Monday, April 29, 2013

Through the course of the day, the week, the month, the years,
I have seen things I wish I could un-see,
Heard what I wish I could un-hear,
And alas, unbeknownst to my mind, felt what I wish I could un-feel.

Somedays, it all pours in so steadily- like a heavy downpour threatening the very existence of the metal roof on which it falls.
These are the days when the sights are so vivid; they fog the ones I recall from my previous existence.
These are the days when the sounds boom so loudly, they threaten to take over the words of the Universe.
Alas… these are also the days when my senses flow so deeply within me; I can hear the swish swashing within my veins.

But then, just when the The Sensorium begins to overflow…
I am shown things I hope I never un-see,
And exposed to words I hope never to un-hear,
And miraculously, despite the parallel nature of time, given opportunities to feel things I hope I never un-feel.

For this, I am thankful.
For this, I hope never to un-do. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A horrifying eye opener

     I just got sick to my stomach. It wasn't because there was something wrong with the bagel and coffee breakfast I had this morning while sitting in my perfectly air-conditioned cocoon of an office while browsing my facebook, and checking my email. It was because I clicked on a link which, as it turns out, was a portal into a world little known to me and even less acknowledged by those around me. The world of under-age sex trafficking, especially as it pertains to Indian cities. The bagel inside my belly churned as I clicked from one article to another outlining stories about girls as young as 10 years of age being raped, kidnapped or sold into prostitution, some even 'imported' from other countries just to cater to the desires of grown men.
     Horrified as I was as I read the stories of these young girls who have lost their innocence in the worst possible way, I also wondered about the adults who partake in this process everyday. It is obvious to see that these young girls are the victims in these scenarios; girls who have gone from playing with dolls and puppets to becoming the dolls and puppets of every man who can afford to desire them behind closed doors in brothels. However, I wonder if at a higher level, these men (and grown women) are also victims of something. After all, we've all been taught to hate the game, not the player right?
     Almost instantly, I am tempted to blame society because in the end, humans are social creatures and our behaviors are heavily defined by the cultural norms in our society. Obviously, no society condones the rape of a child but do the various schemas we develop during our exposure to society's norms somehow lead to it? Is it too much of a stretch to think that a society where an individual's sexual desires are meant to be underplayed in public, where the patriarchal ego status trumps all other positive traits/virtues in an individual, and where the socio-economic divide is a chasm wide enough to justify throwing a homeless person under a bus without any consequences, might provide an interplay of ideologies that justify these actions? In essence, is it that hard to understand why an average-aged male with an average income and an averagely suppressed libido might turn to an average brothel to find (average?) satisfaction? Hopefully not.
     If you are with me so far, then consider this next thought- what would keep such a man from wanting to 'up' his satisfaction if he were to become above-average in the mentioned aspects of his life. What if he was an above-average-aged man with an above-average income and an above-averagely suppressed libido. The only step up (or down I suppose depending on where you stand) from deriving pleasure from visits to a prostitute could likely be the introduction of the novelty of a child prostitute. Is your brain twisted much from all this thinking? Mine sure is! Nevertheless, this need for contortion of my brain to understand this possible way of thinking lead me to another possible cause of these behaviors.
     Could it be possible that these grown men are victims of their own brains? Once again, it certainly isn't too far from the known facts of sexual disorders- the need to derive pleasure is so great that it surpasses the logical, norm-oriented thought processes of the brain. I hesitate to associate this increasing demand for under-aged sex workers with Pedophilia because Pedophiles are typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children. From the articles I've read today, this interest in younger prostitutes is more because of a 'fresh-fresher-freshest-meat' way of thinking as opposed to a desire for children alone. This ideology is consistent with the simple demand and supply process most of us cater to- we want the best our money can buy. The more the money, the better our expectations (demand characteristics). The better our expectation, the more lucrative the sale (supply incentives).
     It is both, eye-opening and disgusting, that the horrific act of sexual pandering of young children can potentially be understood at such a simple level. Eye-opening because it enables us to see why someone would be drawn towards something so wrong, and disgusting because it makes us realize how easy it is to justify (but not condone) the most terrible of acts. Makes one wonder how our own thought-process intermingle to justify our own seemingly bizarre actions huh?
     Self reflections aside, the point of this article is to create awareness of the need to spread the word and understand the importance of providing avenues for mental therapy. There are only so many young girls who can be traced down, pried away from the claws of sexual predators and returned to their families. More effort needs to be put into rehabilitating the thoughts of men who are drawn to these helpless victims. Supply ceases when the demand does. So its time to help create a society where misgivings in our sexual desires and thoughts are open to discussion instead of being shunned into silence due to archaic norms. Speak up, reach out, be tolerant and help save another life (whether on the demand or supply side) from falling victim to sex trafficking.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Sensorium

