Monday, 29 October 2007

Of Dreams and Fantasies

As I was growing-up there were two constant remarks that people seemed to make towards me. "Get out of your fantasy world" and "You have to learn to control you emotions". Sure, easy for them to say. I tried to take their well-intentioned advice and found myself travelling mental roads that I regret. Yes, these people, both friends and family, were looking after my interests, but they were not exactly qualified experts. Neither am I, but I have learned a thing or two about fantasy and emotions.

Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. -- T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)

There are two types of dreamers. There are dreamers and then there are fantasists. The fantasist dreams to escape reality, but the dreamer dreams to engage and to change reality.

The fantasist in his most extreme and negative state is typified by the character of the Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons. Here is a man who is fat, lazy, resentful, and arrogant, the complete antithesis of the heroes he admires. Rather like a cultural parasite consuming values but producing nothing. He resents those who create values as evident by his constant criticism as he smuggly looks-down upon those who he deems his inferiors, which is everyone. It is easy to believe yourself to be great when you hide in a fantasy and never test that supposed greatness in the world. Most fantasists are not as bad as the Comic Book Guy, but the traits are still there.

Where the fantasist pretends that life is not what it is, the dreamer creates.

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. -- George Bernard Shaw

I could conjure all sorts of people to illustrate the dreamer, from inventors, to entrepreneurs, to artists, to engineers. The simple fact is that all human creation began as someone's dream. Often when a man is criticised for being a dreamer, it is because he believes that something is possible that others do not and he is working to make that dream a reality.

The difference between the dreamer and the fantasist is that the dreamer acts on his dreams and reaps the benefits of the successes and failures along the way, whereas the fantasist fears failure and so never tries. Instead he hides in his dreams fuelled by the dreams of others.

We feel as we dream. Emotions are the responses to our thoughts. It is your conscious and unconscious idea of reality that evokes your emotional responses.

Imaginative, creative, and intelligent people tend to have very powerful emotions. Their feelings are like a great wild stallion in need of training. I was never taught how to deal with my emotional responses. I was simply told not to act in a particular manner. So I tried to repress my emotions. Not because I was obedient to these voices, but because my emotions were often painful or embarrassing. Little did I realise that it was as simple as learning to use my thoughts to manage my emotional states.

There is no singular personality to us. We behave differently in different circumstances depending on our emotional state. In essence, we are many different people in one. Those with multiple personality disorder demonstrate how each persona will rise to the surface depending on the situation. It is as though the unconscious mind summons the best personality for dealing with a particular situation. We can use this to our advantage.

In the comic books, Billy Batson speaks the magic word "Shazam" to become the super-powered Captain Marvel. The word is an acronym for the names of those beings whose powers and abilities he draws upon (S for the wisdom of Solomon, H for the strength of Hercules, A for the stamina of Atlas, Z for the power of Zeus, and A for the courage of Achilles, and M for the speed of Mercury).

Bearing that in mind, there is a technique in hypnosis and NLP in which you imagine either someone you admire or the person you wish to become and then imagine either their power coming into you or imagining what it feels like to step into that person and feel intensely what it is like to be that person. This emotional state can then be anchored with a trigger (a touch or word associated with that state) so that you can enter that state instantly. It can even be a "magic word" like Shazam.

Supposing you have a lot of things to get done, but just can be bothered. I have that problem a lot. There have been times when you felt motivated, industrious, and accomplished. You know people that you admire for their ability to get things done, or people who make things happen. The thing is, your assessment of this person is all in your mind. It is your perception. It is your feeling about them, therefore the feelings evoked by thinking of them come from you. It is from your library of emotional states that you can draw upon. If you pretend to be an efficient person, then you act like an efficient person, and efficient people get things done. It all comes down to believing that you are this person.

You are and become the person that you imagine yourself to be. What you believe about yourself affects how you perceive and act in reality, and your perception of how reality responds to you affects what you believe about yourself. It's a mirror.

