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1. Together with the help of many others, I managed to rise out of poverty and overcome 8 out of 10 ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences – the thing that most contributes to creating mass murderers) and the dysfunctional conditioning provided by spending most of my early life with a single mom on welfare in an inner-city housing project.

2. Together with the help of others, I jumped off the pier into the deep end of the water at Yale Camp for Underprivileged Kids when I was 10 years old, not knowing how to swim. I simply watched what the other kids did with their legs and arms and copied it for myself. That has turned out to be a profound, lifelong metaphor for much that has subsequently unfolded in my life.

3. Together with the help of others, although arrested a number of times in my teens and early 20s, I somehow managed to steer clear of the criminal justice system, often by the luck of the draw and the grace of some seemingly higher power.

4. Together with the help of others, I managed to follow a spiritual directive delivered in my 20s by a Turkish Sufi wisdom teacher who instructed: “Provide shelter for people.” Over my lifetime I have built or significantly remodeled over 100 homes.

5. Together with the help of others, I hired a number of minorities in my house-building business, trained them well, paid them above market, and supported them in going out and becoming even more successful than I was.

6. Together with the help of others, I managed to take on and embrace the hard work of forgiving both of my parents. They each suffered horrendous experiences in their lives that contributed to their limited possibilities for being at home and at peace in the world. And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that, as much as I wished it had been different, they each did the very best they could raising my sisters and me.

7. Together with the help of others, I managed to take on the care and feeding of a number of animals in my life. From Corky, to Ginger, to Buster, to Poppy, to Nellie, to Natale, to Raoul, to Lulu, to Archie, to Gracie, to Bodhi, to Emma, to Abby, to Phanny, to Ollie, they have all been uniquely instructive teachers and endearing companions on the Journey.

8. Together with the supportive help of others, I managed to graduate high school, attain an AA degree, a BA degree, an MA degree, an MS degree and a PhD degree. I also managed to sustain 18 years of “independent study” in neuroscience that I hope and suspect has served me and others particularly well.

9. Together with the help of others, I managed to co-create and develop curriculum for the nation’s first online Masters Degree program in psychology at Sofia University. It was based on the hybrid mix of in-person meetings and online discussions modeled on the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) – the world’s first public online community.

10. Together with the help of others, I managed to balance my years of “right brain” education with 10 years of high level “left brain” exposure at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. I hired on there – undercover – disguised as the maintenance man so as to closely observe behavioral scientists in their natural habitat.

11. Together with the help of others, I was able to work as a volunteer in a community grief counseling agency (Kara, in Palo Alto) for 25 years. It was there that we began what turned out to be a very successful children’s grief program – the second one in the country, modeled after the first – The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon.

12. Together with the help of others, I managed to take on and overcome what can best be described as functional autism – damage that compromised the social circuitry of my nervous system. In an effort to support and facilitate healing that I believe is constantly trying to happen, terrified, I deliberately went about doing the work of becoming a reasonable skillful university instructor.

13. Together with the help of others, I managed to research, experiment and cure myself of panic attacks that I didn’t even know I suffered from for the first 55 years of my life (I would simply, inexplicably become hyper-aroused for no conscious reason and have to flee from wherever I happened to be. The fleeing usually worked to metabolize the stress hormones and calm me down). I’ve been panic-free for the last 20 years.

14. Together with the help of others, I managed to enter into several sustained, mutually supportive and growth-producing long-term relationships. One of them produced a daughter, Amanda, who’s doing wise work in the world and of whom I’m especially proud. Another produced 15 Bernese Mountain Dog pups! 🙂

15. Together with the help of others, over the last 50 years or so, to the best of my ability I’ve managed to become a person who has made it a priority to be a help to others.

16. Together with the help of others, I have managed on a number of occasions in my life to speak truth to power, often to good effect. When I saw children in our community grief program being exploited by the agency to raise money, I spoke up. When I saw good people turn their lives upside down and out of balance and create suffering in their own families in order to “serve the greater good”, I spoke up. When I saw the leaders of a spiritual group, operating in ways that exploited group members, I spoke up.

