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“The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” ~ Elie Wiesel

I’m not on my deathbed (as far as I know), even though there’s a high probability that I’m well past my brain’s and body’s natural lifespan mid-point. Which is kind of a significant teaching in itself – brain cells have instruction sets written into them to activate their natural, organic demise. It’s called apoptosis. I’ve written about it a number of times over the years.

Bolte Taylor Brain

Jill’s artwork: “Neural Processing”

So, assuming that I still have some hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades (?) to go, when I do finally find myself on my deathbed, what might be the ONE neuroscience teaching that I’d like people to remember (and not necessarily remember me for beating a dead horse over and over about it)?

There are, of course, many compelling, OMG! teachings about the brain that I’ve written about over the years. Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of what it looks like when the brain apprehends the world without our language centers running noisy interference – that’s high up on the list.

So is the FACT of neuroplasticity, as covered at length by Norman Doidge in both of his books. What’s not so well known or well-researched is just HOW plastic the brain really is – mounting masses of cell assemblies that may only last for microseconds and correlate with varying degrees of consciousness.

The One Teaching

But those are not the ONE neuroscience teaching I’d want to leave you with if I was on my deathbed. A brain fingerprintNor is the fact that every brain is unique unto its owner, just like fingerprints. And in that uniqueness, sometimes neural fiber tracts can wander from one brain sensory area into another, showing up as the ability to smell sounds or hear colors (synesthesia). Like I said, each of our brains is unique and changing microsecond by microsecond. But that’s not my deathbed teaching.

Here it is …

Brains grow and become healthy and maintain that health by a single evolutionary process: feedback loops. The interactions that go on between brain cells and extra-cellular glycoproteins, genetic transcription factors and signalling molecules produce feedback loops that are best described as Collaborative or Contingent Communication (CC). Behaviorally, it’s exemplified by what parents naturally do when they speak “motherse” (or fatherese) to their young children. It’s what pet owners do when they speak “puppyese” to new puppies. Contingent Communication is the primary driver of secure attachment in children and in pets. It’s what allows them to build brain networks that can easily regulate arousal, and it’s what makes people and pets feel safe and at home in our presence. Contingent communication, in fact, is us paying close, focused attention, and it is what lends us presence. Again, it’s the fundamental process that builds healthy brains.

Divine Beautiful Brain

Contingent Communication

On my deathbed I would have to deliver you both the good news and the bad news about Contingent Communication. Contingent Communication is complex and requires us to grow large dedicated fiber tracts associated with all the sensory centers, helping them to become operationally integrated. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that learning and practicing it is not easy; most of us suck at it. The main reason we suck at it is because we haven’t been taught how important it is – it’s the fundamental process involved in brain cells coming into being and morphing into different varieties and then being directed to various neighborhoods – different lobes and hemispheres across the brain. And we rarely learn the importance of mimicking this fundamental brain development process in our daily lives. No one teaches us how to design activities to strengthen a Contingent Communication practice. We don’t learn the critical importance of responding to the world and the people in it in a timely and effective manner (emphasis on timely and effective).

Artists, in my experience, often implicitly operate at a level of depth and understanding of CC. It doesn’t matter what their artistic medium is – they have to learn to pay exquisitely granular attention to what their art is wanting them to attend to, to learn. They take what they discover and then attempt to put it into creative practice. Then they rinse and repeat – a constant process of give and take, add and subtract, put together/take apart. This instructive story about jazz pianist Keith Jarrett exemplifies the granular depth and complexity that the Art of Contingent Communication can be taken to.

Applied Contingent Communication

The work of Leah Green, founder of The Compassionate Listening Project and Marshall Rosenberg, originator of trainings in Non-Violent Communication, essentially try to address the listening element of Contingent Communication. The main takeaway from their work is that … we actually need to train and practice this critical brain-benefiting activity. On my deathbed, my last wish would be a life-affirming one. It would be for each and every one of you reading this blog to creatively design and establish venues for taking your own CC practice out into the world. Humanity sorely needs the knowledge and awareness you now possess.

*** If these posts over the years have been helpful, buy me a coffee:

https://ko-fi.com/sigmundjung

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How to Court a Fruitfly

How to Court a Fruitfly

It’s not as easy as you might think. Turns out it a lot depends upon whether or not your Courtship Command Center’s P1 neurons are hyper-activating your motivation and perception circuitry. If Central Command is flooding your brain with massive amounts of dopamine, chances are increased that you’ll try to put some moves on. But even then, only 44% of the time. Turns out for fruitflies, it’s not about the sex. It’s about the brain – sex is all in their head!

