Sunday, October 28, 2012

2 Aphorisms





39. Surgery

What fills space?
time to find an answer: 

7 days

The master finished leading a meditation high atop a mountain. A young student approached the master with a question.

Student: master, describe the spirit.

Master: nothingness, nothing

Student: then what does it mean to be spiritual?

Master: an attempt to convince the ego that nothingness has substance.

student: what is nothingness?

master: it is unimportant

with that the student was enlightened.


55.When spirit is the only thing holding you down

Think carefully. 
What are you trying to transcend? 
Is having a body too much for you? 


I heard a child say, "Pain is weakness leaving the body".  Upon hearing this, my person was seized with aggravation. Physical pain normally indicates a disease state, or some subtle or overt state of injury.  When pain presents itself, with a scream or a whimper, the signal often does not leave the body, but bounces around a neuronal trampoline, getting faster and faster and stronger and stronger with each successful leap.  A clear sign that whatever the body currently engages in should see soon its ceasing to prevent damage to its delicate structure.  This means that Pain can signal the beginning of a weakness caused by injury, which in turn indicates that the above statement, phrased with more accuracy would look like: "Pain is weakness developing in the body." 

Pain lingers after the activity (stretch, weight-bearing movement, etc.)  has ended.

Classically, self-inflicted pain (flagellation) has been used with various amounts of recorded and historical success in achieving a concentrated, reasonably empty state of gnosis.  This path has a tendency towards putting the physical body into some very peculiar and risky circumstances.  As the body/brain adjusts to the infliction of pain, (in most cases) the punishment must gradually increase in order to achieve the same or a similar state.  Discipline seems very important to such a practitioner in order that they may keep their body operational in 3 dimensional space.  In many of these practices, portions of the body rich in nerve endings are the targets, nociceptors (pain receptors) overload the nervous system ultimately causing stillness and emptiness in the mind.   

Nocignosis differs from other painful practices of gnosis in a few remarkable ways.  The pain applied in nocignostic practices produces the concentrated state without any other attached significance.  A sadhu decides to hold his hand in the air for the rest of his life in order to venerate god and achieve gnosis, as a penance.  Even though, initially, pain plays a critical role in this practice, instead of playing the role of  gnostic mediator, it plays the role of test and obstacle.  Ultimately this sadhu seeks to adjust to having his hand in the air, as such it gradually shrivels and loses its use and function:  transmuted into pure symbol.

The Nocignostic is more likely to walk with glass in their shoes or slap themselves with wet leather whips, or wear hair shirts or irritating needles in order to overstimulate nerve endings to temporarily short circuit the nervous system without causing any permanent damage to the structures of the body.  The sadhu has rendered useless a structure that human beings use vitally to interact with the environment and to express themselves, his austerity has its end in further separating him from the world of the living and reaffirming his vows of renunciation, a tool to achieve a permanent state of gnosis.   In this way he avoids the pitfall of pain addiction that many modern nocignostics suffer from.  He doesn't become attached to pain or endorphin, in fact, he works to divorce himself from it due to its very basic primal nature because in that way he further removes himself from the living.  


When I was 15 I met my first yoga teacher.  Until this time my yoga practice was out of library books with a childlike grasping of discipline and order .  I practiced postures and movements that I liked every day, relegating those I had tried and, for whatever reason, did not like to once a week or twice a week.  As a skillful teacher I like to believe that he keyed into this every once in a while.  We'd do postures in class that were very uncomfortable to me, every week.  I kept attending class.  He often would talk about the difference between 'pain' and 'sensation'.  

Many people lead relatively sedentary lifestyles, and normally when these lifestyles don't follow classical sedentary patterns they still contain a great deal of inertia due to comfort and habit.  A worthy occupation this, avoiding pain as best we can.  Hatha yoga causes a great deal of discomfort in its initial stages, as the body begins to adjust right down to the sinew.  After 20 some odd years of practice I still find its practice uncomfortable, but now: poses I dread doing I do often.  If you damage your body during an asana, the pain will linger and stay in there for some time.  Back off and rest for a while.  However, stretching, lengthening, altering tendons, and, less substantially, ligaments can cause many foreign sensations.  Because these sensations are localized and have a tendency towards intensity and overstimulation many regard them as painful.  After the stretch, this intensity dissipates and all that remains feels as a bowl of butterflies in a long and skinny shaft of sunlight.  

My teacher would emphasize the importance of practicing poses that you hate more often than those you love.  Hatha yoga wants you to Develop the ability to clear your mind in the midst of enduring discomfort and uncomfortable stimulation.  The individual that exerts will and moves the body, causing these uncomfortable states, then clears his mind and continues to breathe slowly and softly will eventually, after many regular applications of this exercise, suffer from the delusion that all external stimulus that cause discomfort also stem from their individual will.  Thus they will then have the ability to breathe deeply and softly and watch even that discomfort disappear.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Towards radical non-dualism

The first profound inklings of non-dualism often come through meaningful contact with meditative practices.  After some time the practitioner may occasionally get the sense that the line between what they consider ‘self’ and the contents of their ‘experience’ or awareness begins to blur.  Burroughs, that old opium magician, wrote about this, or rather I absorbed it from him when I was occupied in reading his bibliography.  Cut Body Lines.

