It all started a few weeks back with what I thought was a gum infection, since that was where the pain was. When the pain started spreading down the back of my neck and up towards my right ear and eye, I decided it was time to put aside my British stiff-upper-lip attitude and see a doctor. Two doctors at the health centre poked around in my mouth, did some tests, and pronounced themselves baffled. So off I went to the Ear, Nose and Throat department at the local hospital, where I was examined by a doctor who was so astute as to appear almost psychic. He told me lots of things, from the fact that my flat was too hot and dry to my nasal passages being slightly crooked, but the important thing was that I was suffering from chronic stress. This, combined with having a strangely-shaped jaw, meant that my jawbone was squashing my inner ear into the shape of a kidney bean, causing it to trigger every nerve going, with the resulting muscle spasms pulling my neck into the wrong shape as well. What fun.
Now, for an amateur philosopher who does meditation and used to teach t'ai chi, a diagnosis of chronic stress and muscle tension is pretty embarrassing. It's a bit like a financial advisor having their credit card cancelled or a traffic policeman being caught over the limit. OK, I now have to admit that ten minutes of meditation before falling asleep and shuffling through the t'ai chi form while I'm waiting for something to download from the Internet do not really count for much. What is interesting, though, is that once I'd learnt which muscles were unconsciously tensing under stress, I was able to find out what was stressing me. Facial muscles are almost a mirror of our thoughts, but most of the time we are unaware of all but their most obvious movements - smiling, frowning and so on. However, when tensing the wrong muscle causes instant pain, you learn pretty quickly.
What I found initially was that obvious stressors made me clench my jaw. This could be an event such as a car cutting in front of me (even when I'm on a bus and it's not my problem) or even a word, like "deadline", or "mother-in-law". Not the kind of things that make you think "Oh my God, I'm so stressed out", but cumulatively enough to cause a fair amount of tension. Having consciously relaxed my jaw muscles, I could then concentrate on the micromuscles in my face, and found that even vaguely "negative" thoughts, or excessive concentration, had an adverse effect.
The great thing about all of this is that I now have a wonderful
(if occasionally painful) biofeedback mechanism, by which I can
easily tell if a thought is good for me or not. This has
meant that for two weeks I've been in a wonderfully calm and
contented state of mind, since I really have no alternative.
It also functions as an instant conscience. Whenever I
contemplate some minor misdemeanour, my face tenses up slightly - a
kind of micromuscular categorical imperative. This minor
enlightenment is not enough to convince me of the classic religious
arguments that all pain is part of God's plan and for our ultimate
good - "no pain, no gain" makes for good body-building but dubious
theology. Nevertheless, I did catch myself referring to the
whole affair as "Allah'tan" - "God-given". Anyway, I can feel
an interesting little muscle tweaking in my scalp, so that's enough
Actually, as my brother pointed out when I mentioned this, it would be nice if Kosovo was more like a good old-fashioned Star Trek episode. If the U.S.S. Enterprise had Captain Kirk at the bridge, I'm sure the whole problem would have been sorted out by now. The scenario would go something like this ....
1. Kirk, Spock et al. are beamed down as part of a
Federation negotiating team.
2. A Serbian policeman vapourises some guy in a red shirt. Scotty suggests firing photon torpedoes at Belgrade. Kirk refuses, as this would go against Starfleet's Prime Directive (the one that's supposed to stop the Federation interfering in alien cultures).
3. Kirk rescues a beautiful KLA fighter from the Serbs and says "To Hell with the Prime Directive".
4. With some fancy phaser fire, the entire Yugoslav army is incapacitated with minimal loss of life. Milosovitch is ousted by a democratic peace-loving faction and Kirk's girlfriend becomes President of the new independent Kosovo.
5. Kirk is court-martialled for breaking the Prime Directive, makes an impassioned speech and receives a brand new starship instead. McCoy makes a sarcastic remark at Spock, who raises one eyebrow, and all laugh as the credits go up.
OK, forget Kirk. Even Picard would have sorted things out by now - probably by beaming down First Officer Riker, who would then do everything that Kirk would.
Joking aside, it's high time NATO said "To Hell with the Prime Directive" too. After the Holocaust, everyone was determined that such things would never happen again. Then Bosnia happened. Then everyone said that Bosnia must never happen again. Arm photon torpedoes, Mr. Chekov.