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… and a good woman is not that much easier.

Let’s begin with a startling statistic – according to research by Sara Konrath and her colleagues at the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy, 75% of college students have ECD (Empathy Circuitry Deficiency). In the larger population, where will you find the most empathy? In women in their 50s!

If empathy is not a relationship dealbreaker for you, then things are looking up. Siri and Related imageAlexa – America’s smart speaker sweethearts – will soon have male versions no doubt; and Artificial Intelligence companies are pouring billions into research such that you will one day soon be able to carry on an “intellectual” conversation and never know you’re talking to a bot, especially as they become confessional and demonstrate a dry or wicked sense of humor (your choice). And those bots will be programmed with all of the 34,000 words describing granular human emotional states; they just won’t be able to actually feel them when they talk about them. Much like that 75% today, when you think about it!

A Shift from the Right

So why exactly have our empathy circuits taken a turn to the left? Dr. Bonnie Badenoch, of Brain Wise Therapist fame, has a pretty good idea: “If our right hemispheres harbor significant trauma in the form of unhealed fear and pain or we feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incoming information, we may adaptively shift toward left dominance in an effort to protect ourselves from a crippling onslaught of unmanageable inner and outer experience. . . . We know that the circuitry for empathy is inherent but needs sustained connection with others to mature. As we move away from our right-centric relational capacities, the nourishment of that developmental process is less available. Not surprisingly, there has been a concomitant rise in narcissism among the population as the left shift has increasingly cuts us off from this relational circuitry and a felt sense of connection.”

State Drives Story Mind on FireAssuming Dr. Bonnie’s onto something, what then shall we do? Well, we’re going to have to begin doing things that shift the current left-hemisphere dominant culture into one more balanced with the right hemisphere. In the process of making that shift, we’re going to have to begin connecting with other people. In that connecting, and in the activating of that right brain circuitry, we’re going to inevitably stir up and kindle buried, painful traumatic memories. Only instead of simply reactivating them and adding yet one more painful experience memory to the storage vault, we’re going to have to do the work of integrating them. And today we know two good things about how that might be accomplished.

Two Times Two is Twenty-Two

The first thing we know is that accessing painful memories buried in the depths of the right hemisphere doesn’t have to be done all at once in a single painful cathartic emotional up-welling. Rather, such exploration and activation can be done in a slow, deliberate, titrated manner. A skilled therapist, friend or healer can often seem to work with these buried memories one lonely nerve fiber at a time and restore it to active, healthy function as part of our increasingly integrated, expansive neural network.

The second good thing we know about what can work to accomplish healing integration is that more and more research is telling us that the body has to be involved. If, as Cambridge computational neurobiologist Daniel Wolpert claims, the brain evolved primarily to move the body, we’re going to have to learn and experiment with healing ways to return and re-move the body in ways that can lead to whole body-brain integration. And odds are, it’s going to hurt.

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The current signature line in my email account carries this message out to my circle of regular contacts from Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault: The most profound product of this world is tears. Tears express a vulnerability in which we can have our heart broken and go right on loving. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for.” Not only are we going to need to see more crying in baseball, but in all the locker rooms and bedrooms and doctors’ offices all over the world – men’s and women’s – if we are going to move the needle on this empathy circuitry deficiency. Keep tissues within handy reach.

And if you’re curious about the surprising role that The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory) might play in moving you, me and the rest of the world into greater right brain harmony, balance and integration, simply click HERE. Nothing bad will happen if you do. I promise it’s totally safe to at least check things out and you’re under no obligation.

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Several months ago my wife and I went to see the 2019 Best Documentary Oscar-winner, Free Solo. It follows the journey of one young man’s determination to climb all 3000 feet of Yosemite’s El Capitan alone, without a safety rope. A week later we found a movie about one of the consulting support people for Alex Honnold’s solo climb – Tommy Caldwell. The name of Tommy’s movie is The Dawn Wall.

