I can’t recall a time when I didn’t believe I was capable of learning, growing and changing. At least that’s what I would say if you asked me. But if you gently invited me to say more, and I felt safe enough to drill down further into that belief, what you’d find out is that I actually do believe that about myself, but only to a point. There are certain possibilities for growth and change that I aspire to which I don’t currently believe I will ever really attain. For example, for more than 20 years I’ve been trying to get my weight below 200 pounds. I’ve researched physiology, I teach classes on the neuroscience of weight management, I’ve even co-presented daylong seminars with a nutritionist! And still, the 200 pound goal eludes me. 204 is the closest I’ve gotten recently.

enoughnessI also don’t believe I will ever be able to recreate the financial wealth I enjoyed (and mismanaged) at an earlier time in my life. The short-term stressors of being wealthy were more than brain and body could manage at the time, especially since I have long been acutely aware of just how much fear, poverty and suffering the majority of humanity lives with. Why should I have and hoard so much more material wealth than most of the rest of the world? Having disproportionate wealth felt like a substantial karmic burden, somehow. I certainly didn’t feel free when I was rich. And I have exemplars like Buddha and Christ suggesting that money is a powerful trap one can easily fall into. It would be interesting to get a CPA’s account of how Christ and Buddha managed their finances.

The Secret Enemy

Disbelief in or compromised belief in my ability to change is The Secret Enemy. It’s one of four identified by Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman in their recent book, Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be A Whole Lot Happier. The other three enemies are Outer, Inner and Super-Secret. Outer Enemies are simply the people, institutions and situations that threaten or frustrate us, either consciously or unconsciously (as with neuroceptive experiences). The Inner Enemies are the emotions we feel in response to those external threats, like fear, hatred or anger. The Super-Secret Enemy is our negative inner self-judgment and self-loathing.

enemyIt’s dealing with the Super-Secret Enemy that I find so useful in my study of neuroscience. I’ll give you a recent example: last week I was outside repairing a storage shed. I was cutting asphalt shingles for the roof with a utility knife. On one cut I inadvertently had the tip of my index finger extending over the straight-edge and I ran the utility knife hard across it giving me a deep gash. While the cut was painful enough, I didn’t let The Super-Secret Enemy turn it into suffering by generating all kinds of negative judgments: “How could you be so stupid?” “When are you going to learn to pay attention to what you’re doing?” “You call yourself a craftsman?”

What I did is simply acknowledge that my brain was temporarily distracted – my neural networks had momentarily exceeded their capacity – and as a result I injured myself. Distractions happen. And they happen more, the older I get. If a finger injury is the worst that occasionally results when I’m distracted, I am indeed blessed.

The Astonishing Hypothesis

In his book, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Nobel Laureate Francis Crick has written, “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” While I would argue there’s likely much more to the story, Crick’s perspective frequently matches my own. If I was in my “Right Mind” I can guarantee you I would not intentionally be slicing up my fingers. But Right Mind isn’t a constant. It’s mostly a product of a brain and body able to mindfully focus on a complex assortment of needs and stimuli in the moment. A brain operating with full sensory input awareness could have felt my finger hanging over the straight edge and my eyes could have seen it protruding into the cut line. But they didn’t. And the only compassionate response to a vulnerable, over-taxed brain, mind and body is kindness, flexibility and forgiveness. Always. And then The Super-Secret Enemy has no one to attack.

If you’d like to see what’s possible when we’re no longer under attack, check out this Enchanted Loom review of Stanford neurosurgery professor James Doty’s book, Into the Magic Shop.

Many of you know that we breed Bernese Mountain Dogs here on Whidbey Island. Recently, we had our first “litter” – a singleton who ended up with the name Gus. Through a whole host of emotionally challenging information that required us to make a series of difficult decisions, Gus became the product of artificial insemination and had to be birthed by Caesarean. At a little over one pound, Gus felt like a miracle puppy. He and his mother, Emmy – who’s the most affectionate and responsive of any of our extremely affectionate and responsive Berners – bonded powerfully. Gus and Emmy both thrived. When he was finally ready to be placed into a good home, Gus was up close to a woolly and whirling 20 plus pounds.

