Finishing, Ending, Completing: What is Going On with Our Cultures Bias about the Unfinished?

Finishing, Completing, Ending Things: Humans seem to have a built in desire for The End, for a complete product, whether it involves relationships of any kind, education, career, illness, even death. “Hurry up and …already.” But we contradict ourselves constantly. There’s the race between the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race, but this is still about winning, not about the tortoise dawdling and deciding to go down another path and not bother with the race, or the hare suddenly stopping at some point when s/he is clearly the “frontrunner” and deciding instead to go down the rabbit hole and see what s/he finds there… Then there is “S/he who hesitates is lost,” versus, “Look before you leap.” All about timing, fast versus slow, and the idea that you are going somewhere definite. Maybe one of the most loaded and stressful phrases we have is the answer to “When are you going to be finished with…?” is “I don’t know.” You could add “I don’t care when, I care what…” Even writing this post. I seem to be in an endless process of mostly adding more to the beginning of it and stopping to go do something else…I am hoping the post will not really have an end, just to honor the idea that it is fine and sometimes worthwhile to let things not be finished, to drop things in the middle, at the beginning or even, what drives a lot of others crazy, getting to almost competing something and then dropping it.

I have been thinking about this topic a lot in the past week, wondering why most humans value finishing projects, coming to the end and completing things and relationships. Graduating from whatever school you started, finishing a paper or a book you are writing, finishing songs, paintings, plays, getting engaged as an end to the unclearness of “just” being in a romantic relationship with someone. Ending the “engagement” and getting on with it by having a wedding. If you separate from someone, people ask if the divorce is “finalized”. Maybe abortions are distasteful to some just because the person started something and literally “aborted”, stopped and ended it right at the beginning. Somehow people think of this as “giving up” rather than perhaps “giving in” to your intuition to leave something and go to the next thing or just dangle for a while… Attention Deficit Disorder in adults involves difficulty focusing and concentrating and thus also a lot of difficulty with finishing things “on time.” Of course it is a very real disorder and medications and other treatments can really help the individual a lot, but is there some kind of strange thing going on with our culture where our attention spans are low anyway, which is why technology can speed things up, and people have a hard time sitting quietly and just breathing or sitting quietly alone or with another person or sitting and reading for long periods of time. At the same time as the culture is constantly on the lookout for the next thing, the best smart phone, the newest social media, etc., there is a strange focus on needing things to be done and wrapped up and for product, with a loss of joy and understanding of process.

As therapists and patients in therapy, we work on slowing down, accepting ourselves as we are, and identifying things we hope to change but trying to understand that we can’t change everything at once and fast, and that growth is a slow process, healing is not linear, recovery involves lapses and regression, and we are incomplete works in progress…

Coincidentally, Brain Pickings, a site I really love, just posted something on this topic which was a nice surprise. Here is the link: http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/26/alan-watts-hurrying-timing/ It’s another book review and covers a broader range of topics connecting with my topic: the idea of timing and hurrying, which is connected to the kind of pressure people feel or put on themselves or others, as in, “When is she going to get married? She’s been living with him/her forever?” I think there is even some kind of phrase used for it, but I forgot what, and it took a few tries on Google to figure out how to find it by putting in, “what people say when they want someone to hurry up and get married already”. It turns out it’s pretty much that “Hurry Up”, indicating our culture is in some kind of rush all the time. And isn’t it funny how hypocritical we can be. You get told not to rush into it, don’t have a “shotgun wedding” and also to hurry up. This is about emotional relationships! We can’t seem to stand seeing people just be together and not be in some kind of finished product. Two people are together for years and live in separate apartments: everyone is either wondering why they don’t hurry up and move in together, or they question the validity of the relationship and say things like, “She’s just sticking with whoever it is because she is afraid of being single, looking for a better model, etc.”