The feeling of a body cutting through another at a strange angle. There are simpler places to begin to get it, without having to achieve proficiency in what can present itself as a very difficult stillness for the majority of the population. When the line between movement and breathing blurs so too does the line between body and mind.  Qi-Gong and Tai-chi teach this very simply, their roots in Daoist non-dualism seem more obvious in practice than on paper.  In either case, the experience has some high degree of inevitability.

An atheist can achieve this state as easily as one who believes in an external deity, the difference between the two (another duality) lies in their framing of the experience and their transmission of the experience to others.

The word “spiritual” means nothing, nothing important, nothing definitive, it clings to the emotions and never dares enter the reasoning centers.  Often, fear creates this connection and the word becomes just another opium to still the pain and uncertainty of life.  That something worthwhile happens beyond this, and if we could only see it, or ‘awaken’ it, or achieve ‘rebirth’ in it, then everything would finally turn favorable.  The word creates a separation, a duality, that ordinary life has no meaning while ‘spiritual life’ has infinite meaning.  That a spiritual state has a difference from walking down the street, screaming in grief, vomiting from the flu, shitting in the toilet, drawing a picture, etc.   It creates an elitism.  Those who have achieved such an exalted spiritual state and those who have not, a judgment that makes no sense and has no place.

In yogic philosophy they say that you always knew, that you always know and all you have to do to understand this state lies in your ability to polish your viewing lens.  In reality, once a non-dualistic state transitions into a primary personality map from one of occasional experience it presents itself with the costume of complete normality, so complete as to seem slightly foreign but completely familiar.  Like we knew it all along.  However, Advaita Vedanta (yogic/vedic nondualism) can take a long time to bear fruit.

The table, the chair, the air, all life.  All living.  What lives?  What dies?

Dimensions interact where bodies meet because this intersection contains valuable, relatively measurable, information.  A manipulator can push a cone through the surface of a volume of water contained by a basin.  The surface of the water will ‘see’ the cone as being any number of shapes but cannot ever ‘see’ the whole cone in the round.  Imagine a spiky ball pushing its way through the same surface, instead of a single object, it would look to the water’s surface as many seemingly separate objects that, in fact, have their place on a greater whole.  What if the adage that “you are me, and I am you” grasps at this 4th dimensional object?  That, like the many forms of Devi in shaktism, every atom, person, chair, table, we see appearing as many separate things have their origin in a single object pushing through to our 3-dimensional perceptions just as a person looks different when viewed from the front and the back, the angle of interest changes.  In addition, with our perceptual limits, without very prolonged and possibly damaging training, we have the ability to  see each of these angles only during a particular moment in time.  

Watch how this idea continues to corrupt the original, simple, thesis.  No-thing lives. No-thing dies.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Injection anxiety

"We all dig our own graves with our teeth"

~Not Benjamin Franklin

The waning of the harvest, temperatures drop, leaves turn and fall. I speculate that more relationships end during this time of year than any other, and so do more people die. The change in weather reminds me of a good friend, a few years passed now.