Life Innocence

The innocence of babies and puppies is a huge draw for me. It’s been hard not to project memories of my own early life of innocence and confidence onto Gus. To see him come greet Gracie the Cat with excitement and openness, only to receive a loud hiss and several rapid whops across the nose that sends him scurrying with tail between his legs, can’t help but tug on the heartstrings (Gracie never extends her claws on Gus, interestingly enough. She apparently is only wanting to teach him to respect boundaries). This interaction recalls a time for me at around age three: I am swinging on a swing in our local park when a little girl walks up to me and, for no reason I expect or can understand, she smacks me hard right in the face as I swing forward into her fist. The end of innocence and trust.

Berner cat

Not Gracie

But not for Gus. Later on any day, he will once again come bounding up to Gracie, tail wagging. Eventually, she simply gets tired of abusing him and darts under a chair whenever he approaches.

When it is time for Gus to go to his new owner, I have mixed feelings. I am going to miss the little guy, but I am not going to miss him constantly being underfoot, tripping me, feeling his needle-teeth on my ankles, nor will I miss the 30 pounds of pee and poo I have to clean up every week (I actually weighed it!). When Gus finally leaves, it is like a psychic windstorm has cleared the premises.

Just When I Think He’s Gone, He’s Back

And then Gus comes back. The people who initially take him decide he is too much work and that their little kids are afraid of him. Plus, he chews their furniture.

Again I find myself with mixed feelings, this time of a different sort. How can people take a puppy as cute and innocent and as exuberant as Gus and not be willing to put in the work to keep him? If we didn’t already have Gus’s massive dad, Olliebear, he would definitely be a keeper.

bernese-bernese-mountain-dog-breedSo, now we set about trying to find a second home for Gus. This time it’s with a professional dog trainer who loves everything about puppies. Well, it turns out that the older dog she already has, doesn’t love puppies in the least – to the point of vicious attack. So once again, Gus comes back. And now I’m finding myself even more disturbed.

On the third try, two grandparents with two grandchildren who are previous Berner owners agree to make Gus their dog. The four of them show up, spend a short time with him and right there on the spot decide NOT to take him.

Now I’m REALLY upset, way out of proportion to this chain of events. How could these people not want this sweet, innocent baby? And that’s when the light goes off. The Wisdom Teaching, “We are rarely upset for the reason we think” surfaces in my brain. My upset isn’t just about Gus at all. It’s my own brain filled with pictures of myself at age 4 and my little sister at age 2. It is about the sweet, innocent “puppies” we once were, puppies who weren’t wanted. My father treated me and my sister much like these prospective “parents” are treating little Gus. He abandoned the family right when those pictures in my brain were taken.

Somatic Marker Theory

Noted neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has a pretty convincing explanation for my upset with the way Gus’s journey has unfolded. He calls it Somatic Marker Theory. Basically, things happen in life that trigger emotional reactions. These emotional reactions affect various parts of our body, including our brain. Primary emotion inducers are actual events, like being hit in the face while swinging on a swing, or being handed a puppy by my father on the day he left for good. These experiences get stored in brain and body as somatic markers or brain/body memories. Secondary emotional inducers are triggered thoughts and memories of these kinds of earlier events. Thoughts and memories can be even more powerful stress generators than actual direct experiences.

When a parent abandons a family, a lot of adverse emotions get generated. Survival feels like it’s perpetually at stake. Stress hormones skyrocket for everyone as if a contagion. Most of the stress never gets expressed in words. Rather, as it did in my family, it gets acted out as sub-optimal self-regulatory behavior – my mother significantly increased her alcohol intake to the point of daily intoxication. Needless to say, this and many other events that unfolded as a consequence, generated any number of painful somatic marker memories for my sister and me.

And Gus’s placement drama turned out to be just what the doctor ordered to begin dredging them up. Now begins my hard personal work of neuro-somatic integration. It better happen fast. We have another litter of puppies due next month.