So I guess I am starting my post on our prejudice about completing things with the funniest one of all: emotional relationships. As I was saying, people are uncomfortable with the “in between”, really the process versus the “finished product”. At least now there is the idea of the “domestic partnership” for any kind of couple who don’t want to get married at all or yet but do want that. If you get engaged, people ask right away if you have “set the date”. And people are getting more comfortable about the idea of the long engagement, say, one year, but not with the long engagement that has no wedding date. They use the phrase “stringing you along” and question the validity of the relationship, even though it is well known the statistics on actual marriage “ending in divorce.” What’s the big rush to get it all wrapped up into an expensive party and rings and vows exchanged. At least at present, some couples don’t “bother” to get married at all, even after having a child or more. Not to be prejudiced against weddings, I’m just focused on the stigmas and biases of choosing what is referred to as an “alternative” lifestyle. Even with sex, many people are focused on making sure there is a “happy end sting” for one or both or all parties. The phrase “happy ending” says it all. Sometimes people can have great sex with no happy endings for anyone.

It is interesting that engagements are considered to have to end with a wedding or marriage, and separations and breakups, if in marriage, are pressured to “finalize divorce”. How long are you going to be separated without getting divorced? I know a few couples who have separated and even found other partners, had children with the other partners and chose not to “bother” with a divorce, until one of the parties wants to get married. And I won’t begin to speak about how taboo the idea of being married to more than one person is frowned upon. We even have a phrase “serial monogamy” for what is seen as the norm, staying with one partner and then if it ends, you are single for a while, then find a replacement.

With breakups of relationships it is similar to a death in terms of pressure to “get on with it”. People seem to think there is a formula for how long you can be broken hearted before you move on, but we also don’t seem to approve of jumping into another relationship immediately after a breakup either. Watch out, you don’t want to be the “rebound” relationship that s/he is using to get over the last one.

In the academic realm it takes the form of things like: “Have you finished that paper yet? How many pages was it?” “Did you get a grade?” “Are you going to complete that class ever and get credit for it?” “What is your GPA?” “Why are you taking so long to graduate?” “Are you done with your year off and getting back to school?” “Why did you drop out? Isn’t that a big waste of money?”. Then, from the perspective of the individual who seems to stubbornly refuse to conform to this nice wrapped up idea of education: “I have to take the class over again.” “I got an incomplete in that class.” “No, I haven’t finished my dissertation (or thesis).” “I am taking time off from school and I don’t know when I want to go back.” And, most scandalous of all, “I spent years saying I would finish this thesis; it’s very long, but I’m really not interested in getting it finished. I decided to leave it and forget about getting the final degree; I want to do something else with my life.”

You get the idea. In school situations, whether high school, college, or graduate school programs, there is a lot of emphasis put on completing what you started. But what if you start a class and don’t write the final paper and just get an incomplete? What if you start a program and don’t get that diploma because you stop at any point in the process and do other things? There is a lot of actual opportunity that can arise from starting something and stopping in the middle in the academic sphere. Perhaps this is a time for you to take a break from whatever it is, do something else and gain a fresh perspective; perhaps, when you are doing this, the “time off” becomes your life, so you abandon the whole idea of getting the degree. Maybe you have realized by stopping in the middle or even towards the very end, with that last paper or class not done, that you don’t really want to finish, that it is not for you, or perhaps something new has arisen in its place, maybe in the academic realm or maybe something else altogether. Society has advanced somewhat to understanding the “year off” from college that many students choose in the middle or even right before graduation, but society does not understand the year off intention transforming into not going back to complete the program. People tell others, “But if you take the year off, you might not go back.” Exactly true. What is not true is that this is a “bad” thing, but again, we seem to have this prejudice against starting something and not fully completing it. Taking a break is seen as a limited time, and people want to know how long it is and that you are returning to the academic thing that you started. As I said above, not returning is just a choice, and a good choice for someone who finds something else to occupy their time with. They are actually saving a lot of time that might have been wasted in frustration with a program that no longer is right for him/her.

I take school as the first example of the bias towards completion because it is so engrained in our society. People focus not on the process but on the end result, usually an important piece of paper, the degree you earn after a lot of determination and hard work. Graduations are important milestones for people, but that doesn’t mean that choosing not to graduate and doing something else is not just as valid as getting that degree in whatever. It is easy to focus on finishing with academic things. There is the idea of getting a grade at the end of the class, and the alternative is what’s called an “incomplete”. Taking a class over again is not viewed very nicely, however, I have seen patients repeat a class and have a big transformative experience with it. You’d be surprised how much the same class and topic with the same teacher taken at a different time by the same person can be extremely different from the first time. I saw a patient struggle with a class, feeling insecure and “stupid” for not getting the concepts, the nail biting waiting for grades after tests, disappointment with perceived failure. Then she is told to take the class again. Shame but opportunity. She takes it again as a different person because she has learned and grown in between and is enjoying the class. Suddenly she makes friends with other students and studies with them or gets help from them. She doesn’t feel as bad as expected after “confessing” that she has taken the class before. And she completes it with a very good grade. This could not have happened if she had been given an F and not given an opportunity to repeat the class. I know of others who are now very successful who will tell you that they took a class three or four times before finishing it.

