The Psychology of Interstellar (part 1): Concept of Hope & the Power of Relationships

interstellar
Image borrowed from Mashable.

Interstellar was a breath-taking, extremely thought-provoking and emotional heart-wrenching clencher. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I highly recommend it. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire 3 hours and it never dragged on or felt like it was too long. I was always wondering what was going to happen next and was filled with much wonder, awe and tears. The entire film opens up a world of uncertainty and unanswered questions, but the finale leaves behind a feeling of hope. I’m not sure if there is one main plot, theme or lesson to be taken from this film. One could probably spend an entire lifetime analyzing the direct and subtle themes the director, Christopher Nolan, has presented. He brings various existential questions to the surface on numerous levels, and though this is a film about outer space and time-travel, it is done in a beautiful way that brings it realistically back to our own personal humanity and the perceptual power of relationships.

A few major themes Nolan exposes is the state of our humanity on Earth in terms of climate change, dwindling food supply, what is happening in our educational system, and explores the concept of truth. There is a robot named Tars that has been programmed to exert certain percentages of “truth” and “discretion.” He has been programmed to speak 90% truth, because the belief is that sometimes the full truth is not what’s best. Based on events that take place, Tars later becomes re-programmed into speaking 95% truth.

This film also tackles love, gravitational pulls, black holes, isolation and the concept of salvation.  There are huge parallels among the fields of psychology, science, philosophy, religion and bare bones instinctual survival.  Dr. Mann, played by Matt Damon does a suburb job of portraying a single, successful astrophysicist who has been isolated on an ice-filled planet for several years (the concept of time is completely relative, so in essence, we don’t really know how long he was stranded for because our perception of time on Earth is different depending on where one is placed at in a space-time continuum).

Dr. Mann was part of a Lazarus mission that was sent out to find another planet for humanity to survive on. He ends up stranded, sends false messages back to Earth stating that he has found an answer, then puts himself in a hibernation chamber, in hopes that he will be rescued.  When the Endurance crew, made up of main characters Matthew McConaughey (Cooper) and Anne Hathaway (Brand) find and release him from hibernation, he is literally in awe and thankful that he has been “raised from the dead.”   This is an obvious parallel of the gospel of John in the New Testament, where Lazarus was a sick man who had fallen asleep and then was raised from the dead by Jesus.  If Jesus truly is flesh and bone, as well as the son of God sent to “save” humanity, then Anne Hathaway becomes an imaged reflection of God at the end of the film when she arrives on Edmund’s planet in hopes of re-colonizing this “new Earth” in order to restore and renew the human race.

Dr. Mann’s character, though short-lived, is extremely influential in that he brings to light the true spirit of our paradoxical human nature, of which we have an innate tendency for survival and to rely only on ourselves (whether as a personal “self” or self as humankind), yet at the same time have a deep desperate need for others (whether through relationships with our own kind or a deep longing to connect with a singular or plural entity beyond our imagined perceptions).  Even though Dr. Mann ends up reunited with his peers, his extended period of cold, desolate isolation has caused him to go mad and he continues on a solitary journey of only trying to save himself.  In a last ditch effort, he attempts to murder Cooper, rejects his human “saviors” and ends up killing himself.

The relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph is another compelling tale of fatherly love and gravitational pull.  The passion and hope kept alive by Brand who is in love with Dr. Edmunds, who may or may not be alive on the last planet they have been sent to explore, is another beautiful, yet idealistic notion.  She is literally soaring through the universe through endless space and time in a desire to be with her lover.  She cannot accept the fact that he is probably dead, but instead is kept fully alive by the uncertain possibility that he may not be so.  This is directly in relation to Murph’s lifelong search to reconnect with her father who she felt abandoned her, yet she still holds on to the promise that he will one day return.   At the same time Cooper is perilously trying to return home to his daughter and attempts to communicate with her through books and Morse-code signals on a wristwatch, while somehow existing in a tesseract which is almost like a warped infinite bridge or 4th dimension between the 3D world on Earth and the fifth (or assorted multitude of dimensions) subsisting in space.  What starts as a story of finding truth and survival through scientific data becomes an ultimate mission and desperate attempt to connect and be reconciled with love.
———
by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2014

