Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fear And Anger...

What Are They Good For?

Some people and some teachers, including “Yoda” from “Star Wars” have a very negative view of fear and anger. Yoda says at one point, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” I've never felt this way about fear or anger.

First let’s consider fear.

I think fear is a natural healthy response to danger. Holding on to fear after the danger has passed is another story, as is closing your heart and mind because of fear.

But fear itself, to me, is just a biological response that protects us from harm. If I jump out of an alley and scream right next to a person walking by, their reaction will be similar no matter who they are: Eyes widen, shoulders lift, hands come up to protect the torso and face, voice yells to alert others, muscles charge getting ready to run or fight.

There are people who have trained these responses out of their systems but I think a person without fear is foolish, as is a person who lives in fear all the time. I would say the same about anger too. Without it, a person is bereft of a powerful gift, but living in it all the time is Hell on Earth.

I don't think any of our biological responses are bad or "the problem". I think it's what we choose to do with them that gets us into trouble. I think a lot of New Age thinking throws the baby out with the bath and you have people walking around trying to be "peaceful warriors" or quiesced monks, and instead end up being a bunch of passive aggressive energy-less wimps. Suppressing emotions takes a lot of energy. Feeling them may be painful, but they do pass through. Not feeling them only stretches out the process because they will work their way through one way or another.

To be fully human, to me, is to feel all of our emotions, and then, like weather systems, when they've had their time, to let them pass through. But unlike a lot of New Agers, I don't think you can "let them go" without feeling them first. Otherwise, what are you letting go of?

I wish Yoda had said "Holding on to fear leads to anger; holding on to anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering."

And as far as I can tell: No dark? No light.

But don't get me wrong I love Yoda. Even if I don't agree with this aspect of his teaching.

Fear seems to be hard wired into our brains and for good reason. There's an Japanese art called "Kiai-Jitsu" that's based on animal sounds. There are apparently a handful of primal animal fears, each associated with a particular animal that we all have coded in our primitive brains. There's the wolf/dog, the bear, the snake and a few others. Practitioners of this art try to size up which of these animals their opponent is the most afraid of. Apparently we all lean towards having one of these animals that are particularly scary for us.

Just as the opponent attacks, the Aiki-Jitsu practitioner will make one of these sounds, usually accompanied by an appropriate movement of some kind. If he's sized up his opponent properly, the sound and motion will create an overwhelming wave of fear, sometimes accompanied by a hallucination of the actual animal! People literally "see" the bear, dog, snake or whatever and practically shit in their pants.

I trained with a master of this technique briefly in Seattle. I never got a chance to "see" one of the animals, but several people there had and swore by it, including people who I really trusted to not be bullshitting. He did say at one point that there were some sounds that were designed to make the opponent rise or drop their center of gravity. He asked me to attack him. As I did, he made this crazy almost pterodactyl like bird squawk, and suddenly my pelvis was about two feet behind my chest, my balance was all but gone, and his next technique found no opposition because I had no connection to my center. I also became quite flushed and I'm not much of a blusher at all. Freaky stuff.

I also like to differentiate between fear and panic. Fear is a much more useful and helpful mode of being than panic and that is why, I think, we all feel more fear that outright panic over the course of our lifetimes.

Fear alerts you to danger. As I wrote above, the eyes open wider, the shoulders lift in anticipation of protecting or attacking, and the breath draws in which readies the body for withstanding an attack, (if you're hit while your lungs are inflated, exhaling will naturally help diffuse the energy of the blow), while at the same time readying the body for attacking because we tend to get the most power when out of a strike when we exhale. In general, it's biological function is to alert you to danger and to prepare you to fight or run.

Panic is different, everything goes into a complete frantic state of activity, but not with any clear focus or control. It's kind of a flight or fight seizure or traffic jam with all signals blaring at once. Judgment goes completely out the window and blind emotion takes over. I can see how this might come in handy in a truly desperate life or death struggle when it looks like defeat is imminent. For instance, when being attacked by an animal that's seriously out to get you, or when drowning, or really anytime when death is a serious threat.

It seems to me that people's transition from fear to panic has to do with their perception of danger. When someone else is panicking and I'm not, I think it's because they think or feel that what's going on is more of a real danger than I do. I'm not talking about right and wrong here, just the degree of perceived danger.

I don't even think you should panic if your house is in flames. Panicking is never a good idea. If you can do it, take a breath, assess your situation, and take the best action you can in the best way you can take it.

When panicking is truly useful or life-saving, it's a last ditch biological freak-out, and it's not a "good idea". It's not an idea at all. You don't think about panicking before you do it. If you do it, you do it. That's why I said it's never a good idea.

