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I tend to find all kinds of odd and everyday things enormously interesting. The cells and networks that make up my brain certainly qualify in the odd and everyday categories. Over the last dozen years I’ve learned a lot about my brain, mostly that it is an extremely vulnerable organ, and that the vast majority of the neurons that make it up have evolved primarily to allow me to navigate physically through the world. 7999632-3D-rendering-of-a-motion-study-of-a-woman-Stock-Photo-anatomy-muscle-female.jpgThey essentially serve to activate any of the roughly 640 skeletal muscles in the human body. It’s still not widely accepted that this is the case, even though a number of prominent, respected neuroscience researchers are adamant in their claim that body-moving is Brain Job No. 1.

As you might suspect, like most neuro- scientists, I have a lot of ideas and opinions about that body movement claim, one that has only been emerging quite slowly in the brain research community over the last few years. Recently, it was discovered that something we thought for decades to be true and absolute about the brain – that neurons operate digitally; they are either on or off – either firing electrochemical action potentials or not – is false. Turns out the brain is analog AND digital, and 10 times more active than previously measured. And it appears to be physical movement that makes it so. Movement appears to significantly change the way the brain transmits and processes the energy and information of our lives.

So much for what we were so sure we knew about the brain and how it works. What else might we be well-served to be less sure of?

Who Knows If It’s Good or Bad

When Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield was studying Buddhism in Thailand, he once got this advice from his teacher, Ajahn Chah, about what would be a most valuable practice for him to bring back home with him to America: “You have so many views and opinions, what’s good and bad, right and wrong, about how things should be. You cling to your views and suffer so much. They are only views, you know.”

From a brain health and vitality perspective this is an invitation that makes great sense. We do suffer from our opinions, in ways large and small. Opinions tend to be things we know, or think we know, about people, places and things in the world. Opinions are formed out of and represent old learning, often experiential, sensory-driven learning that has already established solid neural network connections in the brain and body. Psychologists term it conditioning. Some of it is useful, like being able to ride a bike or drive a car without giving either an excessive amount of attention. But some of our opinions put us to sleep, thinking we know how things are now or how they will certainly be tomorrow.

Flexible Fluidity Makes It Happen

Some of our conditioning results in what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has identified as a “fixed mindset.” Fixed mindsets, like fixed chemical compounds, require a lot to transform.

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What a “Growth Mindset” does for your brain.

What they ideally transform into is a “growth mindset.” Growth mindsets tend to take much greater advantage of one of the brain’s most powerful design features: neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, both physically and functionally, throughout our lives in response to behavior, environment, thinking/learning, and emotional expression. Here are 10 potential ways to positively affect neuroplasticity. Fixed, inflexible opinions are not on that list.

Neuroplasticity’s Poster Boy

John Goodenough could be the poster boy for neuroplasticity. He’s the inventor of the lithium-ion battery. You know, the ones that are catching fire in phones and hoverboards all over the planet. Faced with that clear product short-coming, Goodenough took on the task of inventing an even better battery. And it looks like he will succeed … at age 94!

At age 50 or so, the work I was doing with young kids and adult learners in graduate school began to draw me, with increasing frequency, to the field of neuroscience. One day I announced to various members of my extended social circle that it looked like I was on my way to becoming a neuroscientist. As you might guess, people in my circle had a LOT of opinions about that. The predominant sentiment was that I should forget it – I was too old. All those opinions did was make it clear to me that I needed to change the people who were then making up my social circle. And so I did. And guess what: I’ve been researching, writing about and teaching about neuroscience for the last ten years. Guess what that makes me!

For those of you who don’t hold the opinion that book reviews have to be written only in words, here’s another Enchanted Loom. This review is on David Nichtern’s opinion-transcending book, Awakening from the Daydream.

For those of you who missed Part One of my Talk Radio Network interview by Gloria Burgess, here’s a link that will allow you to miss Part Two, too 🙂 …  Interview, Part II. And now back to our regularly scheduled bloggin’.

Shortly after Stephen Levine’s book, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year As If It Is Your Last was released, a close colleague and I decided to invite a group of friends to gather together weekly to structure and explore the guidelines that Stephen offered in the book. The first thing each person did was to go through the book and extract and prioritize those things they would be spending the year focusing on, things like forgiveness and gratitude and, as Plato suggested, “practicing dying.” What took my colleague and I by surprise was the activity that turned up at the top of almost everyone’s list. It was as if each participant instinctively knew that this was essential to attend to while they still could. The Number One Activity? Finishing unfinished business. Or as Stephen describes it – people at the end of life change their relationship to relationship itself. They have “a going-out-of-unfinished-business sale.”

