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  1. Awakenings
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These were stories, as Dr.


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In the late s, however, neuroscience underwent a major shift. With the increasing recognition of neuroplasticity — the discovery that even the adult brain's physical structure is adaptable and can change in response to experience — Dr. To learn of these evolutions, he left his office and spent time with patients as they worked, travelled, and lived their lives. He explored savant-like skills in autistic people; how tumours or strokes might give rise to new ways of seeing the world.

No longer was Dr. Sacks seeing his suffering patients as either losing their identity, or preserving it; these were instead all stories of the metamorphosis of identity. Sacks used his understanding of plasticity not to try to cure, alter or improve the people he was writing about.

Anthropologist is the book where Dr. Sacks achieves staggering heights, and shows he has no peer. Sacks writing on a car roof. I met Oliver Dr. Zarela Martinez, a dynamic New York restaurateur, was the author of a book on the food and life of her native Oaxaca. Oliver had written Oaxaca Journal, his own exploration of southern Mexico, especially its ferns he was an amateur pteridologist , and when he learned of Zarela, he showed up at her restaurant one day, asking her to autograph his copy of her book.

Some time later Zarela contacted me: Coming across Dr. Upon learning that Oliver and I had never met, Zarela became excited "Another excuse for a party! Watson's wife, Liz. Sacks had been close with Dr. Crick, but neither of us had ever met Dr. Watson until that evening. This assortment of guests was typical of a Zarela get-together, and comfortable for Dr. She sat Oliver and me together. I wanted to thank him for what his writings meant to me, and for what he had done for me personally.

When the manuscript of my first book was complete, it was sent out to many people for comment. He was the only one to respond, remarkable in a man with so many demands on his time. I expressed my heartfelt gratitude; he was warm, but self-minimizing, in a British way. As we dug into the dinner, and discussed current projects, the naturalist emerged. He was, I had been told by a colleague who studied with him as a resident, painfully shy, and I remember, more than anything, the slowly unfolding pace of our conversation.

We settled into our orbit, found our range and roster of shared interests, and the conversation proceeded from a mutual interest in Russian literature he raised Oblomov, the lead character in Ivan Goncherov's novel, about a man who got nothing done , to Dr. Luria and mutual professional challenges, including keeping up with correspondence.

Sacks received thousands of letters. Toward the end of the evening, he told me, with some pride and tenderness, and in a nod to the fact that I was also a psychoanalyst, that he had to go, because he had an appointment with his own analyst in the morning. Lifting weights as a novice at the Maccabi club in London, O liver Sacks had a good start in life, born in London to a loving, Orthodox Jewish family, immediately followed by a very traumatic childhood, which he wrote about in a first memoir, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood The headmaster beat all the boys; he beat Oliver on his bottom till the cane broke, and sent Oliver's parents the bill for the cane.

The older boys soon beat the youngest among them. He was often hungry, and survived mostly on turnips and coarse beetroots for cattle, because the matron stole the food parcels his parents sent. His parents, both physicians, busy in London with war duties, could only rarely visit. In the four years he was a student at Braefield, he was allowed to visit home only once.

He felt abandoned, betrayed, desolate and hopeless. His belief in God was shaken. To survive Braefield, Oliver took refuge in numbers, thinking about them, manipulating them, exploring mathematical relationships. When the war ended, this evolved into an interest in chemistry. He also went from being a well-behaved child to acting out — he came home utterly changed.

When he wasn't replicating the major experiments of modern chemistry, he loved making explosions and noxious gases "bangs and stinks," as he called them. His teacher wrote in his school report, "Sacks will go far, if he doesn't go too far. The mild-mannered man I dined with wrote, "I cannot say nor would anyone who knows me say that I am a man of mild disposition.

Braefield was not the only agony from his youth. When he was 18, Oliver, questioned by his father, acknowledged that he had sexual feelings for boys. I wish you had never been born. He later wrote, "My mother, so open and supportive in most ways, was harsh and inflexible in this area. Ultimately, he was forgiving. Oliver Sacks with his new cc Norton motorbike in O liver became a combination of an intellectual and a renegade.

He studied medicine in Britain and then made his way to North America, crisscrossing the continent on a motorcycle, and getting into some dangerous accidents. He briefly spent some time hanging out with Hells Angels, biked across Canada, and tried to sign up as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. At the end of work on Friday, he'd exchange his white coat for leathers, and the "Wolf" his middle name would come out, wanting speed, adventure, risk and novelty, and he'd ride his motorcycle, sometimes all night, to the Grand Canyon, to catch the sunrise.

