I was talking to my friend Alex last night about a longstanding theory about wave theory and our emotional states. If we are to buy the quantum mechanical notion that all matter on the quantum level, exists as a wave and particle, than it means that every physical phenomenon—whether it’s the street I walk on, a stack of apples at the store or my body—can be represented as a wave function. As such, like any wave, there are crests and depressions in the wave.
I was relating this to him because I’ve been feeling a bit down lately. In the scheme of things, this “down” is pretty good. I’m still talking to people, getting out of the house, I haven’t touched ice cream, I bathe and I even brush and floss my teeth most every day. Nonetheless, I feel down. I feel like I’m often going through the motions. I write and I meditate and I have some service obligation—things that generally make me feel vibrant and connected. But lately, they’ve felt like burdens.
So what I said last night was, “What if life is like a wave? It has ups and downs. Positive and negative arcs. And maybe I’m just in one of those wave descendent moments. And maybe, just maybe this is not something to feel down about, but something to recognize and either ride the wave or tune into its frequency [whichever metaphor fits best]?”
Much of malaise is based on the fact I feel good most of the time; if I didn’t, there’d be nothing aberrant about how I feel right now. Hell, I used to be depressed for months and years. I used to mechanically anaesthetize myself with weed, alcohol and, my first vice, TV, for indefinite spells. This is nothing.
And yet—and I have to check out the science on this one—because to a large extent my wave has become less violent in its undulations, this minor dip feels unpleasant. I know I’ll be feeling great again soon, but I want to feel it now.
Almost every night I watch a movie while scarfing down my dinner. It’s not a pretty site. The food, while typically pretty nutritious, is plentiful and I’m usually just looking to numb out on it. The movie—or DVD of some highfaluting TV show like “The Wire”—just seals the deal. Basically, I become disembodied. It’s like multi-sensory distraction. I don’t need to feel anything because my attention is so absorbed by the audio-visual component of the TV and the gastronomic avalanche in my mouth. I typically do this alone. It’s not a pretty scene.
So last night, after talking to Alex, I was watching the end of the HBO movie “Angels in America,” based on the play by Tony Kushner. While quite theatrical in its delivery of the message, it was a gorgeous elegy on living with the living, living with the dying, living with the dead and death in the light of life. The characters and their relationships were complicated and messy, and yet their tragedies and boldness were so poetic, I found myself moved to tears throughout.
But for some reason, even though I had a pretty big dinner, I wanted something sugary. It wasn’t a physiological need—I essentially haven’t eaten sugar in a week or two. It was an emotional need. In the armchair physicists language, I was resisting the undulation of my personal wave. In fact, I may have been trying to flatten the wave or perhaps the sugar would be my agency to create more physical activity, thereby matching up with the violence of my wave at that moment. I wasn’t riding my wave. I wasn’t tuning in to it. I wanted to fight it. I wanted to turn the station to the sugar network.
I was looking around for any scrap of sugar. As fate would have it, I don’t keep much of the stuff around. The only refined sugar I had—and make no doubt that’s what I wanted—was the sugar I had for my morning espresso. I thought I’d combine it with my almond butter to make sort of a makeshift Nutella. In divinely interventional moment, there was only about a teaspoon and a half of that sugar left. I saw the choice as consuming an insufficient amount of sugar or having that one-teaspoon I needed for my almost religiously consumed morning espresso. I kept my religion.
All I had were two old grapefruits. I juiced one and ate the other for a combined half-teaspoon or so of sugar. My body, for some reason, was still writhing a bit for a sugar fix, but the grapefruit was enough to quell my urge. It was midnight or so and I finished “Angels,” did some breathing and meditating to neutralize the cravings and I went to bed.
While my experience wasn’t by any means an act of supreme self-control, I did notice some things. First, the urge to consume sugar was not physiological. I wasn’t hungry and I wasn’t, as far as I know, detoxing from sugar. My daily sugar intake is a tablespoon at best. I haven’t been eating wheat, rice of any other refined products. I did have some chili sauce that contained sugar, but not a lot of it. I believe I just didn’t want to feel the violence of my feelings and sugar, historically, has been the best thing outside of drugs and alcohol to achieve that end.
The second thing that came out last night—other than a renewed hope for art—was an ability to ride the wave. Consuming a couple grapefruits versus getting a chocolate bar and smearing it with almond butter are two very different things. I also sat there and literally meditated on my hunger. I asked if it was real (it wasn’t). I breathed into it and really tried to ride the wave.
And the last thing that occurred to me (actually saw it this morning) refers to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. First, let me start with a few assumptions:
1. Our physical bodies are constructed of matter. All matter on the quantum level exists as waves and particles exist as waves.
2. That most of us derive our senses of self materially. I am David Friedlander, I am Caucasian, 6’3”, born in a place called Chicago, like the movie “Angels in America,” and so forth. These are all phenomena that exist in some material form, even if their import to me exists immaterially (non-phenomenologically). In other words, I can point to something called, “Angels in America,” but I can’t point to “liking” something.
3. Based on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, no phenomenon can be accurately measured because the act of measurement and the observer change the measurement. Quantum mechanics allows us to measure with great accuracy that phenomenon exists, but the only proofs exist as probabilities.
How these assumptions relate to binge eating and watching Netflix movies is this: if I am the observer of my life—I am the witness to all phenomena that occur and this thing called David Friedlander—and this observer, this consciousness, this thing called “I”, has a constant desire for movement and distraction, and that observer’s desire actually affects the thing being observed (my material self); in this state of constant agitation, I will never know what the fuck is happening in my life. I will not be able to observe jack-shit, because the observer in all of his/its gyrations, in all of his desire to flatten the wave of his/its life, is creating more and more disturbance inside and out. So when the disturbed observer looks at his/its life, he/it says, “I am disturbed.” The observer dictates the state of the phenomena observed.
If, on the other hand, the observer chills-the-fuck out, he might be able to observe what’s going actually going on. If the observer just breathes, steadies his body and observes from as neutral a place as possible, it’s possible he/it will, from this neutral/peaceful spot, see the waves of this life, not judging, not trying to tune into a different station or fight the power of the wave. He will just observe. And this ability to just observe, I daresay, will affect the phenomenon observed. The phenomenon—the body, the constituents of self—will, like the observer, be neutral, peaceful. The undulations of the wave will be commensurate the observer’s state; the chilled-out observer will create a still life, like looking out at the smooth surface of an ocean. Conversely, if the ocean is turbulent, this chilled-out observer can ride the waves. He doesn’t seek to fight them. He just observes, rides the wave or changes the station (depending on his preferred metaphor).