In the little over a month since Leonard Nimoy died, I’ve been thinking a great deal about his influence on my life, and wondering what I can say about him that hasn’t already been said.
People told me, “I thought of you as soon as I heard.” I’m not sure how I became quite that thoroughly associated with him; I hadn’t been doing any obvious fan type stuff. I had even managed to miss his entire singing career. But he had been a kind of distant father figure for me. In one of his last roles, as the enigmatic William Bell in the Fringe series, he was an immensely comforting figure every time he appeared on the screen. I think many people of my generation must have felt that way. It was true even after the Bell character went completely off the rails and turned out to be trying to destroy the known universe.
Through the years, I always heard Nimoy spoken of as a person of great integrity. One of the coolest things I’ve read about him since his death was that during the Classic Trek years, he found out that Nichelle Nichols was being paid less than the rest of the cast, and he pushed successfully to get her better pay. (Imagine, a black woman was being paid less! Who would ever have thought?)
We are so accustomed these days to plastic celebrities who keep themselves in the public eye mainly by getting into trouble. It is refreshing to see a famous person who quietly does his work and is good to others. On the day that he died, February 27, there were a number of mentions of a kindness he did back in 1968. A young biracial girl had written to Spock via a teen fan magazine, saying that her situation was a lot like his. Nimoy wrote an extensive reply, explaining how Spock, also an outcast in his youth, had learned to accept himself and excel. Here’s the story: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2015/02/27/389589676/leonard-nimoys-advice-to-a-biracial-girl-in-1968
Nimoy was a thoughtful artist in a variety of media. I expect that he would prefer it if I wrote about his books of poetry and philosophy, or his original stage work, or his photography project that celebrated the feminine aspect of God. He might want me to mention that he’d gone back to school for a master’s in Spanish. Maybe he’d like to be remembered as an exceptional director of films. He’d like me to write about anything but Spock, I’m sure. Everybody has been writing about Spock.
I’m going to write about Spock too. That is, I’m going to write about Spock’s effect on me and why that’s a good thing.
Zachary Quinto, the new Spock, said that his predecessor and dear friend brought some of his own best qualities to the character. Deep and absolute integrity, perhaps even more than intelligence, defines Spock. Another prominent characteristic of his is compassion, perhaps a little strange for someone who professes not to understand human emotion. Spock can always be trusted to do the right thing as he sees it, no matter how difficult it is or how great the personal cost. His work is always the highest quality he can produce. Although he does not express affection in a human way, his deep regard for his friends and colleagues is always apparent. In short, he’s real hero material.
I was six years old when classic Star Trek premiered. I remember an early elementary-school assignment in which we were supposed to draw our favorite foods, etc. For favorite TV show, I drew a little screen with Spock’s face on it. I have considered myself a Trekkie ever since, and proud of it. (Not a Trekker— sorry, Mr. Nimoy— in the ‘60s we were Trekkies and I’m sticking with that.)
In fact, I wasn’t just a Trekkie. I was a Spockie. Yup. I am naturally an intellectual, cerebral to a fault, often seen as quiet and reserved (?!), and the Vulcans felt like my spiritual relatives. A few years after the series ended, when it went into its rerun resurgence, I was going into adolescence, and I tried on a Vulcan identity. I experimented quite a bit with clearing out silly human emotionality. I didn’t realize how closely related my efforts were to, for example, Zen practices. I remember one day in particular, when I felt a complete inner emptiness and peace, no disturbances, no emotional reactions to anything, which brought a paradoxical sense of bliss. Of course this didn’t last. As I said, I was an adolescent.
All that now sounds like an incredibly naive effort. Of course emotions are not going to go away, and overall, they shouldn’t. But I developed a good deal of useful inner discipline, and came to some awareness that my immediate emotional reactions to events were not necessarily very important or real and should not necessarily be acted upon. My natural caution and thoughtfulness were enhanced. Unfortunately, my natural tendency to overthink was probably enhanced as well, but on balance it seems to me that this phase of my life was extremely helpful to the work I do today.
One thing I understand all too well about Spock is that his apparent aloofness is more than anything a result of his sensitivity. As a touch telepath*, he has little choice but to stay apart from others, because otherwise he will be painfully bombarded by their discordant emotions and muddled thoughts. This, to a greater or lesser extent, is a common issue in the regular human world, and people find various ways to deal with it. Me, I love connection and intimacy, but I have to be careful with it. Sometimes people think I am avoiding or resisting them when what I’m actually doing is unconsciously trying to keep our interactions at a manageable intensity for both of us.
