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Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity

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Hey all,

This could also have something to do with stress and not getting enough sleep, but did anyone else have to deal with ADD like symptoms for the duration of their DN experience. It's really hard to keep my attention on conversations for more than a fee seconds especially before my attention wanders away, and all this despite attempting to actually effect the OPPOSITE through meditation. I'm also very frequently very bored and restless, and no amount of sitting does anything about it. If anything, I'm MORE bored and restless at this point. Time for Adderall?

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 5:14 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
I don't know about adderall, that kind of judgement is for you and (I guess) your doctor. I have no experience with this drug.

However, YES, I have had severe attentional issues during dark nights; it is somewhat better nowadays, but I still feel somewhat burned out from the violent ups and downs.

All of this happened to me: difficulty in keeping track of what people said, difficulty in reading (would forget what the paragraph is about in the middle), severe loss of context in general, maddening restlessness - sort of like it itches but there is nowhere I can scratch and nowhere I can turn - alternating with boredom (when nothing delivers any satisfaction and everything is dull and gray). Of course there are also the darker "bad mood" symptoms of thinking ill of everything and everyone all the time, as well as the more physical symptoms like generalized body pain, as well as fear and anxiety in general. Rarely all of these symptoms at once, but it has happened, particularly when the mental disabilities were so new to me that I would freak out thinking I was going mad.

And that is just half of the story, since during the "good mood" part of the cycle, difficulty concentrating and restlessness can be just as bad (like you want to eat three main courses and two deserts all at once). The disadvantages of this part of the cycle are harder to see, because... "what the heck, everything is so fun and pleasurable, wohoo!!!"

This is one of the reasons I am not keen on recommending meditation to anyone who isn't already going for it.

I think frequent exercise helped me a lot with the restlessness - though I needed to learn how to do it in the right way.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 8:00 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
During my recent pass through the dark night stages, I reduced my sitting time to about a half hour per day, and spent 2-3 hours/day watching Battlestar Galactica. It seemed to work out ok.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 3:35 PM as a reply to Mike Kich.
How are you meditating / what's coming up when you do it?

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 4:05 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
However, YES, I have had severe attentional issues during dark nights; it is somewhat better nowadays, but I still feel somewhat burned out from the violent ups and downs.

This is one of the reasons I am not keen on recommending meditation to anyone who isn't already going for it./quote]


Haha, well it's comforting to know it's probably at least partly that then; I feel much better today, for example, after I got some decent sleep last night, but as you say there's always still the DN thing in the background, it just is less noticeable under more pleasant circumstances. I checked out Adderall too, since I've heard about grad students using and abusing it for concentration, and it's essentially an amphetamine chock full of side-effects that aren't so minor (like possible arhythmia or tachycardia, haha).

From the point of view of someone who's a stream-enterer, how would you say your ability to concentrate and pay attention in everyday circumstances is different? Or is it different at all?

And how do you mean, the right way for exercise?

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 4:42 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
I meditate formally for a half-hour every night - I like Shikantaza for its simplicity, though it's sometimes difficult business, especially if I'm overtired from not getting enough sleep. Last night, for example, I skipped both that and Karate (which I felt bad for) emoticon in favor of eating something and finishing homework, and then going to bed for a decent night's sleep.

As far as what comes up, that seems a little different every time. I have a lot of thoughts of boredom and mental restlessness, along the lines of, "oooh, this other technique would be so interesting to just switch to...again", so I just try to barrel through that.

I also get a lot of fear/dread that kind of mutedly sits in the background, which doesn't go away with meditation but actually gets worse if I do concentration stuff it seems, like if I keep up with this I'm going to kill my mind and I'll become a dribbling idiot permanently half-lost. There is a certain stillness to it as well, but it's hard to describe. I experimented with shamanic stuff and visualization, and the creativity of that appeals to me sometimes, but my dreams and overall state of mind when doing that kind of stuff tends to be screwed up (more along the lines of Tibetan stuff, shamanic practice, a dab of Chaos Magick, I experiment partly because I'm curious about all mystical traditions and partly because every technique I try starts promising and ends up being drudgery or else the tradition it comes from appeals to me in some ways but is disappointingly archaic for the post-modern world in many other ways).