17. Together with the help of others, I took a directive I received in graduate school to heart: “If you want to be a help to others and avoid all conflicts of interest, find another way to make a living and offer your help for free.” As much of my life as I could manage has been oriented from this perspective.

18. Together with the help of others, I managed to survive 25 consecutive years of stock market losses and still managed to become a member of The Lousy Millionaire’s Club (members are people who have made and lost $1,000,000 several times. I made the money in real estate – not the stock market … yet).

19. Together with the help of others, I wrote and leave a collection of books (The Wisdom of Listening, Noble Listening, Fierce Listening, Sacred Listening) intended to provide people with granular instruction in the art of being able to be present to and listen deeply to other people, places and things – to basically help them function as gods in the universe – since listening seems to be pretty much God’s main job.

20. Together with the help of others, I managed to fulfill the early life dream of becoming a novelist. I wrote and completed three novels: The Icing of the Shooter, Psychomanteum and Death School. Psychomanteum sits on the library shelves of The Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, along with books by Nobel Laureates and MacArthur Genius Award Winners (The novel was set on the SCASBS campus).

21. Together with the help of others, I managed to write and sustain the weekly Flowering Brain neuroscience blog for over a decade. My intention with it from the beginning was “to translate neuroscience to help inspire a life of grace and meaning.”

22. Together with the help of others, I managed to go from being a devout, gun-hoarding misanthrope to a considerate, understanding, embracer of humanity. I grew to learn that none of escapes childhood unscathed and none of us gets out of this world alive. And we all are left with our unique neurobiology to grapple with what happens in the time and space in between, the very best way we can.

23. Together with the help of others, I managed to assemble a team of Trickster Philanthropists and together we managed to help fund the development of a gas-powered, portable, concrete core drill that is currently used by fire departments and search and rescue teams all over the world. That tool alone is responsible for saving thousands of lives.

24. Together with the help of others, over these last years, I have worked diligently daily to discern between wisdom and ignorance in my words, thoughts and deeds. I can say, with genuine humility, much of that time has been spent on the ignorance side of the street. And frequently continues to be.

25. Together with the help of others, I explored a wide variety of spiritual pursuits. I informally studied in Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Judaism, Sufism and Buddhism. I also engaged with most every kind of entheogen available for human experimentation. As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that my own brain/mind/body has not been sufficiently developed to date to become “God-realized.”

26. Together with the help of others, over these last years, I’ve put together instructive neuroscience Powerpoint teaching modules on The Six Perfections (Generosity, Morality, Patience, Joyful Effort, Meditation and Wisdom), Live Wired for Sacred Relationship and The Grieving Brain (available free to anyone who’d like copies of them).

27. Together with the help of others, I managed to reframe a cancer diagnosis as a Call to Adventure – The Hero’s Journey. I learned more through direct experience about cancer and radiation and chemotherapy than I ever cared to at any point in my life. I returned to the Ordinary World with the Boon, as this adventure called life draws day by day ever closer to a close.

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Curious about what might be the PRIMARY reasons human beings have brains?

(Along with 6 1/2 other interesting factoids very few fellow humans realize).

Check out this ENCHANTED LOOM and discover a review of Lisa Feldman Barrett’s …
7 1/2 Lessons About the Brain.

Here are some serious things about your brain well worth knowing.

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“We don’t see the world as IT is. We see the world as WE are.” ~ The Talmud

In her recent book, 7 1/2 Lessons About the Brain, Harvard Medical School researcher, Lisa Feldman Barrett recounts the story of a conscripted Rhodesian soldier who happened upon enemy guerilla fighters in camoflage uniforms carrying AK-47 assault rifles. He took careful aim at the leader and was just about to shoot, when a fellow soldier stopped him. “It’s just a boy herding cows on the path,” his comrade said. The soldier blinked and stared, and indeed the guerilla fighters were something his brain and nervous system had hallucinated in the stress of the moment. Here’s how Dr. Barrett explains the incident:

“From the moment you’re born to the moment you draw your last breath, your brain is stuck in a dark, silent box called your skull. Day in and day out, it continually receives sense data from the outside world via your eyes, ears, nose and other sensory organs. This data does not arrive in the form of meaningful sights, smells, sounds, and other sensations that most of us experience. It’s just a barrage of light waves, chemicals and changes in air pressure with no inherent significance.