Eating SunlightEating Sunlight

In this spirited TED Talk, physicist Ruben Meerman breaks down the mathematics of weight loss. In the process he exposes a lot of myths and misconceptions about what weight/fat actually is and where it actually goes when we lose it. Hint: You might wonder, but it’s not responsible for global warming.

Why Where You Live and Who You Live With Matters

So, my dissertation research took me around to spiritual communities in Tennessee, Maine, Upstate NY and Sea Ranch in CA. One thing became clear to me over and over: Where and who you live with is as important as how you live. Part of why I stayed at CASBS at Stanford for 10 years (I was only planning to stay for 6 months!) was because of the paradisaical, secure environment up on the top of the hill looking over all of Silicon Valley. No C-Reactive Protein imbalances for me!

If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage? Thus begins the opening paragraph of this compelling article. Further, historian Henry Adams described power as “a sort of tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.” Years of lab and field experiments show that people under the influence of power act as if they have suffered a traumatic brain injury. They become more impulsive, less risk-aware, and less able to see things from other people’s perspective. Like the famous Phineas Gage, they’ve got no Theory of Mind!

I can easily imagine a day when we will be able to readily and painlessly metabolize traumatic memories similar to what happens when people successfully move into and fully through a complex grieving process. Gene and protein applications will very likely play a role. And as you might expect, the Military Industrial Complex is deeply immersed in such research for less than suffering-reduction reasons, unfortunately.

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted any Enchanted Loom Slideshare reviews of books I’ve found to be helpful aids in the reduction of suffering. So, I’m taking this week’s blogging opportunity to introduce you to two. Unthinkable

The first is Helen Thomson’s, Unthinkable: An extraordinary journey through the world’s strangest brains. Click HERE for the Enchanted Loom graphic review of the book.

The second book is Byron Katie’s, Unthinkable.jpgA Mind at Home With Itself. To take a look at that Enchanted Loom review, click HERE.

Syndrome E: Inside the Brains of Ordinary People Perping Evil

With Syndrome E, Itzhak Fried has identified a cluster of 10 neuro-psychological symptoms that are often present when evil acts are committed – when, as he puts it, groups of previously nonviolent individuals turn into “repetitive killers of defenseless members of society.” The 10 neuro-psychological symptoms are:

Is-There-Such-a-Thing-as-Pure-Evil.jpg1. Repetition: the aggression is repeated compulsively.
2. Obsessive ideation: the perpetrators are obsessed with ideas that justify their aggression and underlie missions of ethnic cleansing, for instance that all Westerners, or all Muslims, or all Jews, or all Tutsis are evil.
3. Perseveration: circumstances have no impact on the perpetrator’s behavior, who perseveres even if the action is self-destructive.
4. Diminished affective reactivity: the perpetrator has no emotional affect.
5. Hyperarousal: the elation experienced by the perpetrator is a high induced by repetition, and a function of the number of victims.
6. Intact language, memory and problem-solving skills: the syndrome has no impact on higher cognitive abilities.
7. Rapid habituation: the perpetrator becomes desensitized to the violence.
8. Compartmentalization: the violence can take place in parallel to an ordinary, affectionate family life.
9. Environmental dependency: the context, especially identification with a group and obedience to an authority, determines what actions are possible.
10. Group contagion: belonging to the group enables the action, each member mapping his behavior on the other.

You Are Not Human: How Words Kill

This is a scary book. It’s an in-depth exploration in how skilled word-crafters are put to work to make us believe all kinds of weird and crazy things that are wholly intended to serve malevolent interests. From Hitler’s propagandists to present political speech-writers of today, we get an in-depth look at how the structural and developmental limitations of our brain functioning gets exploited day in and day out. And how great suffering for many is the inevitable result, including for the people – in their self-serving ignorance – doing the exploiting.

Your Lying Mind

I’ve written a lot in this blog over the years about the 185 cognitive biases – our brain not working well and failing to clue us in to that fact – listed in Wikipedia. This Atlantic Magazine article goes into depth on several biases that contribute to considerable suffering in the world. Knowing such biases exist however, does not make us immune to their operations in our lives. It’s helpful to have friends and colleagues point such distortions out to us, especially if those friends and colleagues have had … Training in Tenderness.

sexual-violence.jpgThis is something that the WORLD, and especially the men in it, would be well-served to profoundly and compassionately understand: SEXUAL VIOLENCE PERPETRATED UPON WOMEN IS NOT LIKE OTHER TRAUMA … And the cost is significant to the women affected. Much of the world gets framed through the violation that has been perpetrated upon them and the limitations that result cost the women, their friends and families and the larger culture, dearly. I wholeheartedly believe that if only this shadow-crime were eliminated from the planet, the flourishing of the human race would be unparalleled. Three cheers for whatever the @MeToo Movement can do to bring this violence into the healing light of day. I pray that Dr. Blasey Ford gets her say.
Blame it on your caudate nucleus. If you’re not a “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of person, this may be the part of your brain that’s responsible. What’s interesting to me is that the caudate nucleus turns out to be hyper-senstive to stress. And the research literature is overwhelming in its indictment of decisions made under stress – rarely ideal and too often negatively biased by our threat-detection circuitry.