I’ve just lightly touched on a few themes of “Interstellar” and will attempt to formulate my thoughts on space, time, multiple dimensionality and what it means for gravity to be a “problem” in my next article.  To be continued…

Knowledge is not power

treeofknowledge
Tree of Knowledge

Many have heard the saying, “knowledge is power.” Quotes like this get blasted frequently on social media, on motivational websites, billboards and signs. I’m not quite sure exactly who coined this phrase or where it originated from, however, I’m pretty sure this was an overall theme or slogan during the Age of Enlightenment which guided much of the Western world in the 1800’s.  There is always a leading cultural or thought movement that permeates society at a particular time.  It’s actually quite exciting.  What makes it exciting is that what we think we know now may be completely challenged and transformed over the next 100, 1000 or 10,000 years.  We are constantly revolutionizing or revisiting our thought patterns and ideas about humanity, nature, and the ways of the world.

As a college-educated female currently pursuing a Master’s degree, one may say that I already have some sort of “knowledge base.”  I was born in America of South Korean and German descent, and was raised by two immigrant parents (a South Korean mother and a Puerto Rican father who joined the U.S. military at age 18).  I moved around my entire childhood, have traveled to different countries and experienced an array of cultures.    My multicultural background places me in a particular position of “knowing” of certain customs.  My exploration, involvement and identification with a myriad of faith traditions (from various Eastern disciplines to “New Age” metaphysical studies to now a reformed Christian) once again places me in an interesting category of “knowing,” especially compared to the majority of peers at my current school who were mostly raised in traditional Christian church backgrounds.  However, one could argue that perhaps I truly don’t know myself or much at all, which is why I have searched high and low to feel like I belong or can fit in to a particular group’s worldview.  In essence I am still searching…

Several years ago I moved away from the Eastern Buddhist path.  The reason why is because once I reached a certain state of “enlightenment,” I was left feeling very empty.  Once I was emptied, I didn’t know where to go from there and was having a hard time acclimating back into the “real world.” It’s one thing to be in a silent retreat center in the woods with other meditators, but how does that translate to being in authentic relationship with people in everyday situations?  No matter how hard I tried to integrate my two worlds, I was left feeling like there was a divide.  I finally realized that I am not an enlightened mini-god in ultimate control of my life.  Mind or thought control is not the ultimate goal, and neither is trying to get to heaven.  There is a grander story happening beyond what we can even comprehend or imagine and it is actually happening presently here and now.

The more I dive into my current studies, I can’t help to wonder what really matters in the grand scheme.  Yes of course it’s important to honor where we came from, what we’ve been through and what experiences we bring to the table, but getting an educational degree just to obtain “knowledge” also feels empty and un-fulfilling.   Reading through endless books and writing a bunch of papers to prove to professors that I “know” something is not something I really care about.  If I “fail” for voicing my authentic thoughts, then so be it.

It is in most people’s nature to want to be in the “know.” Often times when one doesn’t know what to expect, there is anxiety and fear that gets built up.  We want to “know” how to support our family, pay our mortgage or rent.  We want to “know” that our friends and partners are going to be there for us in times of trouble.  We want to “know” answers to questions when they are presented.  However, if all one cares about is building up an encyclopedia of knowledge in one’s head, then what?  Of course it’s always fun to be around that person that can recite a ridiculous amount of character movie lines, can illustrate the hidden meaning of every influential song, can describe the history of revolutionized nations and explain the cuisine of every country in the world.   Sure these scholars are smart and ones to be admired.  These “sources of knowledge” can be called upon as a resource, for guidance and consultation.  However, these same people can also be off-putting or deemed arrogant depending on the way they present their expertise.   One may say that knowledge equates to power.  However, I feel that true power is being able to walk into the unknown..  to be able to walk into uncertainty with certainty.

