Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mind Firing on All Cylinders

Mind firing on all cylinders. If this is mania I welcome it. The mind alit, on fire. Thoughts, emotions and images swirl into a passionate blaze. Once it was nothing more than a dull, barren wasteland of unforgiving coldness where no seed would find purchase. Then suddenly the flames of a new life emerge from the darkness. The tough husk of the seeds becomes toasted and serotinous pryriscence takes hold. Seeds sprout, take root and reach for the heavens.  Now a glorious forest rises from the soil. The sun arches across the expanse of the sky, as flocks of tropical, iridescently colorful birds fly to unknown, but mystical destinations. Here you find life. You find the glory and beauty of all that exists. You become a part of it. You merge. You coalesce with all that has been, all that is now and all that will ever be. You become the thread of time, the expanse of the universe, the very spark that created everything. This is not inflated. You are not God, not by any means. You are still a sack of flesh, bones and fluids. However, something inside you is connected, locked-in to an ever present meaning and truth that runs behinds us, over us and through us. This is recognition. This is deliverance. This is everything you have ever wanted to be, but were too terrified to release. You are what you are as we are what we all are- nothing and everything all at the same time. Every fear, every insecurity, every selfish motive is only a manifestation of disconnection. Once all life is connected on the physical, metaphysical and transcendent planes, then and only then will heaven be realized. This is a real thing. Do not negate it. Do not dismiss it. Do not bastardize it. Take it down to its purest form. This is connection; this is life; this is love. It flows through us and we are the engines, burning the customary fuel of our existence, creating new meaning, new life and the one thing that is unique to us as sentient beings- Love.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Today on the train I decided to glance around at my fellow passengers. Sure, this may seem rude to those who frequent public transportation, who often stare into a book, smartphone, out the window or blankly into space. And by “glance” I don’t mean “stare”. It is more of a survey of my surroundings and an inspection of the beings that inhabit it. During this process I attempt to avoid judgments, which is rather difficult since that tends to be the first place the mind goes when looking at a stranger.

Enter the judgments:

“That guys looks too caught up in his professionalism.” “She looks rather angsty, young and impulsive.” “Poor woman looks haggard and distraught.” “Wow! That dude smells like someone threw a bucket-o-urine on him. Oh crap, now he is talking to himself. Don’t look over here; please don’t look over here…”

To shift a value judgment, which you will inevitably form, you must couple it with a perceptive filter. The Myers-Briggs personality test puts these two things at opposite ends of some ridiculous black-and-white, this-or-that scale. In case you are curious, I hate dichotomies. Yes, they do exist and they do help us make sense of the world, but so much of life exists in that grey area which is neither this-or-that, black-or-white. So, while you can be inclined more towards the judgmental realm (Enter my hater friends, of which I have many. Love you guys. J), or perhaps you lean more towards the perceptive way of viewing the world (Hello artists and sensitive types. I count myself among your ranks, but for some weird reason I tend to align with the haters.), know that both are not mutually exclusive.  Yes, you may immediately jump to a judgment, but try sitting with that for a minute and see if your perception can gunk it up. For more clarity, in the aforementioned personality test, the judging aspect is defined by (Thinking/Feeling) while the perceptive aspect is defined by (sensing/intuition). How you ask? Glad you asked. Let’s walk through this…

Take each one of those judgments from above and add a story. Yes, write a story for that person. Seem like a waste of time? Well, it is not. This process will make life infinitely more meaningful. Believe me or believe David Foster Wallace in one of his speeches (**See the links at the end of this post).  

Apply the perceptive filter:

That guys looks too caught up in his professionalism. Hmm, perhaps he has a sick wife or parent to support or perhaps a child has a disability and is in need of expensive healthcare. He comes in early and leaves the office late, essentially doubling his workload to climb the ladder, get bonuses and support his loved ones.”

She looks rather angsty, young and impulsive. Well, let me see. I remember being there myself, a scrawny, pale, skinny weirdo with zero chance of kissing a girl. What is her deal though? A child of divorce or parents caught in a loveless marriage? Ah yes, she is trying to find herself in this chaotic world just as we all are. It just so happens that she is 17 and this is how it is done at that age.”

Poor woman looks haggard and distraught. She must have a boat load of kids to take care of while working two jobs, neither of which pays very well. Sure, she probably could have used more birth control, but that is difficult when a box of condoms cost $15 and pills cost $60 and you live below the poverty line. Maybe, just maybe, she comes home exhausted as hell and reads a children’s book to those kids to get them off to sleep for no other reason than she loves them. Is there is any other reason to work two shitty jobs?”

Wow! That dude smells like someone threw a bucket-o-urine on him. Oh crap, now he is talking to himself. Don’t look over here; please don’t look over here… Wait. Take a moment to think about the fringe people of our society- the discarded, the uncared for, the neglected. Would you not lose your mind if left with this emptiness? Most will say there is no dignity in this man. I say there is. Why?  Because he keeps going! He may sleep outside and only have two pairs of pants, but Sweet Lord!, this man endures. Is there not dignity in that? Perhaps that is the highest rank of dignity. To get shit on your entire life by systemic, cultural and economic structures you cannot even begin to fathom and in the face of that say, “Fuck you life! I will keep going until you deem it is my time. Sure I will talk to myself on the train, because well, Fuck, no one else will talk to me. Yeah, I will also piss myself because it feels warm at the time when I am sleeping under the tracks on a chilly March morning in Chicago.”

