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I think I’ll let my favorite neuroscientist, David Eagleman, explain it to you directly. Here’s an excerpt from his new book, Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

WHAT DOES DREAMING HAVE TO DO WITH THE ROTATION OF THE PLANET?

One of the unsolved mysteries in neuroscience is why brains dream. What are these bizarre nighttime hallucinations about? Do they have meaning? Or are they simply random neural activity in search of a coherent narrative? And why are dreams so richly visual, igniting the occipital cortex every night into a conflagration of activity?

Planet Earth Spinning Half Covered Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free)  1006591891 | Shutterstock

Consider the following: In the chronic and unforgiving competition for brain real estate, the visual system has a unique problem to deal with. Because of the rotation of the planet, it is cast into darkness for an average of twelve hours every cycle. (This refers to 99.9999 percent of our species’ evolutionary history, not to the current, electricity-blessed times). We’ve already seen that sensory deprivation triggers neighboring territories to take over. So how does the visual system deal with this unfair disadvantage?

By keeping the occipital cortex active during the night.

We suggest that dreaming exists to keep the visual cortex from being taken over by neighboring areas. After all, the rotation of the planet does not affect anything about your ability to touch, hear, taste, or smell; only vision suffers in the dark. As a result, the visual cortex finds itself in danger every night of takeover by the other senses. And given the startling rapidity with which changes in territory can happen (remember the forty to sixty minutes we just saw in the blindfolded experiment), the threat is formidable. Dreams are the means by which the visual cortex prevents takeover.

Dreams and Karma – Part 1 | Isha Sadhguru

To better understand this, let’s zoom out….During most of the night, there is no dreaming. But during REM sleep, something special happens. The heart rate and breathing speed up, small muscles twitch, and the brain waves become smaller and faster. This is the state in which dreaming occurs. The increased activity in these neurons has two consequences. The first is that the major muscle groups become paralyzed. Elaborate neural circuitry keeps the body frozen during dreaming….This muscular shutdown allows the brain to simulate world experience without actually moving the body around.

There's No Such Thing As a Universal Symbol in Dreams

The second consequence is the really important one: waves of spikes travel from the brainstem to the the occipital cortex. When the spikes arrive there, the activity is experienced as visual. We see. This activity is why dreams are pictorial and filmic, instead of conceptual or abstract.

We theorize that the circuitry behind visual dreams is not accidental. Instead, to prevent takeover, the visual system is forced to fight for its territory by generating bursts of activity when the planet rotates into darkness. In the face of constant competition for sensory real estate, an occipital self-defense evolved. After all, vision carries mission-critical information, but it is stolen away for half of our hours. Dreams, therefore, may be the strange love child of neural plasticity and the rotation of the planet. ~ pp. 45-47

Humor me and take 1:42 seconds to watch this short video from Harvard’s Center for Child Development before reading further: Serve and Return.

Our brains are live-wired to learn from before birth. Serve-and-return interactions – or contingent communication in developmental science jargon – is how humans learn best. Contingent Communication is the primary driver of secure attachment. And not just for babies, but for humans of all ages. It’s a powerful nervous system integrator. It enriches human neural network connectivity.

Serve and No Return

But what happens when we serve and nothing gets returned? Or what gets returned has little or no connection to what we served – for example, with gas-lighting or non-sequiturs?

Tennis GIF - Find on GIFERFirst, let’s take the simple everyday experience of sending a text or an email to someone. In your mind the message you sent requires a response. But what happens when nothing comes back? Depending upon how urgent or critical we feel the message is, our stress hormone levels might begin to elevate. If non-responsiveness happens in our world on a regular basis, we could expect our baseline levels of stress hormones to become chronically elevated. And there is a vast and growing research literature that suggests convincingly that chronically elevated stress hormones adversely impact neuron growth and connectivity.

 “When (chronic stress) happens, (binding proteins) become unable to perform their role as modulators of synaptic plasticity” explained Professor Carmen Sandi of the Brain Mind Institute at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. “In turn, these effects lead subjects to lose their sociability, avoid interactions with their peers and have impaired memory or understanding.”