There is a story about two dogs in a village. One dog was very positive and the other very negative. One day the happy little dog goes into the great house on the hill and discovers the Hall of A Thousand Mirrors. As he walks in, he finds himself faced with a thousand happy dogs all wagging their tails. He told his friend about this wonderful place. The negative dog went to the house, and he found the Hall of A Thousand Mirrors, only to be confronted by a thousand dogs growling at him, so he fled determined never to return to that horrible place.

Just as time and space are linked, so too are dreams (thoughts) and emotions. Just think of how often we link the concepts of thoughts and feelings in every our day language. We even interchange their meanings, such as asking someone, "how do you feel about something?" when we mean, "what do you think about something?". There is no great divide between the heart and the head. There is no Rational vs. Emotional or Reason vs. Passion. Either there is alignment between your conscious and unconscious, or there is not.

A common mistake I made when working on my personal growth is not approaching my task on an unconscious level. This is where are patterns of behaviour are stored and this is where they are adjusted. If you want change in your life or yourself then you need to engage your imagination and your emotions.

Reason is the native language of the conscious mind, however in order to for the conscious mind to align the unconscious to itself, it must speak to the unconscious in its own language, that of imagery and emotion. Otherwise, you're just explaining a complex engineering exercise to an audience of Chinese -- they won't understand you.

I'll close this with a film reference. I watched the film Click with Adam Sandler the other night and found it most disturbing. Not the best of his films by any stretch, but the metaphor of the universal remote rung in my head. Basically, this guy's life is out of control so he is given a universal remote control -- a remote that controls the universe. He uses it to fast forward through the boring or monotonous parts of his life. While in fast forward mode, he basically switches to autopilot, completely disengaged from his world, but still functioning in it. Eventually, the remote learns his habits and switches to automatic fast forward until his entire life is gone and he missed everything and produced a life that he did not want.

The universal remote is a metaphor for our unconscious. It shuts out painful experiences, disengages from boring reality, filters our perceptions, takes us to moments in our past, or projects into the future. More importantly, it learns our habits and gives us what it thinks we want based on our habitual behaviour.

Throughout the film, Sandler's character is confronted with things that he doesn't want, but the life that manifests is the life he created and the remote facilitated. If you are not living the life that you want, then you need to reprogram your remote. The way of the Romantic is the way of a conscious active existence where you take full responsibility for the life you created and recognise that the life you live is the product of your dreams. Dreams fuel our emotions, emotions fuel our passions, passions fuel our actions, and actions create our lives.

When we use fantasy to disengage from reality, then the unconscious mind gives us more and more disengagement until it become a powerful pattern of behaviour. Rather than increasing emotional interaction with reality, it numbs us to it. Life becomes like watching TV or playing a video game and then wondering eight hours later where the day went. Imagine not a day lost to fantasy, but a lifetime. I confess that did that to a large degree in my life.

I was given good advice as a child. "Get out of your fantasy world" and "You have to learn to control you emotions". The problem was that the people giving the advice could not fully conceptualise what they were telling me or guide me on how to do it.

If I was speaking to my young self, I would say "Dreams are powerful creations. Dream the life you want, dream the person that you choose to become, and allow those dreams to manifest in reality. Learn to listen and interpret what your emotions are telling you, and then use your reason to set a course of action in the direction of your dreams."

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Currency of Existence

You leave home on a lovely day and walk into town for a bit of window shopping when suddenly you are caught in a freak shower. All that you have to keep yourself dry is a £10 note. It’s pretty useless to the task. In fact, money is pretty useless for most things. Just scraps of paper and slivers of metal. However, you can take that £10, go into a shop, and exchange it for an umbrella -- something far most useful, and therefore more valuable than a small rectangular piece of paper.

Money in and of itself is of little value. However, what it symbolises is of enormous value. Money is a symbol that represents value itself. You take your knowledge, skills, and abilities and sell those in the marketplace of values in exchange for this symbolic representation of your production. Without money, you would have to find something else of value to the shop owner to exchange for the umbrella, such as work for him a few hours or perhaps he would like your watch. Money is a tool allowing for the easy exchange of values.

