Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A hopefully unscientific ongoing investigation into suffering and its meaning for me

"Not even in our most devious dreams could we have designed a surrogate as evil as these real monkey mothers were", he wrote. But of course he was speaking of himself.

I want to sing a song
about some animals and a man
I read about, and
how it squeezed my heart
like bellows of some hellish
icy fire that gives out neither
light nor warmth but sucks them in.

The man, his name is not so relevant,
he had already changed it from
fear of loss, but he called himself a
scientist and a psychologist, and some of his work
served to validate the importance of touch
and the physical expression of parental affection,
at a time when mothers were encouraged by men in white coats
to ignore both their instincts and crying children, and shake hands
goodnight rather than have a hug or kiss.

He helped change all that
by being a man in a white coat who provided "proof"
of the opposite - which allowed dutiful wives and mothers to
do what they already knew was best,  
and any child or adult who is not touch deprived
because of that work must be credited in some part
to him.

Yet his intellectual curiosity, if that is what it was,
so human, so inhuman - untempered by something
we might call mercy or seeing one's self in the other -
inflicted great damage on his
non-human primate subjects
cutting out sections of their brains,
subjecting them to massive doses of radiation,
forcing cobalt into their cortex....

in context
nothing that other "researchers" were not doing at the time,
or were to do.

A scientist is god in their laboratory
as we are all gods in our worlds.
and at some point his second wife
who was very dear to him
got cancer and after struggling with the
disease died. He sank into a black depression, received
electro-convulsive therapy
and then continued with increasingly sadistic "experiments" on
rhesus monkeys, ostensibly to find out
what was obvious, but perhaps to push
the pain or heaviness in him
into other beings, to "act out" his own psychic distress (he said as much)*,
to lighten his load, to punish women or to punish Life, who knows?

Now a disembodied curiosity,
detatched or numbed from his own heart and hurt and anger
he improved his devices meant to hurt  

"the hostile mother"
"iron maidens"
"the rape rack"
 "the pit of despair"

Sometimes low functioning people
with distressing thoughts
problems of human living
end up in jails or locked wards or out on the streets
sometimes high functioning people
with distressing thoughts
problems of human living
end up as leaders and politicians and clergy and jailers and academics

and it was appropriate he named them for what they were,
rather than with some scientific euphemism
like LD 50 tests where animals are poisoned for a better shampoo, 
or "deafferentation**"

perhaps it was a cry for help:
"I am in a pit of despair, someone help me,
someone stop me,
I'm sick and I don't know how to stop myself"

- how many addicts have silently or loudly screamed this prayer as they - we - seem to fall beyond abasement, in lightless cellars of blood and vomit?

but no one stopped him,
instead they gave him scientific medals,
although there were critics who rang the alarm bell on what was being done in our name,
so he continued spiralling down, aided and abetted by doctoral fellows, ostensibly to see
if severe deprivation could irreparably damage sentient beings. No surprises, it does.

He only stopped when age and Parkinsons
finished his cursed blighted frame
I cannot and will not watch
footage of the helpless beings
in their tiny bleak beyond bleak
my identification with them
so strong
I cannot bear my own
helplessness, powerlessness
to reach in, across time
to bring comfort,

but  reading of it
ran a worse movie in my head (of course)
which threw me
into the pit of despair
I joined him and the monkeys there

at first I wanted him to be resurrected from the grave, so that
I could strangle him with my own hands
before it could happen, to clean this stain
off me, of my world
I wanted him slowly tortured so that the pain in me and his monkeys
would become his again,
then thought of more subtle and devastating
forms of "justice" where he would be treated to endless exposure to the suffering he caused
and presided over

like a terrorist who must meet the loving and weeping parents and children and siblings of the people they have killed, every day for the rest of their life, with no means to undo what they have done,
(but how will that help the grieving kin?)
til he understood and his heart
burst from remorse and regret
and then I wished a fiery end to all
a cleansing fire, so that we could begin again,
untainted by human perversity,
but self righteous anger and revenge fantasies only go so far
I already knew, and saw ever more clearly
that I was doing to him
and me, what he did to those monkeys,

and my heart broke once again

I marvelled at the human capacity
to enter the other or to stay without
- his and mine and yours
the heart’s slight sleight of hand
how it opens and shuts
without hardly moving, how
cattle lowing in a truck
become good economic data
how one person sees a terrified child
the other a future terrorist
one a grieving family
the other their familiar kept safe.

