360 Degrees of Mindful Living Putting mindfulness into practice in every aspect of your daily life, with Pavel Somov. 2017-10-01T08:50:24Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/feed/atom/ Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Total Acceptance]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7721 2017-10-01T08:50:24Z 2017-10-01T08:50:24Z When I look at the nameless reality of Whatever Currently Is (right now) through the lens of mindfulness and presence, everything relaxes me, everything feels “ok” and “normal” and “simply such” – even illness and death and violence and war and… You name it! Everything – the entire Ordinary Perfection of it all.

In 1710 German polymath Gottfried Leibniz says: we live “in the best of all possible worlds.”  Exactly. And you don’t have to be good at math to figure this out: reality always adds up to itself – reality is never less and never more than everything it can be at any given moment. The rest is the stress and tension of idealistic expectations.  Reality does not shortchange itself.  All that can be now, now is.

Total, 360-degrees acceptance is the letting go of perfectionistic dissatisfaction about the current state of reality.  Acceptance is the beginning of relaxation.  To relax, accept.  A basic formula of self-care that suits any circumstance.

Related: Present Perfect (Somov, 2010)

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Elements of Intimacy]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7714 2017-08-25T13:36:34Z 2017-08-25T13:36:34Z [adapted from Four Legs: Building a Radically Humanistic Relationship of Love, P. Somov]

“What is love?” is one of these perennial questions that thinkers have been musing over since day immemorial. It’s a kind of question only fools dare to answer. I am one of these fools. So, here’s my attempt to define what love is. Love is an interplay of Physical Intimacy and Emotional Intimacy.

Love = Physical Intimacy + Emotional Intimacy

The interplay of Physical Intimacy and Emotional Intimacy flows in and out of each other like a seamless leg-knot of a tango pirouette, in an ever tightening double helix of bodymind feedback. But, if unsupported, this double helix of human connection frays and unravels. The task is to try to tighten the knot of your love by reinforcing the sinews of support.

Emotional Intimacy

Physical intimacy needs no definition. Emotional intimacy, however, is a bit harder to define. But, being the fool that I am, I’ll still try. Emotional intimacy: it’s a combination of Intimate Knowledge of each other and Validating Support:

Emotional Intimacy = Intimate Knowledge + Validating Support

Physical intimacy comes and goes, as formative as it is in the beginning of a romance, with time it tends to take the backseat to emotional intimacy. If sex (or erotic touch) goes, that’s not necessarily the end of an intimate relationship. But if emotional intimacy goes, love peters out without much delay. Emotional intimacy, as I see it, is the essence of love. Which is why emotional intimacy, when shared with someone else, can be perceived as a threat to the primary romantic relationship. So much so that being emotionally intimate with someone other than your primary partner has come to be culturally viewed as an emotional affair (a term that I personally feel is more toxic than useful). But emotional intimacy is no sin. It is a high-quality human connection that is built on mutual understanding and on mindful attendance to each other.

Intimate knowledge, the component of emotional intimacy, is not the carnal knowledge of what’s underneath each others’ garments. Emotionally-intimate knowledge is the knowledge of each others’ emotional interior, the knowledge of each others’ interests, the understanding of each others’ narrative. It’s a history of mutual self-disclosure, a shared courage of authenticity.  The goal is to help you build (or rebuild) a radically humanistic relationship, a relationship that is predicated on fearless love, compassion and mindful presence. Put differently, the task is to rekindle an emotional affair with your primary partner.

Crutch of Attraction

Attraction is one of those crutches that can support an otherwise dissatisfying relationship for quite some time. Another such crutch is a sense of duty or loyalty for the sake of loyalty, i.e. the Crutch of Commitment. Another such crutch is Circumstance: people stay together because of kids or financial stability. Another such crutch is Friendship. I’ve seen quite a few couples that were coming to slowly realize that while they enjoy each others’ friendship and companionship they are long past being each others’ lovers.

There are many different emotional prosthetics of this kind, many different ways to prop up a dissatisfying relationship. But a crutch is only a crutch – a leg (of support) is better!  The Crutch of Attraction is, commonly, a prerequisite for physical intimacy. Love trivially begins with attraction but has a way of running out even if attraction remains.  Thus, attraction is not enough.

Attraction while not easy to define, is easy to tell. People “just know” if they are attracted to so-and-so or not. But what is attraction? To understand attraction you have to understand how mind works. Mind is an information-processing system that tracks patterns of interest. We get information about the world through our senses (eyes, ears, etc) and we organize it into patterns and we track the patterns of importance. Attraction is pattern-driven. Attraction is about the sensory patterns that offer us an enjoyable, stimulating experience.  Romantic attraction is a complex pattern of interest: we don’t just fall in love with body, we also fall in love with mind, with style, with tone, with vibe.

As the relationship progresses, we are continuously exposed to the pattern of our interest – we learn to zoom in on it, we get really good at recognizing it. As a result, we are able to see some configuration of what we like long after the rest of the pattern is eroded by time, circumstance and relational dynamics. The physical aspects of the pattern are particularly enduring: a person can lose or gain weight, their face might age and wrinkle, yet most of us can easily find that echo of beauty, that trace of handsomeness, that Gestalt of cuteness or that elegant torso or leg silhouette that we have fallen for a long time ago.