Arriving in the United States, in the s, his deep interest in both chemistry and the mind drew him to try many different kinds of mind-altering drugs. Many of his weightlifting friends used speed and he did, too. Driving his use was deep emotional distress: His drug use escalated after a soured love affair. By this point many of Dr. Sacks's friends had died on amphetamines. He was, often, "half-psychotic" and emaciated. Sacks started undergoing psychoanalysis in , "knowing I would not survive without help.


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Leonard Shengold, his analyst, could both pierce his defences, and "not be deflected by my glibness. Shengold got him off drugs, so the real analytic work could begin, and taught him "about paying attention, listening, to what lies beyond consciousness or words. Among his friends was poet Thom Gunn; they often exchanged manuscripts.

After praising a draft of Awakenings , Mr. Gunn felt he could now reveal his true feelings about Dr. Sacks's early diary writings, and wrote to him: "I found you so talented, but so deficient in one quality — just the most important quality — call it humanity, or sympathy, or something like that.

And, frankly, I despaired of your ever becoming a good writer, because I didn't see how one could be taught such a quality. Sacks was thrilled by the letter, and spent a long time pondering how he had changed. Was it that he had fallen in and out of love? Was it his attachment to his patients? Or a drug experience that opened him up to great empathy? People in analysis frequently do develop more empathy for others, by several circuitous routes.

Most commonly, they learn which of their own disowned, repudiated or repressed feelings they routinely project onto others. As well, people who have undergone long-term, severe traumas survive them by cutting off their own feelings — dissociating them, and becoming numbed — or by forgetting. One thing Dr. It meant that the processor in his brain that normally analyzes differences between faces never developed properly. Sacks's face-blindness was profound. Once, he apologized for bumping into a large, bearded man, only to recognize that the man was himself in a mirror.

Another time, he began preening himself in front of a mirror, only to realize that the bearded reflection he was staring at wasn't a mirror image at all, but another, now rather confused man.

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Awakenings

At times he misinterpreted facial expressions and gestures, sometimes endearingly. Once, when he was lecturing too long, Ms. Edgar, from the wings, repeatedly drew her finger across her throat. Children learn to empathize in large part by recognizing the facial expressions of others. Two areas of the brain, right-hemisphere circuits which have strong ties to the emotional processors of the brain and the brain's facial-recognition circuitry, allow us to read people's expressions, and hence their emotions, and even to understand and control our own emotions. Sacks, for reasons he does not explain in his memoir, remained celibate for over three decades.

But when he was 75 years old, he writes, "I met someone I liked. The relationship was in full bloom when Oliver was 77, a redemptive gift of old age. This changed when Billy and I fell in love. Another gift of old age was a form of healing with his family. Though Dr. Sacks had many family members in Israel, who fled there after the Second World War his cousin Abba Eban was Israel's eloquent deputy prime minister in the mid-sixties , he had not visited since he was Oliver had long felt he would be uncomfortable in a deeply religious society.

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In an interview, he had once described himself as "an old Jewish atheist," a telling phrase, because one would think that being an atheist would disqualify one from identifying with one's original religion. But with Dr. In , he finally returned to Israel, to mark the hundredth birthday of a relative. While there, he visited his cousin Robert John Aumann, with whom he had become close in the s.

Aumann was a powerful, athletic man of great warmth and had a huge white beard that made him "look like an ancient sage. He was also an Orthodox Jew, and would take his almost 30 children and grandchildren skiing at once, packing kosher plates for them all. He loved to champion the Sabbath's peace, beauty, and what Dr.

Sacks wrote. Sacks continued: "The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? At Blue Mountain Center, These things, in Oliver Sacks, it seems to me, are all of a piece: his love, since he was a boy, of the close study of particulars in nature; his joyful wonder, and insatiable curiosity; his fascination for the colours orange and indigo, for cephalopods, cycads, metals and chemicals, numbers, ferns, and radishes, invertebrates, all kinds of brains; his ability to see in destitute patients with bizarre, odd, uncanny, problems, their full humanity; his generosity to other, younger authors and scientists; his ability to begin to love late in life, and forgive those he had long loved; and the gratitude, and serenity, that he was able to express, even as he was dying.

Gratitude is an alloy: part attitude, part feeling. It is a philosophical emotion, the product of taking stock. When someone gives us something and we are appreciative, we are grateful for it, but also for our relationship with them. There is also some humility in being truly grateful. But to whom or what does the atheist, if he feels thankful for his life as a whole, feel grateful?