Big UP ProductionsAt an obvious level, it’s again a movie about rock climbing. But The Dawn Wall is a much different movie than Free Solo. It’s a movie about how trauma can adversely impact the brain, the struggles of human relationships, about adversity and overcoming it … and most of all it’s a movie that demonstrates the difference the power of one accomplished, integrated person can make in another person’s life, simply by being unwilling to give up on them, even when they’ve given up on themselves. It’s this powerful dynamic that can come into play when we have a single, significant person in our life willing and able to answer The Big Brain Question “Yes” for us. The power of getting that question answered “Yes” is absolutely remarkable.

Prepare for Ascent

So, here’s the setup – in January! of 2015, two and a half years before Free Solo took place, two climbers. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, decide they want to be the first people to scale El Capitan on the side that the morning sun first shines on each day – The Dawn Wall. It’s essentially a sheer granite rock face. Tommy is the much more experienced climber (You’ll notice in this 3 minute video that he’s missing a finger, cut off in table saw accident! A consequence of trauma fragging his attention-paying circuitry?).

The climb is unquestionably treacherous and difficult – which is why no one had climbed it before. Especially challenging is “Pitch 14” (rock climbers map climbing routes in pitches, which is roughly the length of a climbing rope, and also the space between bolt anchors that hold the rope. Most pitches on long climbs are between 100 and 160 feet long, although pitches can be as short as 20 or 30 feet. El Capitan is 32 pitches of climbing). Mostly devoid of places to grab, Caldwell and Jorgeson had to memorize the exact locations of every handhold, “some of which are the size of a credit-card edge, and every foothold, most of which are less perceptible than a dimple of a well-worn golf ball.”

The Rough Patch Pitch

After Caldwell and Jorgeson lost a hold and fell multiple times and gave all they had to finally “free” (cross) Pitch 14, they were then faced with crossing the second most difficult pitch on the Dawn Wall – Pitch 15. After numerous attempts Tommy Caldwell finally made it. But after many more, Jorgeson was unable to free that pitch. The two men discussed what they should do, and they agreed Caldwell should go on to the top alone.

Related image While Jorgeson battles against the physical and psychological strain, Caldwell spends the next days free climbing up to the Wino Tower (the 20th pitch) which marks the end of the technical difficulties. Caldwell could easily push on alone to the top, but instead he decides to go back for his partner. Caldwell fully intends for this to be a team ascent.

Of course, our adrenal glands always have something to say about our intentions, no matter how noble they may be. While Jorgeson makes repeated failed attempts on Pitch 15 over a whole week, Caldwell calmly waits in the portaledger hanging from the side of El Capitan. He patiently listens to Jorgeson’s struggles, offers suggestions, prepares meals and ministers to his bleeding fingers. With Caldwell’s unfailing encouragement and support, finally on the 11th attempt, Jorgeson manages to cross Pitch 15, taking a harder route than Caldwell took!

Creative Interdependence Rocks

Together as a team – the way they began the climb – Caldwell and Jorgenson make short work of the remainder of the climb and become the first people to free climb the Dawn Wall … as a team. This is the power of the Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience in combination with an Irrational Commitment to answer The Big Brain Question “Yes” for another human being. What personal “Pitch 15s” in our own lives might we find ways to successfully cross with someone unquestionably there for us when we most need them? And who might we then be able to answer The Big Brain Question for when they could most use someone to unfailingly have their back?

None of us can answer The Big Brain Question for others however, unless we feel secure, unless we have knowledge and practices that allow us to regularly feel safe. If you’re interested in finding out how The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory) can provide that knowledge and identify those practices, simply click HERE. Nothing bad will happen if you click the link. I promise it’s totally safe to at least check things out and you’re under no obligation.