 

As many long-time readers know, I’ve cut back on regularly writing, editing and posting creative work to this blog. I’ve cut back for many reasons; mostly because I thought 520 continuous weeks of posting was disciplined enough. Another reason was because I didn’t constantly have topics I was passionate enough to write about on demand every week. I know that inspiration favors the disciplined, but I also know that it favors other ways of creatively operating as well. But the main reason I stopped regularly writing, editing and posting, was because for the last year I’ve been tele-mentoring people in “The Neurobiology of Sacred Relationship” (see below). After 10 years, blogging had turned into a half-love for me, and thus the time had come for it to be at least partially forsaken. My increasing interest in the brain’s role in Sacred Relationship made it clear that it was time to change things up.

Ordo Amoring Whole-Loves

Forsake is an interesting word. It means to give up or renounce something formerly held dear. When we skillfully do so, we aspire to something better.

Curvy Pod Front

A Recent Enchanted Prayer Pod

Often, though, there is no guarantee that something better will be the result of our renunciation. I may have to actually work at, or be open to such a possibility. Not only that, but having to make hard choices between what I love and what I love most (“Ordering our Loves” according to St. Augustine) can at times be absolutely excruciating. Such is sometimes the nature of Sacred Work or Sacred Relationship.

Last year, I posted here about my difficulty in giving up house-building. I’ve had a Sacred Relationship with it for more than two decades. While I could no longer build 6000 square foot mansions for high-tech billionaires, I could still build small pods for a single homeless person to sleep in. But even that’s become challenging, especially during the cold, rainy Pacific Northwest winters. My most recent effort: A 6 square foot memorial Little Free Library for a local charity. Old housebuilders never die, we simply reduce our square footage.

Sacred People Relationships

Obviously, we can form special, Sacred Relationships with more than just work. Sacred Relationships with other people is the recent area I’ve been creatively exploring. What might be the nature of a Sacred Relationship between two or more people? One thing brain science might tell us is … it’s probably going to be idiosyncratic and unique to the people involved, given the complicated nature of our brains and bodies filled with complex neural matrices and network effects we can’t even begin to imagine. At the same time, a Sacred Relationship is very likely to be profoundly influenced by many of the same factors that affect brain development: genetic ancestry, pre- and perinatal health, stress and nutrition, cultural heritage, past and present environmental influences, Adverse Childhood Experiences, the national and international political environment, spiritual direction … the list of potential influences is a long one. Ignorance of which sadly contributes to the fact that:

  • 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
  • 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
  • 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.

Clearly, Sacred Relationships take work to make and keep sacred. But what sort of work? And how much? Heinz Kohut, the founder of Self-Psychology, once remarked, “The secret to a good marriage is having only one person go crazy at a time.” If I was to echo Kohut with a positive slant, it would be: “One secret to a Sacred Relationship is mastering emotional self-regulation strategies.” Often easier said than done, of course, since few of us have been taught such strategies and the better you get at them the greater the challenges for amping up your mastery are likely to become! Here is a recent example of a violation of the sacred. Sacred is hard.

Crucible

Healing Relationship Crucible

Relational Learning

Be that as it may, there are things we can learn and small, incremental changes we can make. Simply knowing and understanding how the biology of hyper-arousal feels in our body can make a difference. So can understanding the often reciprocal, dovetailing differences between one person’s brain and an other’s. And then there’s the expansive, creative possibilities that emerge when we frame our primary relationships as a crucible within which “healing’s always trying to happen.”

Over the past year I’ve put together a series of four interactive online “explorinars,” during which time I’ve been mindfully person-testing them. I’m now ready to make time for three (3) people to investigate The Neurobiology of Sacred Relationships with me at 7AM Pacific time on Sunday mornings. If this offering might be of interest and you’d like to know more, feel free to check out the above link or email me: floweringbrain@gmail.com

The Dumb Ugly Truth: The Older I Get, The Fatter I Get, The Dumber I Get

Apparently. Leave it to my kinfolk to deliver me news I’d prefer not to hear. We Irish have never been all that good about holding our tongues. But this is an interesting study that I’m not taking as a judgment about me. It’s more like confirmatory research about the fragile vulnerability of our bodies and our brains. This study found that people who are overweight do not perform as well on tests of memory and visio-spatial ability compared to those who are normal weight. Makes me wonder what’s going on in our president’s brain. It appears that being overweight leads to a synapse-eating frenzy in the memory area of the brain.

