Fragmented thoughts of a fragmented mind

15 Mar 2016

the now, the limbic brain, and the fear of abandonment

One would think that zen masters can stop meditating on life since they have already achieved zenness, but there is this parable somewhere which I can’t remember – that the more zen one becomes, the more one has to meditate.

I wrote this in my journal recently:

I take it all that comes to me, I appreciate everything for what they are, and I let go, in order to embrace the next moment.

In that moment it was clear and loud, I have felt a sense of peace, for that string of moments. The chaos returned, eventually. I guess this is what meditation is about – to remember it is all in the now, that each and every moment has to be evaluated on its own, to be parsed accordingly.

Epiphanies, lessons, life, love – they all have to be recommitted to, on a moment to moment basis. That is one of the greatest lessons I have learned recently. Neurological research has proven the same, that our brains are extremely malleable and yet set in its ways. We’re walking contradictions and paradoxes. Yet if we become aware of our chronic patterns, we may have a chance at evolving our own unconscious behaviour, but that takes a concrete belief that our brains are malleable. We can literally rewire the connections to our brains, if we are conscious of them. But how many of us are capable of being that conscious, that deliberate, that anticipatory of ourselves?

I just finished “A General Theory of Love” recommended by my dear friend Vanessa, because I tweeted about my fear of abandonment. See, this is why I love tweeting about my fears, because I get stories, support and recommendations back in return. The book just hit so many parts of me, that I am having a hard time selecting quotes to represent it (I would cite the whole book here if I could):

It is limbic resonance that makes looking into the face of another emotionally responsive creature a multilayered experience. Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity. Eye contact, although it occurs over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor. When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition.

A second person transmits regulatory information that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function, and more—inside the body of the first. The reciprocal process occurs simultaneously: the first person regulates the physiology of the second, even as he himself is regulated. Neither is a functioning whole on his own; each has open loops that only somebody else can complete. Together they create a stable, properly balanced pair of organisms.

Attachment security continues to be a powerful predictor of life success. The securely attached children have a considerable edge in self-esteem and popularity as high school students, while the insecurely attached are proving excessively susceptible to the sad ensnarements of adolescence—delinquency, drugs, pregnancy, AIDS. Almost two decades after birth, a host of academic, social, and personal variables correlate with the kind of mother who gazed down at her child in the cradle.

A relationship that strays from one’s prototype is limbically equivalent to isolation. Loneliness outweighs most pain. These two facts collude to produce one of love’s common and initially baffling quirks: most people will choose misery with a partner their limbic brain recognizes over the stagnant pleasure of a “nice” relationship with someone their attachment mechanisms cannot detect. Consider the young man described in the last chapter wrestling with the present-day reenactment of the long-ago love with his fiery, critical mother. As an adult, he faces a binary universe. If he connects with a woman, she turns out to be his mother’s younger clone. But a supportive woman leaves him exasperatingly empty of feeling—no spark, no chemistry, no fireworks.

You can’t tell someone with faulty Attractors to go out and find a loving partner—from his point of view, there are none. Those who could love him well are invisible. Even if the clouds parted and a perfectly compassionate and understanding lover descended from heaven on a sunbeam to land at his feet, his mind would still be tuned to another sort of relationship; he still wouldn’t know what to do.

The brains of insecurely attached children react to provocative events with an exaggerated outpouring of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. The reactivity persists into adulthood. A minor stressor sweeps such a person toward pathologic anxiety, and a larger or longer one plunges him into depression’s black hole.

The gist is, we are all regulators of each other and good luck if one has questionable regulators when one is young because that is all one knows. What we think is regular can actually be erm, totally screwed up.

A couple of weeks back I started writing an essay about my fear of abandonment, and I stopped. Part of all the change I have endured in my life, is that people drop out of my life like flies. People whom I thought would go on to be my lifelong people, are now gone.

I wonder if that is the tradeoff for having a rapidly evolving identity, that I am never the same person as I was a week ago, much less a year or more ago. The deeper the attachment I have to people, the likelier they are to drop out, because we inevitably become deeply attached to some notion of each other – that horribly breaks when I decide to make some radical change in my life (which occurs arguably every quarter). The ones who stay in my life are the ones I keep at some emotional distance, in some ways that keeps us together in some form of looseness.

So what is also inevitable is that I have become very ambivalent to people, I am terrified of any signs of dependency either way. It doesn’t actually make my fear of abandonment better.

I grew walls unconsciously in order to keep myself safe and sane. But it is like keeping myself indoors in order to avoid getting sunburnt. I lose out on the sunlight.

Going back to the beginning of this post, I wonder if I could just learn to love people or things wholeheartedly, and let them go gracefully when the time comes.

The reality is that most people don’t abandon me (in some cases, I deserve it, or they have to). Stories always have an ending. That is just life. We are off to our next pages, chapters, books. Holding on is what that causes pain and expectations. That they will stay with us. But nothing ever really stays with us, not for long.

I just have to get better at living – that every moment is beautiful in its own right, that I can learn to love fully and yet let go fully at the same time.

I don’t want to miss out on sunlight, and I can learn to love other seasons too. And perhaps, I can slowly convince my brain that I can have more evolved forms of regularity and seek better sources of regulation.

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