We remain attracted even if we can no longer stand our partners. It is exactly for this reason that attraction can outlast relational satisfaction and can misleadingly hold and prop up the relationship way past its emotional expiration date. In my work with couples I have met quite a few folks that kept seeing (and projecting) the romantic pattern that no longer was there.

Breaking the Pattern of Oversimplification

Our ability to doggedly see and chase the pattern of attraction (even when it’s essentially gone) is one of the mechanisms that can carry a relationship for quite some time, way past its emotional expiration date. Since love trivially begins with attraction, couples often intuitively try to patch up the gaps of emotional intimacy with attraction-targeted solutions: they try to lose weight, get on Viagra or get a breast augmentation to spice up their sex life, have candle light dinners or have a romantic get-away, or buy each other lingerie or gym memberships. This is desperately misplaced. Sure, there is something to be said about trying to re-stimulate each other (after all, human mind does tend to habituate pretty easily). But, as I see it, these solutions are too tactical, too short-term, too naïve. Without addressing the deficits of emotional intimacy, better physical intimacy is just a refurbished crutch, rather than a solid relational leg to stand on.

In sum, the challenge is about breaking the pattern of oversimplification, about learning to wake up and learning to keep your partner awake – no, not in the middle of the night but in the middle of the waking hours. The grand task is validation and forgiveness. Or, as I metaphorically call all of this, about cultivating the legs of validating support. A pair of good-looking legs might have started off your romance but it’ll take a totally different kind of set of legs to keep this relationship afoot. The challenge is about standing up (asserting), standing with (empathy), standing your ground (boundaries), and understanding (emotional intimacy).



Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Lessons of Resilience from Frank Lloyd Wright]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7705 2017-08-12T06:49:28Z 2017-08-07T14:16:57Z [excerpt from Prairie Mind (Somov, 2017)]

For the story of Taliesin, after all, is old: old as the human spirit.

FLW, An Autobiography



Life reinvents itself, non-stop. The cosmic process continues on, without pause. Wright knew of this resilience of nature.

The Celtic classic, Book of Taliesin, tells a story of a bard, named Taliesin, who must have been a charming guy with a “shining brow” (that’s what “taliesin” means in Welsh).

The Book of Taliesin is about yesterdays and tomorrows, about the inevitable metamorphosis of life, about the organic process of nature rebuilding itself.

“The second time I was created [says Taliesin] I was a blue salmon. I was a dog, I was a stag; I was a roe-buck on the mountain side, I was a treasure chest, I was a spade; I was a hand-held drinking horn; I was a pair of fire-tongs for a year and a day; I was a speckled white cock among the hens of Eiden, I was a stallion standing at stud; I was a fierce bull; I was grain growing on the hillside. […] The hen, my enemy, red-clawed and crested, swallowed me. For nine nights I was a little creature in her womb; I was ripened there. I was beer before I was a prince. I was dead, I was alive.” (Wood, 2000, 86-87).

You too change non-stop, alongside with the Universe. Yesterday you were this, tomorrow you might be that. Dead yesterday, alive today, dead again tomorrow … And so life goes, does it not?! At least, that’s what Celts believed. And if this sounds a lot like a doctrine of reincarnation, no need for surprise. Celtic culture is but a distant echo of a Vedic culture.

But what does this have to do with architecture?! Buildings, if they are living organisms as Wright had posited, reincarnate as well. The Taliesin building is a prime example of this cycle of architectural rebirth.

When Wright decided to build a house for himself – “a recreation ground for my children and their children perhaps for many generations more” – he decided to name it Taliesin, the “shining brow” – not a crown! – of a Wisconsin hill on a family plot that he had known intimately since childhood.

The house was built in 1911 and was rebuilt twice, in 1914 and in 1925. The “shining brow” burnt bright … not with light, however, but with darkness. Taliesin – originally a vision of tranquility – was to become a site of Wisconsin’s largest massacre. But eventually, when Wright died in the house in 1959, Taliesin – just like Fallingwater – was to become a place of tranquility.

Wright began planning Taliesin after leaving his wife for a mistress. Architecturally, Taliesin was to be a Prairie School house, a natural house, an organic building. It was completed in 1911. But in 1914 Taliesin had to be rebuilt after a disgruntled house servant, Julian Carlton, slaughtered seven Taliesin indwellers – Wright’s architectural associates, some of his house staff, and Mamah Borthwick (Wright’s mistress) with her two young children. All seven were ambushed in the living quarters of the house and axed to death. When the killer was done, he set Taliesin on fire.

In 1925 the house burnt again, this time due to electrical problems. In 1927 Taliesin went into foreclosure due to Wright’s financial problems. But Wright was able to raise enough money to buy it back from the Bank of Wisconsin. In 1928 Wright reoccupied the house. He lived in Taliesin until his death in 1959 and designed many of his architectural masterpieces there, including the Fallingwater house. At present, Taliesin is a museum and has been designated as a National Historical Landmark.