But, if you can help it, if you can notice your own personal panic escalator, and as you feel yourself going up it, if you can then look around and assess what's going on rationally, or even intuitively, it's possible that by giving your body an accurate assessment of the real danger level to you right now, that that alone can put the brakes on panicking. Maybe not, but I think it's worth a shot. It's also really helpful, through any awareness based physical training, to become more aware of the connection between breathing and muscle tension, and in general to be familiar with preparing your body for physical action and then acting. All these things can help keep you from panicking in situations when it isn't warranted.

And now let’s consider anger.

Anger too gets a bad rap, but as I see it, every single thing that's hard wired into us as human beings, no matter what it is, has value, can't be banished, and if it could, it would not be a good thing. If it's in our DNA, it's got value or it would have vanished long ago.

Anger lets me know when my boundaries have been, or are about to be violated. It helps me gather and focus energy to fight or run from danger. A human being without the ability to get angry is pretty useless in my book, certainly unhealthy. Actually, I don't think such a human exists.

The problem as I see it is holding on to anger, not the anger itself. Anger itself is like weather. It will pass. But if we hold on to it and extend its life past the period of time when it's useful, then we get into trouble. It the same with fear, sadness, resentment, all the so called "negative" emotions. Let them in, accept their benefits and let them go and all will be well. Fight them, control them with force, suppress them, disrespect them, medicalize them, de-spiritualize them, hold on to them, and get the world we have right now.

As I see it, it's not the feeling itself that's the problem, it's how we handle it.

I think the key for me is that when someone has made me angry, it's a fact. I am angry. To try and short cut to "letting it go" without acknowledging or feeling the anger itself just buries it, but I don't think it's gone. We've all had experiences where our anger at something is way out of proportion. I think this is a sign that a bunch of undelivered anger was buried inside waiting for an avenue to express itself. And I'm sure we've all known passive aggressive types who claim they're not mad and then set fire to your couch "by accident".

But reacting with blind rage and acting on impulse without any connection to myself is equally ineffective. We all know raging people who never seem to get it out of their systems. If I feel in control of my actions and have a clear feeling of "I" am angry, and toward who, and for what reason, then I know I'm on solid ground. But if I feel completely overwhelmed by anger and there is no sense of being in control, no sense of "I", and the anger just IS me, or HAS me, then I'm in trouble. At these moments, the old adage to "count to 10" is amazingly effective, even if it has to be repeated a few times.

What works best for me is to first of all, just feel and accept that I am angry. No actions yet, just feeling it. Once the initial wave has peaked, the next step is to see if I can let it go. If so, great. If not, then I have to choose the best way to express it. I might have to tell someone who's wronged me that they've done so. But they might be dead or unapproachable or dangerous, so I might just have to beat the bed or write a song or vent to a sympathetic friend. But one way or another that energy needs to move. I try to move it in ways that do as little damage to me or anyone else as possible.

I like any method really, as long as the initial anger moves through rather than gets buried. If a person who’s angering me is a beaten down person who doesn't really deserve more anger, or an innocent person with no intent to harm me, he can still piss me off. If seeing his situation helps me let it go, great, but if not, suppressing my feelings only makes them worse. Another thing that really works for me after feeling what I'm feeling is to recognize that Life deals out, by far, much better revenge than I ever could. All I have to do is nothing. "Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord!"

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hollywood Legends?

I Think Not...

OK, So I'm in the Dollar Store with my wife picking up some wrapping paper and a few Christmas odds and ends...and I see this rack of various kinds of trading cards. They have baseball cards, football cards, NASCAR cards and some other, mostly off-brand-y looking Dollar Store type stuff. So I see this one kind that has James Dean's picture on the package and "Trading Cards from Hollywood's Biggest Legends". (See picture above)

Now my wife and I have this Christmas Eve tradition with some good friends where we have dinner together at one of the restaurants in our downtown Plaza and exchange friendly usually slightly weird Goodwill bought type presents. It occurs to me that I have these little plastic card holders at home to which I had attached magnet strips. This enables you to make a fridge magnet out of any trading card. I used to make them out of Charlie's Angels cards or Star Wars cards when I was into buying and selling vintage junk...uh...I mean "Collectibles".

So I thought it would be fun to buy a few packs of these cards and some of the magnet holders and we could open them and trade them so we'd each have a card/magnet with the celebrity Hollywood legend of our choice. I'm thinking we'd be saying stuff like, "I'll trade you James Dean for Marilyn Monroe." or "I'll give you Clark Gable for Marlon Brando." So I bought 6 packs and brought them with all the other gifts.

