Sinus Surgery and Zombies in My Head

by bryan maynard

After two months of sinus infections (really, 25 years) and something that felt like the flu that was hanging around for a couple of weeks, I felt the effects of being sleep deprived and living with chronic fatigue and pain. I ended up at the ENT out of quiet desperation and my doctor, a very competent and kind man who knows my treatment history, said, “Looks like you have 100% blockage here and here and 85% here and here. You probably have zombies living in your head.”

Zombies?! Living in my head?  How freakin’ brilliant and poetic and TRUE in more ways than he knows!

How to Find the Cure for Zombies in My Head

zombies are real!

zombies are real!

So late one night, while I was awaiting surgery, I went searching for zombie movies. Have you seen The World of Z with Brad Pitt (The Z stands for zombies :)? There’s a scene in the movie where a brilliant young scientist is talking to Brad Pitt’s character (I won’t give anything away here) and he makes an observation about finding cures for any type of terrible suffering inflicted at the hands of Mother Nature, including zombies:

Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. More creative. Like all serial killers, she can’t help the urge to want to get caught. What good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes the credit? So, she leaves crumbs. Now, the hard part is…seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of her inflicted suffering turns out to be the chink in her armor. And she loves disguising her weaknesses as her strengths.

There it was! The clues to overcoming zombies living in my head… and it was in a zombie movie all this time!

Where to Look: the Clue to Curing Zombies in the Head–The Most Brutal Emotional Suffering Holds the Answer

In the zombie movies, getting up close to the terror of the zombies is where the weakness of ‘the virus’ is revealed. That revelation occurs when the suffering seems indomitable and all-powerful and lots of people have been reduced to a ravenous hunger that can’t be quenched and healthy people are running away like mad except for a few folks who remain calm enough to look straight into the scary, painful behavior and consequences of all the zombie mayhem.

Hmmm…interesting insight here into emotional suffering and how to either keep adding to it or learn what, if any, weakness might be revealed in all that pain, I thought.

The Ego’s Conflicting Roles: Protector and…Torturer

With the help of eastern wisdom and western scholarship, we now know that the clues to the sources of our most intense emotional suffering happen when we move toward suffering. What do we learn about the source of our worst pain when we let it guide us to its weakness? We learn that it is our ego. The pain and the suffering reveal the ego to be the cause and source of our worst emotional suffering. Not that there aren’t real physical threats and dangers that cause us pain. I’ve lived through some pretty serious, dangerous, on-going, threatening events and craziness, but as bad as those experiences hurt me at the time, it has been the damaging effects left inside, from the ego, that have caused the greater suffering in my life.

Ego as Protector

The ego is our protector. It protects us from real danger and threat; from all-too-real zombies in this world! For some, this ego mechanism was especially active and helpful in early childhood experiences, where living with terror was the normative, consistent experience in life. Protection is our basic need in such times and we have an excellent, hardwired, highly complex fear-threat response system that has been finely tuned over millions of years and is nature’s gift to us as part of our humanness.

Ego as Torturer

But the ego as protector tends to harden and thicken our consciousness. It is the voice in our head that never stops chattering and pushing. Always analyzing, comparing, evaluating and judging situations and people, it makes our consciousness stiff and rigid. We find it less possible to be present (though we don’t know this is happening to us). The ability to be where we are and to sense the authenticity of being ourselves is lost behind thickening walls of self-protection. Hiding, running away, isolating oneself, contracting, or restraining oneself from showing up fully, as Almaas writes, are ways we avoid being open because being open is way too dangerous.

Zombies Live Inside: The Ego Must Protect ‘Me’ from Inner Threat

The negative aspect of the ego as protector, as necessary as it is against external dangers, is that we ‘learn’ to be afraid all the time without letting ourselves consciously feel the fear.  The ego as protector teaches us, in the moments of real or imagined threat, how to NOT feel fear, or weakness, or sadness so that we can take action to survive. At this level, the ego has shifted from protector against external threats to protector against perceived internal threats fueled by an unconscious mind teeming with bad memories and feelings. The result? The building of an internal defensiveness, where the ego starts to ‘watch out’ for feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, etc.,. that are too scary to allow to arise into our consciousness. Inner walls are built as protective barriers against this darker side of ourselves.  The ego becomes our “intel” that gives us the sense that we have demons living inside of us, zombies nonetheless! Any verified internal threat becomes a self-justifying reason for the unconscious mind to build inner walls, ‘necessary protectors’ to keep the zombies from getting out and gobbling us up. The sad news is that these protective inner walls end up torturing us, adding to our suffering immensely more than the actual, real threats from life. These inner walls separate the different parts of ourselves–such as our heart and our genitals, our consciousness and our unconscious–or they (the walls) can be between us and what we perceive as the ‘outside’ writes Almaas in The Unfolding Now. 

In my next blog entry, I will write about how to make the zombies that live inside our heads go away. I will close with a few practical thoughts about doing the hard work of staring straight into the emotional pain caused by our ego.

1. When we sit in our chair and begin to practice being where we are, inquiring into what is going on, we will eventually begin to discern what Almaas calls a stance of defensiveness that is becoming more conscious to us.

2. As Almaas teaches in his book The Unfolding Now, this defensiveness against our experience is actually attempting to keep our deeper fears locked away in the unconscious where they cannot be felt.

3. When resistance and defensiveness start to be discerned in the heat of our emotional suffering, we are inching our way to no longer interpreting our internal pain to be the all-powerful, default self that functions as completely in charge of our personality.

4. This is a critical insight. It means we are nearly ready to consider that there is something deeply buried that keeps us from the fuller range of human emotions that might be on the verge of arising into our consciousness: things like fear, hurt, terror, not knowing who we are without the fear and the anxiety.

5. These are all signs of life! And they are scary as you-know-what. But, this means the ego is weakening and slowly we are seeing that, while it functions as our protector, it bloody-well keeping zombies alive now in our heads.

5. The next step, then, is to slow down and experiment with the new world of becoming v-u-l-n-e-r-a-b-l-e. This “V” word is how we approach the inner wall of defensiveness and take it down, brick by brick. I’ll have much  more to say about the “V” word in my next entry. But, for now…

May you know calm and peace as you learn and grow and seek to live from the transforming power of your heart, friend!