Without You, There’s No Me

And that’s just for starters. We are all greatly dependent upon the people around us to reflect their experience of us back to us. By what people say to us and how they behave towards us, our brain learns to copy other people’s minds. This is how socialization unfolds at the level of our neural networks. Sam Eriera at University College London has done extensive research on how this socialization takes place:

We are highly sensitive to people around us. As infants, we observe our parents and teachers, and from them we learn how to walk, talk, read—and use smartphones. There seems to be no limit to the complexity of behavior we can acquire from observational learning.

But social influence goes deeper than that. We don’t just copy the behavior of people around us. We also copy their minds. As we grow older, we learn what other people think, feel and want—and adapt to it. 

Our ability to copy the minds of others is hugely important. When this process goes wrong, it can contribute to various mental health problems. You might become unable to empathize with someone, or, at the other extreme, you might be so susceptible to other people’s thoughts that your own sense of “self” is volatile and fragile.

What Is Gaslighting?As a kid, I recall my mother frequently admonishing me: “People judge you by the company you keep.” While the benefit of keeping good company might have been easily inferred, it wasn’t until my late 20s that I finally began to connect the dots – spend time around people who inspire you and you can learn things from that you’re interested in. Duh. 

But because of my early socialization and psychological conditioning, the people I would have loved to spend time with and learn from, were essentially people who made me more than a little nervous. In Polyvagal Theory jargon – they activated my spinal sympathetic nervous system – fight or, in my case, mostly flight.

A Not-So Everyday Example

I spent 10 years working as the maintenance man at CASBS, a Stanford Think Tank that has served as a sanctuary for 24 Pulitzer, 51 MacArthur, and 27 Nobel Prize winners. Many of these illustrious visiting scholars, in addition to being brilliant researchers and people capable of complex, nuanced thinking – they were also lovely people.

One of them in particular stands out for me: Jim Scott. Jim is a history professor at Yale. One day, out of nowhere he approached me and asked me to join him in the scholars’ regular afternoon volleyball game. I was actually a pretty decent volleyball player in high school, but this invitation out of the blue from a Yale professor was more than my nervous system could handle (I grew up in a New Haven housing project in the shadow of Yale University. If I ever had dreams of attending there, they never made it to conscious awareness). Jim’s invitation to me got less than a serve-and-return response – I simply looked at him and walked away without uttering a word! How bizarre is that? Not bizarre at all when you understand how super-elevated stress hormones can activate a dorsal vagal shutdown of the speech and language centers in the brain. Silently walking away from Jim and his invitation was simply the best self-regulation strategy that I could muster in the moment to avoid a complete brain and body shutdown.

Abdication Is Not Integration

I hope these few examples do the job of underscoring just how important it is to do our level best to respond with truth, kindness and compassion to the people we care about in our lives. Even when such responses involve Difficult Conversations; no, especially when such responses involve Difficult Conversations. To take this up as a dedicated, serious practice will go a long way towards moving human evolution on Planet Earth in the direction we’d ideally like it to go.

 

Recently, I’ve been watching the reality TV series called, Undercover Billionaire. The story is about a real life, self-made billionaire – Glenn Stearns – who decides to travel to a new town where he’s unknown, with $100, a cellphone and an old truck, and turn that $100 into a business worth $1 million dollars … in 90 days. If he fails, he’s agreed to donate $1 million dollars of his own money as the kicker.

The Underdog Entrepreneur Fund – Underdog BBQWhen I watch the show, it’s easy for me to see Glenn operating with this rag-tag team he assembles as the part of the brain responsible for our so-called “Executive Function.” Here is a partial list of the qualities that make up Executive Function in the human brain:

    • Paying attention.
    • Organizing, planning, and prioritizing.
    • Starting tasks and staying focused on them to completion.
    • Understanding different points of view.
    • Regulating emotions.
    • Self-monitoring (keeping track of what you’re doing).
    • Responding rapidly and effectively to changing scenarios.

On this show, Glenn demonstrates all of these functions over and over again in spades. Where he really shines is when obstacle after obstacle comes up, that he and the team couldn’t predict, but are forced to deal with. Essentially, his journey is one of creatively addressing and solving problem after problem in the unwavering pursuit of this one clearly defined goal: create a business in 90 days valued at $1 million dollars.

