A Train Without Rails

One way to really waste your time is reading on and on about mindfulness. And there is surely no end of long long long books books books offering a thousand lifetimes’ worth of answers about mindfulness. Complex, marketable, secular answers. Let’s set those answers and those long books on the shelf for now. When I was 18 years old, a scientist in Madison posed a question in the first half of a brief article. That question was Are questionnaire-based self-reports of mindfulness valid?

Now I’m 25 years old. Unresolved is ‘the questionnaire question’, but absolutely certain to me this morning was my own mindlessness. Here’s a small sample of the day’s distractions, brought to you from first-semester chemistry (via self report…validity to be determined):

 

11:15am Distracted by goal-flavored thoughts about writing a memoir of high quality, visualizing the steps associated with such a venture
11:15:30am Writing-thoughts bubbling up to account for the possibility or inevitability of memoir-thoughts
11:19am Anger-thoughts about institutional life, hot heated word-thoughts offering critiques of abusive power structures and their creations, which stemmed from thoughts about writing
11:24am What’s the best way to steal a lot of stuff from Whole Foods?
11:26am Anger-Argue thoughts about my old job, and the gross inability of my former boss to do her job (or live her live generally)

 

My intent for that 15-minute period was to simply write those thoughts that were most distracting for me. So when I noticed that my attention was unstable even for a moment, or that my mind’s eye had been occluded by some material other than coursework, I wrote down that material non-judgmentally and as it presented itself. It can be hugely valuable to understand and observe our consciousness without responding to or agreeing/disagreeing with it.

Do you have a wobbly attention span? Are you seeking more FOCUS? Go back to the shelf, pick up those conversations about secular mindfulness, and have some Mental Training™ today!

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From September 15th – October 22nd of 2017 a fantastic play is show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, show, showing at the Pillsbury Theatre in Minneapolis. You should go. [what would it be like to do the same show 26 times in 5 weeks? whoa!]

Self-indulgence seemed to be the theme here.

It was written by Janas Hassen Khemiri and was perhaps the most creepy/dark/effective/funny/great/hedonistic/individual portrayal of money, greed, and desire I have ever witnessed. The space at the theatre was simple, and the actors – often embodying various attitudes or inner urges experienced by the actual “scripted”/”real” characters – flowed through and beyond the set with humor and ease. One single actor might represent three neighborhood goofballs over the span of 2 minutes – at another moment, 2 actors might represent 1 single goofball’s inner dialogue. Very cool work & had me scribbling on my mini-paper-pad thing excessively throughout the show.

DESIRE. This goal-oriented intoxicating desire reminded me for the entire 1 hour and 45 minutes of the nucleus accumbens and VTA. The performance felt like a clear demonstration of our inner desires for wealth and class and fancy items – walk in closets, perfume, champagne – and thus connoted the reward systems we all have in common. Of course those reward systems are best characterized as biological, as they operate on entirely passive, predictable, and commonly inherited forces. Much of the melancholy came from divisive attitudes and circumstances, and the passing of judgment. Greedy folks blaming other greedy folks for being greedy.

Are we all screwed? Maybe not. The consistency of this self-indulgence and other-blaming is what offered at least some comedic redemption for each character. If we’re all united in our humanity by greed it perhaps opens up the conversation about what to do about it. [The program offers several discussion questions, one of which is Do you identify with any of the characters? I identified with all of them, down to the yucky details.]

So what’s with greed? What’s with money? Thanks to the theatre & the playwright for getting at least my brain and a few others to keep wondering. Capitalism is our mutual problem as a society (especially in America), and maybe to be unified and identified as automata who are equally enticed by pleasure is the first step towards rewiring our nature.

 

