Healing: the focality of sickness

Tasha and I were talking last week about miracles and what I hoped to accomplish as a saint. I told her about the three miracles I had assigned myself to demonstrate my sainthood. The first was to exorcise Sean’s sketch demon. The second was to mend Dal’s broken mortality. And the third was to create something of transcendental, protective beauty. It was not lost on her or I that two of these were miracles of healing.

She had similar fantasies. I don’t want to do her a disservice by failing to communicate her ideas, but she thought the same. The one thing she wants to communicate to the world is the precept that “evil is not transferable.” I think I’ll leave it at that, as I will fail to state it properly, but both of us were intrigued by the possibility of whether or not people could be healed.

Before my transformation, I didn’t think such a thing were possible. The industries of religion, psychology, psychiatry, and self-help all have the goal of healing, but I have never seen the demonstration of such. Now, my views have changed, but with little evidence to lead me in such a direction, it is more the development of faith. Before, I dismissed claims of people being healed as wishful delusions. But wishes and delusions are what shape the world. If they can change the world, why can’t they change people? My cynicism has dried up and been brushed away.

In thinking about the way people are sick, healing depends on three precepts. One, that they were once well. Two, that sickness is reversible. And three, that sickness spreads. It’s like an infection, taking hold in some isolated part of the body, spreading about as sickness, until it is stopped and the focus is removed. A thorn in the heart that poisons the blood.

This may be delusional optimism, but I see this in sick people. They aren’t uniformly composed of disease. They were well, but something has invaded them and spread. I see this as a central, unifying misperception that poisons who they are. When I look at people, I see a central hangup from which all the others emerge. For Sean, it was that he was a good person. For Dal, it was that he could not conquer his mortality. For Tasha it’s that evil exists. And for me, it’s that my needs matter. Remove these seeds of illness, and the sickness will be reversed.

If it can be found, it can be dealt with. I hope this is true. I hope that my wishful delusions of healing bring it into existence. If it ever were possible, let it remain so. If it never were, let it become so. The world’s too sick to go on without it.

Power and charity: shaping the world in your own image

I was watching Mad Men the other day, and something crystallized for me. My thoughts on institutional charity have always been dim, seeing it as something perniciously fauxsocial, almost the apex of such. But my views were unrefined.

I thought that charity was simply trading wealth for influence: demonstrating to the tribe that you weren’t selfish, and therefore were a valuable member. It was similar to the smaller acts of generosity, witnessed acts that proved your worth. But I had trouble reconciling two things: anonymity and patronage.

For the most part, people are loathe to do something good without benefiting from it: this difference lies at the heart of the distinction between fauxsocial and prosocial behaviours. So how does one justify anonymity in charity. They have ostensibly rejected any benefit to be gained by removing their praise.

But this is short sighted, and explains the second mystery: patronage. If people are simply trying to project and capitalize on an air of goodness, why are they so particular about what causes they patronize.

It’s because they’re playing the long game. They aren’t seeking to better themselves in the world, they have ascended to another level of play, they are seeking to better the world for themselves. They are funneling soft power into the channels that will benefit themselves.

Why do it at all? Isn’t the exchange of hard power (wealth) for soft power (influence) costly? Absolutely, when near the bone. That’s why the poor are so hardscrabble. But there are diminishing returns with hard power. Once all your material needs are satisfied, and your place in the world assured, there isn’t much more you can do without changing the world itself.

There is a further element at work. Hard power attracts instability. People want it. Rising to the top makes you a target. Especially if you were seen to siphon the power of others for yourself. Soft power is far more subtle, and never as coveted. With all this attention attracted, it becomes necessary to humble oneself. Charity allows this conversion from hard power to soft. The giver elevates others to recede into the rushes. They are seen as benevolent, and something to be encouraged, not removed, establishing persistence.

