Monday, February 12, 2007

A commotion of meditation on growing older

I am trying to see if this constant dissatisfaction that quickly finds every task unappealing to the point nothing at all gets done and finally, nothing even gets planned, is some how an artifact of my advancing age. I consider this possibility because I do recall that when younger, I could maintain intense focus on at least some projects, even if they were tiresome and not guaranteed of results. One of the clearest such memories is of an undirected, unpaid, months-long struggle to develop a novel alternative to correlation techniques for machine vision immune to lighting variations. In recalling, I see that the master of the effort was ego gratification. It was a long shot and still worth it because it got published and I, the dismissible farm boy who nearly didn't get his BS, got to present a paper. My basic nature, the ease of distraction, the way I fall from a task to turn left or right the minute the grade begins to steepen...I have always had this but now, even necessary chores are neglected unless others force and remind me.

My wife was at a conference for 3 days and for 3 days, I would not even write a to-do list, putting it off and putting it off.

But in this period of solitude I did flit between a couple of interests and blogged and read quite a bit. And watched my mind flail about. I think one can still practice a kind of meditation as one "does" some things though perhaps the best forms of meditation are willfully and, with practice, eventually effortlessly, "doing nothing". I will call it moving meditation, though I actually sat [in front of computer] most of the time.

Near the end of this little vacation of the will, I was driving back from a barely necessary trip to Home Depot. Unlike my usual trips there, no imagined task gripped me, no tool jumped into my shopping cart on the mere promise of its potential utility...I was nearly pure disinterest. Not like me. Am I depressed? Why should NOT buying things I never need to buy in the first place be alarming? By most standards, it was the impulse buying that betokened an unhappy mind.
Driving back from this odd shopping experience, the vague, nameless and faceless unease that haunts impulse and distraction rose up in my awareness, as if frustrated that no tasty pursuit had been provided to put it to sleep. And in that moment, these words: "the self is empty, the self is emptiness".

In younger days, before life has focused us or forced us to moments when all we know is the whirring of our own machinery, in youth, it is possible to ignore the self for we have not seen it. It is there of course and the more a foil for us because we do not detect its operation in our doings. But now, I can almost talk to it and it to the me that does not care. And self seems bereft at times and says "what is worth doing? What is there to look forward to? Do I know anybody well?".

On the radio, that crafty breathless Christopher Lyden was yammering away on Open Source as I drove home. He gives no impression of any nuance applied to the term "boomer". Is there some incompatibility between "hip" and "nuanced"? I never thought so. We of a certain age were, for the hour of his narration, all the same. The generational differences he paints on today's politics are a damn sloppy average. Whether or not you shared the idea, from the get-go, that Iraq was a "dumb war" is NOT a function of what year you born. Mightily to BarakObama's credit that he said it and voted it when others were afraid to lead and afraid to have a conscience. Very much to his credit but hardly a property of his cohort. I don't know which of the collaborative of writers provided the one sentence in Lyden's lead in for the show that had a clue: "Or do you think harping on generational divides is a way of over-simplifying politics and human behavior?" Most of the show avoided any such insight. But a few of the commenters were not buying it.

Amanda Marcotte once picked up my attempt to understand why some, maybe most, people grow more conservative as they age. That was the most traffic I ever got and with my flaws as a writer thus exposed, I can understand how things quickly went quiet. Or maybe those readers also resented a pigeonholing scheme where the little boxes have nothing more explanatory on them than a year. A row of categories in which to bury all human potentials, a morgue with the drawer fronts disguised as a calendar. I don't recant the observations I made. And the idea, that the advancing cowardice and conservatism that creep on with birthdays for some people is perhaps explainable by some theory of cognition, was only offered as a speculation. I remain vigilant and neither with nor with out hope that I shall not age to that pattern. Oh please may that never be me. And damn anybody who puts me in the wrong box.

Amanda's busy these days and not 30 yet. You old readers who aren't old, pass this one on to your friends. I have become curious what this particular station on our little journeys is like from the inside. What the hell difference does your age make? Since time and our place in it are so very subjective, how can it change us when we invent it? I beg and permit your thoughts! You too, Aunt Vicky. And any of you lurkers in Kelowna, or elsewhere in BC. Anyone in Reno? Wisconsin? North Carolina is rich in reflective souls. Oostrayans? I know yer out there, mates. Florida, Oregon, Washington? UK? Sudbury? [the Sudbury of your choice, Lincolns and Springfields are also fine, ambiguously located towns]

Just leave comments. I can wait.