I also have issues with thoughts of fear and doubt coming up, having to do with the thought that the way I'm going about meditating sometimes is turning me into an automaton/sociopath, since there are periods of time during/after I've been concentrating on meditation when my ability to feel emotion seems to be buried or retarded or sommat.

Perhaps connected with the DN stuff we're talking about, I tend to have to put an inordinate amount of effort into not forgetting events or things I have to do or peoples' birthdays, even remembering to do simple stuff like putting a lamp together; it's like I try to see that everyone in my life is doing alright, and then past that I don't care about anything whatsoever. This has been going on since forever though.

A lot too comes up with this general image of myself that I realize I've been trying to construct for a long, long time, that of an "adept" at whatever tradition/technique. Some of that comes from watching too many movies, trying to emulate the forest monk from "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring", or trying to somehow make myself into this hidden Zen adept who sits for hours on end with impeccable posture every single day with unbreakable faith in his tradition and path. All those visions seem so clean in comparison to real life...the ability to happen upon a technique which opens up into a whole tradition, which of course this ideal persona has no real trouble buying into, and then this persona pursuing this one technique to the exclusion of everything else, linearly. Bhante G.'s picture of meditation as crazy simple in practice, the ultimate in simplicity and streamlined cleanliness of lifestyle in Mindfulness in Plain English for example, or the image of a meditator in any Zen book. And so it's been this major point of frustration for me for a long time, why can't I buy into anything? Even if I try buying into nothing, saying, "ok, I don't need to believe anything about anything, just do this technique consistently and well", that seems to backfire as well. It's this lesson in control or rather my inability to really have it that I'm slowly learning, but it's a really difficult mental image to break through.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 7:01 PM as a reply to Mike Kich.
What do you hope to get out of your practice, on the level of personal experience? (I don't mean the self-as-highly-attained-adept goal, instead, what are the problems/goals affecting your life now which drive you to practice?)

My path through this sort of fear/dread/doubt has been to cultivate metta in general, and then specifically for the fear/dread/doubt itself as I've grown more fluent with it. This has been a rough road, but it has been paying dividends lately.

There is a good chance that the fear/etc. is being kicked up to a higher energy level by your practice and is disturbing your daily life. Another possibility is that the attentional struggles were always there, and you are just developing the acuity to notice them now. This happened to me with anger, very early on. (You may remember this quote from Bhante's book,
"Somewhere in this process, you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking, gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed."
)

When you notice your mind wander, you might try to remember what in your experience preceded the wandering/boredom. This will be tricky at first because the wandering/boredom has evolved to protect you from awareness of that aspect of experience, but that is where you will ultimately find your answer, and it is where the practice of meditation begins to have practical daily use.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/10/12 9:08 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
A simple answer to your question: daily life is generally dissatisfying, and it's difficult to say just why. Everything lacks pizzazz, everything's maybe interesting for a little bit, but absolutely nothing holds up despite great efforts to sustain interests in a genuine way. I don't care at all about work or career fields except as far as they help me survive, and the idea that I either have to spend my life lying out my ass that I'm happy with working day-in day-out at whatever upscale job with neurotic people to make decent money, or else bust my ass working a crap job with morons and come home exhausted every night, is just pretty disgruntling even after all this time I've spent getting used to that reality and interacting with it. People at your job want passion, that's like a by-word in this culture, even if 90% of people fake it all the time - I know they do too, because once you've seen yourself fake it, it's fairly easy to tell by looking at others that they are too. Which is fine, it's not like I have a better answer yet, the only difference is that my whole being is shouting that there is a better way of life, and that this culture is unimaginative in the extreme. The answer almost everyone gives when this is brought up is, "yeah of course, this is the way things are (get used to it, brat)" - but that's bullshit, because even though that is obviously the way things are, and even though that has to be dealt with, everyone deserves genuine satisfaction, myself included. Anything else is just settling, which is another word for p******g out.

