This category covers things that relate to trying something different. It is a sort of catch-all category that contains things are more verb-like than noun-like. These things like be new movements, new ways to think, or a specific suggestion that you try something that you may never have tried before. It’s a big category because humans are action oriented beings that are kinesthetic learner who benefit the most from interacting with their immediate environment.
So you get clear on what you are doing in the moment and notice the “I am” verb / adverb pairing. Realize that this specific action is taken by a specific type of person, or a person who has a specific identity. Your brain knows this intuitively, so by stating the verb, unconscious thought processes are triggered about the noun that embodies the specific verb.
“I am” statements reveal state or identity. Given that state is a transitory thing, what you are now is likely going to change fairly quickly. Also, by declaring your state it becomes obvious what action needs to be taken to change it. “I am hungry” or “I am cold” are two examples of states which, if unpleasant, have very simple solutions, eat or put on a sweater or jacket.
Identity is not transitory. It changes less often and has a number of properties / characteristics / behaviours that tend to be expressed / displayed and remain fixed. “I am a smoker” is an identity statement and predictably a smoker will smoke. They’ll likely buy cigarettes, have smoking rituals, have friends who smoke and display and experience a level of discomfort when they are unable to smoke when they want to. Their identity will impact their state.
“I am an X smoker” or “I am a non smoker” are also identity statements and they fall on the smoking continuum. An X smoker may still have cravings for nicotine and these cravings may have triggers; usually the behaviours or activities the person displayed or took part in when they used to smoke. Not smoking is deliberate and requires mindful effort. A non smoker doesn’t have these cravings and if they do, they do not pack the same punch. Not smoking is effortless for them because they identify as a non smoker.
What is critical to consider when it comes to identity are the congruent behaviours that accompany an identity, given that it is impossible for someone to behave in a way that goes against an identity. A non smoker cannot smoke so if someone has a cigarette, they are some type of smoker – an occasional or social smoker for example. You can also be a smoker who doesn’t smoke or who currently doesn’t smoke because you choose not to. But if you identify as a smoker who chooses not to smoke, you are simply choosing not to smoke right now.
The power of identity is revealed when we understand and clearly and honestly define our identity as something for which particular negative behaviours are in-congruent; or for which particular positive behaviours are congruent. Given that in-congruent actions cannot be taken and congruent actions can, any shift in identity will be accompanied by a change in behaviour.
If a smoker changes their identity to become an X smoker or non smoker, they will stop smoking. The same applies when an identity shifts to say I am a healthy eater. Healthy eaters consume more of certain foods and eliminate other types; added are vegetables, gone are sugars, trans-fat and high calorie low nutrient liquids.
When considering this deeper, we are wise to look at it from a linguistic perspective, specifically how we use the words in terms of the parts of speech.
The word that follows “I am” can either be a noun / pronoun or a verb / adverb. Depending on which is used, there will be a natural and likely unverbalized assumption made. When the next word is a verb / adverb, the natural assumption will be a noun. When the next word is a noun, a list of verbs will bubble up. This is where the power lies given that most of our thinking is unconscious. Anything we can do to trigger empowering thoughts, either conscious or unconscious, will move our life in the direction we want it to go.
The first thing we need to do is be very clear on what exactly is happening in the present moment. This is always going to be a verb because we are always going to be doing something. Even if you are sitting there doing nothing, you are still sitting, sitting is something, and doing nothing, and nothing is in most cases actually something. So you get clear on what you are doing in the moment and notice the “I am” verb / adverb pairing. Realize that this specific action is taken by a specific type of person, or a person who has a specific identity. Your brain knows this intuitively, so by stating the verb, unconscious thought processes are triggered about the noun that embodies the specific verb. Whether or not you ever become consciously aware of this noun, the identify statement exists and fires a lot of mental activity in your brain about all the things associated with that identity. This cognitive cascade lights-up many areas of your brain and moves data / information around. This stimulation does what all stimulation does, it promotes the formation of actual tissue to support future similar thoughts. By thinking something once, it becomes easier to think it in the future, which makes thinking it in the future even easier, and so on.
The moment we are clear in what exactly is happening in the present moment marks a vital inflection point. If what is happening is what we want / need to be happening, we don’t necessarily need to do anything. We’re going to be fine now and in the future if we leave things on autopilot and let the unconscious thinking proceed naturally. We can however, improve future outcomes by bringing into consciousness the noun that naturally flows from the verb. By paying attention to the noun and noticing the cognitive cascade, we increase the amount of stimulation and promote greater tissue growth. Greater tissue growth increases the likelihood that we’ll be the verb in the future and the empowering pattern continues and grows.
If what is happening is not what we want or need to be happening, our better future depends on us doing something about it because if we do nothing different, we’re going to lay down the tissue that makes doing the same thing more likely in the future, which makes more of the same a great probability.
To change course we have a few options. The simplest is to stop doing the verb that isn’t helping and start doing the verbs that will. Remember that action is the only thing that shapes the clay of life. If you are the kind of rare person who doesn’t need to know why things are the way they are and can just get after doing the things, bringing forth the noun that you want / need to be and cultivating mindfulness will be sufficient to move you towards greatness. There is a particular noun that you are wanting to be, just be the verb that this noun embodies.
If the simplest way of direct action is not who you are, you will need to give a voice to the noun that comes up as a result becoming clear on what is happening in the present moment. Doing this has a down side in that you continue, at least for one more rep, to lay down the tissues that are the consequential effect of these thoughts. This notwithstanding , shinning a light on the noun and consciously forming an “I am” implied identity statement creates a mental white board in working memory to examine your action, the identity you may hold of yourself that facilitates the action and what cognitive distortions may be occurring that would yield such an identity – it allows you to talk back to the thought and interrupt the pattern. More importantly, it creates the space for you to insert a different identity with a conditional / explanatory verb used to help maintain congruence. For example, “I am a healthy eater who didn’t bring a lunch and decided to eat a doughnut.” This reframe if very different from the “I am eating a doughnut” followed by the unconscious automatic implied condition reaction “therefore I am a poor eater” that accompanies mindless action.
More consequentially, you are not giving yourself a pass and simply creating a similar future. You are taking responsibility for eating the doughnut while outlining the solution to prevent the same action in the future – bringing you lunch. And it is this paying attention to a new action that will go a long way in manifesting that specific future. Remember, attention increase stimulation which increases tissue growth.
The key to this is to be aware that the verb becomes the noun. If you like the noun, maintain the verb. If you don’t like the noun, change the verb. If you can’t change the verb, deliberately and consciously choose the right noun that congruently produces the appropriate verb. Check in often and repeat as often as is needed to lay down the neural pathways that make the verb and noun indistinguishable from each-other and who you are.
YOUR brain is nearly identical to the brain of every other human being…. YOU can get your brain to write the code to do the same things as other people. As long as you consistently pay attention, practice and take appropriate recovery, over time you are bound to become successful.
A few years ago many aspects of life became very clear to me when I started to notice that I had absolutely no idea why I would spontaneously think a particular thought. Unless I had been thinking about, working on, or paying attention to something very specific, there was a good chance that some of the things that would enter my mind would have next to nothing to do with any of my other recent thoughts. This was very obvious during my daily meditation sessions when I would be concentrating on the sensation of my breath on the area of skin above my upper lip and around the openings to my nostrils or during the body scans. For anyone who has never spend much time meditating, the moments of mental stillness are few and far between and the practice is generally the act of noticing that your attention has wandered and then returning it to whatever it was that you are trying to pay attention to.
I practice vipassana which is just one of a number of different approaches to cultivating mindfulness. It is not the best or worst, it is not good or bad, it is not right or wrong. It is just an action that someone can take that will help their brain develop a new skill that will eventually find its way into all areas of their life. While I do not practice and have never practised transcendental meditation, or formally any other types, all of them share a number of properties and methods that yield similar outcomes. By consistently practising the deliberate focus of our attention, over time we cultivate the skill of being able to control our attention, to know when it has wandered, and to gain awareness into what is currently going on in our mind.
It isn’t easy for me and it can be very boring and it tends to require a lot of mental effort. The fact of the matter is, human beings do not innately run the code that allows them to easily pay attention to one thing. Our DNA was formed over millions of years when our ancestors did had to constantly be on the lookout for some predator that was looking for a meal. As a consequence, those who were able to notice the threats sooner gained an evolutionary fitness advantage. Over time this trait was passed along to the point at which practically all members of the species had it. This does not mean that we are not able to pay deep and unwavering attention to something, it just means that we need to have a big incentive to do so.
It is a matter of death on one side and novel experience on the other, and avoiding death tends to win. The fact that death as a consequence to our not paying attention to a potential threat is not as much of a factor in modern life does nothing to alter the DNA or gene expression that was so critical to our survival. We default to a wandering mind and our attention is very squirrel-like in its ability and tendency to notice the smallest changes from moment to moment. This is a feature and not a bug, even if it is mostly an antiquated feature.
This is where meditation comes in as it serves to teach and help the brain learn the skill of focused and sustained attention. Once developed, it gives us another tool to use that can help shift our mental functioning away from that of a prey creature and towards that of an apex predator. The old behavioural pattern or trait will remain and it will be activated whenever the brain perceives a threat, but our actions will no longer be unconsciously compelled to notice every little change. It doesn’t always work that way and even life long meditators experience moments when their mind bounces around and they feel almost powerless to stop it.
That is evolution for ya. It is particularly effective at cultivating traits that become our baseline or default way of operating which are tremendously sticky.
Anyway, after years of daily practice and a number of residential silent retreats, I could no longer deny that there was a lot of thoughts occurring on beneath the level of consciousness and when there was nothing going on to keep them out, sometimes they would find their way into my awareness. Over time, and with practice, this doesn’t happen as often and I have become better at noticing as thoughts emerge and letting them go before they hook my mind.
The key thing I take from this, and what I’m talking about now, is the fact that when we practice consistently and over a long enough period of time, our brain will create the code that allows us to maintain a very intense focus on something even when there is a lot of other stuff occurring. This new process can and will eventually become automatic, and once it has, the brain will be able to integrate it into its operating system to allow it to run in parallel with many other processes. The outcome will be an ability to pay complete attention to one thing while simultaneously running the threat detector baseline process that will automatically shift our attention onto something that absolutely needs to be addressed. This gives our brain the paradoxical capacity to be aware of what is important while paying full attention to something that isn’t.
The above video contains the audio of the mission control loop from STS 93, which was the 95th launch of a Space Shuttle. During liftoff, a gold pin that had been used to close off one of two liquid oxygen ports in the engine became dislodged. Once free, it hit the inside of the engine bell resulting in damage to three cooling tubes and causing a slight hydrogen leak – the engine nozzles were cooled by the liquid hydrogen fuel flowing through small embedded tubes before being released into the combustion chamber. It was a potentially catastrophic event that alarmed the mission control engineers.
They would need to quickly assess the data and make the call on whether or not to abort the launch. This was something that had never been done before and it was very risky given that the space craft would need to reach an abort height and speed to ensure that it would make it to one of the abort landing sites in Europe or Africa. Unlike traditional rockets that had an abort engine to pull the capsule away from the rest of the craft and allowing for a safe water (for the US) or land (for the Russians) landing, the Space Shuttle had nothing like this. An abort BEFORE the minimum speed and altitude meant the astronauts would have to climb out an escape hatch and parachute to safety.
When you play the video, do not watch it and try to listen to it using head phones. What you will hear is the audio lifted from the flight directors loop. This audio is cleaner than the original and yet it is still very muddy and chaotic. There are moments when three or four people are speaking at once and it can be very hard to decipher much of anything. Keep in mind that the primary mission control engineers, their back-ups, and their support teams are all listening to the same loop and each person is listening to hear any information that is relevant to their specific role. If they missed something, the odds of them making an error increased dramatically.
Errors in space flight, particularly during the take off phase, can mean death. There is a heck of a lot on the line and computer code can only handle the things it is programmed to handle. When things go sideways into the unknown, unanticipated, or the uncoded, human beings are needed to process the relevant information, share the output, and then make quick decisions. This is why the flight director loops are open for all the engineers to hear and for the primary mission control engineers to talk. You never know when what you know is the thing that someone else needs in order to solve a problem, so everyone gets to hear what everyone else is saying.
This approach has a near perfect track record in terms of preventing death and accidents. Neither Space Shuttle accident had anything to do with the immediate actions taken by the mission control team and there was nothing that they could have done in real time to change the outcome. The same is true for the fire on Apollo One. Even the potential issue associated with the thruster malfunction on Gemini eight had already been solved by mission control when CAPCOM told them to disconnect from the agena target vehicle in the event they had any difficulties while out of radio contact.
Before you listen to the clip again, consider the complexity of what is being asked of each of the flight controllers. On the surface level, they need to have a lot of knowledge about their role, all that can go wrong, how to address these problems, and how to identify when something IS a problem that needs to be addressed. But on a deeper level, they need to cultivate the skill of focused attention and then use it to hear the information that they need in order to do their job correctly. They need to listen to everything but only hear the things that are important to them even when it is coming from a team member who isn’t a part of their specific group. At the deepest level, while they are doing their jobs and listening to hear what matters to them, they must also have a level of mindfulness to notice when their brain has tracked in on a hunch or gut instinct. Finally, they have to do all of this while the lives of people they know are on the line, something that tends not to favour logic and rational thinking.
Most of these things are skills that no one is born with. Each person needed to put in the time and practice to provide their brains with the stimulation to force the adaptation that results in the unconscious capabilities in skills that are novel and arbitrary. And yet all of them are able to do it.
The human brain doesn’t care what sensory information it is tasked to handle, it simply goes about figuring out how to deal with it and then begins to grow the tissue to support or control this process. It only needs consistent practice and recovery over time and will do the rest. We have the easy part, we just need to pay attention and put in the work. The tough part of determining which neurons need to connect to which other neurons in order to create competeney and to allow for parallel processing is taken care of by the brain.
YOUR brain is nearly identical to the brain of every other human being, including the mission control flight engineers. YOU can get your brain to write the code to do the same things as other people. As long as you consistently pay attention, practice and take appropriate recovery, over time you are bound to become successful.
If you doubt this, spend some time listening to the flight director loops that are available on YouTube and you will be pleased and delighted to notice just how quickly you get good at hearing what each of three people is saying simultaneously. Better yet, pick a skill that you want to have and then pay very close attention while you practice it every day for 15 minutes over a twelve week period of time. In a couple of months you will be better at it and you will be, in fact, completely powerless to NOT improve.
You are a chemical addict, you were born one because your parents were both addicts, and all of their ancestors were addicts too. In fact, all of your friends are addicts, everyone you have ever loved, cared about, or respected was an addict. Frankly, the strength of your character isn’t enough to keep you on the wagon. Okay, maybe YOUR’s is, but statistically speaking it isn’t.
Occasionally, but more frequently recently, people ask me “what the hell are you talking about?” when I make the claim that human beings are born addicted to chemicals and spend the duration of their life seeking them out. I suppose that I should or could be more careful with the language I choose when discussing my opinions about the subject, because it is next to impossible for a person to hear my statement and not automatically assume that I am talking about them. But since I am, maybe my word choice is exactly what is needed.
You are a chemical addict, you were born one because your parents were both addicts, and all of their ancestors were addicts too. In fact, all of your friends are addicts, everyone you have ever loved, cared about, or respected was an addict. Frankly, the strength of your character isn’t enough to keep you on the wagon. Okay, maybe YOUR’s is, but statistically speaking it isn’t. There have only been a small number of human beings who have ever lived that were able to overcome their addiction, all of which suffered the fatal consequences of ridding their bodies of the chemical of choice.
Look at the video below, with the sound off, then take a few minutes to consider what you have just read, what you see in the video, and what I am getting at.
Funny baby eh?
Well that baby is you. Maybe not right now, although it is possible. Everyone is that baby a number of times throughout their life and when we take the time to realize this fact, we gain a level of insight into the essential nature of what it means to be a human being.
“What the hell am I talking about?”
Well, that baby has no experience with ice cream before this video was recorded. It is accustomed to having one of its caregivers feed it. It has learned that when a caregiver presents food to it in this way, by holding it up in front of its face, that the food will find its way into its mouth if it opens it. Its young brain has collected a lot of information, created and tested a few theories, and arrived with a cause and effect pairing that has a high degree of predictive accuracy. This is a remarkable thing to have happen and yet this less than a year old baby has done it.