According to the American Psychological Association, money is our country’s No. 1 stressor. 72% of adults live paycheck to paycheck and report feeling stressed about money some of the time, and nearly a quarter rate their stress as “extreme.” Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. This is the consequence of stress and being financially illiterate. It probably shouldn’t, but this totally blows my mind.

Money brainSerengeti Brain, which hasn’t changed much in 20,000 years, isn’t built to work naturally with money – hunters and gatherers had little need for it – and so for the last 9 months an intrepid band of Gelt-o-nauts have been working together to try and remedy that evolutionary limitation. If you’ve been following our year-long experiment attempting to both wake up and grow up when it comes to our money relationships, you know that we’ve discovered a number of things so far (If you need a memory jog at this point in the journey, you can view one here and here). One major realization by our courageous money-brain explorers is: whether it’s too much, not enough, or even just enough to perfectly balance our personal budgets, money makes us nervous. Money is rarely emotionally neutral. Here are a few recent realizations from participants.

The View From Inside the Vault

This weekly group, in the most subtle and profound ways, has inexplicably influenced and enhanced my life. I am a person who is always learning, exploring what lies within that might be fearful, hiding, angry, or sabotaging…and it is impossible to do that exploration solo. Staring at my bellybutton alone in my living room gets pretty boring after awhile! Of course, this kind of self/other reflection can’t happen with just anyone – so I’m glad I chose YOU ALL! I am engaged in this kind of cause/effect, give-and-take in many areas in my life. This particular money one is RICH in ways that I certainly never expected in the beginning.

Thus far I have been skillfully coached and tenderly supported to skillfully and outrageously reflect upon my Money Brain – not that I am an expert – but I love the transformations that are occurring. Here are just three of many:

-Money flow is now much easier in my life

-I don’t worry about money to the degree that I did

-My negative critical feelings about my own skills around money are diminishing

I notice that I don’t want this group to end this summer. The time has gone by so fast!

I know there is benefit in talking and thinking about money, and with others who share similar intent. Like an intimate support group, we are a fellowship of folks seeking (money) sobriety and sanity, and the path of happy destiny. “Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. The promises will always materialize if we work for them” (an AA saying about sobriety).

Coming Together for a Common Purpose

There’s nothing like a group of mindful, like-minded people who show up for a common purpose – to help others as they help themselves. And to laugh, sometimes even when we’re crying. We are a microcosm of that.

I love the way our group – even the fact of it, sans process – impacts mindfulness.

I love asking myself each Friday, or when I see the weekly email to register, or when I read the Tuesday money-minder post, or when I write your monthly check (so many prompts): “What am I learning and experiencing this week in the world of money?”

I appreciate the things we each share. I enjoy listening, too, and I feel like I want to be around for when one – all! – of our money-lives go Pop! and things shift perceptivelyCurious George.

I see/hear gradual shifts that are clearly perceptible. I look forward to checking in and hearing everyone else do the same. I wonder: could each one of us share a bit of money education each week, something that could be instructive to all? I think it would be best if it arose in the form of a story. We could each be watching our money lives and minds through the week to see what we are learning and may then share.

We teach what we most want to learn.

And here is yet one more Enchanted Loom for learning.

I make lots of appointments with people, and the odds of me actually showing up and keeping the appointment fall in the 90% range. The odds of me calling or emailing the person I’m supposed to meet with when I’m going to miss the meeting or be late, gets me up close to the 100% range (last November when a windstorm took out all island power and telephone lines and all cell service – that’s the last time I can recall failing to keep an appointment and not notifying the person). While a part of me thinks that keeping appointments or calling “is just common courtesy,” the neuroscientist in me (who has to deal with an island full of musicians, writers, poets and painters who operate on what’s known locally as “Whidbey Island Time”) knows that when I fail to keep an appointment and don’t email or call, something adverse is going on in my brain and life. Discounting windstorms, most often my calendar has made me its bitch.

busy calendar

Diminishing Capacity

What it has taken me a long time to realize is that my skull is a finite space and my brain’s networks have massive, but not unlimited capacity. As a result of health and stress and environmental challenges, that capacity constantly changes. As I age, my brain’s capabilty seems to be diminishing. It’s much harder to keep things in mind than it used to be. It takes more time, more energy, more intention. I have to be increasingly mindful – of my own needs and abilities, and of the needs and abilities of others.