This doesn't mean I'm always this much of a Deborah D. Downer, and in fact I pretty happy around my friends and co-workers most of the time; I don't dislike anyone in my life, and I'm very lucky. That's just it though; life's nice when you're lucky, but when you suddenly stop being lucky this society has little or no safety net, especially for those who decide they'd like an alternative lifestyle. My parents are getting older, and for whatever reason the impermanence of situations, of people, of security, is very obvious to me. Things are fine for right now, because like I said, I was born into comparatively pretty fortunate circumstances. Some day though, they'll be gone, and if I haven't figured out how to deal with being in a social modus operandi that I just don't jive with and to be honest never really have, well I'll just be screwed. And then who am I gonna go to? So there's this societal-woe element.

There's also though this undercurrent underlying it all, and that's the DN business I'm fairly certain. I'm not just bored, I'm restless, and I do become more aware of these underlying feelings as time and practice advance. I want something to believe in, something that I can really pour myself into, and something that produces results for both my mind and body. I know there's this serenity I can attain, this sense of magic in everything too, and more than even that this effortlessness about it, like it just happened on its own. I've seen it in my old Sensei and I'm lucky enough to have a teacher or two currently who also have some of that about them, and so I know something about the difference between people who're really calm, and people who aren't. I want to pay 100% attention to whomever's speaking to me too, and for that matter to whatever task I'm engaged in at the moment, and I want to genuinely love everyone in my life with little or no self-interest because I already have everything I need, and I can afford to be emotionally and spiritually generous. I want to get to the point where I'm not afraid in the slightest if I end up living alone in a pile of garbage somewhere, so whether I'm lucky as hell or very unlucky.

So anyway, that's a long answer to your question.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/11/12 6:41 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
Hey Mike.

I see a lot of my own issues in what you have written, and I thought to share a bit with you. This is what I would have told myself.

As far as what comes up, that seems a little different every time. I have a lot of thoughts of boredom and mental restlessness


Restlessness and boredom might never go away - think about that prospect. It's not at this level that you find peace.


"oooh, this other technique would be so interesting to just switch to...again"


Hey, how do you know my thoughts? But once again, it's not at this level one finds peace.


I also get a lot of fear/dread that kind of mutedly sits in the background, which doesn't go away with meditation but actually gets worse if I do concentration stuff it seems, like if I keep up with this I'm going to kill my mind and I'll become a dribbling idiot permanently half-lost.


You're not really supposed to try to get the fear to go away. It's not like that. Even though it does require a certain kind of faith/determination, it is very subtle, and what you wanna look at is the fact that you want the fear to go away. Has that even struck you? That fear is unpleasant, and you don't want it to be there? Hidden behind the obviousness of this, there's a deeper understanding that will set you free from the fear. Realize that you just have to stop wanting it to go away.


I also have issues with thoughts of fear and doubt coming up, having to do with the thought that the way I'm going about meditating sometimes is turning me into an automaton/sociopath, since there are periods of time during/after I've been concentrating on meditation when my ability to feel emotion seems to be buried or retarded or sommat.


This points directly to the level where peace can not be found.


Perhaps connected with the DN stuff we're talking about, I tend to have to put an inordinate amount of effort into not forgetting events or things I have to do or peoples' birthdays, even remembering to do simple stuff like putting a lamp together; it's like I try to see that everyone in my life is doing alright, and then past that I don't care about anything whatsoever. This has been going on since forever though.


Why do you need to remember?


A lot too comes up with this general image of myself that I realize I've been trying to construct for a long, long time, that of an "adept" at whatever tradition/technique. Some of that comes from watching too many movies, trying to emulate the forest monk from "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring", or trying to somehow make myself into this hidden Zen adept who sits for hours on end with impeccable posture every single day with unbreakable faith in his tradition and path.


This imperative to seek salvation in external things plus the transient nature of things is suffering in it's purest form.