getting the ball rolling

or, How to Turn Gloomy Nothingness into Motivation**

  1. Focus
  2. Set a sleep schedule. Stick to the sleep schedule.
  3. If all seems lost, do 100 jumping jacks and 10 push-ups
  4. Eat. Eat well.
  5. Write, but don’t write aimlessly. Don’t. Write. Aimlessly. This is not time to let loose with the pen & paper (or keyboard), or to journal about your fucking feelings, or to think up how you haven’t thought up anything yet. This is time to get regular. Write at scheduled times each day: within a few minutes after waking up, after meals, before bed.There are two genres of writing you must commit to in order to go from a state of gloomy nothingness to one of healthy motivation.5a) Write down the time you wake up (to the minute: e.g. what time exactly you stand up), what you eat/drink/ingest/intoxicate yourself with, what medications you take, and the forms of exercise you get. Writing these down each day will give you the first clear and undeniable suggestion of any bullshit you’ve been allowing yourself to get up to: sleeping in, enjoying 4 boxes of Milk Duds for breakfast several days a week, etc.
    5b) Write about your most extreme moods and prevalent thoughts. Don’t write whatever the fuck you want about them, though: don’t write aimlessly. When you write about your most extreme moods and prevalent thoughts do so in a detached way, with your intent being only to offer a memorable record to a future version of you who will be reading your day’s notes. Write about how the mood or thought came on, the content of your conscious awareness during that time, and any other relevant information. Then stop writing. Though unrewarding in the moment and tedious (combined with the genre you’ve already mastered in part 5a it will seem like you are just churning out streams of data) this style of bookkeeping will eventually form a long list of your experiences during your shittiest moments.You now have 2 small books about yourself. The first small book (writing style described in 5a), for those of us who frequently stray from our regular schedule and needs, can offer a simple and brutally honest assessment of one’s daily habits, and therefore the first steps on a route to a more motivated state of being. But when all systems are go and the vehicle is still stuck, meaning that one’s lifestyle is relatively clean but one’s outlook is still relatively filthy, the second small book (writing style described in 5b) becomes more valuable. This description of extreme experiences will offer the second, third, fourth, and fifth steps on a route towards a more specific understanding of the barriers to a more motivated state of being.

    It is extremely important for depressed people to become Writers of these two documents and to also review their writings daily.  These ever-growing documents will give you your one and only chance to more simply articulate your patterns of being and find the weak points at which to strike remaining controllable causes of your depressed mood. Should you choose to sit there and word-vomit with your writing during a depressive phase that is up to you. As for me, the mere sight and smell of my acidic unfiltered feelings spilling onto the floor, only to dry out and be-revisited over and over, doesn’t do much good. You can make your writing fun and creative in other ways: keep a journal for writing type 5a, and a separate journal for writing type 5b. Type them up into cute .pdfs and see if the extreme moods correlate with any lifestyle habits. Go buy yourself a trophy when you discover the basics. Use a special pen to write about your gloomy thoughts. Throw some stickers on that shit. Whatever floats your boat.

  6. Laugh ten times a day. No subject is off limits, just get yourself an ab workout via the giggles.
  7. Chill
  8. Meditate with supervision. Real-life human supervision.
  9. You’ve gotten this far and still feel shitty, so let me ask you this: have you told anyone that your ball has stopped rolling? Find someone to give you a push.

 

**the suggested application of these tactics comes with the assumption that you are under regular supervision and treatment by a competent psychiatric care professional who can write prescriptions. if you aren’t doing that there’s a good reason you still feel shitty.

what are the essential properties of consciousness?

 

Phenomenology, thought experiments and contemplation have in some instances provided valuable insights to physicalist forms of knowledge, i.e. physics or neuroscience. Not unlike Einstein’s successful attempt to access concepts in relativity through thought experiments, Giulio Tononi wants to create step-by-step definitions and images that allow theorization about the subject at hand: in this case, consciousness, subjectivity, selfhood, the feeling of what it’s like to be something.

Plot twist: he completely dodges a great question about unification of conscious experiences in the case of stroke patients. I’m not sure why he neglected to answer or even address that question directly.

 

 

 

The Barbara Schneider Foundation – a brief summary

Most of the world, connected tightly by digital devices, fiber-optics, and touchscreens, is well aware that we have a problem with use of force by law enforcement. In fact it is not uncommon for the average person in the United States to be acquainted with someone who has been the victim of brutal and outdated forms of police training and often times also to have been a victim themselves. This is especially true for people of color, persons with brain diseases, individuals who do not conform to gender-binary norms – and if you’re several or all of these things, life in America is feudal. And it’s all over the news – every day there are videos of more shootings, more police officers being released despite having blood on their hands. You know it sucks. Everyone knows it sucks – not least of all the police themselves.

