Cognition & Reality

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Why No Joy?

Filed under: Attachment,Emotion — drtone @ 3:23 pm

Yesterday, I had an appointment with a urologist to receive the results of a prostate cancer biopsy performed last week. The results were resoundingly negative (i.e., good): Of the twelve samples taken, all were benign. As readers of my blog know, my prostate cancer story has been going on for six months, ever since a PSA test I had in June was returned showing a substantial jump over my previous tests.

When I received the news from the urologist, after waiting quite a while in a consulting room, I was glad, but I was not overjoyed. I don’t know what I expected to happen to me. I had been meditating deeply for some time, weeks maybe, developing inner peace, not only for its own sake, but to prepare for receiving this news. I had opened up a big space, or so it seemed to me. I was not particularly afraid of receiving bad news. My main concern was that I might be forced to make another decision.

Although I had already come to the conclusion that I would not pursue radical therapy for prostate cancer, I realized as I sat in the consulting room that it was one thing to have reached that conclusion and another to make a positive decision, in the presence of the urologist, not to have surgery or radiation. I remembered all the times, sitting in restaurants as a kid, being pressured by my father to decide what I wanted to order–experiences that have made me the quickest menu reader and food order-er west of the Pecos. I knew I did not want to decide anything. The urologist’s news meant that I didn’t have to, at least not at this time about this issue.

I was relieved, but not exactly happy, nor did I become appreciably happier on the drive home. When I got home, I sent emails to several people with whom I had spoken about my prostate adventure. Some of them have gotten back to me, most expressing feelings of joy and relief that I have not had myself. It’s partly in contrast to these good wished that I am aware of the lack of joy in my own response.

The PSA result had turned into a Big Deal, complete with many hours of Googling and angry rants, some of which have appeared in this blog. Nevertheless, in the last few weeks, I had already moved on, I realize as I write this. It had already become something of a non-issue before I ever made my drive to Fontana yesterday to get the word from the medical world. Yet I did get the biopsy because I wanted to know what was going on “down there.” Now I know, and I don’t care very much. It’s kind of a letdown.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Penile Propaganda

Filed under: Propaganda — drtone @ 9:18 am

As anyone who Googles frequently knows, searching the web can bring all kinds of surprises, not all of them pleasant. Yesterday, I was searching the web with the name of a woman I knew in Boulder years ago, someone I thought maybe had tried to reach me through Facebook under her married name. A woman with the same name, as it turns out, has written articles about the regulations regarding what has been called “female genital mutilation.” In connection with this topic, I was confronted with the fact that presentations of “The Vagina Monologues” are often (or sometimes) prefaced with a canned statement equating removal of the clitoris with amputation of the penis. If anything proves William James’s remark, “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it,” it is this claim. No reflection is required to recognize that it is manifestly false. Therefore, as its originator, Eve Ensler, undoubtedly understood, to present arguments about why and how it is false, discussing the disparate functions and relative size of the two organs, or examining cultural constructions around them, will only reinforce the statement’s counterfeit validity. It derives its power solely from being repeated. By mentioning it, I may have given it more power, and I do so knowing that, because it has already been repeated so often, and believed so often, nothing I do will change its valence one way or another. Anyone wishing to understand how propaganda works need look no further.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Time For A Vagina Dialogue

Filed under: Medical Morality,Propaganda,Psychomyths,Sex & Love — drtone @ 3:00 pm

I suggest that it is possible to read The Vagina Monologues as a hegemonic discourse that embodies a particular Western, white, heterosexual notion of female bodies/vaginas and values, even while appreciating its effort to bring to the public a discourse that in the United States is usually treated as unmentionable and unspeakable. From “One Vagina To Go” by Wairimutilde Ngarutildeiya Njambi

I have long wondered if I’m the only person in the world who sees something wrong with the international campaign against “female genital mutilation” (FGM). To me, it has a fishy smell (so to speak) reminiscent of the 19th century missionary movement, similarly launched by do-gooders in the First World to benefit inhabitants of the Third World. In this structure, the latter are conceived as ignorant savages who need to be saved from the primitive perversity of their own culture. That the campaign against FGM is about vaginas and sexuality does not alter the essential fact that it has been conceived (again, so to speak) in the West as a “solution” to something not necessarily experienced as a problem by those targeted to be “saved.”

