Saturday, January 29, 2011

On Being Committed

Expulsion from the Garden
I’ve been thinking a lot about "being committed" recently.
Why is it that someone can be “committed” to a relationship or ideal, but also can be “committed” if he’s sent against his will to a mental institution or prison? What, if anything, do the two definitions of the word have in common?
The base word “commit” simply means “put together,” from the Latin compound word “committere” (“com” or “with,” plus “mittere” or “put”). So in a very simple sense, if one is in a “committed” relationship, he is “put together” with that other person. And I suppose that would also have to mean that if someone is committed to an institution, he is “put together” with other disturbed or distressed individuals.
But I can’t help thinking that there’s got to be a deeper significance to the word. And here’s what I’ve come up with.
When the word “commit” was first used in Old English, its connotation was that people or things were “put together for safety’s sake.” In this sense, someone is committed to an institution for their own—and society’s—safety. And, I suppose, that in the Middle Ages a woman was “committed” to a man for “safety’s” sake (the chivalrous idea of a man “taking care of” and “protecting” a woman.)
It seems to me, though, that to commit in terms of “put together for safety’s sake” can also have the connotation of something that we “entrust.” We commit something to memory which means entrusting its recall it to the memory functions of our brain. We can be committed to an institution, which means entrusting our health and well-being to that institution. We can be committed to another person, which also means we are entrusting the safety of, at least, a part of our well-being (or happiness, fulfillment, intimate secrets, etc.) to that other person. We can even be committed to an ideal or cause, which entrusts the good use of our time, efforts and perhaps even finances to that cause.
When I think of “commit” as “entrust,” then I get a sense that there’s a sacred aspect to “being committed.” As I get older and have more and more life experience to reflect upon, I see that commitment is really a black and white thing: one either is or isn’t committed. If I can easily break a commitment, then how committed was I in the first place?
So now that I’m clearer about what it means to be committed, I can spend time reviewing how good or poor I’ve I been at it up to this point in my life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Seances, Channeling & the Media

I just started teaching a course this quarter called “Principles of Interactive Media.” It’s the third or fourth time I’ve taught it over the past three years. It’s a canned course that was created by someone else and handed to me, the instructor, to teach “as is.” And every other instructor at the university who teaches it for other sections uses the exact same material and course shell. I suppose when an institution offers multiple sections of a course year after year, a canned course is one way to insure that every student who takes it receives the same basic information. It also, though, tends to squelch any creativity or initiative on the part of the instructor.  
Since the material was already proscribed, I never took the trouble to actually investigate the word “media.” Until today.
I mean, why should I have questioned it? We all know what “media” means, right?
Not so much, as I just learned.
We think of “media” as content outlets like television, radio, print and the Internet. But the word “media” is the plural of the word “medium.” And “medium” basically means “middle” as in sizes (small, medium and large) or doneness (rare, medium, or well-done).
Edgar Allen Poe at a seance.
Of course, a “medium” is also a type of psychic who channels messages from spirits in the ethereal world to flesh-and-blood people in the material world.
So how, then, do TV, radio, print and the Internet (all those things we commonly refer to as “the media”) relate to the word “medium”? In two ways, actually. First, as “in the middle.” TV and radio stations, print companies and Internet web sites are glorified “middle-men.” They take information (text, images, video, etc) from authors and content producers and package the content into a form (or technology) that they can then disseminate to their customers (readers, viewers, surfers, etc.) They are, in all practical terms, in the “middle” of the chain from content creation to end-use. The media, therefore, are actually content mediators (yes, it’s the same word root; a mediator is a middle-man between two parties.)
It’s interesting, especially in the case of TV, radio and Internet that we think of these media outlets as offering multiple “channels,” or avenues to present the content to the end-user. The word “channel” takes us to the second way we can think about “media.” Psychically. Media outlets are channels, not so very distant from occult psychics. Although the content producers are real entities in the material world, the media basically listens to their voices, and then channels their messages to an audience… not a heck of a lot differently from a typical séance, although the technology used is much more tangible and explainable.
And in the Internet world of cyberspace, information is now a lot more ethereal than it used to be. The information we want is “out there” to be had, if we can only find the right “channel” to bring it to us. “The right channel to bring it to us?” It sounds like we might be looking for modern day “mediums” who can “tune in” to the particular content we want.
It’s something to think about.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Boy, did I ever take breathing for granted.
Yes, I knew that we have to breathe in order to live. Yes, I knew in general terms that good breathing is essential to good health. But man-o-man, through my recent bout of pneumonia, I learned a hard lesson about what starts to go wrong when you don’t breathe right.
Apparently, normal oxygen levels in your blood range from 95% to 100%. At these levels, everything is hunky-dory.
But when it slips down to the 94% and below range, bizarre things start to happen since your red blood cells can’t get any oxygen anymore. Mine went down to 93%. So what happened to me?
Lungs with Pneumonia
Well, I had the typical symptoms of shortness of breath, chronic coughing and fatigue… but I’ve felt these things before from simple flu viruses.  The two main (and scariest) things this time (that I had never experienced before) were disorientation and panic.  
I was powerless. All I could do was sit upright on the edge of the bed, leaning forward slightly. I stared at nothing in particular, and found that real time for me (what the philosophers refer to as “ontological time”) became suspended. I was living from moment-to-moment, not in the sense of nirvana, where you’re “at one with the universe,” but moment-to-moment as in living from paycheck to paycheck: no security and lots of fear because you’re pretty much at the end of your rope and you wonder whether or not you will survive.
I had little sense of my surroundings or of others around me. If you had asked me what I needed, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, other than I needed to BREATHE.
It was downright scary.
Now that the pneumonia has released its tight grip on me, my oxygen levels are back up to a normal range. I’m still tired and cough a bit, but at least I’m not surviving on short breaths any more. Most importantly, though, the disorientation and panic have retreated.
But my recent experience has made me hypersensitive to miniscule fluctuations in my breathing. I find myself constantly monitoring my “ins” and “outs.” I wonder how long this heightened awareness will last.