Saturday, April 21, 2007

Subpersonalities -- An Integral Theoretical Model

Until now, most of my posts on subpersonalities have been more experiential than theoretical. As a preliminary to going more in-depth into how and why subs develop, I wanted to present the model Ken Wilber offers in Integral Psychology. I've included the notes as well.

A few key terms to know:

Proximate Self: The proximate self is the intimately subjective self, which is experienced as an “I” or “I/me.” It is also the equivalent of the self-identity stream. Wilber’s fulcrums of self-development refer to the stages of proximate self-sense development.

Distal Self: The distal self is the objective self, which is experienced as “me” or “mine,” in contrast to the proximate self (“I” or “I/me”) and the anterior self (“I-I”)

Fulcrums (F-0 through F-13): A developmental milestone within the self-identity stream, or the proximate self line of development. Fulcrums follow a 1-2-3 process: fusion or identification with one’s current level of self-development; differentiation or disidentification from that level; and integration of the new level with the previous level.

I mentioned that the self contains numerous subpersonalities, and nowhere does this become more obvious than in pathology, diagnosis, and treatment. Authorities on subpersonalities point out that the average person has around a dozen or so subpersonalities, variously known as parent ego state, child ego state, adult ego state, topdog, underdog, conscience, ego ideal, idealized ego, false self, authentic self, real self, harsh critic, superego, libidinous self, and so on.1 Most of these are experienced, in part, as different vocal or subvocal voices in one's inner dialogue. Sometimes one or more subpersonalities become almost completely dissociated, which can result, in extremes, in multiple personality disorder. For most people, however, these various subpersonalities simply vie for attention and behavioral dominance, forming a type of subconscious society of selves that must be negotiated by the proximate self at any of its stages.

Each of these subpersonalities can be at a different level of development in any of its lines. In other words, subpersonalities can form at virtually any of the fulcrums: archaic subpersonalities (F-0, F-1), magical subpersonalities (F-2, F-3), mythic subpersonalities (F-3, F-4), rational subpersonalities (F-5, F-6), and even soul subpersonalities (F-7, F-8).2

Thus, considerable research suggests that not only can the various developmental lines unfold relatively independently, so can any of the various subpersonalities. For both of these reasons, a person can therefore have facets of his or her consciousness at many different levels of morals, worldviews, defenses, pathologies, needs, and so forth (which can be mapped on an integral psychograph). For example, the child ego state is usually generated at F-2 and F-3 (with preconventional morals, magic worldview, and safety needs), which becomes perfectly obvious when a person is gripped by a child ego state (e.g., explosive temper tantrum, with egocentric demands, narcissistic worldview), which can blow through the personality, commandeer it for minutes or hours, and then pass as quickly as it came, returning the person to his or her more typical, average self (which may be otherwise quite highly evolved).

Thus, when I outline nine or ten general levels of consciousness, worldviews, pathology, treatment, and so on, that does not in any way mean that a person is simply at one stage, with one type of defense, one type of pathology, one type of need, and one type of treatment. The dozen or more subpersonalities can each be at a different level, so that the individual has numerous types and levels of needs, defenses, and pathologies (e.g., from borderline to neurotic to existential to spiritual), and will therefore respond to a wide variety of therapeutic endeavors.

Subpersonalities, in their benign form, are simply functional self-presentations that navigate particular psychosocial situations (a father persona, a wife persona, a libidinal self, an achiever self, and so on). Subpersonalities become problematic only to the degree that of their dissociation, which runs along a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. The difficulty comes when any of these functional personalities are strongly dissociated, or split from access to the conscious self, due to repeated trauma, developmental miscarriages, recurrent stress, or selective inattention. These submerged personae -- with their now-dissociated and fixed set of morals, needs, worldviews, and so on -- set up shop in the basement, where they sabotage further growth and development. They remain as "hidden subjects," facets of consciousness that the self can no longer disidentify with and transcend, because they are sealed off in unconscious pockets of the psyche, from which they send up symbolic derivatives in the form of painful symptoms.

The curative catalyst, again, is to bring awareness to bear on these subpersonalities, thus objectifying them, and thus including them in a more compassionate embrace. Generally speaking, individuals will present a symptomatology where one or two subpersonalities and their pathologies are dominant (a harsh inner critic, a prone-to-failure underdog, a low-self-esteem ego state, etc.), and thus therapy tends to focus on these more visible issues. As dominant pathologies are alleviated (and their subpersonalities integrated), less noticable ones will often tend to emerge, sometimes forcefully, and therapeutic attention naturally gravitates to them. These subpersonalities can include both more primitive selves (archaic, magic) and any newly emerging transpersonal selves (soul, spirit).

Likewise, the various subpersonalities are often context-triggered: a person will do fine in one situation, only to have another situation trigger panic, depression, anxiety, and so on. Alleviating the dominant problem in one area will often allow less noticeable pathologies to surface, and they can then be worked through. The therapeutic ingredient -- bring awareness to bear -- helps the individual become more conscious of the subpersonalities, thus converting them from "hidden subjects" into "conscious subjects," where they can be reintegrated in the self and thus join the ongoing flow of conscious evolution, instead of remaining fixated at the lower levels where they were originally dissociated. For no matter how numerous the subpersonalities, it is the task of the proximate self to fashion some sort of integration or harmony in the chorus of voices, and thus more surely wend its way to the Source of them all.

1 See John Rowan's superb book Subpersonalities; see also Ego States, Watkins and Watkins. In my view, each subpersonality exists as a subconscious or unconscious "I," an aspect of the proximate self that was defensively solit off, but with which consciousness remains fused, embedded, or identified (as a hidden "I"), with its own wants, desires, impulses, and so on. The nature of the subpersonality is largely determined by the level at which it was dissociated (archaic, imagic, mythic, etc.). These "little subjects" are all those hidden facets of self that have not been turned into objects, let go of, disidentified with, de-embedded, and transcended, and so they hold consciousness circling in their orbit.