Unfinished business comes in many forms, of course. The form it took for most of the members of our little group was to do their best in attempting to repair long-ruptured relationships. One challenge in actually attempting that was that none of us had ever had any instruction whatsoever in how to actually go about such repair work. What should we do first? What should we do next? How do we best communicate our intention and desire? What if the person had no interest? What if they were no longer alive? How do we truly know when a ruptured relationship has been fully repaired? Lots of questions, very few clear answers. These questions, it turned out, were ones that each of us in the group had to learn to live our way into in order to find out the answers for ourselves.

Termination Makes It Happen

Brazilian businessman, Ricardo Semler took the wisdom available in Stephen’s book to heart long before the book was ever published.

Ricardo Semler

Ricardo Semler

Shortly after he took over his father’s manufacturing business, he decided that he didn’t want his work life to kill him. Nor did he want it to kill his employees. Dead employees don’t deliver much value. To help himself live his life to the fullest and not have it be mostly about work, Semler designated Mondays and Thursdays as Termination Days. Every Monday and every Thursday Semler lived as if he was responding to an imaginary diagnosis from his family doctor: “Ricardo, you only have six months to live.”

I have taken both Stephen’s and Ricardo’s wisdom to heart. I have recently initiated my own Termination Days. How do I spent them, acting as if I only have six months to live? I spend them volunteering at Enso House, our local island hospice. Enso is a perfect match for me and my aging neurobiology. They only have two beds and they only accept one guest at a time. It’s a great place to titrate intimate learning about a journey of my own that I will one day be taking. Better to go out and hang with the Reaper while he’s distracted, busily engaging with other people, yes?

Still Life with Color

Stephen (who died last year) would not be surprised in the least to discover that through the brain magic of projection and transference, my own mother showed up on Day One of my first visit to Enso. And you, dear reader, can probably guess my mother is someone I had/have unfinished business with (does anyone not?). Our relationship ruptured early in my life. As someone severely troubled and trauma-ed – she spent many years of her own life confined to Connecticut state mental hospitals. Through no fault of her own, she became someone I was simply unable to trust.

Deathbed.pngBut I could feel understanding and compassion for her. As I learned about her early life – it’s very likely that her mother murdered her father and was never prosecuted for it. It was most likely in reaction to some abusive perpetration, and it happened sometime before my mother became a teen. But my mother also and saw her sister die young of cancer and her brother live an extremely disorganized life in a neighboring housing project. It was all she could do to get up every day and survive until the next. 

It is a similar understanding and compassion that I also have for the current terminal guest at Enso House. She is like my mother in more ways than I can imagine, from her slight build, to her affect, to her sense of humor. Sitting by her bedside, listening to her ragged breathing while she sleeps, is a perfect way for me to “relationship-repair-by-proxy” during these first Termination Days. Long may they run.

Just in case you’ve forgotten, in Greek and Roman mythology each of Zeus’ and Mnemosyne’s nine daughters were the original Muses destined to preside over the arts and sciences. Here are their names and their Muse domains …

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Muses fawning over Apollo – some Gods seemingly have it all

They were children of incest, actually, since Zeus was Mnemosyne’s nephew. But, hey, when Greek Gods and Goddesses incest, humanity gets delivered inspiration. Or so we would hope. Here are some of the reasons however, that you might be better off looking elsewhere for inspiration.

Muses tend to be fickle. Most have little clue about what it means to make an Irrational Commitment. Today you’re worthy of their full time and attention, similar to what they’re showering upon Apollo above, and tomorrow they’ll be off to Hermes or Hypnos or Hades.

For the above reason and more, which we will explore below, Muses can’t be trusted. They tend to be enormously self-centered. Take Calliope above. Not only is she reputed to be the Muse who inspired Homer to write The Illiad and The Odyssey, but she managed to end up with two of Apollo’s sons before marrying Oeagrus, King of Thrace. Who, but someone wholly self-centered – the so-called “chief of all Muses” – would abandon a God for a King?