Wright wrote:

“The story of Taliesin, after all, is old: old as the human spirit.”

What is the story of Taliesin? I think it is the very story told by the ancient bard – the story of rebirth, of the cycle of life. It is the story of human and inhuman resilience.

What I mean by this is that human resilience sometimes calls for inhumanity. Inhumanity is when we let go of our humanity in order to stay alive. This is the animal way. The modern-day apes that we are, we tend to forget that we are nothing but animals. And re-accessing this humble realization allows us to refocus on the very humbling business of survival. Inhumanity is part of being human too. It is important that we do not judge inhumanity too harshly, from some moral pedestal. Most who judge simply haven’t yet been tested by life themselves. They do not yet understand the existential imperative of survival.

I find it significant that Wright did not abandon the site, did not put it up for sale, did not ditch it after the woman that he loved (and her two small children) were slaughtered at Taliesin.

As I see it, Wright wasn’t callous or narcissistically un-empathic when he moved on again and again and again, from tragedy to disaster to fame and past scandals. He simply did what he had to do with that animalistic single-mindedness that is buried deep inside all of us. He was – I think – in touch with his animal side, the very side that allows us to be “survivors.” That is the story of Taliesin.

Do you – I mean you, Reader, – do you think you would’ve have been able to “move on” so well while staying put? Do you think you would’ve been able to live and create amidst such memories?!

Wright could. With characteristic un-sentimentality, he could. What are we to learn from this? Was he indifferent? Insensitive? Is this apparent lack of empathy the very hallmark of narcissistic self-involvement?

I think not: Wright’s architecture is full of sensitivity. His writings are full of nuance. His opinions about humankind are replete with keen insight. So, then how could he?! How could he rebuild – not just the place itself – but its meaning? And how could he embody this new meaning so well that he could keep on lighting the numerous fireplaces of Taliesin for years to come without being alight with sadness and reminiscence?

Once again, I think Wright had tremendous resilience – the resilience of the very nature that was his gospel. Nature doesn’t grieve. Nature doesn’t mourn. Nature is simply reborn. Nature doesn’t look back, only forward. It seeks no meaning from bird’s-eye view of abstraction, it simply plows through, worms through whatever obstacles that come its way. That’s what we have to learn from Wright.

Nature, according to Wright, doesn’t build on the past. It just builds anew. He says as much:

“The New live[s] for itself.”

The Taliesin building features an interesting walkway into nowhere – a skywalk of sorts, for walking out into the open, into the mid-air of the unknown.

The cosmic process that continuously rebuilds itself is self-liberated. Like an arrow, it just flies – and not necessarily towards a teleological target. This incessant process of ceasing-and-arising just unfolds, propelled by its inherent evolutionary, self-reinventing vector of becoming. We are part of this process. We too have to keep on moving, whether there is meaning ahead or not.

This process of metamorphosis is the river of impermanence and it runs right through us. Buddha talked about. Heraclitus talked about. Wright built about that. Architecture was Wright’s language. Impermanence, adaptation, harmony – these were his messages.

For Wright, architecture is spirit at work. And –

“any building is a by-product of eternal living force, a spiritual force taking forms in time and place appropriate to man.”

And even though buildings come to life at some point in time and at some point in time might be burned to the ground,

“they were sculpted by the spirit of architecture in passing, as inert shapes of the shore were sculpted by cosmic forces.”

Time tolerates no forms, no fixities, no shapes. None of us can enter the same river twice. Everyone of us is Taliesin. We have to change, morph, reincarnate. We have no option but to accept the ever-renewing cosmic process that shapes us through choice and circumstance.

So, let us witness the metamorphosis – fearlessly, un-sentimentally – with a shining brow and a drunken song.

Wright didn’t get stuck in his grief because he understood Goethe’s dictum that “death [is] nature’s ruse in order that she might have more life.” He was known to quote this line.

Wright was able to rise from the ashes and rebuild because like the ancient Chinese sage Lao-tse, whom Wright also quoted, he understood that “the present [moment] [is] ‘the ever-moving infinite that divides Yesterday from Tomorrow …” (Wright’s italics).

This present that you and I are right now in is “a moving infinite” – an infinity in passing. And since it has to pass, why mourn?

Wright plumbed the depths of this impermanence. If Kauffman hadn’t been so in love with the flowing waters of the Bear Run, Wright himself – sooner or later – would have built a house cantilevered over falling water.

It’s impossible to rebuild – like Wright did with Taliesin – without accepting the necessity of change.

Do you have a sneaking suspicion that I am overstating Wright’s credentials as a sage in regard to impermanence? Well, lookie here, Skeptic:

“We can only know that all things are in process of flowing in some continuous state of becoming.”

These are Wright’s words. A mind that understands this, grieves not, but looks onto What Is with an unblinking shining brow of detached acceptance.