Each time the proximate self identifies with a basic wave, the self exists embedded as that wave: it is a material self, then a libidinal/emotional self, then a conceptual self, then a role self, then a reflexive self, then a spirit self, each of which holarchically transcends and includes. As each "I" self is transcended, it becomes part of the "me" self (e.g., the feeling body, which was the proximate or "I" self of F-2, becomes simply "my body" -- or part of the distal self or "me" -- when the proximate self moves on).

A dissociated subpersonality results when facets of the "I" self are split off while consciousness is still identified with them. They thus become, not unconscious objects, but conscious subjects, with their own morals, worldviews, needs, and so on (all determined by the level at which the subpersonality was split off). This is the key, in my opinion, to distinguishing between repression and transcendence. That is, dissociation (or repression) occurs when a proximate I is turned into a distal I; whereas transcendence occurs when a proximate I is turned into a distal me. In the former, the subjective identification/attachment (or I-ness) remains but is submerged (as an unconscious subject); in the later, the subjective identification is dissolved, turning the unconscious subject into a conscious object, which can then be integrated (transcend and include, not dissociate and repress). Therapy involves converting hidden subjects to conscious objects.

2 The lower-level subpersonalities are largely preverbal (archaic, uroboric, magical [UL]; reptilian/brain stem, paleomammalian/limbic system [UR]); the intermediate-level subpersonalities are verbal (mythic, roles, formal, postformal [UL]; neocortex [UR]); the higher subpersonalities are transverbal (mostly subtle [UL], theta states [UR]). Each of those impinge on consciousness in a different manner: the preverbal, often as impulses and inarticulated urges; the verbal, as vocal or subvocal narratives; the transverbal, as luminosities, higher cognitions, and transcendental affects (from bliss to cosmic agony).

A dissociated component of any level of consciousness proceeds from a facet to a complex to a full-blown subpersonality, each layered with more complexity. This is similar to Grof's notion of COEX systems (systems of condensed experience). Any subpersonality includes one or more complexes, which themselves can be layered, going back from the present level (say, F-5 or rational) back to earlier levels (mythic, magic, archaic), even back to perinatal matrices (F-0) -- and further yet, some would claim, to past life experiences (however you wish to conceive that, from literally to phylogenetic residues; see A Sociable God for a further description of this layering of complexes). Likewise, some subpersonalities contain emergent qualities attempting to "come down" (from psychic, subtle, causal, or nondual domains).
This model is a bit technical and abstract, but it offers a useful series of observations. When I post a more accessible explanation of the origin of subpersonalities, I will make some reference to this model, so I thought it useful to post it.

Family Lies

I received a phone call today from a cousin I thought had been dead for the better part of 40 years. My cousin Larry was one of two sons of my aunt Betty. My father had told me that Larry and his brother Leonard had died in Viet Nam.

I have often found comfort in knowing that I was the last of my lineage, and since I will never have children, this branch of the family tree ends with me. That is still true.

But now I suddenly have a cousin I didn't know I had.

I'm at a loss as to why my father lied to me about my cousins. Larry admitted that he had lived with drug and alcohol addiction for years (before finding Jesus), which may explain why he was not talked of in my family. My father had no tolerance for things like that. It makes me wonder how we would have responded to my own drug and alcohol issues during my teen years had he lived to see it.

Strangely, it feels good to know I am not the last one living. I have cousins on my mother's side, but aside from one of them, I have never met them or even known their names.

When my mother and sister both died within a couple of months of each other in 2005, it was a strange feeling to be completely alone in the world. I was still seeing Kira at the time, and that helped some, but when she and I split up last year I WAS truly alone.

The point of all this is that my father had lied to me many times about his life and now, it seems, our family. I didn't know about the lies (or embellishments, to be generous) about his own life until several years ago when my mother gave me a journal he had kept for most of 30 or 40 years. I discovered that he had exaggerated many details of his life, which I took at the time to mean that he was ashamed of some of his history. At the time, I was sympathetic.

I'm a little unsure how to feel now. And I am forced to wonder how much of who I think I am, based on my family heritage, is true and how much was simply his own creation.

Families are a strange thing.

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Everything Happens for a Reason? -- Subpersonalities and Meaning

I collect books the way Imelda Marcos collected shoes -- which is to say, it's an addiction. This morning I was doing a little spring cleaning, looking for some books to sell to create room for books I have recently acquired. I came across one that I had started many times but never finished.

Everything Happens for a Reason: Finding the True Meaning of the Events in Our Lives, by the psychologist Mira Kirshenbaum, proposes that everything that happens to us -- good, bad, or otherwise -- happens for a reason, if only we know how to see it.

She offers 10 reasons for everything that happens to us:

1. To help you feel at home in the world
2. To help you totally accept yourself
3. To show you that you can let go of fear
4. To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness
5. To help you uncover your hidden talent
6. To give you what you need to find true love
7. To help you become stronger
8. To help you discover the play in life
9. To show you how to live with a sense of mission
10. To help you become a truly good person

Kirshenbaum's own story figures prominently in the book. She was a Holocaust surviver as a child. She has experienced many difficult events in her life. For much of her adult life, she rejected the notion of seeking reasons for life's challenges and focused on simply how to live with what has happened. But one client changed her point of view. She eventually began a research project, which resulted in the book, to discover how people make meaning of difficult life experiences.

She comes from a Judeo-Christian point of view, believing in God, but such a viewpoint is not necessary to adopt her sense that everything has a purpose. However, you will need to believe that the universe is designed to help us grow and evolve, to provide life lessons such as the ten she offers.

As I began to read her book again this morning, I was struck by the sense that how we make sense of the world will depend on our worldview, or to use Wilberian language, our altitude (developmental level) and our values line (the Spiral Dynamics model). In a sense, this is integral theory 101.

