At the root: Fractals

Once physical disease is ruled out, it is time to consider the root cause of most mental depression: a lack of love and connection in life (not a lack of serotonin).

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Via Paula’s blog comes the idea of grabbing some book, going to page 62 and line 6 on that page to use for a blog post. I opened Kindle to the last book I’d been reading (Graves MD, Harrison. Mantra Meditation: An Alternative Treatment For Anxiety And Depression (pp. 62-63). Novus Energia. Kindle Edition) and Kindle being what it is, I chose what it claimed was page 62 and what was the sixth paragraph (or line shift, if you will) because the sixth line was a header. My sixth paragraph is the quote above.

The quote also echos another book I’m reading: The Shack. I saw a quote paraphrased from it on Facebook: “Why am I here?” “Because this is where you got stuck.” That resonated with me, so I decided to reread the book.

I’m stuck, you see. Stuck somewhere in the past. Stuck with habits that served me in the past but aren’t serving me now. I’m trying to get myself unstuck.

That right there, though, is part of my problem, my challenge: I am trying to get myself unstuck. Me, by myself. Just like the protagonist in “The Shack”, I haven’t been willing to just trust in the Divine, to devote myself to that trust.

I’m not in a good place right now, so today I called in sick and stayed home and read. So many good lines in this book, but the one that suddenly had me bawling was the description of the protagonist’s soul: A messy but beautiful garden, rich in layers and details:

[T]his garden is your soul. This mess is you! Together, you and I, we have been working with a purpose in your heart. And it is wild and beautiful and perfectly in process. To you it seems like a mess, but to me, I see a perfect pattern emerging and growing and alive— a living fractal.

(Young, William P.. The Shack (p. 138). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.)

Fractal. And the tears started. The whole paragraph made me cry, but the word “fractal” was the trigger.

You see, in all my attempts and trying to understand not only myself, but humanity, the planet, the universe, it seems to me that the best model to understand it all is fractals.

Fractals are a seemingly complex image but it is made out of many smaller images that look exactly like itself. If you keep zooming in on a fractal, you just see—the fractal. It doesn’t change and it can go on forever. It’s eternal and no matter where you, what viewpoint you have, you are seeing the fractal.

Where do patterns repeat? All over, in many ways. Some examples:

  • We marry someone who is like that same-gendered parent, and we repeat our parents’ marital pattern.
  • Stressors we experience as adults actually go back to our childhoods.
  • The model for an atom looks just like the model for our solar system.
  • Under a microscope, neurons and ganglia look like the roads of a metropolitan area.
  • Anything you need to learn and heal in this lifetime can be found in this lifetime; you don’t need a past life regression.

Sure, you could call that macro and micro. For me, the fractal idea is a better visual description. It shows why the macro and the micro have so much in common.

The other thing about fractals, is the repetition. You keep repeating something simple and you end with something complex, like the broccoli pictured above. Also, something about the growth, about it never wavering from its original pattern was what got to me in a good way while reading today. It’s another way to have eternity.

Repetition shows up in another way, too: In all the help I have received, in all the friends I have who can relate, in all the messages abounding about how to approach the Divine, how to have a regular, spiritual practice and a regular, spiritual connection. This isn’t my first time trying to figure stuff out, but I’m hoping it’ll be the last time I’m in this much pain. (I admire those of you who have struggled with depression your whole lives and still keep going.)

Something has been growing, in spite of my efforts to ignore it. Some gardener has been tending to my soul, to that which is good and right with me, underneath the veneer of human life. It is time for me to join in the gardening.

Let me just finish the book first.

Help

The spring of 1969, I traveled across country with my grandma and grandpa. Just before leaving California, I had heard The Beatles song “Help!”. The movie had been showing on TV one evening at my mother’s. I liked the song and I remember singing it in Maine, where we’d stopped off at Grandma’s son’s place and I got to meet my cousins. Only days after that visit, we were on our way to Norway.

In trying to understand where my anxiety comes from, I’ve tried a number of different meditations (I’ve shopped here a lot lately). In the latest one that I tried, I was to name my anxieties. I had only one: Helplessness.

Moments from my childhood made me feel helpless. I fended for myself on Saturday mornings when my parents slept in. I didn’t actually like that. (To this day, waking up to the sounds of voices or activity in the kitchen is hugely pleasing to me.) I would rather a grown-up helped me because I was a clumsy child.

Moments from an imagined old age make me worry about being helpless. Gave one knee a slight twist a good week ago and found myself unable to walk down hill. Well, I’m surrounded by hills! So now what??? And what about 20 years from now? Oh, no!