Wright’s lover, Mamah Borthwick, and his brainchild, the Taliesin house, were killed and burned on August 15th of 1914. But “by September 7, barely three weeks after the murders, amid the ashes and burnt timbers of Taliesin, the ever-resilient Wright was hosting the semi-annual picnic of Sauk Country rural mail carriers,” writes William Drennan in his book Death In a Prairie House. Drennan adds that the local publication, Weekly Home News, reported that the picnic “was one of the most successful and enjoyable meetings the assembly has held.”

Did Wright suffer? Of course he did. An early witness, Frances Inglis, reported overhearing “howls of [Wright’s] unrestrained sobbing” (Drennan, 2007). Wright’s son, John Lloyd Wright, observed that “something in him died with her, a something lovable and gentle that I knew and loved …”

Wright himself, years later, in looking back, noted that “after the first terrible anguish, a kind of black despair seemed to paralyze my imagination in [Mamah’s] direction and numbed my sensibilities. The blow was too severe. I got no relief in any faith nor yet any in hope.”

But was Wright broken? I don’t thinks so. Knocked down – yes. Broken – no. And, by the way, I see no contradiction between acceptance and the cries of agony of a phoenix being reborn from the ashes of its past life. Why shouldn’t each bout of resilient self-resurrection be accompanied by a birth-battle-cry?!

Barely hours after Wright saw the devastation and the dead bodies, he “spent a good part of the afternoon cutting down the flowers – bright zinnias, dahlias, and nasturtiums – that Mamah had planted in the courtyard garden and all around the grounds of Taliesin. Finally he collected great fragrant heaps of them. He sent a couple of men down to the grounds of Unity Chapel with instructions to dig a deep grave near the burial sites […] He instructed some of the carpenters to build a simple, unadorned casket out of fresh white pine. Wright filled the caskets with flowers.” (Drennan, 2007).

“In action, there is release from anguish of mind,” wrote Wright. “I could feel now only in terms of rebuilding, I could get relief only by looking forward toward rebuilding.” (My italics).

Rebuilding is how nature grieves. When you mow the lawn, blades of grass lose no time on ritual or reminiscence. They immediately get back to the business of living. And that’s why you have to mow your lawn again and again and again.

Cosmos copes by moving forward. Nature doesn’t look back. Bodies wake up next morning and yearn for coffee and biscuits as they always do. Only mind – a self-reflective detour of Nature – is in a habit of looking back.

Resilience begins when we let go of our minds, when we allow our minds to ignore themselves. Bodies waste no time – why should minds?

Let us all rise again, as Taliesin did, from within, migrating from form to form. Relentlessly, unafraid of the sandstorms of time.

[excerpt from Prairie Mind (Somov, 2017)]



Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Architecture of Self]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7697 2017-08-03T12:31:21Z 2017-08-03T04:23:16Z “The land is the simplest form of architecture.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

There is USA and there is Usonia. “Usonia” is a term coined in 1903 by James Duff Law, an American writer, who proposed it as an alternative to the term America. Law’s logic was that USA was not the only country in North America – there were also Canada and Mexico. So Law felt that “we, of the United States, in justice to Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title ‘Americans’ when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves.” It was a diplomatically tactful sentiment. But it didn’t take.

Frank Lloyd Wright adopted the term Usonia in 1927 to describe his vision of American landscape, both in its outer and inner dimension. In Wright’s use, the word Usonia is best understood as a pun-like play on the word “utopia” and USA – an American utopia, a perfect American society.

More specifically, for Wright, the American Revolutionary War meant not only political independence from Great Britain but also aesthetic independence from the architectural tradition of the Old World. And, for Wright, the aesthetic and the architectural was psycho-spiritual. Thus, for Wright, the New World had to have new architecture – both in form and in spirit. Only the Usonian could be the true American. The New Usonian World was to be self-styled rather influenced by tradition.

While the material architecture is built from without, by others, the psychological architecture is built from within, by ourselves. And now you begin to get an idea of what I mean by this chapter’s title – “Usonian Self-Architecture.”

But just like Wright borrowed the term from Law and made it his own, I too want to make this term my own. I want to modify its connotational valence. For Wright, as I noted above, the Usonian had a quintessentially patriotic feel – for him the Usonian was rigidly synonymous with American. For me, Usonian connotes “open,” “free,” “harmonious,” “natural,” and “nondual” – the elements of Wright’s architectural symbolism that I set out to translate into the language of psychology. So, whatever is “open, free, harmonious, natural, and nondual” is fundamentally non-territorial, non-tribal, and cosmopolitan. It’s neither American nor non-American. It’s cosmic, global. It’s of oneness, not of our parochial and provincial attempts to divide oneness into “this” or “that,” or “yours” or “mine.”

Now, try and do me a favor – shake your head like it’s full of lice and try to forget everything I just said. What follows is more important than what precedes.

To paraphrase Frank Lloyd Wright, consciousness is the simplest form of architecture. Consciousness is the original drawing board. And for most animals, who build dwellings, consciousness is the only drawing board for their architectural designs.  Indeed, birds and beavers, as they design their nests and dams, use no drawing boards or CAD (computer-aided design programs). Consciousness is the original blank piece of sketch paper, the original palette of Platonic mind-paints ready to be mixed, the original computer screen for 3D simulations, be they pragmatic or far-fetched.