A central flaw in the campaign, as Njambi points out in “One Vagina To Go,” is that it treats a wide range of practices relating to female genitalia as equal. In much the same way, differences in and among the “native” cultures to which they were bringing Christianity did not matter to members of the missionary movement. With few exceptions, missionaries were uninterested in values of the dark peoples they visited, nor in the relative sophistication or unsophistication of the religions they intended to supplant. To them, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, Islam and the various forms of “animism” they encountered were the same because they were not Christianity, and the practitioners of these religions were all, furthermore, superstitious “heathens,” lucky to come in contact with superior Western ideas and modes of worship. The campaign against FGM operates from similar racist, ethnocentric assumptions, concealing contempt for the dark people it is supposedly helping behind a smokescreen of ideology and propaganda.

For example, the FGM movement dismisses the term “circumcision” for the practices it condemns, comparing those practices with the amputation of the penis, and making much of the “crude instruments” supposedly involved, comparing them with the razor blades used in brawls. As Njambi suggests, it is impossible to defend an activity labeled “mutilation.” In addition, the relative absence of factual evidence regarding the tools actually used by the people involved, rather than calling into question the blanket condemnation of the practices in question, simply emphasizes their apparent barbarity. This is a perfect example of how propaganda can capitalize on the absence of evidence for the claims it makes. “…associating female genital practices with penis amputation and street fights is an important rhetorical strategy because it invokes the image of torture and attack on women’s sexuality, which is then taken as an undisputed or uncontested ‘truth’.'”

Consequently, once FGM was presented in the 1970s as a form of oppression from which African women must be rescued, the movement against it acquired a momentum that mows down any objections, characterizing those asking questions as defending barbarity and unspeakable savagery. Therefore, the existence of local opposition to anti-FGM programs provides proof that the ignorant women in backward countries  passively accept the values of their male oppressors, and that those same male oppressors are uncaring monsters. Likewise, as Njambi suggests, all claims that the supposed “mutilation” does not interfere with sexual pleasure are taken to demonstrate that the oppressed women do not know what is good for them.

Armed with purportedly certain knowledge, just as their 19th century predecessors were, modern-day anti-FGM missionaries have spread a gospel they have not recognized as rooted in their own parochial concerns. Women in the US and other Western countries, absorbed in a new consciousness of their own sexuality, not perhaps fully reconciled with their own culturally defined discomfort regarding the vagina, fixed their attention on the vaginas of women living far away, under conditions incomprehensible to most Westerners. Thus a movement was founded that has a lot more to do with the lives of those who founded it than with the lives of those it is designed to save. Reproducing in another form the sins of colonialism, which invariably brought oppression in the name of liberation,  Western women have carried their own “monologue” to a context where it does not fit, clumsily forcing their own values onto people uninterested in those values or actively hostile to them.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Advaita Teacher

Filed under: Advaita,Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 11:33 am

I can’t quite remember what my Googling was about, but I stumbled on a video of a guy in Vancouver named Burt Harding. He’s somewhat eccentric, but what do you expect of a guy who attributes his inspiration to a vision of Ramana Maharishi that came out of nowhere. Harding’s big ego provides an instructive contrast to his teachings about the ego, reinforcing rather than negating his words.

I also like his formulation “Human Being.” I am a human (who is) being. At once, it emphasizes the illusory nature of the individual and the existence of a real experiencer, giving another perspective on Ramana Maharshi’s injunction to ask, “Who am I?” The “human” part cannot do anything but struggle. Our only choice, as Burt Harding says over and over, is to recognize that we cannot choose either to struggle or not to struggle, because we are Being Here Now. Apprehending our own existence is all we can do.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Spiritual Bypassing In Spades

Filed under: Attachment,Perennial Philosophy,Psychotherapy — drtone @ 1:43 pm

While thinking about writing an entry about the relationship of psychotherapy and spirituality, I noticed that some Googling I had previously done on “object relations” had turned up a conference of New York psychoanalysts on “psychoanalysis and spirituality.” As I looked further, and linked to one of the participants, Jeffrey Rubin, a Buddhist psychoanalyst of whom I had heard, I saw that he had a link on his website to a story in the New York Times Magazine about his treatment of a “Zen master.” I’m not sure if it’s precisely relevant to the topic I began with, but it’s an interesting study in how spiritual practice, mystical practice, or whatever you want to call it, can paradoxically act against the process of self-discovery that is presumably at its center.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Soul Without Shame: Book Recommendation

