Power and control

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The brain is weird. Mine is, for sure, but I don’t know anybody else’s that isn’t. Who can honestly say that they have never had a thought so far removed from their usual pattern that they hastened to suppress it… or indulge in it 

Well, this weird brain, with which I am in loving but unholy alliance, has this issue about survival. It makes contingency plans. It insists I carry my cellphone with me at all times, even when it’s a nuisance. It remembers plants that kill better than plants that heal – then finds them in the garden. It maps exits and cardinal points in every room the eyes can see. So far, so suspicious.

But the darling believes that the best chance of survival it has is to make me as capable as possible. This is the training regime I am constantly being reminded of:

Stand up straight, don’t show fear, take control of the situation.
I don’t trust that person – don’t back away, silly, get closer and find out why.
Develop your upper body strength, you know that is your weak point.
Why didn’t you enrol in those self-defence classes?
No, I don’t like to see humans treated inhumanely (news, movies, documentaries, Freud) but if you don’t know how will you be able to endure it if it applies to you?
Remember to take the little one’s inhalers if you have to run.
High heels? How are you going to run in them? Fine, you look good in them, now pack a pair of flats just in case.
Dangly earrings? Don’t you like your ears firmly attached to your head?
Did you remember to fill the almond and sultana box at work? How about the tuna?
What do you mean you are not taking a jacket? Yes, I know it’s 40 C outside, at least put it in the car, you don’t have to carry it!
I don’t care that that handbag is cute, the strap is not long enough for you to put it on your shoulders! Hands should remain free! Yes, a wrist strap is acceptable – barely!

Now I don’t have to listen to my brain… as long as I am prepared to put up with extreme lack of comfort  So I usually compromise, which keeps it in the nagging rather than screaming mode. I still haven’t enrolled in self-defence classes and my upper body strength is negligible. But my attire satisfies it most of the time – it helps that I am in that kind of profession – and I bring enough food at work – money, you know?

So bring it on! I am, after all, prepared!

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Negative

 

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If you are like me and trying to follow the diamond rather than the golden rule, sooner or later you find yourself with an excess of negativity. This other part of ourselves is not a comfortable place to be in, though, so we find outstandingly creative ways to either get out of it or distract ourselves from it. I acknowledge those who cannot control that negativity. I am also aware of those who prefer to wallow in it and call it everything from realism to ageism to what-not.
But in this article I want to focus on the role of the negative. For those young enough 😛 to have used photo film, you know the fascination of the negatives, the way our brain struggles and then begins to make sense of the reversed image, the play of shadow and unnatural light that coalesces into a weird beauty.
In a more real world (says who?), as I mentioned in another couple of articles, the negative is a lot more useful for survival than the positive. That’s why our brain notices it first and attempts to address it first. No matter the stark beauty of the wide open space of the savannah, that prowling big feline you see coming towards you gets noticed and dealt with so you can admire the scenery another day 
The upside to that is, of course, safety. If we succeed in reaching a safe place, the theory says we can allow that survival-oriented part of our brain to be at rest and we can concentrate on being human, including paying attention to and creating beauty. Most of us seem to have forgotten we have that switch though… does that mean we do not recognize a safe place when we see it anymore?
But there is another role of the negative, especially when we are talking about feelings. They are, of course, great motivators. Probably because of that link with survival, we usually act on the negative faster, and put a lot of effort into it. The results are… hmm, what’s a polite way of putting it? 
I will refer you to the entire range of fiction, and most of the non-fiction writing… just in case you haven’t noticed it, it ain’t pretty! For a milder version, the religious and inspirational teachings focus on teaching the brain to avoid acting in those ways, which is an acknowledgment of the way they usually pan out.
But if there is one thing our brain can do, is learn. We can learn to guide our actions, even when those actions are triggered by negative thoughts or feelings (greed, hate, jealousy and the like). I have tried to learn this with the shades of anger that are my usual negative response to life. I am in a vocation that allows me to use anger to try and change systems. I can also use it to arrange the life around me to be safe. I am not sure if anger can work at a group level (revolutions, anyone?) but at a personal level heck, yes it works! 
Don’t get me wrong, I can wallow in anger myself for a while, uncomfortable as it actually is. I can fantasize about revenge driven by anger – and I am inventive! 
In the long run though, that doesn’t matter because anger is a motivator for action, but (wait for it!) it is not the action. That has been, and is, and will be, under our control – and that’s the way I like it!

 

Body

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A mystery word… oh goody goody, I like those 🙂 For such a finite object, so widely probed and explained, so much taken for granted, isn’t it ironic that we don’t know where the word comes from?

