Sunday, January 28, 2007

Shock - Primarily of the Psychological Flavor

(N.B. This posting is the first of several relating to some of how I am thinking about sudden events of enormous impact. There are many reasons to think about these types of things, but for me it is at least partly related to the fact that my first conscious memory is that of hearing that Pearl Harbor was attacked. I was little more than an infant and I remember crawling around in the back seat of my parents car, driving to church in lower Manhattan and (I think) someone saying to be still so everyone could listen to the news which was announcing the attack. I had no idea of whether it was important or serious since at that point the only driving forces were squirming in a crowded car, wanting to look out at tall buildings and moving from one sensation to another. But on some level, I suppose, there was some imprinting on my personality over those next several years that the world could be suddenly dangerous and also that I / we not only survived but also thrived.)

Shock when not intended is a nasty event. It can be caused by a number of different situations, e.g., having an experience that follows seeing something grotesquely out of the ordinary, or finding out something that changes our underlying sense of self and/or other, or having a physiological / medical event which is the result of the body suddenly being put on overload or overwhelmed with an event which threatens survival itself.

I use the word in the context of a sudden event which has the power to overwhelm the system, whether it is psychological shock or physical shock. In the physical situation, a state of shock can be induced by, e.g., a sudden loss of blood from whatever cause threatens the very survival of the person. Or if a bacterial infection overwhelms the natural defenses of the body, the system will start emergency internal procedures which activate certain systems and shut down other systems which are not as essential for survival. The body will start this process without any conscious thought on our part precisely because it is so threatened by the actual physiological events.

I say this to differentiate it from the panic process which can start when a person locks into an image or a series of images ("what-if" scenarios) which can be so realistic to the mind and so scary to the body that they call forth a cascade of physiological effects collectively referred to as the fight, flight or freeze process. In the "pure" physiological situation, not only is the body gearing up to deal with a crisis internally, in effect putting out an "all hands on deck" call, but the people around the person will recognize the sudden and profound shift taking place and will naturally want to set up an external alarm to get help - fast.

To be stunned is to have a taste of shock. But the stun does not call forth the whole crisis event. It momentarily leads to a gasp or to the experience of not being able to say or do anything. The stun, in a sense, puts the person into a state of temporary suspended animation.

(Just a side comment: it is a mistake to say that one effects the physical and the other effects the mental. There is no hypen between mindbodymindbodymind... Each is influenced by each would be one way to awkwardly put it. However, there are many subtleties which don't rise to the level of full awareness but the bodymind is listening in and moving about nevertheless.)

Now consider the following hypothetical scenario. You are called into your boss' office on a Friday afternoon and you're told that you are being laid off and you have 20 minutes to clear out your desk. You will be escorted while you do that and then out of the building. No matter how "you cut it" that's big. Even if you knew that there had been several layoffs already in your company and you knew that there was another round about to happen. When it "hits" you it's big. Would that be a stun or a shock?

It's pretty clear it would be a significant event for most people. Few would walk away whistling a happy tune and feeling that it had little immediate impact, although it is conceivable that some would take it as a desired event. For example, if a person really hated their job and they were having a difficult time deciding whether or when to leave the job, this may provide the needed impetus to pursue other things which he or she had been thinking about as a possibility for work. Or a person who was planning on handing in their resignation the following week, it could be seen as a stroke of fortune, especially if there is a severance package involved.

The person goes into "overload." The less they had anticipated it, and the less they had prepared what and how they would handle the situation the more the overload would immobilize them. In some situations the immobilization may not be a negative, in fact it could be a positive development. The immobilization could be acting like a "shock absorber." It helps to dampen the sudden effect so the system isn't jarred too aggressively.

Stuns are probably inevitable in life and, in a sense, we should not try to insulate ourselves from any exposure to them. It's helpful to remember that it's not a "hothouse world" out there. Being delicate may be good for sensitivity, etc., but it doesn't help in what can at times be a rough and tumble world. Neither do we want to become so insensitive that we don't experience these shifts. So it would seem that we have to be sensitive enough to register differences but at the same time, as the stun level goes up, to not go into a state of collapse.

In my next post I plan to talk more about a few lessons from history and how we can learn how to buffer ourselves for big changes in our lives.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Continuing Saga of Television Withdrawal - or: "I must be getting better"

I watched just enough TV yesterday to see the Patriots pull off a sweet win over San Diego. Sweet.

Then, and this amazed me, I completely forgot about the 2 hour first show of the season for "24." That used to be one of my must-see shows. But in the early days of the (internal) change last year I found myself turning it off more and more frequently. Watching the adrenaline junkie feed his addiction for more adrenaline and watching him doing whatever it took to accomplish his task, twitching all the time, and having all that all doled out in 15 minute "cliff hangers" just got to be just too much.

Let's see, they had action - non-stop; betrayal - ongoing; torture - in the name of what choice do we have; an opportunity to break every law you can think of - in the name of expediency; torture and brutality - did I mention torture and brutality; governmental incompetence - well maybe not too far off that mark; and non-stop miraculous recoveries from just about every life-altering accident you could imagine. What's not to like?