But it has never had ice cream before this moment. I am certain about this fact not because of the title of the video but because of how the baby reacts to the ice cream. Watch it again and you will notice that the baby does not reach for the ice cream UNTIL after it has had a moment to process what has just occurred. Then notice that it doesn’t seem to have any aversion to holding onto the it in-spite of the fact that ice cream is very cold.
The adults in the video are laughing because it is superficially very funny. It’s as though the baby goes “oh, they’re about to feed me, I’ll just open my mouth and the food will go in.” Adult moves food to mouth and baby takes a lick because this is what its experience has taught it to be the best action to take in this type of situation. It is not reaching for anything, it is letting the adult move the food; its little arms are kind of hanging there, not completely relaxed but not taking any purposeful action. There is a moment, a very short one, and then things change, slowly then dramatically and the adults begin to laugh.
The first thing that happens after the ice cream and the baby connect is a moment of assessment. It isn’t entirely clear what is going on in the baby’s brain here, at least by trying to read its face, but we know from our own experience with eating new things that there is a cascade of events all of which are aimed at determining what role the food will play in our future. There are three potential outcomes, two of which are very important. Should this be eaten again, should this not be eaten again, or does it not matter one way or the other. The first two are critical assessments because the brain is programmed to do the things that increase the chances of survival and never repeat the things that reduce the chances. This assessment is made automatically, unconsciously and very quickly. In this situation the brain registers a “not a survival risk” then “can be eaten again” followed by “MUST EAT NOW.”
You can see the look of absolute novel delight on its face followed by the automatic and impulsive seeking behaviour as it reaches out, grabs the ice cream and pulls it into its face and mouth.
But there is even more to it. Coldness is a sensation that human beings are programmed to notice and avoid unless they have cause to try and lower their body temperature. The video looks like it is being filmed in a mall, which is going to be kept at a comfortable temperature, so the baby is not seeking out something that will cool it off. However, coldness in general and a dramatic contrast in temperature specifically are sensations that the brain CANNOT NOT notice given the very narrow and relatively high temperature that the body must maintain in order to continue functioning effectively. The baby, or the baby’s brain, is absolutely aware of the temperature of the ice cream, likely from the first moment when it touches its mouth, but definitely when it grabs and holds onto it.
Survival is THE most important thing to living beings, everything else is at best secondary. We have temperature receptors in our skin because they improve survival fitness. While they are important to human beings, they were MORE important to whatever species first developed them, and because they helped those beings survive, the instructions to develop them remained and were passed along to whatever species was next in the evolutionary sequence. The survival advantage they afforded was greater than the energy cost of growing and maintaining them.
Cold temperatures destroy tissue, and anything that is close to or below the freezing point of water is particularly dangerous. The contrast between air temperature in a mall and the temperature of ice-cream is impossible to perceive as anything other than great and given the cause and effect understanding that the baby has already generated, its brain is attributing the cold contrast to whatever it touched its mouth and then to whatever it just grabbed.
The baby does not, however, withdraw from the ice cream nor does it let go of it. It assesses the taste and then reaches for, grabs onto and pulls close to its mouth the very thing that is cold. This is something that a living being will do under two circumstances. The first is that it does so consciously, the second is that it does so because there is a survival advantage in doing so. The first one is a non factor here because the child does not have the level of brain development that is needed for consciousness to emerge. This leaves the second one, there is a survival benefit to enduring the coldness.
So the brain of the baby is aware that there is something about ice cream that will improve its chances of remaining alive and that this improvement is GREATER than the threat represented by the coldness. Being a brain and being in control of the body, it reaches out to the survival substance, grabs onto it, takes control, and begins to eat it. It is programmed to do this whenever it can, so once the assessment has been made that ice cream will improve survival the outcome is automatic.
Ice cream is not good for us though. If we eat too much of it, it will begin to harm us and it is entirely possible that someone could eat themselves through ill health and arrive at death. BUT, and this is very important when considering what evolutionary fitness means in a practical sense and what survival actually means. Survival is everything other than death. Given this binary definition, eating so much ice cream so as to cause illness is achieving the goal of surviving. Also consider the time frame we are dealing with. It takes WAY longer to eat ourselves to death by ice cream than it would take to starve ourselves to death by simply not eating.
Eating crappy food does not present the existential risk that NOT eating food presents. In fact, a case can be made that when we do not have access to a lot of food, eating things that are high in calories is actually a very pragmatic approach. When the choice is between dying or eating crappy food, the brain does not register that there is a choice to be made and will simply cause the body to do whatever it has to do in order to eat.
Recall that I mentioned about temperature receptors that we have in our skin being the result of a change to the genetic code of one of our early ancestors? EVERY gene we have is the result of a change in the genetic code of our ancestors but not every change that occurred was helpful. A new trait was only helpful if it increased the likelihood that the creature would survive and reproduce within the environment that the creature lived in. Therefore our ancestors lived in an environment that favoured beings that ate ice cream while enduring coldness MORE than ones that would avoid coldness even if that meant they did not eat ice cream.
Given that the earliest that ice cream could have been invented is 3000 BCE, which is not long enough in the past to impact evolution in any meaningful way, we have to assume that the ice cream is a place holder for something else. In this case, it is holding the place of high energy food – sugar and fat. Am I suggesting that the human brain is programmed to seek out and consume sugar and fat containing foods, even when there is some level of physical discomfort associated with this consumption? Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting. I’ll go one further and say that human beings have the genes to motivate us to eat high calorie foods because there was a time in our evolutionary past when there wasn’t an abundance of food leading individuals who ate high calorie foods to have a survival advantage over those who ate lower calorie foods.
When was this time? Not every long ago. Food insecurity was a fact of life for the entire planet less than 150 years ago. The discovery / invention of farming about 11000 years ago improved the food scarcity situation for human considerably, but there were still seasonal cycles of abundance and scarcity, and the occasional famine when weather changes, disease, or war interrupted the food supply causing the death of the young, the old, and the weak.
We always need to keep in mind that the genes coded on our DNA are the ones that favoured our ancestors at the time they lived and are not the ones that necessarily serve our survival needs today. They are amazing, but some of them are not what we would select for modern life. Oh well, that isn’t how things work.
What does any of this have to do with YOU being an addict?
Take another look at the first 5 seconds of the video again and notice the look on the baby’s face right before it tries to exert control over its environment by grabbing onto the ice cream, pulling it towards its mouth and getting down to eating it.
That look is very important and arguably the most revealing thing in the video; and possibly the most revealing thing in any video that is hosted on YouTube. Something very important has just happened inside the brain of the baby that causes a number of physiological changes that lead to psychological changes and then to physical actions. The first is a profound level of delight that nearly every human being who sees the video feels to some extent. The second is a focusing of attention onto the ice cream that is so tight that it clears EVERYTHING else out. The next thing is a targeting / aiming followed by the seeking and consumption behaviour that has the baby grab the ice cream and begin to eat it. This desire for more is so powerful that the baby effectively ignores the sensation of coldness that represents a threat to survival. You can see some slightly grimaced looks each time its gums hit the ice cream but whatever the cause of them does not rise-up to the level of changing course. The baby, upon tasting the ice cream, gets after possessing and eating the ice cream in a near maniacal and single-minded way. To the baby there is nothing else BUT the ice cream.
The baby is an addict and the video captures a moment when it got a fix. On the surface it appears that they are addicted to ice cream but this is only partially correct. It isn’t the ice cream, nor is it anything that is contained within the ice cream, at least not directly. The baby, and you and me, are addicted to what the brain does in reaction to the ice cream. And the brain doesn’t just react to ice cream in this way, it reacts to many things in the same way. The younger the person is and the lower their experience with the world, the smaller is the list of things that will trigger this reaction.
What we are seeing on the video is the result of the baby’s brain releasing dopamine into the synaptic cleft between the neurons that make-up the reward centre of its brain. This causes a sensation / level of activity that the brain is coded to seek out. Once it learns how to cause the release, it will begin to engineer life in such a way as to ensure the consumption of or participation in the things that will trigger the release. This process is what is understood to be the mechanism of psychological reward, which functions to reinforce particular actions and to incentivize the repeating of these actions.
For babies, the only actions that will trigger a dopamine release are those actions that at one point improved evolutionary fitness. This means high calorie food, social connection, contact with caregivers, any successful pattern match between immediate sensory data and something contained in long term memory, and the creation of a stimulus : response / cause : effect pairing EVEN ones that are not accurate. This last one can be understood to be learning, even when what is learned is not accurate.
The key to the entire thing is that living beings need to take action in order to survive and the dopamine reward system is what emerged to motivate a being to spend energy taking an action within an environment that was energy scarce. In a world that is both “act or die” and “act and die,” this system is fantastic at causing individuals to both take actions and to take very specific ones.
Take a second to think about some of the stories that you have heard about someone who got addicted to crack cocaine. Crack is considered to be more addictive than powder cocaine although all crack users say they would rather use powder than smoke crack. The key difference between them is the method of delivery – crack is burned and the smoke is inhaled while the powder is snorted. The smoke finds its way into the blood stream faster than the powder which means it hits the brain faster. It is the same underlying mechanism of action, that is to delay the re-uptake of dopamine thus prolonging the effect of dopamine. It isn’t the cocaine itself that causes the effect, it is the impact that the cocaine has on the dopamine that cause the physiological and psychological changes. Crack is more addictive because you feel the effects faster, but for less time.
A common horror story about crack and cocaine addiction is that of a person who replaces every action in their life with drug seeking and consumption behaviour. While this might make sense for a baby or someone who knows nothing about life, it makes very little sense for someone who has the life experience and skills enough to be able to afford to buy drugs given that if they know enough about the world to earn money they probably also know that cocaine is a highly addictive drug. But when we remember that the dopamine reward system exists to motivate beings to take action, the only thing that is actually stopping someone from becoming a cocaine addict is their brains lack of knowledge that cocaine powerfully activates their reward system. That is all. It doesn’t really matter what you know consciously, once the nervous system has the experience of pairing an action with the activation of the reward system, the lesson is learned and the pairing will last forever. It is such a powerful system that it will have a baby grab onto freezing cold ice cream and repeatedly eat bites of it, and when it is dialed up, it is powerful enough to motivate someone to do nothing BUT take the actions that most quickly and intensely trigger it to be activated.
Okay, you are not addicted to cocaine although you have all of the requirements for a life destroying addiction to it. You have a dopamine reward system that will motivate you to take the actions that cause it to become active. This system shows a down regulation or tolerance in response to repeated activation in both a perceptual sense and in a real synaptic level sense – repeated exposure to the same stimuli will, over time, result in a diminished release of dopamine while any increase in activation at the neural junction will, over time, result in a decrease in the number of receptor sites which means a larger amount of dopamine will be required to trigger the same level of activation. These are basically the only requirements that are needed in order for someone to develop an addiction for something; so while we are not born addicted to anything, we are very close to having one and just need to uncover the ways to get the brain to release the chemicals. Once our brain learns what actions cause the release, this is sufficient enough to manifest seeking behaviour which has the goal of triggering a release. After a few of them, the magnitude of the response begins to drop, resulting in an increase of the required behaviour. From this point on, the down regulation of dopamine receptors results in a low level of activation which makes the baseline level of dopamine release to be experienced as less rewarding. Below a certain level, this will result in withdrawal-like symptoms, the primary one being a overwhelming craving for the activities that trigger release. If an individual continues to display the behaviour, their level of tolerance continues to grow resulting in a linear increase in the severity of withdrawal symptoms. However, if the individual stops the behaviour and puts an end to the activation, there will be a return to baseline through the up-regulation in the number of receptor sites allowing the brain to return to its pre-exposure level of activity. How long this takes will be determined by exposure length, duration and quantity, level of down regulation, overall health, diet, amount of rest, and a persons physiological ability to facilitate organic tissue growth.
The brain is coded to release reward chemicals in response to things that increase the chances of remaining alive and that improve evolutionary fitness, with the objective of motivating the individual to repeat these actions.
This system is powerful, but it not a direct system in most cases. While there are a number of things that will trigger its activation directly – such as the consumption of fatty high sugar foods, social connection, matching a pattern between sensory data and long term memory – most of the activation is indirect, either through the ingestion of exogenous molecules or the interpretation / perception of sensory data.
Living beings know innately or learn very early in life that there is a stimulus response relationship or cause and effect connection between things in the external world. This piece of wisdom is the key stone in the effectiveness of the dopamine based reward system because it allows the brain to learn that action A caused the release of rewards. Once this is learned, the brain will begin to repeat action A in order to get more reward.
When we look at the baby in the video, we are able to notice three critical yet completely distinct moments and one that is invisible but clearly present – the action, the release of the reward chemicals, the invisible moment of learning (the pairing of the ice cream to the reward), and the reward seeking behaviour which is the repeating of the action.
The baby is now aware that ice cream causes the release of reward chemicals so it will be motivated to eat ice cream again in the future and it is one very big step closer to developing an addiction to fatty high sugar substances.
If no action is taken, no learning will occur. If an action is taken but no reward chemicals are released, the brain will learn that there is no incentive in repeating the action.
Before wrapping this up, please take another look at the video and then come back to read to the end. Human beings are in a unique place in history. We are running the code that allowed all of our ancestors to survive long enough to reproduce and to have a survival advantage over other individuals who did not have the code. But our larger brain has given us the ability to communicate very effectively with other individuals along with the capacity for creativity. Working together in groups and using these two skills, we have developed the ability to consistently change the external environment in a way that eliminates the majority of the things that the evolved code helped us to survive in spite of. This has rendered the reward system mostly irreverent and potentially problematic in that it motivates us to seek out things that are no longer rare and are only of marginal survival advantage if at all helpful.
We are born addicted to dopamine, given that we will seek out things that trigger its release and given our ability to develop tolerance to this chemical. We are not born addicted to cocaine, other drugs, or to specific fatty high sugar foods. However, it is very simple for the brain to learn the association between actions and rewards, and to then develop an addiction to those actions. The baby at the end of the video is a lot closer to becoming a compulsive eater of fatty high sugar food than it was at the beginning of the video. This would not be the case if it had never had the experience of eating the ice cream.
Be very careful when taking any new action, particularly ones that have you consume external molecules. Pay very close attention to how you feel in the moments immediately surrounding you taking any new action when you notice that you begin to feel fantastic, good, heightened in a positive direction, or any state that is higher than your baseline. Be very mindful when choosing to repeat that action. If the action is NOT necessary or if it pointless, useless, or unhelpful, consider NEVER repeating it again. Your brain has already learned that the action causes the release of reward chemicals so you are only a few repetitions away from creating a compulsive or habitual pattern of behaviour that will, over time, start to make-up a larger portion of the actions that you take.
We are born addicted, over time we learn what it is that we are addicted to.
Headlines matter because they act to prime the reader for what they are about to consume. Their psychological purpose is to activate particular circuits and power-up mental processes that will influence the experience of the reader. An outrageous headline activates a lot of unconscious brain activity that readies the reader to engage in in-group / out-group thinking, virtue signalling behaviour, toxic empathy, and a version of the selection bias that has them ignore or disregard anything that would serve to mitigate the outrage. It suppresses objectivity and rational though by hijacking the brain of the reader.
Today I read the Toronto Sun article by Dr. Ken Walker (who writes using the name Dr. Gifford Jones) titled Did you hear about the North American wimp epidemic? It appeared in my Google news feed and after consciously trying to ignore it a few times I found myself clicking on the link.
I was expect one of two things. The first was an article about how “men” in North America have become emotionally more expressive as they tap into the well feminine energy in an attempt to become more progressive. The second was an article that outlined the hormonal changes that are associated with consuming too much soy protein as our culture moves away from eating animal protein. It was neither of these, which says a lot about me.
The article was about pain medication and how people in North America consume a lot of it. Based on a study that was referenced but not cited – Opioid Prescribing After Surgery in the United States, Canada, and Sweden – the author talks about the finding that people in Sweden are less likely to fulfill their prescription for opioid medication after keyhole surgery when compared to people in the US and Canada.
The results were shocking. It showed that 79% of Canadians and 76% of Americans used opioid prescription drugs following these procedures. But only 11% of patients in Sweden needed an opioid drug! You do not need to be a statistician to surmise that something has gone awry in North America.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones
As the article continues, he coins the term “pillitis” as a symptom of our mania for pills. For this, he places the blame on three groups:
The first is big pharma who have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to make as much money as possible. They manufacture and market chemical solutions to the problems that people have, and, as such, they have a conflict of interest when it comes to the truth. If they can sell the problem and the solution, they’ll beat earnings projections which translates into greater divided-ends and larger bonuses for the C level personnel.