They say that money makes the world go round. Not really. Again, money is merely a symbol of values. Values make the world go round. We exist within the marketplace of values, and this market is a truth that shapes our existence to be ignored at your peril.

When I told a friend that I was writing a blog on the subject of values he warned me against writing on the same topic over and over again. Perhaps. Nonetheless, values are of such critical importance and so underrated and misunderstood that I do not believe that too much can be written on the subject. This particular blog is derived from my recent discoveries on the critical importance of values and the need to live a value-driven lifestyle.

A value is defined as something you act to gain or to keep. The very first and still primary value is survival. This is expressed by the two primal questions, “Can I eat it?” and “Will it eat me?”.

“Eating it” relates to acquiring a value. When we desire something our brain releases dopamine and when we get it the feel-good chemical seratonin is released. These two brain chemicals create a constant interplay of desire and fulfilment every moment of our lives. We are hardwired as a species towards the acquisition of values. Each of our four primary emotions relates to values. Desire is the imagined acquisition of a value and happiness is the actual acquisition of a value .

One the other hand, “Will it eat me?”. If values are those things we act to gain and to keep, then the opposite would be those things we act to prevent and avoid. This is fear, it is the imagined loss of a value and sorrow is the actual loss of a value.

Now we have the positive and negative ends of the spectrum. Values are those things that make us feel good and we Fear those things that make us feel bad. Both forces motivate every action in our lives.

Ayn Rand saw living according to whim as the opposite of living by values. I disagree. A whim is an unconscious act. Seeing as the role of the unconscious mind is to keep us safe, it has created patterns of behaviour to create a safety bubble. The person living by whim may not see themselves as afraid, however if you challenge their comfort zone then the fear will emerge. Whim is the safety of inaction, routine and habit. Complacency is habitualized fear.

I could not understand why I valued things that I did not pursue. Since we as a species are hardwired towards the acquisition of values and our society is based on the creation, acquisition, and trading of values, then why do I not naturally live a value-driven lifestyle? Why did I often act to sabotage those things I valued by acting towards things that I did not value?

Imagine that you are attacked by an angry man-eating tiger and you escape by climbing into an apple tree. The tiger is circling the tree waiting for you to eventually come down. As you sit in your tree living off the apples, you notice on the ground a basket filled with all sorts of food and drink and beside the basket is a rifle capable of killing the tiger. Do you stay in your comfort zone or take a risk for something you value -- proper food and freedom?

Many people so consistently choose the safe path that it becomes a pattern of behaviour and therefore a part of their personality. Their lives are governed not by the movement towards gaining values, but by their avoidance of loss.

I read recently that the difference between rats and humans is that when a rat makes a mistake it tries something different. When a human makes a mistake it blames someone else or justifies that it worked once before. Humans have the power to rationalise their actions. It is this function that allows for the excuses people make for not pursuing their values, which over time becomes a pattern of inaction. However, that is only one aspect.

If I did what I really wanted to do, then I would be ____________.

Perhaps you see people with money as being bad people. You do not want to be a bad person and you do not want to be seen as a bad person, therefore on an unconscious level you do not want to make any more money than those around you. Meanwhile you fret and moan about not having enough money.

Our unconscious minds are filled with all sorts of preconceived notions. The danger is that if we do not address our beliefs concerning reality, then we will be limited by those beliefs against our best interests. We fear the imagine consequences of achieving our values and/or we fear how we suspect we will be judged by others should we achieve our values. Again, this attitude creates a pattern of behaviour that limits our ability to effectively pursue our values.

Another aspect of fear is insecurity. It is the fear that we are not good enough or do not deserve what we value. A good way of understanding values is to look at them as we do money. If you want something you ask yourself if you can afford it. This involves taking stock of your resources. The same applies in your dealings with other people.

