Body and Mind


I was watching an epsiode of The Dog Whisperer this morning. A fellow in a wheelchair was having trouble with his dog who, though normally extremely sweet and compliant, had attacked and killed another dog in the household, his sister’s rather yappy miniature poodle who had admittedly harassed the larger dog a great deal. It seems there were a few very small signs the owner had missed: the curl of a tail, a certain over-attentiveness in the dog whenever exciting stimuli was present. He acknowledged that he had made some mistakes, and set about trying to change them.

Something hit me as I watched that. And by “hit me,” I mean the sensation you might experience if your car was struck by a semi.

All my life I have lived with either a fear of failure or an obsession over my past or current failings. When in the throes of depression, I have often said that I am a mistake, a waste of breath, that my whole being is a failure. Owing perhaps to my father’s extremely high standards for me, or to my Evangelical upbringing, where a sin, any sin, cut you off utterly from the glory of God (hence the necessity of salvation), failure was always tantamount to a death knell for me. It meant I was fundamentally Unacceptable, that the relationship was irretrievably broken.

I have worked a great deal on that notion over the years, and I have made some progress, though not enough. I have told myself repeatedly that there is no such thing as failure. There is only the trial-and-error of life. You have discovered one more thing that doesn’t work the way you had hoped, so you now have an opportunity to try a different path, a different methodology. Try something radically different, or tweak the old approach just a bit and try again. It’s like a recipe that wasn’t successful; what ingredients need to be changed, what techniques need to be refined, to create a more pleasing result? It’s life as America’s Test Kitchen.

On today’s show, the fellow is in a wheelchair due to some crippling disease, yet he is able to train and control pitbulls. He saw that something he had done inadvertently, something in the way he had trained (or failed to train) his dog had cost his sister’s dog its life, and even though everyone acknowledged it was really the other dog’s fault for instigating it, he wanted to learn how to keep anything like it from ever happening again. He had made a mistake, and he owned it, but despite the great sadness it had brought to the family, he neither got defensive nor became consumed with guilt. “The path I took ended badly,” he said. “Now I need to learn what I need to do differently.”

It was precisely the right balance.

My life is not a failure. I have made choices that have brought me here. I couldn’t have gotten here any other way, through any other choices. Here is a good place, mostly, but now I want to go there. I see where my previous beliefs and actions have taken me; now I need to make new beliefs, take different actions, in order to get me to someplace else.

See? Television isn’t a total waste!

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression, Food and Diet | 4 Comments


My parents are appearing in my dreams with disturbing frequency now.

After my father died in 1982, I saw him in dreams and dream-states only once in a while. He was about 3/4 the height he was when alive, and he was often mute or had a gag over his mouth.

Then he went away. Couldn’t access him through dreams or journeys. This phase lasted a good dozen years. When he reappeared, he was (a) of a “normal” age, neither young nor old, (b) relatively healthy, and (c) almost without exception not married to Mom. In many dreams they had been married once, but they had divorced or separated. (In waking reality, they had a three-month discussion of separation, but then he became ill, and they reconciled and were very close again.)

In the the ten months (exactly) since Mom’s death, she has appeared uniformly strong and healthy and vigorous and independent, just as I believe she always wanted to be. Sometimes she was much younger and prettier than I knew her, sometimes she was like herself in her 60s, which were a vibrant time for her.

For the last month or two, Mom and Dad have both been showing up in my dreams. When they appear in the same dream, Mom is tired but healthy, while Dad is extremely ill, walks with a cane, can’t see well, and has balance problems. They are usually long divorced, but have come together for some event or over some situation in their lives where they need to work together.

Last night Dad was cold and arrogant, listed to the left when he walked, and his left eye didn’t seem to work well. I was trying to help Mom get ready for a visit from some old friends of theirs. They were best man and matron of honor at my parents’ wedding, and remained fairly close emotionally to my parents throughout their lives, even if they weren’t always in close contact. These friends died in the early 1990s. Now last night they’re all alive, and I’m helping Mom prepare drinks and food for the party, while Dad is doing his best to annoy people.

So strange. When Mom was in her last stages, she’d talk about reuniting with Dad, and it was always with great longing and affection, as if this would be rest and home to her. By the time Dad died, they were close and loving, and he and I had the best relationship we had ever had, which has made his post-death appearances all the more confusing.