But I think it is also more complicated than that. I would contend that how we make meaning in the immediate sense will depend in large part on which of our subpersonalities get triggered by the event or experience. In the larger, long-term view, it will also depend on whether or not we can bring the Witness to bear on the experience -- that part of ourselves that sees the bigger picture without concern for our egos.

From the AQAL glossary:
The Witness: The transcendental Self, anterior self, consciousness as such, consciousness as emptiness. The Witness itself is purely empty and devoid of content.
Subpersonalities and Meaning

It seems easiest here to offer some experiences from my own life. The ways that I make sense of things has a lot to do with which subpersonality gets triggered, which is also dependent on the type of experience.

For a lot of things, meaning comes for me through a rational understanding of what has happened. This is true most often in health and psychology issues -- I look for the physiological and/or biochemical mechanisms involved. I have a subpersonality that is only comfortable in this realm (his name is Apollo).

My reliance on a rational, scientific explanation for things has driven some people in my life absolutely mad. Often, it has served me well (aside from the theoretical fights it has sometimes created). When Apollo gets triggered, however, I am completely unable to see anything other than the rational explanation, and when others are unwilling to see my self-perceived wisdom in that viewpoint, I can be terribly persistent in arguing its validity. From this stance, I am incredibly willing to eviscerate what I perceive as magical thinking or New Age psychobabble. This version of Apollo lives in a scientific flatland lacking any vertical orientation in Spirit.

On the other hand, when I am confronted with the suffering and doubt of those I love in a more existential sense, my response is much more compassionate. From this stance, I tend to espouse points of view not unlike some of Kirshenbaum's ten reasons. This subpersonality (whom I have named Sophia) is more connected with emotion and the need to make sense of our suffering in ways that are empowering and growthful. Sophia is empathetic and wants nothing more than to alleviate the suffering of those I care about, often through emotional communion.

The existence of this subpersonality is a relatively recent development in my life -- perhaps in the last ten years or so (which coincides with my study and practice Buddhism -- make of that what you will). The seeds for her existence were planted much earlier than that, but she did not become a fully functioning sub until much later in my life.

Obviously, these two subpersonalities have very different ways of looking at the world -- which often results in conflict, although Apollo is clearly dominant in many instances.

So, if we look at this from an integral point of view (referencing the graphic at the top of this post), Apollo is operating at an Orange altitude (focused on rationality and self-esteem), while Sophia is operating at a Green altitude (focused on self-actualization and emotional bonding).

To make this a little more interesting, let's also look at an older and a newer subpersonality and how they respond to life's challenges.

The older sub is a pessimist -- he sees the worst in everything, and tends to blame himself for most of what happens, especially in the areas of abandonment and loss. This sub (his name is Cyman, short for cynical young man), is the favorite target of my inner critic. Cyman takes everything as his failure. He tends to withdraw when faced with challenges and confrontations. He pouts. He broods. He thinks everything is stacked against him and that he (I) lacks any resources for creating positive outcomes in life. He lives in a constant state of poverty mentality.

The newer sub is just emerging, perhaps as a result of Buddhist practice, therapy, and integral studies. Because this one is new and not yet fully formed, it remains unnamed. For the most part, I relate to it as a rudimentary form of higher self (a variety of higher self definitions can be found here), a more evolved version of who I am now, offering a perspective that is more expansive than my current developmental center of gravity. It tends to look for the big picture, the patterns hidden in what might appear to be chaos. It synthesizes a variety of viewpoints in order to make meaning. But because it is not a fully formed sub (meaning that my center of gravity as a self has not yet transcended and included its worldview), it is something I must access consciously rather than something that gets triggered the way other subs get activated. It's possible that this is not a sub, but an emerging worldview or a new altitude in my consciousness. Either way, it's useful when I can have the presence of mind to activate it.

So, the older sub, Cyman, is clearly operating from an egocentric stance, what might be seen as a Red altitude in the Wilber model. But it also has an absolutist Amber tendency that sees itself as a pawn in a mythic struggle of good and evil (it sees itself as somehow evil -- how else to explain its suffering?). But for Cyman, the struggle is less about God versus Satan than it is about the struggle between the superego and the id (to borrow worn-out Freudian terms). Meaning is based on how well he can live up to the expectations of the superego (and the inner critic, just to make things more complex) and reject the drives of the id and the needs of the ego.

The newer sub (or worldview) seems to be operating from a Teal perspective (between Green and Turquoise in the chart above, the first stages of integral consciousness, what SDi refers to as Yellow). Here is how SDi defines Teal/Yellow:
YELLOW Integrative MEME—starting 50 years ago
Basic theme: Live fully and responsibly as what you are and learn to become
  • Life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms
  • The magnificence of existence is valued over material possessions
  • Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority
  • Differences can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows
  • Understands that chaos and change are natural
The reason I relate to this as a higher self is because it has not yet emerged as a part of my personality, which allows it to be mostly free of the pathologies it will be subject to when (or if) it becomes a part of my self-sense. However, because it is a higher worldview, it can only be experienced through the lens of my current worldviews in most instances. Sometimes I can access it directly and see through its eyes, but generally, any such experience will be subject to distortions from lower altitude stages.

Those are four of my particular subpersonalities -- and I have others who are less dominant (one is a very vain and narcissistic sub that cares only about making other people like him -- he makes meaning by being accepted). Everyone will have their own collection of subs operating at various altitudes. How we make meaning of challenges, tragedies, and common life experiences will be determined by what subs get activated.

[In a future post I will look at how subs develop, which has a lot to do with explaining why one sub might be triggered by one experience and why a different sub will be activated by a different event.]