There are many really interesting dynamics that take place on this journey. One is: Glenn’s in a strange town – Erie, Pennsylvania – where he knows no one and knows nothing about the town. He also has zero idea about what business he’s going to start or how he’s going to start it. The first week in town, in order to save money, he sleeps in his truck, as night temperatures drop below freezing. To get money for an apartment to live in for the 90 days, he scavenges used heavy equipment tires that are littered all around Erie, and sells them to a wholesaler for $400 apiece. It’s a pretty humble beginning.

Three Takeaways

I have three neuroscience takeaways from the show. The first is: The Power of The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience. The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience states that it takes a more organized brain to help organize a less organized brain. Think: parents and teachers with children. Or think: an accomplished professional in any field mentoring a beginner. On this show Glenn is the man with the plan, the seer with a vision, the guy with his eyes on the prize – to create a business valued at $1 million dollars in 90 days. The Prefrontal ParadoxIt becomes his primary job to take the disparate and fragmented group of individuals he’s managed to assemble around him (and convinced to work without pay), and organize and shape them into a coherent, integrated team. This seems to be much like the work of an integrated ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) – where Executive Function primarily comes to live in the human brain.

The second takeaway is the need and requirement for give-and-take, serve-and-return, Contingent Communication. Glenn is a master at not only responding to people, but getting them to respond to him. I think it becomes especially easy because he knows that he ultimately has each person’s well-being and best interests at heart. If, as Polyvagal Theory posits, we only have two choices in human relationships – connect or self-protect – Glenn meets most every attempt at self-protection with an invitation to connection. Note: He’s an extremely accomplished listener.

Like with any good dramatic presentation, there are more than a few intense conflicts and challenging problems the team needs to address – like running out of food in a restaurant three days straight (this is not really a spoiler, so no need for an alert). And Glenn gets thrown for a loop time after time. The main difference say, between him and me, is that his downtime in the wake of all these challenging circumstances is that the time he remains knocked off-center becomes shorter and shorter as the series progresses.

The third neuroscience takeaway for me is the real power in answering The Big Brain Question for people. Over and over and over again, Glenn overtly and covertly conveys to people that he’s there for them, even though he supposedly has very little money and is not paying them for their work. This was the most extraordinary element of the show for me: how he got people to have faith and trust in him as a leader, with absolutely no guarantees that they would be successful. They could count on Glenn for many things that had little to do with money: to be clear and consistent in the communication of his vision; to be able to pivot and give direction when obstacles to the goal appeared unexpectedly; to show and express public care and sincere appreciation for all the time and energy each of the people put into their collective effort. To me, this series was a Master Class in the famous Margaret Mead observation …

Purpose | Small groups, Margaret mead, Change the world

Long time readers of this blog will recognize that Rudyard Kipling is speaking to the need to engage in regular practices that grow neural networks sufficient to help us become … Adrenal Ninjas, with the masterful ability to not become immediately reactive when stress hormones attempt to activate us in unskillful ways.

If
by Rudyard Kipling

 


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Woman, my daughter!*
*Intentionally modified to bring some gender balance.

The answer is – like many of the research findings in neuroscience – it depends. Some of what it depends on is how granular our training has been for choosing the best time, place, type, tone, sequence, and framing of questions and for deciding what and how much information to share to obtain the most fruitful exchanges from our interactions.

10 Questions to Ask Before You Buy a Used Car | CARFAX Canada

Another thing it depends upon is how the questions we are asked and the questioner him or herself affects our threat-detection networks. Being asked a question by one of our children will most likely produce a different somatic response than being asked a question by a Homeland Security agent.

Why Question?

Most questions are asked to either obtain information or to orchestrate impression management (getting people to like us). The good news beyond that is that by asking questions, we naturally improve our emotional intelligence, which in turn makes us better questioners—a virtuous cycle.

