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Talk & Listen Sessions

Monday 30 October 2023

Past Entanglements And Dodgy Vibes

So it turns out that we are not just individual human beings freely weaving our meandering path through life. Individually, we are the sum of infinitely many parts and, in turn, are a part of something infinitely bigger than ourselves. Absolutely everything is connected and influences everything else; nobody exists in isolation. Even the tiniest sub-atomic particle is entwined with another, even if separated in distance by the entire expanse of the universe. When it moves, the particle with which it is entwined is compelled to move in a corresponding way. The two particles are entangled; one cannot exist without the other and each influences the other continually at the exact same time. 

As I started to type this sentence, I had a conscious thought to do so. This thought was influenced by factors that are hidden from me and buried in my unconscious. My unconscious is a continually changing secret reservoir that has accumulated information over time from the moment of its conception. Everything I have seen, heard, tasted, experienced from the very beginning formed the basis of the neural pathways in the brain. These continually influence the messages being sent throughout my entire physical and psychological being. An experience of absolute fear at the age of one, an encounter of unbridled dread at two, a panic-stricken episode at three; all contribute to how the neural networks are constructed. Every experience adds to how the response to all future stimuli is determined, whether fight, flight or freeze. 

An experience of joy and happiness at age one, an encounter of warm and fuzzy human interaction at two, an exciting episode of smiles and laughter at three is equally influential to future development, but the end result contrasts sharply to that moulded by experiences that are polar opposites; we fight, flight or freeze in completely different ways. Whatever choices we make are based on what's already happened. If different things had happened to us, if we had experienced the world around us differently, particularly during our early formative years when our brains were a blank canvas and at their most malleable, then we would be making altogether different choices. I was recently reading about two brothers. One was a convicted serial murderer; the other a successful professional with a house and family leading a fulfilling life. The contrasting life path was well explained by their different upbringing. The one that had killed people had endured suffering and torment through neglect and abuse as a small child; the brother able to lead a happy life had been nurtured with love, care and attention.

We are the result of our development and everything that happens to us, physically and mentally, is the outcome of infinitely many moving parts all working together and influencing each other. We are the sum of the parts of our own internal and intricately-woven entanglement. The cause of many physical ailments that manifest themselves in the body are deeply rooted in the mind through an infinitely complex relationship that is in a continual state of flux. This is a product of the developmental experiences that we have encountered, whether fruitful or traumatic, particularly in early childhood. The body does not forget trauma. The blood blisters that turn into excruciatingly painful ulcers that I have in my mouth and on my tongue, which have been making it virtually impossible to drink or eat over the past few days, are not a random occurrence. They can be traced to psychological trauma from decades back.

In my blog post yesterday I wrote that my efforts for human connection are met with indifference. I knowingly suggested that my social skills may lie somewhere towards the dysfunctional end of the competency scale and that my vibe might not conjure up the desire in others to wish to get a little closer and find out more. I didn't develop these skills when I was young because opportunities to do so were tainted with toxicity. Throughout my early life the messages that I perceived from my experiences adversely affected the evolving image of myself and my place in the world and instilled a deep-rooted belief that I was inadequate. I simply wasn't worthy of enjoying happy moments. I grew up with an imbalanced view of the world, always on edge and filled with anxiety to the brim when faced with any potential human interaction. Loneliness is an affliction that gnaws at the soul. I don't want to be alone, weird or undesirable. Trying to do something about it takes a lot of effort and it's not something that comes naturally to me as it does for some people.

Thoughts, feelings and behaviours are critically and directly influenced by the past. So whilst there is such a thing as free will, it's pre-determined by the events that have gone before. I may want to go out and meet people, to connect and feel good, to make friends, and my free will means I can choose to try and live my life in this way. But my free will is steeped in its own experiential neuro-biological history which gives rise to the dodgy vibe that acts as an effective repellent. It hides in the unconscious but dynamically controls the conscious which is why it is not possible to become a fundamentally different human being to the one that we are. It doesn't mean there are no ways to make any changes though. Even if they might end up being relatively small they might still be enough. 

There is hope through trying to make the right choices, realigning our thoughts with where we want to be and seeking out approaches for self-development and well-being. I might be completely knotted up within my own entanglement; I just need to find the beginning of the thread.

Sunday 29 October 2023

The Existential Threat Posed By Social Events

Sometimes being surrounded by everyone is the loneliest, because you’ll realise you have no one to turn to.

~ Soraya, Astrologer & Reiki Practitioner

If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.

~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper, 2004

People think I’m odd, so I know how it feels to be different, and I know how lonely that can be.