I spread myself too thin sensing you,
spent too many moments tracing your layers with my skin,
cast too many glances at your imperfections with my eyes,
accumulated too many snippets of the sounds of your existence with my ears,
savored too many bites of the flavors of your being,
took too many whiffs of your fragrance with my nose.
I spread myself too thin sensing you,
so much that sensing you was all I could do.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why do fools fall in Love?

         "Why do fools fall in love?" is what she asked me. It wasn't meant to be a serious question. It was merely one that my patient threw at me this morning while feigning frustration towards me for dragging her out of bed and into my office at 8 am on a saturday morning while asking her all sorts of testing question. She was convinced that many questions I had asked her had no answer and thus decided to challenge me with her own seemingly unanswerable question. And so she asked and moved along while I was left with the question hanging in my mind.

         I had almost forgotten it about 2 hours later when the question popped back again into my mind while I was having a conversation with my other patient for the day: A middle aged intellectually disabled individual who lived the life of an adolescent because of his delayed developmental level. By all measures he appeared to be an older teenager whether it be his facial features, his dressing style, his demeanor, his handwriting and his view of the world. The only thing about him that was a give away of his true age was...well...his actual age. Imagine my surprise then when he told me he was married- and had been for almost half a decade to a woman who was also mentally disabled. The surprise was justified not just because he looked so young, but also because in most of my encounters with mentally disabled patients, it is unusual to find them in a committed romantic relationship. Society makes sure these grown people live the life of pre-pubescent ones by treating them no better than the child-like individuals they appear to be. But thats another topic for another time.

        When asked how he spent time with his "wife" (which is what he referred to his wife as), he told of going to the movies, arcades, parks, concerts etc. with her. This again, was unusual and compelled my, quite surprised, supervisor to ask him "Do you love her? Because it sounds like you do!" To this he replied "we help each other cope." What an interesting concept I thought. He liked her enough to share a living space with her and to spend time with her doing fun things. And that is precisely when it hit me- by Society's measure of a fool, this man was certainly it for having sub-par IQ and the need to be dependent on his family for basic survival and yet...somehow he had found love! He asked me if I was married and when I told him I wasn't lucky enough like him to find a partner for life, I realize I really did mean what I had said. This child-like man had found what so many of us spend out entire lives looking for. He had found a companion he enjoyed spending time with and most importantly, was able to derive support from when life felt hopeless and futile.

        Perhaps then the question my first patient should have asked me earlier in the morning should have been "why do ONLY fools fall in love?" Then I would have had a quick response for her- only fools fall in love because only they have achieved a core understanding of love- its all about lifelong, easy companionship. It isn't about the passionate embraces, the long stemmed roses, walks on the beach at dusk, or the constant utterances of 'I love you.' All these things are certainly important for the relationship but in the end, they are all fluff. Just like a sheep remains a sheep even after it's wool had been sheered, so does/should love.

        Perhaps this is why so many of us fail to find the real deal- we keep chasing the fluff and get star-struck by its charm with making an assessment of what lies underneath it all. Perhaps it takes an innocent, naive view of life to work from the inside out, instead of the outside in. This would certainly explain why children love so easily and form attachments so quickly. Things are more transparent without the contamination of seemingly evolved thoughts and superfluous constraints on our hearts.
       By the time we grow up, we have been infected with romanticized views of love and are burdened by scars of past toxic relationships, consequently failing to give a chance to relationships that are simple and forgiving. Only "fools" follow their heart because they embrace whats most important and obvious- simplicity, friendship, and life long companionship. Ironically then, fools they remain not, instead rendering us the foolish ones too intellectualized to stay satisfied with a good thing. Oh the simple-complex ironies of life!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I think, therefore I do

“The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do.”