When scientists began studying conversations at Harvard several years ago, they discovered this foundational insight: People don’t ask enough questions. In fact, among the most common complaints people make after having a conversation, such as an interview, a first date, or a work meeting, is “I wish [s/he] had asked me more questions” and “I can’t believe [s/he] didn’t ask me any questions.” Here are some reasons why we hold back:

We may be egocentric—eager to impress others with our own thoughts, stories, and ideas (and not even think to ask questions). Perhaps we are apathetic—we don’t care enough to ask, or we anticipate being bored by the answers we’d hear. We may be overconfident in our own knowledge and think we already know the answers (which we sometimes do, but usually not). Or perhaps we worry that we’ll ask the wrong question and be viewed as rude or incompetent. But the biggest inhibitor is that most people just don’t understand how beneficial good questioning can be. If they did, they would end far fewer sentences with a period—and more with a question mark.

In addition to asking questions, Alison Wood Brooks a Harvard Business School professor – in her talk “How to Talk Gooder in Business and Life” – offers some additional suggestions for how to make conversations enjoyable and productive, i.e. activate the reward circuitry in yours and your partner’s brain.

Plan ahead of time to talk about 2 to 3 specific topics.

Give yourself permission to switch topics frequently.

Ask followup questions.

Avoid “Boomerasking”.

Boomer-what-ing?

Firsts - Live One: BoomerangsWhat is Boomerasking? I know you want to ask me, so I’ll go ahead and answer. Boomerasking is self-centeredly asking questions of people as a means of momentarily letting someone else have the floor so that you can then immediately boomerang the conversation back to you and continue to talk about what you and your oh-so-amazing ideas and life experiences. I’m sure we’ve all been in conversations with people who operate in this manner. You might be upset about an interaction with a work colleague and go looking for a willing ear to vent to. Visibly upset, you go to an office mate who asks you what’s wrong? You tell them about your upsetting exchange and they immediately begin recounting a series of upsetting interactions with the same person or even other people.

Or, you’re on a Zoom call about a topic that’s of great interest to you. Frequently, someone on the call will ask a question and as soon as an answer is given, they’ll be off on a tangent that may or may not be related to the topic of the call.

The Courage to Question

I have a suspicion that the easy ability to ask sincere questions is connected to how well each of us has developed our Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is a developmental stage where sufficient neural network connectivity is present that allows us to recognize that other people may have different thoughts, wants and needs than we do, and by and large, that’s all right. When we have developed strong awareness of how Theory of Mind operates in ourselves and others, and we can find ourselves genuinely surprised by some things people say or do, that’s a natural experience that could make us curious. It might lead us to ask questions. The challenge will be, as it often is in social interactions, to ask those questions in ways that do not trigger defensiveness. Ahh, now THERE’s a practice worth taking up!

 

I have a perspective that people in my community have often heard me share: “Healing’s always trying to happen.” I frequently express it in the aftermath of people perpetrating some kind of unskillful, ignorant, unconscious act upon me or other people.

Admittedly, it can take a bit of dot-connecting to make sense of something like Covid-19 being an expression of “healing trying to happen,” since it’s currently killing so many people. And yet most Covid-19 patients die as the result of a “Cytokine Storm,” which is essentially the healing response going into hyper-drive and damaging healthy tissue. Turns out too much healing trying to happen can sometimes be fatal. For any of us.

Embracing the Familiar

The View From Greece: Manual Labor - AskMenMany of the people, places and things in our current lives are there because at some level and in some ways, they feel familiar. I’m still wearing the same brand of Levi jeans I wore as a kid and many of the people I interact regularly with on my little island nation have the feel and flavor of the people I grew up with. They are a great many people who spend part of each day working with both their brains and their back – doing all kinds of manual and mental labor around their various homesteads.

Similarly people often become committed partners and marry people who “feel familiar.” These are the people with whom we “have chemistry.” If we don’t and they don’t, given enough time, it seems our brain will do its best to morph them into significant people from our past. They will often morph into people with whom we have “unfinished business” (you know, like mom and dad).

Depending upon how traumatic and disorganized our early beginnings were, we may have to engage in a string of serial relationships until we find the exact “right wrong person.” That will be the person to whom we can mostly likely safely entrust our unconscious.