This was all highlighted in a throwaway scene on Mad Men where the main character was invited to the board of the Museum of Folk Art or something. With it he was welcomed into the scene of the movers and shakers. The choice of patronage solidified the act. History and art, uncontroversial, unpowerful fields, ones that seek to reinforce the system that benefited the patron.


Reconnection: seeking approval and curiosity

The weekend Dal broke up with me, the writing was on the wall. I knew I would lose the farm, and my space to write. Knowing this, I blitzed to reach out to all my old friends, ones I hadn’t spoken to in a year or two.

I don’t think I was surprised by the results. When peoples’ reactions weren’t outright condemnatory, they were dismissive and uncurious. Despite how revelatory my transformation and experiences have been, there was little interest, only discomfort. I was disappointed, which is probably why I delayed seeking their reactions for so long. I knew this was all that awaited me.

Perhaps this is unfair. I reached out in two waves. First to my non-residency friends, then to my residency friends. I have only received the results of the first. I am still waiting to open the second. I anticipate similar results though.

For the most part, all of my old friends have accepted the societal bribe: behave yourselves, buy in, and all the wealth and prestige of our society is yours. I have rejected this proposal, and in doing so rejected them. Why should I expect to be accepted by them, when I have rejected them? Shared history? Friendship? It is only faint condemnation to accuse them of lacking such. What I condemn is the lack of curiosity.

Even when I had accepted the bribe, in medical school and residency, I remained curious. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice society or my place within it, but I was willing to entertain the thought. Even before my hand was forced, I wanted to see how the other side lived. Being a junkie and gay was probably why. Seeing how society was failing my people, and seeing how society had failed my people, even though it was now benefiting me, made me curious. What is it like to live on the outside? This was why I was drawn to psychiatry and public health. Although my role would have been as a henchman, it allowed me glimpses of another world.

My friends haven’t demonstrated this same curiosity. The bribe is too strong with them, too unshakeable. They live in small, closed worlds that punish dissent. I am now, unlike before, this dissent. They have no space for me.

I have yet to broach things with my parents, they who have also rejected the bribe. But things worked with Tasha. And to a lesser extent with Dal. I am optimistic, but not dependent, on the outcome. My path is open, and it is mine. Myself as companion is all I need.

Breaking up is hard to do: power post partnership

Dal and I broke up about three weeks ago, and I stopped writing. When I lost that, I lost my nicely slotted time and space to write. I could’ve just kept writing in my room, and then gone to the lounge to post, but it wasn’t the right headspace. There is another reason though.

Dal is the only person to regularly read this blog, and although he asked me not to call him, I knew it was possible, likely even, that he would continue to read. He did it last big break up with my emails. So I have to be careful.

Despite the no-contact request, with prudence and restraint, I was able to call him a couple of times until he answered and spoke. It’s an uneasy detente, and one I am loathe to jeopardize. In addition to still wanting to maintain a friendship, I left Dal in a position of very literal power over me. It could not be avoided. But now, as before, I live and die by his grace alone. I have no ability to wrest power, and so I must unconditionally surrender to his judgment. The best I can do is continue to curry favor.

I don’t mind being in this position, living and dying on the breath of another. It’s liberating to remove yourself from the equation. In the end, we are never part of the equation. Life and death aren’t ours to dictate to. By adopting this perspective early, before the issue is forced, we can be free.

I remember doing this before, near the peak of my psychosis. I offered to blow this guy that I thought was a serial killer, a dangerous man. I don’t think he was now, and we didn’t do it, but I still remember the gesture. It wasn’t suicidal, it was an act of faith. By putting your life in someone else’s hands, someone who may be fickle, and you have no reason to trust, you demonstrate grace. You say, “It’s up to you. You can be good or fail to be. I won’t, I can’t, stop you. This is your choice.” It’s only when we remove consequence from people that we can see what they really are.

And now I’m here before Dal. Cut loose, but still in chains. He’ll have to decide what kind of person he is, and I have no say in the matter. The right choice is in his hands.