“How does your brain conjure high-fidelity experiences like guerrilla fighters in the forest, out of scraps of raw data from the outside world? How does it create feelings of terror from a thundering heart? Your brain recreates the past from memory by asking itself, The last time I encountered a similar situation, when my body was in a similar state and was preparing this particular action, what did I see next? What did I feel next? The answer becomes your experience” (pg. 67). The lesson: Great stress can often produce tragic hallucinations.

Telephone Game Brain

I don’t think there’s a day that goes by when a friend or my wife will correct or comment on an experience we’ve had together that actually didn’t take place the way I recounted it. When they deliver their recollection, more often than not I discover that our blended experience more closely resembles my actual experience. As research from the lab of Ken Paller at Northwestern University points out – memories are like the Telephone Game – each time we access a memory, the brain goes about revising it. Depending upon our stress levels and the context within which a memory is being recalled, an account can radically change over time. As you might guess, this brain operation causes victims of trauma great stress as different versions of the incident can play out over time, not because of error or because of lying or deceit, but because of neuro-revisioning. Many an account by rape and assault victims has been discounted and dismissed precisely because of this memory revision process that goes on constantly in everyone’s brain, tending to make testimony seem less credible.

The Blind Not Seeing the Blind

The brain’s network processing resources are limited. Where it can conserve energy, it does, using schemas to focus on what matters most. These schematic shortcuts can result in Inattentional Blindness – we are so focused on the 100 year old cedar tree in front of us, that the forest literally goes unnoticed. Perhaps the most famous example of Inattentional Blindness is the Invisible Gorilla experiment carried out by Dan Simons and Chris Chabris. Because subjects in the experiment were so focused on ball passes and player uniform colors, many completely missed the gorilla who came dancing across the screen in the middle of the video.

Here are some everyday examples of Inattentional Blindness from VeryWellMind:

  • Even though you think you are paying attention to the road, you fail to notice a car swerve into your lane of traffic, resulting in a traffic accident.
  • You are watching a historical drama set in ancient Greece. You don’t notice a major blooper in which an airplane appears in the background of a pivotal scene.
  • You decide to make a phone call while driving through busy traffic. You fail to notice that the traffic light has turned red, so you run the stop light and end up getting a traffic ticket.
  • While playing a video game, you are so intently focused on spotting a specific type of “bad guy” that you completely miss another threat to your character and end up losing the game.

These are just a few of the ways the brain can operate in matters that can result in great suffering. For me the primary takeaway from this information is that we are each walking through the world with neurobiological resources that, depending upon a whole host of untold factors, can undo us at any time. Best to exercise and express as much humility and appreciation as we can for when things go well.

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The Grieving Brain

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Enchanted Loom book review. With Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, this seems like a timely book for many of us to be aware of …

The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and  Loss: O'Connor, Mary-Frances: 9780062946232: Amazon.com: Books

Click HERE to view the review.

I’m thinking of putting my 20 years as a grief counselor into service and offering a Zoom presentation on this topic if there’s sufficient interest. Let me know if that’s you at: floweringbrain@gmail.com

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“Yet.” Your brain knows the deep meaning of the word, YET. Especially as it applies to neuro-biological development. Because neural networks are being reshaped and remodeled every moment of every day of our lives, most any goal or desire I might have, has the potential to be realized at any point throughout my lifetime. So, for example, somewhere in my mid-twenties I set a “soft” goal to earn a doctorate degree. Well, four different graduate schools and two decades later, I finally realized that goal at age 45. All through those 20 years my neural networks had been constantly growing and changing as I engaged in a wide variety of other life activities like: getting married, running a company, having a child, etc. The video below depicts a lot of what was going on in my brain during those years.

Live-Wired video …

Over those 20 years I had not received a Ph.D. … yet! And then one day, I did. I’d love to say, “and that made all the difference.” But of course, life and learning that changes the brain doesn’t end once we achieve a goal, no matter how lofty that goal is. The process of neural growth, change, and integration continues to unfold all across the lifespan.