The dangling degree: when people, especially those who leave college or a grad school program, and take time off and then time off becomes their life. Getting the degree becomes something they will do at some time in the future. Many people in this situation feel liberated when, after time off has become time on, they decide on a decision that is against the grain but feels right for them, to abandon the pursuit of that degree and move on. This is not giving up, it is giving over to whatever life is right now for you.
“I will not graduate and don’t want to finish school. I like doing what I’m doing now or what I want to do next and will move on with my life without the degree.” This may take place after a long time off, and again, there is also possibility that a few years go by with people doubting you, and you decide to finish that last class and get the degree in the end. But it is on your terms, not our “rush rush, be successful, accomplish” society’s terms.

Even with therapy, it can be the same. If you are not a therapist and have been in therapy for many years, some people wonder what you are doing and if you are wasting time. As therapists we are forced to understand and validate an individual’s ambivalence or desire to “take a break” from therapy, usually for an unspecified amount of time. I have been surprised by people suddenly stopping but also by someone coming back years later enough that I know therapy is not a process with a fixed middle and end.

As an artist, I am familiar with the pressure to make a “finished product”. Often I sell work that is seen as “finished”, but really I have no idea whether it is finished or I just stopped doing it for a while and then someone wanted it, so I saw it as finished. I often, especially with the kind of drawings I tend to enjoy doing, repeating marks and patterns, start a lot of drawings in different notebooks or on different size paper and work on many at the same time. I may even now have perhaps 15 drawings I could be working on; I actually have no idea as I do them at home and at my studio, and I put up work on the walls that I think is finished, only to pick it up one day and keep working on it. Since I discovered the magic of drawing on paper, I tend to have a desire to fill up the paper all the way to the edges, and sometimes I decide I have finished because I have no room on the paper. Even with the sketchbook/journal/notebook I carry around in my purse at any given time, I don’t always finish them, and, though I usually start by decorating the cover, I sometimes change the cover several times. In the past few years from working on the “altered book” format, I decided with my journal/sketchbook not to do it from front to back. I turn to any random page and draw or write a list or notes, so that it gets filled up in a random order. I discovered this only recently and felt that it was delightfully fun not to do it from front to back.

Here is a personal example of something that other people get done and even publish that is taking me forever to do, and probably most people who know about it don’t believe I am going to get it done… Probably most of all myself. I am stuck on a big grand project, my graphic novel surreal memoir, which I started in the year 2000. At various points over the past 14 years, I have picked it up and worked on it and then put it down again sometimes for a few years. About a year ago I was working on it and trying to force myself to get a page done at least every 17 days so I figured I would have 100 pages done by a certain birthday. It didn’t work and now, I confess, I have actually lost most of it in my apartment. I was working on it at the studio and then bringing some pages home to work on; it was frustrating me, and then I had an odd breakthrough and then put it somewhere and lost it! I know it is somewhere safe, but I really have no idea where it is. I really don’t want it to stay lost, but I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me. The last burst of work on it was around the time of my birthday and right after that it got put aside and then lost. I still believe I will keep doing this project but I can’t work on it now. I obviously could keep making pages which only just now occurred to me, that I may not need to find what I have already done, but I can’t find any motivation to work on it without the actual work, the 33 or so pages done thus far…

In terms of books, I last year had an idea for an art therapy book I wanted to write, but even though I got excited about it, the process seemed too daunting to even begin to try. Anyway the point is that as artists in any media, we will experience finishing some work but also not finishing or completing other work. I’m sure there are some great songs that were never finished, and with a studio filled with lots of art that has been started and not completed, I know that as an artists, I am mostly concerned with process…

It is good to complete and finish things of course. Meals get cooked and eaten. When you exercise, you have a stopping point at some time. Vacations have definite end points. Most of our daily life does involve completing things, but in the bigger picture, we are not moving along in a straight line but scribbling all over the page and that’s life.