Quite the contrary: Over the years, many good people have stepped up to help me—a random positive comment here, a full package of therapy there and everything in between. And the timing is impeccable. Just as I wonder where to go next, an article shows up in my newsfeed, or a friend calls, or my doctor makes a brilliant suggestion.

I may have problems, but I have even more blessings. And most importantly: I am able to admit I need help and to ask for it. Just like in “Help!”

Speaking of needing help on hills: Cobblestones set an angle helped horses get a foothold up and down steep streets. From Sydneskleiven, Bergen, Norway

In the meditation I was guided to see my anxieties differently. First of all, they aren’t linked to the here and now. My knee is fine again. And I most definitely am not helpless!

Quite the contrary: Over the years, many good people have stepped up to help me—a random positive comment here, a full package of therapy there and everything in between. And the timing is impeccable. Just as I wonder where to go next, an article shows up in my newsfeed, or a friend calls, or my doctor makes a brilliant suggestion.

I may have problems, but I have even more blessings. And most importantly: I am able to admit I need help and to ask for it. Just like in “Help!”

26 questions

I stole this from Paula’s 2 x 13 questions (which had me thinking about one half of a deck of cards, and the fact that the Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters, but I digress).

Current profile pic from last year. Heh.

1. Share your profile picture.
Shared.

2. Who are you named after?
Nobody. My mom saw “Keera” in an obituary.

3. Do you like your handwriting?
Yes. But sometimes I can’t read it.

4. What’s your favorite lunch meat
Gudbrandsdalsost—Norwegian brown cheese.

5. Longest relationship?
That would be either my friend Ann in actual years or my friend Torleif in years in a row of regular contact. Or the parental units.

6. Do you still have your tonsils?
Yes. The only thing I’ve had removed are my wisdom teeth.

7. Would you bungee jump?
If I’m sitting in my own couch with VR goggles, sure.

8. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?
Always. I was taught that to not to would ruin the shoes. Wait, do I even still have shoes that tie?

9. Favorite ice-cream?
My favorite used to be pistachio but I don’t know any more. Everything tastes too sweet now.

10. What’s the first thing you notice about people?
I have no idea. Hair? Is it supposed to be the same thing every time?

11. Football or baseball?
If I have to choose, baseball. Then I won’t root for the wrong team because I can’t tell what they’re doing.

12. What color pants are you wearing?
Dark blue. Actually, denim blue. I’m wearing jeans.

13. Last thing you ate?
Soft tortilla taco.

14. If you were a crayon what color would you be?
Periwinkle!

15. Favorite smell?
Roses.

16. Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone?
Hah! I’ve actually spoken to someone on the phone this year so I can answer this: Receptionist at the doctor’s office. (Text me.)

17. Hair color?
Ash brown with a few strands of silver. See profile picture above.

18. Eye color?
They look blue on the profile picture above so my passport is correct. But up close they are actually dark gray-blue irises shot through with white and with a bit of central heterochromia.

19. Favorite food to eat?
Having discovered buckwheat pasta, I’m back to a childhood favorite: Spaghetti.

20. Scary movies or happy endings?
Scary movie with a happy ending. I don’t watch movies to think. That’s what books are for.

21. Last movie you watched?
“Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”. I’m rewatching all the Star Trek movies these days.

22. Favorite holiday?
I used to love them all. Now I can hardly be bothered. I think maybe Advent/Christmas because the lights come up during the darkest, wettest, grayest part of the year.

23 Beer or wine?
Gin & tonic.

24. Favorite day of the week?
Friday. Happy mood at work, the whole weekend ahead, something good on TV, maybe even something good for dinner.

25. Three (or four) favorite bloggers you want to learn more about?
Uhm… Er… How about you make a suggestion or three (or four)? 🙂

26. Added info you didn’t know you wanted.
Q: Pluto: Planet or planetoid?
A: PLANET! It was never demoted in my mind.

Fjord flashback

Here’s a blast from the past (September 13 2008). I love the play of shadows and the blue reflecting in the water.

Somewhere-north-of-here fjord

I actually did not recognize where the above was until I looked at some of the other photos from the same day: This was from an overnight trip with my then-department. We went to Flåm and Nærøyfjord. The latter is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The former is the destination for the “Norway in a Nutshell” trip that combines bus, train and bus—not necessarily in that order. The photo above is as we sailed out the Aurlandsfjord from Flåm.

Below the highway headed to Aurland, decoration made out of rocks and plants mimic Viking hieroglyphs. Or maybe it’s just modern art deer.

Where the deer and the antelope play?

Nærøyfjord has tall mountains on either side, and in the winter only the midday sun manages to shed any light there. The rest of the time it is in deep shadow. In September the sun was making its way down one side.

