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The enemy within

Publication Date : 05-08-2012

 

With carrot-coloured shaggy hair and droopy eyes, the 24-year-old who massacred 12 fellow Americans and injured another 52 in Aurora, Colorado, called himself the "joker". Just as the Muslims in America had begun their first day of fasting, reality of life and death punched one in the face. In the month ahead, the faithful train their thoughts towards a deeper sense of existence, hoping to come closer to their Creator. They programme their souls towards sanity, piety, and spirituality, bidding a notch higher for purity of spirit. But death, mayhem, murder, blood, shrieks and tears drowned our space.

The brain is like a cheval-de-frise, the heavy door with iron-pointed spikes used to bar outside intrusion. The mind has its own key. It does not like being manned. You can grapple with it momentarily, you can’t choke the chatter it produces 24/7. Yes, we can sit like zombies before the TV channels and get indoctrinated by the drivel doled out by the self-appointed lords of piety wishing that their "wisdom" rubs off against us with blessings to follow. But the euphoria is ephemeral.

Alternatively, is the head doctor the answer? Can the shrink clean out the chatter that invades our living and sleeping moments?

I cannot answer except say that psychiatrists like the brain they specialise in are a funny bunch of living species. They will never cure a patient of his demons; his fears, only prolong his agony. In America they give you a 15 minute-slot, listen to you with a blank face and write out a script. End of consultation. You leave empty-headed.

The brain is "the enemy within". It can wreck your life and those around. The malfeasance at times reaches a wider population whose destinies you hold in your hands. (Why go far? Look at our own man sitting in the presidency. Only a year or two before taking up reigns of government, he was diagnosed with a range of psychiatric illnesses, emanating from fear. They included “dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder” according to the British newspaper The Telegraph. Need I say anymore about where Pakistan is today?)

Fear then is the deadliest psychosis of all. Philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell rightly says that Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom… Parsing the meaning of fear, Russell says it “Makes man unwise in the three great departments of human conduct: his dealings with nature, his dealings with other men, and his dealings with himself.”

Jana Richman, a writer suffering from fear says: “I’ve heard it said that all fear stems from the knowledge of our own mortality, and indeed, many of our social systems thrive by exploiting our fear of death and our desire to thwart it. But fear of death has never been my problem. To me, life, not death, holds the promise of misery. When life is lived as a problem to be solved, death offers the ultimate resolution, the release of all fears, the moment of pure peace.”

That’s terrible! To say that life holds the promise of misery. Her agony has no cure. So what does she do when fear stalks? She picks Russell’s time-tested collection of essays, “New Hopes for a Changing World,” published in 1951. In the section “Life Without Fear,” he writes that one of the destructive and pervasive feelings is the fear of being unlovable. To fight it is to admit to your self about the fear. Until you shake off the “myth-making power, you cannot hope to think truly about many matters of great importance… ”

Let our military, civil and bureaucratic leadership sit up and take note. Our leaders will do anything to stay in power because they don’t want to disappear into the sunset as “unlovable” creatures. But that’s who they exactly are!

On a lesser scale, we ordinary folks wrestle with our memories. “She’s having a senior moment” comment the kids who think their mother has temporally lost her marbles and can’t for the world remember where she put the car keys. Such remarks may evoke laughs but the mother is not amused. Who likes to be branded with suffering a memory lapse? With age, the brain cells get lazy leaving in the lurch the hapless mind to go fend for itself. Especially when it comes to recalling names of people you know.

Alzheimer’s lurks in the background. We worry we may be losing our memory. The enemy is within us and can strike any moment, we fear the worst. The disease has no cure and no quick end. One can live in a black hole for years before dying.

The brain likes to tease. At time it elevates you into a state of nirvana, as though you have won a lottery or landed a great job; other times you wake up down, down, down. You wonder why? No valid answer arrives. A helpful friend sent me some tips on how to energise my brain after I confided to him that sometimes recalling names of people one met was taxing. “Remembering names, that’s a tough one!” he said. “But remembering important data is easy if you do the following.”

Use rehearsal i.e repetition of the information that is to be remembered.

Associate the new information meaningfully and systematically with knowledge that is well established in memory.

Elaboration, i.e. rather than settling for surface knowledge, acquire in-depth meaning of the fact that one is trying to memorise.

Making up a story that connects facts to be remembered in the correct order.

Items to be remembered are imagined in a series of familiar places. When you need to recall them, one “looks” at the familiar places.

Maintain concentration when learning new facts.

The above lessons are for Type A personalities who run successful enterprises. Ordinary folks can nibble into it and walk away with grains of common sense.

Still, the troublesome question out there is how to tame the brain. This defies all logic and leads people like James Holmes to shoot at random. Who can answer that question? More importantly why won’t the Americans pass gun control laws? There are as many guns today in America as people.

 

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