Per request of Davo, a minimum of hyperlinks were exploited in the development of this post.

And if anyone from Memphis or greater metropolitan Williamstown, MA suggests that the first step down the slippery slope to drooling curmudgeonhood is getting snappy about being put in boxes, I shall unmask you, or at least tell you to get off my lawn.


Gerry said...

Well, for what it's worth, I was diagnosed as having clinical depression in 1995. I still have it. Even worse these days. Others say I'm just resigned to pessimism and self pity. Some people find it easy to snap out of it, others never do. Some say drugs help. None have helped me so far. I doubt this comment can help you, GS.

In parts your post has a zen-like feel to it. Perhaps you're suffering from pre-satorial tension?

I dunno, mate... If I had another brain, it would be lonely...

GreenSmile said...

now you are sending me to the dictionary.

What helps is a smile, you gave me one.

Anonymous said...

It is nice to know that you are the kind of person who thinks about these types of things, tho I am sorry you have to deal with this one. At least you are aware of a problem, unlike so many others.

I am going to throw out a few things here, in no particular order, and not particularly well written.

I don't think that people necessarily grow more conservative with age. Unless you mean they are less likely to be enamored of newfangled things and material objects...then I would likely agree with you (in my 20s and 30s I never imagined I would say such a thing). When you are young you spend energy building a home and home life and a career. When you have achieved all that, you wonder (and you have time to wonder), "What now?"

We are in a horrible war, and we've had one war after another for decades. Simply put, it's depressing. And oppressive. When you add to that the fact that the US is a real butthead in the world right now, you have a right to feel a bit down. I was really depressed during the Gulf War, and this one is worse of course because the US really, really fucked up.
So, be easy on yourself because these times are tough for everyone.

Don't forget late winter is the time SAD kicks in.

Most of us really do become wiser as we age. We look back on a larger and larger history and personal body of experience. This makes us more aware of all the absurdities and obscenities in the current world.

Each of us needs something to do and a cause to fight for; those needs are bound to change as children grow up, as retirement kicks in, or if illness takes a larger role. We need projects, purposes, sense of self-worth. Maybe your purpose isn't to do things for yourself (or even your family) anymore; but, rather, for someone else? I don't mean try to change the world, but rather to keep the body and mind busy each day helping another person on a more physical, one-on-one level? I think that's what humans are best at doing--the personal, real-life dirty-fingernails sort of stuff. This office/labratory/desk/computer lifestyle we lead is interesting and novel and indeed it opens new doors to the world, but it's not a substitute for hugging a stranger or raising a roof or squishing the springtime soil between our fingers.
I always admired the message in the film, It's a Wonderful Life. (I also watch it to experience Frank Capra's exquisite artistic genius.) I especially like the part where the Building and Loan folks present to the Martini family at their new house a symbolic gift of a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and salt.
Can you use your tools (both your power tools and your tools of empowerment) to do something not for yourself but someone else in a more physical sense than your MoveOn work affords?

I doubt I am telling you anything you don't know already, or that you couldn't figure out yourself, or that you haven't considered.

If these "symptoms" of yours continue for more than a few weeks, I would consult someone. I went to someone for depression recently; he told me that if a person is down for too long a time, the brain doesn't produce seratonin (and another hormone) in sufficient amounts and that in itself keeps us down. An antidepressant artificially raises the levels, and then the brain often will pick up where it left off. It's like giving the brain a jumpstart.

Anonymous said...

And, Gerry, I absolutely hate the term self-pity because it blames the victim. No-one wants to be this way.

I came upon an interesting story this evening while watching the DVD of an old movie with the voiceover/extra-feature commentary option turned on. Here is the passage that caught my ear, so much so that I stopped the DVD to transcribe it.