I have no doubt whatsoever that these dreams are all very Freudian or Jungian, and mean very dark things about me, me, me, but I’m fascinated at how visceral it all is: I wake up feeling terribly disturbed at seeing them together again, changed, uncomfortable, when both my hope and my honest belief is that they are happy and whole and free.

Categories: Body and Mind, Death, Dreams, Family, Spirituality | 1 Comment

The Mailbox

Today’s thunderstorm came a bit earlier than usual, around lunchtime, and it was particularly violent for a while. I looked out the front door—just to enjoy the spectacle, really—and saw (to my great dismay) my mailbox, which stands on the side of the road by the driveway entrance, on the ground, in the swail that holds the runoff from the rain.

Someone had vandalized it. While it’s possible someone took a bat to it, it’s more likely that someone hit it with their car.

This is the second time that’s happened. Directly across the street from the mailbox is a neighbor’s driveway. A year or so after I moved back from Vermont, the friendly neighbors who had lived there sold the house to some faceless investor. The first set of tenants were two young women who, shall we say, Liked To Party. The parties weren’t especially loud, but there were many young men in and out, and anytime I saw people emerge from the house, they were happy and usually drunk. One day my mailbox was smashed, and the tire marks in the grass pointed directly toward their driveway. Some inebriated fool backed out too far or too fast.

So I installed a nice new mailbox. Well, the mailbox itself wasn’t quite as nice as the old one, but it came with a nice sturdy metal post, which I had a handyman set in concrete.

This mailbox saw the young women go, and the house lie dormant for a good six months. Then came an older couple—he was a church deacon and a house painter, very nice fellow—and they stayed for a year and a half. When they moved, they left rather quickly, and I never knew why, or where they were going. There was another period of dormancy, and at last the current tenants moved in.

I don’t know if they have a very large family, or a very large group of friends, but there are frequently four cars in the driveway and one parked just off the street, with lots of people coming and going. Cordial when you say hello, but clearly not folks who are inviting friendship.

Last week there were a series of arguments. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Death, Life in Florida | 3 Comments

The Water Wheel

The past week has been extremely hard. Mom died two months ago yesterday, though it feels far more recent. After the funeral came the a monumental work backload, the holidays, and a bronchial infection. Now that those are over and done with, there’s the silence of the house, an overwhelming amount of clean-up and clean-out work to do, and worst of all, no will to do it and no energy (physical, emotional, or mental) to do it with.

I’ve written before about the crippling depression that had periodically taken hold of me since my college years, and how I’ve had a respite from it in recent years, which I attribute in great part to acupuncture. This past week, though, I’ve noticed that I’ve been acting depressed, even though most of the time the emotional component wasn’t there. Sad, yes, but not that black despair. All that changed sometime last Thursday. I’m not sure what the trigger was, and I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say it was a very bleak weekend. This grieving business is a real bitch. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression | 11 Comments


Since I can’t sleep, I might as well write. Not that I have anything momentous to say (except that my hit counter just hit 45,000). In fact, I’m not sure I have anything to say at all. Maybe I’ll just blather instead.

I need to back up both my laptop and my desktop, wipe the hard drives and reformat them, then re-install some software from scratch. I don’t hate Vista as much as everyone else seems to, but once it gets buggy, no amount of tweaking seems to make it better. Now all I need is to find a couple of unobstructed days to do it.

As I mentioned on Facebook, the huge pot of stock I made over several days turned out wonderfully. I’m making chicken soup tomorrow (with extra garlic and ginger, so maybe it’s Asian chicken soup), and then cabbage soup over the weekend. The rest of the stock gets frozen for sauces and future soups.

Indigo Bunting, who just wrote a nifty piece about Facebook being an addictive timesuck, asked me to tell the story about the Middletown Springs town dump that I posted on Lali’s blog, so here it is. Lali was writing about living frugally and finding wonderful things in the trash and at rummage sales, so I posted this comment: Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression | 9 Comments

Good Morning, Starshine

One of the most obvious and astounding changes in my behavior since Mom died is that I am waking up spontaneously much earlier than I used to. Like, 6 a.m. or before. In the dark and the cold(ish). Decades of waking at 8 or 9 or even later (having gotten spoiled by working for myself) are a thing of the past, apparently.

This morning I awoke at 6:05, and tossed restlessly for another 20 minutes before deciding it was a useless exercise. I wanted to get up. How bizarre is that?

How long before I’m drinking hot tea and listening to Morning Edition while I watch the sunrise from my back porch? Can journaling be far behind? (And did I really just use “journal” as a verb?)