Physical meditation: yoga, whirling, and twirling

I went to yoga for the first time last night. It really didn’t do anything for me. It felt too exerting to be relaxing, and too relaxing to be exercise. It was also far too regimented: just as I was feeling something from a position, the position was to be changed.

I wondered what other people got from it. It’s no rare event for something that is meaningful to one person to be meaningless to another. I was filled with cynical judgments of the other participants and the practice as a whole, despite trying to keep an open mind. I’m not great at that, a lot of the time. I’ve also never found meditation relaxing or insightful, never had a runner’s high, and never recited an oath. We’re all so limited, it’s amazing that we have as much common ground as we do.

But yoga did remind me of some events I experienced when I was psychotic, a blending of the physical and the mystical. One time, when I was at Dal’s, freshly rested and high and feeling good, I was profoundly compelled to twirl. There was an unease in my body, and I needed to move. But it wasn’t like akathisia, where you have to move, but don’t know how. Instead, it was like an itch or a cramp, where the exact movement to deal with it appropriately is instinctively known. And this took the form of twirling, spitting, and rubbing my body.

Psychosis tends towards pessimism, so I understood this as moving “poison” through my body. “Poison,” even in that state of mind, was metaphorical, not literal. I didn’t believe there were literal toxins that needed expelling, but rather that things were in the wrong position and needed to be moved. In the physical meditative practices, things are usually framed in the opposite way – that positive or neutral energy is being moved. I reconcile this like with physics: a positive force moving one way is simply a negative force moving in the opposite direction.

Along with the twirling and rubbing to move the poison, I was spitting. A thin line of foamy spittle formed from mouth to my chin. The first time, I framed this as moving the poison, but with later episodes, this spit was used to lubricate my skin to facilitate the movement within my body. While the first episode was primarily focused on twirling, later episodes became about rubbing and opening my body. I started doing it in my bed, and the postures I took somewhat resembled those taken in childbirth or defecation. Nothing ever came out, I never completed the process, and I don’t know what the end of the process would be, but it was always interrupted.

The first interruption, after I left Dal’s but continued to twirl, was after about twenty minutes of continuous twirling down the street. I adapted it to be less odd-looking, but I was still moving with the confidence of the twirl. It ended when, after moving all the poison around, it got blocked in my left foot. I had had, and still have, a piece of glass embedded there, and it prevented the progressive movement of poison or energy. I tried to dig it out for quite some time, but it was unsuccessful, and the episode ended.

I wonder how these episodes are related to the physical meditative practices, like yoga, tai chi, the whirling of dervishes, and kundalini. I felt a profound connection to my body, unlike I ever have before or since, and if this is what these practitioners feel, I can perfectly understand the draw.

I hope, when I’m trying for psychosis again, I can focus on this relationship between the physical and the mystical. So much of my previous efforts were focused on the acquisitive and artistic, but those got so out of hand and ultimately wasted a lot of time. Perhaps this will be more fruitful.

Role modeling: goodness, deviants, and influents

Tasha and I have been talking about why we’re so drawn to each other. We both had unconventional childhoods that we believe permanently ingrained our personalities. I was homeschooled for all but four years; she was raised by a strictly Jehovah’s Witness mother. Both were highly deviant lifestyles, and they were both highly conclavistic. We were deviants within deviants, because my parents didn’t endorse the common homeschool narratives, and Tasha’s mom was an isolated, abusive woman. But common to both, were a high degree of criticism of the outside world. In both cases, our parents saw the world as lacking, and so distanced themselves from it.

But at the same time we rejected society, neither Tasha nor I rejected people. We both believe strongly in goodness, and that we should be agents of such in the world. Different from our parents, who isolated themselves from society in caring for their own, we embedded ourselves within society in caring for others. In doing so, seeing how society worked, we both strived for influence. While not endorsing society’s ends, we endorsed its means and went to university.