Emotion is now in a way my stock in trade. In my work as a healer, I read patients’ emotions in their bodies, and that provides crucial information to use in dealing with their difficulties. I poke around inside them, asking questions, and see what feelings come up and what those can tell us— not quite a mind-meld, but going in that direction. I see emotion as critical data in this way, which must be taken into account and cannot be suppressed or bypassed if healing is to take place. Frequently I am buffeted by gale-force emotions that are released as we clear blockages.
At the same time, though, I realize that emotion is ephemeral, transitory, and not entirely real, that it can be based on fleeting biochemical flares or glitches rather than being a valid response to one’s experience. A couple of dramatic instances of sudden depression have been my best teachers on that issue. One case was part of a healing crisis triggered by a high-potency homeopathic remedy and instantly relieved by a lower potency of the same. The other had no known cause but disappeared progressively and totally over a period of a half hour or so during an acupuncture treatment, in a most interesting way. Both times, the sadness was baseless and meaningless. It was no more than passing weather in my system. If I had fallen into believing that it was significant, I could very likely have found good reasons to be sad and made myself much worse.
In the same way, I must observe those storms of emotion in my patients without becoming overwhelmed by them, perceiving them clearly without taking them on and bringing them home. Sometimes patients are suffering so intensely that I can barely hold up under the onslaught, and I need to separate myself a little from what they are feeling. If it appears that this may seem cold to them, I explain that I need to step back a little bit in order to be able to help. It’s critical to be able to modulate my own emotional response in this way.
Under stress, I tend to become all the more cerebral and analytical. In August 2013, I developed symptoms suggestive of a heart attack, and landed in the emergency room. While waiting to be seen by the doctor, I experimented with dialing my level of anxiety up and down to see if I could bring on the symptoms that way, in order to help diagnose whether stress was the cause. The ER nurse had already stuck electrodes on me and done a basic evaluation, and it was clear that I wasn’t in serious trouble, so I was calm as I tried to figure out what was going on. When the doctor arrived, I told him that I’d been doing this, and that increasing anxiety didn’t seem to increase the symptoms. He gazed quizzically at me and replied, “You can’t control emotions like that.”
You can’t??! Oh, yeah, this is Earth…. OK, I was not exactly normal right then. But it did seem normal to me to work with emotional states as data and to manipulate them experimentally.
I am describing all this not just as self-indulgence, but to say something larger about working in the world of healing and psychic activity. I’ve seen a couple of healers go seriously over the edge into irrationality and dysfunction. I honestly believe that my “Vulcan” training has helped to keep me safe in some semblance of sanity.
Mendy Lou says that my insistence on left-brained intellect has severely limited my psychic development, that I think too much and that prevents me from perceiving all that I could. She’s probably right. However, I have the advantage of seeming non-weird to my patients and others, even while dealing with the most way-out concepts. Quite a few times they have commented on this. I speak in plain language and do not add unnecessary drama. That seems to help patients feel more comfortable and confident when working with me. It helps me feel more comfortable, too, with the unpredictable courses healing can take— I never know when, for example, a patient’s dead relative or spirit guide is going to show up in the treatment room, and it’s best if I meet everything that happens with calm and equanimity. (I save panic attacks, sudden rages, and the like for home.)
My left-brainedness does not serve me particularly well in writing poetry, I’m afraid, though I have done a lot of that successfully, and I’m not sure if it’s more a help or a hindrance to me as a musician. Some of both, I suppose. It’s interesting that Spock is also a musician who plays at least two instruments (Vulcan harp and piano, which I suppose his mother taught him) and sings decently. Through the years we’ve seen other references to Vulcans appreciating and playing music, and perhaps we can imagine that music is one of their means of directing the passions that we know they have deep down. The creators of Vulcan culture didn’t see any conflict between logical thinking and the arts, as indeed there is none.
