Saturday, 26 October 2013

Being Jean Grey

          When I was in my early teens, my brother started collecting the X-Men comic book series from issue nr.1. I soon became hooked to the series too. I found the characters far more interesting and complex than the "classics" (Superman, Spiderman and Batman -but this was, of course, way before Batman was "revamped") My favourite character was Wolverine, though at the start, I didn't like him at all, but after a few issues, he grew on me. The one I identified with, though, was Jean Grey
            Now, looking back, I understand why I identified with her. On wikipedia, she is described as: "Jean Grey is a mutant born with telepathic and telekinetic powers. She is a caring, nurturing figure, but she also has to deal with being an Omega-level mutant (read: extreme manipulation of matter and energy, high psionic ability, strong telekinesis, and the potential to exist beyond the boundaries of the known physical universe.) and the physical manifestation of the cosmic Phoenix Force. " I remember the character being overwhelmed because in her ability of being able to feel the suffering of others she was feeling the pain of the whole world, and also her struggle with not letting her great powers turn her over to the "dark side". (Once I left home, I did not keep up with the series, and from what I read on the wikipedia article, she did become overcome by her dark side, though she managed to bring herself back eventually.) Anyhow, even though Jean Grey is a fictional character, I can see the similarities in what she has to deal with and what we have to deal with. (Makes me wonder where her creators got their ideas from, right? Since one can only write about what one knows) Many of us have spoken about the issue of picking up vibes in rooms full of people and how it can be so immensely draining to us. However, as I was thinking about this the other day, it struck me that if we managed to find a way of not "internalising" these emotions to the degree that we do, this "ability" would be quite an asset to have. These "vibes" give us a lot of information about people, we can "read" how people really feel about other people and whether they're an honest person or not. All of this info is really valuable, and it should help us. Instead, we berate ourselves because we feel that having a bad gut feeling about someone is bad. That somehow, we must be bad for thinking that about someone else. But I'm sure you know by now, that the gut is never wrong. At least mine has never been wrong, no matter how much I tried to talk myself out of it, or how long it took for the truth to emerge.
Another common theme, not just with Jean Grey, but actually, with most of the characters in the series, is their difficulties with learning to "harness" their powers once they realise they have them. Also their unhappiness at being "different". We can relate to that too. Still, maybe the lesson here is that, it all depends on how we look at these "cards" we've been handed. We can learn to use them to our advantage and for good, or we can use them to do damage and let them destroy us. The choice is ours. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

I-You Versus I-It

       For the most part, whenever someone would mention my sister to me, invariably they would say: "She ignores me" and I would respond:"Yep, that's my sister: if she has no use for you...she's not interested".
       I felt there was something intensely de-humanising in treating people this way, as if they were mere pieces of machinery. You always felt sort of lifeless after interacting with someone like that, whereas with other people I felt energised after spending time with them. I remember discussing this with various friends and acquaintances, but I seemed to be the only one who was aware of this "effect". Most of my interlocutors would look at me as if they hadn't the faintest idea of what I was talking about. I had started wondering whether I was "imagining" all this, when I found an explanation in the book ("When You're Falling, Dive" by Mark Matousek) that I was reading at the time. 
       It seems to me that certain books have a way of "finding" me instead of me finding them. At times when I was feeling really stuck and not being able to move forward, I would either be browsing in a book shop and some book would catch my eye, or someone would come along and lend me a book; and in that book there would be something to help me move along in the path. This was one of those books. (It is not an easy book to read. Some of the stories are brutal and Matousek does not shelter the reader from them, but although harrowing, it has a raw honesty that you don't find in many books. He tells you the truth that you don't want to hear: that there is no way around pain but through.)
        In one of the chapters in the book, "The Net of Indra", he interviews Dan Goleman, who discusses some points of his book "Social Intelligence". Dan Goleman explains that "the brain itself is social" and  "One person's inner state affects and drives the other person. We're forming brain-to-brain bridges -a two way traffic system- all the time. We actually catch each other's emotions like a cold". He then goes on to say that "If we're in distressing, toxic relationships with people who are constantly putting us down, this has actual physical consequences. Stress produces cortisol, a chemical that hinders cell health." So there it was: the explanation of why some people would make me feel ill, literally. It is so reassuring to the soul to be validated, and to realise that all those feelings that you had, you weren't imagining them: they were an actual process taking place. That was validation 1, now for nr 2... 
    As the chapter continues, Goleman goes on to describe two types of relationships: "the I-It and the I-YOU (first described by the philosopher Martin Buber). I-it relationships happen when we treat people as objects or functionaries because we want something from them. In I-YOU relationships, there's a human connection. There's feedback, a loop, because who the other person is, and what they have to say, matters."