Almost universally, endorsing societal means eventually subsumes within endorsing societal ends. This is what is known as “selling out.” Societal institutions, like university and especially the professions, are extremely socializing. Most people that enter are not deviants, but those deviants that enter are nearly always co-opted. Those fauxsocial bribes that society offers – wealth, power, prestige, family – are simply too great for most people to resist, even people that were highly deviant. Besides Tasha and myself, I simply haven’t met many people, maybe even any people, that when they had a legitimate choice between deviance and conformity, didn’t choose conformity.

This contrasts with those who did not have a legitimate choice. Tasha and I are surrounded by ascribed deviants. The people that we meet in our building and skid row were never offered a choice between deviance and conformity (or at least the benefits of upper-class conformity). Their lives were such that they were never presented with a rewarding alternative to deviance. Their choices were between being a poor, downtrodden working man, or a poor, downtrodden drug user. As such, their deviance was not freely chosen. I can respect the decision that they made, but I don’t admire it. So whom do I admire?

So far we’ve discussed conformers who conform, deviants who conform, deviants and conformers who didn’t have a choice. We’re left with conformers who deviate – whom I have never met although I would love to – and deviants who deviate – like me and Tasha. Only these have the requisite deviance, influence, and prosociality (conformers generally lack prosociality because they benefit so much from their conformity) that I need to admire someone.

This was highlighted in our conversation when I said that I never had any role models. There was no one I could point to that had both the societal influence and the incorruptibility of deviance that I would admire. Except Jesus. I said it as kind of a joke, but it’s mostly true. Only the prophets both subvert and embrace power in a way that I admire.

When I think about great people, and the groups they fall into, they all come up short. Scientists are too dogmatic. Philosophers are too aloof. Rulers are too vain. Political leaders are too xenophobic and embedded. The only ones besides prophets that I really admire are the artists. They are deviant and influential. But they are generally too spacey for my admiration.

Role modeling is essentially an act of conformation, which is probably why I eschewed it. I would like to know how other people relate to great people and what they see as their role in guiding behaviour.

God-given power: the role of prophets in hierarchy

God sits at the top of every hierarchy. But hierarchies are made by the individuals within them. God must be placed at the top by the hierarchy itself.

Prophets are the creators of God. They give God shape and property, and elevate God to the top. Why would they do this? What are they gaining by this?

Hierarchy is a manifestation of cooperation in society. As such, it could rise from either fauxsocial or prosocial behaviours or both, on the parts of the manifesters, the prophets. Right now, I’m ambivalent about which is the dominant effect. Perhaps I’ll become clear by the end.

Being a prophet certainly has advantages from a fauxsocial perspective. It’s highly suspect to create a system of power and then place yourself near the top. In this way, prophets can sidestep the dominance hierarchy in place, maintain its stability, delegitimize the ruler, and claim some of the power for their own. When I was psychotic, I thought about this. Psychosis, and the prophecy that stems from it, was a way for the powerless, who suffered greatly at the bottom of the hierarchy, to maneuver their way out from underneath and reclaim some power. They were so disenfranchised within the system, that they didn’t have anything more to gain from supporting it, so they destabilized it and reshuffled things so they weren’t as low.

On the other hand, there is certainly a prosocial element to prophecy. Although the prophet rises within it from the legitimacy of God, they also serve to stabilize it greatly. Intrasocietal conflict is reduced, and the costly instability that comes with it. Prophets and saints often accept a compromise in fecundity that limits their familial persistence, but they strengthen the culture and the persistence of their influence.

Connected to all this is the false humility exhibited by the religious. By adopting a humble position before God, they give the impression that they are not playing the dominance game, although in becoming humble, they are directly legitimizing the new hierarchy. People are less suspicious of them, and more willing to follow them, when they emulate the submission that benefits the people submitting to them.

I remain ambivalent about the balance of fauxsociality and prosociality within prophets: like most cases, its probably a dominance of fauxsociality, with enough prosociality to ensure its persistence.