It would be enlightening to look at how we make meaning as a culture when tragedies occur, such as the Virginia Tech shootings. We have seen a lot of talk about evil and Satan in the media, especially on Fox; or conversely, discussions about mental illness and its treatment; or finally, about forgiveness, compassion, and unity in the face of tragedy. These can all be seen as different altitude responses to the event -- Amber, Orange, and Green respectively.

I also think that our cultural psyche can have subpersonalities as well. Gretchen Sliker touches on this a little bit in her very useful book, Multiple Mind: Healing the Split in Psyche and World. As an aside, this book was my first exposure to subpersonality theory and psychosynthesis.

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Depends on who you ask -- or which sub is active when you ask them.

From my own perspective, I can hold three very different answers to that question in my mind when I am operating from my observer self. I can say that "No, it's all random and meaningless;" and "Yes, life conspires to help us grow and evolve;" and "Maybe, it depends on how we can make meaning from what otherwise might seem like chaos."

All of these answers are true in a given mind-frame. And none of them are true in any absolute sense.

In the end, I've decided that I will keep Kirshenbaum's book. I find some of her explanations and attempts to make meaning to be absurd and over-reaching, but there is also something useful for my Green sub in trying hold some elements of her vision of meaning-making.

Friday, April 20, 2007

New Poem: Unconventional Love Sonnet #9

Unconventional Love Sonnet #9

I know that in my voice is a world spinning
on an irregular axis, slightly off kilter
but weighted with four decades of language,
words accumulated as dust in a forgotten corner.

I know that in my touch are the shadows of myself,
strange echoes of all the lost boys and searching
men I have been, a silent crowd bearing witness
to the subtle evolution of the fingers on her skin.

What does she see in her eye of spirit? Who
is the man she has touched and held, gifted
with the seduction of lips, the mysterious promise?

I do not recognize myself with her. So long
I have sought the spectral woman, the one soul
who would know me and make me forget my name.

New Sidebar Links -- Subpersonalities

I've added a new series of links to some old posts on subpersonalities to the sidebar. It's my plan to be expanding this list as my interest in working with subs has been reawakened of late. I've probably missed some things, but many of the articles/posts have links to other stuff on the blog, so there's lots to explore for those who haven't seen these before.

Some of these are theoretical, some are much more personal, and many are both. Here is the list as it stands now (in order or original posting, oldest at the top):

Steve Pavlina Responds to Integral Criticism

For those not familiar with Steve Pavlina's blog, he is a highly successful blogger who generally writes about personal growth, productivity, and other marketable topics. He recently seemed to endorse The Secret, a pseudo-spiritual "law of attraction" scam that Oprah has been pushing.

In a previous issue of Holons (the Integral Institute's free newsletter), Pavlina's blog was rated Turquoise, the highest developmental level they offer for blogs (meaning that it is more expansive and has more depth than other lower altitude blogs -- altitude indicates the level of development of any particular perspective). Some people objected to this, notably Julian at Zaadz and Colin Bigelow, Ken Wilber's right hand man. I tended to agree with those concerns.

Naturally, there has been a bit of discussion around this issue in the integral blogosphere. However, it seems that no one asked Pavlina for his point of view. D'Oh! That seems like such a direct approach.

So, finally, Pavlina weighed in on the whole thing over at Joe Perez's Until blog. Having read his response, I'm in 90% agreement with his point of view -- my only concern would be that he show more discretion in pushing material/views that can be damaging.

Anyway, here is a taste of his defense:
Understand that my website gets about 2 million visitors a month -- with people at all different stages of development. That's very different than talking to a room of 50 integrally minded people.

If I write only for the highest stages, which I could do, I'll help only a small fraction of my audience. I believe that would be an enormously suboptimal strategy if the conscious development and expansion of all is our goal. For most people it will be way over their heads -- no impact whatsoever. At best it will only make them aware that there is something out there they aren't ready for yet. But why not assist people where they are?

Consequently, I do not hold to the perspective of a fixed stage when I write articles or recommend products. I intentionally shift between different frequencies of the integral spectrum when I write. Sometimes I'll even blend the viewpoints of different stages into the same article, which is probably why people have such trouble classifying me from my articles. A 5-minute face-to-face conversation would be much more enlightening. The reason I write from different stages is because it's far more effective than writing from a single stage. I can assist a lot more people this way, not just those who are very close to me in their path of development.
You can read the whole discussion and the rest of Pavlina's response over at Joe's blog.

Poem: Kevin Young

Today's poem from the Academy of American Poets:

For the Confederate Dead
by Kevin Young

I go with the team also.

These are the last days
my television says. Tornadoes, more
rain, overcast, a chance

of sun but I do not
trust weathermen,
never have. In my fridge only

the milk makes sense—
expires. No one, much less
my parents, can tell me why

my middle name is Lowell,
and from my table
across from the Confederate

Monument to the dead (that pale
finger bone) a plaque
declares war—not Civil,

or Between
the States, but for Southern
Independence. In this café, below sea-

and eye-level a mural runs
the wall, flaking, a plantation
scene most do not see—

it's too much
around the knees, heighth
of a child. In its fields Negroes bend

to pick the endless white.
In livery a few drive carriages
like slaves, whipping the horses, faces

blank and peeling. The old hotel
lobby this once was no longer
welcomes guest—maroon ledger,

bellboys gone but
for this. Like an inheritance
the owner found it

stripping hundred years
(at least) of paint
and plaster. More leaves each day.

In my movie there are no
horses, no heroes,
only draftees fleeing

into the pines, some few
who survive, gravely
wounded, lying

burrowed beneath the dead—
silent until the enemy
bayonets what is believed

to be the last
of the breathing. It is getting later.
We prepare

for wars no longer
there. The weather
inevitable, unusual—

more this time of year
than anyone ever seed. The earth
shudders, the air—

if I did not know
better, I would think
we were living all along

a fault. How late
it has gotten . . .
Forget the weatherman

whose maps move, blink,
but stay crossed
with lines none has seen. Race

instead against the almost
rain, digging beside the monument
(that giant anchor)

till we strike
water, sweat
fighting the sleepwalking air.