When people don’t show up for an appointment and don’t call or email, I usually wait 10 minutes and then move on to something else. I have plenty that beckons to me on my own calendar. I almost never call to remind them of our meeting. There are a number of reasons why I don’t call. One is that I don’t feel like it’s my job to manage their calendar. Like I said, I have plenty to manage with my own calendar with my own brain’s finite, diminishing capacity.

Learning Life Limits

Another reason I don’t call is that it’s my sincere belief that it is the growth and learning work for many of us (yes, even aging musicians, writers, poets and painters) to increase the part of our brain responsible for executive functions. One such executive function is making plans and keeping appointments. I don’t think we learn to do that, to actually grow the cell connections necessary, by relying on or expecting other people to be responsible for our calendars (unless we’ve hired them or agreed they will perform that express purpose). Interestingly, while I was in the middle of edits on this column, I came across a new book by Ken Wilber, whose ideas I was begrudgingly forced to grapple with decades ago in grad school. Ken’s new book is about waking up and growing up. Practicing the skillful management of my own calendar seems to qualify on both counts.

Yet another reason I don’t notify appointment-missers involves The Big Brain Question. Our brains are constantly scanning the social landscape looking for people, places and circumstances that will help us grow in the direction of being able to authentically answer this question “Yes” for ourselves and others. While most of us won’t necessarily consciously recognize that when people make appointments and don’t keep them, they are essentially answering The Big Brain Question “No,” our unconscious brains do recognize that answer. In my experience if you answer The Big Brain Question “No” enough times for people, the Universe begins to answer it “No” for you.

3 Fingers-Pointing Backwards

fingers-pointing-1-away-3-at-you1Sometimes people who fail to keep appointments will accuse me of not caring because I don’t call to remind them we’re supposed to be meeting. Usually, I resist the urge to reply, “Wait a minute. We had an appointment and you didn’t keep it. You filled your life and calendar with things that you gave greater priority to than our time together. So, if anybody should have a finger pointed at them for not sufficiently caring, shouldn’t it be you?”

My deepest truth mostly is that neuroscience has taught me not to take these missed appointments personally, even if they are a momentary pain-in-the-ass disappointment. Better to use it as an opportunity to practice Arugamama Listening. One apparent truth is that the vulnerability of our dynamic neural networks sometimes make our brain malfunction. The good news is that most often such lapses are brief and temporary. Failing to keep promises and commitments is not an everyday way of life for most of us. And the more good news is that it truly has little to do with anyone’s genuine caring heart, an essential organ needed to be placed into regular service for waking up and growing up.

“The most difficult part of listening is to learn to leave other people alone.” ~ Rodney Smith, Lessons From the Dying

When I was doing research for my doctoral dissertation I came across a quotation by Stephen Gaskin of The Farm (a spiritual, land-based community in Summertown, Tennessee). The essence of Stephen’s message was “Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for someone else is … leave them alone.” Aligned with that directive was a message I heard my mother repeat over and over: “Let sleeping dogs and children lie.” (More about my own personal failing in this regard later). Both Stephen and my mother seem to be advocating against psychic intrusion, which I define as “butting in where your energy/input isn’t wanted.” How do I know if my energy/input is wanted or not? Even when I think I do know, very often I don’t … unless I ask.

brain teenOne area of interest to me as far as brain development goes has to do with early network integration. By definition, children’s brain development is immature. They have lots of brain cells, but those cells haven’t yet made lots of connections. Feedback from new learning and life experiences are what make up and drive those connections.

One critical network area that makes children vulnerable is the network connectivity that allows them to easily regulate emotional arousal – to effortlessly and rapidly soothe themselves when they get over-aroused, which they do frequently. It is this lack of mature network function – incapable of ready self-soothing – that invited the invention of lullabyes and pacifiers. It also makes kids extremely vulnerable to psychic-energy intrusion.