(though what i see
is just an image
they have been free of suffering
these 45 years)

and both they and him long gone, borne away on the river of time
only reemerging now when attention turns to what it all represents 
and what does it say about us, what we already know
whatever is fed, grows)

certainly a man deserving of any spare
compassion you or I
may have 

after I had wept for them, and him, and me I thought
if he had known that he could not free himself 
like that, if he had found a way back to his heart, if he
could have left the prison of the lab and his career and his
imagined loss and found comfort he
would never have done that,
it would not have been a possibility for him
to seal a baby in a cold steel tin
so like Leonard Cohen bringing flowers to a mass murderer
in the garden of my heart
I pick some fresh blooms
and take them to him
before it all began
when we do not know

we do begin again

obviously my work
is not yet done
for I refuse to name him
(infamy be wiped out and leave no trace!)
or hear his voice or see his likeness
from shame and sorrow and fear of contamination
would that he
and all cruelty
were never born

but the day, the hour, the minute, the second  will come
when I will set him and me  free
my non-indifference to sorrow
compels it

"In our study of psychopathology, we began as sadists trying to produce abnormality. Today, we are psychiatrists trying to achieve normality and equanimity." he wrote

He wanted to test how isolation would affect parenting skills, but the isolated monkeys were unable to mate. The monster devised what he called a "rape rack", to which the damaged female monkeys  were tied in normal monkey mating posture. He found that, just as they were incapable of having sexual relations, they were also unable to parent their offspring, either abusing or neglecting them.  Having no social experience themselves, they were incapable of appropriate social interaction. One mother held her baby's face to the floor and chewed off his feet and fingers. Another crushed her baby's head. Most of them simply ignored their offspring. "Not even in our most devious dreams could we have designed a surrogate as evil as these real monkey mothers were", he wrote. But of course he was speaking of himself.

* deafferentation -  cutting sensory ganglia that supply nerves to the fingers, hands, arms, and legs of  monkeys – a process known as "deafferentation" – so that the monkeys could not feel them. (Some of them had had their entire spinal columns deafferented.) While developing the new  constraint-induced movement therapy that helped, and helps, restore the use of affected limbs in stroke patients, psychologist Edward Taub used restraint and electric shock to force the monkeys to use the limbs they could not feel. He discovered that, when motivated by extreme hunger or the desire to avoid electric shock, they could be induced to use their deafferented limbs. The research led in part to the discovery of neuroplasticity within the primate motor system. Some of the research parallels what was already known, or used, on shell shocked first world war soldiers who underwent lobotomies, or who were tortured  - literally - back into a degree of functionality.

"Mutism and speech disorders were the most common form of war neurosis. They were thought to be symptoms of a soldiers repressed aggression towards his superior officers. The rate of war neurosis, however, was four times higher among officers then among the regular soldiers. Their positions required them to continually repress their emotions in order to set an example for their men. The most severe cases of Shellshock occurred in officers who had made a name for themselves as daredevils. These man were ashamed by their overwhelming fear and performed daredevil acts to show their men that they were not afraid.

