“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.
One 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.
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.