Muses can take that self-centeredness to the point of narcissism, operating with their own overt or hidden agendas. They tend to suck all the air out of the room simply by showing up, forcing you to pay attention to them whether you want to or not. Often they trigger waves of frenzied activity they will convince you is in service to your own art. Mostly though, it is in service to their need to be the driving force behind what you are able to devote your time and  energies to.

Muses generally want us to do all the heavy lifting. They operate like upper management. They do the easy work of tossing out all kinds of wild and crazy ideas and then leave implementation to us worker bees. They can’t really be bothered with things like doing the dishes, grocery shopping or doing the laundry – you know, the basics that keep hearth and home clean, organized and running smoothly.

Muses constantly tend to make us feel one-down. Without them our inspirational life would be wholly dispirited. Or so they would like us to believe. After all, look at how we come alive in their presence; and look at how we founder in their absence. What more proof do we need of our less-than-ness.

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Muses provide, at best, a conditional answer to The Big Brain Question. By now most of you probably know what the Big Brain Question is and how important it is for helping each other regulate stress hormones. It’s epitomized best in Self-Psychology founder Heinz Kohut’s observation that the sign of a good relationship is when only one person goes crazy at a time. Muses tend to drive us crazy right along with them, mostly in ways that we find ourselves with little ability to put the brakes on.

Muses exploit our Vigilant Sentinel. Our Vigilant Sentinel hides out in our brain and constantly observes what we think, feel, say and do. It then goes about creating a narrative that matches what it observes. This often becomes the story of who we think we are, with all its pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses. When a Muse comes along and incites a flurry of activity that works to initiate us into creative endeavors, our Vigilant Sentinel pays attention. And then when the Muse leaves and the work remains unfinished, our internal Vigilant Sentinel has no choice but to identify us as someone who loves to start things but never finish them.

Muses come with Opportunity Cost. Whatever they’re enticing us to engage with, leaves us little time and energy for engaging with other important aspects of balanced living – things like deeply engaging with Creative Structural Tension. Muses often affect us like an addictive drug, requiring ever greater immersion in whatever it is that they are purportedly inspiring us to. Often it turns out to be Lasègue-Falret Syndrome.

Muses tend to trigger our baser instincts. Take the example of Sad Tad Cummins, a 50-year-old high school teacher who recently ran off with his 15-year-old student. What adult male in their Right Mind makes that kind of decision? Which is exactly the point: Muses tend to disorganize our Right Mind. They scramble our cognitive capacities in ways that make it almost impossible to see the Big Picture, to make well-reasoned decisions in the service of healthy creative efforts. It’s not for nothing that wisdom traditions teach moderation in most things.

To take us away from the allure of the Muse, let me extend an invitation to look over this new Enchanted Loom. It considers your brain as The Three Pound Enigma it truly is. Click HERE for more.

It was probably in junior high school when some part of me realized that learning to become comfortable as a public speaker was going to be a monster growing edge for me. As most skillful pain-avoiders do, I buried that realization and put off working on it as long as I could. I took up a profession – carpentry – that required me to talk very little to very few people during any day.

skull puzzle piece.jpgIf my goal was to never do the work required to become comfortable speaking in public, I made a crucial mistake – I continued going to school, earning one degree after another. Academics tend to enjoy the dopamine rush that talking all the time often provides. Being the contrarian I am, however, I did research and taught classes not on talking, but on … listening. My students were aspiring clinical psychologists. They had a lot to learn about listening, as did I. We ended up teaching each other.

In the Beginning was The Word

One of the things teaching inevitably brought me face to face with was that demon fear of public speaking – something many humans fear more than death. And with good reason for me – the first three schools where I offered courses asked me not to return to teach class two. Thanks, but no thanks. The main issue, predictably, was me being betrayed by my adrenal glands. Without training in effective ways to handle the stress, standing in front of a group automatically makes us a target for evaluation. And almost all evaluation activates our neuroceptive triggers – my brain’s threat-detection circuitry, wired robustly to my adrenals. What to do in order to get my adrenal glands to “stop making me their bitch?”

Former firefighter and emergency medical tech, Caroline Paul, author of Gutsy Girl has some guidelines that I followed intuitively before I ever learned of her work. I began a “micro-bravery” analysis. I sat down and asked myself: What am I so afraid of standing in front of the class? Was it that people would challenge things I say? Make me wrong and look dumb? Not really. It has always been easy for me to admit when I don’t know something. Was it that I would bore people and they’d fall asleep in class the way I used to? No. That wasn’t it. I’ve never had any great need to be all things to all people. What then?