Here There Be Dragons

If we believe the extensive research of “The Einstein of Self-Regulation Theory,” UCLA Medical Center’s Allan Shore, it’s in much of the wiring on the right side of the brain that a preponderance of our traumatic memories get stored, since that’s the side that develops first and fastest. It’s also the hemisphere that ends up processing and storing overwhelming early, dysregulating emotional experiences. And it’s those early, painful traumatic memories that we don’t allow just anyone easy access to.

Excitatory vs Inhibitory

Which would be fine, except for one thing: those memories live in our neural network under wraps and can keep a significant portion of neural real estate out of commission. The way the brain seems to accomplish this is by taking the excitatory neurons that become activated during a highly emotional or traumatic experience – usually in the right hemisphere – and wrapping them in a protective cloak of inhibitory neurons. Too many wrapped traumatic memories can often result in chronic energy deficiency – depression or chronic fatigue (or any number of other stress-related (often auto-immune) illnesses). The white neurons in the illustration above (from the Blue Brain Project) are inhibitory, while the pink ones are excitatory. As far at the brain and it’s real estate is concerned, this the equivalent of a neural slum. There’s little life energy energizing this neck of the woods.

Surprise! Surprise!

This then is where the work of entrusting our unconscious to the right wrong person comes in. It’s not an accident that a life partner overdraws the checking account, or leaves their dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, or never puts tools back where they belong. It’s no big deal, really, except that’s exactly what my mother/father used to do! Along with dozens of other things. And when it happens my nervous system invariably goes on red alert – “I’m back in an unsafe household, with unsafe people.”

More precisely, threat detection neurons signal the adrenal glands to prepare for battle. Or flight from battle. Or freezing in place – depending upon the degree of activation and the amount of stress hormones a pile of dirty clothes can activate. 

Tyree Guyton Turned a Detroit Street Into a Museum. Why Is He ...Anecdotal reports suggest this neural real estate can actually be reclaimed through any of a wide variety of methods. The Scientology auditing process seems to work. Somatic Experiencing (SE) seems to work. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT- Tapping) seems to work, often. Essentially, each of these methods seems to work by re-activating the excitatory cells storing a traumatic memory, and then finding ways to move the body that deliberately and intentionally work to discharge the stress hormones that are triggered all over again once the inhibitory neurons set them free. Once that happens, the emotional charge is no longer associated with the traumatic incident. All that’s left is a memory of what happened as a fact of living. The memory no longer has energy bound up in it. And now that neural circuitry is free to flow. When it works, it’s kind of like a successful neighborhood reclamation project. Here’s to your own healing trying to happen!

 

Zen SamuraiThe old monk sat by the side of the road, with his eyes closed, his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap in deep meditation.

Suddenly his tranquility was interrupted by the harsh and demanding voice of a samurai warrior standing before him. “Old man! Teach me about heaven and hell!”

At first, as though he had not heard, there was no perceptible response from the monk. But slowly he began to open his eyes, the faintest hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as the samurai stood there, waiting impatiently, growing more and more agitated with each passing moment.

“You wish to know the secrets of heaven and hell?” replied the monk at last. “You who are so unkempt, whose hands and feet are covered with dirt. You whose hair is uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is rusty and neglected. You would ask me of heaven and hell?”

The samurai uttered a vile curse. He drew his sword and raised it high above his head. His face turned crimson and the veins on his neck stood out pulsing wildly as he prepared to sever the monk’s head from his shoulders.

“That,” said the old monk gently, just as the sword began its descent, “is hell.” In that fraction of a second, the samurai was overcome with amazement, awe, compassion and love for this gentle being who had dared risk his very life to give him such a teaching. He stopped his sword in mid-descent and his eyes filled with grateful tears.

“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”

 

One question we are left with might be: “What allowed this monk to manage the stress hormones his adrenal glands most likely would have been flooding his brain and body with under threat of death?”

Last week, a friend and I were on a Walk-n-Talk in one of South Whidbey’s many public parks – Trustland Trails (wonderfully well-named). We had my Bernese Mountain Dog, Emmy with us off-leash so she could wander around and explore the myriad unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells she so loves to discover. My friend and I were on the trail deep in discussion about a co-presentation we were planning – The Neurobiology of Creative Wisdom: The Anais Nin Chapter Image result for bernese mountain dog– when suddenly we came upon a young mom and her 15-month-old toddler walking slowly on the path up ahead of us. Emmy immediately took note of the toddler – Jack – as we approached. At first, surprised, Jack’s eyes got wide and he immediately moved behind his mother’s leg for protection.

