Self Observation and Identity

So I’m sitting here a bit high playing chess, Words and online Texas Hold’em, and my email informs me that my package from Home Depot has been delivered.

Immediately, the mind reminds me that I’ve seen this message before, and the package wasn’t there, and I had had to initiate a bunch of calls to either find or get it refunded and so on.

Then another voice informs me, ‘hey, why go into this negative spin.  You’re better than that now.  I’ll bet it’s out there” and so I laugh in quiet recognition of what “I” noticed and get my sunglasses.

I go to the front door and open it and look down to my right, where 98% of the packages are left.

Nothing.

I look to the left where it can get a little wet and I have to look around the door, and – no package.

In my chest there is the familiar flutter of a relatively mild fight or flight response – and then down straight a ahead five feet from the door – IT IS THERE.

I pick it up with organic gratitude and go back inside to the air conditioned sanctuary I inhabit, and put it down on the divan unopened.  It doesn’t need to be installed til Labor Day and until then I want nothing to do with it.

I sit back down and get creamed in chess having attempted a second level.  I used to play some in college but only for fun with friends and once read a book on openings a long time ago.  I figured it was going to be brutal playing the computer because the PC knows every opening and all of its consequences.  I am going by memory and gut and I surprised myself in winning a few – getting slaughtered at a 10:1 ratio but finally moving to level 2.

So I move over to Words which I am playing for blood with an old friend from high school and I think about the package.

Maybe I should open it?  What if they’re the wrong filters?

I burst out laughing. It’s that same fucking program. Life has improved dramatically – at least today.

A Memory For a Lifetime

I am reminded of a trip to Europe 50 years ago.  I caught up with a classmate and he persuaded me to go see some porno movies.  We went into a crowded auditorium with thick smoke, and soon after the film started….

I woke up looking at the ceiling outside the auditorium, people above me with smelling salts.

All I can remember of the film was that it began with bestiality – and I blacked out.

However, I made it a point to remember the “dreams” I had while unconscious – which apparently in “real” time was only a few minutes.

But I went a lot of places in that time.  I saw other beings, went to other planets and vaguely remember all sorts of unexplainable experiences until I had a deep feeling of concern.

I remembered by parents, back in New York, and how it would hurt them if I vanished.

Still unconscious “I” determined to return, but how? I was deep in the dream when I started to recall details of my “life” before I fainted.  I remembered my name, where I was from, and slowly a few other details that only I would know.

And then I remember that these various facts sort of circled around inside my head almost like gears meshing or as I later recalled, the “tumblers of a complex lock” – and when they all clicked into their proper place, presumably in my brain – my eyes opened and I was “me” again.

It was such an amazing journey that I tried to tell my friend and then sat down quietly, determined to make it an experience I would always remember.  It was that profound.

What stayed with me was the sense of the fluidity of my “real identity” – how it had actually gotten lost – or “I” had – in a completely foreign “place” but specific memories reemerged in consciousness and I returned – through my open eyes.

When the eyes opened other familiar information surged in, and in a moment I “knew” who I was, again.

What is interesting about this incident now is that after my recent brain injury, I went through many modalities to try to heal.  I’ve written elsewhere about how it was only when I began to relax into acceptance of some of the symptoms – like the incredible fear and fatigue – that I began to recover.

I am sure that what enabled the neuroplasticity for the brain to rebuild broken connections was playing Words with Friends and online poker in the afternoons – after a bowl of weed.

The thing that I began to notice, which was mentioned in Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s book Super Brain is how the mind is geared toward the negative.

To some extent, it is a matter of survival.  We are programmed in this way to enable us to presumably take precautions and live intelligently to avoid existential issues, like tigers.

But there are only a couple of tigers here in Las Vegas, but I noticed how geared I was to anticipate negative outcomes.  It took a determined effort to let things happen and not try to control them to loosen things up a bit and allow me to enjoy little things in life.

I love looking at my cat, lying on the rug, while I listen to music on the stereo.  Whether in motion or repose, she is a regal and elegant sight.