To not know the answer is okay.  To not know the end result or how the story is going to manifest is perfectly fine.  Everyone hates a spoiler.  Though we yearn for answers, we also loathe it.  Once one knows exactly how something is going be, it can often ruin the mystery of the moment, the improvisation of life.  Life is nothing but improvisation.  I have my list of to-do’s every day and am thankful if I make it to at least one of them.  Yet beyond the list, what is happening between the lines and spaces?  Are you available to live outside of your index?  Are you available to let go of your knowledge and your desire for knowledge?  What happens when things don’t go according to plan?

It is kind of ridiculous to think that we actually “know it all.”  Columbus thought the world was flat.  Cigarettes were never thought to be harmful to one’s health.  We know a lot less than we think.  I’m not advocating that one should stop learning and striving for knowledge.  It is imperative to continue to evolve, learn every day, be disciplined and dedicate our lives to a particular passion or cause (or maybe a few).  It’s vital to do things that bring us joy, whether that’s music, travel, cooking or spending time with family and friends.  I also think it is crucial to dive into things that make you feel uncomfortable.  If all you’re after is a sedentary, comfortable life while watching others pass by, then what are you ultimately living for?

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.  It’s not what you know, but how you engage and participate. We must also be constantly reminded that what it is we think we know may not actually be so. What’s more important are the questions.  Are you asking any?   If so, are you open enough to receive varying viewpoints that may conflict with your existing foundational knowledge base?  Surrounding yourself primarily with others that agree and have the same view is only okay to a certain extent.  It is very important to step out of this box.  To step out into the unknown, dream, desire and imagine is essential for our continued growth and evolution.  The day you lock away your curiosity, stop asking questions and cease to wonder becomes a day of death for your soul.


by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2014

Portobello Mushroom & Heirloom Tomato Lettuce Wrap

Gluten & Dairy Free

This week I went on a sporadic portobello mushroom kick. What a fantastic fungus.. so meaty and full of texture. Mushrooms are known for their cooling nature, reduces heat toxins and helps to bolster immunity. To celebrate the end of summer, I also wanted to get the most I could out of heirloom tomatoes, which are my favorite tomato. Heirlooms not only come in beautiful colors, shapes and sizes, they are packed with bursting juiciness. Tomatoes are also very cooling and helps to relieve dryness and thirst.

Here’s a really simple mid-day snack, side dish or light lunch for when you need to cool off on a hot late summer day.  I opted out on using a bunch of different seasonings because I wanted to let the pure flavor of the mushrooms and tomatoes shine through.

lettucewrap

Ingredients
portobello mushrooms
heirloom cherry tomatoes
white onion
romaine lettuce hearts
olive oil
salt & pepper
optional topping:  shredded goat cheese or aioli

Directions
Heat olive oil in pan.
Saute chopped white onions and chopped portobello mushrooms for approximately 5 minutes, tossing frequently.
Place mushroom, onions and olive oil on romaine lettuce hearts.
Top with chopped heirloom cherry tomatoes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Dig in for a cool, refreshing bite!  :)

Once an Addict Always an Addict?

A revised version of this article has been published on Psych Central.

sunset
The Sun Always Sets

Once an addict, always an addict?  This is a saying I’ve always grappled with.  One part of me is against any type of labeling, let alone a heavy label to be carried for the rest of your life. We are all so interchangeably dynamic, that to categorize someone into a box forever doesn’t sit well.  It’s like trying to describe a piece of music: sometimes it doesn’t fit into a particular genre and maybe what’s more important is the expression of how it sounds in a particular moment.

Another part of me completely agrees with this statement and perceives it to be utterly valid.  Instead of denying who you are, true acceptance perhaps is the only way to not only recover, but to continue to maintain your recovery.  However much I am against “branding” someone for life, it is human nature to create categorizes in order to piece things together and make sense of circumstances.

Three recent events have inspired me to write this article.

  • Robin Williams’ recent suicide after battling addiction for over 30 years.
  • Coming home to find that my father had picked up smoking cigarettes again after “quitting” for 15 years.
  • Witnessing a co-worker undergo major drug withdrawals during a shift at work.

As a “former” addict, I’ve had to come to terms with my own fate. At age 14, I started smoking marijuana, age 15, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, age 17, I started attending raves and got introduced to an entire world of hard drugs, namely ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, magic mushrooms, and pharmaceutical drugs (adderall, ritalin, morphine, methadone and oxycontin).  Am I proud to of all this? No.  Am I ashamed? Kind of.  Am I okay with where I’m at now? Yes.

