“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.



This week, rather than offer up 750-1000 words for you to read, instead I’m going to urgently encourage you to well-spend the time watching this TED Talk by Dr. Alan Watkins. In it he brilliantly sums up what I’ve been studying for the last dozen years: what it takes to repair a heart we didn’t even realize was broken, one that has adversely been unwittingly impacting our brain function for decades. To his credit, Alan’s been studying and integrating the same material for more than 15 years … click HERE to learn …

How to Repair a Broken Heart

(The TED title is: How to Hack Your Biology)

broken heart.jpg

I have been the recipient of much kindness and goodwill thus far in my life. In times of great developmental disruptions, friends and family have stepped forward and offered me food, money and a clean, dry place to sleep. Almost all of my significant relationship breakups have unfolded with a minimum of acrimony and resentment and allowed for steady movement in the direction of the next great healing/learning adventure. As I find myself immersed in what used to be considered old age (I’ll be 70 this July – how terribly strange), I feel blessed, many times over.

Stalking Generativity

Social neuroscience and psychology research would posit that I have reached Eric Erikson’s developmental stage called Generativity. In some ways it seems like I’ve been immersed in that stage since I was a kid. Generativity derives great joy from giving to others. University of Dayton psychologist Jack Bauer proposes that my generativity joy involves a “quiet ego,” one that doesn’t need to clamor for attention, fame or recognition. With generativity comes a preference for taking a back seat to the needs of others that allows me to bask in their accomplishments. That pretty much feels right.

I’ve been a mentor of one sort or another for 40+ years now. Some of the housebuilders I’ve mentored have gone on to far surpass me in the field. And a number of the psychology doctoral students I’ve guided have gone on to win professional prizes and peer acclaim for their research (one for research on … altruism!). That all feels bask-worthy. Currently, I’m deriving great joy from building and giving away Prayer Pods for the homeless.

Mirroring Altrusim

Some neuroscience researchers argue that our brains are hardwired for altruism. I’m not so sure. In one example, UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni of mirror neuron fame, asserts that our brains come equipped with something he calls “prosocial resonance” circuitry. The Stress CurveAll he has to do is knock out the neurons and their connections that interfere with those prosocial circuits and voila, I’m ready to not only give you the shirt off my back, but my pants and shoes as well (I’ll probably keep my underwear, similar to how experimental subjects in this study only gave away 75%! of their money).

The overriding, real-world reality seems to be that if such hardwiring exists in most of us, it’s powerfully neutralized by the overriding circuitry that impedes altruistic behavior. Why else would 1502 of the world’s 1645 billionaires refuse to sign the Buffet-Gates Giving Pledge? (To increase that number, Gates and Buffet might want to send their next invitation letter written on … sandpaper. As this study suggests, it might actually work!). Interestingly, this neurological conflict also seems to be mirrored in the frequent clashes between science and religion. If I look into my own experience, I find myself most unempathetic when my brain has “jumped the hump” in its expression of stress hormones, for example, when I’m in physical pain or experiencing excessive fear.

Stress Makes Me Stupid and Stingy

We know from research like this and hundreds of other studies that not only can’t we think straight under stress, but most of us don’t even realize we’re not thinking straight. When I volunteered as a grief counselor, one of bit of guidance we gave every client as a matter of course was, “Don’t make any important decisions for at least a year.”

Ego CentricOne of the ways I frequently end up not thinking straight under stress is that I begin thinking 24/7 about me, me, me. You would think I’d be able to step outside that self-obsession and realize how tiring it is to spend time around other people lost in self-obsession, including myself. But no! Those interference circuits in my brain seem to have a life of their own. And until the stressor is removed or resolved, those brain cells will keep firing their interference patterns.

A Reliable Way Out

One way for me to eventually get that circuitry to calm down, I attribute to The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience. There’s little better than a smart, trustworthy, reliable more organized brain living in an adult body who can listen clearly and reflect back my own self-absorption to me. More often than not such altruistic, compassionate action works to answer The Big Brain Question and simultaneously bring me home to the present moment where, more often than not, “everything is just perfect.” And because I know just how complex and unpredictable the world actually is, I can override my brain’s penchant for “time traveling” and let go and begin to relax with an open curiosity, avidly interested in what might actually be trying to show up in the next moment.

