Ted Cleaver

Tag: Life

Falling in Love

Living a loving life is the word. Love has many beautiful forms, each of which enrich our lives. One of the most exciting and refreshing feelings is to fall in love. It happened to me last summer while rolling sushi with this little mermaid I had met two days earlier. We hit it off from the moment we met.

I’d Pick More DaisiesJ.L. Borges D. Herold

She was sitting on a bridge that leads into the city centre. I was on my way to have biological burgers with my posse from work, an appointment I had perfect reason to be late for. Her radiant smile sparked my interest. I wanted her. There was enough attraction for me to ravage Goldilocks’ curls right then and there, but I figured self-control is sexy. So I leave with nothing but the names of her and her friend. Two days later we share our first kiss, while waiting for the train that would take our bento and us to an idyllic little park. The sensation of falling for someone is so vibrantly expressed through our sense of touch. Whether it’s holding hands or exchanging passionate kisses, there is a subtle desire that grows until it envelops you completely. Sweet temptation, flirtatious gesture, affectionate embrace, exhilarating interaction, and playful persuasion, seduction is you. Entice me, engage me; let me take you by the hand, trust me, let me love you. Being in love is a continuous surge of pleasure that transforms the way you look at the world.

“Love is a serious addiction.” – H. Fisher

Pioneering brain research offers rational explanations for the sensation. Phenylethylamine causes love-drunkenness, noradrenalin and cortisol trigger excitement, and dopamine and endorphins reward you with euphoria. We are equipped with the biological equivalent of highly potent love potions. There is a lot to be said about their supply and effects, what’s important here is that our neurochemistry allows for passion without long-term commitment. Helen Fisher conducted MRI scans, charting brain activity of people who were madly in love. One of the most surprising findings is that the immediate desire, the urge, to be with the person you fell for does not stem from your emotional core – the (meso)limbic system. Instead, the must-have-you craving is neurologically analogous to a cocaine rush. The burning desire to be with your lover naturally grows more powerful. This addiction is fuelled by the hormonal concoctions your very own love bazar peddles, quite ironically to the point of obsession in case of rejection. Finishing up on neuroscience, oxytocin is the hormone responsible for long-term commitment and monogamy. It may be an evolutionary failsafe, as it comes to dominate once the other invigorating effects have worn off.

“Love is a perfectly normal improbability.” – N. Luhman

Luhman believes that true love comes down to fulfilling each other’s expectations. This arrangement is by far less profound for lovers. Nonetheless falling in love is exactly that, improbable and yet normal. It is normal because we are social animals, but it is improbable because the likelihood of meeting someone who transcends our preferences and desires is quite small. If the magical improbability does occur it should be cherished and treasured. Last summer, I discovered the Holstee Manifesto and was getting more and more adept at Bikram (hot yoga), while my love ninja shared her fascination for contemporary interpretations of Zen teachings with me. Connecting on a spiritual level provided fertile ground for fully appreciating all our experiences. Dreaming under the clear blue sky, partying in clubs, feasting on Asian fusion cooking, learning from each other, going deep between the sheets, and laughing it up, every moment was one in augmented awareness. One of the best parts of being in love is discovering improbable similarities in the little things. For instance, this girl might be the only person I know who used to fill her cup until it nearly spilled over, something I always do with delicious drinks.

“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas.” – B. Pascale

Our adventure was intense and uplifting but ended rather quickly. My friends called her gorgeous and pressed me for answers. They wanted to know what had gone wrong, why I no longer spoke of her. The truth is that both of us are wise enough to follow our hearts, and both our hearts stopped beating for each other. Emotions can be elusive, that is what makes them exciting. Rationality on the other hand demands a sensible explanation. Moreover, when exiting a relationship the brain’s negotiator shows increased activity, weighing pro’s and con’s of the person you are dismissing. Con’s by definition will reflect negatively on a very special experience. The arrangement between emotion and reason is functional; it does wonders for protecting your ego. There is one fundamental problem though. Blaise Pascale coined it. We all know it. Rationality can never ever explain, let alone reflect, the thrill of falling in love. Theoretical and empirical insights approximate the truth, but the experience itself is on an entirely different level. Whether our hearts tell us to keep holding on while our minds signal the red flag, or our emotions subside while all expectation points towards a shared future, the heart is the only authority in love matters. Trust it. There is no need to detract from a little bit of bliss. Because if the only legitimate decision is made from deep within all other reasons fall by the wayside. For me, nothing had gone wrong past summer. Everything went exactly the way it should. From intense crush to beautiful memory, bypassing the hangover, our affair was pure win.