Although I’ve been “off” hard drugs and cigarettes since 2008, my addiction appears in other aspects of my life. I still drink alcohol in moderation and battle with how I feel about marijuana, especially now that it’s legal in my state and is “all natural” (this is a whole separate article).  I have no future plans to smoke weed again, unless I maybe end up in the forest somewhere with the right people.

After coming clean from drugs, I turned into a health nut and avid spiritual seeker.  My addiction transferred into the realm of health and I became addicted to being overly fit, doing yoga, running, going on juice fasts, and I became very particular of what foods I put into my body.  This is all good to a certain degree, but was taken a bit over-the-top (a typical pattern of an addict).  I also became obsessed with new age studies, “positive thinking,” and meditation.  I dabbled in Buddhism and attended epic retreats.  I joined a Hindu group for 8 months.  I studied Taoist philosophies, was enraptured by the concept of “zen,” and was fascinated with various forms of mysticism and becoming “one” with the trees and Universe.  I also became an acupuncture junkie and workaholic.

Fast forward to 2013.. I somehow became a Christian.  I’m hoping to not be a Jesus freak now, since this seems to be the new “high” that I’m on.  Maybe this time, it’s real.  However, why do I still feel confused?  Now that I’ve been “saved,” shouldn’t I feel “complete?”  My church friends would say I’m not praying enough.  However, in a recent sermon I heard, I was pretty much appalled at what was coming out of the pastor’s mouth.  He presented a whole plethora of statistics between Christians and non-Christians.  I just can’t come to terms with a narrow “us” versus “them” mentality.  I think Jesus, or God, or whoever, crosses way bigger boundaries beyond what we can even comprehend.  There are no boundaries, yet in relationships there has to be.  Hence, the constant devil versus angel act.  Will life always be a teeter-totter? You’re either in or out?  Making a good or bad choice?  Falling into temptation or overcoming?  An addict or not an addict?  To say you’re never going to drink, smoke, or make a not-so-good decision ever again is a lot of pressure to carry and can create a path towards relapse.

In many situations, I appreciate the Eastern philosophies of balance and the “middle way,” but for some addicts, this is completely impossible.  I think it is vital for addicts to surround ourselves with people that are supportive of our recovery and ongoing maintenance.  If you don’t change your car’s oil and give it a tune-up on a regular basis, it will break down.  The same is true for recovery.. it’s a lifelong process.  It is also wise to not place ourselves in situations where an opportunity to use is freely presented.  Does that mean we have to lock ourselves away forever?  No.  But maybe instead of meeting friends at a bar, a tea shop would be more appropriate.  When I finally decided to change my life, I deleted all the phone numbers of people I knew could give me access to drugs.  I also recently decided that I don’t want to go into a bar alone anymore.  Do I want to be that lone girl sitting on a bar stool? Sounds like a great song lyric, but it’s not the woman I aspire to be.

All I know is that I wake up every morning thankful to be alive. I have no idea what lies ahead, but have faith that I’ll be able to endure whatever is thrown my way.  Making decisions, even small daily ones, can be stressful.  I’ve realized that it’s not up to me and there is a way bigger thing happening beyond my control that can’t be fathomed.  Even if the “right” thing is staring at me in the face, and I do the “wrong” thing, make poor choices, and end up repeating bad habits or patterns, I trust that I’ll be able to get out of it because I’ve accepted my fate.  I’ll always be an addict, I will never live up to any standards, I’ll continue to make mistakes and will never be perfect.  Once this weight is lifted, it becomes a lot easier to keep walking everyday.

——
by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2014

Combating Stress and an Army of Ants

cinnamonants
Cinnamon Ants

For some reason every time I’m at a peak point of feeling somewhat stressed, I always seem to encounter an army of ants or insects.  This morning, I woke up and wanted banana pancakes and coffee for breakfast. When I went to the kitchen, I was greeted by an army of ants trying to take over.  Apparently the ant traps tucked away in private corners of my house aren’t quite working.  I thus removed everything from the counters and engaged in a vinegar spray battle trying to kill as many as I could see on site.  I placed a little container of sugar and cinnamon in a corner, as well as sprinkled a line of cinnamon on their trail.  The trail was clearly visible and I could see exactly where they came from (a tiny hole in the wall of my dining room).

