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Reading now: The Triumph of Injustice

Will update as time goes on.

Bonding, breaking up, and processing emotions

This is about what it feels like to separate from someone you love.


When you bond with another person, you twist your nerves around them, you integrate them into you. Their thoughts and feelings become reflected in yours. And when you're in a relationship you do a lot to speed this process up. You share feelings, make memories, and create projects and challenges. You give each other chances to build up your trust. And so on.

After a lot of bonding your body reacts to their pain likes it's your pain. Your decisions are never made alone, but including them. When it's stormy, you lean on them.

So what does it feel like to suddenly un-bond?

One falls in love a lot like headphones get tangled in your pocket -- under the right conditions it's just inevitable. And like the headphones love does not come untangled so easily. I don't know if the knots are ever undone in any real sense. That would be like rewinding time back to a point before you met. You can't erase the memories, feelings, or attachments.

Instead, it feels more like a process of destruction -- like the knot is so strong that there's not even the possibility of undoing it, and they only way to get rid of it is to cut the tangle out. Or set it ablaze.

I stepped outside our dinner party to call her. It was the only time she gave me. On that phone call she told me that she had started seeing someone else. I asked her if she still wanted to see me, or if she was worried that I might get the wrong idea. She told me that she didn't really see a future with us in that way.

I didn't try to deny the reality. Instead I just listened with an open mind and an open heart, even though it hurt, because I knew in the end that was the quickest way forward. I wanted to argue with her and try to change her mind, but I didn't because I could tell that wouldn't work. Instead I figured it would be best to just begin to accept that things had changed for now and that this relationship did not have any obvious future for either of us. And the keyword here is "begin" -- even as I write this I doubt that I've fully accepted it.

Once we hung up ("Do you have anything else to say?" Her: "No..." "Okay, bye." Her: "Bye.") a cool, unpleasant feeling appeared in my chest. It was connected to a feeling of urgency, like a heart attack. Other than that feeling I had pretty much disconnected from the rest of my body. I don't even know if I was really seeing with my eyes. I would just clumsily fall into the cabinets, onto the floor, and lie still for a while while my entire spirit burned.

I stumbled back into our dinner party drunk on sadness and collapsed onto Brian, one of the guests. (He and his friend left right after that.)

I didn't know what to say except that I was sad. I rambled a lot. I kept telling Matt that there was nothing I could do. I was incapacitated. Simply incapacitated. On autopilot. Like I had no will left to do anything, anything at all, except sit in fetal position with my forehead on the ground.

A hurricane of emotions had consumed me. I felt all sorts of things, was swept through all sorts of memories in no particular order. Some feelings didn't seem to relate to anything at all. They were coming up so quickly, overlapping, competing, shifting. Some of it was pleasant -- I passed through fleeting little oases of happiness, but those feelings were always promptly consumed by Jealousy, images, tightness, once I realized that those special moments were all that were left of that relationship.

My whole body was in a state of effervescent suffering. Trying to bring mindfulness to the process I began to get a little bit of a grip. I remembered Shinzen Young's "divide and conquer" credo and I started to separate the feelings one by one. There were things I was seeing (like her being in the kitchen, us making love, vacation, jokes, her voice). Then I there were the physical feelings, like the discomfort in my chest and tummy, the muscular tension, the shortness of breath. And the discursive thoughts like "this is over. This is never again. Someone else is better than me. I hurt her." So I began to label what I could. Anything that came into my attention lost a little bit of its punch when I was able to label it. "Feeling. Seeing. Hearing."

Despite being practically overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings I noticed one more meta-process that was occurring in my body. Accepting this change in affairs had set into motion a dormant but giant machine that was overwriting the old attachments. I watched as certain emotions that I had connected to thoughts with Nico, like, "Oh, this was a lovely trip together," and "I wonder what nice thing she's doing right now," were being systematically incinerated by my body. All the bonding I had done towards her was just being plain destroyed. Overwritten. The knots were being burned, one by one. The more I resisted the more painful it was.

Nico, or at least the Nico that I hold in my heart, started to be replaced by a different one, one that was more of a stranger to me. I realized that we didn't have that ironclad trust like we used to have, or that open communication. I once thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world, but that sparkle faded too. It was the process of turning her from "someone special," in my life into "someone." This is what loss feels like.

I knew we had our problems, and I knew we might split up. But I never imagined it would feel like this.


When my dad died my mind pretty much just switched off. When my dog died I cried all day. Now, having summoned all my available mindfulness I at least got to appreciate the complexity and beauty of the process of saying goodbye to something that I really loved without being overwhelmed by the details.