The second group is the doctors who prescribe the medicine to their patients. Their motivation is to reduce suffering while doing no harm to the people they are helping. Being the only people in the equation who have the legal authority to say who can buy and consume most medication, they are the gatekeepers who basically introduce the end user to the drug dealers. This introduction comes in the form of a prescription, a dosing recommendation, and their blessing.
The final group are the people who consume more medication than their counterparts in Sweden. These are the “wimps” that Dr. Gifford-Jones is talking about. We are the ones suffering from pillitis, unwilling or incapable of enduring any sort of pain and only too happy to shell out cash to buy whatever magic coloured pill that has been invented to alleviate the symptoms of whatever medical condition happens to be making our life a little bit less than ideal.
While I happen to agree with a lot of what the author is saying – that many of the medical problems that people suffer from are not problems per-say, and are actually symptoms of a series of poor life choices – I have difficulty with how he goes about saying it and what he does to get the message out.
According to the JAMA article that he references, around 8 of 10 people in North America who get surgery will fulfill the prescription for pain medication that their doctors gave them. In Sweden, this number is around 1 in ten. Using logic and hyperbole, the conclusion is drawn that people in North America are wimps and the folks in Sweden are tough.
This is a little rich, particularly for a medical professional. It’s the kind of thing that I would expect from a blogger, copy writer, or pundit who has a vested interest in pushing a particular point of view. It is the very thing that kind of has me try to ignore sensationalist headlines and avoid consuming the articles they are trying to promote. It is more understandable when a writer, marketer or talking head does it as they may not see themselves having any other choice. It is a different story when a doctor does it.
This I say while agreeing with most of what the author is stating. Too many people rely on pills or medication to treat the symptoms of a problem that the person could solve if they just took some different actions – eating more whole food and more fresh vegetables, and consuming lower amounts of food will go a long way in eliminating the “need” to take heart burn medication. The body is doing its best to process the crappy food-like stuff that is being pushed into the stomach, which means making and releasing more than a reasonable amount of digestive acid. More acid dumped into a full stomach means that some of this acid is going to find it way to the top and begin to leak out. There is a very good chance that your daily heartburn would disappear if you ate less in general and consumed more things that are easy to breakdown.
As evidence that North Americans are wimps, our constant indigestion does not meet the mark. It is more likely evidence of a different condition that is not medical – it indicates that we make chronically bad choices and find the consumption of various food-like products to be so rewarding that we cannot stop ourselves from eating them.
That same thing might apply to the filling of the post-surgery opioid drug prescriptions that the doctors write. This one is a little tougher though given that very few people are doctors and that most people are compliant or obedient when it comes to the recommendations of authority figures. When the doctor hands over a prescription it is natural for a patient to be motivated to get it filled and to follow the doctors’ orders. This is the case for almost all medications and for most people, and it is behaviour that is instilled in us when we are young and any time we hear someone say something about antibiotic resistant bacteria. Super bugs are primarily created through the over use of antibiotics in animal farming and, to a much lower extent, by people not completing the entire course of antibiotics. However, since most people are not farmers, our civic duty is to take ALL of the medication the doctor prescribes and to consume it exactly how they outline.
If you do not want to be a bad person and end up ruining the future for your children you WILL do what the doctor says. Factor this into a health care system that doesn’t afford the doctor a whole lot of time to get into the ins and outs of opioid pain killers and you have the perfect recipe for the creation of a continent of wimps. The doctor told me to take the medication every 6 hours so I took the medication every six hours. And by the way, the doctor cut a couple of holes into me, pumped the area full of CO2, and scrapped or cut out stuff that wasn’t supposed to be there. Sure, when compared to the old school method of slicing a 14 inch cut just below the rib cage and having the doctor and three surgery assistants put their hand inside feeling around in your guts, laparoscopic surgery isn’t much of anything. But it is still “surgery,” albeit a much less invasive form of cutting someone open.
I don’t think this makes people wimps – at least it does not necessarily make us wimps. People in North America are much more likely to get their opioid prescriptions filled, and according to the JAMA article, are going to be prescribed a greater quantity of medication when compared to Sweden. Does this mean that doctors, as the middle people between the drug seller and the drug user, are the ones who are writing the prescriptions and are therefore in near complete control over who gets access and the quantity that they get access to? It does, but it is the wimps who are following the doctors’ orders. Does it also mean that people in Sweden are much less likely to listen to what their doctors say and to ignore the medical advice that they dispense? It does, but that is because they are not wimps like we are in North America.
Here’s the rub, and it bothers me a lot. First off, I agree with what the doctor is saying about over prescribing medication, particularly opioid pain killers. These drugs are a potential problem because they have the quality of eliminating psychological pain as well as most physical pain. Life can be tough, it can even be painful. Maybe you come home from work and your back hurts from lifting something. Maybe you come home and your spirit hurts from the realization that you are the lackey who must dance when your boss grinds out a tune on the organ. Both of these things are a version of pain, both will disappear if you take some oxy, and maybe both should be experienced because they are a symptom of something not working for your body. The ability to experience pain evolved for a reason, we eliminate it at our own peril. Not wanting to experience pain does not make someone a wimp, it indicates that the system is working correctly and that the person is psychologically well adjusted. Pain is there to motivate us to avoid something. The truth is, post-surgery pain is an indication that the surgery should be avoided and that you should avoid surgeons. That is true in so far as their interventions DID cause the pain but it is not true because when we take a long view, their actions actually reduce long term suffering.
My annoyance comes from the title of his article and on who he blames for the abundant filling of post-surgery pain prescriptions. As a doctor, he isn’t going to come out and say “surgeons in North America are prescribing more pain medication than is necessary and this is helping to line the pockets of drug companies” because it would be professionally risky and while it might be technically true, doing so isn’t on their radar. The intention of a surgeon is to reduce suffering and allow people to live with less pain and without the need for pain medication once healing has taken place. All of that being said, the JAMA article was not about people who went out and bought pain medication on the black market, it is about people for which a medical doctor prescribed the medication and that the patients bought through a well-established and legal system.
The author has a point of view and has an obligation to the publisher of the Toronto Sun to create content that will generate page views. While his article was a less than perfect marriage of these two things, it was moderately successful at the first and very successful at the second. He seems to believe that people should be more tolerate of pain and have a willingness to alter their behaviour to eliminate some of the discomfort associated with making poor choices. He also seems to believe that doctors should not be prescribing opioid medications as frequently or in the amounts that they are. But in order to get people to consume these messages, he creates an outrageous title that implies that wimpiness is the newest epidemic to hit North America.
This makes me wonder, would he have gotten as many page views if he had selected the title “Thousands Ignore Medical Advice In Epidemic Of Swedish Masochism?” I have to concede that I would have clicked on that link INSTANTLY and would have laughed at the tactic to trigger my interest and capture my attention.
Headlines matter because they act to prime the reader for what they are about to consume. Their psychological purpose is to activate particular circuits and power-up mental processes that will influence the experience of the reader. An outrageous headline activates a lot of unconscious brain activity that readies the reader to engage in in-group / out-group thinking, virtue signalling behaviour, toxic empathy, and a version of the selection bias that has them ignore or disregard anything that would serve to mitigate the outrage. It suppresses objectivity and rational though by hijacking the brain of the reader. A feel good headline on the other hand offers so much less to the brain of the reader. No problem is presented and since no one is being victimized, the moral high-ground is not so clearly found. The absence of an obvious “right” and “wrong” offers little incentive to the brain of a potential reader. Unconsciously, we KNOW that there is nothing in it for us and while we may feel good after reading it, we will not feel activated and alive in nearly the same way as we do when we read about Trumps latest tweet – regardless of the side of the fence you find yourself on, Trump’s tweets satisfy everyone because they are either outrageous or how people respond to them will be.
I do not fault the doctor for any of this. He is both a doctor and a writer, and the identity of each requires a different set of skills and behaviours. The lines are blurred a little bit with his “wimp” article because he’s using a tactic of a writer to get people to consume his medical opinion. Getting people to read anything is a tough task, so maybe he had little choice when it came down to it. However, after reading his article and the original JAMA study, I’m left wondering if it was worth the time and effort.
And that is the point of this post. Headlines are used to capture people’s attention and trick them into reading something that they would normally ignore because they trigger seeking behaviour that is, in many ways, very similar to the moves drug addicts make as the effects of their last hit begin to fade. But just like the cravings of a drug addict, we do not need to give-in to the desires that are launched by an extreme headline. These decisions to not indulge will, overtime, reduce and eventually eliminate the intrusive thoughts that lead to the impulsive behaviour of clicking to read things that we actually do not care about or that we were tricked into believing mattered to us.
Both parties are having a very similar experience although each one of them has a very different interpretation of the ideas that are being aired. Each one will believe their idea is better because they will have felt just how right it was when they thought it. What they hear, the other person’s idea, will not have the same quality. They won’t feel it in the same way – both in terms of intensity and rightness – and it will be as though it exists as something that is different from them. Both parties will feel and belief that their solution is the best and each will likely go to bat for it.
At some point in the recent past I happened across an article titled “The Problem Of Mindfulness” that made my brain throw an error before taking over and getting me to click on the link. I am glad it did, because I got a lot out of reading the article as it reminded me about how far I have come in terms of getting clear on what the present moment is and what the experience of being in it is like. While I did have a challenge with the title, because it begs the question and therefore usurps a number of my brain cycles, I got a lot out of the mental journey caused by reading and reflecting on what the author wrote.
While I have a number of disagreements with what they say, I
think it is a good article. It is well written, it comes from the heart and
from the author’s experiences, and there is very little in it (possibly
nothing) that is distracting in terms of style, language, grammar, or sentence
structure. This final point is very critical because it allows the article to
stand on its own and to be a thing independent of the medium. The ideas that
the author puts forward are evaluated as objectively as they can be and it
seems like a lot of care was taken to remove most of the details that might
cause a subjective interpretation or trigger a cognitive bias. For example, I
had no idea the gender of the author until after I read the article and
revisited the page to do some follow-up review. Their gender is probably
important to them, but it is not relevant to those who consume the article.
This is something that I think I need to highlight more.
Ideas are good, bad, neutral, provocative, progressive, regressive,
transformational, ignorant, biased, inclusive, future-altering, creative, etc.
and, in an ideal world, they are consumed and interrogated based on their merits.
A good idea that you do not like remains a good idea, so ones opinion of the
idea should never factor into the critical evaluation of it. The best example
here, and one that may remain relevant in perpetuity, is Donald Trump. In this
case I am not actually making reference to the person. I am making reference to
the idea that is “Donald Trump.”
He does not conform to the stereotypical role of US
president or traditional western world leader. His presentation is something
closer to a mid-twentieth century union leader than a diplomat of a superpower.
There is a straight shooter quality to him that on first glance seems authentic
and trustworthy, but does not stand-up to any level of scrutiny. It is
authentic in so far as it is true that he is thinking the thing that he is
saying in and around the time that he says it, but there is no evidence or
proof that the thoughts existed before the moment or have much of a life
afterwards. There doesn’t seem to be any stacking of ideas that is building to
a grand theory or understanding of things. It is just a stream of ideas, one
after the other, and mostly non-sequiturs.
Which is why it is inappropriate to dismiss everything he
says out of hand or to accept everything he says instantly. There are a few
very good ideas in the totality of everything he communicates, just as there
are some absolutely awful things. Uncovering these things will only occur when
you take the time to divorce the message from the man and allow the idea to
stand alone. The problem here is that this takes a lot of effort and it is not
something that comes naturally or is even remotely palatable to do. It’s easier
to say “he’s a genius, MAGA!” or “he’s a dope who is ruining the country” and
then take this view into the evaluation of the next thing he communicates.
Like most things, the middle way is ideal, but it lacks all
of the power and energy that tribal reactions affords us. This is what I try to
do in-spite of the fact that it is draining and a lonely pursuit. Fewer people
operate this way now than at any time in our history and I have a feeling that
this approach will be effectively eliminated within a couple of decades. But
until then, I’m going to try to detach an idea from its creator and consume it
as though it came from someone who has a strong track record of putting forward
reasonable perspectives that are not dogmatically charged or partisan.
So given all of this, here are my thoughts on the article
title “The Problem Of Mindfulness” and the ideas that it puts forward.
The way the title reads is that “mindfulness” is a lot like
a dryer that hides a single sock, if you are in a great mood, diarrhea, if you
are feeling nothing much at all, or something between homelessness and cancer depending on just how down you are
Of course, when the page opens and the reader is greeted
with the article, the title is there, superimposed over a picture of someone’s
face, both of which are being joined by a subtitle that would, if not for the
first one, cause the brain to throw an error.
“Mindfulness promotes itself as value-neutral but it is
loaded with (troubling) assumptions about the self and the cosmos,” which
indicates that its creator is making much more troubling assumption than the
noun or verb “mindfulness” has, is, or will. Let’s also throw “can” into that
mix as well.
Before moving forward, I need to declare my conflict of
interest here. I am a fan of mindfulness meditation and a big believer in the
positive effects of disenchantment and its close relative disillusionment.
Phrased more crassly, the sooner someone takes their head out of their ass and
begins to see reality in more objective terms, the sooner they can start to do
more impressive things in the world and with their life. For example, a lot of
people have challenges realizing or learning that there is a boundary between
themselves and other people, meaning that everyone else has an experience of
reality that is theirs alone and rarely (never) is their perspective from your point
of view. This makes sense logically. So much sense that you may even think
“what a stupid and unnecessary statement to make,” which is exactly the point I
am making. From YOUR perspective it is unnecessary, so therefore it is
unnecessary. That doesn’t change the reality that until we learn to act
otherwise, our first impulse is always going to be to see things from our own
point of view followed by a castigation of anyone who is not aligned with it.
It doesn’t need to be this way, you can train your brain to
table harsh judgment of dissention for later in favor of considering how the
world would have to be in order for someone to believe something OTHER than
what you believe. Here’s the rub, the world is actually much closer to that way
than the way you believe it is.
And it is this way for EVERYONE. We evolved to get it wrong
and we do, until we realize that we are wrong and take the steps to correct our
For me, mindfulness meditation represents the main step we
can take in order to correct our path. So it follows that “mindfulness” as a
noun and verb is making reference to some aspect of what we experience when we
practice mindfulness meditation. It allows us to notice what is actually going
on from moment to moment and in doing so, creates a juxtaposition between
reality and what we think is going on. This may or may not make sense to you on
any level, but once you spend any amount of time sitting still, with your eyes
and mouth closed, noticing the sensations of your breath on the area of skin above
your upper lip and in and around your nostrils, things will become more clear.
You are probably still not going to understand what I’m talking about, but
you’ll begin to grow more certain that I am actually talking about something
that is real, and not spewing a new age or metaphysical creation designed to
improve my position on some enlightenment hierarchy. And the more you practice,
the more in-focus these two things will become – reality and the experience of
reality that each one of us manufacture from moment to moment.
With that out of the way, let us move forward and deal with
the two main goals of what I’m writing here. They are to address the authors
concern and to then address my concern with how they went about addressing
The author has a long back ground with, at least in terms of
observational exposure to, meditation. And they admit that they were bored when
they went to the temple. They practiced a few techniques during university and
later served as a control group member in a large scale University of Cambridge
study about the effects of mindfulness. Read the original article, both to
validate my summary and to gain more insight into how the author is approaching
the subject. And I’ll add that it is a good piece of writing.
They found the practice of mindfulness, like many people do,
to be rather destabilizing. For one thing, it reveals a lot about the world
that we have never paid attention to, either because we learned to ignore it or
because we never took the time to notice it. Those in the first group find
mindfulness a lot easier to integrate and it tends not to rock their world
nearly as much. They can be curious and fascinated with all that is reveals
while never feeling like they are losing their grip. The second group, those
who never noticed the things in the first place, tend not to fare so well in
the short term. Initially their mind will be blown by all that they become
aware of and the automatic nature of perception and how the brain manufactures
ones experience of being alive. But this will usually give way to feelings of
loss, confusion, and detachment. Feeling this way sucks. It won’t make any
difference if the core lessons of impermanence are taking hold, the feelings
are real and experiencing them has a negative valence until they go away. Over
time though, things will stabilize as the brain updates the software and begins
to gain confidence in its predictive accuracy. At some point in the future,
everything will be assimilated and you will move forward with a new mental
process called “mindfulness” that can be called upon as needed, and which will
run in the background making sure that your perceptions are closer to reality
than they were before.
