Anesthetic Ecology 101

"Honey, doesn't watching TV just make you feel so alive?" "Yes!" Image via

When I got home last night, I split an acorn squash in half and pealed a head of garlic that I put it into a crock filled with olive oil.  I put both the squash and garlic in the oven.  I made some honey-mustard dipping sauce with mayonnaise, maple syrup (didn’t have honey) and mustard.  I turned on “The Godfather,” which I started watching the night before.  I watched the movie while I ate raw broccoli dipped in syrup-mustard sauce waiting for the squash and garlic to cook.

When the squash and garlic were done, I put them on a plate and smashed the garlic, olive oil and a heap of salt into the squash’s flesh.  I also put some Trader Joe’s tater-tots into the oven so I could continue eating after the squash.  By the time the tater-tots were cooked, I ate most of the squash and was uncomfortably bloated.  I ate the tater-tots anyway.  The glut of food directed all of my body’s energy toward my digestive tract, making my theretofore racing mind docile.

I watched the end of “The Godfather” (which I’ve seen at least a dozen times before), and because it was early and I’d watched all of my Netflix DVD’s and I had no internet signal and didn’t want to read, I put in “The Godfather II.”  I watched that for less than a half-hour before my food coma fully took hold.  I managed to meditate for 15 minutes, my posture kept upright by an overstuffed intestine.  I read a few pages of the book “Ishmael” and went to sleep around 11:00.

This is a rare glimpse into what I call my “anesthetic ecosystem.”  It’s a solitary world that flourishes on weekday nights when I have no plans.  It’s where I go when I don’t want to deal with shit.  When I don’t want to maintain relationships.  When I don’t want to overcome fear.  When I don’t want to clean messes.  When I don’t want to help anyone but myself.

The anesthetic ecosystem depends on a delicate balance of passivity and stimulation.  The ecological drivers must dull my senses and distract my mind without requiring effort to do so.  Movement, confrontation, fear and other effort-based activities must be avoided to maintain balance. Here are some common anesthetic ecological drivers:

  1. Eating. Particularly things that come in plastic bags and tubs.
  2. Mindless sex/masturbation/pornography.  The world’s oldest anesthetic.
  3. Mindless reading.  Kicking anesthesia old school.
  4. TV.  Still dulling our mental swords after so many years.
  5. Internet.  TV without the stigma.
  6. Video games.  Sharpening motor skills and dulling minds.
  7. Gossip or idle chatter.  Why anesthetize alone?
  8. Drugs and/or alcohol.  Nothing anesthetizes like anesthetics.
  9. Compulsive work.  Anesthetization doesn’t mean you can’t get stuff done.

However we maintain this anesthetic ecological balance, there is a belief that nourishes all these actions like the sun nourishes the earth’s plants.  The belief is that if we just distract ourselves long enough, hard enough, if we just dull our senses thoroughly enough, our problems will disappear.

Instead of making them disappear, our tending of the anesthetic ecosystem makes problems larger.  Dust collects.  Relationships flounder.  Fears fester.  Stomachs grow.  Livers distend.  And then we find ourselves with more things we need to distract ourselves from. We crave better anesthetics and distractions—bigger bags of chips, more TV channels, faster wifi, more sex, stronger drugs, etc.

If you want to migrate out of your anesthetic ecosystem, you might be thinking, what do I do?  Here are my suggestions:

  1. Don’t idealize anesthetics and distractions. Perhaps we feel like we are dealing with problems all day.  We set up our nighttime anesthesia as a our reward for our fortitude.  We think to ourselves, “I can hold out and deal with this shitty situation because I know I will ____ (drink, eat, watch a movie, etc.) later.”  What actually happens is the daytime problems don’t get addressed because we think we can somehow sidestep them.
  2. Plan something.  Take a class, schedule time to spend with friends, go someplace by yourself if need be.  Avoid situations where it’s easy to check out.
  3. Don’t stack anesthetics. Things like watching TV and eating are like distraction speedballs.  Try consuming one distraction at a time.  If you eat, just eat.  If you watch a movie, just watch a movie.  If you look at internet porn, keep only one window open.  Doing this is like distraction methadone.
  4. Call someone.  Most of us do our best anesthetizing alone.  Reaching out to other humans often helps (because of their limited interactivity, texts and emails are worth 1/4 credit).  Hell, if you don’t have someone to call, call me (917 710 8388).  Seriously.
  5. Do nothing.  No eating, TV, movies, porn—nothing.  Try it for 5 minutes.  Don’t worry, no harm will come of it.
  6. Deal with problems.  Clean your house, pay bills, maintain relationships, work on something you’re avoiding.  Spend 15 minutes dealing with something you are trying to distract yourself from.  Things don’t get better.  Problems don’t solve themselves.  There is no place to hide from our lives, so quit trying.

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