Somehow, Dr. I was once struck by an incongruity reading his description of a trip to the Arizona desert with the autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire. Both began drawing, while the Navajo artist told Mr. Wiltshire all the myths of that place. But "Stephen was indifferent to all this," wrote Dr. Yet when they were done, Mr. Wiltshire's drawing was far better, and "seemed even to the Navajo artist to communicate the strange mystery and sacredness of the place. Stephen himself seems almost devoid of any spiritual feeling; nonetheless he had caught … the physical expression of what we, the rest of us, call the 'sacred.

Sacks could have written that Mr. Wiltshire had captured the "beauty," or what was "precious" in the scene, or even its "wondrous," or "mysterious," "awe-inspiring" nature. This paradox — the depiction of a sacred world, while feeling oneself devoid of spiritual feeling or conviction — may well have applied to Dr. Sacks himself, and indeed may apply to many of us. Ransack the theories of modern science, and you will find many categories, but the sacred-profane distinction will not be among them. The universe, we are told, is composed of matter in purposeless motion, governed in large part by chance.

The idea that life has a design, and organisms a teleology, or end, became suspect, of course, with Dr. Sacks's hero, Charles Darwin. Yet many of us live with the two, with the scientific and the sacred, both at once. And perhaps one of the reasons Dr. It appeals, precisely because the premise that we are nothing but molecules in random motion so disenchants the universe for us, and leaves us feeling longing for more. It is a disenchantment that is hard for even the hardheaded scientist to tolerate; we prefer our nihilism without too deep an abyss.

And we long for thinkers like Dr. Sacks, who remind us that science is about wonder, and who, by so doing, hint that perhaps the idea that we are merely matter in motion is just part of the story, but not the whole story. Perhaps because gratitude does not always go unopposed. Psychoanalysts have often seen gratitude as having an emotional opposite, envy.

Sometimes a flash of envy can be a helpful sign, a spur that tells you, "You know, you really want this — try for it.

by Kate Chopin

If one does this enough, one ends up feeling starved, because one finds oneself living in an emptied world. They cannot tolerate the fact that the young, and not they, have their lives before them. They feel pain, and emptiness. We speak of people being consumed with envy — but filled with gratitude. Edgar told me that her atheist friend sometimes liked to be read, of all things, the Bible. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way.

Click here to subscribe. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters globeandmail. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter. Read our community guidelines here. Customer help. Contact us. Log in. Log out. Article text size A. To view your reading history, you must be logged in. Log in Register. Special to The Globe and Mail. Published February 5, Updated November 12, Comments Please log in to bookmark this story. Log In Create Free Account. Find your bookmarks by selecting your profile name. Story continues below advertisement. Edit video.

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More than 50 years later, Ian Brown went on a journey to understand how simply admitting our weaknesses can make us strong. Follow us on Twitter globeandmail Opens in a new window. Report an error Editorial code of conduct. Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon.

Thank you for your patience. Think of your body as a computer changing operating system. In between systems the machine seems stunned and can hardly perform any function. Keep it well rested and nourished. You occupy your body differently. You have a more flexible relationship with the physical entity you occupy, instead of being imprisoned in it. Yet too much freedom can be eerie in the beginning. Sleep is always an adventure. But you know the whole night you have been traveling, lifting weight, undergoing surgeries, intensely working on…something.

You just wish you knew what that something was. However, none of this may be obvious to your conscious mind. Thankfully, you care less and less about what others think of you. The collective consciousness has a lighter grip on you. And your perception has grown that allows you to differentiate between thoughts and desires originated from your deeper self and those that are mere inheritance from the collective.

You are being trained to be a different kind of human. But all these strange happenings are likely to upset your mind. Fear, guilt and shame may rush in. Your mind demands an answer. This blog post is for your mind. It knows. In fact, your inner knowing is now stronger than ever. It just takes a while for your mind to catch up and start trusting it. Let your mind do its job.

But try to listen to the deeper voice inside you.

Get a medical check if it helps reassure your mind. Rest well and eat healthy. Be gentle on yourself. Be loving. This is the best time to practice self love. What will happen when you finally come out of the dungeon? Because you will find that more than ever, you feel clear, free, and at home just where you are. You may go out into the world and make a splash, or not, depending on what unique role you are called to play in the grand theater of the universe. But one thing for sure is that you will be a source of light and strength, in a much confused world. Like this post? Sign up to never miss one.

All the mystics who came before you, be it Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, or Snoopy, had periods of disappearance into the void…. Share the inspiration: Facebook. Hey You! Good vibe always. Spam never.