PS
Poetry may have been a better choice to reflect how I feel about this subject.
PPS
This romance was quite unique because of the parallels in how we felt at what point.
PPPS
Of course this is a bit of idealization, when telling each other it was over there was a whole lot of less bliss for a week or two. The End.

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Dealing with Death

One of the few certainties you have in life is that you will die. So will your loved ones. My mother passed away on the 1st of March 2003. It so happens that on that exact day of this year, friends of mine celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their crew in a club 3 minutes from the hospital my mother died in 9 years ago. This year, after no less than 9 years, was the first time I could fully live up to the promise I made to her.

She was hospitalized and comatose for a month. It is absolutely horrific how much technology is required for life support. The sheer amount of tubes and syringes going into her body, regulating her respiratory system, her cardiovascular system, and her gastrointestinal system, to name the most important ones, traumatized me. It was impossible to visit her and remain clear-headed, every trip to the intensive care ward was accompanied by cognitive dissonance. In the first three weeks visiting hours were limited to the usual schedule. After the doctors told us that there was no more hope, we were allowed to visit her daily for the remaining 7 days. Then, in the final moments, I was devastated by the unmistakable and irreversible flat line sound of her heart monitor. Seconds later her hand turned cold. These are the types of things nothing can prepare you for. You’ve heard the flat line sound before in hospital shows or movies, but if it signals the end of the life of someone you love unconditionally, it is the most shattering experience imaginable.

We had stayed with her that last night. I read one of her favourite books, Le Petit Prince by St. Exupéry, out loud. Ever since it has become a tradition of mine to read the book, or at least parts of it, once a year. My mom had good taste in literature, so this is just another blessing I received from her. One of the most memorable quotes in the book comes from the fox: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” What the Little Prince’s unusual friend understood is that love is the essential connection. A focus on the superficial detracts from the quality of your relations. My mother had wished for one thing, she wanted for us to remember her with our hearts. That is easier said than done. The intense emotional pain, the resulting trauma, the difficulty of accepting the fact that she chose death as a way out, and the utter unfairness of time not stopping, the world not stopping to spin, made matters difficult.

Our society is obsessed with youth to the point that it negates death. A bold statement, one that is vividly reflected in the ease with which we talk about plastic surgery and botox, while explaining the indescribable pain losing a loved one causes creates social discomfort. I am most likely not representative of the average person, if such a thing exists, but in hindsight I have come to the conclusion that our society is ill equipped to deal with death. After my mother died, three influences helped me immensely to move forward. Neither came from the institutional support network. The first was a letter I received from my friend Tommy, whom I wrote about earlier in his capacity as a gifted musician. He told me how incredibly unfair it is for death to rip people out of our lives, but no matter how vile the grim reaper is, he has no power over the love and memories we hold in our hearts. This is so true and comforting, to this day I repeat the phrase to friends who have lost someone as well, and to this day I am thankful for these empathic and insightful words.

The third influence is a book from a psychologist I bought rather recently. It goes well with the Holstee Manifesto’s line that all emotions are beautiful. See, this psychologist lost his son in a car accident. Experiencing grief himself for the first time in his life, he realized that the treatment he had been offering his patients was grossly inadequate. Deeply ingrained in the field of psychology is the assumption that the psyche and emotions are manageable. Techniques for dealing with grief make this assumption rather transparent with the introduction of step programs. Thinking about it, the theoretical underpinning for a 7-, 8-, or 12-step program is evidently linear. Pass one stage and advance to the next. Even if the possibility of relapsing is accounted for, the teleological foundation of such programs is reminiscent of the fallacious adage “time heals all wounds”. Time does not heal anything, healing requires a conscious effort and appropriate techniques. It is not only the trajectory of such programs that fails to treat grief realistically. The analytical approach to neatly partition grief into distinct phases almost begs the question whether any empirical research has been carried out to inform the ivory tower. The truth is however that unless you have felt agony, despair, anguish, sorrow, hopelessness, disbelief, and frustration to the point that it physically immobilizes you, you cannot understand it. Said psychologist understood the depths of emotional pain after losing his son and developed a new approach. Instead of attempting to regulate his emotions, he let them run freely, actively fuelling them by inviting memories of his dead son. In a society obsessed with positivity, this may sound like a form of masochism. It is not. It is accepting reality, dealing with it, and thereby processing emotions, relieving trauma, and alleviating emotional blockades.

