The Heart’s Hangover

some nice comments previously led me to a think a little more.
(did you smell something burning?)

let’s use the frontal cortex for what it’s good at: think to a time when you became scared, or something went wrong: really wrong. instead of thinking about in WHAT that event consisted, (since that is not actually real, any more), try to remember what your body did. whatever it did is most likely still stored there, nervously. when i think back to a couple scary moments in my life, i recall my heart-rate going way up, totally out of my control… to the extent that THAT occurrence almost added to the situation. when you multiply events like this (say, in the case of a veteran of war), you get bonified trauma. my sense is that the heart is like the diplomat here… relaying a message, however uncomfortably, not without grace, to the rest of our systems. so; so. when something goes wrong, it often registers in the amygdala (on top of the spine, a little tiny brain), which can almost instantaneously recruit the nervous system to send the message that adrenaline be released into the bloodstream. the heart speeds viciously and pumps that stuff into every inch of our flesh. this is a good thing, when we need it… and an excessively toxic thing, when we don’t. “stress”–as conceived by Hans Selye–is the great killer of the heart. ( adrenaline that is not used in muscle-work, turns to cortisol in the bloodstream and kills muscle, including the emperor muscle.
there is a powerful reciprocation here, between the nervous system and the heart… one cannot act exclusively. it is the deep embedded electrical charge of the phrenetic nerves to MAKE THE HEART’S BEAT. in one of my kung fu books, there’s a meditation that says, “heaven and earth is like a bellows, one moves not without the other.” the heart-nervous system are a heaven and earth within our bodies. learning to observe this dynamic, and eventually govern it, is one of the greatest human tasks. to return to loving. from the mythical perspective, Cupid is not a good shot. in fact, as we can attest, he almost never gets the proper target (this is played upon heavily in Shakepeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”)… one fool falling in love with the next. if you think about your own experiences in these matters, you might recall that something was wrong… from the beginning. which, in my little world means that you lost control of your nervous system, the heart, and then let a haywire confusion of electrical impulses to the bigger brain get interpreted as LOVE. but wasn’t it wonderful?! sometimes that’s not so clear. especially in the midst of the worst part of that hangover. and then we ultimately crave another of that magical drink of the gods.
what would it be like to become conscious here? meaning, live in the heart, nervous system, AND the palace of our fixations: the cerebellum? to choose to love, and love the choosing?

the ancients lived fully in these holistic systems, evaluating their physiology more often, standing there, listening-in to heart beats, electrical impulse, the ground, the sky, light flooding in their eyeballs… and myths served as cautionary boundaries to experience, Cupid misfiring, Zeus raping Danae, Athena pulling Achilles’ hair back to keep him from killing Agamemnon. these myths are not external to human behavior… they are the balance of our physiology. so what is it to listen to our heartbeat? the ancient Greeks had thumos, ?????, a powerful term for the breast… the heart, soul, breath, life, animus. it is often ascribed as the seat of thinking, as in, “his heart bade him shoot.” it was also a breastplate, as in armor. the armor of our own feelings… the more quickly and truly you can access them, the stronger you are.

images-3 i intend to lead us away from the brain a little. we can only address the fixation with neuroscience by listening-in to our bodies, to what’s actually happening. this requires a kind of continual warrior spirit, gay, triumphant, unashamed, and willing to wear our hearts on our… chests. to use them. what’s your armor?

the mythic touches our lives, every moment. there is always a greater story being told, over top of us, within, that can be listened-in to. like the thunderbolt, striking from the sky, grounding its wicked intelligence in the clay of earth… we have that within our own bodies: the nervous system firing billions of signals a second into our muscles, and the loving emperor–Heart–conveying that heavenly message to our flesh. it seems appropriate that his color is red… not just the red of alarm… it’s iron. that’s an earthly element, pure, and in high concentration, pulsing in liquid form within every inch of our physiology (everywhere except, of course, the brain–who has his own fluid)…

so let our armor be made of iron, and lightening.