All those visions seem so clean in comparison to real life...the ability to happen upon a technique which opens up into a whole tradition, which of course this ideal persona has no real trouble buying into, and then this persona pursuing this one technique to the exclusion of everything else, linearly. Bhante G.'s picture of meditation as crazy simple in practice, the ultimate in simplicity and streamlined cleanliness of lifestyle in Mindfulness in Plain English for example, or the image of a meditator in any Zen book.


I suggest you check out Dzogchen (also Aro) and Mahamudra. It can be tough to get an overview of it, but in my own experience it was worth it.

And it is like that - clean, simple and streamlined - but not at the level where you are currently looking for it, which is pretty much why you find yourself in *scary voice and squiggly letters* Dark Night of the Soul (!).


And so it's been this major point of frustration for me for a long time, why can't I buy into anything? Even if I try buying into nothing, saying, "ok, I don't need to believe anything about anything, just do this technique consistently and well", that seems to backfire as well. It's this lesson in control or rather my inability to really have it that I'm slowly learning, but it's a really difficult mental image to break through.


Once again pointing directly to the place where you will not find peace.


A simple answer to your question: daily life is generally dissatisfying, and it's difficult to say just why. Everything lacks pizzazz, everything's maybe interesting for a little bit, but absolutely nothing holds up despite great efforts to sustain interests in a genuine way.


Not where peace is found.


I don't care at all about work or career fields except as far as they help me survive, and the idea that I either have to spend my life lying out my ass that I'm happy with working day-in day-out at whatever upscale job with neurotic people to make decent money, or else bust my ass working a crap job with morons and come home exhausted every night, is just pretty disgruntling even after all this time I've spent getting used to that reality and interacting with it. People at your job want passion, that's like a by-word in this culture, even if 90% of people fake it all the time - I know they do too, because once you've seen yourself fake it, it's fairly easy to tell by looking at others that they are too. Which is fine, it's not like I have a better answer yet, the only difference is that my whole being is shouting that there is a better way of life, and that this culture is unimaginative in the extreme. The answer almost everyone gives when this is brought up is, "yeah of course, this is the way things are (get used to it, brat)" - but that's bullshit, because even though that is obviously the way things are, and even though that has to be dealt with, everyone deserves genuine satisfaction, myself included. Anything else is just settling, which is another word for p******g out.

This doesn't mean I'm always this much of a Deborah D. Downer, and in fact I pretty happy around my friends and co-workers most of the time; I don't dislike anyone in my life, and I'm very lucky. That's just it though; life's nice when you're lucky, but when you suddenly stop being lucky this society has little or no safety net, especially for those who decide they'd like an alternative lifestyle. My parents are getting older, and for whatever reason the impermanence of situations, of people, of security, is very obvious to me.


Yes, samsara sucks. Let's find a way to stop that suckiness.


Things are fine for right now, because like I said, I was born into comparatively pretty fortunate circumstances. Some day though, they'll be gone, and if I haven't figured out how to deal with being in a social modus operandi that I just don't jive with and to be honest never really have, well I'll just be screwed. And then who am I gonna go to? So there's this societal-woe element.


Once again, this is not where peace is found. Have you reflected on your own death? I think you should.

I've thought about death countless times. It has taught me many things, among them that fear of death is thought-induced. Why is that important? Go find out yourself. Seriously, cry yourself to sleep thinking about your own death. Eventually, it'll dawn on you.


I want something to believe in, something that I can really pour myself into, and something that produces results for both my mind and body. I know there's this serenity I can attain, this sense of magic in everything too, and more than even that this effortlessness about it, like it just happened on its own.


Word! It's there for you, but it's not like in the movies. It's not at this level of mind.


I want to pay 100% attention to whomever's speaking to me too, and for that matter to whatever task I'm engaged in at the moment, and I want to genuinely love everyone in my life with little or no self-interest because I already have everything I need, and I can afford to be emotionally and spiritually generous. I want to get to the point where I'm not afraid in the slightest if I end up living alone in a pile of garbage somewhere, so whether I'm lucky as hell or very unlucky.


Stop wanting. Start doing.

