Aphorisms and Chance

When I run I often compose posts like this in my head. This morning, when I went for a run, I was thinking about some of the hidden ways in which a myriad of systems and connections shape our social sphere and further; how my own decisions, regarding how I choose to interact with these systems, affect my life. I have made both conscious and unconscious decisions to make work without the support of, or fully interact or engage with, systems like higher education, the art/gallery world, and the commercial world.

In any case I was thinking about these systems while running, and about 3/4 of the way through my run I passed an older couple who were looking at a piece of paper hanging from a tree. Someone, I’m not sure who, wrote out a series of aphorisms written out in calligraphy, and hung them from trees along a trail outside my neighborhood. This is the kind of project I love- a creative project designed to inspire thought. The couple had a dog and I paused to pet it. They asked me what was up with the thoughts hanging from the tree. I told them, “I think it’s just something someone put up to make people think.” The older man joked somewhat heavily, “I’ve got plenty to think about.” I laughed and jogged on.

As I got to the turnaround about 300 yards away I couldn’t stop thinking about what that guy had said, so when I headed back I paused and gave them another aphorism, “I was thinking about what you said back there and wanted to share this with you. If you don’t have 20 minutes a day to meditate then you need to be meditating for an hour a day.” He assured me that he had only been joking earlier. I’m not sure how the conversation got there but I think he said something along the lines of, “I wish I could still run.”

I told him that I thought he could run. “Yeah, but I have a herniated disc.” I asked him if he’d heard of “The Lancet”, the British medical journal. By the way that he responded in the affirmative I knew he was a doctor. It was simply, “Yes, (pause) I know of the Lancet,” but it signaled a shift in the conversation. I explained that the Lancet just released a report which suggested that in general people should avoid MRI’s, steroid shots, and most surgeries for back pain. He pushed back on this idea pretty heavily. I explained to them that I pay attention to these issues I made a documentary about Dr Sarno. His wife exclaimed, “I know of Dr Sarno. I read his book 30 years ago and it cured my back pain. Now if it comes back I just work through it and it goes away. Did you know he recently died?”

“Yes,” I responded, “He passed away the day after our film opened in NY. Why didn’t you tell your husband about Dr Sarno?” She laughed a little and mumbled.

He explained that he had been a physician and treated a lot of patients with back pain. He was getting more frustrated. We talked a little bit about correlation between herniated discs and pain and his wife then pointed out that her career had been in statistical research and she that she had been involved with a study from the University of Washington where the spine surgeons didn’t like the results so they’d pulled their funding from it. He was getting more agitated and after I brought up another local doctor who writes about pain he insisted on going.

I smiled, bowed, and jogged on. My thoughts wandered back to how systems offer a lot of support when one is in them, but that when one retires, the loss of that support, and the power that comes with it, can be devastating. It was for my father. He had been the head of his department at the University for many years. I know that he got a lot out of the relative power that he had. I believe that the way in which I discussed ideas related to medicine with the former physician was very challenging for him. That wasn’t my intent, but I can understand why it could be hard. It also sounded like his back pain came on a few years earlier which was when he likely retired. It can be somewhat frustrating to not have the relative support of a system, but it also frees us from having to deal with the kinds of conflicts and demands for repression that they require.

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