I mentioned death and mourning, and that’s a whole post, how we rush to “get over” a death, how it does become very painful to take care of someone who is taking a long painful time to die.

I used to think of watching movies and reading books as something you could never drop in the middle no matter how bad they were. Then I met someone who walks out of movie theaters at any point during the movie if they don’t like it, and I discovered that I start a lot of books and don’t finish them. Even DVDs, which I expect to finish watching, I sometimes start and stop and decide not to see the whole thing. It’s very freeing to realize you are allowed to stop in the middle of the sentence and go somewhere else and

The Scarlet Label (Borderline Personality Disorder)

Natasha Shapiro, ATR-BC, LCAT:

I’m excited to read this new book. Thanks, Prideinmadness.wordpress.com for pointing it out. BPD is probably the most misunderstood and stigmatized diagnosis in the DSM…

Originally posted on Beyond Meds:

borderlineBy Brent Potter PhD

The diagnosis Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of most mental health providers. It is unquestionably one of the most stigmatizing and overused diagnoses in existence. Often diagnosing someone with this label is a clinical punch in the gut to the client and also a means of communicating warning to other clinicians. It is the 21st century version of the scarlet letter.

In Borderline Personality Disorder: New Perspectives on a Stigmatizing and Overused Diagnosis, Jacqueline Simon Gunn and I outline the history of attitudes about the (perceived) feminine gone awry. We show that current diagnostic conceptions do not bespeak a psychiatric disease of chemically imbalanced brain organs, but are the logical outcome of long-standing attitudes about women through history. We do not deny that there are patterns of experience typical of emotional chaos and we demonstrate that men too suffer…

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Books on Mental Health

Natasha Shapiro, ATR-BC, LCAT:

Great Post. Soon I would like to post a list like that and add to the titles presented. My favorite genre in Books on Mental Health is psychological Memoir as I like to read about these issues from the point of view of the individual suffering from such challenges, like one of my favorites, “The Buddha and the Borderline”…

Originally posted on Pride in Madness:

I read a lot. Last year I read about 70 books and this year my goal is 50 with 48 books read so far. While I read a lot of fiction I also read a lot of books about mental health or that discuss mental health that have been very helpful. I love learning and if I want to be able to make change in our society I need to know everything I can! Here are some of the books I’ve been reading divided into two categories: Critical and mainstream. I will also include books on mental health that I want to read.

Critical: Books that look at mental health in a different way and challenge our current system.

Mainstream: Books that speak from a medical model perspective that we’re all familiar with.

Critical

The Book of Woe by Gary Greenberg

Manufacturing Depression by Gary Greenberg

Let Them Eat Prozac

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The age old dynamic of spirituality versus organized religion… Another Book About It

If you’ve been waiting for a book on this topic, it seems like Harris has synthesized it all, and that his book is a mixture of memoir and non fiction, which in itself is an interesting genre (I found a great book about insects by a naturalist that did this mix well), but none if it will seem new to anyone who has dropped whatever organized religion or religions they were surrounded by in favor of spirituality as the more inclusive and non violent non excluding of parts of the human race which all religions love to do (we are right and the others are wrong. Therefore we will force every in else to believe what we believe or we will consider ourselves “chosen” in some way and better and more worthy than everyone else…) that the term “spirituality” embraces. Spirituality has become a slightly meaningless word, or maybe a word that gets thrown around a lot especially in opposition to “organized religion”, but I like to think of it as a combination of the ideas of mindfulness, which leads to appreciation of what is in and around you in the moment, and the practice of loving kindness towards all other beings, ultimately with the goal of not arranging people and beings in some kind of hierarchy of importance, which all religions seem to do. The bible is filled with stories of getting rid of groups of “bad people” and saving others, even killing innocent babies born to the wrong people. So many stories of wiping out lots of groups of people and starting anew with a few, the Noah story repeated endlessly. Genocide it turns out, in the bible, is practiced by the character “God”.