There are also quite a few references to Vulcan mysticism, and there again I can feel at home. Rigorous logic and mysticism, together?** Despite what some of our most popularized scientists would like us to think, there’s no conflict there either, and in fact physicists are often led deeply into the mystical by the very nature of their discoveries, or like Einstein, may have even begun there. Spock once was heard to say, “I prefer the concrete, the provable,” but that wasn’t necessarily what he got when he was called upon to interface telepathically with incomprehensibly alien beings or to make intuitive decisions that could affect the fate of worlds. Along with all that tight control and emotional suppression, there is a great openness about Spock. He is always willing to learn and to take in more of the universe. He has aged well. And somewhere out there in the space of the imagination, he lives.
* A silly idea, really. Touch is not necessary for telepathy in the least.
**A huge pet peeve of mine (wait, that’s an emotional response) is that so many people in the mystical, psychic and healing fields keep saying things like“quantum physics proves that” such and such, when they clearly have no concept whatsoever of what quantum physics is to begin with. Totally illogical! If you ask me, this area of endeavor could use a much larger dose of scientific literacy. Science really does have a great deal to say about the areas in which I work, and I would like to see the applicable science discussed rigorously and with clarity, not in fuzzy terms that only encourage scientific types to laugh and dismiss everything that we are doing. In fact, I would like to see more logical thinking, more focus on facts and on what works rather than on what people believe or wish, in the world at large. Oops, wrong planet again.
9 responses to “Vulcan Ancestry”
Reading this post really brought back memories for me. As you were speaking about your adolescence, I could see you again as an incredibly intense 8th grader playing guitar in a folk group. What an eclectic group that was! As you progressed through the post, I was able to see how you progressed from that 8th grader to the woman with whom I became reacquainted some thirty five or so years later. Thank you for the enlightening account of your journey. I feel like I know the current you much better now!
It’s interesting how certain things that we read, see or experience affect so much of that which comes after. For me, Arthur C. Clarke’s book “Childhood’s End” had a similar effect on my life. Reading (and re-reading) it encouraged me to take the first steps of a philosophical journey that lasted several decades. Mr. Nimoy and his alter ego, Spock seems to have had a positive effect on many people in the world. Would that we had more people of the same ilk in popular culture today!
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Joe. It’s been good to reconnect with you, too. I always had fond memories of you, and you were most definitely a positive influence on my early life in music.
I was afraid I was being too self-absorbed in writing this post, but it does seem to have resonated for a number of people.
I know that I read “Childhood’s End” sometime in my teens, but I don’t have much memory of it. Clarke did a lot of speculating about what humanity was going to turn into next, didn’t he.
In the Star Trek corner of the universe, we do still have George Takei working as an advocate for the Japanese-Americans like him interned during WWII, LGBTQ folk, and social justice in general. It seems like Zach Quinto is formidable, too.
The Spock character obviously had a great influence upon your approach to how to be a human. It’s not being too self absorbed to spend some time at the death of a mentor to recollect how that mentor affected your life. In fact, the process is much like that of the testimonials given in church to describe how one came to be what they are. I think that it is cathartic and everyone should indulge the urge occasionally. Oftentimes, it helps one clarify just who and what one is.
In “Childhood’s End”, Clarke not only speculated on humanity’s evolution, but suggested that humans as a race have been able to see beyond time since they became sentient. He also envisions a world in which all needs are supplied to everyone, and the consequences of that situation. It was, at least in my memory, a very “deep” book. Perhaps I should re-read it. Oftentimes, books that fascinated me when I was young now seem very juvenile.
Science-fiction writers, including Clarke and the creators of the Star Trek universe, expect a great deal from humanity. I hope we can live up to their aspirations for us. I think the potential is there– most of the time, anyway.
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Hello Elena! I simply had to send your wonderful article to my ex partner, Italian, living in Zurich, about your age … She also was a Spockie, she’s highly intellectual, strong and can be cynical, but inside she’s warm and sensitive, she can be a volcano (as an Italian woman), and I often had the impression: She’s a stranger on this planet, her home’s somewhere else. Often she talks and talked about Spock, she adored him, so thanks for your remembering him. Bye all the best Manfred.
Thanks, Manfred! I guess the derivation of the word “volcano” is appropriate here… By the way, my father’s father came from Sicily.
Elene ! So amazing to read this and connect to you in a place where we are in all aspects twin sisters…how we connect to the constant dialogue between left and right brain and how much this beloved character positively changed our lives..thank you for this! Live long and Prosper…
I’m fascinated to hear that you had a similar experience, Beth. Thanks for writing.
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