Suppose you see someone that you fancy. Is this person “out of your league”? The real question is what values can this person offer you and what values can you offer in exchange? Just as a good salesman should be passionate about his product, so too should you be passionate about your product, and your product is you, the values you have on offer.

The exchange of values is all about trading something you deem to be of lesser value for something you believe to be of equal or greater value. Remember the umbrella? The umbrella is of greater value in a rain shower than a piece of paper.

Insecurity is the fear that the values you have on offer are of no value to anyone. Not only are they of no value, but they are worthy of scorn and rejection. If you do not believe in your values; if you see them as substandard, wrong, misguided, ugly, sinful, or weird; if you have no passion for them, then the best that you can hope for are the scraps of life. Insecurity is the inflation that renders your values worthless.

There is another reason for not living a value-driven life that has nothing to do with fear, well, not completely. Sometimes we do not pursue our values because we do not know our values. One of the great goals in life is discovering what we want. Life is a smorgasbord of experiences. You have the option to try everything once or stick to what you have always eaten. The only fear here is the fear of trying something new. You cannot truly know what you want until you have experienced it. If something tastes good, then have some more. If it tastes bad, then take something that you do like. Or to put it more straightforward:

Values are those things that we act to gain or to keep;
Happiness is a response to values;
The purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness;
Therefore, the purpose of life is the creation, pursuit, and keeping of values.

How does one keep a value? I think it is important that our decisions in life are based on moving towards something and not away from something. In your actions, are you motivated by moving towards your desires or escaping what you fear? Keeping a value is not accomplished by a fear of loosing it, but from a sense of gratitude for having it. We must constantly look around us and see how remarkable rich in values we already are.

Lets say that you are given a lovely china tea service for your birthday. You feel the thrill of delight at receiving such a beautiful gift. However, you do not alter your lifestyle to permit use of it on a regular basis, so the tea service quickly becomes an ornament blending in with your room until it becomes unnoticed. Over time it becomes dirty, chipped, and worn loosing value everyday from neglect. Perhaps you even forget who it was that gave it to you. You have now lost a value simply by not appreciating it. Then one day there is an accident and it falls to the ground and shatters. Only now are you sad at its loss.

I am no longer a Christian, but I believe that Christianity has many positive aspects that lead to a happy and productive life. One aspect in particular is the ritual of giving thanks. Look around and allow yourself to feel the positive emotions of gratitude. Look at whatever or whoever your “tea set” might be and allow yourself to feel once more the initial joy of attaining that value in your life. You need not thank “God”, just be thankful.

Now back to business.

Capitalism is all about the creation of values -- remember that money is just a symbolic representation of values. An entrepreneur is a visionary capable of seeing a means of creating new values in people’s lives. Look at your material, social, or personal values and imagine where they came from and all the steps that brought them into your life. This could be your computer, or the cool boyfriend/girlfriend that you met using that computer, or the great life changing concept you read on the internet. None of these values would have been possible without the conception, manufacture, and distribution of computer hardware and software.

There are three important skills in business:
1. Let them know who you are.
2. Tell them the story of what you are offering.
3. Convince them it’s worth having.

These are also known as networking, marketing, and sales. Since business is all about values and values are the currency of human existence, then these same principles apply. Here are two examples.

You are out for the night and see someone that you fancy. Introduce yourself (networking), say/demonstrate who you are (marketing your values), and see if you click (sales). Let’s say that you want a job. Let employer know about you (networking), tell them what values you can bring to their company (marketing), determine if you want them and if they want you (sales). I think you’ll find this pattern of value trading occurring in a myriad of forms everyday in your life.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg in regards to values. If I may challenge you, my dear reader, to take a moment to assess what it is that makes you truly happy. Trust and follow your emotional guidance system towards happiness instead of obsessing over those things that make you feel bad. Fear is simply your emotions telling you to be careful. There are not telling you to stop pursuing your values.