Before I go on into more related topics and meanderings, here is the link to the description of this book and quotes from it: The book is entitled “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/15/sam-harris-waking-up-spirituality/

Mindfulness is not religious; it works well with science as it involves the practice of basic detailed observation of the world around you, as well as observation of your own mind and noticing what your senses are perceiving. It also involves observing your own breathing and even your heartbeat, all of which are quite obviously agreed upon types of realities. You need believe in nothing to practice mindfulness. And not magically but probably due to something that occurs in the brain that neurologists will be able to explain, loving kindness towards other creatures will eventually follow mindfulness practice. It has already been well documented that empathy and compassion when practiced release some kind of endorphins and make the person practicing it feel good, which is why it has survived alongside human beings’ great interest in ways to destroy themselves and others and the planet. So science is taking an interest in certain topics that are also entertained by spirituality. If you go at it from the point of departure of spirituality, which could be defined as some kind of meaning seeking or meaning making that humans engage in and basically through the perspective of individual experience, basically engaging in mindfulness type activities, versus the scientists working on ways to map the brain and observe what goes on in the brain and rest of the body during mindfulness activities, you can choose to try to engage in the actual experience or in the observation of it and mapping of the brain. In some way those two activities do intersect, as the scientist who is mapping the brain is probably engaging in mindfulness while observing someone else’s brain engaged in it…

I am not sure about the mysterious connection between being more awake and aware of the world around you and your presence in the world with the practice of compassion and loving kindness. Harris describes the discovery of this kind of compassion towards all creatures as something he observes feeling after taking the drug exctasy. Luckily you are not required to take any drugs to feel this kind of equanimity mixed with compassion and a melting of the concept of self and others. Ironically, the practice if mindfulness will eventually take you there, but it’s a slower more annoying and boring path. Mind altering drugs have been documented as the quick ticket to this kind of awakening and awareness of really taking in the present moment and feeling your mind and consciousness expand. There are other documented ways to go this route by depriving the body of food and/or sleep or exercising to an extreme point of feeling this expansion at the expense of your health. People have starved themselves and stopped sleeping to achieve a mind altering state of consciousness, probably since the first humans were around, just like there have probably always been some kinds of substances like peyote, magic mushrooms, extasy, LSD found in nature that humans have ingested and noticed a mind altering state of consciousness experience.

Anyway, the cheap, challenging and not fun but healthy route to experiencing a real awakening to regular old reality is to practice disciplining the mind through mindfulness exercises which can range from simple meditation (following your breath, noticing when your mind has run away, returning to the breath) or meditation in action which simply involves being as aware as possible of your present environment and of your mind and body in the moment. According to this practice of “observe and describe”, you can really have a “spiritual” experience. Look at Harris’ words, which are similar to the new “Positive Psychology” and Psychology of Happiness that has become a flavor of the moment:

“Most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search. Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.

Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently. How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.”

This is nothing new, it’s similar to what is said by Marsha Linehan in her writings and practice of DBT, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which combines the dialectic of total acceptance as the route to change, and which has a big mindfulness portion as part of its “practice”, as DBT is ultimately a practice that is not limited to teaching people with BPD, but a practice that all of us can benefit from. If you read about the mindfulness aspect of DBT, it will probably sound a lot like what Harris is talking about, with more specific types of exercises to help the individual become more mindful and aware of self and environment. Ironically, by listening to our senses and perceptions in our minds, we are observing both what is in the present moment and what is going on in our minds in the present moment.

In the end, all of this stuff is very simple, but very difficult to achieve. Try, for example, testing your ability to experience time in the present. Unless you are very super aware of seconds, you will either be living faster or slower than real time. You start a stopwatch, or look at a second hand, then sit and wait until you think a minute has passed and check the stopwatch or second hand. Has a minute passed? Did you think it passed and only half a minute went by or did a minute go by and more? I knew I would be the former, as I am aware that my inner motor goes too fast, so when I first tried this, only half a minute had gone by, no surprise! You would think that as therapists we have a good sense of time, at least in 50 minute chunks, but it is not true!

Roald Dahl wrote a great story called “The Marvelous Story of Henry Sugar”, which is all about the use of extreme mindfulness and concentration exercises which he originates with yogis. In this story, you can see how this type of exercise can be used for personal gain versus for helping others. What is so great about this story, is that he captures how the practice of mindfulness type exercises leads to a natural change in a human from selfishness and obliviousness of others’ suffering to great compassion. He takes the character of Henry Sugar, who is wealthy, lazy, bored and completely oblivious of himself and the world around him, and transforms him. What is truly great is that Henry Sugar reads a story that convinces him to try the practice of yogic concentration in order to see through playing cards so as to win at the casinos and make money easily by in essence a kind of “cheating”; he spends many months training his eyes and mind to see through playing cards. Because he changes his actual daily experience from one of wealthy meaningless pursuits spent with other wealthy people, to spending a lot of time alone, meditating and focusing on the middle of the flame of a candle and then focusing on a playing card and concentrating for hours every day until he starts to be able to see through the cardboard of the card and see the number and suit.

