Saturday, March 8, 2008


testosterone is not something i spend much time thinking about, but recently it has been brought to my attention as a very significant part of one's make-up. the february 22, 2008 episode of "this american life" radio show, hosted by ira glass, features several different stories regarding testosterone. i was captivated by one in particular. glass interviews a man who stopped producing testosterone for a period of time because of a medical condition. what happens to his personality, his entire perspective on life, is shocking. it fills me with questions.

this gentleman speaks of the changes in his persona with the absence of testosterone: "everything that i identify as being me, my ambition, my interest in things, my sense of humor, the inflection in my voice....there were things that i find offensive about my own personality that were disconnected then. you know, it was nice to be without them, envy, the desire to judge itself...i approached people with a humility that i'd never displayed before."

he continues, "i grew up in a culture like all of us that divides the soul from the body and that is your singleness, your uniqueness, and nothing can touch that. then i go through this experience where i have small amounts of a bodily chemical removed and then reintroduced and it changes everything i know as my "self." it violates the sanctity of that understanding that who you are exists independent of any other forces in the universe...that's humbling and it's terrifying."

on a morning walk: "i would see a brick in a wall and i would think 'a brick in a wall.' i would see a pigeon and think 'a pigeon.' it was the most literal possible understanding of the world."

he explained that the one thought that accompanied his observations was 'that is beautiful,' but it crossed his mind in the most matter-of-fact way, lacking any emotion.
"it sounds like the judgment of a person with passion, but it was the exact opposite. it was thought with complete objectivity - 'a weed, oh that's beautiful.' the surgery scars on people's knees, the hubcaps of a car, all of it seemed to have purpose, and i'd think 'oh that's beautiful.' i had this omniscient sense that i was seeing through the skin of things, that i was seeing things as they really were and that the objective conclusion, not the judgmental one, was 'they are beautiful.' everything is beautiful, from the bugs, to the cracks in the sidewalk, to the faces of other people. and it was automatic. perhaps to see things objectively is to see them, all of them, as beautiful. but you have to understand that the thought was expressed in the most flat-line, boring way possible! you would think this would be a terrible state to be in, but it was weirdly pleasant. there is a certain appeal, an impossible appeal, to that rip van winkle existence of being without testosterone. you just have to remember that it doesn't matter if you HAVE nothing, if you WANT nothing."

then glass replies, "desire often feels like a burden, if i just didn't want that thing, not having it wouldn't be so painful."

and the man says knowingly, "....all that WANTING."

so, i sit here imagining us all as firing, and sometimes misfiring, chemistry sets....beakers with eyes, ears, and varying levels of desire!
and what does it feel like to be without desire....not in the sense of renunciation or repression....but in pure emptiness and clear seeing (emptiness meaning empty of clinging identities)....with total acceptance of what is, not wanting for anything else. what is is enough. this sounds to me like enlightenment?!?! - a (mostly momentary!!) state of being with no craving, grasping, or wanting.
more and more neurological research is coming out now that points to the practice and outcome of meditation as different chemical reactions in the brain. the more one practices, the more the brain and its chemical interactions change, thereby shifting our perceptions. i find this to be incredibly liberating and at the same time, the knowledge of how much of who we are may be dependent on hormones, is indeed humbling.

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