About this fact, consider what happens when someone in a
long term committed monogamous relationship cheats on their spouse / partner.
Initially nothing happens to their partner, the world is the way it was the day
before. It will continue to be this way until they find out about their
partners infidelity. Then all hell breaks loose. Personally, I don’t think
people should cheat when they are in committed relationships. It’s a shittie
thing to do and is an act of immense disrespect to yourself. BUT, if it happens
and you make the decision to tell your significant other about it, do it as
soon as possible. Do not wait any longer than is necessary because the longer
the gap, the greater the damage you will be causing to the other person.
Cheating on a partner is bad, but continuing along as though
nothing happened for years only to come clean about it later is pathologically
selfish and has the tendency of shattering the other person’s world view. The
reason is very simple, and it is exactly the same thing that happens with the
second group mentioned above – those who did not choose to ignore how the world
actually is because they never realized how the world actually is – it causes
them to question the past and to doubt their own judgment and their
experiences. If someone comes clean five years later, they are forcing their
partner to reprocess the last five years of their life before they can move
forward. Sure, they are not going to be completely stuck at ground zero, but a
very large portion of their mental energy will be redirected away from the day
to day tasks of living and onto assimilating the new information and updating
their long term memory as it applies to their relationship, their partner, and
their shared experiences.
Over time, they will probably get through it. The brain is
remarkably resilient and can process many different types of traumas. But the
energy expenditure required to adjust to the information that your partner
cheated is proportionate to the length of time between the act and when it came
Something very similar happens when someone takes up mindfulness
and starts to realize that how they have been experiencing the world is not
aligned with reality. It will be resisted and denied until it can no longer be
disregarded. Then will come the difficult tasks of reframing and reorganizing
everything you know about the world to accommodate the fact that there is, for
example, no self. A lot of stuff will need to get torn down and rebuilt, and
this will take time and mental effort, and probably a good diet and sufficient
rest / recovery. But it can happen so long as the person stays the course and
relinquishes their attachment to their old world view. Anyone who jumps ship
will find their swim back to their old reality to be less challenging than
continuing forward, but they will be returning to a different place than from
where they left and will likely be embittered about the subject as a whole.
My own experience with onboarding meditation was similar to
what the author experienced. But I was older when I started and was certain
that my world view was inaccurate which was leading to a drop in predictive
accuracy. My journey had me leaving behind something pretty crappy and while I
was not certain about the “goodness” of what I was choosing to move towards, life
had taught me that different is good when the normal has become difficult,
challenging, or painful. It needs to be said that I had already learned to
doubt the validity of what I knew, so as destabilizing as I found the
transition, it was no more so than the year leading up to the start of the
The author does a good job at shining a light on the lack of thoroughness in the on-boarding that many people have with mindfulness practices. There is no doubt that had she engaged the practice more when she was young and being dragged to the temple, she would have been guided with a lot more vigor and care than what many people experience presently in western societies. But that is the nature of things. More care is taken with younger people as well as in places where what is being taught is viewed as important or is a big part of the traditional culture. North America is new to mindfulness, and when coming from a tradition of capitalism with a side serving of violence, it is not surprising that the care is being taken to collect the money as opposed to guiding the people.
This is not the fault of mindfulness, as either a noun or a verb, and is should not surprise anyone that the “money over everything” view is muddying the waters. The thing is this, mindfulness is like any skill, it takes time to generate, it is going to be messy in the middle, and it cannot be done for us. It is the quintessential selfish undertaking that one could argue is impaired by other people and enhanced by temporary isolation. It is like committing law to long term memory or learning how to solve advanced calculus equations, a teacher or instructor can help along the process, but the individual needs to do the practice to stimulate the brain growth to support the new memories or the new way of thinking. To this end, it is a less than optimal capitalist venture since capitalism places experience or perceived value at the top of the service offering. You cannot do mindfulness for your customers, they have to do it themselves, so the only way to make money doing it is to offer something that is scalable. Which in this case means something that is incomplete, is useless crap, or is actually counter-productive and harmful.
The medium is the message here. Those who seek enlightenment
and the cultivation of the skill of mindfulness through a smart phone get smart
phone levels of enlightenment and mindfulness. Smart phones are tools to
trigger the release of dopamine through the activation of outrage, exposure to
novelty, and social validation / approval. Mindfulness is a tool to make you
aware of what is happening from moment to moment. While these things are not
the exact opposite of each other, they are reasonable close to being completely
dissimilar. Meditation, the primary way to cultivate the skill of mindfulness,
is as close to doing nothing as someone can do without being asleep. The mind
is very active, you are alert, but you are focusing so intensely simply because
you do not want to become distracted, outraged, etc. Cultivating mindfulness is
an act that inhibits the release of reward chemicals, so it offers no hook that
business people can use to capture you as a customer.
The author talks a lot about the concept of “no self” in a
way that makes it difficult to reconcile the truth of it with the experience of
being or having a self. I am not aligned with them here. Two things that seem
to be in contradiction can coexist simply because neither one of them actually
does. It is kind of like Schrödinger’s cat or the wave–particle duality in that
sometimes something is one thing while other times it is something else (meditation
and mindfulness have NOTHING to do with quantum mechanics and my use of QM
terms is only to describe the fact that sometimes we will need to look at
things differently in order to understand them more completely).
You are a physical being, a meat sack if you will. You are
made-up of matter, and that matter obeys laws of physics and chemistry, and
other subjects. Materialism applies to people just as it applies to rocks or
dogs. The difference is, as far as we know, rocks and dogs do not have a well-formed
narrative identity of themselves. To make reference to a rock having “no self”
seems redundant. It seems similarly so, although not necessarily completely so,
to say the same of a dog. But what is the different between these two things,
and then, from these two things and us? It seems to me that human beings have
reflective consciousness that gives them the ability to think about the world
and about things that are not there or are not presently happening. Rocks do
not have this ability and while a dog may be conscious and does have the
ability to learn, we get no sense that there is any depth to their
understanding of what they are or their uniqueness in terms of being a distinct
piece of life.
What this means is that as something is happening, it is
just a meaningless thing that is occurring – it is a collection of molecules
moving in a particular direction. So in order for it to mean something, the
observer will need to take a moment to reflect upon what is occurring, allowing
their brain to interpret the collection of molecules and their corresponding vectors
as being something. But this process is not an act of mindfulness in the purest
sense of the term. It is a result of reflection and by virtue of the fact that
any meaning is generated, the person is no longer living in the moment and is
instead living in a latency period between stimulus and response.
So when we are simply experiencing reality as it unfolds
from moment to moment, there is no self. When we are perceiving and
understanding what is unfolding from moment to moment, there is a self. It is
slightly confusing but not at all if there is a willingness to understand what
it is all about.
It just seems really out of place in modern life because
without reflection, modern life could not have come to be. But no self makes a
lot of sense and is more easily observed and appreciated when someone is
sitting in a forest meditating away from everything that has been manufacture.
Simplicity allows for the sustained existence of no self because it affords the
opportunity to do nothing other than take in whatever is occurring from moment
to moment, so basically what is steaming into the brain from the senses. Other
people and manufactured material objects make this task nearly impossible
because they create the need for rules. This causes complexity and moves the person
away from the role of observer and into role of reflector in order to generate
an understanding of what is going on.
Neuroscience has revealed a lot about the nature thinking, and one part that applies to no self / self duality is captured by the two self’s phenomena. Specifically, your brain operates with information in two ways. The first way, the no-self way, is about experience. This is what happens from moment to moment and it is what is lumped into the experience of “now.” The second way is about the remembering self, which is what your consciousness recalls about an experience. While it would be partially correct to refer to this as long term memory, given that long term memories do contribute to what we remember, it is not the entire story. The truth is that most of us do not actually remember most things very well and what comes to mind when we are thinking about the past is a combination of long term memories and things we make-up on the fly to fill-in the details or manufacture a more rich or complete narrative. The point here is not to suggest that neuroscience has uncovered evidence to support the truth about what the Buddhist teachers have been saying for centuries but to lend weight to the notion that sensation / experience is a different thing than perception / reflection / remembering. So given this, it makes sense that we should hold different views about two different things.
There is a Buddhist / Zen saying that goes something like
“before enlightenment work, after enlightenment work” that addresses the next
concern the author has about “mindfulness.”
They raise a very good point, but do not track in on the
source of the issue with any vigor or accuracy, when they state: “In claiming
to offer a multipurpose, multi-user remedy for all occasions, mindfulness
oversimplifies the difficult business of understanding oneself.”
The first part of the sentence is more or less accurate, as
it would be if it was said about anything that is put forward as a panacea or
cure to everything that ails a person, culture, or society. The second part of
the sentence is less accurate. In fairness, they were writing an article and
not a text book, so there was probably a word count limit in place for them.
However, that does not negate the responsibility an author has for guarding
their words and to speak as clearly, accurately, and concisely as possible.
Their article is not a work of fiction so it is reasonable to assume that what
is written down is factual and represents the truth as the author knew it at
the time. Putting aside their right to have and voice an opinion, that sentence
journeys well into the realm of a statement of disinformation or a statement
that is demonstrably false.
The first thing is that mindfulness is a skill, so a noun or
verb, and makes no claim about its abilities to do anything – in exactly the same
way as reading is a skill and completely incapable of promoting its virtues.
Mindfulness needs boosters because mindfulness is not alive. The problem then
is not with anything that mindfulness itself is doing but with the claims that
are being made about it. In the event that this seems so obvious and therefore
unnecessary to mention, it is worth pointing out that racism is both a problem
and a part of our internal operating system. Many skills or behaviours that
human beings are capable of, that seem to lack any value in modern life, are
there because they served a valuable survival purpose at one point in time.
Racism is not good, but the ability to identify those who are not like us and
to treat those we are similar to had a place in our evolutionary past. It is an
antiquated thing, particularly given that every unique race has suffered MORE
at the hands of those who look like them than those who look different, but so
too is the appendix and a considerable amount of our DNA given that it doesn’t
seem to code for anything at all. Well the appendix used to do something and
those unnecessary genes used to code for something that promoted survival.
So the problem with mindfulness is that people who promote
it are making extraordinary claims about what it can do and how it will impact
the lives of anyone who uses it as an approach to life. The problem the author
is making reference to is the overstating or direct lying about the utility of mindfulness
made by the people who promote it. This is something that I agree with, but it
was not stated as directly as that in the article.
The second part of the sentence “mindfulness oversimplifies
the difficult business of understanding oneself” doesn’t hold up nearly as
well, even when translated or updated to reflect what is actually going on. I
believe that the author is intending to say “the skill of mindfulness is
presented as a simple way to understand yourself.” This is true and it is not a
problem. The fact is that human beings are biological machines whose brain
manufactures meaning out of electrical impulses that are triggered by
collisions between the body and molecules that are not a part of the body. The
tree we see is a collection of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc. that is in tree
form. What we see is the light that bounces off of some of these molecules and
hits our retina. When we touch it, the molecules of our skin are repelled by
the molecules that make-up the tree, so this ends up stimulating receptors on
the skin that trigger electrical impulses to flow into the brain that cause the
sensation of touch. If we were to eat the tree, tree molecules would stimulate
taste receptors, if we were to smell it, tree molecules would stimulate olfactory
receptors, and when we hear the tree, receptors in our inner ear are simply
responding to air that is coming off of the tree and going into our ears.
I am not intending to be irreverent when I say that it is
“simply” anything, but our experience of a tree is so much less than any
narrative story we manufacture to capture the entirety of our knowledge about
trees. It is our brain that do all of the heavy lifting that allow us to
perceive things and to understand the world in reflective terms.
The fact of the matter is that most of what we know about
things is just a story we are telling ourselves and sharing with other people.
It is accurate in so far as it works in allowing us to navigate our way through
life with a lot of ease, but nearly all of it is just manufactured rules about
collections of molecules that human beings mostly agree on just so they do not
have to think about it anymore than they have to.
Considering and then assimilating this fact is alarming, at
least initially, but our brain will reconcile things very quickly and it will
allow us to go back to living life as though we didn’t gain the insight. From
an experiential point of view, the facts and the truth are of much less
consequence than the position and movement of the molecules that we bump into.
So no matter what we learn, life will return to normal quickly because it must
be lived by each one of us.
The skill of mindfulness is a way that anyone can gain
clarity into the nature of the world and, more importantly, the nature of our
social interactions and social conventions. It will allow someone to uncover what they are in terms of molecules
and what they are in terms of a narrative understanding, while giving them
great power to figure out what is important, what is real, and what is worth
pursuing. It isn’t going to fix anything EXCEPT the delusions someone may have
created about what is going on from moment to moment. It is not a cure for
clinical depression, it will not help someone grow taller or regrow their hair,
and it will not open up the doors to effortless success. But it can allow
someone to experience what is actually going on in the world, to gain a better
understanding of the difference between sadness and depression, it can help
someone accept the reality of their height or hair situation, and it can give
someone the clarity to figure out what actions they need to take in order to
find greatness and to then make the decision on whether or not they actually
Mindfulness, when practiced consistently, gives someone the
ability to separate the sensations from the perceptions and to then make the
decision to act in a way that makes the most sense to them in terms of these
sensations and perceptions. But that is all it is going to do. The reason some
people feel calmer when they practice it is because it dissolves the narrative,
for a short period of time, which will allow for whatever triggered emotions to
run their course before returning the person back to their baseline. There are
two ways to describe it, the first is the feeling you have right as you wake-up
in the morning without an alarm clock and when you have nowhere to go – your
mind is at ease and filled with next to nothing. It doesn’t last very long, but
while it does, it is still and peaceful and nothing is pulling it one way or
the other. The second is the feeling you have right after a very intense
workout as your heart rate and breathing return to normal. Physically you feel
fantastic and mentally you are overcome with a sense of wellness and indifference
to the world. Your mind has been parked into unflappable so you feel, for a
spell, like you are on vacation and weeks away from having to deal with the
real world again.
Now consider what you have just read and apply it to the
author’s statement: “to look for richer explanations about why you think and
feel the way you do, you need to see yourself as a distinct individual,
operating within a certain context. You need to have some account of the self,
as this demarcates what is a response to your context, and what flows from
Who we are is not a static thing, and a lot of what we may
choose to believe we are is subject to the present emotional state at the time
of perception. Before my long intense bike ride, I may be an angry co-worker
who doesn’t take the time to consider the ideas of other people before pushing
my own solution forward. At the end of the bike ride I’m more than capable of
working through their solution to actually see the merits of what they are
suggesting and realize that not only is it better than my idea, but it is the
only way forward. I would suggest that this insight occurs because the “self”
has disappeared affording me an objective perspective that is based on the
consideration of a more complete view of the available information. There is no
ego so there is no desire to be the problem solver, only a desire to have the
problem solved as effectively and as permanently as possible.
The tendency for people to see the world only from their own
perspective and to view this perspective as being more important or valuable is
a characteristic of something called disordered attachment. With the exception
of a few people, everyone has a bias towards their own point of view simply
because there is nothing so real in the universe as it. Every moment of our
waking life is experienced from inside ourselves and a good case can be made
that most of our dreams are also from our own unique point of view. “We” exist
somewhere right behind the eyes, nose and mouth, between the ears, and slightly
above our tongue and throat. All of our physical sensations have a “I” quality
insofar as they tend to originate on our skin, or at the boundary between “us”
and the rest of the world. It is reasonable that we would create and carry such
an inflated perspective given that there are only two things in the world and
that “we” are one of them; the other one is the rest of the world / universe.
But this isn’t the entire picture because EVERYONE has the
same sort of perspective and experience of being alive. When you are in a room
with nine other people, there are ten unique perspectives, each one as the sole
center of all experience. This means that no specific reality is more real than
any of the rest. As many people as there are on the planet, there are that many
versions of the real world running. So we are real, but we are not really real.
Disordered attachment is a type of psychological attachment
or dependence to something, someone or some activity. It is consider disordered
because it is out of proportion to reality or to the nature of things. The
solution I was forcing through, for example, is only held by me as the better
solution when I am attached to it and am therefore willing to dismiss the
merits of my co-workers solution. However, at the end of my intense bike ride
or at some point after around 5 minutes of meditation, my attachment has
evaporated because my emotional state has returned to baseline and I am more
able to see the world in objective terms. This can only be a good thing given
that a good idea is a good idea regardless of where it comes from. By
eliminating the disordered attachment, objective reality can come more clearly
into focus and the world can get better for all those who are relying on the
best possible results.
