Dopamine vrs. Death • 14 May 2010

It is just ludicrous here. I’m trying not to care about spring, because nature blogging is in even worse taste than poo blogging and sex blogging… but decay, sex and nature all come together in the form of these tulips that won’t die. Compost-fed and prurient. Down the street, there’s a whole bed of them –at least fifty in number—and they’re the exact pale pink of Caucasian flesh after a long winter. Pick a gender, pick any erotic body part … these lascivious blooms, pursed together and ready to pop, evoke it. Priapic and coy at the same time.

The humungus tree I visit on the weekends is also budding – little capers pushing out of the husks of April’s flowers. I wonder if they’ll make some kind of cherry? It’s like not knowing the sex of a fetus. And Sunday is something called Flower Day at the Detroit Farmers’ Market: obviously it's going to be a massive porn expo. I’ll go check it out after dropping in to practice up at the stealth shala.

For the new moon, I caught a spin class at the sleek ala carte gym called Vie. When the mirrors tossed the teacher in to my peripheral vision, an annoying talk-function in my brain would respond: “lady Adonis, lady Adonis.” Sculped arms and silicone C-cups shown off tastefully in gym gear that holds everything statue-still. I love her mischievious smile, her joy in the work and integrity of her beautiful form, and her godlike strength. My form is excellent in its own weird way (hill climbing is all sputa k, the fingers curve like the handlebar’s a piano, solar plexus thrusts back like a jet engine) and I’m guessing it is a little uncommon to do this practice on two cycles of breath per minute…, but dayam if these biker chicks don’t make me look scrappy.

In the saddle, I’m soft formless goo from the waist up, emotionless, steady-eyed, and dressed without reinforcements. It would take me a decade to look like her, to rework my musculature and energy; and on the flipside I don’t know what it would take her to loosen the sinew and turn those armpits inside-out. Not that she would want to. She doesn’t look at me and see mastery – she sees a gloopy alien who doesn’t care to exhaust herself but keeps up with mild amusement or even blandness. Breath, voice, heartrate, chemical makeup, eyes, chests, pelvic tilts, subtle energy… our bodies make us mutually alien even though the gene pools and personalities have so much in common. We even have the same name.

But about personality, incidentally. Have you noticed the way that, as a person strives to “be a character,” she becomes more and more derivative? I have a manifesto brewing about how solidifying your personality competes with having a life, and how defining oneself in terms of cultural objects is as dead as Friendster. Maybe I’ll call this manifesto Originality is Overrated: Selfhood in the Creative Commons.

What is it, this need to play a totally defined, consistent, dramatic character? Maybe it’s a search for love, or a fear of mediocrity. It might be a kind of morality: being "true to yourself" defined as staying attached to certain stories and things. Or maybe it’s an effort to be "on," just in case the reality TV scouts are watching. Oh yes, now that one’s got real personality.

I don’t know. But it's the twenty-teens already. Mannered, modernist personalities are not as cool as selves that can receive and adapt to new information. Cool is listening to your environment. Some people have this natural shimmer – the ability to catch and throw light as they move in the world. I love a self that can bracket the stories, notice what’s going on now, and flow with it. Owl scouts don’t think like old talent scouts, perhaps.

We’re doing a half-retreat tomorrow on deepening what Shinzen calls “Focus Out”—meditative attention on the objective streams of touch, sight and sound (to the exclusion of their subjective counterparts of emotional feel, internal imagining and self-talk). Working in this way compromises the Friendster-self because you experience mind as what's in the immediate environment rather than what's "in the head." Closing off the subjectivity valve means that the "I am my thoughts" and "I am my emotions" layers of experience get a rest. There’s still a self hanging around the back lot. Yet putting subjectivity to the side makes the world so much more intense. It’s amazing.

But about emotions. There are two strong, but contradictory, patterns happening right now. First is the probably chemical happiness factor that has been increasing over the last couple of years. God, how much of this is just inversion-induced serotonin or the dopamine-nectar of opening up the cervical spine? How much of it is unanticipated payoff from the glances of real silence and connection that meditation makes possible? Who knows. I often feel, and try not to express, a pretty overwhelming love for everything, and every one I encounter face-to-face. If it’s making me act especially stupid, I try to re-channel the love in to gratitude—a more manageable, socially acceptable sentiment. (Maybe later I’ll be able to experience a lot of love moment to moment without expressing it—I don’t know.) Ann Arbor is teaching me that even mild excitement and openness annoy most strangers, especially if they’re Midwestern and at all cerebral (both very adorable qualities, by the way). It's good. I remember when I was coolly pissed off, distrusting, cynical, and self-isolating. Grrr. I made fun of happy people then too. Morons.

The second strong emotion feels somewhat like things did when I was this edgy person who decided she was an Existentialist. I was going to rise above the whole delusional world then, since Existentialists, besides being dead to metaphysics, are all a bit fascist. It’s a world view that depends on the otherness of others. Hell is other people, right?

Anyway, the feeling now is no longer freighted with images of angry Continental drunks choking on coal soot and typing away in small rooms with rats. It’s actually made stronger, and darker, by the fact that others no longer feel so much like others. The sentiment is a frustrated determination mixed with light despair. There’s an anxiety that doesn’t know its object—and the not-knowing redoubles the anxiety. Maybe I’m reproaching myself for reaching the fateful age of 33 with neither power nor fortune (the consolations of void-embracers) to show for my self; or maybe this is a wave of good old fear of death. Mine, yours, Earth's. Crap. Dopamine don’t stand a chance against death.

Or does it?