Sunday, 24 February 2008

Being in Hell - Hypersensitivity

Yesterday, as part of my work trying to help children with immature vestibular reflexes, I was testing the listening thresholds at different frequencies of an eight year old girl, a very delicate and sensitive little creature. The earphones of my audiometer are a bit heavy and tight, so we kept pausing for a rest. But by the end of the test the little girl was weeping in her mum’s arms -- “Oh mummy, it hurts.”

Strange as it may sound coming from a karate black-belt who used to enjoy playing rugby as a back-row forward, I am a bit like that. No, to tell the truth, I am a lot like that.

For a couple of years around 1993-94, while living on the outskirts of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, I used to go to work in the city for a couple of days a week, staying at my friend’s flat in central Tokyo. I once commented to this friend that for those two days a week, I was living on fear. To go into Tokyo for me at that time was to enter hell. The stimuli I was exposing myself to were not particularly noxious ones -- trains crowded with orderly, self-restrained people, flourescent lights, humming computers, work to be done in an office staffed by thoroughly balanced and reasonable colleagues -- but I was hypersensitive to everything.

After getting back home on a Wednesday night, I would come back towards balance by, in between sitting-zen sessions, devoting myself to what I called my “donkey work” -- which mainly consisted of plodding through the Shobogenzo translation. I clearly remember around this time a conversation with Jeremy Pearson, who by then was living in Tokyo. “You are so sensitive, Mike!” Jeremy had commented, perceptively.

Actually that is how I am -- very, very sensitive. Too sensitive. The stuff that appears not to be so sensitive falls into the category, familiar to all good developmental therapists, of “compensatory mechanisms.”

Sensitivity, in the right proportions, may be a virtue. But too much of it is the essence of suffering, as is well known by all who retain an immature baby panic (or ‘Moro’) reflex, including many children and adults on the autistic spectrum and other beings in hell.

8 comments:

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Cross said...

Being sensitive means being open to receive information through the six sensory channels:

visual (eyes)

aural (ears)

olfactory (nose)

gustatory (tongue)

tactile/proprioception (skin, muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, joint capsules)

balance/integration (vestibular system)

Though I have listed them as above, balance is, developmentally speaking, the primary sense. The first cranial nerve to myelinate, about 6 months after conception, is the VIIIth cranial nerve, which wires up the balance mechanisms of the inner ear and the brainstem.

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Cross said...

The head of training of the Alexander teacher training school where I trained from 1995-98, the late Ray Evans, caused me to understand that what you call “a mental orientation towards the sensory information” has its real basis in the vestibular system.

I wrote about Ray in a post of May 17 last year, on my Middle Way blog...

http://the-middle-way.blogspot.com/2007/05/fourfold-criterion-before-knowing-and.html

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Cross said...

You are welcome, Will, but there is really nothing to thank me for.

Gudo/Sawaki/Dogen told me that the essence of the Buddha-Dharma has to do with the upward orientation of the spine with respect to the ground.

Ray Evans told me that this orientation of the spine, for better or for worse, always comes back to the vestibular system. Ray used to describe Alexander work as "vestibular re-education."

Even a person with a dodgy vestibular should be able to add 2 + 2 and not come up with 17.

Will said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Cross said...

Yes, Will, you are on the right track. The real significance of the reflexes, like the real merit of daily sitting-zen, may be far deeper than we can understand.

Last summer my wife attended a 'Eutokia' course given by an Alexander teacher with a lot of experience helping mothers through pregnancy and childbirth. We were already somewhat aware of the benefits of natural birth in terms of helping the baby reflexes develop properly, but one piece of information in particular that my wife came away with struck me as particularly marvellous:

During a natural birth, as I witnessed in the case of my two sons, the baby's head turns so that as it appears out of the birth canal, the nose is facing the mother's anus, and the smell of the mother's shit welcomes the baby into the world, thereby stimulating its immune system into action.

I think that the merit of sitting-zen, if properly taught, might be like the merit of a natural birth -- stimulating into life the brainstem reflexes, the immune system, et cetera, in all kinds of ways that are too deep for us to understand.