Even though Emmy loves kids and is ever-gentle, I immediately put the leash on her and we approached Jack and his mom very slowly. From behind his mother’s leg Jack began to point at Emmy and make a sound that I suppose was his version of “dog.” His mother, meanwhile, had crouched down and put one hand on his back and the other on Jack’s belly. She would then take her hand off and point at Emmy, and in her reassuring motherese voice, declare, “good dog” to Jack several times.

I could visibly see Jack’s body begin to relax as we continued our cautious approach. I reassured the mom and Jack that Emmy was indeed friendly (her tail was wagging like crazy) and that there was no cause for concern. As we got closer, Jack’s mother stood up and he came out from behind her leg. Clearly curious, when Emmy was close enough, Jack put his hand out and touched Emmy’s cold, wet nose. More to regulate my own nervous system than his at this point, I pulled Emmy away and we then moved slowly around Jack and his mom and continued on down the trail, waving goodbye as we passed.

Threat Detection on Display

Through that brief encounter I could readily imagine the threat-detection circuitry in Jack’s little brain signaling his adrenal glands to generate sympathetic stress hormones to put him safely into self-protection mode.

Fortunately, Jack had his mother with him, willing and able to answer The Big Brain Question for him with a skillful, resounding,”Yes.” She was fully there for Jack in deed, word and action. Her own nervous system quickly recovered after being surprised by two strangers and a dog suddenly coming up behind her. And at that point, all of her energy and attention was in Ventral Vagal, social-engagement mode and could be solely focused on soothing and calming Jack. By the time we managed to walk slowly around Jack and his mom, Jack was back in Ventral Vagal social engagement mode himself, fully ready to play with Emmy his new-found friend. Later, as my friend and I continued our discussions out in the parking lot, mom and Jack re-appeared. In his hand Jack had a fist-sized pine cone. He immediately ran over and offered it as a present for Emmy!

Neurobiological Beings R Us

What’s interesting about this experience is that all of us are walking around with the same nervous system, the same threat-detection circuitry, the same adrenal glands as Jack. The only difference is that any variety of life challenges – other than encountering two strangers and a dog on a park trail – could be the triggers that set our danger circuitry ablaze. For many people currently, it’s the unfolding Coronavirus Pandemic. Point of fact: unless and until you actually acquire the illness, there’s no real threat present in your life. What the circuitry and the adrenal glands are being activated by are the mental machinations that project and imagine all kinds of frightening outcomes. Which doesn’t mean we don’t become informed and take intelligent compassionate action to care for ourselves and others. We simply don’t do it motivated by fear.

But it doesn’t have to be a daily media blitz screaming, “Danger, Danger, Danger”  wildly activating our threat-detection circuitry. Most often what triggers it are the run-of-the mill thoughts that our neurobiology regularly secretes on an ongoing basis:Image result for lost car keys “I wonder if my wife has overdrawn our checking account again?” “Where are my car keys; I swear I’m losing my mind,” “Is there anyone currently in my life that I really CAN count on?” All day long conceptual mind generates thought after thought after thought, and every single one of those thoughts raises or lowers the levels of stress hormones running through our brain and body. As they do, we are afforded pretty much a single choice: become increasingly more refined in our awareness of how such metabolic processes actually feel inside us, and then develop our own unique personal practice(s) that allow us to determine whose most capable of being in charge of our nervous system – our wisdom selves or our adrenal glands? May you gracefully become the boss of you, as you increasingly find creative ways to answer The Big Brain Question “Yes” for yourself and others. All your living systems will thank you as you do.

Image result for molecule of moreGreetings. It’s been awhile since I’ve put up an Enchanted Loom illustrated book review. This first one is a book we all know intimately without even having to read it. Daniel Lieberman’s and Michael Long’s collaboration on The Molecule of More is basically a deep dive into how one particular neurotransmitter more often than not, drives our daily lives in both healthy and unhealthy ways – mostly the latter. What to do about such matters. The authors offer a host of possibilities, none of them easy. They also suggest that what we collectively actually end up doing very likely leaves the human race hanging in the balance. As dramatic as I know that sounds, I think they are actually holding a reasonably plausible view.