Categories: Body and Mind | 6 Comments

Notes from . . . well, not necessarily the Dreamtime

I’ve been waking up lately with my head crammed with a bunch of disjointed thoughts. That in itself is not unusual; my head is a confusing place to navigate through. But they don’t fit neatly into a single blog post, and there’s not enough in any one of to make a post on its own, so I hope you’ll pardon the disjointedness.

*   *   *   *   *   *    *

I lost fourteen pounds last week.

I’m not, it turns out, a big proponent of weighing oneself religiously as a gauge to determine dietary success or loss. I’ve seen myself gain weight even when being scrupulously faithful to my plan, and lose weight when I’ve cheated. And gaining weight, or losing little or nothing, when I’ve struggled so hard, does nasty things to my emotional state. So I weigh once a week at most. When the weight loss slows down (it’s always fastest at the beginning of a diet, and always fastest with very heavy people), I may drop back to once a fortnight or once a month.

And I’m not even crowing about these fourteen pounds: it’s mostly water, which my body accumulated in response to the inflammation caused by the reaction to bread, and in response to the high levels of salt and sugar I consumed during the funeral trip. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Death, Depression, Dreams, Food and Diet, Healing | 4 Comments

Day Two

Yesterday was Day One in several significant ways. The Great Funeral Trip is done, and Mom is resting with Dad in Maryland. Now I have an empty house with all the chaos from the previous weeks still in evidence, and little time to make any sense of it since I have a bunch of work deadlines this week, not to mention Mom’s famous rum cake and my infamous CraigNog to make for the family Thanksgiving gathering.

I’m still at that stage where everything reminds me of Mom, or I say, “Mom would really love that,” or I turn to talk to her but see only a vacant chair or bed. I’m not sad or lonely, exactly, but I’m keenly feeling the lack of her physical presence.

At the same time, I feel a sudden push forward, the motivation and power to make some changes in my life that I have wished for or even attempted (and failed at) in the past. One, as I mentioned recently, is my trying to excise bread and other things made with flour from my diet. It ain’t easy. Wheat has opioids — opium-like substances that influence the brain’s endorphin receptors. These opioid peptides are physically addictive and cause asthma, obesity, and (as might be expected from a substance chemically similar to morphine) apathy.

It turns out that plants use different tactics to scare off attackers. Some plants contain poison; others just anesthetize their attackers, as wheat does with opioid peptides. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Body and Mind, Death, Food and Diet, Shamanism | 7 Comments

Tasty, Tasty Poison

Bread and I are coming to a parting of the ways. I don’t know if I have a wheat allergy, or I’m sensitive to gluten, or if it’s those little yeasties that my system doesn’t like, but every time I binge on stuff made with flour, I pay dearly for it in the days and even weeks following.

I go in cycles. Sometimes I am scrupulously careful about my diet (not diet in the “lose weight” sense, though the proper diet certainly has that effect, but diet in the “eat what your body was evolutionarily designed to eat before the advent of agriculture screwed everything up and introduced us to new and wonderful diseases” sense). When I am in emotional survival mode, as I was for the last few weeks of Mom’s life, it all goes to pot and I eat bread and butter and chocolate and sugar and sometimes great hunks of meat.

This week I have been in celebration mode. That sounds terrible, considering I’m going to be officiating at Mom’s funeral in a few hours, but this trip really has been a celebration of her life. Everything reminds me of her. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Food and Diet, Humor, Travel | 4 Comments


From an online forum:

Many of my friends in their 30s are starting to play around with psychedelics again. Mushrooms & LSD.

I guess we all got bored with reality.

Categories: Body and Mind, Great Quotes, Psychology, Spirituality | Leave a comment


In the seventh grade, we were taught Modern Math. My teacher, a man with a thick Southern accent whose face looked like one of those dried apple dolls, thought my grasp of the theoretical stuff was good but my basic arithmetic skills were lacking a bit, so he didn’t want to promote me to Algebra. My father marched down to the school and straightened him out. He never revealed the content of their discussion, but I secretly hoped some brass knuckles were involved.

I excelled in Algebra. Almost pure theory. Geometry set me back a bit, because we were dealing with three-dimensional space. Trig, in the tenth grade, was monstrous. I forget what we had in the eleventh grade, but it was full of polynomials and advanced trig and things that made my brain freeze up.

One thing I took with me along the way, though, was the concept of vectors, and even now I’m not sure I’ve got it quite right.* When you define three-dimensional space graphically, you use a Cartesian coordinate system, with x, y, and z axes.