Last week, I heard an interesting story over lunch with a friend. The story was about one of my friend's friends, a woman who I'll refer to as Pam. Pam had been married to her husband Jim for close to 15 years and had an adorable tween daughter. However, during her 15th year of marriage, she disclosed to her girlfriends that she and Jim were going to get a divorce. Consequently, she asked for her friends to respect their privacy during this difficult time. As the months lingered on, Pam slowly drifted apart from her friends and stopped returning phone calls and other such queries into her well-being. A few months later, her friends got wind of a custody battle between Pam and Jim along with wafting information about the divorce turning into an ugly one. Her friends tried to reach out to her but she maintained her solitude.

Imagine her friends' surprise then when before the end of the year, Pam was heard to be in a relationship with another man in her workplace. Shocking still, by the beginning of the next year, Pam had married this man (Ron) and moved with him, and her daughter in tow, to another part of the country! The scenario gets messier when one considers the fact that Ron had also divorced his wife earlier in the year and had sent her, and his children packing back to their home country (with full understanding of the fact that in doing so, he would legally no longer be able to see his children ever again).

Hindsight is always 20-20 and in looking back on the months preceeding the divorce, Pam's friends could pinpoint times when Pam's whereabouts were not accounted for and where her stories about her day just didn't match up. With a wince, her friends realized that Pam had likely been cheating on her spouse a few months before she initiated the divorce. The same can probably be concluded about Ron. My heart went out to Pam's husband who had instantly lost, not just his wife, but also his daughter, and to Ron's wife who had lost her husband and her home in a flash.

 The first thought that popped into my mind was "What were they thinking!" To this, my friend replied "They weren't thinking!" However, I disagreed with this- I argued that just like not making a decision is an actual decision, so is not thinking. When people don't think of one thing, it is usually because they are thinking of another. We are all familiar with the process of justifying our actions to others or rationalizing them to ourselves. No behavior was ever initiated because the person was not thinking, it comes around when a person is thinking about something other than what a majority of people would think. Gone is the objectivity in decision making due to the arrival of subjectivity in the process.

 This was the part of the story that gave me food for thought: What governs our thought processes? How do we rationalize our way into initiating behaviors that are uncharacteristic of us and disgress from our ethical, moral code? What makes us selfish proponents of our own desires at the expense of the overall well being of those we vowed to take care of? One would argue that the explanation is as simple as the desire to be happy. However, if such were true, it would imply that humans have been sad, unhappy individuals for thousand of generations and have grown into happy, wholesome, and satisfied ones only recently in the evolutionary timeline. This is in stark contrast to what I see around me everyday- the faces of today's generation look more tired and beaten down than those of yesteryears'. If people were pursuing non-altruistic behaviors for the pursuit of happiness, then why are their lives less satisfying than that of their forefathers? Why do more people prefer the silent hum of a computer or cellphone to the chirpy interactions with family and friends? Happy people, by definition, should be happy, not on a perpetual pursuit of happiness.  So perhaps then, there is something other than the simple explanation of wanting to be happy.

A quick glance into the theories of human behavior lists two such theories that might explain the thought process that occurs when people seemingly "don't think." One of these is a social constructionist's perspective called Symbolic Interactionism which suggests that we act according to how we define our situation. According to this theory, a person who considers him/herself to be a victim in a situation will act differently than one who considers him/herself a bystander, or the perpetuator etc. Depending on one's judgment of self, it might be easier to rationalize a course of action that leads one way instead of the other due to the need to make oneself happy.

This makes sense to me when I think of a less intense scenario- a person who has been following a strict diet may have a harder time resisting temptation when an ooey-gooey chocolate cake is in front of her because she can rationalize the situation by perhaps tell herself that she hasn't eaten sweetmeats in a long time and deserves a slice of the cake for torturing herself over the past few days/weeks (happiness in a slice...who wouldn't want that!). However, another person, one who feels less victimized and consequently more empowered may rationalize herself away from the slice of cake by taking stock of favorable outcomes of sticking to her diet.

On the other end of the spectrum lies the other theory I found that helps explain human behavior. This theory is based on a developmental perspective built upon a humanistic one- the Transpersonal Theory. It might sound a bit too new-age (or old-age I suppose) but it states that some people reach a level of development beyond the personal (ego-based) level into the transpersonal (beyond ego or self) level. At this level, there is an inherent tendency to express innate potentials for love, creativity and spirituality.