How Fat Town Lost a Million Pounds

Fat Town.jpg
A million pounds is a LOT of weight to lose. This short TED talk by the mayor of Oklahoma city, previously one of America’s fattest towns, shows that all of us can lose more weight than any one of us. Duh. But it also shows the power of a group of people organized and united in a common goal for the good. It reminds me of our efforts to put a man on the moon, or our united efforts in WWII in response to the attacks by Germany and Japan. Too bad we don’t have a president who can unite the whole country in this kind of goal for the good.

Can Crat Kill Your Food Cravings?

I have a fallback position for all the struggles and failings that make me human: “It’s not me, it’s my brain.” And indeed it is. But failings and struggles are only a part of the story. The more I know about how my brains works, the more creative applications I can begin to apply. Monash University scientists have identified a neural switch that potentially controls my body’s capacity to store fat, especially after long periods of “famine” or weight loss — a process that underlies yo-yo dieting, where we regain the weight we lost and more after dieting. If the CRAT protein can be externally manipulated, why can’t we learn to organically and naturally manipulate it? The answer: Because drugs make drug companies way more money.

Emotional Spillover: Why I’m Rarely Upset for the Reasons I Think

When-a-Child-is-Out-of-Control.jpgFor many reasons Richie Davidson is one of my neuroscience heroes. One of those reasons is because he mentors so many young neuroscientists. In this study, one of his mentees, Regina Lapate, used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a technique that can temporarily “knock out” or inhibit activity in specific parts of the brain. She and her team discovered that when the lateral prefrontal area – a region known for executive function (attention, focus, impulsivity and more) – was inhibited by the stimulation, participants showed more emotional spillover. What that means is that….crazy can be contagious!

What Wildfires Do to Our Minds

“It was an absolute trauma for everybody involved. The fire is over, but the grief may last a long time. We live in a time where these natural disasters are going to be happening more and more. How do we develop resilience? What do we do to feel like we can be safe in the world again?” In addition to our minds, increasing numbers of natural disasters also adversely affect our brains. For better or worse. One of the ways survivors can be most adversely impacted is through loss of sleep. Things only go downhill if we can’t remove the neuro-toxins trauma produces that needs to happen organically while we sleep.

How Fear Worms Its Way Into Your Brain

Human beings are fearful creatures. One in six Americans takes prescription medication to help relieve fear and anxiety. I spend a greater part of each day paying close attention to how fearful thoughts rise into awareness and activate threat-detection networks which then trigger increasing levels of stress hormones. Fearful JPEGThen I deploy a range of strategies and physical exercise to help regulate them. It’s a lot of work, let me tell you. What this research from the Salk Institute underscores is that fear is essentially a neural net- work phenomenon – one that can be actively worked with. Anti-anxiety meds are one way, but brain plasticity and the potential for organic change invites us to experiment with other ways as well. For example, the Authoritative Communities mentioned in the “Hardwired to Connect” piece that follows. All of us can be calmer together than any one of us alone.

Some interesting experiments with what it’s like to not have to worry about and be stressed around the making and spending of money. When I think about participating, I can already feel my adrenals activating my threat-detection circuitry! For this concept to work, I think it really needs to begin early with kids raised in a “Hardwired to Connect” Community ( <– This short talk by Amy Banks, that includes Interpersonal Neurobiology, is worth listening to).

It’s interesting that, back in the day, a famous Apple Computer TV ad announced, “You’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” Well, 2018 is more like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four than 1984 was, and Apple computer and phone screens ironically are playing a major role in that social deterioration. This piece, by University of Michigan history professor, Henry Cowles, details how our screens themselves have turned into a kind of Ministry of Truth where alternative facts rule not only the day, but many of our lives without us ever being aware of it.

How to Be an Adrenal Ninja

It’s long been clear to me that our brains can be trained to handle crisis situations. 776-ft-lauderdale-fl-night.jpgThat we can engage in practices that allow us to deliberately and conscious- ly manage the Hypothalmic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis which is primarily responsible for when and how the fear response shows up in our body and brain. In this detailed account of an artist’s response to the Trader Joe’s hostage standoff in L.A. last month, we see how a heart fully operational in kindness and empathy can manage an otherwise completely unmanageable situation. Breathtaking in its beauty.

I Was Blind, But Now I See

This is a compelling Google Talk by Isaac Lidsky, who suffered a progressive blindness disease which ended up teaching him how fear / stress hormones compromise neural functioning and distort reality in ways that few of us even begin to realize. From the assumptions we make daily, to the things we turn toward and away from, fear circumscribes and constricts our lives in ways large and small. I think of Isaac as a true Adrenal Ninja with a red and white folding cane.