It’s a Small World Intensely

Children’s ability to manage the people-energy coming at them fluctuates over the course of childhood, generally increasing as they grow older. That ability to manage energy encounters changes over the course of a day as well, frequently decreasing as the day goes on. At the low end of the energy management spectrum we find kids who are identified as autistic. Henry Markram (Director of The Blue Brain Project) has developed the “Intense World Theory” of autism. Here’s what he has to say about it:

The Intense World Theory states that autism is the consequence of a supercharged brain that makes the world painfully intense and that the symptoms are largely because autistics are forced to develop strategies to actively avoid the intensity and pain. Autistics see, hear, feel, think, and remember too much, too deeply, and process information too completely. The theory predicts that the autistic child is retreating into a controllable and predictable bubble to protect themselves from the intensity and pain.

The brain is supercharged because the elementary functional units of the brain are supercharged. These units are called neural microcircuits. Neural microcircuits are the smallest ecosystem of neurons that can support each other to carry out functions. The brain is made up of millions of these units. These microcircuits are hyper-reactive and hyper-plastic. That means that they react and process information much faster and more intensely, they can learn much more and remember much longer, and they can remember things with much greater detail. The Intense World Theory proposes that having such powerful units makes orchestration difficult – like trying to play a piano with a million runaway keys.

A Gus and Ollie

Sleepy Baby Ollie and His Dad

You don’t have to be autistic or diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome to have difficulty processing people-energy. If I assume that people’s sensory processing ability doesn’t become fixed in childhood and continues over a wide range on into adulthood – that it is plastic and in a continual, daily state of flux – the possibility of me being a bother to them – i.e. a psychic intruder – is partially dependent upon their momentary processing capacity. If that’s true, then it’s probably best if I generally operate by Pascal’s Psychic Intruder Wager (which I just made up): Leave people alone, or at least check with them first to see if they’re “open for intrusion.”

God Help Me

But sometimes, I can’t help myself. There’s something enormously sweet, innocent and compelling about sleeping puppies and babies. We have a new Bernese mountain dog puppy in our house and I confess to being unable to simply let him be. I’ve been a repeat offending psychic intruder where Baby Ollie is concerned. I’ll be watching him sleep and suddenly the phrase from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are pops into my mind, “I’ll eat you up I love you so.” And before I know it, I’ve scooped the sleepy little guy up and I’m nuzzling him like a mad man. I used to do it when my daughter was a baby as well. Hey, I never claimed to be a perfect energy manager.

But I am good at managing Enchanted Looms. Feel free to eat up this one on A General Theory of Love.

A couple of weeks ago I did my Weight, Weight, Don’t Weigh Me neuroscience presentation at Bastyr University. Here in America obesity hit a Record High last year at 28% of the population. Add in people who are “merely” overweight, and the figure skyrockets up toward 70% of Americans according to the National Institute of Health. 70%! The many reasons for this – as well as some radical, scrutable solutions – were part of the variety of things we explored together in class at Bastyr.

A Struggling Statistic

People DieWhile I have been busily focused on my brain and body’s personal struggle for skillfully dealing with my own weight in preparation for the class, obesity has managed to become a world-wide epidemic – there are more obese people on the planet now than there are people who are hungry. Many of them live in China, which is now Country No. 2 on the Global Obesity List. Because obesity adversely affects brain function, brain maven Daniel Amen considers it the greatest brain drain in human history. It’s particularly insidious because when my weight ballooned up to nearly 250 pounds, a flashing red light didn’t go off and a Siri-like voice announce: “Attention! Attention! Brain Function is Currently Below Normal!!” For these reasons and more, obesity has expanded to become a Wicked Problem.

Wicked Problems need Wicked Solutions

Wicked Problems are a special kind of problem. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them:

A Wicked Problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. The phrase was originally used in social planning.

The use of the term “wicked” has come to denote resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a Wicked Problem may reveal or create other problems.