I have a lot of thoughts of boredom and mental restlessness, along the lines of... ...if I keep up with this I'm going to kill my mind and I'll become a dribbling idiot permanently half-lost... ...I also have issues with thoughts of fear and doubt coming up... ...the thought that the way I'm going about meditating sometimes is turning me into an automaton/sociopath... ...A lot too comes up with this general image of myself that I realize I've been trying to construct for a long, long time... ...trying to somehow make myself into this hidden Zen adept who sits for hours on end with impeccable posture every single day with unbreakable faith in his tradition and path... ...this ideal persona... ...it's been this major point of frustration for me for a long time, why can't I buy into anything... ...saying, "ok, I don't need to believe anything about anything, just do this technique consistently and well", seems to backfire... ... nothing holds up despite great efforts to sustain interests... ...my whole being is shouting that there is a better way of life... ...everyone deserves genuine satisfaction, myself included... ...when you suddenly stop being lucky this society has little or no safety net, especially for those who decide they'd like an alternative lifestyle... ...if I haven't figured out how to deal with being in a social modus operandi that I just don't jive with and to be honest never really have, well I'll just be screwed. And then who am I gonna go to...

I want something to believe in, something that I can really pour myself into, and something that produces results for both my mind and body. I know there's this serenity I can attain, this sense of magic in everything too, and more than even that this effortlessness about it, like it just happened on its own. (...) I want to pay 100% attention to whomever's speaking to me too, and for that matter to whatever task I'm engaged in at the moment, and I want to genuinely love everyone in my life with little or no self-interest. (...) I want to get to the point where I'm not afraid in the slightest if I end up living alone in a pile of garbage somewhere.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/11/12 9:15 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
Mike Kich:
From the point of view of someone who's a stream-enterer, how would you say your ability to concentrate and pay attention in everyday circumstances is different? Or is it different at all?

And how do you mean, the right way for exercise?


(1) From the point of view of being a stream enterer: concentration has improved massively in comparison to that first dark night, but is still pretty bad (worst than many people I know who never meditated). I am more able to pay attention to every day mundane stuff, but still have a hard time with studying and reading --- quiet activities tend to expose an undercurrent of restlessness that makes such activities rather hard to do.

(2) Well, perhaps there is no right way, but I have found a way of exercising which is very pleasurable, and seems to have a generic beneficial influence in my life. To get it right I had to experiment, but I there were a few specific things I noticed:

During cardio, I noticed how it is hard at first, I have to push, but if I am persistent and yet don't strain excessively, at some point I "break through" (at the beginning it was around 15-20 minutes from the start) and running becomes easy; If I pay attention to how the body is warm and how the breath is flowing, it can even become very pleasant.

Then I notice that this way of breathing, and this warming of the body can be given privileged attention, so that I "break through" earlier, nowadays it is usually 8-13 minutes. Also, it is more effective for me to keep at the right level of effort without straining, and what that level of effort is (as measured by the km/h of the elliptical running machine at my gym) depends on the day ---sometimes I am more tired, sometimes I am more energetic.

Since I found exercising to be so pleasant, I don't shy away from doing it as much as I used to (typically I exercised consistently for a few weeks, then drop it gradually and eventually abandon it altogether). Exercise makes my life a bit better. It is nothing grand, no great insights into the non-dual nature of reality or whatever, instead it actually works rather consistently. Also meditating 10-15 minutes after exercise is really good for me.

(3) As in your succeeding reply you have pretty much described many past and present impressions of my own, regarding life, society, and the path, I could maybe complement them with some more words. Specifically regarding your third paragraph:

Mike:
There's also though this undercurrent underlying it all, and that's the DN business I'm fairly certain. I'm not just bored, I'm restless, and I do become more aware of these underlying feelings as time and practice advance.




Mike:
I want something to believe in, something that I can really pour myself into, and something that produces results for both my mind and body. I know there's this serenity I can attain, this sense of magic in everything too, and more than even that this effortlessness about it, like it just happened on its own.


My own imaginations about self-improvement and deliverance were even more wild. Recently I have come to a point when I am not as fond of pleasure as I used to be, and accordingly, my imaginations about attainment became more rare, and less ambitious. More about tranquility, and getting rid of that restlessness, so I can enjoy the scenario in peace.

