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While the adverse consequences of abandoning or neglecting children is easy to observe and document, much abandonment and neglect takes place daily in the world in ways we often don’t pay much attention to. And even if we did, skillful ways to address and remedy such actions so that further separation and suffering don’t ensue, are rarely a part of our relationship toolbox. Here are ten-plus-one not-so-subtle common occurrences that I’ve observed over the years. If you consider that a primary driver of neural network enrichment is the result of give-and-take interpersonal, in-the-flesh feedback, what might we inadvertently be doing to our brain with these small-picture behaviors?

  1. smartphones_in_bed

    What could possibly be so interesting? And who’s in the bedroom taking the picture?

     

    Proximate Separation– Two people in close proximity who have little direct emotional or energetic exchanges going on. When I was growing up it looked a lot like a husband and wife both reading the newspaper over the breakfast table. Nowadays, it looks more often like the couple in the picture on the right.

  2. Excessive Attention to Smartphones/Laptops– In a February, 2016 poll, nearly 200 million people in America own smartphones. That’s a lot of attention being paid to an electronic device that in earlier times was being paid directly to other people. What’s clearly not being attended to is how this attentional shift might be adversely impacting our capacity to readily regulate arousal states when we do actually have to interact with other people. According to Tallie Baram, a brain researcher at UC Irvine, this significant increase in screen time is having an adverse effect that is going to be showing up increasingly not only in ourselves, but more importantly, in our children’s healthy brain development.
  3. Sexual Time Travel– Basically, not loving the one we’re with. Running off in our minds (and heart) to be with an imaginary someone else, in an imaginary somewhere else. The intimate energy experience with someone who’s fully present and responsive is qualitatively different, in case you aren’t aware of it.
  4. Workaholism– There’s no work in the world that can sustain interest 60-80 hours a week, month in and month out. I don’t care what it is. When more than half your waking life is spent “on the job” it smacks of avoidance behavior or some kind of a brain organized in an addictive manner. Or worse – The Disease of Being Busy.
  5. Non-Contingent Communication– You know the feeling: you’re having a conversation with someone and they’re lost in the space inside their head; or they frequently non-sequitur their way onto other topics, usually having something to do with them. Or you’re in communication over the phone or the computer and the person on the other end has their keyboard clacking away the whole time.
  6. Not Keeping Our Word– When our word is law, when what we say we’re going to do is what we end up doing, we become supremely trustworthy. liar-liar-mdash-is-it-ever-okay-largeNot just to others, but to ourselves – to Witness Consciousness – our inside Sentinel who’s watching every move we make and then generating narratives about who we are and what we’re capable of, for better or worse. When we don’t keep our word, it’s usually for worse.
  7. Relationship Unfaithfulness– With every brain on the planet either consciously or unconsciously wanting a “Yes” answer to the question: Are you there for me? Can I count on you when the chips are down? Will you be there to help me through the inevitable Dark Night of the Soul? – unfaithfulness in relationship answers this fundamental need with a resounding “No.” Expect to be repaid in kind.
  8. Inebriation– There’s little worse than trying to have a healthy, committed lasting relationship with someone who’s frequently in a dissonant state of consciousness. You and they would be better served if each of you did the hard work of trying to heal the broken heart needing to be so often medicated. Medication is not integration.
  9. Multi-Tasking– Time and again research has shown that when we try to do multiple things at once, we do all of them less well than if we focused our attention on one person, place or thing at a time.
  10. Unskillful Listening– We’re all challenged by this sensory experience at some time or another. The primary reason is that skillful listening is just that – a skill. Skills take practice. And we don’t get better unless we know what to practice and what we need practice on. When it comes to this skill, most of us don’t know what we don’t know, and no one has impressed upon us just how important this skill is and how difficult it is to truly master.
  11. Self-Abandonment– In ways large and small. From the promises we make to ourselves and others and fail to keep, to the many ways we don’t take care of body, mind, brain and spirit. We may have been abandoned by others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do the work required to be faithful and true to ourselves. Feel free to start with … The Two Perilous Questions.

Here’s a free series by one of my favorite neurobiologists, Stanford professor and MacArthur Fellow Robert Sapolsky. If you put in the time to listen to this series of 25 lectures, I guarantee you will know enough about your brain and body to be able to apply it in creative ways across many diverse areas of your life. I recommend watching in 15-20 minute increments. While Robert’s an extremely knowledgeable and skilled researcher, he’s clearly never studied effective teaching methods for best delivering large amounts complex information (So much to learn and so little time). But if you put in the time, you’ll know the ins and outs of Human Behavioral Biology as if you actually went to Stanford!