Eddie Izzard - Do you have a flag? [NSFW]

Eddie Izzard explains the rules of conquest -- it's all about the flag.

Via: VideoSift

Satire: This American Life Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence

From The Onion:

This American Life Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence

April 20, 2007 | Issue 43•16

CHICAGO—Producers of the long-running Chicago Public Radio program This American Life announced Monday that they have completed their comprehensive 12-year survey of life as a modern upper-middle-class American.

Enlarge Image Ira Glass

Ira Glass compares completing the series to finding out he is a relative of composer Philip Glass.

In what cultural anthropologists are calling a "colossal achievement" in the study of white-collar professionals, the popular radio show has successfully isolated all 7,442 known characteristics of college graduates who earn between $62,500 and $125,000 per year and feel strongly that something should be done about global warming.

"We've done it," said senior producer Julie Snyder, who was personally interviewed for a 2003 This American Life episode, "Going Eclectic," in which she described what it's like to be a bilingual member of the ACLU trained in kite-making by a Japanese stepfather. "There is not a single existential crisis or self-congratulatory epiphany that has been or could be experienced by a left-leaning agnostic that we have not exhaustively documented and grouped by theme."

Added Snyder, "We here at public radio couldn't be more pleased with ourselves."

The final episode, which explored the universal tribulations of having to live with roommates again in one's mid-30s after a divorce, provided an apt bookend for the project. The completed work is expected to be an indispensable source of information for years to come about the thoughts and tastes of bespectacled cynics prone to neuroses who are actually doing just fine.

Topics Covered

This American Life host and producer Ira Glass began work on the project in 1995 in Chicago, where he found himself inspired by and catering to an audience of professionals who dine out frequently and have a hard time getting angry. Glass and his team of producers, writers, and interns set about the exhausting task of gathering all available information on a range of subjects from minor skirmishes with the law to the rewards of occasionally talking to poor people. The raw data was then analyzed, deconstructed, reconstructed, re-deconstructed, organized under a broad philosophical title, and interspliced with musical interludes by rock duo They Might Be Giants.

Though This American Life is now lauded as the definitive source for material about getting an autistic teenager admitted to Harvard, its early run was marked by painful trial-and-error, according to producer Alex Blumberg.

"At first, we were getting a lot of stories from recovered drug addicts and East African refugees living in the States, which had their compelling elements but came off a bit cloying," Blumberg said. "But then we realized that if we had overeducated people with voices rather unsuitable for radio narrate the stories with clever analogies and accessible morals, the whole thing would come off far less depressing."

Blumberg said that the turning point came in 1997, when producers discovered a group of inner-city schoolchildren inadvertently teaching an important lesson to their attractive, suburban-raised teacher about what makes us human.

Also aiding the study were the many contributors to This American Life, who took time from their best-selling essay-writing careers to donate personal anecdotes about dropping out of prestigious art schools, taking harrowing but poignant childhood vacations to the Grand Canyon, and the unique challenges of growing up in families supportive of their homosexuality.

On Sunday, writer and contributing editor Sarah Vowell called the project's end "oddly anticlimactic," but questioned whether work was actually complete because the show had not yet addressed the subject of "Things Ending."

"Seeing this project through to its culmination was equally satisfying and strange," said Vowell, speaking at a book signing in Colonial Williamsburg dressed as Betsy Ross. "I feel not unlike the early Pilgrims, who, standing atop Plymouth Rock after a long and arduous sea voyage, reflected on their journey, perhaps thinking to themselves 'For God's sake—doesn't anybody have anything to eat in this settlement?'"

Glass, who personally contributed over 2,000 anecdotes from his own life for documentation, called the project's conclusion the "end of an era."

"When we finished, I have to tell you, I felt something I never expected: a profound sense of contentment—maybe even relief," Glass said. "Afterwards, the other producers and I sat around for a long while, remarking on how interesting and strange it was to finally complete the study, and how perhaps it is, in some way, symbolic of life in general."

Interview with Steven Wright

Steven Wright is probably one of my top five favorite comedians. I can remember his appearances on the David Letterman show back in the 1980's when the audience seemed totally not to get his strange deadpan delivery of one-liners. His routine relied on the intelligence of the audience, which sometimes resulted in silence. More than that, however, he was a master of existential linguistic insights, a kind of comedic surrealism. I loved that stuff.

Cracked posted an interview with Wright yesterday -- here is a taste:
One of our favorite Steven Wright jokes goes, “You know how it feels when you're leaning back on a chair, and you lean too far back, and you almost fall over backwards, but then you catch yourself at the last second? I feel like that all the time.” Well, to talk to him, you would have no idea. Sure, his flat, slow monotone is there. (We spent half the interview fighting the urge to ask him to introduce another “rock classic, as K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ‘70s rolls on.”) But his overall energy is upbeat, damn near buoyant. Apparently, being a legendary stand-up comedian and one of the most influential joke writers of all time isn’t such a bad gig after all. We talked to Wright about his first stand-up special in 15 years, When the Leaves Blow Away, getting recognized as “the Guy on the Couch,” and where he comes up with this shit.

Where do the ideas for your jokes come from?
I don’t sit down and try to write. I hang out and do whatever I’m doing and stuff just pops into my head. What’s really happening is, subconsciously I’m always scanning where I am and what’s happening, looking for something that could be made into a joke. But I don’t get up and try to write. Things just pop into my head.

Is that ever terrifying? Have you ever gone a week without a joke popping into your head, and thought, uh-oh?
[Laughs] Oh, I’ve gone several weeks without thinking of anything. I first started going on The Tonight Show in 1982. After three or four visits, I had no more material. Then I was nervous.