Once we opened them though, we were surprised to find that most of us had never heard of most of the names and considered none of them to be very "legendary". Here is a list of all the "Hollywood Legends" we got in 6 packs. Oddly, there were no duplicates. It ended up being good for a laugh, just not the kind I intended! I'll include their major claim to fame, at least what the back of the card said...

Paul Le Mat (American Graffiti)
John Hurt (Alien, Elephant Man)
Elise Avellan (Grindhouse, Machete)
Barbara Morgan (Astronaut)
Piper Laurie (The Hustler, Carrie)
Peter Tork (The Monkees)
Patty Duke (The Patty Duke Show, Miracle Worker)
Pamela Anderson (Playboy)
Ric Flair (Wrestler)
Tommy Chong (Cheech & Chong...OK this dude is a legend...)
Sofia Milos (CSI: Miami)
Anson Williams ("Potsie" on Happy Days)
Katie Hoff (Olympic Swimmer)
Linda Hamilton (The Terminator)
Noel Neill ("Lois Lane"/50's TV Show)
David Ladd (Acting: The Proud Rebel, Producing: The Serpent & The Rainbow)
Pasha Lychnikoff (Mostly played Russian soldiers in movie and on TV)
Robert Vaughn (The Young Philadelphians and others credits that strangely didn't include "The Magnificent Seven" or "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.")
Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill)
Tony Todd (Platoon, Candyman)
Erika Eleniak (Baywatch, Playboy)
Kenny Baker (C-3P0 in all 6 Star Wars movies, also Ewok in Return Of The Jedi)
Edd Byrnes ("Kookie" on 77 Sunset Strip)
Walt Cunningham (Astronaut)
John Schneider (The Dukes Of Hazzard '79-'85)
Gloria Stewart (The elderly lady in "Titanic")
John Buccigross (ESPN Announcer)
Rhonda Fleming (Spellbound, Gunfight At The OK Corral)
Heidi Androl (Finalist on "The Apprentice", TV Host)
Joey Lawrence (Gimme A Break! '83-'87, Blossom)

I'm not sure what you'd call this particular group of people but "Hollywood Legends" doesn't come to mind...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Ten Ways To Tell...

If Your Friends Have Stopped Using Drugs.

1. Better Grades and Work Performance.

Often times when people stop using drugs they become obsessed with things like grades and achievements. This is because, suddenly lacking the simple pleasure of “being” they now have to resort to the complicated pleasure of “doing” in order to feel good about themselves. So watch for sudden improvements in grades or work performance. This is probably the number one red flag.

2. Changes In Attitude.

Look for changes in your friend’s usual attitude. Where they once were easy going and chill, now they may look all bummed out and serious. Where they were once up for any random act of destruction, now they may bring up things like “legal consequences”. They may take a sudden interest in your life outside of partying and having fun. They may suddenly seem more “polite” and “considerate”. They may suddenly feel the need to clean their entire apartment and reorganize everything in it. A newspaper left on the kitchen table with items in the “Help Wanted” section circled is another red flag.

3. New Friends.

Watch who they hang out with. If they’re suddenly palling around with people they used to refer to as “total dorks”, your friends might have stopped taking drugs. If you see them whispering with their new friends in the corner of a party while pointing at you…that’s another red flag.

4. Old Hobbies.

The sudden return to lame hobbies and interests long abandoned is another sign that your friend is no longer using. Dusting off a stamp collection, badminton set or piece of exercise equipment is a dead giveaway.

5. Less Moody.

Watch for a lack of moodiness. No highs means no lows and makes Jack a dull boy who really should fire one up now and then.

6. Paying Off Debts.

When a guy’s going around paying off debts and hasn’t asked you to borrow rent money in a few months, it’s often a sign he’s laying off the good stuff.

7. No Shades.

You’re looking at your friend and you notice something different…oh yeah, he’s not wearing sunglasses. You can actually see his eyes. In fact he might feel the need to maintain eye contact with you for uncomfortably long periods of time, usually with a very earnest look in his eyes, which by the way will not be bloodshot at all.

8. Better Smell.

You might notice a lack of certain smells, like over-applied perfumes or colognes, patchouli oil, gum and other masking agents. Simple rule, if they smell great, they’re going straight.

9. Lack Of Partying.

A person who doesn’t do drugs may stay home a lot more than when they were using. If you call your friend from a party or club at 1am and he or she “doesn’t feel like” joining you because they were “sleeping”…they might be on the wagon.

10. Smug Superiority.

If you’re friend is not doing drugs, he will feel the need to reject his previous drug use because deep down he fears he’ll never make it and needs to bolster his feelings of being in control, at least for the moment, of his own desire to tie one on. Often this will take the form of rejecting of you and your drug use, no matter how casual it may be. If you notice an upswing in smug superiority, with its attendant “in your face” brand of self-esteem, your friend may have crossed over to the “light side”.