One final note for my fellow dark Romantics, happiness does not mean that you have to become little miss sunshine or prance about smiling like an idiot all time. It’s okay to be happy. It’s why you are here -- so enjoy.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

The Marriage of Nature

I have been married twice. It's funny how a failed marriage taints a person. You know those little boxes that you have to tick when you are filling out some form? I have often wondered why the bank wants to know if I am divorced when I want a loan or an account. When I meet a girl for the first time, I feel as though I have to hide the fact that I have been married twice. You see, I just don't want her to get the wrong idea . When you tell someone that you have been previously married there is a kind of life-long stigma attached. You will always be someone's ex-husband. However, I have recently discovered that such a stigma is more unfair when you consider that many people have been or are married and don't even know it.

Both of my marriages lasted less than two years. When the union dissolved the girl simply packed her things and disappeared from my life forever. There were no children, no joint assets, none of the usual chaos associated with divorce. She just left. My marriages were no more than government approved and church sanctioned living together.

I have known couples who have lived together two or three times longer than I was married, and yet should they break-up and return to single life, they can still tick that box next to the word "Single" while I am meant to tick "Divorced". They have an ex-partner who will eventually fade into memory as an ex-girlfriend, while I have an ex-wife for the rest of my days. No wonder more and more couples are choosing to forego the institution of marriage. The whole idea of such a union seems to have become moot. Yet, things are not as simple as they appear.

Over the past several months I have been studying different aspects of human relationships and sexuality. This has brought me to a very interesting conclusion. People choose not to enter into marriage because of a fear of commitment, or they choose to live with their significant other out of current interest but would never want to marry them for what ever reason. However, even though the decision to live with someone as a partner may avoid the human institution of marriage, the couple have in fact become man and wife whether they know it or not.

There is a story in the Bible where Jesus psychically points out to a prostitute that she has many husbands. In the ancient Irish Brehon Law there are seven types of marriage, two of which being "marriage of visitation with parental consent" and "marriage of visitation without parental consent". In Western culture we still speak of "consummating the marriage". The wedding before the religious figure or judge does not create the marriage. Signing the document does not create the marriage. These are just the institutionalised religious or legal aspects. What creates the marriage is the sex.

I was taught in the Pentecostal church of my youth that sex was a union of souls. One admonishment against "sport sex" was this idea that when souls are being united and ripped apart over and over again, it causes deep psychological damage to a person. I have long since come to disagree with this notion, but I have recently come to discover that there is more truth to it than I had suspected.

Our understanding of the human animal continues to grow. Just as our technological advances have progressed in leaps and bounds, so too has our understanding of human psychology and biology. We have found that there is far more to sex than "Insert tab A into slot B - Repeat."

Nature cares nothing about human laws, institutions, rituals, preconceived notions, entertainment, or religious beliefs. Love and Sex comes down to one thing in the eyes of Nature -- children. This is not to say that we are bound to the letter of Nature's laws. Human technology is based on understanding Nature's laws and using them to our purposes. Nature may intend sex for procreation, but humans have made it into an art. I have no problem with that. However, this does not give license to pretend that these laws don't exist or that there won't be dire consequences if we slip-up.

Scientist have discovered that prolonged sexual partnerships, and I'm not talking about one night stands or occasional flings here, lead to the development of deep psychological bonds between couples. There are a host of chemical agents at work within the human body all designed to strengthen the pair bond for the purpose of procreating and raising children. In other words, once you start having regular sex with someone exclusively, your bodies go to work to essentially "marry" you, strengthening that bond and uniting your souls.

I'll skip over discussing some of these chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, and go right to the scary one. It's a group of fatty acids called copulins and they read like something out of science fiction. Men beware.

Basically it works like this. When the penis enters the vagina, the vaginal wall secretes a chemical to hold it in place, then another chemical opens the penile duct so the copulins enter through the penis. They gather in the gonads to eventually enter the blood stream and go straight to the male brain. Once there, the copulins mimic the man's natural polypeptides, the neurotransmitters linking the hypothalamus and the rest of the brain and body, and supplant the host's neurotransmitters.