But then it would come to me again. I’d be on the show again, and then I’d have no material again, and I’d get nervous again, but then it would come to me again. So I got used to it. Now I know it’s going to come at some point.

You took a long break between your last stand-up special and your new special, When the Leaves Blow Away. Have you been doing stand-up that whole time?
It was 15 years since I did my last HBO thing, Wicker Chairs and Gravity. I was just playing theaters and I kept focusing on live stuff. I didn’t really think about putting out another special. I liked the way my career was, and I liked going back and forth across the United States and some other countries performing live.

Then about two or three years ago, I looked out at the audience before the show and I noticed that most of them were in their 40s and 50s and 60s. There were some people in their 20s, but not many. So I started thinking, “Wow, the last time I did a special, people in college now were only five.”

It’s weird, comedians make a living on how you notice things, and then I didn’t notice 15 years going by.

You seem a lot more upbeat in conversation than your stage persona would let on. Is it difficult to remain deadpan while people are howling with laughter in front of you?
It’s not that hard. Even from the beginning, the reason I appeared like that was because I was really concentrating on saying the joke the right way. I know that if you don’t say it exactly right, it’s not going to work. I was just taking it very seriously. I know that what I’m saying is funny, but saying it the right way was serious.
Read the rest.

Steven Wright on the Tonight Show, Guest Host: Joan Rivers (1984)

Speedlinking 4/20/07

Quote of the day:

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; In practice, there is."
~ Chuck Reid

Image of the day (David Lorenz Winston):

~ Building the Efficient Athlete -- "I asked Mike Robertson and Eric Cressey to summarize their new product - Building the Efficient Athlete. They did me one better - they gave me an exclusive article with 8 tips where you can troubleshoot your own 'issues'."
~ Probiotic Treatment Options Can Help Manage Constipation And IBS Symptoms -- "Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the U.S., if not the most common, as evident by the millions of doctor visits each year. Many people are looking for safe and effective treatment options to help relieve their constipation symptoms. Digestive Advantage Constipation Therapy is a once-a-day, over-the-counter probiotic treatment that helps rebalance the digestive system and relieve the symptoms of constipation and IBS." Or you could eat more fiber, AND use probiotics.
~ Dairy food linked with Parkinson's disease in men -- "A new study has confirmed a relationship between consuming large amounts of dairy products and an increase in the rate of Parkinson's disease in men, but the reason for this relationship remains a puzzle."
~ Smoking Indicator Of Alcohol Misuse -- "Where there is cigarette smoking there is probably misuse of alcohol too, according to a study by Yale School of Medicine researchers in the Archives of Internal Medicine."
~ Calories, not carbs, count most for dieters -- "When it comes to losing weight, the number of calories you eat, rather than the type of carbohydrates, may be what matters most, according to a new study."
~ You Want Healthy Food in a Restaurant? Put a Little Lipstick on That Pig -- "Why Restaurants Serve Fattening, Salty Food When They Know What's Better."
~ More men wearing makeup — for real -- "Don't be surprised if very soon men's toiletry kits contain not only shaving cream, deodorant and toothpaste, but concealer, oil-absorbing face powder and brow gel. That's because guys are relying on an increasing number of made-for-men products like these to put their best face forward." OK, that's a little too metro-sexual for me.
~ FDA Considers Changing Rules Involving Access To Experimental Treatments For Terminally Ill -- "FDA is considering changes to rules that would increase access to experimental drugs for terminally ill patients, the Baltimore Sun reports. Criticism of the current rules include claims that cancer and AIDS patients have more access to experimental treatments than others; that few patients are aware of the option; and that administrative and cost-recovery polices are unclear."
~ Salt may affect more than blood pressure: study -- "Consuming less salt can not only lower blood pressure, but may reduce the risk of heart disease overall, researchers reported on Thursday."

~ The Math on Miss Motor Mouth -- "Do women really talk more than men?"
~ Valley Girl Talk -- "Women are always ahead of the linguistic curve."
~ NewSci on gender identity and the effects of media -- "This week's New Scientist has two articles of interest to mind and brain enthusiasts: one on gender identity disorder in adolescents, and the other on the psychological effects of modern media. Unfortunately, neither are open access articles, so you'll need to track down a copy at the newsagent or library if you want to have a look."
~ Research Finds Assocation Between 9/11 Television Viewing And Increases In Stress -- "Dream journals being kept by students in a college psychology class have provided researchers with a unique look at how people experienced the events of 9/11, including the influence that television coverage of the World Trade Center attacks had on people's levels of stress."
~ Explaining What it's Like -- "The real test for a theory of consciousness lies in its ability to explain the qualitative features of our experience. One promising strategy for explaining what it is like for us to experience the nice red and pink hues of the above sunset is what I have called 'the higher-order strategy'."
~ How Much Sensitivity do the Mentally Ill Deserve? -- "Leah at The Goat’s Lunch Pail posted about her “violent, insane sister” Dawn who has a mental illness, although the exact diagnosis is unclear. Throughout Leah’s posts it is evident that Dawn has left physical as well as emotional wounds leading Leah to the conclusion that Dawn is “nuts” and no longer deserves her sympathy."
~ Stupidity, Human Nature, and Ordinary Kindness. [The Questionable Authority] -- "PZ Myers has an article up calling attention to a recent article by "conservative scholar" and Hoover Institution fellow Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza, in his opinion piece, wonders where the atheists go when bad things happen. As "evidence" for the missing atheists, D'Souza points out that Richard Dawkins has not been asked to speak at any of the memorial services."
~ Inside a Mass Murderer's Mind -- "Cho Seung-Hui's rampage was the worst, but hardly the first. What have we learned about why such people kill?" See also: Scientists: You Can't Profile School Shooters.
~ The Brain May Use Only 20 Percent of Its Memory-Forming Neurons -- Study shows that that pace at which a brain cell activates a key protein may influence its role in memory formation—a finding that could lead to new Alzheimer therapies."