GreetTrauma Mind.jpgings. It’s time once again for a few Enchanted Loom illustrated book reviews. This first one is a book I wish I’d had access to 40 years ago. Actually, no – I wish my meditation teachers had had access to it. It would have saved me countless hours of anguish and self-recrimination. David Treleaven has done a masterful job. His book, Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness makes it crystal clear that it’s not me who’s an indolent, pathetic slug when it comes to meditation – it’s my trauma-fragged body and brain that is responsible. At some level I kind of suspected that, but 40 years ago who really knew?

This second Enchanted Loom review is for a book that came out and I read several years ago but never got around to reviewing. It’s clinical neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine’s companion to her Female Brain book. Male brainThis one is not surprisingly titled: The Male Brain. Guess what? These brains are VERY different. In some ways it seems they may be more different than they are similar. For example, women have significantly more olfactory nerve fibers than men, thus profoundly sensitive smelling ability. A rotting corpse would have to be laying down in the basement for several months before many of the men I know would begin to wonder what that smell is. I, of course, would smell it right away.

Another difference: women pay much greater attention to faces than men do. Which, more often than not leaves me (I’m a man) pretty clueless to emotions being expressed on people’s faces. Especially women’s faces. As you’ll see in the review, the list of differences is considerable and explains a LOT about why it is sometimes so difficult for men and women to get along.

And if you’re interested in finding out how The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory) can help bridge any number of these get-along differences, simply click HERE. Nothing bad will happen if you click the link. It’s totally safe to at least check things out and you’re under no obligation.

The Myth of Responsibility

I have this discussion a lot. Usually it’s with people who have little or no understanding of how the brain works. I contend that in every moment each of us is doing the very best we can as a consequence of the way our neural networks are operating at any given point in time. Image result for personal responsibilityMuch of that operation is automatic and unconscious. But that does not mean we can’t learn, train and practice being and doing better in the very next moment in time. It’s called “response flexibility,” and we can each learn and work to expand it through awareness and dedicated practice.

My Son Was the Columbine Killer

A really powerful talk by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan, one of the very first school shooters at Columbine High School in Colorado, back in 1999. Not only did that tragedy affect the families of the kids who were wounded and killed, but it traumatically impacted lives of the shooters immediate and extended families, and continues to to this day. I applaud this mother’s courage in coming forward and sharing the truth of her own profoundly painful struggle.

Do Zealots Have Brain Damage?

It took me a long time to fully accept that I might have some damage to my brain. Nothing anyone would notice, like from a stroke or a tumor. More like the ways in which I saw other people’s brains easily operating that mine didn’t. For example, they could remain truly calm in the midst of my emotional reactivity. They could make creative cognitive leaps that I struggled with. They could effortlessly keep their desks well-organized, be on time for appointments, manage their diets – all things I struggle with. Well, the good news is: it’s not my fault. I’m simply prefrontally-challenged. The bad news is: I have a LOT more work to do on myself than those people do.

American Life Is Traumatizing Americans

am life.pngJust to be clear, I’m not a fan of gross generalizations. Nevertheless, in this article media lab director and “Ranked Thinker,” Umair Haque makes a credible case that the way a great number of we Americans currently live our lives is truly traumatizing us. The only question really up for debate is how many of us are being traumatized and to what degree. One takeaway from Umair’s argument: you can assess your own degree of trauma pretty much by the disquieting feelings of self-protection you walk through each day feeling.

How Unprocessed Grief Can Inhibit Business Success

In this episode of the TV show, The Profit, we see how the death of two young children has caused a couple to pour their energy into their business, to some degree of success. Since my perspective is “healing’s always trying to happen,” I’m not surprised when the death of these children surfaces as a key obstacle for the business going forward.

Your Brain on Friendship

Friendship and Soul-Making

~ Thomas Moore, Ageless Soul, pg. 222

Let me list some of the advantages of friendship as I see them:

1. It’s easy to remain an individual even though you’re involved in a close relationship.

2. It’s based on opening your soul to someone rather than making him or her your partner. A Friends

3. The emotional side is usually tame compared to family and romantic relationships.

4. You can more easily weave a friendship into your life than have family members and love interests close at hand..

5. A friendship doesn’t change as often as other kinds of relationships do.

6. A friendship is close but has enough distance for a good balance of individuality and mutuality.

7. Friends may not see one another often, and so the closeness doesn’t feel a burden.

8. Friendship has longevity, such that those that are formed early may well last a lifetime.

9. The structure of friendship is flexible, so it doesn’t have to go through difficult public changes like divorce or adoption. 10. In friendship you can love without smothering or controlling.

