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You Can't Get There From Here

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Two hundred years ago peppered moths were light-colored and camouflaged against the light-colored trees upon which they rested. Later, when the smog of England's industrial revolution darkened these trees, peppered moths were born darker. Still later, when environmental standards reduced the smog, the trees brightened up and so did the the peppered moth.

The interesting thing is that the genetic code of the peppered moth contains, and always did, the potential for both light and dark wings. Either trait can be expressed in the next generation depending on what the environment calls for.

Similarly, pregnant laboratory rats, who live in a stressful environment, give birth to offspring who have their genetic code set to best survive life in a stressful environment. The prenatal programming of these baby rats turns on some genes and turns others off so that they are born to be aggressive.

What is true of moths and rats is true of people. If we really wanted to solve social problems, taking care of pregnant women who live in stressful environments would be a great place to start. Doctors who deliver prenatal care already easily identify these "high-risk" future mothers. Having someone step in and visit these women to encourage them to live in a healthier way is a lot more cost effective than responding to juvenile delinquency or imprisoning criminals, to name just two of the social consequences of aggression.

Some aunt-ish or grandmotherly figure stopping over to advise the pregnant woman to stop drugging, stop drinking, stop smoking, to get more rest and eat better would help. Such interventions are generally effective and the maternal instinct is a powerful additional stimulus. Future mothers are powerfully incentivized to provide their offspring with a better, calmer genetic profile and a happier, healthier life.

I don't know what messages I picked up in utero, but I remembered how I was treated as a child, and from that I can extrapolate, can imagine back.

When I confronted her in my mid-forties Mom admitted to not touching us, her children, enough. Tearfully she protested, "But that doesn't mean I didn't love you." But, yes, it does. It means that and more to the infant fresh out of the womb. It means, something is existentially wrong. It means, I am going to die.

Dad was better, but not much. He was embarrassed by affection. Lying alongside him watching television was good until the commercial breaks. Then he might choose to pass the time torturing you, pressing and jiggling his fingertips between your ribs or into your armpit or sawing his hand where your throat meets your jaw or all of the above and more.

Mostly I was ignored. My physical needs were met, but no one paid attention to me. I say, I didn't know that I existed until I was in second grade.

It's hard to change the genetic programming you picked up in the womb or the personality adaptions you made during the first years outside of it.

Buddhist masters insist, "The knife does not cut itself. The mind cannot know itself." The mind is what got you into this mess to begin with. The mind is the mess. My personality, the mechanism I adopted to survive, is the problem.

A Vermont farmer, when I asked about getting to a neighboring road, repeated a line that had always fascinated me, "You can't get there from here." Yes, there was a muddy, rutted path that crossed a field and reached the road, but only a tractor could traverse it. In the truck I was driving, I had to follow the road back down the hill and go around the long way.

"You can't get there from here." With your present attitude, you can't reach the goal. Something is missing from your world view. The way you imagine the problem is the problem.

My life has been an engagement with my own flawed perception, suffering under or transcending the tyranny of my personality.

Following Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," much of my adult experience has been a recapitulation of the lack of affirmation I experienced as a child.

Following Groucho Marx, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member," fullness and success have been hard for me to feel.

After a new understanding, a revelation achieved, I don't stop to pat myself on the back. Instead I deride myself for not having figured it out sooner and mock myself in regard to what other insights I am, no doubt, yet missing, what else still escapes me. I ask, is the glass 90% full or 10% empty?

I remind myself (in a rhythmic ditty of my own creation; try saying it out loud a couple of times): "I know now what I didn't know then, but I don't know yet what I don't know yet."

The final stanza of a poem I wrote a quarter of a century ago sums it up:

Blind runner racing past the crown
With ears deaf to your own renown,
Oh, champion, oh, trophy prized,
Oh, victory unrecognized.

I know that it sounds ridiculous for someone on the far side of 60 to still be blaming things on his childhood, but some of us never really grew up.

Despite all that, lately, more regularly I do find myself outside the box, watching myself react, in what the Buddhists call a state of awareness.

Not with my conditioned mind, not trapped by my genetic predispositions, transcending the habitual feelings and behaviors of my personality, I look at my suffering from a new perspective.

Instead of blindly acting out my negative attitude, and so reinforcing it, I've been able to decide to do something else, something much happier. I feel myself about to pout over something, to make a disappointment worse, and change direction. I catch myself while I am falling. The Buddhists call this liberation.

Last Monday I noticed a few mosquitoes had gotten into the house. I hunted those down and hung a cloth across the hole in the wall that the cat uses to come and go.

Tuesday I noticed a few more of the pesky blood-suckers, a few more than Monday. I was more diligent in my hunting patrol and closed my bedroom door so at least they wouldn't get to me while I slept.

While its northern cousins are quick to land and get to business, the Mexican mosquito, like so much of the rest of this lovely country, has a mañana attitude. Up north, lights out, you don't have long to wait for that buzzing to zero in on your head, your only exposed part, and stop. Right then and there, with a risk of boxing your ear, you can end the matter.

Down here they buzz around back and forth, as if unable to make up their minds, passing repeatedly, preventing sleep. So lackadaisical are they that in the morning you can often swat an unfed mosquito (no blood when you squash it) clinging to the wall above your bed.

Wednesday the plague continued with increased virulence. Thursday, when it was even worse, I thought, wait a minute, something funny is happening here.

I keep the cat's bowl of food in a pan of water to prevent the ants from getting to it. Lifted up the bowl discovered in the water dozens of little mosquito larvae wiggling about.

Not stopping to pat myself on the back, wondering instead why I hadn't figure this out sooner, I tossed the water out the front door unto my new garden. Rinsing the pan, I vowed to renew my aqueous ant barrier more frequently in the future.

Then I had a larger insight: my problems, like the mosquitoes, are not coming from outside. I am breeding them inside myself.

And the solution is also home-grown, also internal. I understood more profoundly that no one is going to affirm me until I affirm myself. I learned years ago, in regard to others, that you can't love someone more than they love themselves. But I never applied this insight to myself.

Science evolves. Yesterday's certainties are today's doubts and tomorrow's falsehoods. Lamark's idea that one can acquire new genetic information during one's lifetime and pass that genetic information down to one's children was ridiculed for generations. However, recent research shows this idea to be true. (Can a Parent's Life Experience Change the Genes a Child Inherits? - The Atlantic)

Just how profoundly we can change our genes, and all the implications of that, is something our great-great-grandchildren will still be discovering. Meanwhile, whether it's genetically predisposed or not, I'll continue trying to change my personality. Wish me luck.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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