Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Toys for the manic mind: Facebook and Twitter

Now that I’ve joined Twitter, I’m wondering what twittering is all about. My dad’s generation would view it as self-serving sound bites (watch me! Dr. Phil….) or inane commentary from people they don’t know, or care to. Though I’m enjoying following the opposition (Karl Rove’s a scream) and getting a taste of people’s lives who are really up to something (Lance Armstrong, Maria Shriver and even Karl Rove albeit, in my book, in the wrong direction….)

So, if I flip this into opportunity and a possibility for something, what would it be? How could the technology drive my commitment to altering the conversation for mental health, and in a self-serving way further the aims of my book, Struck by Lightning: Mental Health Conditions and Spiritual Awakening?

Playing the connectivity game, even a trivial or superficial connection is better than none. I go back to the metaphor of the fungus that grows in a 50-mile radius, of which the heads are the only visible part. If we are the heads, who constrained by our bodies, have forgotten our essential oneness, then twitter is an active representation of us waking up to that spiritual reality. What will be possible for the planet when 6 billion people are following and followed by 6 billion people? What would be possible if every person were following and being followed by 1 million people?

As I’ve found on Facebook, six degrees of separation are two or three. For three weeks in the Fall, I was one step away from the President as Rahm Emmanuel’s Facebook friend. I sent him everything I could think of for his minions to read about Mental Health. Even if it wasn’t read, the energy shifts in the sending.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Connections: In Flow

This capacity to make leaps between apparently unrelated ideas is the penultimate ability of our brains. The “aha” moments occur when we have brought our attention and mastery to something for a sustained period, and then in a flash, something unrelated sparks an insight. Sir Isaac Newton and the apple. In the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, breakthrough moments occur in “flow”—those periods when the mind is so engaged that time ceases. Usually, a day passes with fits and starts, and there is a sense of time passing. A day in flow stops time, or it seems mere minutes. And the moment of epiphany is like holding “infinity in the palm of your hand,/And eternity in an hour.” It could be argued that the breakthrough mind is the controlled version of the bipolar mind.

The bipolar mind is the breakthrough mind on speed. It is struck by insight overload, and experiences connections so quickly that they cannot be spoken, expressed, or explained quickly enough. The bipolar brain is trying to translate an experience of the infinite and Eternal into finite space and time—like wrestling fog into a box. Flow without control.

What are the neurological containers that focus flow but breakdown in overflow? Research there could lead to the most useful breakthrough treatments. My take on the persistence of bipolar and depression in the gene pool is simply that it is useful on a species scale, even as it can be devastating on a personal one. After all, nature is not interested in the lemmings who go over the cliff, only the ones who remain. And the ones who can totter at the very edge, and bring themselves back to tell the tale? Well, that’s what we’re here for….

Connections: From Google to Shakespeare

I spent an infuriating hour the other night trying to access this blog to make my new post. I discovered that, despite the misdirections by Google—if I truly couldn’t find answers on “Help,” or sign in I could email “contact us,” only there wasn’t an actual access to emailing “contact us” anywhere on any menu on any page to which the site directed me. I was in a technological mobius loop. Locked out of my blog which I could tantalizingly visit, become a follower of, but never truly inhabit since the “I” who visited was not recognized as the “I” who created. I’m sure my unwanted adventure could be the genesis of some post-existential, computer/philosophy jock’s dissertation, and I am grateful I am not him/her. I faced down this phantom tollbooth which created near despair on my part, until I managed to send my unrecognized login address an email that enabled me to create a new password to my old account that I had been told didn’t exist. Ah, the Buddha path of internet apps and the blogosphere….

Now that I have nearly forgiven google’s software designers, I find myself considering the creative/bipolar capacity to spin threads of connectivity between seemingly unrelated material. I remember enjoying James Burke’s astounding “Connections” and the entire world of non-fiction thread-following it birthed, from Devil and the White City to Germ, Guns and Steel. The fiction of this non-fiction remains my most favorite to read, since it most closely resembles the way we make fiction of our own experience. The curious case for Serendipity in the history of Man and our individual lives. The meanings that have no meaning except we “see” them there.

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” If the Judeo-Christian tradition views the Bible as the revealed Word of “God” then Shakespeare is the revealed Word of Man. Of all the great historical figures, artists and statesmen, generals and agitators, enlightened ones and ombudsmen, Shakespeare’s is the mind, body and life I would want to inhabit. Anything there is to be said, known or revealed about what it is to be human can be found in one or more of his plays or poems. To be the penultimate poet of the penultimate age of the English language; to have the penultimate creative life and a Man’s life in one of the great ages in the West to be a man (Creativity! Science! Exploration! Colonization! Empire!) in service to the penultimate Queen—aye, there’s the rub.

In service to a Queen, who so famously said “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king….” And used both to great effect. In a room with Ahmenhotep, Alexander the Great, Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, her father, the Sun King, Peter and Catherine the Great, Zhu Yuanzhang—the first Ming Emperor—all would have been hard-pressed to hold their own against the cunning intelligence, ferocity, and political savvy of the Tudor’s last monarch. She may have been born to the role, but she paid for her greatness in blood from her woman’s heart.

And there you have it—a little spinning of connectivity of my own.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Among the Believers

Last Sunday, I accompanied my daughter to church. Her father is Catholic, and wants her to have first communion. When she came home last October saying, “Mummy, doesn’t my Sunday school teacher realize this is all mythology?” (she studied the Greeks last year) I wasn’t concerned that she was going to become a holy roller anytime soon. Listening to the liturgy is familiar. I was brought up Episcopalian (famously, “Catholic light” according to Robin Williams) and the service is the same. Though in both modern language editions, I sorely miss the poetry of the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer. And though I can no longer recite the Nicene Creed with conviction—believing as I do that there are many doors into the same room—I appreciate the sense of fellowship and a community centered on the spiritual life.

What inspired me that day was the priest’s homily. This is a family-oriented congregation, and amidst the background of murmurings and baby gurgles, the general restlessness of the youngest parishioners, the Father gamely delivered a simple and thoughtful commentary on God’s covenant of Love. I thought about the story of Jesus that has come down to us, whitewashed and manipulated as it was for political purposes at the Council of Nicea, and even though he represents Realization (like the Buddha’s Enlightenment) and is to some divine, his humanity could not be entirely erased. His anger at the moneylenders in the temple comes to mind, his weeping, as well as his doubt upon the cross. I have always found it sad that, unlike the stories of the Buddha, we do not have anecdotes of Jesus’ youth and early manhood. Like Athena, he springs full-grown, at the height of his rhetorical and spiritual powers. I have always hankered for the Jesus who LAUGHED, and made others laugh as well.

That aside, I was moved by the priest’s gentle reminders of this covenant of Love in the everyday—the smile from a stranger, a friend’s hug, a sharp noise, a simple tune, the sun in the trees, or rain on the grass—the signs are all around us if we only take time to breathe, listen and see with open hearts.