Copulins make the male highly open to her suggestions to the point of "hypnosis" or "brainwashing". It is believed that the purpose of this is to encourage bonding and even the odds between the stronger male and the female making him more docile, giving, and nurturing towards her. It seems to explain why macho men become "pussy whipped" in a prolonged relationship. Also, copulins appear to be addictive. For more detailed information on copulins, here is the link…

Let's take a moment to look at a few cultural stereotypes. In the film, Top Hat, Fred Astaire sings of being "footloose and fancy free" is praise of his devout bachelorhood. In My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins extols these same joys when he declares, "I will never let a woman in my life." There is this image of Man and his Freedom liked to being a bachelor. Likewise, there is the stereotype of the woman out to ensnare the man into marriage through her sexuality and turning him into the henpecked, brow-beaten, soul-destroyed husband.

Biology seems to support this. The Man is happy and solitary until his desires get the better of him and he exposes himself to the Venus Flytrap that is the walking chemical lab of Woman. The next thing he knows the jaws close in and his freedom is replaced by responsibility to wife and eventually kids.

I do not believe that we are stuck with these stereotypes. Yes, the bachelor is free to live his life as he chooses and by his own terms, but I enjoy the female touch and companionship in my life. I would prefer to have that partner without loosing my soul in the process. So perhaps it is rather like driving under the influence of alcohol. You know that your brain in full of chemicals, so compensate and pay special attention to what you are doing. You keep the course without getting in an accident in the process.

There are those psychologists who would argue that humans are hardwired for infidelity, however it seems that we are also hardwired for forming pair bonds. So it seems that Nature wants you procreate and raise offspring by any means necessary.

Once upon a time it was only socially acceptable to have sex within the institution of marriage, but then came free love and it has become increasingly freer and freer with each generation since. Now we live in a time of broken relationships. According to hypnotherapist Paul McKenna, the average relationship today lasts seven years and there is very little incentive for people to work through issues that arise within the relationship. The result is the pair bond being ripped asunder. This is more than just a heartbreak. It is suddenly going cold turkey from a chemical and behavioral addiction while at the same time adjusting to the loss of a loved one. Its like quitting heroine and smoking cigarettes on the same day that both your parents and your best friend die.

Perhaps in the light of this new understanding and current social forces, we should not take the social institution of marriage so seriously and we should begin taking the natural biology of marriage more seriously.

When you establish an on-going, exclusive, live-in sexual relationship with someone, your body takes it as its cue to begin forming the pair bond whether you consciously choose to "marry" this person or not, whether you are compatible or not, whether you share values or not, whether this person is right or good for you or not, and whether you want children with this person or not. Your head will get pumped full of all the required chemical necessary to create the state of marriage.

However, these other factors do play a part and they will begin to assert themselves when the chemistry lab calms down and the fog clears. At this point you may choose to continue the relationship or not. You may remain married or divorce.

I have been married twice, but that is not exactly true. There was another relationship that lasted roughly the same amount of time as the two marriages. We never married and I would say that I connected and bonded with her more closely than I had with my ex-wives and the separation was far more painful and damaging for me. If we see marriage as the social manifestation of human biology and not as a religious or legal institution, then you might say that I have been married three times.

I carry the stigma of divorce, and yet I have known people who have moved from marriage to marriage to marriage without ever being expected to tick the "Divorced" box. People who have lived joint lives as man and wife for one, two, four, or seven years, but have never been "married" in the eyes of Church and State. I think its high time these people were held accountable for their marriages of Nature.

And yet referring to one's ex-partner or ex-live-in lover hardly carries the same punch as saying ex-wife or ex-husband, and it probably never will. By the same token, I wonder how many people would look at their current partner and could proudly declare them to the world to be their husband or wife. Perhaps if society credited the sexual pair bond with the care, caution, status, and respect that it warrants, the union would not be taken so flippantly.

I have been married three times. So how many times have you been married?