Part 8 – Hollow Shells

“I get it, Norton, I get it!” he yelled as he jumped up from his chair. “I do understand the principle! But you need to give me some time for my body and mind to connect! I cannot work that fast! Just leave me for now, will you, please!”

“Oh, but Burke, why are you so agitated? You cannot let this overcome you! Pain is just a concept we create in our minds. Pain is just part of our memory! Forget! Forget, dear friend, just forget! Focus on what comes after! Did you not enjoy the state of relaxation? Did you not feel galvanized, powerful, in control? Is that not a state you would like to find yourself in again? Is that not something to look forward to?”

The young man looked at him, breathing heavily. His trousers were torn where the doctor had repeatedly beaten him. “It is, Norton. But unfortunately I happen to be a person of exceptionally good memory. I need some time to forget.”

“Our lives are short, Burke. We do not have the time to wait to forget. The world is moving fast. Bang, your mother just died. Bang, you burned your fingers while making coffee. Bang, you lost your job. Bang, you were hit by a car. Bang, your girlfriend left you. Do you want to be defeated every time? Wouldn’t you rather turn these things into something good? Wouldn’t you prefer they caused you joy rather than suffering?”

“But doesn’t the complete absence of pain make us incautious? Would we not take risks upon us we – under normal circumstances – wouldn’t? Would that not be contrary to our strive for survival?”

“If nothing can hurt you, can there be risks?”

“Of course, something could kill me.”

“Would that be such a loss?”

“I would say it is in our human nature to fight for survival.”

“That is just what our animalistic instincts tell us.”

“Then what is it our human instincts tell us to fight for?”

“We are human. We are deprived of instincts. We have ratio instead, a much more powerful weapon.”

“Then what is it that ratio tells us to strive for?”

“Isn’t that clear by now, Burke?”

“I am not sure if it is to me.”

“Do you personally think a human life is worth protecting at any cost?”

“Yes, of course it is.”

“But what is human life? Is it breathing? Is it a heartbeat? Is it functioning organs? Because this is what animal life looks like as well. So it cannot possibly be the physical body that is worth protecting.”

“So what you are saying is it is only our mind we should protect?”

“Exactly.”

“So all that we as humans should be striving for is…happiness?”

“Basically, yes – if you want to call it that. I personally despise the phrase pursuit of happiness. It sounds tacky to me. Call it pleasure. Call it peacefulness. Call it joy. Call it whatever you want. But yes, Burke, in the end this is all it is. It is my profession, after all, to cure people’s minds of pain caused by infectious thoughts and memories. But before we can control abstract pain, we have to be able to control the concrete forms of pain. And this is where you and I are at this very moment.” He took a swing and struck his guest across the face. The young man tumbled and collapsed onto the floor. Blood ran from his nose and his lower lip, and the iron had left a deep scratch on his cheek.

“You are insane, Norton,” he coughed.

“Am I? Because I would say I am the sanest person on this planet, the only one person in complete control of his senses!” He beat him again.

“You are insane! But brilliant, I must admit that. But let me ask you one more thing, and I would kindly ask you to refrain from beating me for the moment for the mere purpose of giving me the chance to focus on your answer in order to clarify a few things before we continue.”

“Of course, Burke, that is what I am here for. Ask me, question me, but allow me to convince you.”

“From your previous arguments I understand you claim that our physical body is of no value, no purpose to a true human life. But as you are a man of science, and not a man of spirituality, I assume that you do not believe in the separation of our spirit – our soul – from our body.” He wiped the blood off his lips and licked it from the back of his hand. “How can you claim our body is of no value, is not worth protecting, when our mind – the most valuable part of us, the most human part of us – cannot exist without a physical body? I feel, my friend, you are contradicting yourself here.“

“Ha, Burke, you are brilliant!  I am delighted to see that in spite of your current state your mind is still sharp and wide awake. It seems like you really are in the best condition to reach a higher level.”

“My mind never sleeps, Norton. It’s a blessed cursed and a cursed blessing.”

“But to get back to your question: Yes, you are absolutely right. We do need our physical body in order to sustain our mind. The physical body as such, however, is overrated. I guess my scientific approach does in fact share the same ideas as those of spirituality or religion. Our physical body is weak and very vulnerable. It decays, it is exposed to exploitation, and more often than not does it things we don’t want it to do, it looks a way we don’t approve and its functions are out of our control. Our physical body reaches its limits very quickly. Our mind, on the other hand, has no limits. So why should we focus on something that puts a fence around our possibilities? Unlike the belief shared by religions, however, I do not believe in an afterlife. I am quite convinced we only have one life, and that is the one we are living right now. So that as well limits our possibilities immensely. I therefore think that in order to reach our utmost we have to prioritize. The physical body should serve us, but we should not be serving it. Our body is functional, but it is only a shell. If you found yourself in the Arctic, you would call yourself very lucky to have a warm and functional jacket that protects you from the merciless wind and snow. It helps you to survive. You would hardly care about the colour, the shape or even the smell of the jacket. The same goes for our bodies. It is inevitable that a jacket you wear every day gets dirty at some point, just as it is inevitable that your body aches, falls ill, or even at times fails you. Just imagine you are imprisoned in a dark cell, and you are doomed to remain in that cell for the rest of your life. If there was a way to learn to walk through walls, would you not try everything in your power to learn it?”