V Day and the Pulse

i almost always feel a little funny about this 14th of February, today.  i cannot put my finger on it precisely.  a few years ago, the day after Valentine’s Day, a friend of mine told me about how his girlfriend had prepared the day for them.  this friend of mine is definitely not the overstated romantic type, though loving.  he described a candle-lit red wine dinner that his lover had designed, followed by some chocolatie desert, and afterwards they go to her apartment.  he can smell that she had been burning incense or something perfumed, and then mounting the stairs, he sees that the room is resplendent with flowers, candles, and her bed is made all in red and over it she has strewn roses.  we were driving up to the mountain to ski as he told the story and i remember thinking, wow! i wouldn’t mind encountering this scene, though a little hollywood.  then he comments, “it made me want to puke.”

so it’s that feeling that i would like to explore tonight.  and i’ve only got an hour before the day is over.  so let’s go.  love is progenitor of our deepest, most visceral emotions, including the one just recounted.  what is our loving instinct?  what, this power to craft an expression, a mythology, a titanic force of commerce… cupid’s arrow: the ever erring whimsy of Eros?

of course, we don’t know quite how other animals think… though it’s my supposition that they do so much more in their bodies.  we, on the other hand, have a distinguished frontal cortex, that can craft and weave all sorts of imagery of things we cannot see, things we know to exist, like protein operons, DNA, sea monsters, dragons, electrons, time, God, and love.  (like my list?)  and in that self-scanning we make incredible associations.  for instance, that love is associated with an organ: the heart.  the emperor.  we imagine this organ swelling with life as we contemplate a loved one, thirsting for more oxygen to mix into a rich blood path that will enliven the body, which can then become magnitized in the gravitational pull of … love.  it beats, this emperor of our body, filling every last minute detail of muscle, tissue, and bone with oxygen, immunity, lubricant, and nutrient… and it is the place of love and affection.  that’s our story.  i wonder what, say, dolphins tell each other about their affections.  perhaps they come from outside.  perhaps they are delivered by the subsuming magnificence of Poseidon and his aquaeous ether.

it is a kind of morbid fascination.  the heart.  almost like we want to open it and look in there.  baudelaire and poe get it.  to give a rose is to give something dead; to express love, we want to kill a plant and offer it, dying, to our loved one.  poe takes it futher: we want to do this somehow to the loved one herself.  that is a part of the associated fascination with this emotion: love.  in french, an old expression of orgasm is “petit-mort”… small death.  and then there’s the poetic rock nomenclature of Jane’s Addiction: “sex is violent.”  the French do embrace this deathly aspect of love in a more true fashion, if that can be said.  they get the bleeding towards death aspect of our love for one another.  perhaps part of love is a rushing towards death, an embrace of the unknown beyond in the form of another human being, a mortal.  i think of the whole macabre theater of the 19th century French cabaret, the opium and dark bars, dancers, drinkers, smokers, lovers, costumed for a morbid charade of the blood of humanity, its aliveness in knowing death.

i think THIS feeling brings my strange mood up… about Valentine’s day… where here (in the U.S.A.) it’s about smiling, openness, candy, flowers, marriage, and copulation.  there’s red, but not blood.  maybe now is a new time, however, a time for more language, more exploration, a deeper truth: we’re going to die.  let’s love that.  let’s love what is impure, diseased and imperfect: each other.  can we be true in that loving?  is there another kind of gift besides a bed of roses and a box of chocolates?


as the frontal cortex reels and crafts unreal scenes of love… the body and the heart do another thing.  they incorporate traumas, they remember the things we (our minds) would “prefer not to”–they do the dirty work.  they carry the DNA… and pump the blood that swells in circulation in the uterus, sloughs the lining and menstrates.  they do our deathly living.  let’s drink to that tonight.  (i’m just having green tea.)-maybe it should be blood.  the heart is an oregon that does not get cancer.  it’s funny to think about.  our minds go to waste with valentine’s fancies and chocolates, but our hearts are workhorses, vigorously spurting blood, ripping oxygen out of it and feeding its own muscle, a forever working, forever dedicated minister of two worlds: serving us, paying its dues in earthly crimson pints, pouring them over and over for an eternity of years as we pass through this world, guests, moving on to another chamber of circumstances… perhaps only able to carry a precious few remembrances of this place.  let one be love.  and let our love be pure, unrestrained, and a warrior for the truth.

two worlds, coraline

i go to yoga class almost every night, in one form or another.  last night i walked into the studio in NW and knew that i was in the wrong building.  so i walked out.  i made some laps in the neighborhood, scouting, scouting myself.  i found a building not too far away to climb; a five or six story industrial building.