And, therefore, consciousness is an internal landscape populated by mind-forms of our own design. Thus, thinking – cognition – and even meta-cognition – is info-processing architecture that transforms the space of being – the field of awareness – into mind-constructs that box us in.

Put simply, the arrow-tip of our evolutionary development put us in a cave, our first abode. The Psychology of Shelter is Psychology of Paranoia – separation of Self from Other. Thus, from the standpoint of evolution, architecture is born out of fear – out of the defensive need to hide, protect and separate from reality. (In trying to reinvent architecture, Wright was trying to reinvent humankind – from fear to fearlessness, from hiding to openness.)

Consider this: our skulls were our first exoskeletal caves. Human dwellings are but glorified caves – modernized turtle shells that we retract into for respite and to recoup.   Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) – first in my opinion – reversed the cave-like vector of human architecture and tried to re-plug us back into our environment. FLW attempted to erase the paranoid boundary between Self and Other, between what is inside and what is outside.

Here’s Wright’s own thoughts on this matter:

“Then there was the open plan – instead of a building being a series of boxes and boxes inside boxes it became more and more open – more and more aware of space – the outside gradually came in more and more and the inside went outside more … So I started out to destroy the box as a building.”

Let’s taste this language once more: “the outside gradually came in more and more” … “and the inside went outside more.” Destroying the box … Peeking out of the cave through the corner windows that FLW pioneered … Flowing internally through open floor plans … How is all this not a psychology?! How is this not a living philosophy? How is this not a must-try solution to the cave-man mindset suddenly intensified by the challenges of the 21st century?

Our skin and skulls were the first boxes, the first boundaries between us and not-us.

Then there were caves and architecture.

Then – our minds and our divisive ideologies. These too became our boxes.

We have to redesign our sense of self – our field of being – to leave the dualistic caves that imprison and box us in. We must move towards a more organic (less dual) architecture of mind.

Usonian self-architecture – in my use of the term – plays on yet another pun-like element. There is an “us” in non-us.

We must un-box ourselves.

[Excerpt from Prairie Mind: Frank Lloyd Wright & Usonian Architecture of Self-Space (Somov, 2017)]



Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Mindful Emotional Eating: Review]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7692 2017-03-04T00:00:30Z 2017-03-03T23:58:14Z
positivepsychologyprogram.com published a list of 50 best mindfulness books; it’s broken down into categories: my book on mindful emotional eating – Mindful Emotional Eating – is in included with the following description:
“Dr. Somov’s book on mindful eating might be the most helpful one on this list for clinicians, though anyone who wants to start practicing mindful eating will find useful lessons as well. The author believes that “emotional eating is a legitimate form of self-care” and wants people to have the tools to make sure they do not overdo it rather than completely avoid emotional eating. Readers who are looking for a non-judgmental overview of mindful eating techniques might appreciate this book more than some of the others on this list.”
Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[A Temp Solution]]> https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7687 2017-03-01T13:55:53Z 2017-03-01T13:42:12Z Reincarnation-wise, suicide is a temporary solution to a permanent (samsaric) problem. Yet another reason not to do it. Photo by Simon Leblanc]]>

Reincarnation-wise, suicide is a temporary solution to a permanent (samsaric) problem.

Yet another reason not to do it.

Photo by Simon Leblanc

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Un-diagnose Yourself]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7681 2017-02-06T15:05:33Z 2017-01-29T16:12:06Z A (mental) disorder is an attempt to order a disordered reality. Any such adaptation is organismic perfection. Un-diagnose yourself. Photo by Jamiesrabbits]]>

A (mental) disorder is an attempt to order a disordered reality.

Any such adaptation is organismic perfection.

Un-diagnose yourself.

Photo by Jamiesrabbits

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Choice Awakens]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7676 2017-01-25T16:36:33Z 2017-01-23T15:45:40Z ‪An organism that does not (freely) choose is a (determined) mechanism. ‬ Choose your “ism.”]]>

‪An organism that does not (freely) choose is a (determined) mechanism. ‬

Choose your “ism.”

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[We Are Pluralities]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7674 2017-01-21T11:15:06Z 2017-01-21T11:15:06Z n2[excerpt from “Neural We: Single Neurons, Multiple Personalities, and Redefining the Species” (Somov, 2012)]

Metazoan Paradox: Each “I” is a “We” and Each “We” is an “I”

[Chapter 1-b of “Neural We”]

As a reluctant writer, I like beating around the idiomatic bush. Call it creative procrastination or priming of the linguistic pump. I know I do it too much. I love to take semantically scenic detours on the way to my conceptual point. I love to dig up the etymological root-work of words and to feel the filigreed texture of connotations with fingertips on the keyboard. For me, language is a tongue that kisses itself. A love affair, no less. So I never grow tired of the question:

How, just how is it possible that this lowly neural mush inside my skull can have so much fun frolicking under the sun-rays of Abstraction?