“Of course I would, who would not? But if it is really that easy, Norton, than why is it that most people happily accept their imprisonment? If it really is that easy to learn to overcome sorrow, then why is everyone still suffering? Why can people not easily train themselves to forget and therefore cease pain?”

“For several reasons, really. Intentional forgetting seems to be the hardest task we, as humans, face in our lifetime. Firstly, most people value the past more than the future. They hold on to memories, because the images from the past are familiar. People are afraid of change, they are afraid of the unknown. The past is something they have already seen, something they are familiar with, so they feel quite comfortable moving about bygone times. Also, it cannot actively hurt them anymore. They can watch it from a safe distance without unexpectedly being affected by it. The past cannot reach out and grab you – at least not physically. Of course we all know that on a psychological level that is a very different story, but again, generally people are not the most abstract thinkers. So they dwell on long gone days because it prevents them from having to step out of their comfort zone.  Secondly, people feel the past gives them a sense of identity. How do we know who we are? What do you think is essential for a person? What makes you you?”

“Well, I guess yes, my past is –  to a certain extend – what makes me me: what I have seen, done, whom I met, the relationships I had, what I studied, what I achieved, the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned from it.”

“And if you look at your past now, does it entirely reflect how you see yourself and where you want to go?”

The young man remained silent for a while, carefully touching the scratch on his face and examining the blood this left on the tips of his fingers. “I see your point.”

“I argue that the past says less about a person than the future. The past is gone and over, it is out of our control. The future, on the other hand, can still be shaped. The past victimizes us, the future empowers us. People are such victims, it’s enraging. As a therapist I can confirm that someone’s future aspirations say more about his character than his past.  It has, in fact, always surprised me how everyone walks forwards while looking backwards.”

“I’d say many people walk in circles and do not even realize.”

“How true, Burke, how very true,” he nodded. “Another reason for people not being able to break out of this circle and for being so hung up on the past is that forgetfulness as such is perceived as an indication of bad manner. Memory, a good memory, is always seen as a virtue. It reflects intelligence and manifests in reliability. It is very difficult to unlearn something that is so deeply rooted in our education. We are taught to remember from an early age on – forgetting something is nothing anyone has ever trained us to do. Instead we are being told every day, and tell ourselves every day, to ‘remember this’ and ‘remember that’ in order to manage our days effectively. And of course, remembering is something in which we can actively train ourselves. Forgetting, on the other hand, is something that seems to be out of our hands. We cannot remind ourselves to forget something; it is a paradox difficult to break – not impossible, but difficult. And this leads me to my last point: mental capacity. I do, unfortunately, believe that most people lack the capacity to grasp the idea, and to mould their minds in a way that allows them to use their mental strength towards something that seems physically impossible.”

“Are you saying that only intelligent, educated people will ever reach that higher state of mind you are speaking of?”

“Education and intelligence is not the same thing, dear Burke. More often than not they have nothing in common. But I think we can both agree that a certain mindset is required in order to fully understand the idea behind it. We have to understand it intellectually, but also emotionally. Conviction never only results from intellectual conclusion, but always also from an indistinct feeling in our guts, or our heart if you will. Do you follow me?”

“I do, Norton, I do. And I believe that so far you were able to convince me intellectually, but emotionally I am not certain whether I agree that forgetting is always good, which is probably why I still feel my face and my leg hurt immensely. Do you not agree that if we were to forget our past, our mistakes, our sorrows, we would turn into shallow automatons? Into boring creatures without sympathy? Into dangerous Ubermenschen?”

“Oh but no, Burke, not at all, on the contrary! Look at me: I am freed from pain, I am the full master of my feelings and my mind, and yet I feel sympathy enough to want to help people! The fact I seemed to have failed to help so many of my patients made me develop this new method, and I am convinced that once I am able to work out a constant procedure – with your help I hope – I will be able to help many more people. But in order to be truly altruistic I have to wholly internalize the theory and put it into practice. As for being boring – well, I’d rather think of myself as quite a unique specimen, wouldn’t you agree?” he chuckled, put down the rod and took a large gulp from his drink.

The young man spit out a bit of blood as he laughed. He picked up his glass and went over to the bar where he served himself another drink, no ice. He quickly grabbed for the iron and smacked the doctor across the back, who went down on his knees, gasping for air.

 

 

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