~ The neocons' humiliation -- "The neocons are suffering one humiliation after another."
~ Creationism versus Darwinism -- "The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global."
~ Protect the Campus or the Students' Rights? -- "The revelations of the Virginia Tech shooter's clear history of mental health problems is renewing the debate over how universities can keep their campuses safe while respecting the rights of individual students, the University of North Carolina Daily Tar Heel reports." See also: How a college might detect and help a student who's ready to explode.
~ Ryan Gosling in Fracture -- "Anyone who can credibly threaten to steal a movie from Anthony Hopkins has seriously got it going on. Fracture (New Line Cinema) may be remembered as the movie that brought Ryan Gosling into the mainstream (just as Primal Fear, director Gregory Hoblit's 1996 feature debut, introduced audiences to a young Edward Norton)."
~ Gonzales Draws Fire From Both Sides -- "The Attorney General's encounter on Capitol Hill is predictably tense. Not so predictable was where the tough questioning was coming from."
~ Disseminate Information, Protect Democracy -- "Teresa Stack and publishers from a dozen independent journals protest steep US Postal Service rate increases that favor large corporate publishers and put small titles at risk."
~ Report: Darfur Kids Endure Horrors -- "Children in Darfur are enduring "unspeakable acts of violence and abuse" from killing and rape to abduction, torture and conscription in the escalating four-year conflict in Sudan."
~ Politics: Impeachment Fever Rises -- "An "impeachment from below" movement is gathering steam, and Congress needs to pay attention to it, writes John Nichols."
~ Globalism with Combat Boots -- "The United States launched a deadly air attack against Somalia last February, using the war on terror as a pretext. The bombings, which killed scores of civilians, were in support of an Ethiopian invasion to oust a Somalie regime composed of "Islamic militants" considered hostile to Ethiopia and reportedly sought by the United States. A convergence of Ethiopian and American interests provoked the air attack that helped rout this leadership, the so-called Islamic Courts movement, and endangered thousands of Somali lives. But it failed to turn-up the targeted Islamic militants."

~ Make This Earth Day Your Last! -- "Most of the time, we go far out of our way to blog from the sunny side of the street, but today we have something important to say that involves some strong words: Sunday should be the last Earth Day. This weekend, throughout much of North America and across the globe, hundreds of thousands of people who care about the environment will get together at protests, concerts, neighborhood clean-ups and tree-plantings... and accomplish almost nothing."
~ Free Internet for Amazon Conservation -- "The Amazon rainforest -- one of the oldest darlings of environmental activists -- has a new prescription for protection that couldn't have been possible in the early days of its plight. The Brazilian government recently announced that they will make free satellite internet available to native Indian tribes throughout the Amazon region as a way to enhance monitoring, management and conservation efforts."
~ Norway aims to be 'zero-emission' state by 2050 -- "Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday proposed to make Norway the first "zero-emission" state by 2050 and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2020."
~ Heat Triggers Sex Change in Lizards by "Turning Off" Key Gene -- "An Australian lizard has been found to change from male to female while still in the egg during extreme heat, challenging one of the core concepts of biology, scientists say."
~ Video: First Footage of Rare Hummingbird Courtship -- "Witness the bizarre display of the marvelous spatuletail, a tiny bird that uses a pair of extra long feathers to wow potential mates."
~ Chemists identify organic molecules that mimic metals -- "A limitation in using hydrogen as a fuel in hydrogen-powered vehicles is the difficulty involved in storing it in a cost-effective and convenient manner. While it is possible to store hydrogen using metals, the resulting products often can be prohibitively expensive and cause environmental problems."
~ Dark Energy Considered Harmful [Galactic Interactions] -- "Simon White has written a treatise published on astro-ph (arXiv:0704.2291v1) where he argues that Dark Energy, or, more specifically, the current bandwagon of interest in Dark Energy, is potentially harmful for astronomy."
~ 'Ghost' Spirals Born From Black Hole -- "Astronomers think they know what's behind a mysterious galaxy's invisible arms."

~ Get Your Soul In Shape With These 11 Most Deeply Held Wisdoms -- Not really integral, but good advice.
~ A Moral Obligation to Transform -- "I would like to suggest that the supreme and lofty goal of profound, life transforming spiritual liberation is not only possible in this lifetime, but is in fact well within reach of anyone of reasonably sound mind and stable character. And that the reason it is not happening for the vast majority of those who are seeking it is that, for most of us, our context is just too small."
~ Bracing for Buddhist evangelism -- "Sometimes when people write about topics like Buddhism with misinformation or presenting a limited view, it can be good as it provides an opportunity to challenge misconceptions or to at least present evidence that not all Buddhists adhere to a particular point of view. I was recently at The Buddhist Channel when I came across an article reproduced there from NC Register."
~ Ultraculture: Aryan People Only Please -- "The new movement is a lot like the old movement. Typical wannabe occultist wankers. I think this is really just Jason trying to make a name for himself in the “occult” world, not because he wants to make change, but because he wants to sell books. His latest book, Generation Hex, has been out for a while and if he is going to be a big name occult author and publisher, he needs to keep driving sales and generating attention towards himself."
~ Conversations -- A new twice-weekly feature at the Buddha Diaries.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ron Silliman on the Virgina Tech Tragedy

The poet Ron Silliman has a nice post up about the Virgina Tech shootings. It's very worth the few minutes to read.

Here is the intro:

I’ve walked around all week vaguely nauseated & depressed by the events at Virginia Tech on Monday. Remembering that one of my sons, at the age of four, announced he intended to go there to college – I hadn’t even heard of the place before he mentioned this, but he’d apparently heard from friends that it was an excellent school for science & engineering. The piranha-like feeding frenzy of the cable news networks on campus on Monday was itself as horrifying as it was barren of actual news. Hearing that a German professor had been shot in the head in front of his class, I was able to find out which German class was being held in Norris Hall online in about five minutes & thus knew that Jamie Bishop, the son of sci-fi & mystery writer Michael Bishop, was almost certainly dead almost 36 hours before I finally saw it confirmed by the Wednesday New York Times.

