The Advantages of Solitude
Stuck in the House
I'd like to think that I was standing, seen by all, before my 'Bully Pulpit', easily broadcasting Truth and Wisdom to the Many. The image in my mind is that of the great publishing magnate in 'Atlas Shrugged', writing flawless editorials with a blue pencil extemporaneously on a sheet of butcher paper, sent for immediate publication. The reality in my case is somewhat different.
My writing is constrained because of the physical difficulties I have: today, for instance, I find I have pretty good control of my left Index and Middle fingers and the Thumb, Index and Middle fingers of the right hand. The right thumb supports the base of the iPad Mini which I use to produce these blogs, keeps it from sliding off my lap onto the Un-carpeted floor and thereby getting more cracks on its' face plate. My mind, here In a climate-controlled house, is well regulated, I think. I haven't taken any Modafinil, my favorite dopamine-reuptake antagonist but have drunk a liter of Very Strong Coffee, so my thoughts are centered and, I think, sober and rational.
The iPad is compact. I keep it on my lap, one leg crossed over another. In my electric wheelchair, I am established in the Living Room with the unplanted back-yard acre descending from my North-facing Windows to the fence and the local wilderness beyond. There is no one in sight. I have egress to the veranda, to the side yard and thereby to the front Entrance. Aluminum ramps connect doors to the pathways outside. That's all I can do by myself to wander around the manse hereabouts, at least until Nora gets home, my daughter flies in from LA or my son leaves England for a bit.
I notice that my left forth finger is now usable. This may shut off later.
Our swimming pool, 15 yards long and 12 feet deep at the far end, is a place I haven't been to yet this Spring. Though I'm determined to before I fly off to Portland for the rest of the year. It is as warm, or cool, as the ambient temperature. 'Unheated', as we might say.
Quick look at Happy Chemicals
There is a small handful of neuromediators that our brains use and need, to act as directors and guides, chemical switches and control-knobs. I'd recommend anyone, especially anyone as obsessed as I am, to take ten minutes out and read (or, review; leave the reading of the thing to me) a wonderful short book by Loretta Breuning PhD, who is associated with the Inner Mammal Institute. Look it up. She has written several such books directed at the understanding of major neuro-active compounds: serotonin, dopamine,oxytocin and endorphin. These are the Happy Chemicals; a fifth, important for me because of its' internal dampening and restraining effect, is cortisol.
i will not explain the actions of these in too much depth. I have repeated proven to all readers how boring too full of myself I can be. Read the book. It's the kind of thing we kept in a pile of books, pamphlets and periodicals my sibs and I kept for use and perusal in 'the Reading Room' as we called it in our home when I was a kid. If this sounds mysterious, think about it. I will say no more.
Serotonin makes us feel respected. Oxytocin makes us feel safe with others. Endorphin masks pain. Dopamine accentuates the 'joy of finding' and is a powerful self-reward for accomplishment. The fifth substance is Cortisol, which is not a Happy Chemical at all. It kicks in when a need is not fulfilled, when an opportunity is missed, when danger approaches and is here. It deadens life, makes perception two-dimensional and the tasks which lie before us undoable. Those dishes? Morning shaving? Federal taxes or a letter I owe to a Friend who Isn't Really? Studying for that med-school biochemistry final? Undoable. Such a thing as cortisol is a prod, a sharp stick in the behind, a motivator. Unpleasant as it is, we depend on such prods to (at least I do) get us out of bed after an early awakening, to think about the things we must do, to 'review the bidding' and become a real Actor in the day.
What happens now is nifty. Just seeing the task and moving to perform it causes a little spurt of dopamine to flow into the circulation and reward us. The cortisol is a bit overcome. It's nice to feel like we're winning once in a while.
As I am a sentient creature, I see the dissatisfaction and the dragging feelings which so often seem to hang on me, like a 'sea anchor' (as per previous blogs) or a load of detritus on my psychological hide. How to clear it all off? How to feel better? This deadening feeling hits me often, like when I wake up. Well, we have reviewed all the chemical Rewards and Directors our little brains make themselves. Read on and find other treats we find outside our bodies, rewards of exploration and discovery.