Now I will try my very best to stay away from the mind-body problem. Not because it’s not an interesting one, but because it gets complicated and mysterious so very quickly and I am simply not trained enough to follow through all the arguments. It would be interesting to try a Socratic discussion on this with good friends over a glass of something and see if we get to the Forms Plato was talking about.

But for now I want to focus on the body. The poor sister, when it comes to philosophy and religion, one of the main objects of study when it comes to human centred science.

Funnily enough, once you start paying attention, rather than taking it for granted as explained above, bodies are discovered to be very complicated, too. You just try to imagine 11 systems working at the same time with a lot of overlapping and minimal intrinsic faults, then tell me the body is a simple matter. At the same time I am fascinated time and time again, with true evolutionary curiosity, by vestigial features, by fail safe systems, by fossil records of limb development and by annoying little things like snot and hair.

But the most fascinating thing of all is, indeed, the way the body good-naturedly accepts commands and tries to fulfill them. Please see above, I am not going to even try to figure out the relationship between the brain, the mind, the spirit and the soul, whatever those last three may be. Sometimes not knowing has to be accepted, much as it frustrates me no end 🙂

When I say commands I do not necessarily mean those I link to survival, like eating, sleeping, defense and reproduction, although they are amazing in and of themselves, and especially when seen in the context of the entire biosphere. I mean those that sit higher on Maslow’s pyramid, static as it is. Our brains command manners, education, bizarre behaviour and entire cultures and our good little bodies speak, act and change accordingly. We also do this to other animals – did you know that certain breeds of dog cannot reproduce anymore without human help? Oh, but the little darlings fit so well on a human lap!

You’d think our bodies would reject some of our commands, if only because they go against survival. Do they? Do they? Well, not really, not until it’s too late to matter. Our bodies obey whether that means they live or die… that is beyond weird!

We usually learn to control a portion of our body functions by 3 years old. We spend the entirety of our life at least marginally dependent on this body. We tend to mistreat it, expose it to diseases, subject it to all sorts of activities that it is not specifically designed for (high heels? office chairs? pierced ears? uplifted mammary glands?) and still it will keep going, finding ways around and forever trying to act and to be used.

Ah well, better indulge it in a bit of gardening 🙂

Force

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I’ve been banging about things like actions and consequences for a while. It’s about time I was talking of the force going through that whole continuum. I am talking of motives, of course. I guess you may have thoughts without a motive, but it’s difficult to have voluntary action without motive. The root of the word comes from Latin and it implies movement in a causative way. It is sometimes confused with intent, probably because it is the force that moves the intent into action. Indeed, it seems to bypass planning and choice but once the decision is made (based on said intent) it is in its element with actions as its tools.

So if the intent is to stay alive and a lion is charging, once you have sifted through the available choices (fight, flight, freeze etc.) and you have made your decision, your motive will implement that action to obtain the consequence intended. I would probably choose fighting after an initial freeze, but that’s just me 🙂

Motivation seems to be linked to survival as that is usually linked to action. And survival expectations do go down severely if motivation is missing. This is not so obvious nowadays, when we have several safety nets to catch us should our motivation falter, but it hasn’t always been like this. And out of all the frustrating traits people exhibit lack of motivation is probably very high on the ladder because we see their survival being in danger.

We admire dilligence, ambition, activity because neither of those is possible without motivation. We dislike laziness, procrastination and apathy because we catch that whiff of danger. We also find it very difficult to slow down, meditate, pray, consider and even sleep. Because we equate moving with being alive (originally it mostly was, our predators were faster, stronger and had senses significantly more acute than us; freezing wasn’t really an option).

Once survival is assured motivation doesn’t just disappear into thin air. It’s a force, so once you have it (barring illness, certain drugs etc.) you can use it. It’s not really blind force, either, although it can be bent in many directions. It exerts a pull towards what interests you once survival is not an issue. This pull is what makes life sweet when you do whatever it is that floats your boat.

Say you have a really nice job working for the man. It pays good money. It is something you are good and skilled at. You may have a company car, flexible hours, nice perks. Come Friday you leave it all behind and, if you’re smart, you get a life. The motivation provided by all those nice things does not normally extend to the weekend. Motivation is an economically efficient force, it won’t expend that energy when there is no need for it.

But say you are a scientist and you have a theory. No funding, obviously, until you have something to go on. Tell me, do you notice weekends as anything else other than time to get the experiments set up and running? Or researching what has already been done. Or pulling your hair out because it doesn’t work your way? Or resenting the day job because it takes you away from whatever it is you are trying to do?

Hm… sounds like motivation doesn’t really care about money and perks and holidays etc. Nice to have, don’t get me wrong… just wondering if societal rules don’t get too restrictive at one point, you know?