Tell me about it. Sounds a lot like the obesity epidemic, doesn’t it? So, how might we transform Wicked Problems into Ecstatic Creative Opportunities? Here are ten specific characteristics of Wicked Problems which I’ve contextualized as they might pertain to managing weight:

  1. A Wicked Problem is not fully understood until after the formulation of a solution. This means that only after I’ve lost 30 more pounds and managed to keep it off for ten years will I be able to accurately see all the factors that both prevented and then went into making up my unique, personal solution. But people who’ve been successful themselves can provide experimental clues for me to use along the way.
  2. Wicked Problems have a no stopping rule; addressing them must be continuous. Diets don’t work. An ongoing eating lifestyle change that changes body and brain for the remainder of my lifetime is more likely to though.
  3. Solutions to Wicked Problems are not right or wrong. I’m not bad, stupid or to blame for personally struggling with this issue.
  4. Every Wicked Problem is essentially novel and unique – because each of our brains and bodies is essentially novel and unique.
  5. unhealthy-eatingEvery solution to a Wicked Problem is a “one shot operation.” Wouldn’t it be great if I could diet for a week and be “won and done!” Instead, I have to find the one complex combination of interventions that will produce the results I want that work for me.
  6. Wicked Problems have no given alternative solutions. The integrated, multi-pronged solution for me that ultimately works is what ultimately works best for me.
  7. The solution depends on how the problem is framed and vice versa (i.e., the problem definition depends on the solution). And the solution will have to be framed taking into account many variables like what makes me feel deprived; what makes me feel energized; what foods might adversely impact me currently; what might adversely impact me differently later on as my brain and body change?
  8. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding Wicked Problems. What works for me managing weight must work for me and might very likely not work for you. And it must take into account all the people, places and events that either deliberately or unwittingly don’t want me to manage my weight successfully.
  9. The constraints that a Wicked Problem is subject to and the resources needed to solve it change over time. Things like money available for nutritious food rather than fast, cheap food; knowledge about what foods are truly nourishing both to people in general and my brain and body in particular at a specific point in time.
  10. A Wicked Problem is never solved definitively. The work of skillfully managing my weight is something that I’m going to need to vigilantly – and ideally, joyously – attend to for the rest of my life.

Wake Up, Fat Man

One thing the Wicked Problem of successfully managing my own weight requires of me is the ability to pay increasing, ongoing attention to my mind, brain and body. It needs me to be more body-mindful and to develop mindsight. But how can I become more mindful, when obesity is compromising my brain’s ability to be willful and pay ongoing attention? I just don’t have the energy available to do it. And therein lies the dilemma; it’s part of what makes my struggle with obesity Wicked! Perhaps if I get something to eat, I’ll have more energy.

If you’d like to more fully understand your own or other people’s Wicked Problem with successfully managing weight, together with a whole host of things you can do about it for yourself or your clients that you’ve probably never considered, click HERE.

I’m a so-so reader. I tend to be easily distracted (I’m about to get much better though, as neuroscientists are closely examining the reading brain). One of the things I discovered early in my learning life was that often, when my mind would wander while I was reading for pleasure or studying written material, if I paused and went back over the material, invariably I would find either a critical word I did not know the definition of, or I would find one that I thought I knew the definition of, but really didn’t. Because I didn’t actually know the definition of that critical word, the brain circuits I was using for my reading could no longer express energy easily. They now had to work much harder to try and make sense of something that didn’t because I’d skipped over or misunderstood a critical word. Random_Connections-heroAnd, as Neuroenergetic Theory would predict, other, fresh neural pathways would begin firing, mindlessly taking me away from the material I was trying to focus on. This vulnerability of the brain to be easily distracted is massively multiplied by digital technology, in case you haven’t noticed.

With this blog post, however, I’m going to make things easy for you. I’m going to give you the words AND the definitions. And… I’m not only going to use the words in a sentence so you won’t have to, I’m going to use them in whole paragraphs. Or two! So, with that bit of explanation behind us (assuming you’ve come back here after following the above link to Neuroenergetic Theory), on to the 5 Fun and Profitable Words That Neuroscience Has Taught Me.

Word 1. Confabulation (\kən-ˌfa-byə-ˈlā-shən\)Confabulation is the brain’s built in propensity for making shit up. We all do it, especially if we’re three or four years old. Or if we’re 30 or 40. Or 60 or 80. Or if we’re running for political office. It’s a verbal strategy to handle stress.

Here’s the formal definition: “The production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive.