But as a bookworm and a closeted “rascal sage,” I realize that this time I have to drill my way into a very tight spot. My task is to pry open the clam of the human mind. You see, we – the ones inside these cranial caves that we call our skulls – we have been hiding for way too long. Hiding from ourselves… And hiding from our selves… And hiding from a curious existential paradox which is that each of us is a “we.”

The Predicament and Paradox of the Metazoan Life

We are metazoans – that is, we are multi-cellular organisms. Meta-life. What this means is that we are composites – cellular composites. Just as Buddhists have been telling us all along.

Each of us is made up of trillions of constituent cells. All these cells are anatomically stand-alone microscopic life-forms. You can biopsy (extract) any one of these cells. You can exile any cell to a Petri-dish Alcatraz in a lab, and as long as you feed it some kind of metabolic MRE, it’ll live happily ever after, outside of its ancestral abode, without ever looking back.

This is exactly what happened with HeLa cells that used to belong to the multi-cellular organism named “Henrietta Lacks” – an African-American female patient who died from cervical cancer in 1951. Her biopsied cells were cultured in a lab. And they continue to propagate to this day, traveling the world in a kind of post-mortem research-odyssey of their own, independent of their long-diseased host-organism. They have gone to places that Ms. Lacks herself had never gone to in her own life. For all intents and purposes, the parts proved to be immortal despite the finality of the Organismic Whole.

This is the predicament and the paradox of metazoan life: parts kill us yet parts live on. We see it in the sentimentality of heart transplants: the organ donor is long dead but his or her heart is still beating.

How’s this possible? It’s possible because parts aren’t parts. Parts are life-forms. Unicellular collectives inside a larger metazoan, multi-cellular meta-organism.   You see, organs aren’t just organs. Organs are organizations of living cells, living beings. That’s why they can kill and outlive the host.

The cancer that killed Henrietta Lacks is still alive because cancer cells aren’t just cells but living beings, as all cells are. HeLa cells (as they are known) live on happily ever after. They have been used in thousands of research projects and drug trials. And that’s the paradox of it and the predicament of metazoan life: the very cellular beings that killed Henrietta Lacks likely saved other people’s lives.

So, maybe, just maybe, if we stop demonizing and objectifying cancer cells, perhaps our treatment outcomes will change too. Who knows?

To understand our multi-cellular, metazoan nature is to restore faith in the motivational innocence of any given cell-being. Life, in final analysis, whether it is macro- or microscopic, just wants to live. There is no sin in this ancient Darwinian desire.

Pluralities Within Pluralities

We are pluralities – cellular collectives. Each of us is a multi-cellular microcosm, a coalition of multiple Cellular Tribes. Possibly a cellular democracy, but more likely a cellular oligarchy with neurons as metazoan executives.

We are not made up of inanimate parts but of collaborating life-forms, each of which has its own structural integrity and its own existential agenda.   Your muscles are not just inanimate pulleys or gears, but living cells. Your bones are not some kind of rebar of collagen and calcium but living cells. Indeed, each cell is a life-form, a unicellular life-form. Each cell-being exists as an independent entity, with its own appetites and needs and experience.

Not sure about this last bit – about this notion that each cell has its own experience? Well, who is this who is being unsure inside of your skull – which cell?

But what’s really fascinating is that each cell is also a composite of sorts. Each cell is also a mini-metazoan, a plurality of yet smaller composite living part-beings that we call organelles.

Endosymbiotic Matreshkas and Organismic Holarchies

You’ve probably seen these Russian wooden dolls, with smaller dolls inside of them, and yet even smaller dolls inside of those, right? Well, you are kind of like that too. As a metazoan, i.e. a multi-cellular organism, you are a composite of unicellular life-forms, i.e. cells. The curious thing is that these constituent cells that you’re made of were (and kind of are) metazoan collectives. Indeed, according to the theory of endosymbiogenesis, the organelles inside of our cells – such as mitochondria – were also stand-alone, independent organisms, which is why to this day such organelles as mitochondria carry their own DNA. So, what we considered to be intra-cellular organelles at some point were free-standing organisms.

The theory goes, that back in the evolutionary day when the dinosaurs-du-jour could be only seen through a microscope, a bigger predatory organism tried to swallow a smaller organism and ran into a problem of indigestion. It could not quite digest what it had swallowed. But it – somehow – realized that the undigested guest could be put to some kind of use. And voila! – symbiosis was born.

Try to imagine this: say, like the Cat-in-the-Hat, you reduced yourself in size with some kind of shrinkamadoodle. You look around for a snack and decide to take a chance on a tiny creature with a whip-like tail that’s darting here and there with maniacal persistence. As you engulf the creature, its hair-like tail pierces through your membranous skin and comes poking out like a whisker. Since you have engulfed, perhaps, a mouthful of these creatures, not all have yet been digested inside the vacuoles of your mini-stomachs. Or perhaps, you are discovering that these creatures are only partly digestible. Bottom-line is that you have one or more of these whip-like whisker-oars sticking out of you and you are suddenly on the receiving end of turbo-charged locomotion.