You probably already know this, but your whole discourse indicates a form of disenchantment. The same disenchantment which you (eloquently) describe towards society, in me it seems to have generalized, to some degree, to pleasure itself. And here it flips around, because if pleasure isn't really that desirable, pain isn't really that bad. And if pain isn't really that bad, I can be more patient and friendly with myself when in pain.

And it turns out, actually, that my imaginations about self-improvement were, to some extent, a desire/mental-movement to dissociate from deep pain, a dissociation which I think dates back very far to my childhood, and is fundamental in certain features of my personality (such as being prone to intellectualizing and overly abstract thinking). When I saw this dissociation, it was felt like there were two "me"s, and that "I" didn't like "myself."

This felt so sad that I, as a reaction of sorts, started practicing metta, or something along those lines (and actually, I am somewhat embarrassed to say, hugging myself occasionally). Self-kindness is a real help when things get tough, and when that restlessness eats me under my skin I can mostly just bear with it. I used to be very impatient with restlessness, but I have since realized that restlessness is a very profound feature of the human mind, that it can be found everywhere and in everyone (that I have met). Also, in the buddhist 10-fetter model it is apparently only lost at the culmination of the path. So now I am more patient with it.

This practice has also put me into contact with that "me" that "I" would have otherwise disconnected from; a "me" that is full of weird mental analogues of biological traits. People's psychology and behavior becomes better understood with an enriched vocabulary such as digestion, defecation, immunity/allergy, filtering, homeostasis, temperature, etc, where as before explanations were limited to belief, justification, mental trait (courageous/shy/egocentric/etc), social pressure, etc. The common feature of the latter is that they fit well in a narrative (she did X because of Y), whereas the former do not.

I don't know if this is of any use to you, I guess the bottom-line is: my fantasies about what the path supposedly is were partially dissociative, you might maybe profit from inquiring yourself in that regard. Take this with a grain of salt, though, this is definitely not advice or "wisdom" in any shape or form, I'm just sharing because I recognized my thoughts and feelings in your words.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/11/12 10:24 AM as a reply to Mike Kich.
Thanks for the reply, Mike. Are there meditation teachers in your area you could talk to?

I don't think you need Adderall, just attend to the fear and doubt on the edge of your perception in meditation and try to attend to the causes and conditions behind the short attention span in daily life. But preceding all that with a few weeks of metta meditation will stand you in good stead when it gets difficult.

If you find a local teacher you can talk to, take his advice instead, of course.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
5/13/12 9:37 AM as a reply to Stian Gudmundsen Høiland.
I have understood that the wanting part of the equation is the problem, but it's kind of a Catch 22 - I can't want anything either way, because then that's just wanting to stop wanting it to go away. And it's hard not to want something different or be satisfied with pain. So I'm slowly still wrestling with the lack of control bit.

RE: Dark Night and drop in attention span/mental acuity
Answer
6/4/12 5:29 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
Oh and I don't think I answered about the meditation teachers - yes and no. There are some sitting groups that I've attended on and off, and I'm trying a different one out shortly. A couple of them I've been to were pretty pleasant, I don't have an issue with the group itself.

As far as a real teacher though, which is what I really need, I haven't been able to find him/her. I talk to a guy who's into energy work and follows different gurus every once in a while, and he's been helpful definitely..but he's not a teacher in the formal sense even if he is a teacher in the way that every person we meet is our teacher. Mmm, not that realized people don't shit or do unsavory things, but I've met at least one teacher who I'm convinced is realized (several years ago already) and there's a wide gulf between what my experience of him was and experiencing others, so I look for that impression from other people I look up. Of course that could just be nostalgia, and he wasn't the most moral guy either (he wasn't above making some dough off of impressionable kids and he liked ladies a little too openly), but still he made a really strong impression on me even 3-4 years later. It's kinda like how I've listened to students of Trungpa describe him - on one hand, yeah he was a major dick, but on the other there wasn't really anyone like him since.