The treatments of Shellshock were many and varied. Disciplinary treatment was the most common at the time. The doctors involved with this form of treatment had harsh moral views of hysteria and stressed quick cures as the goal of wartime psychiatry was to keep men fighting. Shaming, physical re-education and the infliction of pain were the main methods used. Electric Shock Treatment was very popular. This involved an electric current being applied to various body parts to cure the symptoms of Shellshock. For example, an electric current would be applied to the pharynx of a soldier suffering from mutism or to the spine of a man who had problems walking.
Another form of treatment consisted of "finding out the main likes and dislikes of patients and then ordering them to abstain from the former and apply themselves diligently to the latter". Patients who had a fear of noise were given rooms looking onto a main road, men who had been teachers or writers before the war were refused access to the library and men who feared being alone were put into isolation." (source: )

See also this theatre review

Journey into the heart of darkness

If you tend towards brooding melancholy then skip this post, but if you've never thought too much about what motivates scientists who perform unnecessary experiments on sentient beings then this extract from a harrowing play - but which nevertheless evokes laughter because contradiction is inescapable living life as a person -  may expose you to some new perspectives.

And here is an intelligent review of the play

Monday, November 13, 2017

Here we go....again

Have been experiencing quite extreme mood and energy cycling / swings, not just from day to day but during a single day. So at 1pm may find myself unable to keep my eyes open, feeling too heavy too move, or terrribly oppressed, and then - sometimes after a short nap if that is available to me, or just lying down and listening to Mooji or Byron Katie or, today, for a change, Allan Watts - I find myself busy doing things again, my energy levels restored. This may last a while, then there is another crash, and sometimes before bed time there may be one more small burst of energy and animation.

I try to be mindful and not get fully identified with the feelings that arise, particulary the denser paralysing ones, which for some reason - probably an imagined future - I am more resistant too than the "ups".

I think it can be liberating if I can let go and trust that Life is beneficient, and allow what is changing to change, without clinging too tightly to notions of how my body should feel, or what my energy levels should be like, at any given time.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

What do the dead think of the Holocaust?

My question is this: Once suffering is behind us, what concerns us?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Legal vs The Psychological Domain; Differing Understandings of Causality

This post emerged out of a discussion with a client, so thank you client

In the legal domain the intention of the perpetrator matters little, and victim impact matters a lot. Nor does the victim's subjective meaning making matter much...the police will tend to arrest Jean Valjean even if the Bishop does not want to press charges, does not think of the silver candlesticks as ever being his - "to the Lord is the earth and the fullness thereof" - or that they were "stolen."

Perhaps this is because the law is concerned with regulating society, with reinforcing norms (right and wrong), with punishment and with - too rarely - restorative justice. It does not question the notions of agency, private property, free will, volition or responsibility, and nor does it explore - in the areas of libel, defamation, intimidation, boundary violations, bullying, harassment, traumatisation etc - how the 'victim' may co-create the injury along with the perpetrator, by the kind of conceptualising and languaging they use to describe to themself what has happened. (And which is subtly reinforced by the agendas and power struggles and discourses of those around them)

In the psychological domain, however, it is different. Perhaps because this domain is less concerned with "good" and "bad" than with balance, happiness, well-being and freedom. The intentions of the perpetrator are unknowable, even if the perpetrator says what they were....because the perpetrator may be an unreliable witness. But the meaning making of the survivor / victim / overcomer is accessible, and this meaning making is all important as to whether minutes or hours in the past will grow into a huge and heavy wound-burden in the present, (what Eckhart Tolle calls an identity maintained by identification with the pain body) or whether the person will turn from digging in the graveyard of the past to dwell in the house of the present and presence.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Both "good" and "bad" are impermanent states

How can we do permanent "good" in a dynamic environment? Yesterdays "good" turns into tomorrows "bad" - perhaps better to question the notion of do-ership and agency all together - not in a way that leaves us believing we are powerless, but rather in a way that we acknowledge that what Reality needs to happen will happen, through us or through another...its a very delicate dance and perhaps getting our small "i" out of the way will make for a more elegant and suffering-less performance....

Rav Kook, of blessed memory, wrote a lot about how the seeming individual will (ratzon prati) works within and merges with, the general will, the Divine will.