There are a slew of cognitive biases that have at their core
this type of disordered thinking / rationalization. The ego centric bias, the
Ikea bias, the fundamental attribution error, and conflicts of interest are
just a few of them that apply directly to the work situation I outlined. The
ego centric bias has someone rely too much on their own perspective and
experience, the Ikea bias has someone inflate the value of something that they
created well above the fair market value of similar items, the fundamental
attribution error has someone view their own decisions or actions as being
related to situational factors while viewing the decisions and actions of others
as being the result of character traits, and a conflict of interest is the
tendency for people to unconsciously act in ways that promote an outcome that
will benefit them all the while believing and feeling like they are acting
objectively. There are many more, but this list should be sufficient to provide
evidence that things are not as simple as they seem or even as we perceive them
However, intense exercise, a good night’s sleep, or a
mindfulness meditation session can go a long way in mitigating the impact of
being the center of ALL of your experiences simply because they put some
distance between the stimulus and the response. This time delay will allow any
emotional response to fade and it will reduce the perception of the magnitude
of any gain or loss.
This piece of it is rather peculiar. The “self” is something
to which things happen and this allows for the “self” to react to those things
in a way that seems like it is automatic and beyond any conscious control.
However, this is not the case for most things. With the exception of being
physically hit by something or getting physically ill, most of the stuff that
occurs doesn’t actually happen to anyone, or at least it does not actually
happen to us. We see or hear it, but our bodies are in no way implicated by
what happened. This means that the perception we have of events plays a much
bigger role in how we go about living our life than anything that actually
happens to us or our bodies. This leads to the situation that when something
occurs in the world but that only impacts us in terms of our perception or
narrative interpretation of it, we have a chemical response that causes us to
“feel” something BUT that reaction is not to anything that is real. If we think
about two co-workers putting forward different solutions to a specific problem,
not much is happening in a physical sense – some brain activity creates a
thought that is the solution, and other brain activity causes muscles to
contract in very specific ways that allow air to flow out of the lungs, passing
over the vocal chords to make a very specific sound that is the air vibration
equivalent to the thought. Both parties are having a very similar experience
although each one of them has a very different interpretation of the ideas that
are being aired. Each one will believe their idea is better because they will
have felt just how right it was when they thought it. What they hear, the other
person’s idea, will not have the same quality. They won’t feel it in the same
way – both in terms of intensity and rightness – and it will be as though it
exists as something that is different from them. Both parties will feel and
belief that their solution is the best and each will likely go to bat for it.
But this is only happening because each one is acting as
though they are something independent from the other and that the other is part
of everything else. While this may be narratively or perceptually correct, it
is not correct in terms of what is actually going on in the world. A detached
third party would simply listen to both ideas and give their opinion on which
one is the best because they are neither of the two self’s who have been tasked
with solving the problem. They get to be objective because both solutions are
coming from outside of them. Their ego does not factor into it as they get to
say “the best idea is this one” and get back to doing whatever it is they do.
They will probably feel that one of the answers is better, but they will not be
inclined to feel that their OWN idea is better simply because it came from
inside of them.
It is worth suggesting that this level of insight – to
notice that cognitive biases have a sensation and that I am as prone as
everyone else to be subjected to them – really only came to life for me when I
spent a lot of time meditating, noticing my thoughts and feelings arise and
pass away, and getting very clear that the next thing that I think about or the
next sensation that I have is most often a complete mystery to me. The most I
can do is to try and shape them by paying attention to very specific things,
but generally speaking, there is a very random nature to almost all of it.
Which brings us to the final concern the author raises.
“After a certain point, mindfulness doesn’t allow you to
take responsibility for and analyse your feelings.”
I believe that the opposite is true, that we can only take
responsibility for and gain insight into our feelings through the practice of
mindfulness. Right where the author claims mindfulness impairs our ability to own
and understand our feelings is the point I believe that mindfulness facilitates
these things. I also believe that we are talking about the same phenome and may
actually believe more or less the same thing.
It seems that their conclusion here is based off of some of the other concerns they mention; which means that all that comes after may not be rooted in reality or fact. For example, if someone does not allow for the duality of self and no-self, they are powerless to draw any other conclusion that “mindfulness doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for and analyse your feelings” because if there is no self, there can be no ownership of the feelings that are being experienced and nothing there to analyse them. But it there is only a self, the observation that thoughts and feelings just seem to flow out of our spontaneous brain activity becomes a lot tougher to notice or it must exist in a world to which it is incompatible. Both concepts are needed because there are times when we are a self and times when we are no self. The author has laid out their concerns with this part of it which has had the effect of limiting the moves they are able to make without appearing to contradict themselves or outline a paradox / problem.
I suppose I am more willing to allow for the coexistence of
mutually exclusive ideas because I am very confident that the experience we
have of being alive from moment to moment is not well enough understood to
limit any aspect or to allow us to say that “there is no self” or “there is
only a self.” There are times when it seems to be a self and other times when
there appears to be no self, so I’m going to hedge my bets by assuming that
they are both accurate while conceding that there is probably a more complete
theory or understanding that covers them both perfectly. Apart from this being
a safe move, given just how complex consciousness is, it has the added benefit of
allowing me to pick and choose the best or most effective stuff from whichever
side I happen to be considering. My goal here is to point out and highlight
what works and why it may be of value, as opposed to pointing out what doesn’t
work or the underlying historical problems with a technology such as
Cultivating the skill of mindfulness will go a very long way
in helping someone understand what feelings are and what they are not. It will
also give a person the ability to critically assess what is going on in terms
of their emotional reactions / responses. On the very surface level, knowing
that you are experiencing the sensations of anger moments before you have the
emotional experience of anger can be very helpful in determining the
appropriate course of action. Anger may be the right response, but it may be an
overreaction, and one with a big downside. On a deeper level, having a more
full experience and understanding of an emotional response will allow the
emotion to be all that it is and ONLY what it is. You can be sad because your
sports team lost, but you do not end-up devastated or left feeling aimless.
Most importantly is the fact that by gaining the ability to
see and feel emotions more accurately, you will begin to gain the insight into
what the whole thing is all about and how your brain will react to the things
that it believes are happening and the things that actually do. I would be
inclined to suggest that you cannot possibly have a cursory understanding of
your feelings or your motivations / action unless you are able to notice them
as sensations, experiences, and linguistic narrative expressions. Having access
to one or two of these things is not complete enough to be useful as each one
supplies a portion of the information. But when all three are available and
processed, we are able to create a more complete understanding of any situation
and move forward having made any decision from a place of being fully informed.
In summary then, the skill of mindfulness is an essential piece
of the equation that allows someone to figure out what is actually going on and
what actions need to be taken to ensure continued survival. Without it, we are moving
forward on autopilot, oblivious to the lack of depth in our understanding and
completely unaware of the impact our manufactured fiction is having on the
decisions we make. It allows you to figure out what is going on, what you did, and
why you did it along with illustrating the subjective and self-serving nature
of most of your perception.
Again, while I did not agree with much of what the author said, we simply have a different opinions. I see and understand the world differently than them and that is fine. They do point out some of the legitimate problems with the subject of mindfulness and how it is being introduced to the western masses. While most of these challenges are the consequence of the people who are involved and have nothing at all to do with the mental skill of mindfulness, generating awareness of these problems is a very good thing to do because it can go a long way in helping people avoid the pitfalls.
I liked the article in-spite of the fact that I did not not agree with much of it. Obviously, I believe that I can provide some of the missing insight and to help clear-up the authors concerns, but I have no problem if the author never changes their opinion. That is because their article was worth reading and forced me to dig in a little on some of the ideas or beliefs that I have about mindfulness in order to figure out what it was that I was not aligned with. At the end of the day that may have been the author’s goal – I know that it is one of mine when I write – and since the piece was well written, it allowed me to think about the subject very quickly and without having to decipher a hidden message.
Be recklessly open about who you are and what you want out of life. This stuff needs to be shared or else it won’t come true. A common goal empowers the relationship to become more purposeful and progressive. Even if they don’t directly participate, having them on your side will go a long way in helping you be more successful.
NOTE – this is a carbon copy of the June 8, 2011 post with a very similar title How To Fall In Love Again. It is not a post revisited and, as such, it does not contain any new content. It is getting posted again because it now has the audio to accompany it.
1) Give in and accept that your ex partners are always going to have some power / influence over you and your thinking. Take the necessary steps to stop that influence from derailing your forward progress. The best approach here is to just not talk to them for a while and then slowly phase them back into your life if you are able to keep their influence in-check. If you can’t do this, don’t worry, most people can’t. They are your ex for a reason, usually because their and / or your influence did not move you both towards mutual happiness.
2) Accept that your past demons are going to have an influence on your present thinking and actions. Question things that disrupt the flow of the relationship or your partners life. Talk to your partner about these things. They aren’t likely to go away so acknowledging and working through them is a lot more effective and intimate than trying to ignore them. There is nothing wrong with your past and your future can be different. Embrace it and love the life you have lived because it has taken you to your new love. Once you know the life you have lived, you’ll be better equipped to deal with your present life because you’ll accept that there are patterns in your behavior.
3) Take the time to watch the way your partner moves, talks to people, and engages the world. Learn to notice the way they are. Look at their hands, their arms, their face. Try to notice all of their features and the way their mouth moves and eyes squint when they smile deeply. Feel the excitement build as your look at them. Learn to associate that excitement with the essence of them. Say to yourself and to them what it is that is beautiful about them. Create a linguistic understanding of who they are, not just a visual understanding. Take the time to touch them, particularly their face, neck and hands. Hold them close, feel their heat and energy against and within your body. Learn to identify the way they feel next to you. Massage them, rub their backs, find out where they are ticklish. Create a tactile understanding of who they are. Listen to their voice, the sound of their breathing, the sound of their foot steps when they are walking. Hear the way they move objects in the kitchen, the shower, the sound of the cutlery when they are eating a steak dinner. Create an auditory understanding of who they are. Smell them. Smell their clothes, their hair, their skin. Condition your nose to identify them by their smell or things that smell like they do. You are to immerse yourself in their essence and notice them, not just the things they do, but the way they are when no one is watching. If you love them, you will take the time to stop and notice all that there is to love about them.
4) Do things together that you would do on your own, but keep doing these things on your own some of the time. Sharing passions will helps to bring two people closer but you must maintain your independence with a part of them in order for you to hold onto your identify. Your partner is attracted to you because of who you are, this will go away when you combine everything and you stop being yourself.
5) Be recklessly open about who you are and what you want out of life. This stuff needs to be shared or else it won’t come true. A common goal empowers the relationship to become more purposeful and progressive. Even if they don’t directly participate, having them on your side will go a long way in helping you be more successful.
6) Challenge them and allow them to challenge you on your choices, motives and decisions. Therapy is a great tool, so a loving relationship will also contain a certain level of therapy-like behaviors. The objective here is allow your partner to empty of whatever is on their mind from the day, to have their feelings massaged out about the things that are troubling, and to basically be given a chance to talk things out and feel better. The hard part is not taking what you hear personally or injecting your opinion or solution into the conversation. You love them, but they need to suffer their own issues alone. Your role is to listen without hearing and ask questions that allow them to feel whatever it is they can’t get rid of.
7) Accept that you will never know how they truly feel about anything and, as such, you MUST remain open to the fact that their world is not the same as yours. Take the steps needed to NOT force your views upon them and to not allow them to force theirs on to you. Agree to disagree and accept compromise with both winning vs. you losing. If you can’t do this, and your new partner needs to maintain their identity, you MUST release them from whatever it is you’re a building because it isn’t a partnership.
So, these are 7 things that will help you create a climate that is conducive to the creation and expression of compassionate and intimate love. But when it comes right down to it, these are actions one would take when they are trying to figure out, as quickly as they can, IF they are with someone who is worth giving-up being alone for. Step 3 will also serve as the most powerful diagnostic tool you can get access to without going to school to learn how to identify motives based on the analysis of behavior – when you know how someone maintains eye contact during a conversation, you’ll know when they aren’t holding it the way they normally do and be able to ask quickly “what is going on?” These things change when a relationship shifts from being something good to something that is in trouble.
Basically we’re trying to get them to reach a point were they see the situation as ridiculous and of their own making. They need to see it as ridiculous because intelligent people are not capable of continuing to exist in that type of situation. They need to see it as their own making because this allows them to keep the momentum and see that they have had the power and been using it the entire time.
In the self-help / personal development world the idea of
victim language is floated. Predatory listening techniques are used by many
practitioners to identify and point out when someone’s language indicates that
they are viewing themselves as having been victimized in a specific situation
or life in general. On the surface of it, it does make a lot of sense to draw
ones attention to the moments when their choice of language indicates a world
view has them being powerless. This flows from the fact that those who have the
power to control their life have the opportunity to influence their future.
These conversation are only superficially helpful because
they lack the insight to actually empower the individual. But they feel like
something very real to both parties. The instructor / coach feels good, given
that they were successful at identifying a pattern of speech that they have
been trainer to flag given that the human brain is programmed to release reward
chemicals with every successful match. The participant / client feel good
because they now have an answer to the question “why is my life like
this?” KNOWING the answer to that type of question is rewarding because it
closes an open loop that was syphoning off mental energy that results from
uncertainty. In terms of a transaction, it is win:win. Both parties feel good
and get sufficient value from it.
But it isn’t very helpful in terms of empowering either
I’m going to cast aside the instructor, they aren’t asking
for help, and instead focus on the client / participant.
Their language is fine. It’s powerful and clearly
communicates a world view. This world view is almost completely correct. When
they say that they didn’t get the promotion because their boss doesn’t like them
they are correct. When they say they can’t lose weight because chips and candy
too good to refuse they are correct. No matter what they say, there is an
abundance of truth in it. There’s no point in lying and telling them that they
are wrong. They are in fact the victim.
This begs the question, if they are victim, who then is
Well, it’s their language, so they are. And this is the
power of it. It is only through seeing themselves as the cause of everyting in
their life that they will ever gain the ability to control this power and begin
to use it to create the life that they want.
This is where I part ways with the coaches / instructors.
The thrust of their approach is to tell their clients to stop using victim
language and start using more powerful statements as though they are the cause
of their own life. The problem I see with this is that their victim world view
has a lot of momentum. This inertia will keep things going in that direction
for a while making immediate / instantaneous change nearly impossible. To do
the opposite, they will first have to come to a complete stop before starting
to move in the other direction. Doing this requires a lot of attention and
energy, which is unreasonable given the unproven nature of the technology their
coach is asking them to trust.
Instead, we use the inertia to reduce the energy requirements
needed to help them become the cause of their own life.
Basically we’re trying to get them to reach a point were
they see the situation as ridiculous and of their own making. They need to see
it as ridiculous because intelligent people are not capable of continuing to
exist in that type of situation. They need to see it as their own making
because this allows them to keep the momentum and see that they have had the
power and been using it the entire time.
Here is how:
A) Get them to restate the victim statement.
B) Nod your head if face to face or give an ambiguous verbal agreement if remote
C) Repeat it back to them and get their confirmation that the statement is correct.
D) Ask them “so what?”
E) Listen to their answer and ask them “what then?”
F) Go back to c and repeat as many times as needed to get to some ridiculous place.
A helps you to calibrate your understanding with their world
view. B allows them to be correct and it sustains the momentum of their world
view. C give you the opportunity to show that you have listened and heard, and
get clarification if it is needed. D forces them to look inside and spend more
time thinking about their victimization. It also gets them to consider the
consequences of the situation they are in. E projects them into the future. F
begins the process again with a new starting point that is at some point in the
One of the characteristics of people who view themselves as
victims is that they rarely spend much time thinking about the long term
ramifications of the situation. People either tell them that they need to do
something different or they simply agree with them that they are victims. These
amount to “I’m solving your problem” or “shut up, I don’t want
to listen to you”. The third option is to assume that they are the experts
of their own life and to genuinely be curious about how they think the
situation will play out. Keep digging in and uncovering whatever lies below the
surface. And then go deeper and see what’s below that. At some point it will
become ridiculous and they’ll see that they have create the world they
presently live in. Once they get here, applaud them for the power they have in
making the world the way they did and invite them to consider what it is that
they really want to use that power for.