As he is practicing this and becoming obsessed with spending his waking hours basically in yogic training, he is changing a lot more than his ability to focus and concentrate on a playing card. I was very excited when he was ready to go to the casino, to see if he would right away have a weird response to the casino and the people there, which of course he did, as he had a heightened sense of observation and taking in the present moment, so the world he had been used to inhabiting was now transformed into something he was observing from the outside. Even more excititng, once he had carefully won a lot of money but sometimes lost on purpose so as not to draw attention to himself, he noticed that he did not feel the way he had anticipated. He was almost disappointed, and definitely not that excited to go winning more wads of money for the fun of it. The rest of the story was splendid; in the morning he woke up and started throwing twenty pound notes on to the streets and caused a huge commotion. A police officer goes up to his apt. and has an interesting encounter with him, basically telling him he is causing a public nuisance and that this is a stupid careless way to give away money. It turns out the police officer himself grew up in an orphanage and suggests to Mr. Sugar that he give his money to an orphanage. The rest of the story involves Henry Sugar engaging in a focused plan to travel the world’s casinos, winning Black Jack with his yogic powers to see through cards and starting orphanages in every country with all of his winnings.

Besides the fact that this story with a story within the story, the story Henry randomly picks up and reads, is so well written and engaging, this is a great story about how the practice of mindfulness techniqhes leads naturally to compassion, and Dahl takes an extreme example of a very limited uninteresting, selfish uncaring man who becomes transformed by simply engaging in exercises of focus and concentration, simple exercises that require a lot of discipline and patience though, into a totally different compassionate and purposeful human being. There is some connection between midnfulness practice, compassion, and the experience of meaningfulness or “purpose driven” living. This explains how Marsha Linehan helped many extremely suicidal individuals with terrible BPD illness go from a state of constant emotional pain, self harming, suffering, suicide attempts, to not just being able to get through the day without engaging in unhealthy coping choices, but eventually transforming their lives and finding meaning beyond the terrible pain of their illness.

It seems that it is really true that the only way to overcome or go through suffering to something on the other side is to truly embrace the present moment and accept all that it contains, being in it while observing it as neutrally as possible. A whole new post could be devoted to the connection between finding a neutral position on the moment and self acceptance and acceptance of others…

9/11 Memorial Post: “Laughter and Forgetting”

Years before the twin towers were felled along with many humans, there was a novel called “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, written by Milan Kundera.

I myself confess I had a long love affair with Milan Kundera’s writing in my 19-22 year old time, many years ago, around the time his book, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was made into a movie. Even then, I appreciated that Kundera was not writing about real seeming people but using each character to embody a philosophy, concept or philosophical principle. Especially female characters were parts, not whole people, which didn’t make his books any less compelling. Everything ,including countries, is reduced to, or to say it more accurately, crafted into a symbol or metaphor or complicated idea or ideas.

Ironically, although I remember well “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, while I also read Kundera’s book, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, I have since forgotten everything about it, except the title, which is a wonderful, evocative title and great words to ponder together and separately on 9/11/14, the 13th anniversary of 9/11/01.

Before digging up descriptions and quotes about the book and title, I give my associations to the concepts.

Forgetting has terrible connotations in history. The whole point of historians is that we operate from the assumption that we want to remember as much as possible of the past, what was perceived at the time, the actual artifacts of human existence that remain from whatever time period, and usually one of the main branches of history involves the study of humans atrocities towards other humans, the repetitive cycle of carnage that no time period escapes. I remember in high school taking history classes and being overwhelmed by how much detail about countries and people’s warring with each other on small and grand scale, how much blood was involved in almost every aspect of human endeavors and progress; this is the stuff of history class and explains to me now why I loved studying more abstract subjects, like math, languages, poetry and literature. As the Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dalh’s novel “The BFG” explains, humans are unique in their continuous conscious killing of other humans and their justifications for it. As humans are illogical and delusional anyway, we seek to build memorials and museums and write books and engage in all kinds of activities that aim to document our own genocide and mass killings of each other, whether so called soldiers or civilians; besides systems like the bees and ants and other creatures in nature have with worker bees (for the sake of making honey or preserving the group), humans are also I think unique in separating soldiers and armies of humans and how we view killing them versus how we view killing of civilians and criminals. All are ultimately human and all are acts of murder.