As background for writing a book on the Inner Bully, I’m reading Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown, written from the perspective of the Diamond Approach of A.H. Almaas, with quotes from Almaas. The format is good, using vignettes to illustrate the different forms the “inner judge” or superego takes, and delving precisely into the origins of self-criticism and self-doubt. The Diamond Approach, although based in Sufism and other mystical traditions, draws heavily on object relations theory, making the book of interest to anyone interested in the relationship of depth psychology and spirituality.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Weird News

Knowing that my therapist, Michael Sieck, was involved with the Diamond Approach, I have reluctantly concluded that all roads lead to Ken Wilber.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — drtone @ 8:03 am

After tons-o soul searching, I finally had my prostate biopsy on Monday. I was far less worried and nervous in the daze leading up to it than I ever expected. It’s true that I had to take some xanax the night before in order to fall asleep, and that I took some xanax while I was on my way to Kaiser Fontana. Nevertheless, I don’t credit the xanax with the main feelings I had, which did not meet my expectation that I would be all panicky.

The procedure was much less traumatic than my first prostate biopsy, about five years ago. There was no smell of burning flesh, the pain was less, and it was over more quickly, although the urologist took twice as many biopsy samples (12) as the first guy did. Here’s what I didn’t expect: Immediately after the procedure, I had to drive to my office in Temecula to see a couple who had rescheduled earlier in the day. When I got to my office, I went to take a piss. For the first two seconds or so, nothing came out except red, red blood. There were also blood clots. Let’s say that it was disconcerting. Also, the area in question hurt considerably following the procedure and for hours afterward. It’s the next day, and I feel OK, although there are twinges and I feel wiped out, perhaps as much from a long drive in the rain as from having been “probed.”

One weird thing is that I knew well in advance something that the urologist would say. This weekend while meditating I twice had the impression that he would tell me that he could see my prostate through his rectal periscope and that it looked like it was clean, or words to that effect. That’s exactly what happened. I didn’t ask him. He told me that he couldn’t see anything of concern.

I’m not quite sure why it was so un-traumatic. Maybe it was simply the time I had to consider what I wanted to do. Maybe it was all the meditation. I do know that a watershed moment came when I read Robert Masters’s account of his prostate cancer experience. He had a biopsy and therefore knows he has cancer; he’s undergoing alternative treatment. When I read that, I realized that I simply did not know where I stood, and suddenly wanted a biopsy. In addition, I trusted the urologist, once I met him, and knew he’d do a good job.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Premature Evacuation

Filed under: Attachment — drtone @ 2:58 pm

I was at my office last night for a five o’clock appointment with a couple. They always call to say if they’re going to be even a little bit late. I was therefore surprised when they didn’t show up by 5:10, by which time they surely would have called. I usually leave at quarter past the hour on a no-show, if I have no one else coming.( I used to wait until twenty after, but nobody ever showed in the additional five minutes.) Anyway, I left. Over an hour later, when I had been home for a while, I got a call from the couple, from him, actually. They had been in Wal-Mart, realized they were running late, and tried to call, but discovered that the phone with my number in it had died. They were apologetic, and said they’d pay for the session, but I feel like I ran out on them. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s that I was feeling out of sorts, uncomfortable while I was waiting. I had gotten to my office early for a combination of reasons. So it was a long wait. Although I’m not going crazy about it yet, I do have a biopsy coming up on Monday, and that’s gotten to me a couple of times in the last day or so. Also, my friend Annie left yesterday. I miss her. These probably combined to produce the discomfort I was feeling. I got restless, and left as soon as I thought was polite.I don’t know if there’s a bottom line here.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Filed under: Perennial Philosophy — drtone @ 10:48 am

This morning when I was on the can, I watched a bug–a generic bug–crawling around the floor of the bathroom. The bug did not seem quite right, kind of wobbly. Perhaps it was sick, or near the end of its short life.

Mostly, it hung out near the wall opposite me, which is off-white, occasionally trying to climb the molding. It also seemed to like the bright white strip along the outside of the tub, perpendicular to the favored wall. A couple of times it took off across the main part of the floor, which is a sort of fake wood laid out in rectangles. While it crawled across the floor, it would sometimes hug a line. It also hugged the line made by the bath mat directly in front of me. Overall, it favored lighter areas. The bug seemed daunted by any place it had to climb, and fell several times. It also danced in circles, looking confused or was possibly succumbing to whatever was wrong with it.

As I watched, I could not help identify with the  bug. It could be that, although I seem to know where I am and what I’m doing, I’m really crawling along in total confusion, mistaking lighter areas for The Light. It could also be that I occasionally hug a line, thinking that it leads somewhere, when all it does it lead to the edge of another “rectangle.”

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