But before you jump right in and begin binge-watching, you might first want to check out this week’s Enchanted Loom featuring Yale neurobiologist Eliezer Sternberg’s book, My Brain Made Me Do It.

1. Introduction to Human Behavioral Biology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNnIGh9g6fA

2. Behavioral Evolution I

https://youtu.be/Y0Oa4Lp5fLE

3. Behavioral Evolution II

https://youtu.be/oKNAzl-XN4I

4. Molecular Genetics I

https://youtu.be/_dRXA1_e30o

5. Molecular Genetics II

https://youtu.be/dFILgg9_hrU

6. Behavioral Genetics I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0WZx7lUOrY

7. Behavioral Genetics II

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG5fN6KrDJE

8. Recognizing Relatives

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

9. Ethology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

10. Introduction to Neuroscience I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5031rWXgdYo

11. Introduction to Neuroscience II

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqU9lmFztOU

12. Endocrinology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yETVsV4zfFw

13. Advanced Neurology and Endocrinology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAfz0yAcOyQ

14. Limbic System

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAOnSbDSaOw

15. Human Sexual Behavior I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOY3QH_jOtE

16. Human Sexual Behavior II

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95OP9rSjxzw

17. Human Sexual Behavior III & Aggression I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPYmarGO5jM

18. Aggression II

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLE71i4JJiM

19. Aggression III

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtVfoIkVSu8

20. Aggression IV

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqP4_4kr7-0

21. Chaos and Reductionism

https://youtu.be/_njf8jwEGRo

22. Emergence and Complexity

https://youtu.be/o_ZuWbX-CyE

23. Language

https://youtu.be/SIOQgY1tqrU

24. Schizophrenia

https://youtu.be/nEnklxGAmak

25. Individual Differences

https://youtu.be/-PpDq1WUtAw

 

 

 

If reading this blog every week is worth any bit of your time, listening to this podcast is worth reading a year’s worth at least. PodcastAs I was listening to it, at least 100 different people came to mind whom I was excited to send it to. Finally, I just decided to bump the blog I had planned to publish and offer this up instead…

The Most Inspiring Podcast

I’ve Ever Heard

Sincerely yours,

Mark

When people somehow discover my early beginnings were less than optimal, they often marvel at what I’ve been able to accomplish over the course of my life. I don’t. I consider myself extremely lucky (I can’t tell you how many times I narrowly missed dying – when you’re holding a rifle that you’ve just discharged near a playground, and 6 New Haven cops are advancing on you with their guns drawn, and you’re not shot dead 12 times over, luck is clearly playing a part). I also know that scores of people have been uncommonly supportive of me – they have answered The Big Brain Question in the affirmative over and over and over.

My study of brain science over the last 13 years has repeatedly convinced me that The Big Brain Question is something our neurophysiology begins to put together non-verbally before we are ever born. It forms the question in response to the way our brain and body shifts hyper-arousal states to tranquility and calm through processes that diminish and discharge stress hormones. After birth, in the best of all possible worlds, we have parents who learn to help us do that so our little body doesn’t have to constantly go it alone. At some point, other family members and people in our extended community make their contribution. They all together form a network designed to let us and our brain know that we are loved, that we matter, that people can care enough to calm us.

Many popular songs speak to this basic neurobiologically-based question. I’m convinced that’s a big part of what made them so popular. Here are 20 that I’ve managed to come up with. I’m sure there are untold more. If you’ve got your own favorite song that positively answers The Big Brain Question, feel free to post it below. Here’s my list as hyperlinks so you can give a listen.

  1. Bridge Over Troubled Waters – Simon & Garfunkel
  2. Will You Be There – Michael Jackson
  3. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
  4. I’ll Be There for You – The Rembrandts (Friends Theme)
  5. Stand By Me – Ben E. King
  6. Good Enough – Sarah McLaughlan
  7. How Did You Find Me Here? – David Wilcox
  8. Everything I Do, I Do It for You – Bryan Adams
  9. Because You Loved Me – Celine Dion
  10. I’ll Stand By You – The Pretenders
  11. You’ve Got a Friend – Carole King
  12. Love at the Five and Dime – Nanci Griffith
  13. Where’ve You Been – Kathy Mattea
  14. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
  15. I’ve Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher
  16. Now and Forever – Richard Marx
  17. You Raise Me Up – Josh Groban
  18. Something In the Way She Moves – James Taylor
  19. Never Stop Jackson Browne
  20. You Are Not Alone – Michael Jackson