(for the flâneur, life is not a series of equable moments; no, it contains moments that are greater than others, not becuase they are filled with more meaning, or adrenaline, or love, but because the moment itself discloses itself more forcefully, it’s worth a bit of investigation:

last night i got to witness a large moment, and witness myself.  i had to mount the building via a large gutter main, steel.  on one side of the pipe was a brick relief detail, about a quarter inch proud of the building, on the other side, blank.  as i got off the ground, i began to struggle, my feet inching up the large pipe like an inch worm.  my body reminded me to layback off the building.  a layback is where the feet come up higher, closer to the hands, and the arms fully extend, using the structure of the upper body, rather than muscle.  the pipe ran up about twenty five feet before crossing over to a fire escape.  the layback felt good and i stopped thinking and went.  i trusted.  the unintuitive part of this move is that it “feels” much more vulnerable, exposed.  it is, however, a much better way.
hamlet says,

there is a certain providence in the falling of a sparrow.

that is, a grace, a way.  all things can be done with grace.  the trick is learning how, learning to breathe, to get out of the way of oneself.  so i went through this doorway to myself last night and climbed the building.

it was a dramatic evening: a clean cold night, clouds rushing overhead, blowing past a nearly full moon, half eclipsing a bank of stars.

i trained and did  a different kind of work-out and meditation.  for about an hour i stood and let my eyes drink in the scene.  a few blocks away was another buiding, from another time: a limestone and brick building with a copper mansard roof and limstone dormers, the sides more heavily weighted than the middle section of the building.  this is a poor capturing of it from my iphone:


the mansard roof is indicative of European architecture, a steep hip, often clad in copper or something extremely resistant to weather and rain… as it is probably one of the more expensive maintenance tasks on a building like this.  this is the Benson Hotel.  this roof throws one into another time, perhaps more so when the view of it is lateral, like from another rooftop.  it comes from a time of romance and care: to make a roof like this, you have to love what you’re doing.  it’s classic.  it’s the head, the capital, an ornament yet extreme in function and beauty.  and last night, there were a few lights on in it, hovering way over the damp city, shining out from another era.  i imagined a musician in there, playing a violin, with a lover nearby, making loose tea in a low lighted side kitchen with a gas flame.  nothing new, nothing fancy.  walk through time like every moment discloses these pregnant qualities of human thrival.


or at least begin to be like hamlet: ready.

i came down off the roof in another moment of myself, full and nourished.  full of the sense of another world, an intense realm of imagination and health.  i had a spicy thai dinner with a friend and we talked about the economy.  the words floated out of our mouths and sloshed around in the room, then fell softly to the floor, to be vacuumed later.  we walked after dinner to the Benson Hotel and went in.  it’s gorgeous, with grand mahogany casements, marble, crystal and well maintained.


we asked the man at the desk about the roof, and he seemed not to know what we were talking about: mansard?  he showed us up to the penthouse, and yet we could not get any sense of the roof… we were in the building to the left there.  i realized that i would have to climb the building to get there.


we went to see the new film Coraline, directed by Henry Selick.  a story of two worlds.


i had actually been to Laika, the animation studio where the film was made, about three years ago, at the beginning of production of the film.  the studio is incredible and the sets that i saw were unbelievable.  the whole process is actually crafting these puppets, building physical sets, costumes, armatures, and actually animating the figures.  for all that work, it looks far too CGI for my taste, but the craft is amazing nonetheless.

my evening was punctuated by the film, shifted into two worlds itself… by this story about a little girl, Coraline, who has two pre-occupied writers for parents who’ve recently moved to a spooky old house with three apartments.  Coraline isn’t allowed to explore the rainy exterior of the new habiliment because of a fear of mud on the part of her mother.  she soon discovers a little door on the ground floor of their house, at first revealing only a bricked off entrance.  that evening, though, as she falls asleep, some jumping mice come to her room, from the circus that her upstairs Russian gymnastic neighbor is cultivating, and urge her to follow them through the door… which now opens on another realm.  in it, Coraline discovers another similar house, just slightly more colorful, slightly more fantastic, with two similar but more animated parents, who seem to love her more, love mud more, and love life more.  they have button eyes.  that’s a little scary.

the overall aesthetic of the movie is GOOD.  the storyline is not.  i love the idea of these two worlds.  i was in it already last night, in the real way.  i found that as the story unfolded, i did not care about any of the characters in the film, they were all rushed onto the screen too quickly with odd little vignettes in between, like Coraline jumping up an down on a hall carpet that would not smooth flat.  the movie landed between worlds, between a world of adult fascination with this craft, with the escape, and the world of blow-up childhood fantasies and fears.  the film approaches the mythical realm of C.S. Lewis (walking through a closet) and Amy’s Eyes, but falls harshly flat by poor writing and story visioning.  it reminded me of the difference between someone who breathes while they’re speaking and someone who does not, taking short, necessary, raspy breaths between rushed words.

after the film, i realized that i want to help craft this second world, the classical realm of imagination and myth.  are you there?