Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do Nothing

Eager to go to bed after a very full day of activity, I pick up my cellphone and select from the menu, "Clock Options." I scroll down to an item, which reads, "When Charging:" I move the trackball to select one of three options from a sub-menu. I see the words, "Do Nothing." Amazed, I wonder, "how does it know?"

A week earlier, I am visiting with a friend who lives in Hyannis, MA. We go to the beach at high tide. Cold as it is, bright sunshine enlivens my whole body. Instinctively, I step up onto a rock, which is situated where low waves of water splash to meet the tiny sliver of exposed shoreline.

Smiling in shared delight, he joins me. Water splashes over my ankle-high hiking boots. The water seeps in. I say, "they're leaking. I haven't sealed them yet for winter." He asks, "do you have the stuff?" I nod my head, grinning, "yes." We keep walking.

A few days later, I'm strolling with my sister at dusk through colorfully sparkling Fourth street in Berkeley, CA. We are strolling at a slow pace, taking in the beautiful scene. She begins to photograph using my phone. We laugh. We explore.

A week later, I get on the #186 bus at the GW Bridge terminal and head to Edgewood Cliffs for an appointment at the Brain Resource Center.

I'm participating in a study on clinical depression. They include me as a "healthy subject." Three weeks earlier, surfing Craigslist for various "odd jobs" to supplement my per-diem chaplain's income, I see a listing for the study. A month goes by and then a woman calls me, saying they're finishing up the study and looking for someone meeting criteria for a healthy subject.

Finding myself on the bus, now in New Jersey, I'm watchful for where to get off. The driver alerts me. Stepping out, the streets are empty of people. The bite of cold air sets me in motion. Looking for signs to locate the place, I turn around. A young woman asks me, "Are you looking for the Brain Resource Center?" Surprised, I reply, "yes I am!" Together, we make our way.

She tells me she's freezing and hadn't thought it would take so long to get here. I ask how long she's been travelling. She says, "An hour and a half. This is a long way from Brooklyn." She then begins to tell me of how days earlier, her cellphone is stolen by a few teenagers in her neighborhood. She says, "when I reported it, the police told me this is happens a lot in the neighborhood. Now I'm thinking of moving." I say, "where do you live?" She says, "Bed Sty."

Months earlier, at July's Potluck Tea Party, I meet a young man from her neighborhood, short for the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He tells me of how his grandfather, whom he refers to as, "my G" played a key role in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in this neighborhood. He tells me of many poor people still living in that area.

Back in Engelwood Cliffs, we are unsure what to do next. She suggests we call the Center. Naturally, my cellphone is the only choice. I enter the number and press the appropriate icon to place the call. A woman with an Eastern European accent answers. We explain our predicament. She says, "the entrance is around back." "Oh," I reply. The two of us standing there look at each other in amazement and then set out. We walk to the back entrance and enter.

When the study begins, I am asked to go to a computer, put on a headset and await instructions. Various tests commence, which involve hand/eye coordination, cognitive awareness, and responses to varying types of emotional stimuli. While stimulating, I am not particularly surprised.

Then, I am asked to enter another room. A research staff person tells me I'll be wearing a hat of sorts with all kind of wires interfused throughout the fabric. They will be studying my brain electronically. To do this, she says, "I'll need to put conductive gel on the ends of these and massage it into your head to make contact." I feel the cold touch of the gel. As she "massages," I feel pinching pain. I ask. She says, "It's normal." This process takes quite a while. Must be my head. She points to a video screen with a whole lot of yellow boxes. She says, "when these change color, we'll be able to begin." The process continues and I breathe into my lower belly, keeping my focus off obsession with pain.

I cannot do anything but sit there. Unless I decide to leave. Something in me says to remain, something here to explore, more compelling than a few dollars to pay bills. I'm intrigued. What's it like to do nothing like this?

Instructions are spoken to me over a headset. I am asked to view faces on the computer screen in front of me, each with one of four emotional expressions: angry, sad, neutral, or happy. For what seem like many minutes, I see one face after another, in what appears to be rapid succession. Then, just as I wonder how I'll be able to keep up given it bringing up emotional responses in me; the exercise stops. New instructions are spoken. I'm told I will be asked to identify which faces I have seen before.

As face after face appears, each with a markedly different expression, I stop focussing on these expressions or the emotional responses in me. Instead, I attune to the rhythm of them changing.

Face, face, face.

I hear myself thinking, "who is facing me?"

In that instant, my breath deepens and the room seems to enlarge. My body lightens. While aware of discomfort in my scalp, it too feels like a pulsing flow. There are no words for this.

When the images stop, words appear on the screen indicating the end of the exercise.

I feel a quiet sense of joy.

Then nothing.