11. Bonus tip: They're dead.

The main thing is not to panic. Many people experiment with not using drugs and in time get over it. Tell them you’re concerned and if they want to talk, you’re there for them. Often that’s enough. They might not take you up on it right away, but soon enough, they’ll be back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Acting Or Listening?

What'll It Be?

‎"You can't shake hands with a clenched fist."

~Indira Gandhi

I would add that you can't read Braille with one either...or play the guitar...or anything that requires listening and sensitivity. Acting and listening are always somewhat odds with each other. If you're totally listening (yin), it's hard to act. This is why you tend to stop dancing at a loud party when someone's telling you something you want to pay attention to. If you're totally acting (yang) it's hard to listen. This is why you tell people to shut up when you're writing something important.

When I act, I know my listening is suffering. When I listen, I know my acting is suffering. The tricky thing is, we never know whether the next moment will demand more action or more listening. If you're always totally listening you're a long way from acting. If you're always acting you're a long way from listening. Either "stance" is a liability if life demands the other option.

Therefore, the only stance that's worth cultivating as a characteristic way of being is neutral, or ready. Half listening, half ready to act. This is also called T'ai-Chi. I call it "unforced balance". If I can rest there, I'm ready to go either way. In theory anyway, if life demands action, I can act. But as soon as the action is over, I return as soon as I can to neutral, since I don't know if the next moment will demand more action or switching to listening. If I have to listen, I listen, but as soon as the listening is over, I return to neutral because I don't know if the next moment will demand more listening or switching to action.

I think of this neutral T'ai-Chi state as being like a dimmer switch on a kind of spring. It's set to the middle between the polarities of listening and acting. If I turn the switch in either direction, it goes there. But the second I let it go, it springs back towards the middle again. In practice of course this is difficult because I can get stuck on one end of the spectrum or the other. But I do my best to cultivate that middle state as my resting place.

The Unforced Music

New Blog

Just for grins, I created a new blog last night. It's called "The Unforced Music". If you go to the link below and then click on the easy to find "flipcard" link at the top of the page, you'll see all of my album covers. Click on any cover and it will flip over and you'll see the title of that album. Click on that and you'll get a little comment about the album, the song titles and a link to listen to or download the songs free or with a donation. There are several viewing options but I really like "Flipcard" the best.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Why Do I Write?

Because I Have To...

“I think wanting to write is a fundamental sign of disease and
 discomfort. I don’t think people who are comfortable want to write.”


Kay Redfield Jamison

The first conscious creative impulse I can remember was to put the truth, at least as I experienced it, into words. The second was to sing those words. The third was to have them heard. Being liked and making money at it were a distant fourth and fifth. I write (songs, blogs, books, emails, fb posts) because I have to in order to feel like myself. To me, finding the right words and/or music to match my thoughts and feelings is a great pleasure that sometimes involves a painful struggle. I don't feel like it's something I have much of a choice about. I'll stop writing when I stop feeling compelled to write. If it's a disease, then we're all diseased. We all have impulses and things we can't say “no” to. To me it's more of a condition than a disease. I don't think any human being is "comfortable", not for long anyway. I think the human condition is to be restless, caught between the polarities of our existence. (lustful/loving, competitive/cooperative, generous/greedy, violent/peaceful, rational/emotional, altruistic/self-interested, one/separate, masculine/feminine, etc.) I think we all numb ourselves somewhat to this fundamental discomfort. For some maybe writing is how they do it. For me it's how I deal with it. It helps me accept the un-resolvable dynamic tension of being alive and conscious. Words and music can never capture the truth, but I still love to try, and sometimes they get soooo close...

I Really Can't Stay...

But Baby It's Cold Outside...

I really like the song "Baby It's Cold Outside". To me, is just a simple boy/girl mutual seduction and not in the least bit creepy. She can clearly leave anytime she wants to, but she wants to stay, but she doesn't want to be too "forward", so she acts like she has to go. He acts like her considerations are real and gently counters them. It's a friendly song. It's in the movie "Elf" for Christ's sake. But over and over I hear this modern "date rape" and "creepy" take on this song and I think it's really too bad. This song is from a different time and applying a modern black and white, "everything that's not stated explicitly between men and women is somehow not consensual", seems wrong to me. He's not slipping her a "roofie", he's giving her a toddy. The song was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser. According to Wikipedia, he wrote it as a duet and premiered the song with his wife, Lynn Garland, at their Navarro Hotel housewarming party. So I like it and I would sing it if I knew how to play it and had someone to do the female part.