The second influence is as much constructive as it provides much needed balance. Buddhism has a way of dealing with death that by far surpasses Western religions. It is not my intention to rant, although I must admit that with spite I once asked a Catholic priest if my mother would go to hell. The Catholic Church displays the same measure of compassion for suicides as it does for homosexuals: they are considered moral evils. Of course he evaded the question, perhaps sensing that I was more than willing to challenge the inept dogma of his faith. However, what I learned from Buddhism is that difficult situations sometimes require simple solutions. The eye-opener came from a lecture of the Dalai Lama who posed a simple question accompanied by some simple facts. In line with Buddhist teachings, when a person dies it is their karma to die. Hence, they die. Since death is not escapable and we all die, would it not be wiser to accept the situation fully and act accordingly? An important aspect of the Buddhist take on death is the concept of desire. I object to the idea that all desires should be abandoned, however relinquishing the desire to keep someone alive who is dying makes perfect sense. Instead of wishing for the life of a loved one to continue when it is impossible – oh the many subtle ways in which this desire stealthily manifests itself – one should wholeheartedly wish for the loved one to die well. I believe my mother died well. We had the opportunity to say goodbye, a gesture powerful enough to transcend diazepam-induced coma.

Combining these three influences has proven fruitful. I cherish the love and memories in my heart, accept that karma is inescapable and respect death, and I allow all emotions to flow freely. In the end, the pain caused by losing someone is an expression of how much and intensely we love that person. My mother was loved by all who had the opportunity to meet her. She was popular with our friends because of her humour, openness, hospitality, and generosity. She knew what was important in life. Of all the useless advice I received from various sources, hers rings forever true. She always encouraged my brothers and me to follow our hearts, go for it, and chase our dreams. In my case that meant writing, dancing, and finding a French girlfriend. Well, I am certain she would have adored most of the girls I have been with, whether they were French (they weren’t) or not. One of the coolest things my mother ever did was to join in with my breakdance training, just like I helped her train for her marathon. She learned the six-step when she was in her late forties.

It so happens that on the 1st of March 2012 I spent the best part of the day very close to the hospital where she died. It so happens that on this day one of my best friends, more like a brother actually, and I entered a battle for old times sake. We used to train together for hours on end and she supported us all the time, mostly by ensuring we always had space to practice. This day and this night were the first 1st of March that I felt no pain. There was nothing but gratitude and fulfilment. The anniversary was a celebration of life and everything that makes life worth living for.

As personal as this account is, I hope it does not come across as the story of an ego. My intention is to share experiences in way that provokes thought and tackles a notoriously uncomfortable subject. Timethief’s blog post on how Eastern philosophy, from Buddhism to Ikebana, helped her deal with her mother’s death gave me the final nudge to dedicate a post to this subject. With utmost sincerity, I hope my experiences and insights will help someone in the future. It helped me, when I had the opportunity to say farewell to my uncle three days before he died. If eyes are windows to the soul, I saw his soul radiate pure light. All it took to witness this miracle was to say: “Thank you for everything. I don’t know where you are going, but I love you and I wish you a pleasant journey.”

Piece of Mind

“When you are full of yourself, there is no room for others.”
– T. Cleaver

I’m a sucker for quotes. A true heavyweight champion in quotes is The Duke, who added one crucial word to the second phrase. Such a matter should not be taken lightly. These sayings work so well because of their simplicity. Expressing much with little is a difficult feat. If you manage to do so, you have the advantage that the reader fills in the blanks for you. “Room” is the perfect choice; it can denote physical, social, emotional or symbolical space. Or, if you’re English is really bad and food happens to be on your mind, you might read “no room for others” as the impossibility to eat more of what you are craving. Foolishness aside, I’m happy with this quote. So I googled it to see if anything pops up. For ef’s sake! Religious folk coined it centuries ago, replacing “others” with their deity. Here we go.