And then, here you go- my point. Dignity exists all around us. Sure, I may have applied it with the least non-judgmental, perceptive filter here, but I only did that to drive home a point. It is remarkably easy to judge, and way more difficult to perceive. Funny thing about perception though- the more you do it the better you get at it; and, get this, it does in fact make life more meaningful. Don’t believe me, believe one of the great minds of our time** (God rest his soul).

**See David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College here:

**You can also read it here:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mind Altering Everything

Easy it is to know what a substance will do to us. The first run may be exciting, scary, weird, alarming, calming or euphoric. Understandably, this is the first dance and the experience is new. Eventually, the effects may become familiar and even inviting. We may find ourselves turning to it almost unconsciously, like a reflex of the mind. At this point, it takes a certain brand of self-awareness to avoid dependency or addiction. It is dangerous ground to find more comfort in the bedrooms of the altered mind than in the foyer of the soul. In this dark scenario, the physical substance becomes the key to those rooms and the hand will not let go.

This post is not about addiction. It is not even really about physical substances. It is about something far different.   

Think about the first time you tried something forbidden- a cigarette, a beer or something else…

A cigarette is lit and smoke is pulled into the lungs. Nicotine breaks the blood-brain barrier and begins to bind to receptors in the brain.  Thoughts become more vivid, while a certain buzz of a calming, but stimulating variety is felt. One may, of course, cough and realize this smoke being pulled into the lungs has adverse side effects. Regardless, the mind is altered ever so slightly by this physical substance. Step forward in time. Another cigarette will surely be pulled from the pack and sparked up. This cycle will continue until a steely resolve breaks the loop. Of course, a single cigarette or even one drag may be all it takes to never touch it again. This is a physical substance that alters the mind.

A couple beers are knocked back. Feelings of stress or tension begin to wash away. Behind the scenes, the ethanol begins to suppress the central nervous system as the GABA receptors fire up. The consumer is most likely indifferent to this particular knowledge of the chemical workings. It is rather the physical, mental and emotional effects that are felt as inhibitions fall to the wayside. Suddenly, everything may seem more vibrant. The personality comes forth and one can’t help but to feel more engaging, intriguing and entertaining. These perceptions can be delusions, or at the very least, a variance of a delusion. That is the ugly underbelly of alcohol. It lights us up while also muddying our perceptions of others, the world and the self. Take it to its darkest degree- it numbs. Herein lays the escape, a way to run from unresolved internal and external battles. Unfortunately far too many people lock themselves in this bedroom of the altered mind. It takes unrelenting courage and strength to bust that door down and walk downstairs into the foyer of the soul. This is a physical substance that alters the mind.       

Drugs, drugs, drugs; Illicit or legal; Acquired from friend or a pharmacist; Tolerated or shunned; Pill or herb; Synthetic or natural; Take your pick. There are so many mind altering substances out there, each with their own unique effect and relationship with the user. They can excite, ignite, dull, warm, cool or take us to other places. No need to elaborate anymore (no admission of use). These are physical substances that alter the mind.  

It doesn’t just stop at physical substances; not by a long shot. Here is the hidden realm.

You make someone laugh. I mean really laugh! You tell an absurd or ridiculous joke and they laugh so hard that tears well up. They fire back with a story, not just any story, but one that puts you right there with them at that moment in time. You see the street, the lights, the faces and their reactions, but you were never there. You are at the command of an expert storyteller. The peak of the event comes spilling forth as you break into uncontrollable laughter. Blood flow increases in the brain as stress hormones take a nose dive. Endorphins fire around and euphoria sweeps over the mind. A unique and sacred connection is forged between two friends. This is a metaphysical experience that alters the mind.

You fall for someone, I mean really fall. Everything they say is everything you want to hear. The physical (attraction) and metaphysical (connection) merge as love comes floating up out of the ether. The mind obsesses and you are fully staged in the only socially acceptable form of insanity. In the brain, serotonin drops as dopamine rises and new images and emotions are seared into the amygdala. Describing lovesickness this way sounds so sterile and modern. Perhaps, I should try to describe it the way a romantic poet would have.

Where once I saw the sun
Where once I saw the moon
Where once I saw the stars
I now see you

I once was me
You once were you
One we are now,
No longer two

Spirituality is not dead; muted sure, but not dead. The unfortunate state of the modern world is that spirituality has been sent out to pasture while things I prefer not to mention occupy us. What then do we talk about when we talk about spirituality? It is not physical thing by any means. In fact, it is the highest arch of the metaphysical. It is not religion, but it is the individual who feels that connection with a god on the deepest level. It is not yoga, but it is the person who understands the hidden realms not just in yoga, but also in ritual, meditation and the natural world. Spirituality is also not solely some ethereal thing. It is most definitely personal and if you want a practical example then here you go- Family. There is most definitely spirituality in family for there is love and devotion on the deepest levels. Ideally, the love for a parent or child surpasses all others. And here is the kicker- when a patriarch or matriarch passes, we still feel their presence. I suppose you can explain that away with memories and brain chemistry, but then again, that is too sterile and modern. Besides, we are talking the metaphysical here and so….

 This is a metaphysical experience that alters the mind.