This is not a departure from the topic of 9/11. Lots of humans died. Humans did this to each other. Some of the killers were planners nowhere near the killing site. We have developed, of course, highly sophisticated ways of killing each other and of killing many people at once. All killing has a form of terror to it.

Anyway, there is a fascinating dialectic between laughter and forgetting. In or with tears we remember and feel the pain linked to that memory; in laughter we momentarily forget. The act of laughing is defiant of the moment that came before, even if it was a verbal joke. Before and after there is thought. During laughter there is bodily action and release; even the heart rate and breathing changes; is this our G rated version of the orgasm?

Here is a link to an interesting study on laughter and the brain/body

https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/laugh.html

This provides interesting insight into laughter as a form of bonding and the strange fact that we cannot tickle ourselves…

Where and how did laughter originate? Do any other a animals laugh? This article suggests apes and monkeys come closest to smiling and laughing like behavior. Intuitively, I feel it is a built in mechanism for surviving trauma. For all the pills people attempt to concoct that would presumably eradicate trauma and PTSD forever-take a pill to lose all memory of the trauma-it’s debatable whether we want to forget atrocities or work through them and diminish their power, shine brighter despite them, and not think of them most of the time but never forget. Why do we humans biuld countless elaborate unsatisfying memorials next to huge replacement buildings and whole cities? To forget and remember at the same time?

9/11 is a great example of the crazy dialectic we humans hold of forgetting and “moving on” from terrible traumatic loss. The day after it happened I think politicians were already talking about rebuilding and getting on with so called “normal life”; meanwhile, New Yorkers could smell 9/11 for months and the dead were being dug out and searched for night and day for I don’t remember how long. Nothing made any sense. The twin towers had every size, shape, nationality and religion of people working and in them and the planes all dying; yet, people started hating and looking for groups of innocents to blame. Afghanistan was the place to go and kill more people. How many innocent families from babies on died those months? Did it bring back any of the dead?

Should those responsible be held accountable for their horrible crimes? Of course. This I would never dispute. A lot of my job involves identifying the abuser and helping the abused to properly see that they were victims of unspeakable acts that should not have happened to them. This work may involve forgiveness but usually it is self forgiveness and acceptance. Anger and horror are freeing emotions for those who have witnessed and experienced the unspeakable and live to tell the tale.

Which brings me back to Laughter and Forgetting. Here I will quote from a great blog post I found about this book:
Link:

http://readwithstyle.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-book-of-laughter-and-forgetting.html?m=1

“In Kundera’s world forgetting is an unescapable sin. Our existence is constantly marked and affected by forgetting. Memory is fragile and fleeting, yet memory and only memory determines the individuals we are. In the political sense, forgetting is the power of communism, memory – its worst enemy. In Russian occupied Bohemia the prime minister is the minister of forgetting. The collective memory is altered, transformed, changed, or erased to fit a new regime. Without memory, the people are fleeting in a void. Indeed: “

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” (Kundera)

And laughter? I won’t quote the odd story in the post from the book about laughter originating with the devil. Its a sad view of laughter. I think laughter is what keeps most humans from totally losing hope. I told a patient today that it’s good we both can laugh at ourselves. The people who’ve experienced the worst of mental illness and emotional suffering, I find usually have a wonderful sense of humor. This same patient today both cried fully and laughed her ass off with me.

As the study mentioned above shows, laughter is mostly good medicine for humans. We must have hope despite and in the face of great pain and suffering. I personally view life ultimately from the existentialist point of view. It is by definition completely absurd. The only way to go on and keep living is to do so by fully embracing the absurd. I think the dialectic of hope is that life is pointless and horrible things keep happening for no reason whatsoever and at the same time we engage in meaning making while knowing this and knowing it is absurd. To operate from there is to accept fully without forgetting, to accept the absurdity of being human, to laugh through our tears, to create and destroy, to embrace the moment and let go… To play next to grave sites…

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