I love how the shadows create a second row of mountain tops

Entering Nærøyfjord. Such drama. Such contrast.
A more classic view from Nærøyfjord (pronounced NAIR-oy-fyord)
Oh, hey, we’ve got company!
There’s a reason why tourists love this fjord. So do I!

Looking behind us in Nærøyfjord



In the old days (like, when I was a kid and a good while after), ferry service connected Gudvangen with Flåm. Then two longish tunnels gave the two towns a land connection. Norway is riddled with tunnels because it’s way harder to build a road on the outside of the mountains than to burrow through.

Main street, Gudvangen. Gudvangen and Flåm both live off tourism.

Obligatory waterfall picture

A tale about teeth

Norway has been good to me, dentally. My grandpa was also good to me. Orthodontics are subsidized but still cost out of pocket. So the year I had no cavities I started wearing a retainer.

One thing Norwegian children have been through together, is the school dentist. In my part of Norway, the school dentist got the nickname “pinaren”, which translates to “the tormentor”. An awful lot of kids ended up afraid of the dentist.

Somehow or other, I didn’t. I got my first filling at age 8 while I was still living in California. They filled my mouth with all kinds of weird things there; I remember a ring-like device jammed in to keep my mouth open and some sort of small rubber sheet jammed in there, too, in addition to the usual suction device and tampon. In Norway, it’s just suction and a tampon.

When I was 12, the school dentist looked me over, then called my grandpa in. Grandpa had been waiting in the hall. Seriously, the dentist told me grandma that I had no cavities. I teared up in joy and relief and knowing I had no cavities but why the serious tone? That’s when the dentist suggested is was time to take care of my serious overbite and crooked front teeth. So Grandpa ended up taking me to the orthodontist’s.

Back then, there was one place in town and one orthodontist “all” the kids went to. A friendly bearded, guy who made me a retainer, a big pink thing molded on both my lower and upper teeth. I was clueless so I wore it during the day. Didn’t realize it was to be worn at night until some graceless adult said it was nice something shut me up. (That’s when I realized it was to be worn at night, duh. And that some grown-ups aren’t really grown up.) I had nevertheless managed to wear it enough to make a difference. After two years of that, a weak, my receding chin was strong and properly positioned. I got another small, light retainer to wear to straighten out my upper front teeth and close the gap between them.

Kind of weird to think back and realize my look since age 15 wasn’t the one nature gave me. But yeah, sometimes when I look in the mirror, I send Grandpa (and the school dentist) a bit of thanks.

Orthodontics for children is subsidized and so is mandatory oral surgery. The one wisdom tooth that had to be removed with a scalpel I ended up paying only half price for; the social security office refunded me the rest.

Today I got my teeth X-rayed, checked and cleaned. In Norway, the dentist does all that. Not like the US, where a dental hygienist does all the advising and cleaning and flossing, and then you see the actual dentist for 5 minutes in case of cavities.

The art in my dentist’s waiting room:
Monkey? Child? Clown?
At least it’s not scary

My current dentist has a surprisingly light touch. He pokes and prods and scrapes and I hardly feel it. This time around, he seemed to be even gentler than ever. I wonder if it’s because I was saying to myself “Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om” (I’m trying out some things). At any rate, the annual check revealed no issues, no cracks or holes in either teeth or aging fillings, and a price hike from last year.

Dentists in Norway are not subsidized like doctors. My GP works for the city and is part of the universal health care system. I saw him today, too, and paid NOK 155. My dentist, who runs a private practice, as most do, charged me NOK 1150 (includes the pretty pictures of my teeth). It’s cheap insurance, really, to keep my choppers chomping (why aren’t they called “chompers”?).

I don’t remember the clown painting from last year. I also don’t remember the drawing of a sleeping cat on the wall opposite the dentist chair, a perfectly round circle with triangular ears poking out of it. The cat, not the chair. But I like that there’s a picture of a cat on the wall. I like cats. And sleeping cats have always meant that all is right with the world. Today, at the dentist’s, it did feel that way.

// marks the spot

I have seen the plans for the light rail station coming to my bit of the ‘burbs. I know that the footbridge I have crossed to and from work since 1986 will become history and I’ll get a new bridge about 50 meters to the west.

“My” footbridge as seen on the way home

It may happen sooner rather than later. At some point, the slope this bridge connects me to, where the trees are, is going to be dug into and reshaped. A new path to a new bridge will appear, forever changing my walk to work.

It may happen sooner than I realize. Barely two weeks ago, I noticed neon streaks on the pavement. I’d seen them before and knew the construction crew had left them. Today I saw why:

Aha! A hole!