As I got better, while high, I would have some amazing experiences in poker, and I began to taunt the avatars that represented the other players.  And curse them when I lost – which I could do with impunity because of course I was alone.

And then I started laughing a something noticed the familiarity of old patterns of humor and sarcasm; these qualities also emerged on my occasional social opportunities, where I began to tell stories and laugh again with some of my friends.  This was over a period of about two or three years.

Epiphany

I have also written about how cultivating a sense of Oneness – or non-separation – through various systems I encountered was a large part of my recovery.

That came about through intense self observation; after all what else did I have to do except stay alive, which was a challenge as a 74 year old living alone with a brain injury.

For a while, and during the pandemic, it was a relief just to get one thing done a day:  empty the dishwasher; laundry; change the sheets.

It also took all I had to get food into the house and take care of other matters I deemed important or existential.  Planning a breakfast, lunch and dinner consumed a good part of my limited mental space.

I also relegated many things that I knew I “should” do to being ignored.

This led to guilt and shame that manifested as sensations in my body, which I began to welcome instead of attempt to banish.  As consciously as possible, I learned to accept these feelings as part of the totality of life which I sought to embrace as it was – not as my thoughts told me it should be.

And this self-observation prompted the laughter when I caught my “self” involuntarily bursting out with verbal reactions while on the computer, playing poker for no money.  Even there my competitive nature made me viscerally “upset” when things went against me, and I responded with delight and outbursts of satisfaction when the universe gave me a big payday of electronic nothing.

Again there was no money involved.  It was pure ego and after a long time of a dull acceptance and disinterest in almost everything these outbursts were welcome shocks out of my doldroms.

What was also noticed at this time, however, was many of these patterns of behavior that came up while I played, were parts of “my” old personality before my accident.

It reminded me of one excellent book I read during my recovery, “The Ghost in my Brain” by Clark Elliot, a college professor who described his own recovery from a concussion that almost cost him his career.

The notion of a ghost was perfect as way to describe my own experience.  I felt that there had been a “normal me” who had been lost – similar to my experience in Copenhagen – but this “me” was lost in what we call normal reality.  The psych term for this may be dissociation.

In any event it made me deeply uncomfortable much of the time and I suffered and yearned to return to the “old” me and be “normal” and be able to socialize with more people and my friends.

But as I believe the author of that book also found, the ghost only became discernible again when “I” was forced to accept that the old me was gone forever.

I had to let go of any reasonable expectation of ever returning to my old “self” – and I think it was around that time that glimmers of how “I used to be” returned, often unexpectedly.

As I described above – there was almost constant negativity.  What if the package wasn’t outside.  It was – but would it be the right stuff?  Would I have to make many calls to retrieve it?

The Patterns of Negativity Had Been Deep

Each time I caught myself expecting something awful to happen – I made an effort to relinquish control, and waited and let things develop – and noticed time and time again that the fears I had had did not manifest.

There were obviously exceptions; things have been out of whack in many ways and there were challenges like getting a new central air conditioner.  It was a big project that intruded on my solitude greatly, but I was able to accept the feelings that came up and when it was done, it was an amazing sense of satisfaction.

For whom? For something inside me that sensed I had more strength than I had thought.

But the deeply shameful and negative mental patterns had been exposed, and with them, by also sometimes laughing at them, I realized I was no longer who I had been….

I might even be “transformed” – somebody new.  Another ego trip.

I rested with the notion that I didn’t need to be special after all. I had now seen who had still accepted me with my difficulties and continued to love me.  I soaked up the love of my cat, and noticed the quails outside my house drinking from a platter of water I set out for them in the heat.

Over time, where I had been so distraught over my injury, I began to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and appreciation for the things that were still positive, happening all the time. I took notice of those and then I would be grateful for waking up unafraid, or noticing that I DID have enough energy to go out to a friend’s house.

Most of all, I was continually amazed that I was still here – no longer entirely sure where “Here” or “Me” was or is, but somehow realizing that I was indeed a ghost.  My reality as a separate “person” was seen as ephemeral without all of my thoughts and patterns. 

I could let it not be about me.  And it got better.

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