Keep in mind that anyone who has done the dialectic about
their challenges has already drawn the conclusion that THEY have caused the
world to be the way it is and that they alone have victimized their own life.
It will take a little practice and role playing to get the conversational flow down, but you’ll be surprised at just how quickly you’ll get good at helping them see their role as victim and villain. You’ll also be shocked to notice the lack of introspection or how little actual though they have put into understanding the situation. Generally speaking, once someone has seen that they are the victim they stop thinking about it and start repeating and refining the victim script. It usually doesn’t have a second act, and if it does, rarely a third. By the forth cycle through their house of cards has collapsed.
This approach has the possibility of being effective, more than the traditional approaches of agreeing that someone has been victimized by others, which gives them a pass because it externalizes the source of the problems meaning that they do not have the capability to fix the situation, or pointing out their use of victim language and coaching them to substitute these patterns for more empowering one, which continues the externalization of the source of them being wrong, simply because it makes them responsible for drawing any judgments about who is the cause of the events that are happening in their own life, and the deep dive in terms of the possible future outcomes forces them to make huge generalizations in order to support or validate their assumptions which they will easily perceive as being incorrect.
The key to this approach is that they get to maintain ownership of everything, which is valuable in two ways. The first is that by seeing oneself as the cause of an outcome, they automatically accept responsibility for being the cause of an alternative outcome. The second reason has to do with the cognitive bias called the fundamental attribution error, which holds that a person is going to view their own actions in situational terms and the actions of other people in characterological terms. This tendency results in a reduction of solution option sets when a person views other people as being the cause of an outcome because they view the other persons actions as being a consequence of their lack of abilities or an abundance of malice. But when they view themselves as being the cause, they immediately see the situation as having played a causal role and can easily be moved towards generating solutions that are solely based on changing it. They have the capacity to do this so there is a much better chance of them surfacing a solution that they are willing to implement.
This is a version of a double bind – something that leads a person to two mutually exclusive outcomes – although the ridiculous nature of the final outcome does serve to dissipate the emotional distress. Narratively, when done effectively, the person has to choose between being correct, but unintelligent and locked into a life time of suffering, or having been the cause of their situation and holding the power to do something about it. While the second option is less palatable in so far as it requires that they put the effort into making their own life better, it is usually much more appealing to anyone who is actually open to change than admitting to another human being that they are willing to continue to do the very thing that is causing their life to be crappy enough to ask you for help in fixing.
My favoring of this approach stems from the fact that I have
never seen someone respond well to being told that they are being victimized by
an external entity. The usual outcome of this is a state of learned
helplessness that serves only to inhibit action. The other option is only
marginally more effective at engendering a sense of personal power. But even
when doing this, it tends to take a very long time because they need to
mindfully create a new process of guarding their “I am” statements, which is a
valuable skill on its own, but for our purposes, serves as an intermediary
step. When quick change is desired or needed, a more direct attack of the
problem makes more sense than learning how to do something that will stop them
from doing the thing that is causing the undesired outcome.
Most people have a conditioned threshold level of effort
that they are willing to spend in order to move past a negative experience.
Since those with a high threshold tend to be the very people who fix or create
the life they want to live, coaches and trainers will never find themselves
having to help simplify the approach for these clients because the client will
simply do whatever work is needed to implement and execute the perfect
solution. For everyone else, their desired outcome is more often achieved
through methods that rely on the expenditure of the least amount of effort.
To this end, forcing their brain into a double bind-like
choice between having to reconcile the continuation of making stupid choices or
choosing to see themselves as having been the one who made those choices and
therefore is free to put in the work to make different ones, has only one
possible outcome when dealing with someone who is actually willing to change.
They see themselves as the cause, they accept that they have made the decision
on some level to view themselves as the victim, and they put in the marginal
amount of effort that is required to do something else.
NOTE: those who are unwilling to change will be easy to
identify because they will ask other people to explain what is going on, they
will not take the time and put in the effort to answer the “so what” questions,
they will have reasons that they believe for why they are actually the victim
of the actions of an external player, and they will be more than willing to
endure the negative side of the double bind – there will be no cognitive
dissonance associated with existing in a world that has them act in a way that
will prevent them from getting what they claim they want. My advice is to exit
yourself from the life of these people. Do NOT take them on as clients and do
not believe a word they say when it comes to their belief that they know you
will be able to help them. You cannot help them because they do not want help,
they want someone to do the work for them. This makes it unworkable because people
fix their own lives by taking the actions that move their life towards the
things that will make it better and away from the things that are making it
worse. Anyone who shifts the responsibility of any aspect of this onto another
person is not ready for change and is very likely looking for someone else to
blame when things do not go well.
The final part of all of this has to do with the fact that
being a victim of the actions of other people is not the same thing as being
the victim of your own actions. Not all victims are the same, although everyone
is, to some degree, a victim of their own decision making or their
unwillingness to make a decision.
This is where the power comes from. At some level, each one
of us could have done something different and if we had, we would have
experienced a different outcome. Even when we truly are the victims and suffer
at the hands of another person, we could have done something different at some
point along the way and there is a very good chance that we could have changed
course when we realized that things were starting to go badly. This is why the
cycling through the questions is so important. The client will need to realize
a few things before they will gain access to a different and more deliberate
At some point along the way, when they realized that things
were starting to go or were actually bad, they did not act. This was their
decision and even if another person victimized them afterward, it was only
because the client made the decision to remain in that position. Yes, the other
person is responsible for their action, but this does not relinquish the client
from their own responsibility in the situation. They contributed to the
situation that the other person took advantage of.
By cycling through the questions until a ridiculous end
point is reached, the double bind is created that will cause the client to
consider the fact that there is something very silly about how the whole thing
is going to pan out assuming the present situation remains as it is. This will
force them to reconcile the fact that they KNOW the future before it happens
and are therefore choosing to let this happen by choosing to do nothing about
it. If they do not like how things are right now and they really do not like
how things will become if they continue along on the same course, they will obviously
need to do something different or else they are completely responsible for the
outcome. No one else in the situation will bare any responsibility for what
Notice how, at no point in this, are they being told that
they are wrong. They are not being judged by you (the trainer / coach) in
anyway, which will put some distance between them and the notion of external
victimization. They are being moved to the point of making their own decisions
and value judgments about what is going on and are completely free to accept
everything as fine and allow it to continue. If the concept of victimization
exists at all, it will only be in terms of their own actions and decisions
leading them to a predetermined or predicted outcome. No one else will hold any
responsibility in it and if they view the possible outcome as bad or
undesirable, they are free to do something different to change it.
The benefit to this approach stems from the fact that self-discovery and independent learning play a disproportionately large role in terms of shaping future actions than anything that was taught or learned via a proxy. Understanding is the much younger sibling to realization, so someone who realizes that they have made the decisions that led them to this moment in time is at a distinct advantage over someone who understands this concept. The truth of the matter is that most people will resist and do the opposite of what they are told, so the actions of a well-intentioned coach who bypasses self-discovery in favor of telling the client what is going on will statistically do more harm than good.
Not everyone wants the things that they say they want, so
it’s also very important to take the time to allow the person to make this call
on their own. The only way this can happen is when there is full disclosure. By
helping the client surface the most likely outcome if they continue their
course of action, you are helping to free them from the future, if that is what
they want, or to become content with their future, if it is what they choose.
Again, we are not in a position to say anything about right and wrong, nor are
we qualified to make the call on what is appropriate or inappropriate for their
future. It is their life and they are the experts of it. Our job is to help
them gain clarity on what is going on, why it is happening, who is causing it
to happen, and what the future outcomes will be if they continue to operate in
the same way. If they still want help after everything has been uncovered, our
job is to help them figure out what they want and to help them determine a path
that they will take towards it.
Victim language is important only in so far as it helps them to see who the actual villain is, themselves, and to realize that it has been their own decisions that have caused the outcomes that they do not like. It is only when someone accepts that they are both victim and villain in their own life that they will be able to see themselves as being the cause of whatever eventual future they live into. Leverage this view of victim-hood to help them gain the power of becoming a benevolent villain in their own life.
It is not the sweetness that we find rewarding, it is the reward chemicals that we find rewarding and we learn that sweet things cause a release of these reward chemicals. The same applies to things that are high in fat and sugar. While these foods serve a survival function given that they promote body fat storage, this is not the reason why we eat them. We seek them out because they cause a massive release of reward chemicals and not because we enjoy them directly. These reward chemicals serve as the motivation to take specific actions, actions that played a role in ensuring that our ancestors survived while those who did not seek out high calorie food did not.
The next version of the guide was released in 2007 as Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide
and it did contain most of the information that wasn’t included in the
1992 guide. The number of servings of grain products was reduced in
general. However, the guide serving recommendations are broken-out by
age and gender. This change gave the guide more prescriptive power that
reflected the specific and changing needs of each gender throughout the
course of their life. In general, males burn more calories and, as a
result, their need for vitamins and minerals is slightly higher.
guide is also more detailed, 6 pages vs. 2, and includes a lot more online
features. It is clear that it is an attempt to create something that is more
useful and that will appeal to a much wider audience. It includes more
information about exercise, both in terms of frequency and intensity, along
with the potential outcomes you might experience as a result of engaging in an
guide represents the first real steps towards “mindful” eating. For example, it
invites people to limit certain foods that are high calories, sugar and fat,
along with limiting trans-fat. It asks people to “read the label” in order to
become aware of what is in the food they are selecting to eat. While these are
important steps in the right direction, they are too late for a lot of people
given the poor advice that was provided 15 years before. People had free reign
for a decade and a half to eat too many servings of grain products and would
now find themselves in a less than ideal place as a result of it. Worse still
would be the lasting consequence on any of the children who had been subjected
to this bad advice – primarily higher levels of body fat and the deeply stored
incorrect wisdom inside their brain caused by 15 years of conditioning.
the problem, while human beings are genetically coded to find certain things
rewarding, they are born without any knowledge of just what there things are.
Over time they learn how to trigger the reward chemicals and with enough
practice and exposure they will develop the exact behaviors needed to release
these chemicals. However, if they never get exposed to the things that cause
the release or if their exposure is limited or conditional, they will never cultivate
the level of refinement that is required to develop compulsive overeating.
important to step out of this conversation at this point to consider why human
beings find sweet things to be enjoyable and why they find fat and sweet
combination irresistible. At first thought the answer seems obvious, we like
sweet things because they are sweet and we seek out and over-eat food that are
high in fat and sugar because they are high in calories. But these explanation
are not accurate, or at least, they are incomplete. We enjoy sweet things
because our brains release reward chemicals in response to consuming them and
with enough practice, we learn that we will release reward chemicals in
response to eating sweet things. It is not the sweetness that we find rewarding,
it is the reward chemicals that we find rewarding and we learn that sweet
things cause a release of these reward chemicals. The same applies to things
that are high in fat and sugar. While these foods serve a survival function
given that they promote body fat storage, this is not the reason why we eat
them. We seek them out because they cause a massive release of reward chemicals
and not because we enjoy them directly. These reward chemicals serve as the
motivation to take specific actions, actions that played a role in ensuring
that our ancestors survived while those who did not seek out high calorie food
consider the fact that drugs like cocaine and amphetamine do exactly the same
thing. When we consume these types of drugs, our brain responds by releasing
the same reward chemicals that are released when we eat sugar and sugar and fat
move on to the 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide. This version is very
different from any that came before it in that it makes no recommendation about
number of servings. It is, in fact, a guide in the purest sense of the word.
While each of the previous versions doled out recommendation about how much
food a person should eat, 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruit in the 1992
guide for example, this version does not. The quantities approach that was
taken by all that came before has been replaced with a qualitative method that
satisfies a need to educate. For this reason it is better and worse.
continues to build upon the mindful eating approach that was launched in 2007
and encourages people to prepare more of the meals and to eat with other people
more often. It invites people to consider the experience of eating in terms of
pace, fullness of flavors, smells, and textures, the amount of chewing a food
requires, and their motivation or reasons for eating, etc. All are important
considerations in generating any level of awareness about ones eating habits
and behavior. However it doesn’t ask people to reflect on how the food made
them feel, which is arguably the most important aspect of mindful eating. For
example, if someone eats 4 cookies after eating a large dinner and upon
reflection realizes that they were not actually hungry for the cookies and did
not find eating them to be satiating, it may raise the questions about the
function of the cookies and the person’s relationship with ending a meal with
something that is excessively sweet. Once asked, it isn’t a very big step from
there to realizing that a lot of their food choices have nothing to do with
immediate necessity and everything to do with preparing for a time when the
food supply is cut off.
is better and worse for the same reason. It’s better because it tells people
how to eat and how to approach their food and worse because it doesn’t tell
them what or how much of it to eat. It starts off with the assumption that
people will do the right thing if they know what that is, and then sets off to
tell them what the right thing is. While this is a noble goal, it is based on a
mostly false assumption. Most people already have a very good idea what they
should and shouldn’t be eating. Almost everyone knows that vegetables are
better for you than cookies or chips will choose the cookies or chips over the
vegetables. Sure, there are some outlier who do not know the difference between
these types of food and will, upon receiving the education that the 2019 guide
offers, stop eating cookies and chips and start eating vegetables, and there
are people who choose to eat more vegetables while avoiding the other things,
but most people are not outliers. Most people have a very good idea and still
choose to eat too much of the things they shouldn’t and not enough of the
things they should. The guide does not address the fact that knowledge is not
sufficient because gaining it does not consistently or predictably change
guide is a step in the right direction in terms of shifting the focus onto food
as a thing that is more than just a source of nutrition and energy. The efforts
to point out that it is also a source of many different experiences is helpful.
While this has always been the case, it didn’t really need to be said before
because people spend more time preparing food and eating meals with other
people. 50 years ago, a nightly family meal was the norm, with the adults
preparing it and the children cleaning up afterwards. Going out for a meal was
rare because it was expensive and there wasn’t as much money being earned.
Adequate amounts of high quality and highly nutritious food were available.
These foods were effectively straight from the farm to the store and did not go
through much processing. Things spoiled quickly so people bought only as much
as they needed and they had relationships with the people who sold them the
food. There was a community aspect to the entire food chain because things were
smaller in scale with many local suppliers.
not how it is today. My local grocery market just finished renovating the store
to add 4 different meal replacement sections to the front portion of the store
and these tend to be much busier than the produce section. In fact, many of the
people who “shop” at the store only make use of the first 15 meters. While this
initially reduced the flow of people though the rest of the store and made the
check-out lines run faster, they have reduced the number of cashiers in
response to the decrease flow so it now actually takes longer to checkout. It
is clear that the changes have increased profits because they charge a premium
on the meal replacement items and these sections are always busy; I’m sure that
it is only a matter of time before they begin to remove the other sections of
the store to replace them with more profitable offerings. I’m not suggesting
that the food is bad, it is very tasty. They use high quality ingredients,
their recipes are good and it is well prepared. But it isn’t the same
experience as selecting the raw ingredients for a meal, buying them, and
bringing everything home to prepare. The premiums you are paying for are the
convenience of having someone else prepare the meal and the time saving the
service provides. So, depending upon the value of your time, it may actually
work out to be cheaper to buy it from them as opposed to taking the old-school
doesn’t matter how accurate the information is in the 2019 Canada food guide, a
lack of knowledge is not the reason why people choose to eat in a way that does
not serve their best long term interests. This occurs because we now have the
choice to eat effectively or to eat conveniently. And this brings us to the
final thing that needs to be discussed.
that we have the genetic programming to seek out, consume and over-eat high
calorie foods in an effort to store energy. Now consider what else we might be
programmed to do / not do in order to ensure that there is energy for use
later. If you spend the time to consider the possible answers to this statement
you’ll notice the irony. If you didn’t take the time and spend the mental
effort to generate the answers, you’ve actually modeled the answer perfectly.
We are genetically programmed to avoid spending energy doing things that are
unnecessary. This includes but is not limited to choosing to avoid thinking
about things that do not pose an immediate survival threat and to avoid doing
things that will cause us to take physical and mental action whenever possible.
