Friday, May 27, 2016

A Question about Halloween Answered.

At Zona Refrescante restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador, every afternoon on Thursday, Ecuadorians meet with native English speakers to practice speaking English. It´s fun, and it´s a way for people from both cultures to inquire about strange customs they don´t understand.

This bright middle school age student had a question for me this past Thursday about Halloween. I pause to interject. This girl of about 14 years never lived in any English speaking country. She learned what she knows not only because eight hours of English per week is a requirement at her school, but also because as she explained, English is her favorite subject! She speaks it well and has decently good pronunciation, and she impressed me.  
But all that above about her is beside the point.
This girl, an obviously curious expression on her face, was asking me to explain Halloween. I tried but felt flabbergasted. I didn´t have an answer satisfactory to me.
Halloween as it´s known in North America doesn´t exist in Ecuador. The custom most akin to Halloween in Ecuador is called the day of the dead, I´d say, but this tradition is so different from Halloween that in fact the connection is most imprecise. Ecuadorians visit the remains of lost loved ones at their tombs in graveyards on the day of the dead. They place flowers and cards with messages on the tombstones, and eat food and drink a special drink called colada morada. It´s a time to pray for the dead and a time to communicate with the dead.
This to me is its, granted, unsteady similarity to Halloween. But take a look at one of the most popular Halloween costumes---the costume of a skeleton. Somehow in some way Halloween has something to do with death. And death is scary. Look at the costumes kids wear on Halloween--- ghosts, goblins, monsters, witches, pirates and devils---all scary, all evocative of frightening manifestations that would scare you to death if not make believe. So what IS the point of Halloween? Is it just to have fun going around to houses in the neighborhood carrying a bag to collect candy?  Get real--- that´s the biggest part of the point. But I think Halloween has a deeper meaning, which I wouldn´t be thinking about if it hadn´t been for that Ecuadorian girl´s question.  

In my mind the Halloween costume represents the dark side of human nature. It´s the side we ordinarily hide but that we bring out into the open in pantomime on Halloween. We proclaim there is this evil side to us that is like a monster or a demon. We say yes on Halloween, yes we are part bad and yes this part of us exists.
The beauty about Halloween as every kid in North America will attest is the collection of big bags of candy. Maybe this is symbolic as well. Is this a representation that evil spirits can be bought off?  After all, the ghosts and goblins leave the house once their bags get filled with candy.


Friday, May 13, 2016

White Flag Defeat and the Power of Surrender

To surrender? What does that mean?  It means you know you´ve been defeated and you accept it. You´ve been knocked out. You don´t have it in you to fight anymore and you give up. You fly a white flag.

Addicts in recovery have surrendered. The heroin addict who cannot stop injecting heroin realizes he has been defeated when he surrenders to the reality of his addiction. He needs the drug. He will suffer almost unbearable pangs of withdrawal unless he gets it into his blood stream. By a surrender to this fact of the matter, the addict makes possible a shift to the entirety of his position in the world.   
This thread of talk refers to what is personal and private. Heroin addiction never stopped some notable musicians from performing their music. Alcoholics have been famous figures in the literary world. The talent and energy that drives this success is immaterial to addiction. Addiction is monstrous, yes. It is almost all-powerful, yes. But it does not necessarily prevent people from achieving success. People are made of durable material and even those of us with broken wings can fly far.

But what addiction does do is render people, no matter how talented or famous, enslaved to their addictions.

I have an example of the power of surrender I want to share from my personal life, although it´s not about addiction.

The Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay, September, 1945

It´s about a condition that developed over a ten year period when I worked graveyard shifts as a security guard. My body acclimated itself to being awake at night. It became accustomed to sleeping during the day. Ten years after having stopped working in security, still, I get tired and sleep during the day. I perk up ready to greet the world during the dark hours of the night. My sleep and wake hours were completely turned upside down by the decade of years I worked security at night.

I fought the condition with ferocity for a long time. I did everything I could to reverse it so I could sleep at night. Nothing worked--- except the effective sleeping medication called trazadone, not available where I now live---Ecuador. My nights turned into anger fueled and frustrating episodes of insomnia punctuated by bouts of intense binge eating.      

I surrendered to the reality of my insomnia about a month ago. I accepted that I have a condition I can´t change. I elected to go with the flow. I gave up worrying about when to sleep and instructed myself to sleep when I´m sleepy and tired---ordinarily about five o´clock in the morning. I go about my pursuits calmly and without rancor or agitation at night. The capitulation to my insomnia erased the emotions which had been driving me to binge eat at night.

A connection exists between the troubles I had with insomnia and the troubles of addiction. Nothing about either of these two maladjustments can or could be remedied unless first a surrender occurs---the hoisting of a white flag indicating the profound realization change needs to enter into the picture.