Fast-forward through the evolutionary trial-and-error part of this digestive mishap, and, lo and behold, you, the Cat-in-the-Hat, now come pre-equipped with a generous compliment of cells that keep you in touch with the environment (whiskers) and insulated from the environment (hairs). Yes, you’ve lost your whip-like oars, the indigested life-forms had, over time, been evolutionarily repurposed as the architecture of the macro-organism called for ever new adaptations.

Each of us is a colossal endosymbiotic matreshaka – a metazoan super-collective of trillions of cells which themselves are full of intra-cellular remnants and the genetic ruins of past evolutionary multi-cellular alliances on a smaller scale.

As a wise woman once said, “The world sits on a big turtle, which sits on yet another turtle,” – and, when asked about what that turtle sits on, she explained, “It’s turtles all the way down!” The seeming paradox of cosmic oneness is that it is infinitely divisible.

Organisms, Organs, Organelles

The word “organ” comes to us from the Greek language via Latin. “Organon” means “tool, instrument.” With this root-level meaning in mind, what is an organism, what is an organ, and what is an organelle? From the biological perspective, an organism is a multi-cellular/metazoan entity – such as you, the so-called “human” in your totality. And you consist of these so-called “organs” – such as a brain or a liver. And these so-called “organs” are made up of cells – such as neurons (in the brain). And these cells are made up of organelles – such as mitochondria, ribosomes, etc.

From a structural perspective, what we have is an endosymbiotic matreshka in which a macro-system uses a sub-system as a tool, with the sub-system itself being comprised of other sub-systems. Put differently, a metazoan – such as you – is a hierarchy of utility in which living tools rely on ever smaller living tools to get the work of living done. And we ourselves are also tools in the hands of an even larger organism, which is society. By the way, the Greek word “organon” derives from the Proto-Indo-European root-term “werg” which also gives us the word “work.” Life is work, and somebody’s has to do it.

So, then what is the distinction between these three words – organism, organ, organelle? To me these words mean the same thing but at different levels of abstraction.

To such an organelle as a mitochondrion, the cell-at-large that it inhabits is the meta-organism, the cosmos, all there is.   Any given mitochondrion co-exists alongside other mitochondria, as well as other organelles, inside its own living cave. But this cave, of course, is not made of limestone. It’s not cut into the side of a cliff. It’s a living, dynamic, portable, moving cave with membranes for cell walls.

To clarify, from a certain level of abstraction, a cell too is a metazoan organism. And the same can possibly be said, in turn, about any given organelle.

Intercellular and Intracellular Tribes

Just like there are many different types of organelles living inside a living cell, there are many different kinds of living cells living inside a living organism. No, this is not just a case of bad writing, I hope (although I am, of course, not immune to that). I am not trying to confuse you with this “living such-and-such inside a living such-and-such.” I am just still trying to hammer the point that each of us is a living holarchy – a whole made up of micro-parts that/who themselves are living wholes on a smaller scale.

The time has arrived – in the context of this writing and possibly in terms of our development as a civilization – to start looking at various cell-types or cellular tribes. Indeed, whether we talk of “human”s or fish, both of these types of metazoan meta-life-forms contain various cellular tribes within themselves. Namely, muscle cells, bone cells, adipose cells, epithelial cells and info-processing cells such as neurons.

We can also, of course, speak of intra-cellular tribes – human cells and fish cells both contain some of the same organelles. Fish, just like us, contain mitochondria inside their cells. On some level, a cell is a cell is a cell. An organelle is an organelle is an organelle. An organ is an organ is an organ (for example, “human”s are not the only ones with a brain, fish have them too).

What I mean by this “a thing is a thing is a thing” pronouncement is that there is an undeniable commonality of organization. Oops! The “organon” meme pops up again! My point? It is simply this: each organ is but an organization of cells of one or more cellular tribes collectively performing the work of living.

Take bone for example. As strange as it sounds, a bone is also an organ, a rigid organ, but an organ nevertheless. A bone is a metazoan microcosm of sorts – an unexpected example of multi-cellular inter-tribal cooperation. Bones are an active tissue. They include such diverse cellular tribes as osteoblasts, osteocytes, osteoclasts, nerves, and red blood cells (produced by bone marrow). Therefore, each and every bone is not an “I” but a “We.”


Of Tribes and Diasporas

There are many human tribes on Earth – French, Vietnamese, Maori, English, German, Eskimo, Russian, Jew. And each of these tribes has a geographical home, a place of origin, so to say. But some of these tribes have also established diasporas. For example, Jews can be found throughout the world – Maori less so.

Would it be uncommon to say that a Russian living in Moscow and a Russian living in Washington, DC are the same? I don’t think that many would struggle with this proposition: up to a point, a Russian is a Russian is a Russian regardless of where he/she lives. Of course, a Russian in Moscow is also different from a Russian in Washington, DC. The former speaks Russian full-time and the latter might speak English full-time. And, of course, no two Russians are alike, just like no two Japanese are alike. And yet Russians could and often would relate to each other simply on the basis of ethnicity. And so would any other human tribe on the same basis of ethnic camaraderie.

