Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Indelible Ink


"He woke to a sense of longing for someone who should have been long forgotten, but who remained a part of him even though he did not desire or seek it. Her passing was not gentle, more a small hurricane than an idyllic interlude, leaving behind a mountain of debris and jumbled memories in a mixture of ecstasy, anxiety, bliss, dread and exasperation.   In all things related to love, she was either cruel, crazy or just messed up, yet, for all he wanted to forget that she ever existed, her memory had been permanently imprinted in some very fundamental region of his brain, where nothing would wipe the memory of her smell, the touch of her hand or the feeling of her skin."

There is something deeply curious about his inability to forget her.  If you read Oliver Sacks’ wonderful book "The Mind's Eye" you will realize that the brain has specialized areas for complex tasks, such as reading, recognizing people, interacting socially, and why not... loving.  Love is not an exclusively human trait, as anyone that has a dog can attest to, and it seems reasonable to assume that evolution has provided animals in general with a specialized area of the brain that handles all of the complexities of falling in love.  Surely some people have developed this area of the brain to a greater degree, like virtuoso musicians or gifted painters.  These are those who fall in love with the greatest abandon, are hurt more deeply when the relationship comes to an end, live to be satellites of others, and make sense only as a function of love.

Maybe the region of the brain that specializes in love is also the seat of our courage, since there is no true love without courage, but perhaps it is more likely that the seat of love is the same as the seat of hate. This may explain why we can so easily tear our loved ones to pieces, or transition so dexterously from complete bliss to consummate hate.  Love and hate are perhaps two sides of a coin, with which we can purchase our purpose, driven by a primeval impulse as universal as our capacity to speak, read, cry or laugh.  This may explain also why the people we love or hate are so deeply imprinted in our memories, since they triggered strong emotions that carve neural pathways that will remain with us to the day we die.

In this process, some people are imprinted into our brains with a sort of indelible ink. We cannot forget them and we are bound to either love them or hate them, with little free will.  I remember a woman who called her ex-husband after 7 years separation, a couple of months before she married again.  She called to tell him that she was finally over him, no longer hated him and no longer wished him a constant plethora of maladies.  She called, not to make peace with him, but to make peace with herself and let him fade into oblivion.  I wonder if she was successful, for indelible ink is very difficult to erase.  Maybe we are destined to secretly love or hate these unforgettable people for the rest of our lives. 

There is a group of Tibetan monks who meditate thousands of hours and achieve a state of inner tranquility and peace that, apparently, allows washing off these long lasting imprints.  They call it Mind Training, but it is hardly a practical solution in our culture. For the rest of us, there may be hope some day, though, for science will allow us to back up the affected portion of the brain, to be restored upon a critical emotional breakdown, thus restoring our capacity to love to its pristine state, giving us a chance to love again, unimpeded and unmarked, again and again until death or a restore do us part.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Man and God

And God said "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it. And rule the fish of the seas, the birds of the skies, and all the living things that creep on earth."  And man was fertile and multiplied until he filled the earth and the skies and the seas.  And man mastered the earth, and mastered the weather, and tamed the stubborn seas, and calmed the soil that shuddered in pain as man drilled deep into its heart.

And man ruled the fish in the seas and the birds of the skies and all the living things that creep on earth.  Like a child emperor, man failed to rule wisely at first and exterminated countless species, and polluted his earth.

With the wisdom of maturity, the adult emperor ruled the surviving ones, recreated the extinct and created new variations.  He ruled wisely and justlyas he could.

"Let there be life" said man one day, and new forms of life sprung into existence from nothing but his intellect.  In universes of silicone grew live strands of consciousness that he called artificial life.  And man saw what he had done and found it good.  And man said "be fertile and increase; evolve", and gave them bounded universes to conquer and populate.  And these creatures helped him conquer the stars around him.

And man filled the stars and mastered them.  Man ruled the fish in the seas of planets in distant stars.  And ruled the birds in new crimson and purple skies.  And he conquered the newly found seas and mastered the newly found worlds.

And man created gigantic armies of metallic servants; tiny and huge. The tiny injected into the blood of all living things.  The huge he let loose under the earth and seas.  He created servants that he sent into space and instructed them to seek God, for man was not pleased.  Though he had found life in the stars around him, no intelligence anywhere was found.

And man's servants multiplied and conquered inner and outer space.  Searched far and near, long and hard.  And as man was losing  hope, God was found and man finally talked to God.\

"Lord God," said man.  "You created me, but you have not given me a sister or brother I can call my own. I want to be as powerful as you, I want  to create the sibling I have not found.  I want to be a creator too!"

"My son," God replied, "look around you.  I have given you the power to create, and you have used it well."

"But I don't have the power to create the beings that I seek!  I have not created a being like myself!" said man.

"Neither have I, my son" said God.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Naked Heart

In one of my trips to distant India, south of Cuttak and west of the Chandi Temple, I lost my way and stumbled after days upon a strange little town at the banks of the Kathjodi river.  It was a town where all inhabitants wore their hearts around their necks.

I was amazed by the variety of hearts. There were those rosy and innocent hanging from elaborate golden necklaces and some old, covered with the scars of a thousand battles.  Some hearts were tiny and could barely be seen, and some were so large their owners were bent over, pulled by their massive weight.  I remember one heart that bled profusely from recent wounds that could not be cured and one so charred and disfigured that it was difficult to look at.

The monsoon storms forced me to seek refuge in this bizarre town and I was allowed to stay only on the condition that I too, wear my heart around my neck.  And for the first time I saw my dear friend in absence of deceit and visible to the naked eye.  It was large and heavy, and had one large and ugly scar that crossed it from end to end, as well as many little scars clustered around it.  But it was beautiful and strange and hung proudly around my neck on a smooth carved leather strap that felt like silk around my neck.

And in this strange town, I saw her heart. It was perfect and strong and beautiful and made my heart inch towards her. I danced with her until early dawn.  Drank spirits and rejoiced, especially because she was a traveler like me.

But come morning a great flood came rushing with the monsoon rains, and washed us all away, scattering the town’s inhabitants and throwing me far, far out into the river where I was spared my life by the divine graces of the Chandi goddess, who sent me a crudely built raft where I lay dazed and barely alive for days until I came to shore and was nursed back to health by the monks of the Chandi Temple.

Since then, after coming home, I have discovered that in the West, when you gaze into a person’s eyes you can see a little of their hearts.  So, please forgive me if I stare, as I am still looking for that lost heart, which I know will complete me for eternity.