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.

Dominance hierarchies: pecking orders, despots, and God

The distribution of power among animals is represented in dominance hierarchies. In humans it is no different. Elements of all types of hierarchies have been demonstrated in human societies, from egalitarianism, to linear ranking systems (a pecking order wherein each individual has a precise place within an ordered line), to despotism (where one individual rises to the top). These systems emerge because differences in power can benefit both the powerful and powerless.

Conflict is expensive, especially violent conflict. Dominance is a cheap way of subsuming conflict and competition into a framework that still allows the variability that is lost in an egalitarian system. Firmly established dominance can make a society less expensive to run, because challenges to the powerful are minimized, and so conflict is reduced. The converse can be seen in unstable hierarchies. When a hierarchy is unstable, all members exhibit a great deal more stress, which is costly to the group as a whole and the individuals within it.

We can see this propensity towards hierarchy in human societies. Chiefs, kings, emperors and lords all emerge when a group becomes complex enough. And as a group gets bigger, so does the ruler at the top. It becomes so unwieldy, that the powerful become cartoonishly invested in their roles. Ostentation becomes an integral part to them. Myths and legends emerge. Divinity is manifested. Because we know that no ordinary man can rule, although this is precisely what they are, we mythologize them and legitimize their power.

But even this has its limits. People get sick and die, and make mistakes, and are defeated in war, crowns rust, and imperial purple fades. To invest these rulers with power for the sake of a stable hierarchy or despotism, ultimately makes us feel uncomfortable. And so God emerges. God is the ultimate despot, although that word has some unfortunate connotations. God makes us feel safe, and most of all, stable. God is someone permanent and omnipotent that we can submit to. But not only us, everyone must submit to God, our kings and neighbors, so we can all be comfortable with our positions and avoid conflict.

It is reassuring that although empires crumble, God endures. In my next post, I will examine the role of prophets, people of God, and how they contribute to hierarchy.

Professional knowledge: speaking with confidence

I spoke with my friend Ian yesterday. It was the first time in a year, first real time in two years. He was my best friend in undergrad, and overall the conversation went well. But something weird emerged partway through. I was jealous.

Not of him, or his life, but of how he spoke. It was something relatively mundane: the technicalities of assigning disability in the military (he’s a flight surgeon in Quebec). But it was just so easy for him. He proceeded logically from one point to the next, never backpedaled, and had an easy, confident answer for everything I asked.

I miss being able to do that. I miss being a professional, an expert, someone’s whose knowledge is easy and absolute. Everything I think nowadays is so abstract and fragmentary, it comes out as an ambivalent hodge-podge of ideas and justifications. I miss simplicity. If it weren’t for the residual conviction of psychosis, I wonder if I would be confident to say anything.

Eye contact: dominance and submission

Tasha and I were talking the other day about eye contact. She wanted to know if breaking eye contact first with someone was automatically the same as demonstrating submission.

The topic came up because of some friction she had with a guy that lives in our building. We think this guy fancies himself somewhat as the alpha male of building. He’s young, tall, and straight – the only guy that possesses all of those qualities. And we think that he thinks this entitles him to deference.

Tasha hates this. She is always quick to break eye contact, but if she thought he thought this indicated deference on her part, should would stop it in an instance. She hates bullies, and more importantly, hates being bullied. It’s funny, because she is probably the most physically imposing person in the building. She is his height, but more muscular, and she has a very demanding, bizarre, chaotically powerful appearance. That they live across the hall from one another only adds to the tension.

I answered her with two stories. Now, I think more than before, I do the same thing she does: I always break eye contact first. Especially with people I don’t know. Dal brings it up every time we run into someone he knows. I do the same thing every time, look at their face (not eyes), offer my hand, and turn my head. He thinks it indicates pathological shyness and low self-esteem.

I think it means something different. I think very highly of myself, and discussing it with Tasha, what we both think we’re doing is politely disengaging. We have no interest in the other person, but we are loathe to snub them, so we simultaneously humble ourselves and disregard them. We say, “we don’t wanna play.” It’s not your fault, but we’re not interested.

The second story relates a game I played when I was psychotic. Considering Christ, I made the conscious effort to meet everyone’s gaze whom I passed, and instead of breaking eye contact, I maintained it as I lowered my head. If there was time, I glanced back up, keeping my head low, to ensure their eye contact persisted. This was a purposefully submissive postering (wrapped up in Christian notions of humility and deference), and I believe it established a hierarchal dyad of submission and dominance.