After an outstanding early career, Rachmaninoff reached a crisis point in 1896 when his First Symphony was treated with total derision by the critics, the public, and his colleagues. The composer was driven into a state of chronic depression and for 4 years he ceased writing and made his living as a conducting assistant for an opera company. The Second Piano Concerto was premiered in 1901, and received a rapturous reception throughout the world. The piece resulted from the cure of Rachmaninoff's writer's block.

After the disastrous premier of his First Symphony, the composer was inactive for four years and finally decided to take drastic action to end his depression. At the beginning of 1900, he began treatments involving hypnotic suggestion over a period of four months. They worked, and the immediate result was the Second Piano Concerto, which we've been hearing throughout [this film].


GreenSmile said...

I am enjoying both of these comments J.

One thing that stuck with me when I emerged from my second and last bout of serious depression [while still in college..this is ancient history] was the phrase "whose mind is this anyway" that just popped into my head. The diagosis had been depression but the onset of symptoms was instantaneous, a panic attack about which I still don't think I now the real constellation of contributing factors. Medication helped in my case...but then there was that relapse.

And would I be able to write a book or even a chapter that could impart to anyone else what I really did or what really changed within me to make the recitation of that phrase so potently helpful or so tightly bound to what was helpful in making me feel it was time to stop acting like a victim of my own thoughts? No, and I would not presume to try. We have many commonplaces about no two people being exactly the same. In no area is this more true than the dark and foggy view our consciousness has into the rest of our mental workings.

GreenSmile said...

I just watched the movie "The Ground Truth" as part of my activism. It is a documentary composed entirely of interviews with vets of the "war on Iraqis" [I can no longer call it "the war in Iraq".]

Their comments and stories are intense. My wife who was born in Baghdad could not watch and left.

The comments are orgznized into several themes and two that are most poignant are how PTSD is actively misdiagnosed by the Army at discharge time as "personality disorder" so no VA benefits will be available. We fuck the Iraqis by dehumanizing an arming our own young men and women and then abandon them to their waking nightmares when they come back. Intrusive thoughts, suicidal thoughts, instantaneous violent rage at everyday annoyances and various kinds and severities of depression..the catalog of breakage to these people, and it is a wildly underestimated percentage of teh returning soldired due to the army policies, is heartbreaking.

I recommend the movie by the way. I cannot describe the intensity of my digust for this war and the "leaders" that sold it or the followers who bought it. We can't blame everything on Bush. But if we don't take the guns away from that child, more will die. The longer we fail to rise up and stop the war, the more blame we should accept.

Shit, this is turning into a post;-(

JahTeh said...

If we were born with the knowledge we have at fifty, would the world be a better place. Probably not since G W Bush would have wanted someone else's teddy bear and pooped over every one's opinion to get it.

I don't mind being over fifty, I get to mouth off at the disgusting way young things behave.

Davo said...

um, was intending to write a long, erudite, elucidating comment .. but forgot what was going to say.

Oh, Save the hyperlinks, trees, intelligent sanity, coloured ungendered whales .. umm..

Gerry said...


(1) Don't worry about Davo, keep the hyperlinks coming, old boy...

(2)"...PTSD is actively misdiagnosed by the Army at discharge time as "personality disorder" so no VA benefits will be available." That's not new. That's regressive. I was told by my military superiors that I had an "attitude problem" in 1976. Mainly because of a couple of PTSD symptoms I was starting to display. (Like calling their bullshit bullshit and defying orders. Not at all acceptable behaviour for a sergeant...)
The idea that war can damage the mind has to be quashed, vilified and dismissed immediately. If that cat gets out of the bag, it's curtains for military industrial complex. Obviously, people who start to see the folly of war or who display other mental aberrations after exposure to war, must be mental misfits and degenerates (to quote our own Veterans Affairs Minister)and need to be exterminated if the military industrial complex is to rule supreme. It's an imperative of "protecting the economy".

(3) I wish more people would join a few more dots and realise that the first Gulf War was also a US contrivance, in that they (the US) suckered Saddam Hussein in to believing that the US would not wage war if he invaded Kuwait.

GreenSmile said...

Thats an eye-popper. Talk about intelligence quashing...I had no fxxxing clue we were that complicit in the George the 1st's Iraq war.

GreenSmile said...

Thats an eye-popper. Talk about intelligence quashing...I had no fxxxing clue we were that complicit in the George the 1st's Iraq war.