Seeking, Polar Bear Style

On my typical morning, I read the newspaper (bless the poor local one, it doesn’t take very long), a couple of web-papers, and several blogs, just to see what might be out there. On Thursdays, I read Duff’s notes on the world, and when fate is with me, slacktivist posts on the same day.

Today is one of those fine days; much reading enjoyment. I’m also listening to People of the Book whilst driving between campuses, so just be aware that somehow this is all creating an odd confluence in my mind.

So…polar bears. Fred (slacktivist) remarks that

Grandin also discussed another case of compulsive animal behavior — a polar bear named Gus who had taken to pacing back and forth in his zoo habitat. Gus’ behavior, Grandin said, was motivated by “seeking.” Being both very intelligent and a predator, Gus was simply going out of his mind with boredom.

That term “seeking” was new to me in this context. Dr. Grandin explained that she was using the terminology of Panksepp’s core emotions — fear, rage, separation anxiety and seeking.

Read the article, it is worth the time; good thoughts on our “gerbil” habits, versus our “polar bear” ones. The seeking bear simply wanted stimulation of some sort, rather than a closed, predictable environment. Oh, how I do identify with that bear.

Duff wrote about mountain climbing today, and in the course of his notes, he remarked upon the obsessive habits of the alcoholic—something rather familiar hereabouts–and noted that he could feel the pull to the summit when he was a mere 300ft away, but had to turn back; he did listen to his climbing partner and descended safely, a remarkable change from the Duff of 15 years ago who not only would not have been climbing any icy mountain safely, but who almost certainly wouldn’t have put safety and wisdom over opportunity.

What Duff is describing, I think–and what I’ve written about as well–is a matter of seeking. Some alcoholics are motivated by fear, and many sober alcoholics are. I can’t tell you how many books I have come across that simply work to manipulate the fear instinct in alcoholics–fear the drink. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way…a bit of fear of what you were willing to do while drunk is a healthy thing indeed. Step 5 in AA–“Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” is precisely about this–reminding yourself (and at least one other person) what you did. What you were willing to do. Who you hurt.

But, for a certain set of us, the need to, as Duff remarks, “fill the void,” requires something other than just fear. We require activity–outlets for energy that had previously been spent consuming. The energy (which while an active drunk has many different expressions), doesn’t disappear. Either we begin the polar bear pace, which leads to boredom and, unfortunately also leads, too often, back to the bottle, or we fill that space–we seek. We seek physical stimulation (climbing mountains, running, etc.), and we seek, as is used in Fred’s article above, because we are curious. That curiosity was always resident, but alcohol may have masked it. Alcoholics often turn to the church, not just out of fear, but out of this desire to know, to understand. Others, like myself, turn to just wanting to know the answers–as the book I’m listening to puts it– “to move the ball forward, even a millimeter” in the scope of human knowledge.

Alcohol had the effect of creating the “safe space” of the artificial Arctic environment; drunk might look good, might even feel good for a time, but it is self-limiting and only falsely-safe. We begin to pace, which leads to drinking more until we hit a wall or otherwise arrest ourselves from the perpetual back-and-forth. Drunk and guilty. Drunk and sad. As I’ve said before, I often drank to just stop the thoughts for a little while. Get everything to slow down.

I don’t worry over that anymore; I let my thoughts race where they take me….sort of like in this post. My perusals into the relationship between, say, punk and Romanticism may not be life-changing, but they move the ball forward with each connection that becomes apparent. Staying sane appears to require embracing the seeker (DO NOT read any Harry Potter connotations here!) resident in me…and in most of us..I guess. Am I being overly optimistic about the human race again?

Sadly, much of this makes me think of Gravity’s Rainbow, a fact that is disturbing as hell. More on that later.

Off to ponder. And to avoid reading Pynchon.

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