Several years ago I seriously injured my finger in a logging accident. I put some antiseptic on it and bandaged it up, but after a few days it began to give off the stench of dead rat. So, with little fanfare I went to my computer and did a Google search on “stinky finger.” I promptly learned that the damaged tissue had become necrotic – it was dying from lack of blood supply and other nutrients. The effective Google-delivered remedy: wrap it overnight in a wet tea bag. Lo and behold, it worked! The tannic acid in the teabag apparently has properties that have been known for years to remove dead skin cells (It’s also good for shrinking hemorrhoids!).

tea1Good for What Ails Me?

And now, a confession: I use Google to research a wide variety of medical conditions my brain makes up stories about while trying to convince me they are all lethal and preordained to kill me. Most recently: sciatica, sinus infections, peripheral neuropathy, folliculitis and hives. Turns out that even though a statistically wimpy number of people have actually died by complications from all of these conditions, I’m unlikely to. So, I’ve probably got probability on my side. I’ve also got culture, since I’m joined by more than 84 million other Americans who use any of the hundreds of search engines and meta-search engines currently available online to do research and spare us from dizzying trips down the rabbit-hole that is Corporate Medical America.

However, there’s a certain kind of anxious urgency I notice about these kinds of remedy searches. What I mostly want them to do, and what they generally do accomplish is … they calm me down. There’s something about being able to name a condition – say idiopathic urticaria (hives) – and get the sense that it’s not going to be the seminal event that begins my end-of-life trajectory – that brings reassurance. I can relax and actually enjoy the scratching and the temporary relief it brings.

Digital Hypochondria

There are other problems in using the internet to self-diagnose of course. One is: there are many more listings in search engines for serious and weird diseases than there are for things like hives and the common cold. Search long enough and I’ll eventually find sufficient link-bait to convince me that the itchy welts on my skin are the way my personal, unique strain of brain cancer just happens to be presenting! Not all that good for calming what in reality actually ails me. I too often find myself with the overwhelming impulse to research any and all symptoms of other related conditions and induce in myself a state of medical-induced anxiety – cyberchondria!

cyberchondriaAnother problem: I don’t know what I don’t know. That’s called … ignorance. Or my new favorite word for it: nescience. One way to overcome nescience is to become informed, but probably not by relying solely on search engines. In the old days, a better way to dispel nescience with respect to what ails us might be to actually consult with a doctor. The only challenge with that is these days doctors are super meta-busy doctoring. If you’re a neurologist, for example, with a full 60-80 hour a week practice, you don’t have time to stay even a little bit current with the 300,000 peer-reviewed neuroscience studies published every year! Who does? No one.

What to do? Here’s one suggestion – form a doctor-patient-advocate armada relationship. No one will be more motivated than you and your circle of friend”ships” and caring community members. Ideally there’s an Admiral who can be the WICOS (Who’s In Charge of the Ship?), directing every aspect involved in research and treatment. There are boatswains to do the actual scouring of the current literature; a sailor who’s “A-J Squared Away” to review it and curate it; a Chief Petty Officer to summarize the most relevant studies; a deck hand to arrange for effective treatment, medicines and non-medical needs; a Bridge Commander to schedule all the various appointments and followup needs…

Are you getting the feeling that it truly takes a Navy Seal Team to manage an illness these days? Well, don’t fret about it. Enjoy this Enchanted Loom featuring Dr. Dan Siegel instead.

Outgrowing Gun Brain

When I was 18 and I moved from Connecticut to California, the very first thing I did was to buy a gun. I bought a 9-shot Harrington & Richardson .22 caliber revolver. Eighteen! was the legal age required for gun ownership in California then. I bought a shoulder holster along with that gun and carried it concealed with me everywhere I went, once on an American Airlines cross-country flight! (Obviously, this was a number of decades ago, before terrorists filled the skies). Growing up in a dangerous, low-income housing project, the need for a gun was obvious to me.

At one point I owned a dozen guns – several rifles, a shotgun, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, even a little 2-shot .32 caliber Derringer. I loved guns.