Is this behaviour seen the same as the first? Does Tasha’s rival equate eye-breaking with eye-lowering? Are we indicating submission? I hope to explore this some more when I’m psychotic again.

The straight jacket: situational same-sex sex

As a follow-up to the previous post, I am trying to find out whether people see bisexuality arising from poverty rather than simply being correlated or poverty arising from bisexuality.

Besides from the volumes of research showing that poverty and bisexuality often happen together, I am working from my own observations that a lot more poor straight guys have been sweet on me than rich ones. I don’t think I’ve had any sexual encounters with straight men through privileged channels (online or in bars) whereas I’ve had quite a few through poor channels (meeting on sidewalks or socially).

The conventional wisdom is that biphobia results in stigmatization which results in poverty. Bisexuals would be as healthy and well-off as anyone else if we monosexist gays and straights would take the boots off their faces for a moment. Whether bisexuals experience more stigma than homosexuals is an open question, I think. I haven’t been able to source that out. If stigma is seen as a one-sided phenomenon, where deviance from a community is rejected and punished, than bisexuals would apparently experience less stigma as they are “closer” to belonging to the straight, heteronormative world. But if we instead see stigma as a two-sided sum of interactions of both rejection and validation, then although bisexuals are more like heterosexuals, they are less like homosexuals, and suffer from the lack of a community to be validated into.

I imagine whether biphobia or homophobia is more prevalent may depend on the person and milieu. In undergrad, I had very little gay community, but also a complete lack of straight rejection, and I was quite content with that, finding community in other ways. For someone without community, perhaps it would be felt the other way.

Regardless of whether or not biphobia is greater than homophobia, I don’t think it is the main contributor to poverty among bisexuals. If it were simply a matter of oppression leading to poverty, then gays and lesbians would certainly be poorer than straights, but this is not seen.

Besides from oppression, an alternate explanation, one I am deeply reluctant to mention, is that bisexuals are inherently sicker and poorer. This smacks of a rude type of essentialism that has been used to justify the lower status of almost every group in existence: race, gender, religion, ethnicity. I don’t think this holds water, because in all those situations, when the oppression has been removed, the inequality has lightened.

Instead, I see the causality flowing the other way: poverty makes people bisexual (or more accurately, behave that way). This contradicts the oversimplified, but powerful, refrain that sexual groups are “born this way.” In fact, it mostly shares its foundation with the discredited notion of “situational homosexuality.” This term has fallen out of favor, because it runs counter to the notions of both identity (in the born this way camp) and fluidity (in the social constructionist camp). But I think it has been abandoned too soon, because it reflects the lived experiences of situational sexual behaviour. Despite most researchers endorsing a fluid continuum of sexualities, most people reject such a notion for themselves. Their identities remain fixed, and usually as straight or gay. Only the self-proclaimed bisexuals really live in the continuum. And identity bisexuals are a small minority of people that have sex with both men and women. Behaviour and identity only line up for the staunchly straight, staunchly gay, and staunchly bisexual: for most others, they achieve a compromise through adopting situational sexuality. In this way, they can both maintain the identity they desire (e.g. being straight) with the behaviour they undertake (having sex with men).

This is demonstrated best in strict sexually-limited environments, like sex-segregated institutions such as prisons. In these environments, behaviours run totally counter to identities for most participants, and when the environment is abandoned, behaviours and identities come back in alignment. I think poverty represents another of these environments. Although poverty is not strictly sex-segregated, there is a substantial hampering of traditional sex-acquisition strategies. Productivity as a way of demonstrating sexual desirability of men is lacking, and women would often be required to compromise their safety to be with men. As such, the value of same-sex pairings become more attainable, and sexual and social urges can be satisfied in some accommodated way. Total potential sexual partners is reduced, so sexual satisfaction is achieved by broadening who the potential partners are.

To test this hypothesis would be difficult to test from a temporal causation cohort study. Sexuality and poverty both tend to occur towards the start of life, so to assign one as antecedent to the other would be difficult. Instead, it might be easier to look at a resolution cohort, in which the sexuality of people who stopped being poor was observed. If my hypothesis is correct, a resolution of poverty should result in a dampening of bisexuality. This has been demonstrated with prison populations and more generally with adolescents (two sex-limited environments), but it remains to be seen with poverty.