Finally, before you go, would you like to take the latest Enchanted Loom with you? It’s a review of one of the most successful neuroscience writers on the planet. If so, click HERE.

I have this friend – let’s call him Cal – who’s made enough money in the stock market to last the rest of his life. He loves learning and is widely read. From his studies he’s able to make lots of inferences and connect widely disparate dots. He then figures out how these connections might potentially impact a company’s stock price and send it higher. Cal then writes up his research and thinking and publishes it in a newsletter several times a day, complete with charts of the companies he’s researched. And he does it because he loves it. He emails his research to folks for free.

stock-marketIn any one week, Cal might mention 20 companies. They’re mostly low-priced companies that have fallen out of favor. Part of Cal’s reasoning for focusing in this area is that it’s easier for the market to take a company like Neothetics (NEOT) from .70 cents to 1.40 than it is to take Apple (AAPL) from $105 to $210. The percentage gains are the same 100%, but the amount of money the market requires to obtain those gains is significantly different.

Of the 20 companies that Cal might recommend in any week, 18 of them will make money and perhaps 2 of them will remain cheap or lose money. Guess which two companies my brain invariably has me hone in on!

The Fascination of Loss

Even though losing money is painful – money is often wired as part of the brain’s survival circuitry – and stressful, leading to all kinds of bad decisions – I still find it fascinating that I can so unerringly select Cal’s few losers. Take Water Generation Industries (WGI – a fictional company based on a real one) as a recent representative example. In mid-September of last year, simply because a notorious name in the industry had given WGI a casual mention in the financial press the price shot up from .94 to $3.47! I later bought the stock (cheap, I thought) at .74 cents shortly before they announced earnings.

Well, the company’s report was pretty much as the market expected. However, they projected a 60%-80% increase in revenues going forward! Normally, when a company makes such projections, the stock price will skyrocket. WGI’s price at this writing: .61 cents. I’ve lost roughly 18%.

Hardwiring Feedback Loops

So, what might be going on here? First of all, when it comes to money, I think it’s important to know how memory works. It’s useful to think of memory simply as learning. When learning takes place, cells in the brain make connections. No connections, no learning. Multiple connections – powerful, memorable learning.

Neuroscientists recognize two kinds of learning/memory: explicit or declarative; and implicit or procedural. The first is conscious and we mostly use language to demonstrate it. The second, Procedural memory (“knowing how”) is …

the unconscious memory of skills and how to do things. These memories are typically acquired through repetition and practice, and are composed of automatic sensorimotor behaviors that are so deeply embedded that we are no longer aware of them. Once learned, these “body memories” allow us to carry out ordinary actions more or less automatically.

poverty-shoes 1200xx3870-2177-0-199When you grow up in poverty, your brain and body “learn” how to be poor. Through repeated exposure to the conditions that lack of money creates, through procedural memory, your neurophysi- ology learns to adapt and feel “at home” with poverty. Being poor feels familiar and “right.” It has laid down learning connections in the brain that take little energy to operate that are mostly unconscious. And we’re unconsciously and powerfully drawn to things that will tend to keep us feeling comfortable and familiar. Which is part of the reason I believe it’s so easy for me to significantly beat the odds in personally picking the two losers out of Cal’s 20 stocks. It’s not me; it’s my body’s memory.

Disconnecting and Rewiring

I’ve come up with three things I want to practice in an attempt to disconnect the early wiring and unlearn this procedural conditioning carried over from childhood. First, I’ve got to gradually move in the direction of things I don’t feel comfortable with, learning to incrementally manage the discomfort. With the stock market, as an experiment, I probably should stay away from Cal’s picks that I really like. Better to meta-learn his reasons for selecting the companies he does and also choose companies from his list that I don’t much resonate with initially, like small banks, which Cal specializes in.

Stress Nectin

Click Image to Enlarge

Next, when I have the urge to sell, I should pause, especially when it’s a “reactive sell.” Reactive sells are “unreasonable” – meaning the decision isn’t arrived at by clear reasoning – and are almost always generated by unconscious procedural memory wanting to homeostatically discharge the stress hormones and make me feel better. Reactive selling accomplishes that.

Finally, with affirmations and by calling up conscious declarative memories with regard to a few successful market selections I have made – by repeatedly attending to the conditions that resulted in those being successful – I will begin to strengthen new learning (brain cell connections) and let the old, unhelpful connections hopefully sever their adherence proteins and die out from disuse.