The Rambam (Maimonides) the great Medieval Jewish philosopher and physician described the fluidity and context dependence of "good" and "bad" a 1000 years ago, and advised it best to adopt a stoic "wait and see" attitude of reserving judgement.

פירוש הרמב"ם על המשנה בברכות, ט, ה

[ה.] חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה כו' – מה שאמר: כשם שהוא מברך על הטובה – רוצה לומר, לקבל אותו בשמחה ולב טוב ולכבוש כעסו, וייטיב נפשו כשיברך "דיין האמת", כמו שיעשה בשעה שיברך "הטוב והמטיב". וכמו שהיו אומרים החכמים ברוב דבריהם: "כל מה דעביד מן שמיא – לטב". וזה דבר שכלי אצל בעלי השכל, ואפילו לא הורה הכתוב עליו, לפי שיש דברים רבים, נראים [שתחילתם רעה, ויהיה אחריתם טובה רבה, ויש דברים, נראין] בתחילתם טובים, ויהיה אחריתם רעה רבה. ועל כן אין ראוי למשכיל להשתומם כשתבוא עליו צרה גדולה, מפני שאינו יודע סופה; [וכמו כן אל יפתה לבבו וישמח שמחה שלימה כשתבואהו טובה לפי מחשבתו, מפני שאינו יודע סופה].

To bless "the bad"

The Mishnah (Blessings - Brachot- Chapter Nine Verse Five) says a person should bless on the "bad" in exactly the same way they bless on the "good". The thinkers who redacted the Mishna say the source text for this is the biblical verse "and you will love the aspect of mercy and the aspect of justice with all your heart and with all your singular life energy and with all your beyondness (Deuteronomy 6).

Why does the verse say to love G?d / That Which Is with these three different dimensions of being? Doesn't the verse saying you will love G?d with all your heart include the other two? Are they not redundant? The wise ones explain that loving G?d with your soul, or life energy, is to include "even when G?d takes that soul, or life energy away."

I'm not enough of a Hebrew scholar to be sure of this, but I find it strange the word "even" (afeeloo) is used..."even when your life is taken." Surely, given that everyone's life is "taken" (or given, or surrendered) sooner or later, the wording could better be "when....i.e "you will love G?d when your (personal) life is taken and name and form end." Would love to hear your comments.

A final thought, and again perhaps I am defying the laws of Hebrew grammar, but it seems to me the text can be read as predicative and descriptive rather than imperative. In other words, it is not a command to love G-d, but rather a prediction - all will come to Love.

Shabbat shalom

חיב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שהוא מברך על הטובה, שנאמר (דברים ו) ואהבת את יי אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך.
בכל לבבך, בשני יצריך, ביצר טוב וביצר רע י.
ובכל נפשך, אפלו הוא נוטל את נפשך.
ובכל מאדך, בכל ממונך.
דבר אחר בכל מאדך, בכל מדה ומדה שהוא מודד לך הוי מודה לו במאד מאד.

פירוש הרמבם

חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה כו' – מה שאמר: כשם שהוא מברך על הטובה – רוצה לומר, לקבל אותו בשמחה ולב טוב ולכבוש כעסו, וייטיב נפשו כשיברך "דיין האמת", כמו שיעשה בשעה שיברך "הטוב והמטיב". וכמו שהיו אומרים החכמים ברוב דבריהם: "כל מה דעביד מן שמיא – לטב". וזה דבר שכלי אצל בעלי השכל, ואפילו לא הורה הכתוב עליו, לפי שיש דברים רבים, נראים [שתחילתם רעה, ויהיה אחריתם טובה רבה, ויש דברים, נראין] בתחילתם טובים, ויהיה אחריתם רעה רבה. ועל כן אין ראוי למשכיל להשתומם כשתבוא עליו צרה גדולה, מפני שאינו יודע סופה; [וכמו כן אל יפתה לבבו וישמח שמחה שלימה כשתבואהו טובה לפי מחשבתו, מפני שאינו יודע סופה].