More Dangerous to the Owner

The first inkling I had that guns could be trouble for the gun owner was a day when I was alone in my bedroom cleaning one of my semi-automatics. I took the top slide off with the bullet clip still in the handle. gunThis maneuver unwittingly loaded a live round into the firing chamber. I’d never had a lesson in gun safety. I put the gun back together and left the clip full of bullets on the bed. Then, thinking the gun was empty, I playfully pointed the barrel at the bedroom wall and pulled the trigger. The loud bang left me startled and shocked. The .32 caliber bullet blasted through the bedroom wall and out into the kitchen where it hit the open refrigerator door, just missing my roommate Larry Labovitz, standing in front of it (Larry would later go on to become a renown Hollywood civil rights lawyer. He almost didn’t).

The next inkling I had that guns could be dangerous for the gun owner was one day when I had a bunch of guy friends over. We were horsing around as teen guys do, and at one point I pulled out my revolver and pointed it at Art Gerstel’s head. I’d previously loaded the gun with blanks, and so imagine Art’s surprise when I pulled the trigger! I was just about to pull the trigger a second time, when suddenly there was a loud knock on the front door. A neighbor wanted to know what all the noise was about. We appeased her and things settled down. Later, back in my room I emptied the gun and discovered there was an actual live round still in the cylinder! It was right in line to fire the next time the trigger was pulled. Were it not for that knock on the door, I would have gone to jail for involuntary manslaughter and Art Gerstel would be dead.

Defense Is the First Act of War

The main reason I told myself I owned guns was “for protection.” But I truly loved guns. I loved the way they looked. I loved the heft of them in my hands. I loved the way they smelled. I loved cleaning and caring for them. I loved “the power in the palm of my hands.” In retrospect, I had an extremely sensual love affair with guns. They calmed my fear circuitry and stoked my dopamine and oxytocin networks.

But as I got older, the love affair began to fade. In my early thirties I got to a point developmentally where I could have love affairs with actual people. I could have sensual and consensual experiences with them and they could reciprocate. Guns aren’t so great with contingent sensual reciprocity. They don’t give back.

Cognitive Ripening

Not only that, but I was actually becoming able to put my cognitive brain in charge, rather than my emotional, fear-fueled reactive brain. I went and did research to find out if my fear – the main reason I told myself I needed a gun – was legitimate. family-of-burglars-250x150.jpgIt turns out a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to injure its owner or an innocent person than it is to stop an intruder. I can personally attest to that. And in 2015, gun deaths exceeded traffic fatalities for the first time – a reflection of how much safer our cars are, as well as how many more guns we’ve littered the country with. But here’s the thing: in the rural areas there are only 600 burglaries per 100,000 people. Only 444 of those are residential break-ins, and only 269 of those are through forcible entry. Average loss is a little over $2000.

For me, the much larger question becomes, do I want the traumatic memory of injuring or killing another human being burned into my neural network for the rest of my life over the extremely slim (.27%) chance that an intruder will break into my house to steal $2000 worth of my belongings that insurance covers anyway?

Should such an unlikely event take place, I would hope and prefer to react the way Shichiri Kojun did. That seems a worthwhile level of heart and brain development to aspire to.

If you ask most corporate CEOs and Human Resource Managers what the most important duties of their Chief Feedback Officer are, the feedback you’re likely to get will be a blank stare. Most won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Which is interesting, especially when you consider that the number one way the human brain learns and grows is … through feedback.

Here’s a list of virtues – as a high-level CFEO – you might ideally embrace:

  1. You understand that the primary way the brain grows cells and network connections is through feedback loops.
  2. You subscribe to the research that shows that collaborative communication fosters attachment and loyalty.
  3. You recognize that lack of timely, constructive feedback is the Number One complaint of employees the world over.
  4. Chief Listening OfficerYou are willing to wear the Chief Learning Officer’s hat and the Chief Listening Officer’s hat from time to time.
  5. You know the value of and the power in repeatedly answering The Big Brain Question “Yes” for your employees.
  6. You totally get how important Irrational Commitment is to job satisfaction, performance and loyalty.
  7. You promote and structure an environment that kindly encourages and supports Impeccability Practices.
  8. You help foster transient hypofrontality in support of creativity in meaning-making and in research and development.
  9. You help people manage stress while seeking to foster a neophilic environment.
  10. You recognize that the workplace is where the bulk of most employees’ lives unfold and you want theirs and yours to ultimately be a juicy, good-at-the-end, life well-lived.
  11. You regularly review and enjoy the latest Enchanted Loom installments … and here’s one right HERE on The Wandering Mind by emeritus professor Michael Corbalis.
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