Now, with that said, I wasn't keen on continuing to be in that level of distress for long. So I whipped out a tool that I had been sharpening for a while, my pranayama, which I had been hoping might pull me through a situation just like this one.

The first step I took was to just sit up onto the cushion, which took some effort.

Slow pranayama being out of the question, I took a crack at breath of fire for a few minutes with some intensity. It's a fast pranayama which involves a lot of pulses of air and abdominal contractions. I spent three or four minutes doing it. A few tears emerged. The soreness in my chest dissipated. That it happened so fast was a surprise.

With a clearer mind I flipped through my pranayama book until I found "Pranayama for Controlling Emotions."

The instructions were said to rid one of the unwholesome emotions such as "greed, jealousy, hate, etc." The idea was to direct an intention ("Get out!") down to your solar plexus -- if you don't mean it, the book cautions, it won't work.

First, we did the rhythmic breathing together, and then Matt and I did the "controlling emotions" exercise for about ten minutes.

When it was over I realized that when I opened my eyes that I felt different. Like I could see again. I asked Matt if he wanted to go out to the bookstore with me, and by the time I stepped out the door I was almost entirely beyond the grip of that storm that had pulled me in earlier.

I don't know how it happened. It was like all the emotions got funneled away somehow. They're not gone, but they're not quite there either. Like transparent versions of themselves.

Maybe among the yogis and cliques of seasoned meditators this event wouldn't seem very important at all. It's possible that with enough mindfulness the mind reaches a kind of equilibrium where it's not easily perturbed by the winds of change.

But I'm not there yet, and this tool to manage my emotions has carried me a long way forward in these few days. It's more important than my meditation practice for now.

WWOOF log: Piccapane

Dates: November 9, 2019 - December 4, 2019

Work focus: picking summer crops and planting winter ones. Collecting olives and making oil. Prepping food for the restaurant and cleaning up afterwards. House stewardship. Deliveries.

The farm

Giuseppe owns thirty-something hectares of land. Most are for olive trees, but some are for garden vegetables which he either sells directly, uses for the restaurant, or preserves and sells later. Little goes to waste.

When I arrived in November Giuseppe was still harvesting olives. Usually this stops in October, but due to an unusually warm autumn and Giuseppe "having his mind on other things," we got started late. We used giant, air-powered "jazz hand clappers" to jiggle the olives off of the trees and onto large nets. You could either be a net-dragger or a clapper.

Yuri told me that the olives would only make virgin oil. The quality had been brought down by flies that lay their eggs in the olive fruits. The larvae turn the color of the olive flesh from green to a mealy brown. I looked through tens of olives and only found one without a hole in it. When I opened it, it was bright green.

Virgin oil fetches a low price compared to extra virgin oil, the latter having a lower acidity. Apparently some produces artificially lower the acidity to bring their oil into the extra-virgin range. "You have to be a chemist to succeed in this business," Giuseppe told me.

Giuseppe seems to only think a few days in advance. This leads to a lot of last-minute decision making. For example, we spent hours harvesting dried okra pods. Right now they're taking up space in the cantina and none of us have any idea what we're going to do with them. Plus, it seems like a fair amount of food goes to waste when crops are forgotten. But what is harvested is used.

Eugene showed us how to plant strawberries. Rip them out of the ground, trim off all but a tiny root bud, and shove them back in the ground. We were all doing this as a group, getting it done as fast as possible, joking that this might be the most ridiculous way to plant anything we'd ever seen in our lives.

The restaurant and kitchen

The restaurant is the crown jewel of Piccapane. It's all wood and gives a classy, homelike vibe. Giuseppe sells a vegan cooking experience only, I think due to the supposed health benefits. (I'd say ethical reasons too, but it you can easily find ethically-sourced eggs around here, and Giuseppe himself is not vegan.)

With the full menu costing 25 euros a head you'd think there would be a fresh meal made for each guest, but due to cost and time constraints we actually prepped a lot of the food a day or two before and froze it. This led to a few awkward moments where I had to fetch frozen food from the cantina (in another building) because we didn't bring enough to the kitchen. I tried to conceal the fact that I was carrying frozen ravioli and falafel past the paying customers. Some of the ravioli had fallen all over the inside of the freezer.

The food is good, but because we're so constrained with time and kitchen space the food often ends up having minor issues with presentation. As far as I can tell, though, customers seem pretty happy. But it's hard to know what they really think.

One of the high points of my trip to Piccapane was when I got called into the kitchen on a Saturday evening to help Giuseppe out with an unusually large booking. He was panicking. I cleaned for hours and hours while he cooked, making space wherever possible, frying the frozen falafel, and bringing water to the guests. I was sick with a cold that day, but for some reason, I didn't sneeze the whole time I was in the kitchen. Adrenaline, maybe. He (unexpectedly) offered me some money (that he didn't really have), and I politely handed it back.