Parsing Bravery

What it turned out to be was something that showed up soon after I did my Micro-Bravery analysis – I was two hours into a three hour class … with nothing more to say. I’d covered all my material and my mind went blank. I could feel the stress hormones ramping up. And then someone in the class raised their hand and asked a question. A guardian angel. It was a question I actually knew the answer to.

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When I was done providing the answer, the idea suddenly hit for ME to ask questions. I knew the danger of posing general questions to the whole group and getting no response, so instead, I broke the class up into two groups and posed the same question to each, framing one question positively for the first group and negatively for the second group. Then I gave them 20 minutes to each come up with a collective answer. Then another 20 got taken up discussing the answers each group came up with. Then the rest of the hour I filled in with material I thought up while both groups were busy working.

At the end of that class I had passed this small Micro-Bravery test. And, now that I knew what my root fear was, for every three hour class after that, I simply prepared a 4 hour outline in 10 minute increments! Since then I’ve never run out of things to talk about now in 20 years of teaching.

Much of what we fear in life is determined by how our body feels when we do it or when we think about doing it. Stress hormones in amounts that make us feel bad, tend to turn us away from things we might otherwise pursue before we ever take the first small step. The Brave are the ones actually out there on the playing field. The Micro-Brave are the ones out there taking the smallest, incremental steps they can manage in the direction of their heart’s truest desires.

Finally, speaking of public speaking, this week I did a radio interview with Dr. Gloria Burgess of the Talk Radio Network. We covered all kinds of fun and profitable topics from how to truly manage weight to ways of successfully addressing The Prefrontal Paradox. If you’d like to give a listen to the 2-part interview, here’s the link: It’s Not Your Fault.

We have four dogs living at our house. Dogs, it turns out, have the equivalent neural network capacity of a two-year-old toddler. As you might imagine, four dogs, like four toddlers, are a handful. And like toddlers, dogs produce … a LOT of poop. Disposing of dog poop turns out to be a thing, a something thing that I sometimes get tired of dealing with. When I do, my moral compass occasionally takes me in a wrong direction: when I make my twice-weekly poo cleanup rounds, I sometimes find myself tossing a lot of dog poo into the neighbor’s salal that borders our property. 

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Salal hiding a fertilizer surprise!

Such actions come with a lot of rationalizations, of course – no one will ever see it; it will break down over time; and besides, it’s good fertilizer. How can good fertilizer harm “the plant of persev-erance”? If all of this were actually true, a judge might ask, why not simply toss it into the salal … on my side of the property line? Good question, judge.

A True Tech Marvel

Well, there’s good news for me on the moral horizon – neuroscientists at the Harvard Medical School have at last come up with a non-invasive way to get the 80 pounds of monthly dog poo painlessly deposited on my side of the property line using … biomedical enhancement! Biomedical enhancement can be used to catapult any number of neural capacities beyond normal. Cognitive enhancement involves using drugs or non-invasive brain stimulation to improve things like memory, attention, executive functions, or other cognitive operations beyond how they usually operate. Here’s how the Harvard neuroscientists can already reverse my moral turpitude: they simply point a big magnet at my forehead. Which is a simple way to say that they used “repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on my dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC).” When they do, I do the right thing with the poo. Does it work every time? No. But it works often enough so that I might grow my own wiring such that I no longer need to be a poo miscreant (a pooscreant?).

Now, if this kind of mechanical intervention can work to change my moral behavior – and repeated research evidence is increasingly suggesting that it can – the implication is that there’s a deficit in my brain wiring that ends up making me a pooscreant. I can’t help myself. My brain made me do it. And even though I know it’s something I wouldn’t like my neighbor doing – tossing her dog’s poo onto my property – when I’m out there making the rounds with the potty paddle, a complete lack of impulse control takes over. Especially if the dogs have deposited the poo close to the property line already. Then it’s just a simple flick of the poo paddle to toss it over the line. I can blame it on the dogs!

A Paradoxical Intervention

This ability to know what I should do, and at the same time often be unable to do, is a fundamental structural neural vulnerability – a wiring deficit for many of our brains. It’s poor impulse control feebly wired into the Executive Function area of the brain.