~ Beauty and the Beast, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

I'd not ventured beyond my front door for three days. I needed some real-life human contact. Over the past few months, at times like these, I have been going online to look for something to do to satisfy such needs. I don't have friends I can just call up to meet up with or even just to have a chat with. Occasionally, I might ring my bank's call centre pretending I want to check a transaction just to have some brief conversation! I might also ring an emotional support helpline if I am particularly troubled. I spent quite a long time on the telephone seeking some respite from Samaritans on Saturday night. To actually meet people, though, I've been using websites such as Meetup, Eventbrite and Facebook. And so it was that yesterday I found myself scrolling through "events" on Meetup and Eventbrite to find somewhere to go where I might encounter human beings who I could just talk to. I found an event which was described as a social evening to meet new people with whom to walk around Shoreditch looking at street art. This sounded like just what I needed!

My mood needed a pre-event shift somehow or another. I'd been cooped up alone in a sea of depression for three days and needed to move up a few notches on the sociability scale. I would need to present myself as a friendly, likeable and approachable character whilst sticking to my values of authenticity, the desire to just "be the real me". Despite an inner fragility I arrived at the scene in pleasant mood and, to the best of my knowledge, welcoming body language with energy to mingle and interact. This was the whole point of even turning up to this "social evening to meet new people"! There was quite a crowd already gathered when I arrived. I spotted someone on his own just looking at his mobile. I thought he might appreciate some company and so I didn't hesitate in just going up to him and saying hello. He looked up at me momentarily and, without speaking, just resumed looking at his mobile. I immediately felt my mood taking a shift in the wrong direction of the scale. This had such an effect on me that it set a scene of foreboding for the rest of the evening.

We all stood around waiting to get started on the walk. I managed to somehow pretend to myself that I felt absolutely fine and unfazed and that the evening would facilitate the anticipated social interactions. A quick hand wave from the organiser signalled we were now on the move. We set off on a journey that was to unfold over the next couple of hours with all the emotional complexities arising from social anxiety that it would entail. I quickly realised that I was not even noticing the surroundings as we walked along, a column of people moving along the streets of east London, with me lost in my own world somewhere within the final third of the procession. I looked up and around. It seemed everyone was in pairs or small groups of three or four and, amongst all these fellow walkers, I found that I was on my own, with just my own thoughts and insecurities for company. This wasn't the point of joining a group activity. I had to talk to someone! 

Attempting to shift gear, mentally and physically, I made an effort to engage with some of those around me. I tried various permutations of conversation starter that sprung to mind, which ranged from a simple "hello", to comments about art, the streets of Shoreditch or what attracted people to the event. Response was short and superficial, if even there was a response at all. Some people seemed reluctant to venture out from within their mini social bubble or were too deep in their contemplation of art, life or the universe. Or maybe there were deficiencies in my social skills; maybe my vibe was being perceived as decidedly off kilter. At times of despair in social situations, as soon as I am faced with the notion that I have nothing left to lose, I resort to nuclear options within my social armoury. There would be no more lame "hellos" or "that's a nice shade of blue on that bit of graffiti" to get the party started.  

I made a beeline towards a woman who appeared to have momentarily separated from the pack. "Do you think Schrodinger's cat poses an existential threat to humanity?". Unfazed by her look of bewilderment I turned to a guy next to me and exclaimed that I'd had some taramosalata and pitta bread that afternoon and asked whether he'd had anything to eat before coming out that evening. I might as well have been speaking in Mandarin. I gate-crashed a party of four and introduced the concept that each electron has a twin spinning in the opposite direction billions of light years away. Nope, that didn't get much of a reaction either. I've noticed in many social situations when several "normal" attempts to start some sort of conversation fail I seem to resort to avant-garde all-or-nothing tactics. I think I do this in the belief that nothing works for me anyway. By the time I get to this turning point I think I've given up on connecting with anyone, so I think I act in a way more for my own personal amusement than anything else. It's a temporary respite from the underlying pain of rejection.  

The walk came to an end. I hadn't paid any attention to any street art, apart from some graffiti where I noticed a pleasing hue of blue, which I pointed out to someone only to be met with indifference at the time. The group started to disband, saying their goodbyes and heading off into the night in different directions whilst I looked on. I was a little bit lost, both in my thoughts and my location, and stood motionless looking around expecting answers to appear before me. Suddenly, it started to rain; I had no umbrella. The trouble with this situation, as a myopic bespectacled individual, is that everything just starts to feel really shit. So there I was, by now alone, somewhere in the dark, wet expanse of this part of the city. I hadn't even come close to any human connections; the "social" event had been an unmitigated disaster. I was too emotionally numb to discern whether I was alive or dead inside. I was Schrodinger's cat; isolated, lost, and soaked in an existential paradox. 

I just needed to find my way home; I still had some taramosalata left in the fridge. And that could be followed with tea and crumpet with Morello cherry jam. Maybe there was some point to life after all, albeit consolatory.