by Bo Keeley
(Swans - March 28, 2011) On a remote Michigan lake, in an unheated garage with double-walls, triple ceiling, and a waterbed, two Dobermans and an Irish setter, I spent one introspective year after carving and hanging a sign on the door: "Garage Nirvana."
A series of 24-hour experiments for self-study, to explore limits, and fit together a personal puzzle engaged the time. One was bladder control, which just hit the news -- "People with full bladders 'make better decisions,' scientists discover," asserting that the brain's self-control mechanism provides restraint in all areas at once. Like Pascal's principle, I suppose, pressure exerted on confined liquid is transmitted equally in all directions.
It applies to the Garage Nirvana trials of 1978.
The early bladder test was a simple design: One sweat-hot summer day I drank copious water while bent with screwdrivers and pliers over a 5-meter line of accumulated broken appliances -- radios, blender, watch, drill... -- strewn on the dog funhouse ramp out the garage window to fix, or at least, see what makes things tick. I held the bladder tinkering into the night.
I built a plywood phone-booth-sized closet next to the bed as a "jail" deprivation booth, and sat for 24 hours on a cushion with nothing to do, in the only superfluous bed, except the clothes closet.
Some assays extended beyond a day, like the one month fast at 2000 calories while sustaining 6-mile runs with the dogs around Haslett Lake. To this day I eat simply, slowly, and prefer to eat alone.
A chin-up bar across the door jam was a "bell" that I forced myself to "ring" with X +1 chins before entry, where X was the previous number.
One morning I came out and rode a Peugeot PX 10-speed for 24 straight hours through Dodge and Hell, Michigan, listening to Sherlock Holmes books on tape, learning that sleep deprivation is speculative.
There were dubious achievements of letting ants, flies, and cockroaches crawl or fly closer without flinching. An hour sitting on a knoll in a mosquito cloud with Emily Dickenson flamed a swollen head, but without welts.
In a swoop at Nirvana, I put a rheostat on emotions, without suppression, via willpower. The brain works quickly under emotion or stress, like a clucking chicken in a rainstorm, but a blink or thought may replace affection to quiet it. Feeling the diminishment like a questionable protagonist of Twilight Zone, a final insight burst allowed a creep of sentiment, while maintaining the rheostat.
I started reading books upside down to cause a print flow from left to right to offset the spiritless daily reverse, and succeeded in a month to reach 90% speed and 110% comprehension. Then, I extended nightly non-fiction reading sessions by 30 minutes for a week, and was so aided by the increased stamina from book tipping, the only limit was sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation, for sleep is a little slice of death, was pruned by 30 minutes a night until I felt sick at four hours, and chucked it. The rationale is that one who thinks and acts hard in waking hours requires more sleep to return to a morning steady state. I did learn to drop off in seconds like a bum on a park bench, to appreciate the qualities of sleep, and accomplished dreamless repose.
Every night for a nearly a month, I went to sleep an hour later until gaining the equivalent of circling the globe, and clapped myself on the back for snatching a day from Father Time.
One winter week I spent ten minutes on either side of midnights throwing snowballs at a backyard telephone pole to improve an off-left hand for sports, and to prove a theory that an overhand hones a vertical target. And, I learned to write left-handed in a mirror to try to match my acclaimed "best racquetball backhand in history" attributed to writing journals since childhood left to right on the horizontal.
Along with proud acquired dyslexia from reading backwards, in so many night waking hours I learned colorblindness, seeing none even in daytime, and with no color recall. To this day, the blindness may be turned on and off, but somehow I cannot conjure color. The gains are a contrast of black and clear that speeds the visual process, recognizable smaller images, and eyes in a flash to pick movements.
Bodily functions offered proofs of the control cough and sneeze reflexes, shivering, and best, not blinking. In one day I blinked once, but the next got a contract from Contemporary Books for The Women's Book of Racquetball, and stopped.
The most dangerous undertaking was reading Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and suddenly it popped into my head that thinking may be earned. Thoughts have a prelude like background static that I determined to raise the curtain on by paying attention. Indeed, one tunes into formerly subconscious thoughts, speeding cognition to breakneck speed.
Another peril was a mounting endeavour not to waste time, not a second, that is difficult to explain. It entails cutting corners in thought and to the latrine, to spiral eating corn-on-the-cob. The best week was an accumulative wasted one second at multiple blinks.
One aim the dogs just stared at was jumping to hit my head on the ceiling for increased leg strength. It happened in one month.
Concurrently, I tried to fuse grace into every movement that carried beyond the year on leaving the garage to travel the world with this bag of tricks.
The lessons gleaned from the Nirvana struggles are:
Thinking is an athletic event.
Athletics is best done thinking.
There are cross-over benefits in every action.
Knowing your limits pays life dividends.
You may through self-knowledge feel whole,
And become what one may.
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About the Author
Bo Keeley is a retired veterinarian, former publisher, author of seven books on sports and adventure, national paddleball and racquetball champion, commodities consultant, school teacher, psychiatric technician, traveler to 96 countries, and executive adventure guide who has been featured in Sports Illustrated and other national publications as an alternative adventurer. (back)