Human beings are not lazy per say, we are just not motivated to burn off energy
for no reason. When faced with the choice of taking action or not taking
action, we’ll favor doing nothing, and when we are faced with two possible
actions, we’ll tend to choose the one that has us spend the least amount of
narrative truth is the human beings are programmed to seek out and consume as
much energy as they can and to do this as efficiently as possible with the goal
of storing energy for use at some point in the future when food is not
available. When we walk into a store, possibly hungry, and are faced with the
choice between buying a ready-made meal or buying the items we need to make a
meal at home, our programmed desire to save energy will probably kick in and
have us standing in line to pick up our meal replacement, one that is larger
than what we need and contains more sugar and fat than is necessary. And we’ll
go home and eat the entire thing and feel good physically because our brains
will release the reward chemicals that come from a good gorge.
that eating too much will make us gain weight will not change our nature
because it IS out nature. Getting fat IS the goal. The genes that would have
coded for a different outcome did not get passed along because those who had
them died during one of the thousands of famines that hammered our ancestors
intentioned as the 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide is, it cannot do very
much to overcome millions of years of evolution and “selective breeding” that
food scarcity shaped. At best, and it seems like it hit the mark, it can
encourage people to take a moment before eating something to consider their
motivations for doing what they are about to do. And to maybe, in a moment of
mindfulness, make a different choice, one that will ensure a better future,
even though it causes the brain to rebel and trigger the negatives emotions
associated with the historic and antiquated concern about an impending famine.
Will-power and mindful effort towards doing something other than the automatic,
something that doesn’t feel as good, but is a step towards full nourishment and
sustaining a dietary energy balance.
doesn’t come out right and say it, being healthy isn’t natural. It may be
somewhat automatic for younger people but it is something that we grow out of
as we age. What is natural for us is to sit as still as we can and stuff down
our throats as much as we possibly can. This is where the guide comes-up short,
and this is understandable because it’s a hard fact to wrap your head around.
The fact that it doesn’t even try is what I find so problematic. When this is
paired with the fact that guide has a history of offering up bad advice or
stating things that are completely wrong, my skeptical nature comes out to
thinking about the topic of advising an entire population on how to eat:
Guide is doing its intended job at a better than average level. By knocking on
the door of mindfulness, it is suggesting that there might be a lot more going
on than just what we have been paying attention to.
food advice and education and going along with the demands of the food industry
has created a situation in which only those with money and free time or those
who do not have enough money get to remain lean and healthy looking – those
with money and free time get to buy the best food and spend time working out /
exercising to create a false famine while those who do not have enough money
loss weight simply because they are enduring a real famine. The poor do not
have a voice and are effectively ignored; which is a shame because the strategy
of remaining hungry for longer periods of time is very effective. A voice is
given to those in power, the very people who have both money and time, and they
get to do the very things that are needed to actually be healthy. Then they get
onto their high horse and judge the rest of us for being lazy, which we are,
and for overeating, which we do. We are fat and unhealthy because we make bad
choices while they are lean that healthy because they make good ones. Surely if
we weren’t so flawed we’d say no to the junk food, yes to the vegetables and be
moving around more.
is nonsense. We are not flawed. We are perfect. We over eat and under-move
because our genes motivate us to over-eat and under-move. We don’t think much
about it and when we do, we don’t really know why we ate two servings of
dessert and didn’t feel like getting onto the rowing machine for a 2000m
workout. The fact is eating shittie food is rewarding because our brain rewards
it. Burning off extra calories isn’t immediately rewarding and it takes the
body a while to learn how to notice that it can feel good. The only thing that
we have going for us, when it comes to eating more healthfully and exercising
an appropriate amount, is the vision to see it happen and the willpower to do
it. But until we understand and realize that eating right and moving more are
not a part of our code, we’ll continue to wonder what is wrong with us when we
don’t find it easy to live better.
easy because it is hard. It burns energy that our body does not want to burn,
we have to eat things that offer no immediate release of reward chemicals while
avoid eating the things DO cause the instant release of these chemicals. It is
suffering and sacrifice and there is almost nothing we can do to have it be
anything but that. However, it is only suffering and sacrifice, it is not pain
or death. We go without a little reward and overtime we teach our brains how to
reward other actions. Asparagus or broccoli will never cause the release of
dopamine but the thoughts we have after eating them can cause the release.
Walking 10000 steps in a day is not the most effective way to cause the body to
release reward chemicals, but the knowing that you walked 10000 steps can
become a reason for releasing them.
is the tool we can use to identify and understand the problem and it is the
tool we will use to the quickly create the new processes that are needed to
actually make living better something that feels better. With sufficient
training and practice, you can teach your brain to reward the very things that
right now feel like suffering and sacrifice and you can become a person who is
chemically motivated to eat right and move more.
nature is only your nature when you allow it to remain so. When you pay
attention to it and take an active role in shaping who you are, what you do and
the choices you make, you will create a new nature. The old one will remain,
it’s been shaped over millions of years, but there is plenty of room in your
brain to create a second way of operating. It takes effort and practice, but
fortunately not the millions of years that the unmoving overeating baselines
took. Use your brain, pay attention, be curious and accept the cost and spend
the energy, and you are bound to be successful.
Body fat is stored energy and the process of storing it when we eat too much and burning it when consumption drops below the levels needed for maintenance represents livings beings best efforts at dealing with periodic food scarcity.
This is the first installment of a post that talks about the new Canada’s Food Guide, its history, and some interesting facts about human beings that make us resistant to the efforts of the government to nudge our eating habits in a more positive direction.
A few months ago the government released the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide. This is something that they do every decade or so with the goal of helping to further educate the public about what they should and should not be eating. It’s the government so it’s important to take their advice with a grain of salt because, in spite of their best intentions, they have a country to run so there is a big disincentive to making a very specific claim about the healthfulness or its direct opposite about any particular product given their reliance on the tax revenue generated by Canadian businesses – it would be very unwise to state that “meat is bad for people and should be avoided” even if it is true, which it isn’t, because the meat industry in Canada is huge. This means that the guide is going to be a combination of facts, some speculation based on science and marketing based on the needs of special interest groups and industry lobbyists.
When we look at the first version of the food guide – the Official Food Rules released in 1942 – we notice a single serving of potatoes per day as the recommendation as was a serving of whole grain products along with 4-6 slices of Canada Approved Bread. Milk was recommended for everyone with children drinking twice as much. It appears below:
These are the health protective foods. Be sure to eat them every day in at least these amounts (use more if you can).
MILK- Adults- 1/2 pint. Children- more than 1 pint. And some cheese as available. FRUITS- One serving of tomatoes daily, or of a citrus fruit, or of tomato or citrus fruit juices, and one serving of other fruits, fresh, canned or dried. VEGETABLES- (In addition to potatoes of which you need one serving daily) – Two servings daily of vegetables, preferably leafy green or yellow and frequently raw. CEREALS AND BREADS- one serving of a whole grain cereal and four to six slices of Canada Approved Bread, brown or white. MEAT, FISH, etc. – One serving a day of meat, fish, or meat substitutes. Liver, heart or kidney once a week. EGGS- at least 3 or 4 eggs weekly
Eat these foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.
Some source of vitamin D such as fish liver oils, is essential for children, and may be advisable for adults.
important to keep in mind that this was released during the WW2 and while food
scarcity wasn’t necessarily a problem in Canada, it was not a time of plenty
for most Canadians and the primary reason why organ meat was recommended. Plus,
it was also 70 years ago meaning that the availability of particular types of
foods was seasonal. Canada is large and it has definite seasons meaning that
very little grows in most of the country for 6 months of the year. The robust
transportation systems we enjoy presently did not exist meaning that fresh or
fresh-ish vegetables from South America or California were simply not
available. Flash frozen or canned vegetables were about the only types of
garden vegetables that would be available for a large portion of the year.
supply chain was very different and much of what we presently have access to
did not exist. Sugar was glucose from tropical sources and not sucrose, which
is a combination of glucose and fructose, which is primarily sourced from corn.
And it was very expensive so it wasn’t used very much. Boxed cereals and boxed
anything were not as abundantly available as they are now and the chemical
industry, while it did exist, was not such an integral part of what we consider
the food industry. It was a simpler time, with fewer choices and with local
foods contributing to the overwhelming majority of what was available to buy.
not good or bad, just different. The eating habits of people had less to do
with food preferences and more to do with what was actually there to be eaten.
People would go hungry because of a lack of availability and would find that
what they ate would be more connected to the time of year or the seasons than
Guide was the government’s effort to ensure that the people would receive
adequate nutrition, and it didn’t have a lot to do with big business because
big business wasn’t really a thing that had much of a foot hold in the food
supply chain. Potatoes were recommended because they store well, so Canada had
a lot of them. They didn’t grow nearly as much corn or grain as they do now and
many of the things that flour allows us to make spoil very quickly without the
chemical preservatives that presently exist, so these things would only be made
years and decades that followed the introduction of the Food Guide, things
changed dramatically. Spoilage stopped being a concern, food processing allowed
for the creation of things that would last for months or years, and the things
that human beings find palatable or irresistible, became cheaper to grow and
manufacture. Food science became a thing and the chemical industry contributed
their part to the creation of low cost, low nutrient, high energy foods that
have an extended shelf life and trigger all of the reward centers of the brain
that were historically only stimulated with rare, hard to find and scarce food.
For example, ripe fruit and honey were available seasonally and then not at
all. Food science put an end to this scarcity meaning sweet high calorie food
stuffs were available year round.
choice and preferences took over. We no longer needed to be content with simply
satisfying hunger, we could now begin to focus on satisfying a craving for a
particular thing. The canned apples or peach jam were replaces as the winter
time source of sweetness with things like boxed cookies, candy, or low cost
chocolate. Say what you like about the health effects of eating too much fruit,
or its relatively low nutritional content, but when given a choice between
preserved fruit or modern candy, our species will get more nutrition and less
energy out of things that grow than things that are manufactured. Again, this
is not good or bad, it is just a thing that is true. Small amounts of
manufactured and boxed candy is fine for healthy people, it just isn’t as
beneficial as a similar amount of grown food.
reasons for this are very straight forward. In order to put something in a box
for consumption at some point in the future it cannot spoil and it cannot
change form. Spoilage is prevented by adding things that prevent it or by
removing the things that cause it meaning that preservatives are added or
minerals are removed which result in novel combinations of chemicals that have
never existed in nature before, let alone been consumed as food by anyone.
These products maintain their form though the creative use of stabilizing
agents that were discovered by the chemical industry. The traditional oils that
were used to make things like bread and cookies were replaced with chemically
altered oils that are solid at room temperature meaning the bread and cookies
look and taste the same for months. These solid oils or fats are man-made
creations and completely new to human beings – we have no evolutionary history with
them meaning we have no idea how they will impact our bodies or what role they
will play in gene expression.
case, this is bad, and for a few different reasons. The first is that adding
hydrogen molecules to fat to make it more stable is, in essence, the creation
of a new chemical. While it is safe to say that swallowing an individual
hydrogen molecule or a few thousand of them along with each mouthful of food
will be harmless to human beings, when these molecules are joined to other
molecules to form a solid, they are no longer the same thing. Hydrogen is an
element and an important gas that becomes a solid at -260 degrees C.
combined with other elements, it will help the resulting compound to form a
solid at higher temperatures. Our species and anything that is alive on the
planet now, only has an evolutionary history with hydrogen containing solids
that exist in nature and only in the amounts that occur in nature. The
manufacturing of trans-fats to create more stable oils artificially manipulates
the ratio of their availability and it makes it available in a way that does
not exist in nature – dairy and meat does have some trans-fat, but it also has
other things that manufactured trans-fat does not, things that might work
synergistically with the trans-fat to reduce or eliminate its harmful effects.
The fact is that we KNOW the impact of too much trans-fat on human health, it
second reason why adding hydrogen molecules to fat to create a more stable fat
can be bad is because of how it will impact the brain. Fat is high energy
(calorie) so our species has developed a taste for it because any members of
our species that were motivated to eat it would seek it out and consume it
whenever they could. This would mean they were consuming more energy than they
were burning, and would lead to weight gain in terms of increased body fat.
This extra body fat would be used when food was scarce giving these individuals
a better chance of surviving a famine. Over time this survival advantage would
be passed onto the following generations resulting in the tendency for human
beings to find eating fat to be rewarding. By the same token and method, we
also find eating sweet things to be rewarding and in a way that is proportional
to the level of sweetness. When paired together, sweet things that are high in
fat are almost completely irresistible to human beings. We learn very quickly
that high fat sweet things give us a reward and we begin to seek out and
consume these things. Sweet and fat have existed for as long as there have been
people, but the combination of them, or the ease of access to things that
contain a combination of them, is much more recent. Manufacture fats ensured
that the food industry could supply these types of foods, in a stable form that
will not spoil, in a constant and uninterrupted supply.
scientists have used our genes against us and created a food that we are almost
powerless to say no to. Factor in the health damage that the manufacture fat
causes to us and the size of the problem becomes evident. Narrative speaking,
we are programmed to seek out and over eat the very things that will, in the
long term, destroy our health and hurt our well-being.
sake of keeping this on track and because it isn’t entirely clear that GMOs and
fertilizers are harmful to us, or as harmful as overeating trans-fat and
sucrose, I’m going to return to the topic of the most recent version of the
Canada Food Guide after stating that today, thanks to technology and the development
associated with corporations and capitalism, we have access to an abundance of
food, and year round access to almost everything that we are able to eat.
Seasonal eating is no longer a thing that we have to stick to. While local
foods will be cheaper at certain parts of the year, these food will be
available year round if we have the money to buy them. This means that a lack
of availability can no longer be cited as the reason why someone does not
follow the Canada Food Guide – a lack of money to buy imported fruits and
vegetables remains a reason but, as I will outline, it isn’t a valid reason for
most of Canada’s population that live in larger and more populated areas.
change with the most recent version of the Guide is the elimination of a recommended
number of servings. The previous version still provided a number of servings of
each of the 4 food groups broken down by sex and age and it seemed to be geared
towards getting adequate nutrition and adequate energy. Be aware, these two
things are not the same. Nutrition is the vitamins, minerals and protein a food
provides while energy is the stuff that the body will metabolize as fuel to
power all of the physiological processes required to sustain life. For example,
the body needs a certain amount of vitamin B12 to function optimally and it
will get most of this vitamin from the meat you eat. Without the B12, things
begin to breakdown and the body will start to direct any available B12 to the
most critical processes. This means that a deficiency in a vitamin leads to
reduced functioning of specific processes and not a global failure; this is a
very good survival approach and is one that is used by most living things
because it sustains life giving the organism the opportunity to seek out and
consume the missing molecules. Your hair may fall out or your digestive system
may become less effective, but you are still able to think and move – to hunt –
and find some meat to replenish the B12 levels.
different from nutrition because it is the fuel for the metabolism. You need to
consume energy fairly consistently to keep things going. When your food does
not provide sufficient energy, your metabolic rate will begin to slow down and
certain physiologically processes will begin to go off line. Non-essential
processes will be first to drop off, things like hair and nail growth, followed
by muscle repair and replacement of dead cells. Given long enough, the body
will begin to consume its own tissues for energy – wasting diseases like AIDS
and various late stage cancers are examples of this. However, unlike disease,
if someone finds and starts to eat food, the body will start-up these processes
and attempt to repair whatever damage was done and take care of whatever needs
to be taken care of.
is stored energy and the process of storing it when we eat too much and burning
it when consumption drops below the levels needed for maintenance represents
livings beings best efforts at dealing with periodic food scarcity. You can be
sure that within the genetic material of all people are combinations of DNA
that code for this process and, as a result of the natural selective breeding
that periodic famines caused, all of us are exceptionally good at storing body
fat. Our potential ancestors who did not have the good genes for storing body
fat died off during times of food scarcity leaving nothing but people who were
uniquely coded to store fat.
distinction between nutrition and energy is important because allows for a
clear understand for the existence of malnourished people who are obese. The
opposite can also be true although much less common given the huge difference
between energy and vitamin requirements; one group of people who have a tendency
towards adequate nourishment but insufficient energy consumption are those who
are trying to extend their life through intense calorie reduction. This group
eats large amounts of garden vegetables while refraining from foods that
contain carbohydrate, fat and excessive protein. They will still desire to eat
more as they will be hungry, they will just choose to not eat and, over time,
learn to ignore food cravings and become accustomed to being hungry.
everyone else hunger serves to motivate us to eat and it does not necessarily
reflect our actual needs. It serves our survival needs.
about it this way: our genes have coded over-eating into our operating system
because historically, those who over ate survived to reproduce. This means that
we are coded to do the very thing that causes an increase in body fat. This
tendency manifest itself in many different ways, or exists for a few different
reasons, one of which is a latency between the time when we have eaten enough
in terms of food volume and when the stomach sends the signals telling the
brain that it is adequately filled. Rough estimates put this latency period at
between 10 and 15 minutes; the exact length of time is less important than
understanding the consequences to this phenomenon. The outcome is that we
continue to eat past the point at which we should stop if replenishing our
energy was our actual goal. This only makes sense IF overeating was in fact the
goal for human beings.
powerful mechanism, one that I have already mentioned above, has to do with
motivation. Human beings will have a tendency to do things that they find
rewarding, and we find eating sweet or fat foods rewarding and find eating
things that are a combination of sweet & fat to be incredibly rewarding.