On Tuesday, the world learned that the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was a student who had been taking creative writing courses & had so alarmed his instructors with his writing & his actions in the classroom that they had sought outside assistance from the school administration, the counseling center, even the police, only to be rebuffed consistently. Lucinda Roy, the novelist who co-directs the program, had taken him on, teaching him in a one-to-one setting just to keep out of the classroom with his peers. Even then, The New York Times reports, she felt sufficiently concerned about him that she had a code for her T.A. who would know when to call security.

This reminded me of my own admittedly limited experience as a professor and of one student in particular at UC San Diego whose writing spoke of high school suicide gestures – she had apparently been “a cutter” – and was utterly fixated on food. I spoke to her at the time about the value of counseling and noted that she was so focused on this single topic that she couldn’t write about anything, even it, since the topic so overwhelmed her. But the term ended and with it my employment at the school & stay in San Diego. I don’t know if she ever got the help she needed.

People with psychotic diagnoses most often have their first episode in the 19-22 age range & can seem completely “normal,” whatever that term might mean, before then. On any large college campus, this means that faculty have some opportunity to come into contact with a student once in awhile who is becoming completely unhinged at a time when they may be apart from their previous social supports – family, community, church or temple – and may have become exceptionally socially isolated. There is hardly anyone lonelier than a college student away from home the first time who doesn’t know how to fit in. Toss in paranoia & unfolding schizophrenia and you have a stew brewing that can turn into trouble.
Read the rest.

At the end he refers to the poet Nikki Giovanni's speech given on Tuesday. Here it is -- not her best work, but in the context, very effective.

Daily Om: Open Heart

Today's Daily Om is a bit too literal for me, but the message is a good one -- and something I have been working on quite a bit over the past few years. [Commentary below.]
Returning Home
Open Heart

Spiritual teachers have always pointed to the heart as the seat of consciousness, and recently Western science has found evidence to support this realization. It turns out that the heart has its own central nervous system and is not simply under the rule of the brain as formerly believed. Anyone who has taken the time to explore the heart knows this and, more important, has realized that the heart is the source of our connection to a consciousness greater than the ego. Approaching life with an open heart means that we have opened the door to this greater consciousness, taking up residence alongside it in the seat of our soul. Fortunately, at this time there is a lot of support for this shift energetically as well as practically. To some degree, approaching life with an open heart is as simple as shifting your attention onto your heart.

Eventually you will be able do this any time, any place, but at first it may help to try it in a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Simply sit with your eyes closed and draw your breath into your heart. As your breath expands your chest cavity, your heart expands and opens. You may feel tenderness or sadness in your heart, and you may also feel relief. Any emotions that arise can be effectively witnessed and healed through the meditation process, which benefits both your physical heart and your energetic heart. The more you practice, the more you will find your heart opening to your own presence and to all the situations your life brings.

When we open our hearts, they may feel tender and vulnerable, which simply means that they need our loving attention as we cleanse and heal them of past hurts and blockages. This process asks us to practice some of the heart's greatest lessons-patience, compassion, and unconditional love. On the other hand, we may take up residence as effortlessly as a bird returns to its nest. Either way, approaching life with an open heart simply means returning to our true home.
While this post makes the process seem fairly nice and easy, the reality for many of us is that we have been closed off to our heart energy (which can also be discussed as the heart chakra) for much of our adult lives. It takes a concerted effort many times to open this energetic center within ourselves.

From Wikipedia:

According to contemporary buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku, the heart chakra is very important for the feeling of existential fullfilment.

As result of energetic imbalance between chakras arises an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fullfilment.

When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary, they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalizations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience.

When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one's senses and touch real feelings.[9]

When we are closed to the heart center, life can seem to lack meaning. The anxiety that this passage refers to can often be described as a kind of existential angst, a sense that we are isolated and that life is at best absurd or meaningless.

But when we do begin to access this part of ourselves, as we must if we wish to be whole and healthy people, the feelings that come up can be very intense and overwhelming. In fact, we may fear that the repressed pain and fear will engulf us and we will never escape. The ego fears this experience and will make very effort to avoid it.

There is no easy answer for how to do this -- we simply must do it and begin to trust that we will not only survive, but be happier and more whole for having gone through it. A good therapist can be very useful for this process, as can a good meditation teacher.

A way in for those who, like me, tend to live in their heads and avoid emotions is to practice crying. I am a big fan of the therapeutic benefit of crying as a way to release difficult emotions and pain. At first, the deep sobbing will seem to arise from nowhere in particular and may not even have any specific emotion tied to it. But over time, as the pent up energy releases, we will have better access to the pain that we have hidden within ourselves over the years.

It may be difficult initially to access the need to cry -- so I use sappy movies and TV shows (The West Wing tends to work really well for me -- some of the episodes are extremely touching). Others may prefer to use music, or art, or writing -- it doesn't matter what makes you cry, only that you cry. You can almost think of it as a workout for your heart center, like going to the gym, but without the sweat.

When we start, our egos will fight the feelings coming up and we may only cry for very short periods. But over time we can learn to relax into it and trust that we are cleansing our psyche and soul of years of pain.

I want to be clear that this can not take the place of actually dealing with past events and learning to reframe the memories and release the pain. But it can be a very useful process alongside the emotional work that may be more verbally based or intellectual.

For those who seek a more gentle approach, this heart meditation is a very easy way to begin to access the heart in a softer way.

In the long run, as I have learned, life becomes much more joyful and we can hold much more compassion if we can begin to release old wounds and pain and be more in contact with our hearts. As with most things, the only way out is through.