But it’s not just confined to specific, occasional memories. We all confabulate all the time. Dreams are essentially confabulations. Random neurons project images onto our Dream Screen and our brain goes to work to construct as coherent a narrative as it can, which often isn’t very coherent. At least by waking life standards. In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor gives a great description of her confabulating brain being reborn and slowly coming back online at this link. David Dunning of The Dunning-Kruger Effect fame, sums up confabulation well in this piece for Pacific Standard magazine: “We Are All Confident Idiots.”

Word 2. Kenosis (\kə-ˈnō-səs) – I first encountered the word kenosis in M. Scott Peck’s poor stepchild book, The Different Drum. That book was his attempt to bring community-making and peace to the world. Perhaps if, like The Road Less Traveled, he’d sold 10 million copies, the world would be there by now. Since we’re not, might our failure with kenosis be the cause? Probably not.

Background of age grungy texture white brick and stone wall with light wooden floor with whiteboard

Anyway, here’s the formal definition: “The ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to divine will.” Many of the people who blow themselves up in the world’s marketplaces and who cut people’s heads off in a public display of disaffection truly believe that divine will is their director. Of course, most know little about classical conditioning and propagandist indoctrination and have insufficient neural network capacity to process complex things much differently (which we’ll take up with the next word).

How I personally experience and practice kenosis is by chilling, by relaxing my body, focusing on my breathing, and donning “Don’t Know Mind.” I mostly use it as a form of effective adrenal management. When my thoughts (mostly), or the world directly around me (although too much of the world “directly” around me these days too often emerges from my computer screen) is flooding my system with adrenal-generated stress hormones, that’s the time for me to practice … kenosis.

Word 3. Nescience (\ˈne-sh(ē-)ən(t)s) – One morning 20 years ago, McArthur Wheeler walked into the Fidelity Savings Bank in Brighton Heights, Pennsylvania and held it up. A few hours later he held up the Mellon Bank in Swissvale, PA. Mr. Wheeler, who was 5’ 6” tall and weighed 270 pounds, wore no discernable disguise in either bank robbery. To his great surprise, he was apprehended by police before the day was out.

wheelerWhat surprised McArthur Wheeler is that he actually thought he was well-disguised and would never be caught. Why? Because he’d covered his face with lemon juice, which he knew prevented surveillance cameras from being able to take his picture. Oops! Turns out McArthur Wheeler didn’t know what he didn’t know.

Another name for not knowing what we don’t know is nescience. Here’s the formal definition: An absence of knowledge or awareness. Nescience is similar to ignorance, which is a simple lack of knowledge. When you’re ignorant, you know the knowledge exists, and you also know that you don’t know it. McArthur Wheeler didn’t know that the knowledge that lemon juice doesn’t turn you invisible to cameras was actually out there. He was nescient.

Word 4. Neoteny (\nē-ˈä-tə-nē\) – Neoteny is the retention, by adults in a species, of traits previously seen only in juveniles, and is studied by developmental biologists. As you might suspect neoteny can have a dark side and a light side. The dark side most often shows up in Jungian terms as a puella aeterna or puer aeternus – the eternal girl or boy who never grows into full man or womanhood. Think Peter Pan for puer and Princess Pan for puella.

The light side is probably best exemplified in the transpersonal directive to become as little children and enter the kingdom of heaven. Which essentially is inviting me to get over all my adamantly-held judgments and opinions about everything. You know … kenosis.

Word 5. Neophilic (\nē-ə-ˈfi-lik\) – Neophilic refers to a love of change and all things new. Healthy human brains love novelty. Here are five qualities that generally apply to neophiles:

  • The ability to adapt rapidly to extreme change.
  • A distaste of tradition, repetition, and routine.
  • A tendency to become bored quickly with old things.
  • A desire, bordering on obsession in some cases, to experience novelty.
  • A corresponding and related desire to create novelty by creating or achieving something and/or by stirring social or other forms of unrest.

The opposite of neophiles are neophobes – those of us who fear change. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Regardless of where you fall, might you still enjoy this week’s Enchanted Loom review of V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain? If so, click HERE.




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