Bashing religion with rational arguments is like beating minesweeper on easy mode. Tricky on your first attempt, but understand the incredibly simple logic behind it and you’ll sweep away. Many great comedians excel at bashing religion, and I wholeheartedly admit that I fell out of my chair laughing many times, for instance while watching Carlin’s performances. A Dutch comedian said it best in a live “debate” – more like a rhetorical massacre – with three head scarf donning hypocrites: Religion, all organized religion, has the pretense of having a monopoly on truth. In a democratic and open society, the freedom to meet flaws and fallacies with satire is a necessary function. It reminds us to not take things too seriously and accept the pluriformity of perspectives. In the live TV incident, the comedian exposed the three hypocrites as such by pointing out how they openly discriminated against homosexuals on earlier episodes, and now cried wolf for being referenced in a pornographic context by the antagonist. He was actually the voice of reason, as grimy as it was. Quick quote:

“I was Catholic until I reached the age of reason.”
– G. Carlin

The problem with religion lies in ontology and epistemology. Can’t know, can’t prove it. That’s why poking fun at organized faith is no challenge. I’m bummed out. Who in the world would accept the warning that you must not let your ego swell, on account of the “room” a make believe omnipotence requires in your mind?
Here’s the thing. Look at religion functionally and it is very useful. It provides a moral compass, an ethical framework, social morphology, social cohesion, meaning and purpose, each of them for better or for worse. And the list goes on. I completely accept and respect people who choose to follow a faith, will however laugh at their believing in what essentially is a magic being. Since I try not to have double standards, I invite anyone to deride my run-of-the-mill conception that “there is more between heaven and Earth, I just don’t want to put a label on it.”
But the quote, which my pious forerunners claimed and wasted, has nothing to do with function. Sure you could wring it in, but fundamentally it is about idealism. In your mind, there should always be room for the invisible man, with his list of 10 things he does not want you to do (George! Genius!). Keep your self in check and let that set of abstract assumptions rife with unrealistic expectations nestle deep in your mind.

“When did I realize I was god? Well, I was praying and suddenly realized I was talking to myself.”
– P. O’Toole

“In your mind”. Science is advancing quickly. In your mind is a concept that is becoming more and more measurable. Take mirror neurons. They literally simulate in your mind what you perceive in the outside world. An abstract concept in a way does transform into a physical entity in your brain. Neurons and synapses build actual networks in your brain, representing whatever it is your CPU needs to process. So taking that into account, who do you want in your head? An old man with a beard, which is completely sexist; or your loved ones and sexy lover? In case anyone sees merit in this argument, thank you, I’m afraid neuroscientists would shake their heads at the over-simplification.
Let’s go at it from a different angle. Do you ever hear voices in your head? I hear voices in my head. I think situations through. This process is scenario-based and usually involves more than one actor. My scenarios are advanced enough for the characters involved to get speaking roles. Unless you are mentally severely impaired, the voices of others are a part of you. “What did Mr Freeze advise to do again? Lift the heavy thing?” He actually cautioned us to wear warm clothes, but regardless, point is that if you saw Batman & Robin and appreciate the brilliance of Dylan Moran, you might have just heard a commanding “get down” in a heavy Austrian accent.
The voices of others are part of me. My brain, like any functioning brain, constructs networks that represent what I know about the world. Who or what I know best gets special privileges like more room. Everyone will agree that the people most important to you occupy a special place in your life. Apart from the fact that we allocate more time to being merry with our loved ones, they have more influence on us. Influence is not only exerted during conversations, but also indirectly by taking into account the other’s expectations. If this happens consciously, there you have it, representation of another person directly in your mind. A representation that does not magically exist, but is the result of hardwiring a network and firing it up with electrical impulses. Our brains create the equivalent of entities in our mind, a repository for labels and information, memories and expectations, positive emotions and negative.

When you are full of yourself, there is no room for others.

It works so well when “other” refers to family, friends, and people who have stories to share. We are social creatures. We learn from each other, and we derive happiness from being with loved ones. I damn well make sure that there are many others in my life, many people whose attitudes and dispositions in life resonate with mine. For someone who’d throw me in a fire pit on a whim, no dice. But then again, one function of nonsensical propositions is to challenge, recalibrate, and reassert the validity of your own assumptions. I’m pretty clear on the matter.

Ego up. Mutual respect +1. Allowing yourself to let other people in, 1up.