******** ********

I was 21 years old when I saw someone inject heroin for the first time.  I was working in a factory that made steel security doors between bouts of  narcotic medication at Hopkins for a childhood condition that perniciously persisted into adulthood.  I was 95 pounds, life had not been easy on my frame, illness had taken its toll.  Don was the friend who got me the job, picked me up and drove me to work every day.  He painted the doors after I built them.  He lost his job to his habit, an all too common occurrence.  His brother fired him frequently, and then rehired him.
 Don was 23 and had been shooting up every day for more years than we knew.  He had become expert at secreting his habit.  Why did he have this habit?  Lady Opium’s worshippers seek her out so she may destroy and obliterate pain, usually physical pain, but other pain as well.  Think about the last toothache you had.  That hot electrical pain that starts at the bottom, right at the jaw line and explodes like a mushroom cloud into the rest of your head.  It oozes into your brain, cancelling all other impressions except the sound of nerves desperately screaming.  The entire body directs its attention to this one single signal. 
            Don’s teeth were bad, they were worse than bad.  He was poor growing up, lived in a trailer.  Heredity, a steady diet of soda pop and cheese doodles had destroyed his mouth slowly and painfully.  His smile was a row of grey stumps that should, by all rights, have been pulled out of his head years ago.  Painful grey stumps, for this reason his lips seldom left each other when he smiled, unless he really let go.  He was very quiet, afraid, and ashamed of opening his mouth unless someone see his teeth, or smell his breath.  The result was a painful self-awareness to match his physical pain in severity. He sought relief at Opium’s altar.  In this respect Don was no different from the typical user.  I could no longer demonize him then myself.  One toothless smile is all you needed to see to know he was in pain, and it was bad.
            We went to a bar after work one evening.  We had both been working late, 10 or 12 hours.  It was raining on our way to the city, the sun had almost gone down. The sky was purple.  Don’s car smelled like old vomit and was littered with empty cigarette boxes and old pop bottles. We stopped in the parking lot, the pitter-patter of rain on the windshield. He reached over me into the glove box of his 1978 dinosaur and pulled out an alligator skin glasses case.  Inside was a hypodermic needle, like the ones they give to diabetics, orange plunger, orange cap.  Clear and skinny and straight like a dead snake with black measurements on one side.   Without looking he deftly plucked a black change purse with a skull and crossbones from the center console, his hand went under his seat and retrieved a spoon, then to his pocket for a lighter, these three objects he laid in a ritualistic row on his lap. Don knew about my history with Hopkins opiates, so he must have felt comfortable.  Like attracts like.  First the change purse opened, a red-topped glass vial came out with a brownish white powder illuminated by the streetlights.  Next a small amount was tapped onto the spoon. Water was pulled into the sharp from a bottle in the cup holder.  This then squirted into the spoon and the resulting mixture was heated underneath with the lighter, a spark in the darkness. This was in stark contrast to the dosage I received from doctors at Hopkins.  My dose was controlled and measured, they told me what to take and how to take it and here was a good friend of mine eyeballing who knows how much heroin onto a spoon in the dark. When it was cooked, a small piece of cotton was thrown onto it to filter as the needle greedily slurped it up.  He was ready now. 
I remember he asked if I wanted to leave like he hadn’t noticed me there for all his concentration on this elaborate ritual.  With a break in the action he was aware of his environment.  It was raining so I stayed; mostly I felt the need to see this thing through and maybe call 911 if it went south. I wanted to see the end, I told him as much.  He told me I was a good friend for that. He put all the players away except for the needle, and took a tourniquet out of the glove box.  This strip of rubber he tied tight around the bicep of his right arm and he began to look for a good vein.  I could tell the needle was dirty from having been used so often.  In retrospect I’m surprised he never got sick from an overused needle, I don’t know that he shared, but he never cleaned them either.  He told me that he often injected directly into his arm if he couldn’t find a vein, playing with an outside chance of gangrene and amputation.  I have since seen leaking pink and white abscesses on other friends who used.  They look bad, but smell worse. Considering how often Don injected, he was very fortunate to still have all his body parts.
He found a vein on the soft underside of his forearm, made a fist and drove the needle home with a gentleman’s precision and delicate attention to detail.  It was in, and he pulled the plunger back, a red cloud surfaced and exploded in the needle, he pushed the plunger down a little, his body visibly relaxing.  He pulled the plunger back between his fingers again; another red jellyfish swam up into the needle. This time he pushed the plunger all the way down.  A silent sigh escaped his lips as his mouth opened.  His body slackened and in the light, his pupils constricted, his eyelids lowered.  He looked relaxed and content.  Time stood still as he stared out of the windshield.  I don’t know how long we sat there, quiet.  He turned and suggested we go in to the bar now.  I agreed and we walked out into the rain.
The average picture of the dope fiend stands in stark contrast to my good friend.  He was kind and gentle.  I never saw Don raise a hand to another person, unless he was defending someone else, he always treated me with honor. He was always generous with what he had, and considering our consistent close proximity while we worked together, he never stole, at least from me.  He was commonly lawful, except for his habit.  It was clear even to the casual inquirer that Don was not in the mud for kicks, he was there so that he could scrape together some semblance of comfort from an uncomfortable life.  He was too poor to see a dentist, and at this point in his life his mouth was so far gone that it would have cost him a small fortune to fix a lifetime of damage.  He was too poor to see a doctor. 
A few months later Don had decided to get clean.  He looked like a new person for a few weeks, but quickly became very dour, his eyes turned down, constantly rubbing his jaw. The push of society seems to get the addict to recognize he has a problem with drugs without recognizing the underlying condition that causes him to take them, many people who undergo detox for pain killing drugs still suffer from pain 24 months after the detox period which suggests that their pain has some other biological origin besides simple withdrawal (Larson, 2007).  About a year later, presumably because he couldn’t take the pain any longer he took his last shot.  This shot killed him.  He was found dead in a hotel bathtub. 
My friend died because he didn’t have access to medical care for his chronic pain condition.  My experience with Don was that his thin, ropy frame contained a mountain of kindness but he was still subject to all of the derision an addict faces.  Intravenous heroin addicts tend towards sporadic employment and social withdrawal, and wind up missing the net when they fall out of the window.  The picture of the doctor supervised opiod user is in stark contrast.  The dosage is regulated, they tend to hold jobs and maintain social networks and normally regularly attend psychological counseling (Sigmon 2006).  My friend Don had access to none of those things, just the drugs, and it is the drugs that killed him.

Larson, Mary Jo. "Persistent pain is associated with substance use after detoxification: a prospective cohort analysis." Addiction. 102.5 (2007): 752-760.
Sigmon, S.C. "Characterizing the Emerging Population of Prescription Opiod Abusers." American Journal on Addictions. 15.3 (2006): 208-212