see, on most any fictional TV show, totally convincing scenes and happenings that we know for a fact are fakes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Mary Oliver's poem "Sunrise"

From Mary Oliver's poem "Sunrise":

...and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?...

I got the image of a universe of stars in the shape of a human body. It is covered with skin, and clothes, and looks ordinary. But the eyes open to reveal two suns, surrounded by space. You dive into one of those eyes, and you are plunged into absolute darkness, except for the distant stars. You see nothing nearby - not even your own body. You are falling, uncontrollably, into this abyss. But there is nothing to fall toward. And no "thing" that is falling.

After an interminable time, you reach the center, but you are still falling. The center is unbearable light, roiling and misting. You cannot look at it, but there is nothing to block it. It is not light, but it is there and it is real.

Please, please let me go back to where I am deluded and hypnotized. God, You are too much. OK, I believe in You. Just let me go back to my body. Let me believe what my father believes, and never thinks to question.

The poem brought me the first image, of the eyes that open backwards into a  universe. But the starkness of it reminded me of unbearable light.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nothing to Fear

What is the truly revolutionary advance that humans are making in the evolution of life and consciousness on Earth? The ability to live without fear.

Fear, as an emotion, is an effective survival asset for creatures that do not have as much power to change the environment as we do. An instinct to jump away from a sudden stimulus appears in amoebas. In higher mammals, cognitive understanding of the environment allows cautiousness and flight/fight responses to be focused on things more likely to be real threats.

But the emotion of fear has very few positive effects for human beings. How often do we face threats that can be dealt with by the tendencies fear engenders? Only a soldier on a battlefield, or anyone in a dark alley, is more likely to survive is some circumstances if he or she is afraid. And the number of times in which any human being has ever survived because he or she was afraid at a given moment, is so small as to be statistically zero - at least since we stopped being large-animal prey, that might move faster with adrenaline in its bloodstream.

Don't conflate fear with rational understanding of risks. If you are "afraid" you might get killed in an auto wreck, and therefore refuse to ride with a drunk driver, any actual fear you experience is beside the point. You made a rational decision to avoid risk. You didn't need the emotion of fear to compel you to do it.

This is the controversial issue. It is hard to grasp the concept that the actual emotion of fear does not contribute to survival, and therefore does not need to be clung to.

Examples abound of situations in which fear is a detriment to survival, clearly. In all emergency situations, the first and strongest advice is, "Stay calm." But in the 99%+ of our lives that are not emergency situations, we often make no effort to stay calm. Some of us let fear completely control us much of the time. Is there a reason to think that allowing fear to rampage when we are _not_ in an emergency situation is any better for us than staying calm? I am speaking as a sufferer of anxiety and and panic attacks. Trust me, I have experienced fear in the whole gamut of situations, and in none does it do any good. (However, I have not been in a situation where I could hope to outrun an attacker. Such an attacker would have to have a limp.)

Adrenaline can make you work faster as well as run faster. If your survival depends on building a sandbag embankment before a storm come, fear could be helpful. If you are the engineer designing the embankment, too much fear will reduce your community's and your own prospects.

I believe that there is no downside to releasing fear. If fear is appropriate to the situation, it will be helping you do your work faster, but you won't be aware of it. If you are aware of it, it has already gone too far. You need to be using those brain cells to figure out what to do. Every thought cycle that involves fear is wasted.

I believe that my lassitude, and the tendency of most people to sit and do nothing, come from the fact that our brains are soaked in fear. If yours is not, congratulations. But if the shoe fits, wear it.