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Olliebear made me do it!

It’s what makes me buy stocks at high prices and sell them when they go down. It’s what makes other people impulsively thumb-type tweets and send them at 3 o’clock in the morning. This struc- tural vulnerability is something I call The Prefrontal Paradox.   The good news is there  are things you can do to change your brain’s wiring without having to travel to Cambridge, MA and visit Harvard’s medical school. Go HERE to see a list of them.

Of course, if Executive Functioning is something that can be easily addressed and skillfully remedied, why am I still a pooscreant? Well, it turns out that … I’m not. I gave up that behavior about six months ago. We now have two plastic buckets to deposit dog poo in. Twice a month I gather them up and deliver them to our local dog park where they have waste receptacles for people like I’ve long longed to be and that my Vigilant Sentinel is glad I’ve become – morally integrated. At least where dog doody is concerned.

That all said, it’s time for another Enchanted Loom. Click HERE to enjoy a graphic review of Michael Lewis’s new book, The Undoing Project. To reflect the topic of this blog column, the book might be better titled: The UnDooDooing Project!  😉

When I was 20 years old (but developmentally much younger) I lived in Burbank, California near Warner Brothers’ Studios and shared a house with two hyper-masculine aspiring Hollywood actors. One was a  black belt in karate; the other an off-road motorcycle racer. Both looked like magazine models. Over the six months we lived together, I probably saw three dozen women at least half-willingly cycle through their bedrooms.

images.jpgLate one rare evening when all three of us happened to be home there was a knock on our front door. I went to answer it and found an attractive  woman about five years older than me stand- ing at the door. She asked if she could come in and use the bathroom. She was supposedly walking home from a friend’s house and suddenly found herself with an urgent need to go. I invited her in and pointed her in the right direction.

When she came out of the bathroom, both my roommates began chatting her up in ways that made their motives seem obvious to me – it was a competition to see who could get her to spend the night in their bed. Once that dynamic became clear to me, I opted out and went to my own room to finish a project for work before I turned in for the night.

In the Still of the Night

I’d been asleep for much of the night, when I was awakened by someone next to my bed.

“Can I come in here to get away from those guys?” Without waiting for a reply, she pulled up the covers and slipped into the bed beside me. When I realized she was naked a rush of adrenaline flooded my body. The main thing I noticed was she smelled of B.O. and alcohol – all-too-familiar childhood smells. Almost immediately she was on top of me as I lay there frozen stiff. It was quickly evident that she was quite experienced in the bedroom. To my relief, before I knew it she rolled off of me onto the bed and fell asleep beside me.

I was still wide awake when she woke up several hours later and wordlessly tiptoed out of my bedroom. When morning came and I got dressed and ventured out into the living room, my housemates were waiting for me. “Hey Studman, how’d you like being the last man standing?” They both laughed at what was apparently a hilarious joke. I simply ignored them, left the house and went off to work.

Lost in the Rain in Juarez

On the morning commute I came to one basic truth: there was little enjoyable about the previous night’s experience. Although I didn’t know these words then, it was a disembodied, dissociative encounter. Fearful thoughts of STDs or of her getting pregnant filled my mind flooding my body with stress hormones. And yet, I felt ashamed that I did nothing to stop her, laying in rigid silence as I did. I was greatly relieved when she got up and left me alone in my room. Mostly though, I felt confused. Wasn’t sex – no matter what the circumstances – something men were supposed to unquestioningly pursue and greatly enjoy?

ptsd-cover.jpgWith the benefit of age and hindsight,   it’s clear to me that experience had many of the hallmarks of Post-Traumatic Stress. The elements of surprise, confusion, feeling overwhelmed and powerless, my brain and body flooded with stress hormones, a freeze response, along with my roommate’s demeaning remarks in the morning. Shortly afterwards, I found myself initiating a series of my own one-night stands. A compulsive, unconscious attempt to try and heal the trauma?