Mother's little Helper...or Helpers
So, I or looking at the problem communally, We, need some way to make life standable. I have several items I use. First, I learned a long time ago that, on arising, I feel better if I start any day with a big drink of water. Does this dilute the evil humors? Who knows? All I know is that I feel better and that I think clearer. I'm up, time to get the next Helper: Coffee.
I know I've gone into this topic in other blogs: Methyl Xanthines. In the late Medieval period, Almighty God saw that his people in Europe were not doing well. After the Black Death, 1240 or thereabouts, people were starving spiritually as well as physically, stuck in habits long followed and liable to cause them punishment or death. The population was reduced by half or so because of disease. However, people could now start to move about. There was no full population, let alone almost-full population. Now, many were finally free to rove about; they were at long last needed and could deal from a position of relative power. The nobles needed the peasants to farm for them But they were now mobile. All they needed was somewhere new to go. Exploration! The New World! New people, new foods, new diseases. New Chemicals!
Drinking water could kill you in times prior to the present Century or two and did. Wine could be drunk and was but was a bit befuddling, especially if drunk all the time. In America, the answer was found. A class of vegetable chemicals which could waken a thinking man, hydrate him, nourish him, delight him; cheap as shoats, available to all. And Nonalcoholic! Enter the Methyl Xanthines. Caffeine, Theophylline, Theobromine.
Caffeine, principally recognized in coffee but also found in lesser amounts in Tea and Chocolate. caffine has fueled many an all-night pre-test study session or Bull Session. Or, as we did in med school, a late Yachtzee Tournament. Good with all food, good by itself, a sharpener of thought.
Theophylline, found in Tea, the most-drunk beverage in the world (some say coffee is but the point is made), made important with the British trade, the original Green Teas of China giving way partially to black and other varieties grown in the British Raj after the Opium War in the mid 1800s. A shot of a Methyl Xanthine to keep you awake, focused, interested and interesting. In a recent movie, 'The Others', we see the Mother Ghost sitting down with the Housekeeper Ghost for a cup of Tea at the end of the film; this drink will settle mom, calm her, let her understand her new reality of being dead, having killed her children, being unable to change anything and quit always acting like an uncontrolled harridan.
Theobromine, 'the food of the Gods', much loved by the Aztecs and drunk out of once-used golden cups by their kings, mixable with other foods to flavor it: hot peppers with the Aztecs, sugar and milk with the Dutch and Spanish. Much loved for its alertness-inducing effects, as in the Canadian Navy late-night at-sea drills. Found in Mole as a delicious, only mildly-addicting part of regular meals in the Southwest. What a gift given us by God and Nature!
By myself, unaffected by the Mob
If I were in my loft in Portland, I would be able to roam the Northwest, go shopping, go to the Downtown branch of the County Library, go south to PSU, eat at a hundred places by myself if necessary. Right now, though, I'm stuck at home with coffee tea and chocolate, other food, the home Library and all of the outside near-to-home to wander about in but with no vehicle other than my wheelchair, my range limited and solitary. I'd thought that I could live in my own world, not needing any outside influence. 'I am a rock; I am an Island..' But I found, after spending some months reading stuff in my living room shelves, going to and fro on the concrete paths outside, even riding in the neighborhood close to home, that all this could be boring. Even in Portland, with limited social contact, I can feel an ever-stronger need for companionship, for someone outside my books and documentarys.
There is only one avenue to allow my solitude to continue and let me thrive, found and used by Contemplatives all over the world and in all times: contemplation and the meditation that accompanies it. This is handled in several other blogs and I will not touch the topic at this time...
The outside temps will hit the low 90s today. I'm starting to think maybe a trip North would be nice.
Sitting here, getting coffee and Lunch, picking up books at random from our home library, it is very quiet here, 'the atmosphere of quiet like an undiscovered tomb...' I cannot be affected by the immediacy of my mini iPad's offerings from the outside world.. Being left alone, I can listen to all the nonsense from the left and right, put it all to bed in my mind and maybe produce an answer or at least a Considered Response. This, by itself, is a huge advantage of the forced solitude of my life. It may condense my thought and help me prevent the production of embarrassing gouts of well-meant folderoll I've been guilty of in the past.