Perhaps this would explain why Lord Krishna surrounded himself with a plethora of Gopis to spread his love, why Vincent Van Gogh cut off his left ear to give to the woman of his desire, or why the practice of Polyamory (the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time) still survives in todays times. Perhaps some people get to a level of functioning where laws and rules created by society just don't matter anymore. Sure, it sounds a bit flaky, but who is to say its not a legit level of higher order intellectual functioning? I can certainly see it working when i think of those with lower order functioning than mine, mainly children. They don't posses the abilities of abstract thinking that grown-ups supposedly do which is why childrens usually do as they see, not as they think. One could argue that this order-based difference in intellectual hierarchy continues throughout the lifespan of a human being whereby some of us evolve farther than the confines of everyday moral and ethic codes whereas the rest of us just stay enmeshed in them for a lifetime.

 In judging a person's character, we need to remain cognizant of the fact that we can only judge things from our perspective, the caveat being that our own perspective is heavily conditioned by our environment and intellect. Perhaps then it is safe to assume that even when people do things that appear morally wrong, they do so from a level of thinking where it isn't wrong. I for one, definitely like the idea of giving people the benefit of thought-process-oriented doubt because it makes me less repulsed by the selfish actions some people take. However, in the end, this could just be my way of rationalizing a situation to avoid an inner existential turmoil. *sigh*...theres no way around one's there?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank you Technology!

I read an article in the Washington Post a few days ago which offered a balm to those struggling under the effects of excessive technology. This particular article suggested that we spend an inexorable amount of time getting mobbed by the omnipresence of technology whether it be the simple act of making a phone call/checking email or the more involved act of browsing the internet aimlessly for hours or texting in our sleep.
The writer offered a technology detox which involved giving your social networking sites' password to a friend to change it (to reduce the temptation of logging in), turning off phones,  and taking a weekend to do things that did not need to be plugged in or require batteries. I suppose this would mean doing something as seemingly primitive as *gasp* picking up and actually reading a book as opposed to picking it up to make room for ones' laptop, or planting actual flowers in your real yard as opposed to working your green thumb in a virtual garden. One might even consider actually going to a friend's home (assuming one actually knows where the friend lives outside of facebook), instead of giving them a loving virtual poke. You get the idea.
However, the point of this article is not to educate you on how your electronics are eating alive your non-virtual life, but to marinate on this thought- given the option to rid ourselves of the constant lure of technology, how many of us would be willing to take the plunge? How many of us would consciously make the decision to set aside our androids, our blackberries, our facebooks, our tweets, and other such personified made-up words? How many of us would actually abide by that decision? Is it not ironic that somewhere, someone used a nonsensical word to christen new technology and we personified that word and gave it a whole life of its own such that as time lapsed, it started affecting our very existence!
Digression aside, back to the meat of the matter, have we enshrined technology to a level where we would feel handicapped were it to be removed? It is no secret that technology has seeped into our veins and makes our heart throb with every flashing red light on our phones or notification message on facebook. But I wonder to what level technology has become a memory-keeper of sorts for us. It is everywhere, and consequently, so are our memories. No longer can distances make the heart grow distant, no longer can time heal all wounds because technology has surpassed real time and given us a vault of memories, both good and bad, that live on forever in our virtual lives.
How then, does one get over a broken heart? or get over a sad memory? or rebuild oneself after a shattered friendship? How does one escape demons in the past when those demons float around like Dementors in gadgets, ready to suck the life and happiness out of us. The phenotype of these Dementors may vary-a picture/video on a phone, a comment on the facebook wall, an email from years ago, a facebook friendship with a friend that no longer is, but the effect is always the same- a quick tumble back into the past that we tried so hard to leave behind us.
One would imagine that getting out such memories must have been easier before the dawn of technology on our lives. You would simply stop associating with a person who brought you sorrow, or throw away letters enveloped in black clouds, or detour your footsteps away from a site of crushed dreams but it is impossible to get rid of their virtual equivalents. Moreover, even if these are quarantined away into a dark, dusty corner of our inboxes,  the temptation to visit them every now and then becomes insurmountable, especially when we know no one is watching.
It makes me shudder to think of what this does to us. Thanks to the omnipotent technology, we walk around with ALL the heavy emotional baggage of our pasts. Atlas, the Greek God who supposedly carried/carries the world on his shoulders, did so only because he was punished by Athens for disobeying him. Yet, we all willingly carry the burden of our past with us at all times by keeping it just a mere click, tap, or sweep away. No wonder I see such tired people all around me, they aren't as weighed down by their physical ordeals in the world as they are by their emotional ones...willingly nonetheless! Thank you technology, for taking our lives and making them your own. May you befriend and un-friend a thousand people and fall in and out of love with a thousand more, all of whom continue to remain your (over-active) facebook friends. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to save a life

"Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life"

Last Friday, as I was walking through the lobby of my office building to grab a mid-afternoon coffee, I heard some delicious notes of music wafting through the air. Instantly, I glanced in the direction of the grand piano, which sits lonely in the lobby most days, to see the fingers creating this music. In the brief moment between matching the 10 fingers to the face they belonged to, I was overwhelmed by a sudden gust of sadness and my feet dragged to a slow halt in the middle of the hallway. The mere combination of the melody and pianist had me rooted to the spot and I felt the need to sit down so I could reassemble my delinquent feet.
You see, as dramatic as this sounds, the moment just felt laden with emotion, as if the air could be cut with a knife and I'll tell you why- sitting behind the piano playing the music to 'How to save a life' by The Fray, was a man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with shortly cropped hair, wearing a camouflaged t-shirt, and a prosthesis on his right leg. This, by itself, is not a rare sight for me considering the fact that I work at a military hospital that prides itself on the extensive care it provides to wounded warriors. What got me initially wasn't just the sum of the parts but a specific part itself; his face. More specifically, it was the sea of emotions on his face as he plunged into the music that was creating tides both high and low. Every emotion on his face spoke the lyrics of the song that I know by heart, so that he was, in essence, wearing his heart on his face.
Granted, my entire experience lasted about 4 minutes as I sat on one of the couches scattered in the lobby and soaked it all in, but the thoughts of this experience lingered on with me for the rest of the day. I kept wondering what this man might have been thinking as he played this music, undisturbed by the steady stream of passerbys in the lobby, unaware of the staring eyes, and even unfraught by his wife and toddler who sat by his side. Had he been unable to save a life? Was this the life of a friend who fought alongside him in a battle or a war, or was it his own life as he chugged through a raging war while watching pieces of himself deteriorate and scatter all around him? My mind wandered more on the latter.
One might argue that his life was still with him, afterall, he had his body, albeit without a right leg, a beautiful wife and darling child. However, what do we know about his emotional life? Did he lose a big chunk of the person he used to be in the war? It is not uncommon for men who live through the horrors of war to experience their life back home in a surreal manner. Honestly, it can't be easy to switch from a high-intensity, unpredictable environment where danger lies at every corner and your life is constantly at risk, to one where people smile at strangers, kids blow bubbles while cackling with laughter and bunnies hop around in meadows of flowers. How do you let your guard down after spending several months with your guard kicked into high gear for basic survival?
Not surprisingly then, a considerable number of active military men have adjustment problems when they return home after their first deployment. The impact of adjustment problem is manifested in several ways, including an alienation from friends, previously enjoyed activities, an alteration in personality and more importantly, tension between loved ones. This is what leads to previously happy go-lucky men/women turning into brooding, sullen ones, or previously gentle and patient soldiers displaying aggressive, impulsive tendencies post-deployment. This is also what leads to loving, caring spouses turning into detached and distant ones. This, alas, is how a person loses his own life while fighting to save that of others. A sad moment for the rest of us then to realize that those who know how to save our lives, sometimes end up losing their own life in the process.

Sadder still, is the experience of relatives and loved ones as they try to help a person rebuild his/her life. How does one fight the bitterness of a horrid experience in someone else’s life without letting it seep through his/her own veins? How many nights would you be willing to stay up if you knew how to save the life in front of you, that of a friend and a loved one? One? Two? A few? A Lifetime? At what point do you go from wanting to save someone’s life to losing your own in the process? Vicious circle…isn’t it? You see now why my feet wouldn’t move from the spot and why the air felt so thick with emotion? It wasn’t just due to the scenario in front of me; it was due to the scenario that possibly lay behind the one in front of me.  Funny how one song and one emotionally expressive face can showcase a lifetime of possible experiences eh? It would be pretty cool to experience people with their choice of a song that envelops all that’s contained in their past. A song that converts a face into a slate of emotional experience. Perhaps then we’ll learn to be a little bit more empathic in our dealings with those around us? Perhaps that’ll give us a chance to save a life…even if the life we save may be our own.