And with all of this, I probably will be very well served by patience … with my own brain and its slow growth and change, and with the daily operating brains that work as this global collective entity we call the stock market.

“Our brain is simply a vehicle for formless awareness to function in form. It is kind and wise to learn to use it well.”

~ Kathleen Singh, The Grace in Aging, 121

1. Life Above All Else

The primary default function of our brain is to keep it and our body alive.

Almost everything the brain does, from winnowing down input from our senses so that 99% of what we encounter can be processed – albeit unconsciously, to the constant monitoring of the environment for threats, to the ongoing modulation of arousal states – these brain functions have all evolved with the primary purpose of keeping us alive. To the brain, death is perceived as the enemy, one to be kept at bay by almost any means necessary for as long as possible. To see the unfortunate consequence of this vulnerability of our collective brains, visit a senior care facility. Or watch crows when one of their own dies. Or better yet, read this account of what happens when a good neuroscientist’s brain goes bad.

ReaperTo countermand this limitation of the brain – its inability to fathom the strangeness of unbeing – many spiritual traditions offer practitioners specific information about death. Often what’s offered is guidance for what practitioners can expect once the body dies. So, for example, Tibetan Buddhism offers The Eight Cycles of Dissolution as a description of what to expect upon leaving this life. Catholicism instructs that those who die in sin are dispatched to the Hell Realms, while those who die in God’s grace receive eternal salvation. Neuroscientists believe that something happens – The First Law of Thermodynamics applies – they’re just not sure what. And it may be different for every one of us, just as every one of our living brains and bodies are different.

But what happens to us while we’re living and our brain-built concerns about death genuinely become a non-issue? One measure of death as a non-issue might be our degree of self-transcendence. It turns out there are specific networked brain regions that correspond with our degree of self-transcendence. Might our personal concerns about dying dissolve into self-transcendence simply by organically rewiring those areas? And if so, how might we best go about that rewiring?

2. Our Brain Uses Words to Navigate the Consensus-Reality World

Between 18 to 24 months, the language areas of the brain become available for understanding and generating language. These are generally thought to be Broca’s Area and Wernicke’s Area, located in the left hemisphere (corresponding areas in the right hemisphere are thought to process the “Deep Structure” of language). How we learned these areas are associated with language understanding and generation was through research on patients who had Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas damaged. Word SaladPeople who are unable to understand written or spoken language are diagnosed with Wernicke’s Aphasia. We are able to put thoughts into words and generate speech courtesy of Broca’s Area, which is considered the brain’s scriptwriter. When Broca’s area is damaged, we lose the ability to express language.

Once language comes online, it mediates direct contact with the world. We begin to attach words to people, places and experiences. We begin to construct a life-narrative. That narrative uses words which store easily as memories. Those memories and that narrative begin to define – and significantly limit – who we think we are. Who would we be without our personal narratives, our unique personal histories? Especially since much of what our brain is designed to pay most attention to are people, places and experiences where hyper-arousal or threats to life are involved, making them all most memorable.

3. Our Brain Constantly Time Travels.

In the 1970’s the comedian Flip Wilson made The Church of What’s Happening Now a national meme. Members of the church lived life according to The Ram Dass Principle: Be Here Now. Divinity/Spirituality can only be found in the now – in the present moment. Unfortunately, thanks to the Prefrontal Paradox (email me – floweringbrain@gmail.com – if you’re interested in the explanatory slideshare), many of our brains lack sufficient bandwidth and connectivity to continually take up residence in The Church of What’s Happening Now. Rip Van WinkleIn order to keep us alive, the brain generates all kinds of words that either take us back to the past or have us thinking about the future in ways intended to insure our survival. It generates thoughts like: How can I make more money? How can I get healthier? How can I have more friends? How can I learn more about spirituality and the brain?– all oriented towards making things different and hopefully better and contributing to a longer life at some time in the future.

So, there you have three ways the brain undermines spirituality. If you want a few hundred more, here’s a link to a dozen recent books on Neuroscience & Spirituality. They’re filled with words about death and a better future that you may find to be an interesting distraction. I certainly did.

Oh, and lest I forget, here’s another Enchanted Loom on spirituality – my friend, Kathleen Singh’s wonderfully readable book, The Grace in Aging.


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