Same goes for cellular tribes and ethnicities. An osteoclast (a bone immune cell that dissolves/eats bone tissue as part of bone repair and renewal) is more or less the same whether you find it in a “human” bone or a canine bone. Knowing that we could, for example, propose that there exists a Cellular Tribe called Osteoclasts and that this cellular tribe is scattered across a variety of species-specific diasporas – such as Human Osteoclast Diaspora, Canine Osteoclast Diaspora, etc.

The same could be said of heart cells – there exists a Cellular Tribe of Cardiac Cells and this Cellular Tribe is scattered across a variety of species-specific diasporas – such as Human Cardiac Cell Diaspora and Porcine (pig) Cardiac Cell Diaspora. If these Cardiac Cell Diasporas were not principally the same across a variety of animal body-types, we would not have been able to use pig heart valves as part of “human” heart surgeries, would we?

Where am I going with this? To this point right here: What if we allowed ourselves – in fact, what if we dared – to think of neurons in the same fashion? What if we were to start seeing that on a cytological tribal level, a neuron is a neuron is a neuron across all the different species-specific body-forms? What if we were to accept that a neuron in a fish, as a member of a larger Cellular Tribe of Neurons, is not unlike a neuron inside of a “human”? What if we were to think of “human” neurons as nothing other than a Neural Diaspora of the larger Neural Tribe, as a Neural Colony that happens to inhabit a certain moving and movable land-mass called the“human body”?

To understand the metazoan nature of our being is to appreciate that Nature has been innovating with a finite set of living cell-legos. As soon as we are able to see that, we are in a position to relate across the species lines.

Conclusion: The Neural “We”

You’ve heard of the “royal we” – the so-called “majestic plural,” a way of referring to a single person of high office in the plural form. For example, the last Czar of Russia would begin his royal decrees with “We, Nicholas the Second…”

Each of us is a “Neural We” – a multitude of cells, a microcosmic alliance of many, many cellular tribes, a cellular Demos, a cellular People. You, I, and any he or she – each and every one of us – is a “we” unto itself. Each – singularly plural on a cellular level. Each – a legion of cellular plebes (eg support cells) and cellular generals (info-processing cells such as neurons).

When you come into my home – not inside my skull-cave, but into my brick-and-mortar home, you do not come alone. You are a horde of cellular life-forms packed into a Trojan horse of a “human” body-form.

When you come to my mind (i.e. when I think of you) a hundred billion info-processing neural generals, securely ensconced inside the cranial headquarters atop the mountain of my body-fortress, pour over the mental maps of who you collectively are.

Each metazoan “other” you come across in your life-travels is a Neural Population, a mobile Neural City-State, a Sparta of Darwinian warriors waving a hello or a namaste at the mobile Athens that you yourself and your-selves are.

The same goes for every dog you bend down to pet, for every earthworm you plow through with the thick tires of your bicycle, for every non-cephalized neural net of a sea-squirt that undulates on the side of a corral reef as you scuba-dive nearby.

All of us – all of us, metazoans, no matter what body-house we inhabit – mammal, bird, fish, insect, or reptile – all of us are the Neural We Proper – one and the same Neural Tribe –fragmented by evolution into a myriad of body-type, species-specific diasporas.

Each “I” is a “We.” And each “We” an “I.”

Each metazoan life-form is faithful first and foremost to its collective self. That is the metazoan reality of who we all are. A metazoan axiom.

Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno – “one for all, all for one.” This isn’t just a dictum of human camaraderie but a cellular ethic of any metazoan existence.

The miracle of evolution on Earth is that seemingly dumb, almost inanimate in their simplicity of functioning, unicellular life-forms found safety in numbers by building multi-cellular alliances. We have upgraded our quarters from squatting in random nooks and crannies to building cranial fortresses with embrasure eye-sockets and crenellations of teeth. Over time these multi-cellular gangs and cliques evolved into metazoan sky-scrapers – each an anatomically sovereign Metazoan Colossus, like you and me. Each – a vehicle of pleasure and a vehicle of war. Each – an RV and a Chariot, with a Neural Colony (of a species-specific Neural Diaspora of the overall cross-species Neural Tribe) at the steering helm.

Neural We


Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. http://www.pavelsomov.com <![CDATA[Blowing In the Wind]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/?p=7669 2017-01-18T10:06:36Z 2017-01-18T10:05:52Z 36438378-Tree-in-the-wind-with-flying-leaves-Stock-Vector-silhouetteStruggling to collect your thoughts this morning?

Leave them scattered.

Life is wind.

Mind is leaves, blowing in the wind.

A strange thought to consider:

How are you not a tree encased in a human body?!

Don’t you grow?

Don’t you worship the sun?

Don’t you thrive on water?

Animals and plants, aren’t we rooted in the same mother-Earth?

So, how are you not a tree on legs?

If so, these thoughts that you are trying to collect this morning,

these leaves of narrative,

leave them scattered.

Let the wind of the moment blow away the story of self.

And let your legs ground you with a brief walkabout.




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