Help for the Shamed and Confused

Unfortunately, there was no organization like RAINN then for me to turn to in my numbed-out confusion. While originally formed to serve women, RAINN has since expanded to include services for male victims. Rape in western culture is generally thought of as something perpetrated against women. It’s surprisingly NOT. Lara Stemple, Director of UCLA’s Health and Human Rights Law Project, discovered that in all sexual violence reported to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 38 percent of victims were men. A 2012 study from the  National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found in a sample of 43,000 adults little difference in the sex of self-reported sexual perpetrators. Of those who affirmed that they had “ever forced someone to have sex with you against their will,” 43.6 percent were female and 56.4 percent  were male! Clearly, there’s a need for Male survivor resources. Two more besides RAINN that I’m aware of are Male Survivor and Pandora’s Project, both greatly needed, for as Lara Stemple reminds us, “Compassion is not a finite resource.”

I’ve always been a fan of creativity. I probably own and have read more than 100 books on the subject. I am familiar with most of the creativity gurus, know tons of creativity warmups and exercises, and even know what parts of the brain are mostly involved in the creative process thanks to University of Iowa neuropsychiatrist and creativity researcher Nancy Andreasen. It’s her research that is primarily responsible for making the links that frequently show up between creativity and madness.

Creativity Is…

University of Connecticut education professor Jonathan Plucker reviewed over 90 academic papers about human creativity and synthesized the following definition: “Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or a group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context.” Pretty dry academic-speak, right?

Of course, reading about and studying creativity academically is very different than being and doing creativity – in other words, actually making something, something novel and useful in our time. One requirement for creating such things seems to be developing the ability to think “unthinkable thoughts.” Many such thoughts are often lurking in The Unthought Known where zombie memories live.

Christmas Tree.jpgBefore I provide you with an instruction set for thinking unthinkable thoughts, let me provide you with some guidance to ponder (wrongly attributed to Lao Tzu): “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” It’s hard to be truly creative, to think unthinkable thoughts when I’m anxious or depressed. One reason: reduced neural network activity making insufficient network connections. A depressed or anxious brain is like a Christmas tree with many of the lights not working.

The Energy of Peace

Being at peace in the present, doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of furious thinking and the high energy of neural network activity flowing, however. Often we do. It can be like the quiet energy of the sun or a nuclear power plant. Especially when the thoughts we are thinking have previously been unthinkable. Ask any artist who’s been paid an unexpected visit from their muse.

Because of how the brain has evolved, many of the unthinkable thoughts most of us are walking around with live buried in the implicit memory networks of our right brain. The cells and connections in the human brain develop in sine wave fashion, with the right side growing and connecting first. And much of what it devotes that beginning attention to is … threat. Anything that shows up early – excessive stress in utero, malnutrition, maternal grief – our knowledge of the threats a child’s neurobiology is sensitive to in utero and records regularly is growing daily. sine-wave-brainAnd we know boys are much more susceptible to early threats than girls are (I could have told doctors, parents and researchers that!). 

Here Be Monsters

Reproductive biologist, David Bainbridge is quite familiar with the threat-memories that live in our right brain’s implicit memory networks: “The modern geography of the brain has a deliciously antiquated feel to it – rather like a medieval map with the known world encircled by terra incognita where monsters roam.So the challenge becomes, how does a creative artist begin exploring this unknown territory where monsters roam, begin thinking the unthinkable thoughts that are necessary to make contact with such monsters, and emerge with something novel and useful for our times? Not to mention remaining sane and healthy while we do it.

We probably are well-served to recruit a little help. It’s a bad idea to go crazy solo. When I decided I wanted to try my hand at novel-writing, I took advice from writing teacher, Natalie Goldberg to heart: “Write about what disturbs you.” Following that directive inevitably put me deep into the terra incognita of my own trauma-riddled right brain. I needed four friends and three therapists to help me surface and process the unthinkable thoughts contained in my first fictional work that became the prize-winning novel March Madness. Without their help I’m pretty sure I never would have found the energy to confront the painful memories that surfaced week after week, unearthed by the writing.

An Explorer’s Guidelines

So, where does that leave us in terms of taking on the task of thinking unthinkable thoughts? First off, you might want to consider: is this something you really want to do? Is it something you actually have time and space for in your life? If the answer is yes, here are three brief guidelines: 1. Recognize that you’ll be taking on Shadow Work. Shadow Work can often be very painful; 2. Recognize that Shadow Work is very hard to engage in skillfully without help; Shadow Work often contains elements of The Heroine’s Journey; 3. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel; the Common World is a place we can return to. But we will be forever changed by our travels.

To help with your exploration, check out this Enchanted Loom review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on thought-unthunk creativity, Big Magic.