This second Enchanted Loom review is for a book written by the young philosopher, Ryan Holiday. His assertion that … Stillness Is the Key may not make sense for many of us living immersed as we are in this digital age. It’s difficult for most of the people I know to simply carve out enough time for sleep, let alone time to be awake and do nothing but sit still. Image result for stillness is the keyAnd it will continue to be difficult until we actually find a way to make the time to experience stillness fully. And therein lies the rub. Without doing the work and encountering the benefits directly, it’s difficult to imagine that such an activity could be worth doing at all, especially since, it’s by no means easy to do in the first place. Nevertheless, Holiday makes some convincing arguments and presents some compelling anecdotal accounts that do indeed suggest the pursuit of stillness is a worthwhile activity – or more accurately, a worthwhile inactivity.

P.S. I have room in my calendar for two people who may be interested in doing a deep dive into The Neurobiology of Sacred Relationship with me. If one of them is you, feel free to email me at: FloweringBrain@gmail.com

Contrary to what some people may think “Explosive Percolation” has absolutely nothing to do with explosive diarrhea, although I can understand why some people might think the two connected. Both can contribute to a significant “phase” or “state change.” Pray for the former, as opposed to the latter.

Explosive Percolation describes a process by which viruses and complex networks can exponentially expand to rapidly take things viral, for good or bad. In any finite network, whether it’s the internet with all its hubs and connections, or it’s the molecules in a cup of coffee, connections don’t get made uniformly. They get made in small collectives that scatter throughout a medium. When enough small, connected collectives reach critical mass, all it takes is a few unique, strategic connections to accomplish a “phase change.” A common example: water into a solid – ice; or into a gas – steam.

Rich Clubs

Related imageOur brains are essentially finite networks. Neurons connect to other neurons which connect to organs and muscles, which connect wirelessly to other neural networks taking up residence in other people’s brains and bodies. You might conceive of humanity as one massively complex, finite neural network.

In each of our brains, large neuronal collectives have been assembled in twelve distinct areas, six in each hemisphere. These Grand Central Stations in the brain are called Rich Club Networks and they’ve been identified in the Superior Frontal and Parietal areas, the Putamen, the Precuneus, the Hippocampus and the Thalamus. Much more of the energy and information of our daily lives passes through these 12 areas than through any other parts of our brains. Since new connections are being generated, established and maintained in every waking moment of our lives, it stands to reason that some connections are going to be of higher energy-and-information-processing value than others – specifically connections made between Rich Club hubs.

Quality AND Quantity

It also stands to reason that the sensory experiences – including conceptual thinking – producing those connections – what we continually encounter and engage our eyes, ears nose, skin and mouth with in our everyday world – are going to incrementally impact both the number of connections, their location and the quality of the content – the learning they represent. Image result for impoverished neuronsAs one example, let’s say our day’s activities fill our neural networks with greed, aversion and ignorance. Those experiences are going to produce one kind of internal personal neural network. And with each daily addition, they’re very likely going to “bubble and boil” until they produce a state or phase change. Such explosive percolations of this sort show up every day as headlines in the weekly tabloids. Recent cover pronouncements from The Star, for example, loudly proclaim: “Lori Loughlin’s 5 Years in Jail,” “Mila Kunis, Divorcing and Wasting Away,” and “Justin Bieber on Suicide Watch.”

Compare the activities of the people activating those Star-fodder neural networks to people with networks spent in contemplative practice; days spent performing community service without a court requiring us to, or years spent studying the offerings of wisdom teachers through the ages. Anything and everything we do in the service of kindness, wisdom and grace matters and makes a difference, even if we can’t see it, don’t believe it, and don’t register it consciously. Networks are continually moving in the direction of percolation, and when the time is necessary and sufficient, explosive percolation can happen. It’s inherent in the nature of their creation. What kind of phase change might this kind of constant percolation produce, individually and collectively? I’ll leave that to perc-test in your own creative imagination’s neural networks.