I publicly apologize to my wife for a season or two of getting hooked into that program and telling her: "not now honey." The only lame excuse I can come up with is that I was suffering from television addiction.

"They" are so good at it. The marketeers. Here is what I think is their master trick: they hook you in the same way as they do for potato chips, ice cream, movies, must-have gadgets...they identify a deep need / wish / desire and then they offer all kinds of sizzle which "promises" to fill that need. And the interesting thing is they are able to do that from the first bite or the first viewing.

Well, they sort of meet the need. I think what they do is create an experience in such a way that you have a sense of the need being met - momentarily. And then the only way you can go further is to come back for more. And, you got it, they have the coming attractions for that program and for other programs of the same genre. Open mouth, shut mind, bite the hook and ask for more.

Of course this all has to be done with much hoopla so you don't think too much about it. If you did think about it you would find a better way of entertaining yourself and then maybe you wouldn't feel so empty. The emptiness has to be perpetuated to keep you coming back. That must be a bit what it's like to be hooked on crack.

Tonight, the truth must be told, I turned on "24" for about 3 twitches of the adrenaline junkie, one car crash from which both people walked away without so much as a stretch of the neck or back, driving to endanger multiple innocent people, terrorists all over the place, a gun shot wound, home invasion, a secret package, and .... oh yes, thank you Lord, I found the sanity to push the off button.

My wife said....approximately: well, no I'll leave that out.

Oh, and yes, I filled the artificial void encouraged by the TV world with this posting. Yes!

(Oh, #2, did I say the Patriots won last night? Sweet.)

Go give a hug to someone.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'm Curious About That Speech Last Night and "The Unthinkable"

Yes, I am curious about the President's speech last night.

We all know that for a speech to be effective the attention of the audience has to be led in certain directions and away from other directions. Starting with that premise, and recognizing that discussion is vitally important, I am mulling over the following questions:

1. Just what are the mistakes which the President is taking responsibility for? If we knew what they were, then at least we would know what he is talking about and then the country could compare notes and know if he is referencing the same mistakes which undoubtedly led to certain consequences at the November elections.

2. What are the consequences which are so "unthinkable" that he doesn't make reference to? To my way of understanding the only thing which is unthinkable is something which is not real, something which you can't imagine. By his saying that those consequences would be unthinkable leads people to too quickly say, "uh-oh, we better not think about that / those things which are so unthinkable that we can't even begin to think about what they are." Huh? And, anyway, on the most basic of levels, hasn't a majority of the whole country been thinking about not "staying (that) course?" So it must be something else that is so unthinkable. Well what is that? Let's get that out on the table so we can then take appropriate steps based on that unthinkable thought.

I heard of a research project years ago where a speaker asked the audience what their most horrible fear of dying was. He then asked them to write it down briefly, and not sign it. The papers were collected and to make the story short, he then later gave the papers to a group of mental health professionals along with another group of papers which were written by people suffering from anxiety disorders. The task of the professionals was to distinguish which diagnostic group had written the fearful (unthinkable) thoughts which would then show that it was a reflection of their diagnostic group. (The papers were anonymous, but they were also marked in such a way that the researchers knew which group the responses were coming from, i.e., from the audience of "normals" or from one of the diagnostic groupings. Since the evaluators did not know which group was which, they were "blinded" in a research sense.)

Guess what: the worst fears were worst with all groups. The evaluators couldn't distinguish "normals" from "people with a formal diagnosis" on the basis of their fears! We all have these unthinkable thoughts. To me, even knowing that we all have them, even though mine will be different from yours, is somehow comforting.

(N.B. I heard this story many years ago. I remember thinking afterwards that I would like to have seen the original research study but have never been able to track it down, but in honesty I haven't really tried all that hard. Nevertheless, in this context I believe it speaks to a vitally important issue.)

If it is so unthinkable, it must be so really terrible that we as a nation would be willing to continue contributing to the chaos over there. What is the titular head of this country saying that we have to avoid ... here ... at all costs?

Is it the consequences of peak oil that we can't talk about? Or of peak debt and the consequences of that? Or of rampant diabetes? Or of not being able to go to pixel heaven and buy the next bigger sized plasma TV?

3. I am curious about which "American interests" he is referring to in his speech. I presume he is talking about oil, oil, oil, but maybe he's referring to other interests. As a curious person I really am curious about what those interests are. I am not saying that as a country, a great country, we shouldn't have national interests, but since he was speaking and appealing to the country directly, I feel I would like to have more clear statements so we can make better informed decisions .

Well, I had been wanting to get back to writing about trance induction and television, and about the importance of the food chain and the importance of an unrushed lifestyle, but they will have to come later.

Perhaps I should also end this posting by saying that maybe there should be no comments added to this post since unthinkable things which many are already thinking anyway might be said and then who knows what that would do to the (un)balanced way of life we don't have.

Turning off the TV and not rushing has helped me to think these thoughts. Is that unthinkable for me to have done those two things?