And if you’re interested in seeing how friendship surprisingly plays out in The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory), simply click HERE. It’s still safe and you’re under no obligation.

I’ve been studying Polyvagal Theory long before it was a thing. If I’d been smart, I would have waited for this book to be published instead of spending hours wading through tons of professional papers filled with academic jargon Pocket Guide Polyvagalrequiring me to read them with a medical dictionary open on my desk. This little handbook makes it as simple as an academic subject can be, given that any leading-edge field of research is going to be loaded with specialized terms (like polyvagal). Such language is necessary to accurately convey the research findings to other researchers. In this Enchanted Loom review of The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory, click HERE to see how much simpler I’ve made things even still!

The second Enchanted Loom offering is also a book that I wish had been written ten years ago. It is by Deb Dana, a clinical 41liM5epExL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgsocial worker who has spent many years working with clients and applying what she’s learned about Polyvagal Theory in service to their healing. Had Deb written The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy ten years ago, she would have saved me additional hours of struggle trying to get people – who didn’t really understand the theory – to explain it to me, as I also tried to understand its importance and application on my own. At last I feel like I finally DO understand it, thanks in part to this book and the previous one. You can find my review of Deb’s book HERE.

And if you’re one of a handful of bold souls on the fence about taking a personal deep dive into The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory), simply click HERE. It’s still safe and you’re under no obligation.

CHet Powers

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Polyvagal Daily Fluctuation Single Slide

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Nice sentiments all, right? Easy for them to sing and say, but what about for the rest of us? Those of us who haven’t had the time or place or resources or genetic heritage or fellow spiritual travelers to help each other become enlightened lovers?

Turns out our work might actually be easier than there’s was. Why? Because we know more about brain structure and body functioning than they did (although their writings suggest they were all accomplished neurocardiologists – knowledge essentially acquired through deep self-and-other observation).

But here in 2019 we know how the Vagus Nerve and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA) have operated through all evolution to insure our survival as a species. We’re also becoming increasingly aware of how often most of us move between self-protection and social engagement any number of times throughout our day. Also, how often we withdraw and shut down as a means of self-regulation (Whidbey Island is full of people who prefer solitude to social engagement. Many of them identify as artists). Not to mention how neuroplasticity works and how to effectively heal and resolve trauma.

Image result for artisteIn my mind, it’s the neurobiological structural and developmental limitations and vulnerabilites that being human invites us to work with if we are going to be moving in the direction the wisdom teachers above are suggesting for us. In order to do that, however, we’re going to have to develop our own unique, personally relevant operational practices that will move us in the direction of an expanding self-regulation network capacity capable of producing greater energy and information processing and integration. Which is a fancy way to say that in order to become more loving we have to practice being more loving. Whatever we practice, we tend to get better at, whether it’s the guitar, money management or social engagement. Particularly, heart-felt social engagement.

So, what might such a practice look like? Unique and different for each and every one of us, I would wager. Why? Well, when you consider your brain and mine contain 86 billion neurons making approximately one quadrillion connections (does anyone REALLY know how big a number one quadrillion actually is?), and each of us has had a whole host of life experiences that have shaped that circuitry, can our personal practice for becoming more loving possibly be anything other than unique and singular unto us? I don’t think so. That being said, start deliberately practicing. Begin with little steps and see where they take your heart.

And if you’re one of a handful of bold souls interested in taking a personal deep dive into The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory), i.e. discovering what creative possibilities might go into a personal practice, simply click HERE. It’s completely safe and you’re under no obligation.