And it doesn’t take very long for us to figure out what we like and then to go
after consuming it. Once we have uncovered it, we will over eat it at any
opportunity and will often find ourselves continuing to eat it will after any
reasonable amount of calories have been consumed. Some of us will, in fact,
ignore the body’s “I am full” signal and continue to eat, and eat, and eat.
makes sense given the relative scarcity of sweet and fat things in our
ancestral past. It was better to gorge when the opportunity presented itself
because it would usually only happen during the harvest season when fruit would
fully ripen and when animals had enjoyed an abundance of food throughout the
summer. Remember, all mammals have a significant amount of their genes in
common, so they share the mechanism of storing body fat through over eating
with us. Animals have more body fat at the end of fall / beginning of winter
than they do at any other time, so they will contain more of the stuff we have
learned to crave at this time of year. Coupled with an abundance of ripe fruit,
we are going to be highly motivated to eat as much as we possibly can and to
overeat, during harvest feasts. This allowed our ancestors to store the maximum
amount of energy in the shortest period of time, which helped them get through
the winter when food was scarce.
this worked perfectly, as evident by our species survival. Historically, we
were able to get through the tough time because we over ate during the good
times. Those who didn’t over eat, didn’t survive long enough to pass along
their genes. While we rarely sat down to eating massive amounts of highly
nutritious food, we were probably adequately nourished because the large
amounts of higher energy food we did eat contained enough vitamins, minerals
and protein for our bodies to function effectively. And it is worth considering
the slow burn that nutrient deficiencies have on our ability to function,
particularly when compared to the rapid onset of the negative consequences
associated with a deficiency in energy consumption.
it works too well and it is now a major problem for modern people simply
because we are running the identical code that we were 15000 years ago before
farming of any type afforded us the freedoms associated with the elimination of
moment to consider what life would have been like before farming. We would
exist in small groups and would have to follow the food. We’d eat as much as we
could whenever we could, and then go periods of time when there wasn’t enough
to eat. We’d live off of our body fat and we wandered around looking for
animals to hunt and collecting whatever plant stuff we could that would provide
us with anything useful. Life would be hard, a lot of our energy would go
towards generating heat to maintain an appropriate body temperature and most of
the rest would go toward finding our next meal. There would be very little
specialization of labor because there wouldn’t be enough food to free some-up anyone
from having to hunt or gather. There would be constant hunger separated by the
occasional moments of gorging.
world were this was the norm, the ability to store energy when possible and the
motivation to do the very thing that was needed to create a caloric surplus
that storing energy required were essential.
forward to 1942 when the first Canada Food Guide known as the Official Food
Rules came out. Sure, we were running the same code that had us seek out and
overeat high calorie foods and to overeat whatever food we had available, but
we were not living in an environment of abundance. While it wasn’t necessarily
a place of constant scarcity, given that farming existed and we had learned how
to preserve enough things to make them available during the winter when nothing
grew, it was not a place where there was unlimited food available to everyone.
The more affluent did have improved access and they had higher body fat levels
as a result, but in general, people looked more or less the same as they had
for thousands of years; although there is some evidence to suggest that we were
slightly taller and slightly bigger in terms of muscle and bone structure.
Obesity was a very, very rare thing and being undernourished in terms of a
deficiency of vitamins or minerals was more of a problem.
enough energy to go around but there would be seasonal droughts in terms of
nutrients. This was not great, but it was a much smaller problem than having
your population starving. So the government set out to solve this smaller
problem and created the Official Food Rules in an effort to combat it.
look again at these rules and notice how little food is actually being
recommended in terms of servings, the language “when available” with reference
to cheese and “at least these amounts” and the second last line “eat these
foods first, then add these and other foods you wish.”
life time, I do not recall there ever bring a shortage of cheese, it has ALWAYS
been available as far as I can tell. Regardless, they wanted to make sure
everyone got enough calcium and believed that dairy was the best source of it.
Next, they believed that if you were able to consume ONLY the outlined food
that you would receive adequate nutrition in terms of vitamin and minerals.
Finally, you had free range over what you ate AFTER you consumed the outlined
food. You were fine to eat other things, like cookies or chocolate, and
probably beer, but to do so only after you had eaten the other prescribed
items. They are not limiting what you eat, they are saying eat at least these
things before you eat other stuff. This form of languaging paints a picture
that, as they viewed it at the time, did not include a significant number of
people who were eating way too much. Obesity statistics are hard to find for
this period of time and, while not statistically sound to say this, the lack of
easily available statistics coupled with the available statistics of ~10% 1970,
it is probably safe to conclude that obesity wasn’t much of a consideration let
alone a problem.
The guide continued along in this fashion for about 3 decades until the 1977 Canada’s Food Guide when it began to take on a more graphical / metaphoric form. There are a few reasons why a flat text list of rules was no longer deemed sufficient enough to capture and maintain the attention of the population, like the availability of colour television, leading to a need to make things entertaining. The colour wheel that featured a smiling sun that was licking its lips is more playful and has pictures of specific food items of each type or category. It is easier to look at and is presented as two sided with more specific textual information on the back.
The name and number of recommended servings per day for two of the categories changed between the 1982 Canada’s Food Guide and the 1992 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. “Breads and cereals” was changed to “grain products” and the recommended servings increased from 4-5 to 5-12 as “fruits and vegetables” was changed to “vegetables and fruit” and the number of servings increased from 4-5 to 5-10. These changes reflect an increase in the availability of both grain and fruit along with a refocus on the importance of getting enough vitamins and minerals as indicated by the re-ordering of vegetables before fruits.
I remember this guide very well. It came out the year I graduated high school and it was what was in use when I took a nutrition class at university. It was also what was around when I first got exposed to the Atkins diet – an extremely low carbohydrate eating approach that causes people to enter a state called Ketosis meaning they are burning fat for energy vs. sugar. According to the recommendation in 1992 Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, it would be impossible for someone get into ketosis if they followed it, even if they only consumed the lowest number of recommended grain servings. We were taught, and I believed, that ketosis was a dangerous state to be in and that it should be avoided at all costs. What wasn’t clear to me at the time was that ketosis was a completely natural state to get into and it was, in fact, the very state that we used to go into every time our food supply was reduced and we began to burn body fat for energy.
it worth, 5 servings of grain is a considerable amount of carbohydrate, while
12 servings is a massive amount and much more than most people should be
consuming. According to the guide, one serving is 30 grams of cereal which has
an average of 20 grams of carbohydrate, or 80 calories. This means that they
recommend people eat between 100 and 240 grams of carbohydrate per day or 400
to 960 calories of carbs per day. Eating this amount of well above the
threshold for ketosis. While ketosis is not the only way people will burn body
fat, it is the most effective way, and the way in which our ancestors would
have gone about it given that is what happens when the food supply is
there had been a trend of an increased number of servings of grain products in
the newer versions of the guides, 1992 marks a huge increase from a max of 5 to
a max of 12, while offering very little in terms of justification for eating
more or less of them other than suggesting that teenagers should eat more while
adults should eat somewhere in the middle.
significance of this is very important and it has had a big impact on the
number of people who are considered obese in the country. The early guides
offered minimums and a suggestion that you could eat more AFTER you ate all of
the recommended food, the 1992 guide gives vague advice and doesn’t explain the
consequences of eating too many serving. This is a problem because there was no
longer any food scarcity. There was an abundance of food, particularly grain
products, which are high energy, and a massive selection of refined or
processed grain products, which have a lower amount of fiber and therefore a
higher percentage of calories that the body will metabolize for energy. Without
clear instructions, with a higher recommended number of servings and a lack of
food scarcity, people would just eat more because the guide said that they
could or should.
The kitten jumped up on to the porch, ate a little and didn’t run away when my mom picked up the bowl can put it down inside the room. It followed, and when reached the bowl it sat down and began to eat. All good, and this was the moment it would become a pet. It had walked past my mom to reach the food, ignoring her and me. As it ate mindlessly my mom made eye contact with me right before she gently closed the door. And that was it, the kitten was domesticated…. And it was for about 5 seconds.
About twelve years ago, I went over to my parents house to visit them. I said hi to my mom when I got to their house. She was hanging out in the back yard, something that she did a lot during the summer, gardening and trying to feed the various animals that happened to come around during the warmer months. She replied and then refocused her attention on what seemed to be four or five kittens that were milling around.
I went into the living room, sat down beside my dad, and started talking with him. After the usual how are you doings and small talk we got round to taking about the kittens. He was a little bothered by them and wasn’t getting any of the same joy that my mom was. His concern was not about now, they were fine and my mom was doing a good job feeding them. Their mother was always close by and it was a healthy family for all intents and purposed. The litter had remained the same size from the first sighting a few months before meaning that there was plenty of food and sufficient shelter to stop predators from getting at them.
My dad was concerned about the winter because it can be brutally cold and domestic short hair tabby cats are not very well equipped to deal with sustained below zero temperatures. Nature is indifferent and cruel, so whatever has food and shelter will live and whatever is lacking either will die. He wasn’t much of an animal lover, but he didn’t dislike or hate them either. He was more of an animal tolerater, accepting that they are living being and there their experience of life has many of the same characteristic as the life experiences that human being have to deal with. Whatever else they may go through, it was clear to him that they experienced moments of contentment or satisfaction and the counter part experience of pain and the need for something.
There were five kittens, he knew this because my mom had named them. And to him, these were going to be the best moments in the lives of four of them. From this moment forward, their lives would only ever be this good, or worse. The remaining one would make it though the winter and live to enjoy this peak experience next year.
“Son, it’s a lot of suffering that doesn’t need to happen.”
This was a stinging contrast to the joy I noticed with my mom a few minutes before. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the sight of the playing kittens and the conjured image of frozen kitten corpses that winter would inevitably cause. I started to feel a little sick about it.
“We’re going to trap them and bring them to the humane society. They are taking the food that your mom is giving them, so they’ll find their way into the cages.”
This made me feel a little better. I have no idea what their future would be like when they ended up in a shelter, they were, after all, feral cats. Their parents were feral and with the exception of their minor contact with my mom, they regarded human beings with near absolute suspicion and kept their distance. Cats are killing machines that are simply not acting on this killer instinct when they pretend to be tame while playing the role of “pet.” But when they do not learn these domesticated behaviors when they are young, it is probably not going to happen. Of the five kittens, only one of them had journeyed close enough to my mom for her to gently touch it. The rest of them acted like wild cats and made sure to keep enough distance to book it if they needed to.
“She thinks she can tame them, and that might make them more adoptable.” This was said with a level of optimism that was eclipsed by the near certainty that he would soon be taking my mom to the emergency room to get stitched-up and rabies shots after the kittens made it clear that they belonged to no one and that they would let her continue to feed them so long as she stayed far enough away.
We chatted about work, news and the usual subject before I went out to see my mom and find out about her plan.
I found her in the mud room. It’s a small room, with three doors. There is a door into the kitchen, which I closed behind me. The other two doors lead outside. The one leading to the front yard was closed, while the one leading to a small porch with four or five steps to the back was open. I glanced out and saw my mom with a bowl of soft cat food that she was placing down on the ground near where I could see five kittens and a fully grown cat. As the kittens would come close to the bowl, my mom would pick it up, move closer to the steps and put it down again. We made eye contact and I understood what she was doing. Saying nothing, I continued to watch and she moved the bowl 6 or 7 more times, slowly making her way onto the porch.
“I only need one, the rest will follow.”
I instantly had her shared vision. The animal shelter has a lot more success finding homes for friendly lovable animal. By getting one to warm-up to her, the rest would follow and when they ended up at the shelter they would be adopted out to good homes and enjoy an easy life. Very simple, both a good idea and a solid plan to make sure my dads concerns would be addressed.
One of the kittens was more curious and risk taking than the rest. They were the target for the initial domestication and would then relate the message to the rest of them that it was all good.
The kitten jumped up on to the porch, ate a little and didn’t run away when my mom picked up the bowl can put it down inside the room. It followed, and when reached the bowl it sat down and began to eat. All good, and this was the moment it would become a pet. It had walked past my mom to reach the food, ignoring her and me. As it ate mindlessly my mom made eye contact with me right before she gently closed the door. And that was it, the kitten was domesticated. This was evident from the fact that it just kept eating. This was going to be so much easier than anticipated.
And it was domesticated for about 5 seconds. At this point we learned a very valuable lesson about wild animals that you would think two adults wouldn’t have to learn.
The kitten looked at me, then back towards my mom. This was the instant it became obvious that it did not share the same assessment of the situation as doctor Dolittle and her idiot son. It wasn’t a pet. The wildness switch in its brain had not been switched to off. In fact, it had suddenly been dialed-up as it realized that it could no longer see the outside let alone leave at will. It started running, but with no where to go it started running faster. This didn’t open any doors, although it did open my moms eyes. It wasn’t just the metaphoric eye opening that marks the obliteration of a piece ignorance, it was the actual physical eye opening that marks an unconscious need to bring in more sensory information because what was coming in is not sufficient to make sense of what was going on.
The kitten was now running as fast as it could, but with nowhere to go, it is running everywhere, all at once. It isn’t paying a moment of heed to me or my mom other than the brief moments when it is running over us as it does laps of the small room. Faster and faster, going higher and higher up the walls as it tries to spin its way towards freedom. Maybe it saw the light from the windows as the way out, maybe it is the inertia and centrifugal force, whatever the reason, the kitten was running along the walls about two or three feet off of the floor as though it has never been taught to obey the laws of gravity.
For what seemed like minutes it ran and I stood there slack jawed and dumb. When my eyes met my moms again there was a series of thoughts exchanged in the silent and certain way only a mother can relate to her child. In order they were “what the fuck,” then “this is not how it works,” leading to “this might be how it works,” to “this is how it works,” closing in on “how do we stop this,” ending with “the door caused this, maybe the door can stop it.”
The door opens and the kitten launches itself out like a bullet, flying over the porch and the steps before touching down on the grass on its way past its siblings and out of sight. It’s moving so fast that the other kittens move in slow motion as they react to the blur it leave as shots past them. Whatever had been going though their heads about where it had gone was quickly answered with “past us” in hurry. It was the bravest one so its sudden reappearance was the spark that lite a fire of absolute terror that seemed to explode the back yard into a chaotic frenzy of supercritical “save yourself” panic.
Then it was over. The back yard was empty. Everything was silent. The moment of insane action had faded into this short-lived one of complete calm and near serenity. As the seconds passed, it became obvious to my mom and me that something was going to need to be said because we had both witnessed something for the first time in our lives that had never been imagined by either one of us. No, not two grown adults doing something remarkably stupid with an absolutely predictable outcome. Well, not just that. We had also witnessed in a matter of seconds how cats work, how nature works, and how domestication does NOT work.
I cannot remember who spoke first or what exactly was said but I do remember my brain flashing back to the “as God is my witness….” scene of the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP in Cincinnati when Arthur Carlson they gave out turkeys.
My dad had heard the noise and came out to see what was going on and when we explained what we had learned he just kind of nodded and went back to the living room to watch TV. I didn’t stay for dinner, and left a few minutes later a changed man. No matter what else has happened in my life since then, any time I see a stray cat and feel the need to pet it, I always make sure to never stand between it and its fasted path to safety. The only thing that saved my mom and me from getting viciously attacked was the kittens relatively young age. It had not yet figured out just how useful its claws and teeth were at prompting other creatures to stay away and to never corner it. It had been, up until that point, successful at running away without having to attack, which was the only reason why my mom and I did not have to go to the hospital. That was it. It was dumb luck which, when accompanying dumb action, is the only way things will work out okay.
A few weeks later the kittens and their mother were trapped and brought to the humane society.
In the spring of the following year, my mom stopped feeding the animals in the back yard. It was a pretty brutal and long winter that year. This, when paired with the experience that triggered her to realize that wild kittens are wild animals, gave her the insight that in the long run it was better for everything if there wasn’t any easy to get food. It meant fewer wild animals that she was powerless to domesticate.