But despite the huge public awareness of the problem, there is very little discussion or awareness of possible solutions. Why is that? Certainly, for many people, the mistake is to assume that there are no solutions to the use of force problem or to police brutality. This is actually quite understandable. Why should the average citizen, who is pretty much voiceless and without any influence over the police, be expected to understand how to stop police-related killings?  In our western world the preference of media entities and of lawmakers is to stagnate any real progress in the realm of public safety or social equality, and subsequently tragedies continue to occur and the police continue to have suboptimal training. The police themselves (with the exception of some groups) have, without adequate education or funding or support, been absolutely unable to be the nation’s emergency psychiatrists, even though they are generally expected to be. But thanks to the federal and state governments there is no money or space for individuals with sickness, and the cycle of death and pain continues. The natural tendency of individuals at the level of the community, then, is to be upset – the media can make a lot more money by perpetuating and dramatizing that problem rather than helping to solve it. Those who remain unaware that this is a systemic issue of a lack of training continue to be upset with one another, and upset at the police, when disaster strikes again and again. It makes sense, even though it’s terrible. So it’s not surprising that the problem persists overall.

But there are solutions. Despite the fact that your local and state government have absolutely no time, money, or compassion for the individuals suffering at its own hand from mental illness, drug abuse, or personal crisis, there are a handful of individuals within that system who have helped to make some progress. And above and beyond that there are truly miraculous grassroots efforts to improve circumstances for individuals in crisis who have to face off with police – these are tiny groups of advanced trainers who teach law enforcement officials and police how to better handle these situations peacefully. Larger still is the contribution of individuals – doctors, nurses, social workers, advocates, community organizers, families, friends, clergy, artists – the burden continues to remain on medically unskilled persons to bear the emotional weight of their troubled loved ones. Out of these massive support networks, and the associated tragedies, a number of groups have emerged to offer the world’s most advanced training in crisis intervention. Various survivors of police encounters, police trainers and officers themselves, and other healthcare, emergency medicine, and psychiatric experts are the meat and bones of these entities, who are few in number but great in power. With great pleasure I am describing to you groups like Minnesota’s own Barbara Schneider Foundation – a nonprofit that focuses on the CIT model of crisis intervention.

I have spent some time speaking, teaching, and consulting with this group in particular about my own experiences. This past January I also wrote their director a brief proposal  that articulated my understanding of the work BSF is accomplishing and my small vision for how it might be improved. In summary it is my opinion from experience and academic training that the brain sciences (and particularly the areas of affective neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, and psychiatry) will in coming years offer a revolutionary and unparalleled set of solutions and strategies for communities and nations to address the issues of brain disease, extreme personal crises, and the psychiatric stability of the public. The World Health Organization is of the opinion that by 2030, depression will be the leading cause of disability on earth. I would rather not cite statistics on how many persons with mental illness are killed by police every year – just go read about it yourself. The brain is the source of these mysterious issues, and it is through an accumulated world history of powerful, personal, and sometimes tragic anecdotes, combined with new and nearly mystical insights into our own existence through the study of the nervous system, that will begin to alleviate the suffering of so many. This must start with basic empirical research at the level of how mental health crises emerge in the brain, in the moment, and in the world – hence, ‘3 levels of the mental health crisis.’

enjoy. this is a very rough draft; judge accordingly.

BSF PROPOSAL

-iv

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (pt1)

By thus being set face to face, however weak the mental faculties may be, there is no doubt of one’s gaining Liberation. Yet, though so often set face to face, there are classes of men who, having created much bad karma, or having failed in observance of vows, or, their lot [for higher development] being altogether lacking, prove unable to recognize: their obscurations and evil karma from covetousness and miserliness produce awe of the sounds and radiances, and they flee. [If one be of these classes], then, on the Fourth Day, the Bhagavān Amitābha and his attendant deities, together with the light-path from the Preta-loka, proceeding from miserliness and attachment, will come to receive one simultaneously.

I’ve gotta admit it, guys. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is really messing with me.

Tibetan Book of the Dead? What’s that? Google it. Read it. There are a few different editions and .pdfs you can find online [if you’re too cool to go to your local bookstore]. Many of them have commentaries and commentaries and commentaries and commentaries throughout or preceding the text. Whether or not that’s helpful for you is completely your choice. When I first starting reading this text towards the end of last year it was fantastically fascinating.

Here is a book that seems practical. In fact, books about death seem extremely and incomparably useful for any human being that might have to…you know…..anyway.

In extremely lucid and relatable language this text (AKA the English translation I quoted above) describes the process of death. Whether or not the authors of this arcane, ancient anomaly managed to accurately articulate the post-humous experiences of sentient beings is unknown. But in any case the document serves as an incredible artifact and, for me personally (and many others), a touching and eerie account.