Thursday, December 30, 2010


In Living As A River, Bodhipaksa writes, "The Effects of loneliness on health are so powerful that isolation is as bad for you as smoking cigarettes" (p248)

This winter I've noticed two kinds of loneliness this holiday season. Family loneliness and friend loneliness. One patient has no family but has friends, so Xmas is hard, but New Years is not. Another patient has family but not the chum group he desires, so Xmas is fine but New Years is a crisis.

Ever since I went to social work school the effects of a positive social network have been trumped, and I find myself trying to sell the need for a network to my isolated patients. A friend of mine even said that in the 70's there was a book that essentially said that therapy was for these types of people, though I have the other type, manic hyper-verbal, charismatic as well. They suffer from affect regulation issues, though in a pro-social way, and are usually tolerated by others, though in a crucial way others have not yet helped them to completely manage their emotions and they suffer from self invalidation and obsessions. Alas trauma can clip the wings of the very gifted as well.

Just before the above quote, Bodhipaksa was writing about mirror neurons, which I first read about in Philip Bromberg.

I was just wondering whether people with autism don't have mirror neurons, a dot I have not connected when he speculated that they don't. I have two Aspergers type children, whom I work to draw them out into a shared reality, or more connected with others reality, when their own internal worlds are so vivid, much more vivid than the external world.

So I vote for Living AS A River as the best book of 2010. Bodhipaksa talks about so many different and interesting studies. One I keep coming back to is the idea that was literally can't imagine our non-being because the use of our imagination injects ourselves into things and to not inject ourselves into non-being leads to an inability of not grasping existing.

Now there's always a danger I'm riffing off someone, not in their intentions, but I think Bodhipaksa was making this point about our imaging our own non-existence.

There's a meditation on a corpse, and I've done a meditation set in the Bodies exhibit set up by Tricycle some years ago. I can imagine a world where I don't exist, but in my imagining, my existence is kind of implicit. Our knowledge of the world is through our senses and the stories we tell about that input. But imagine no input? That is hard. Sleep is the closest thing to that, we gratefully (mostly) close our eyes and fall into a temporary slumber of non-existence. And yet we dream, and wake up a little bit. It's no surprise death is called The Big Sleep, which is also the title of a famous Raymond Chandler novel.

I was watching the PBS documentary on the Buddha, which is quite beautiful in much of the artistic images it shows about the Buddha's life. Thinking about the 4 sights, illness, old age, death and the spiritual seeker.

As I get swept up into my worldly life, I am more and more conscious about how I am distracted from my death. Illness happens occasionally, and apparently there's a terrible virus going around NYC. I have suffered for a full week with the worst virus I've ever had. I kept wanting to say last words in case I didn't wake up, I felt a lot of self pity for what turned out not to be my sickness into death. I kept telling myself, this is preparation, practice, I can learn to do this better. If there's one thing you notice, it's when some people are sick they feel a little entitled, they grasp at what they feel they lost out in life, they become childlike in a not so flattering way. Getting sick gracefully isn't easy.

At 43 old age is becoming more and more imaginable. I had a beer at a bar, where the bartender was born while I was a Junior in college, I was twice her age. I was in a grocery store, and I said, "are young teenage women taking over the world," because all the cashiers were teenage women. I'm imagining old, though I easily forget all my visits to nursing homes. I have unvivid trace memories, but I can remember the feeling of horror and revulsion at seeing people grimly holding onto life past it's usefulness.

I'm seeing more clearly the actions to my consequences, that my youthful outlook and denial help me to overlook.

The holy life was at one time attractive to me, I yearned for escape into a monastery. I think that was escapism. Now I think I see more clearly the feet to the fire aspect of that way of living and I'm a little scared.

It was such an awesome thing that the Buddha went forth.

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