The house

I was stationed in the BnB by the restaurant, the other WWOOFers stayed in the main house. On my first night the WWOOFers Andy and Kristina were making pasta. Laura and I helped. Giuseppe had given them total freedom and even though the result was, let's say, imperfect, he gave constructive advice and his blessing to try again.

We would do a lot of that kind of experimental cooking over the month of November. Sometimes we'd get flooded with some vegetable, say peppers -- then we'd have to make something work with it. This led to a lot of learning and innovation. I learned to make a bechamel sauce pretty well.

The house is a bit disorganized, with lots of sentimental items taking up space. Giuseppe hates getting rid of things, but occasionally he'll release something in a grand display of letting-go. For example, he asked me to help him smash some statues he said "no longer represented who he was." One statue was of a man and the other was of a woman. He went outside and with the sharp edge of an axe smashed them both to pieces.

For Giuseppe, a chef, I was flabbergasted by how dysfunctional his home kitchen is. Half of his burners didn't work when I arrived. We managed to fix one of them ("I had been procrastinating for a decade," he told me) and now 3/4 of the burners on the fornello are somewhat operational. But it's still chaos. In the end, we would just do some creative shifting of pots and pans in order to make it all work out.

Mushroom hunting in Salentu

Mugnola: yellow-fleshed boletes. They don't distinguish them around here, "they're all mugnoli," I was told.

I didn't know what I was looking for at the beginning. Giuseppe just showed me a picture and told me, "yellow."

I was terrifically excited when I first found them. TI came home with a whole basketful, loaded with this big, dome-shaped boletes with twigs (rametti) glued to the caps (pellicini.)

They have a mild flavor when cooked. Unfortunately, glue from the caps tends to leak into whatever sauce you make, turning them into what some people called "snails."

Carduncellu: from ndu c'e' lu cardu, meaning "where the cardu is." Said in a circle, "ndu c'e' lu cardu ndu c'e' lu cardu..." you recover the name. Cardu is a thistle-like plant that grows in the steppes. The carduncelli, part of the genus pleurotus, grow in the dirt nearby it. The mushrooms blend in completely with the rocks.

He would point out similar looking mushrooms. "Check these out. See that the gills don't go down the stem? You want gills that go down the stem." But once I knew what I was looking for it was easy.

"You have the eye," he said.

People had visited the steppe before us. We know that because the previous folks took care to preserve the little mushrooms. Next to them, though, were the cleanly cut stumps. They must have come that morning. Carduncelli can fetch twenty to forty euros a kilo, which is a fine price. No wonder people hunt them.

Jo took me all around the steppe. He knew every little spot. "Walk towards the fence, and then walk parallel to it, about four meters away. Go for a while and you'll find a good spot." He was right most of the time. "You can walk for ages here and not find anything. You have to know where to look. I've walked around here for days and days. If it weren't so late we could go all around."

He brought up Giuseppe. "He's a character, huh," he told me. They had had a falling out, apparently Giuseppe got a bit too brusque with him one day. But they're back to being friends.

I know that Giuseppe can be like that. He's mostly kind, but I've seen that side of him too. Beside his considerate and friendly side is also an unfair side, a blameful side. You see this when he's stressed.

I told him that's how I felt about Francesca, but times a million. He knew her, said she came over for dinner once at Piccapane. He remembered that she had had cancer. I always found that strange about her. I thought that after 20 years of yoga, and having had cancer, she'd have softened up somewhat. But I don't know if I've ever met such a cold and hard berson before.

We even hunted for the carduncelli after dark. Jo brought out headlamps and handlamps and we scoured the field for thirty minutes before finally packing in.

On an evening I went to Jo's house to eat them. He had been cooking them in a pignata (terra cotta pot) by the fire for hours. He added green onions, a tiny tomato, origano, and some water. We ate them with our eyes closed.

Sanguignu: from sangue meaning "blood." When you cut them, bloody latex (latice) oozes out of the mushroom flesh.

Pietro was the first to show this to me on our trip through Parco dei Fossili. He had found a tiny one and the book was unambiguous about its identity: lactarius deliciosus.

Tiziana had mentioned that her husband found them. She showed me a picture. Ochre, orange, green, a whole basketful. She said they're better than meat.

Pietro didn't remember where he found it, so we walked through most of the park again. We found a lot of them this time, but they were a little older and drier this time. The blood had changed color to purple. We took them anyway.

No one would touch them but me. I simply trusted the book. I cooked them in a little olive oil and garlic. The flavor was on-point.