They’re still moving pipes and stuff around underground.
But I see more paint streaks. I wonder how much longer I’ll get to enjoy the sight of this tree:

More digging to come!

Back to the beginning

I tripped over a book on using yogic mantras to help with anxiety and depression. So I said OM a lot this morning, and maybe that’s exactly what I needed to get going again (as well as three days of rest and downtime).

I once upon a time, back in California, meditated and chanted OM, so I dove in and played with harmonies, with going silent, with going up an octave or two, and even whispering. You can do it all. Or just repeat internally, soundlessly.

The OM on YouTube (you don’t need to read the book): The Cosmic AUM

The book that led me there: Mantra Meditation: An Alternative Treatment For Anxiety And Depression

Too much, too soon

Yesterday’s grouchiness was a warning. My body and my moods are basically klaxons trying to get my attention. This morning I had no energy, no desire, no absent Grumpy. He was still with me. He had a message.

I hate when I’m like this. I hate that my emotions so easily rise to the surface and I have neither the inclination nor the ability to force them back down, not even when the situation demands that I do. (Blowing up at work is a really bad idea.)

I got a reminder today that dealing with mental exhaustion, with panic attacks and its attendant issues, takes time. I was feeling too good Tuesday. I know now that I was not on the way up, but out of balance. Yesterday that lack of balance made itself known. I thought I’d headed it off at the pass, armed with hugs, but nope. On a good day I can wrestle with my feelings, but on a good day I’m not even in this battle. So I’m trying to face a dragon and all I can muster is a “whatever”. It takes energy to battle with feelings, and in this case, it is a better strategy to just not bother.

Low on energy this morning, I got myself ready for work, only to be hit by full-blown lethargy. And so I played the waiting game. Maybe I’ll feel like going in half an hour… which came and went and so I thought maybe in another half hour… But that’s when my body decided to wield a clue-by-four with force: The very thought of going to work started to make me cry.

So I called in sick. And I’m not playing hooky. I have to get this through my head: I am sick, just not physically. I am not the definition of a well person at this time. So once again: I need to learn to give myself some slack, to figure out how to care for myself mentally.

So I’ve surfed YouTube today and appreciated the fact that last night I made dinner with lots of leftovers.

I subscribe to Tom Scott’s channel. Here’s how my words in this blog actually get to you:

Grumpy got hugs

So, as usual, I am Mercurial and go up and down more than a rollercoaster. After a great day yesterday—which I realize now may have taken more out of me than I thought, with all that talking to the psychologist—I ended up grumpy today. Total raincloud-right-over-my-head grumpy.

Grumpy

At the end of the day, a co-worker caught up with me and I admitted I was frustrated, annoyed, and feeling grouchy. Whereupon she gave me a proper, squishy, ribcage-melding bear hug. In fact, such a good and helpful hug we both started to tear up.

Now, that is some serious hugging!

And yes, it did chase the proverbial raincloud away.

PS: My favorite dwarf was Grumpy because I related best to him. Still do.

PPS: WordPress is rolling out a new blog editor called Gutenberg and it’s, uhm, well, at times raincloud-inducing. 😀

Bybanen

I am in love with the city light rail in Bergen, Norway, called “bybanen” (BEE-bah-nen). It took five years after it was built for me to actually ride the darned thing, but after that, it has become my most popular modern addition to this old medieval town. And now they’re building a line to my neck of the woods!

I am excited about getting the light rail in 2022! Yeah, that is a long way off. They started digging in February of this year. I walk past the construction site for the station in Fyllingsdalen (the suburb where I live and work) nearly daily. I’ve been trying to document (sort of) the changes construction is creating in my neighborhood.

The start of construction of “bybanen” in Fyllingsdalen, March 2018

5 months later and all those pipes on first picture are underground

Bergen being Bergen, there are strong opinions for and against the light rail. A lot of people think it’s a waste of space and money, inferior to better bus routes, and ohmygawd it takes a full 45 minutes from downtown to the airport!!!

Look, I’ve taken the light rail all the way from Byparken (the downtown stop right next to the city park) to the airport. It takes a predictable amount of time (but the hard seats are not kind to aching hips). It also costs the exact same as the city bus (NOK 37 if you prepay an adult ticket). As a comparison, our nice airport bus costs NOK 115 for a prepaid one-way ticket from downtown.

Anyway, today I got to ride the light rail again. My psychologist’s office is one stop away from the airport, so I ride the rail one stop from the bus terminal. Today I didn’t have to go back to work afterward, so decided to ride to the airport to get a better picture of the “Bergen?” signage—the artwork at the airport that I discovered you can see from the air!

This sign gets people—especially the locals—talking