It’s days like this when I think I’m actually not geeky enough, or I’d be able to explain this better. Please try not to laugh into your corn flakes. You’ll get milk up your nose. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Brain, Dreams, Healing | 3 Comments

A Power Cord to the Transcendant?

by Jeffrey Weiss,

The psilocybin mushroom was a tripper’s choice back in the 1960s. Actually, it was the herbal head-trip drug used by millennia of shamans long before the psychedelic ’60s. It was supposed to help get the mystically inclined into the right frame of mind, to enhance feeling of spirituality. Does it? Researchers tested the drug on 36 subjects in 2006. Thirty of the 36 attended two separate 8-hour drug sessions, at two-month intervals. On one they received psilocybin, on another, methylphenidate (Ritalin), as a control since it’s well known that it’s not a drug that boosts spiritual feelings.

Then researchers talked to their subjects at two months. And again a year later.

Here’s a nugget of the results published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology : Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Brain, Healing, Shamanism | Leave a comment

Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?

Many people will say it is morally acceptable to pull a switch that diverts a train, killing just one person instead of the five on the other track. But if asked to save the same five lives by throwing a person in the train’s path, people will say the action is wrong. This may be evidence for an ancient subconscious morality that deters causing direct physical harm to someone else. An equally strong moral sanction has not yet evolved for harming someone indirectly.

By NICHOLAS WADE | The New York Times
Published: September 18, 2007

Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.

At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?

In a series of recent articles and a book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, has been constructing a broad evolutionary view of morality that traces its connections both to religion and to politics.

Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) began his research career by probing the emotion of disgust. Testing people’s reactions to situations like that of a hungry family that cooked and ate its pet dog after it had become roadkill, he explored the phenomenon of moral dumbfounding — when people feel strongly that something is wrong but cannot explain why.

Dumbfounding led him to view morality as driven by two separate mental systems, one ancient and one modern, though the mind is scarcely aware of the difference. The ancient system, which he calls moral intuition, is based on the emotion-laden moral behaviors that evolved before the development of language. The modern system — he calls it moral judgment — came after language, when people became able to articulate why something was right or wrong. Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Brain, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Mind Over Matter?

Einstein told us that matter and energy are the same Stuff moving at different speeds. The molecules in ice move very slowly indeed. They move faster in water, and fastest in steam. All matter is energy that is moving slowly; all energy is matter vibrating quickly.

Likewise, even the most jaded scientists say that thoughts are biochemical or bioelectric signals the brain emits. Thoughts are energy. Thoughts, therefore, are the selfsame stuff as matter.

We don’t need to put “mind over matter.” What we need is to realize that mind IS matter.

Someone told me—though I can’t find the exact quote—that the Dalai Lama once said, “If you want to see into your past, look at your body. If you want to know the future, look at your mind.” Our thoughts become physical reality. That’s why it’s so vital that we choose our thoughts well.

Now, all I need to do is repeat these ideas to myself fifty or sixty times a day. . . .

Categories: Body and Mind, Brain | 4 Comments

Revisiting Questions of Linear Time and Object Permanence

In an earlier post about a fascinating (and more than a little surreal) discussion about quantum physics in an online humor and gossip forum, I mentioned that the thread had concluded.

Well, it keeps getting new posts periodically, and some of the comments have been fascinating, not to mention hysterically funny:

R37: “This is known as reality shifting. It happens all the time. Who hasn’t ‘lost’ something only to find it’s reappeared someplace you know you didn’t put it? It’s happened to me and lots of people I know and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it probably will!”

Roger: “Hello!!! Socks in the dryer anyone? I’m tempted to throw myself in there and see where I wind up. Somewhere I hope with lots of dimmer switches.”

R40: “What I find is that when I’m looking for something, the thing I’m looking for anticipates where I’m going to look next and, if that’s where it is, it moves itself. It keeps doing this until it gets bored and lets me find it.

“Also, anyone else have this experience: you’re in some room (typically one without windows, such as a basement, and it’s filled with stuff. You turn out the light and everything disappears! Where does it go? I figure probably to another dimension. In any case, it can’t be far because you turn the light back on and everything reappears, seemingly instantaneously. It’s weird.

“Don’t get me started about linear time! I was so tired last night, I fell asleep watching television. Several hours disappeared and suddenly was I thrust into the morning.

“People who live in reality are just boring.” Continue reading

Categories: Body and Mind, Humor, Time and Space | 5 Comments

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