A few things from this scenario stuck out at me.  First of all, when I woke up this morning, I was already stressed out.  Why? The realization hit that I will be starting graduate school in exactly one month.  Am I ready for this?  Is this the right decision?  How am I going to afford it?  A million questions were racing in my mind.  Second of all, I was out of coffee (probably something I shouldn’t be drinking everyday anyway, nonetheless when anxious).  Third of all, there is an entire army of ants invading my space when all I wanted was a nice, clean area to make a few fluffy pancakes.

After I calmed down, stole some coffee from my roommate and addressed the ant invasion scenario, I finally had space to do what I originally wanted (make pancakes).  What’s significant about all this is not that I finally got what I wanted in the end, but why did I let myself get so upset in the first place? Often times, situations happen in our lives that we have no control over.  We thus have to problem solve and address what is being presented to us.  Also, waking up with anxiety about what is going or not going to happen a month from now is kind of ridiculous.  I should have woken up over-joyed to be alive and that a sunshine-filled day awaits.  However, the reality is you can’t always feel sunny and sometimes it’s hard to be thankful for the present moment, when a self-created “to-do” list has piled up in your head.  Everything happens in due time and is something I have to constantly remind myself of.

Yesterday, I went kayaking.  It was so much fun and something I hadn’t done in a while.  The sun was blazing, the water was glistening and I was in good company.  As we were out there in the water, we had to decide where to go, when to paddle and when to coast.  The simplicity of spending a nice summer day in the water is actually synonymous to everyday decisions (aka what should I have for breakfast?), as well as bigger life choices (should I spend thousands of dollars of money I don’t have and plunge myself into debt in order to go back to school hoping I’ll be further skilled to serve and that there will be an investment at the end?)  When do you paddle as hard as you can in order to avoid a big ship coming your way and when do you chill out and wade in the water?  In church, we learn that everything has already been taken care of in the name of Jesus, and all we have to do is relax into His arms, into His grace.  That sounds all gravy.. but is that really real life?  Jesus may have opened some doors for me, but I still need to decide whether to walk through them.  Should I be praying for $50,000 of tuition money to magically land in my lap?  Isn’t that selfish?  I have a roof over my head, food on the table, a loving family, friends and a job.  Do I really need more?  No.  Do I want more?  Yes.  And is wanting more okay?  I think so.

Instead of twirling in my head about whether I’m “prepared” to take a plunge, whether I have the practical means to turn ideas into reality, and being a slave to my own self-imposed worries, maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, sprinkle some cinnamon on my troubles, and just wade in the water…

——–
by Kristin Bach
Copyright 2014

How to make Cucumber Kimchi

Gluten & Dairy Free

Kimchi was a staple in my household growing up and though there are a bunch of different kinds, cucumber kimchi is one of my top favorites. Here’s a simple recipe… perfect and refreshing for a hot summer day!

cucumberkimchi

Ingredients:
english cucumber or small pickling cucumbers
green onion (chopped)
gochugaru (Korean red pepper)
minced garlic
rice vinegar
white sugar
sea salt

Directions

  • Cut off the ends of the cucumber, slice lengthwise into two halves, and cut into wedges (or moon-shapes).
  • Place in bowl and sprinkle approximately 2 tablespoons of sea salt.  Toss together.
  • Let sit overnight or for at least 4 hours.  This causes water to be drawn out of the cucumbers.
  • Add minced garlic, chopped green onions, and approximately 2 tablespoons of gochugaru (can add less or more depending on how spicy you want it).
  • Add approximately 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar and a sprinkle of white sugar.  Toss together with gloved hands. Can add more salt, sugar or gochugaru to taste.
  • Let cool in refrigerator for a few hours.
  • Serve cold with steamed rice and kim (roasted seaweed) or as banchan (Korean side dish) with your main entree.  Very crisp and refreshing on a hot summer day!