It was only after completing the work for the doctorate that I discovered neuroscience and trauma psychology and the dysregulating network effects of early Adverse Childhood Experiences and Insecure Attachment. While I was tempted to enroll and work to complete a second doctorate – simply for the structure and discipline it would bring to my study – I elected instead to take on 20 years of “independent study” in neuroscience. And THAT has, indeed, made a world of difference.

Brain Plasticity

The term “Brain Plasticity” is defined as “the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.” To me, that doesn’t really capture the never-ending, dynamic nature of our living neural networks. I much prefer David Eagleman’s term, “Livewired.Livewired speaks to the constant, dynamic, unfolding nature of neural networks.

Here’s another example of how live-wired neural plasticity works. Again as a kid in my 20s, I thought it would be cool to hand-build my own house. For 25 years my house was in the process of being built … in the deep unconscious realms of my neural networks. The Reticular Activation Sysem part of my brain is primarily reponsilble for making the unconscious conscious. It’s a highly developed “seek and ye shall find” structure. Thus, anything that showed up in my world that would move me in the directiion of being able to build my own house would get my attention. I’d constantly find myself paying attention to “Land for Sale” ads (I ended up buying and selling four “false start” building lots), I took constru

ction jobs, I read Willis Wagner’s Modern Carpentry three times and then used it as a handy, on-the-job reference on construction sites. And for all those 25 years, my hand-built house hadn’t become reality … yet. And then one day, a series of seemingly miraculous events came into play (one being, I was able to convince the Town of Atherton, CA to essentially give me a free building lot to put my house on!) and my house got built.

Adrenal Ninja

Currently, I have a goal to become an Adrenal Ninja. At this point, I’m not one …YET. An Adrenal Ninja knows how the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis works, intimately knows how stress hormones feel as they ebb and flow in the body, is savvy about how cues of safety and of threat make those hormones dance all over the place, and has a regular practice of returning to a state of peace and calm in shorter and shorter amounts of time after being highjacked. When Plato directed each of us to “know thyself,” to my way of thinking this granular awareness points to the root of such knowledge.

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If you do a search for Vladimir Putin on Google Images, you’ll discover not a single picture displaying his teeth. In virtually every picture his face is either blank or frowning. Dopamine and serotonin are key neurotransmitters responsible for making us smile. My hypothesis would be that Putin’s brain and body are low in both these feel-good chemical messengers. I would also posit that his brain and body are high in the hormone testosterone. High levels of testosterone also correlate with an inability to smile.

Over the course of his 69 years. Putin is believed to be directly responsible for the pain, suffering and death of many human beings. You don’t authorize and orchestrate such actions without it having a profoundly adverse affect on your neurophysiology. He’s no different than Joystick Warriors – pilots located in Langley, Virginia – delivering airstikes in eight different countries: their brains and bodies are negatively affected by their actions, even from thousands of miles away. For all of its power and glory, yours becomes a joyless life.

Developmentally Delayed

If we view Putin’s development through the lens of Attachment and Adverse Childhood Experiences research, he becomes the poster boy for how trauma can compromise brain function.

Of the four ways that human beings can connect to significant people in their lives, I eould make a strong case that Putin would come out on the “Disorganized” end of the Attachment Spectrum (Secure, Ambivalent and Avoidant are the other three attachment styles, each with their own characteristics). Adults with Disorganized Attachment lack understanding of their own and others’ feelings, are unpredictable and illogical, frequently exhibit aggressive behavior and tend to have a negative view of themselves and others. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, both of Putin’s parents were out of the house working – he was essentially a latchkey kid. There was no “trustworthy other” to help shape his relational nervous system in other than dysfunctional ways.

As for Adverse Childhood Experiences, according to Jane Ellen Stevens, “when you look at Putin’s early years, the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) pile up—lack of food, inadequate housing, bullying, neglect, parental depression, etc. And he obviously inherited a bunch of ACEs from his parents, including wartime trauma personified by Nazi forces that threatened their existence and their homeland” (The Nazis murdered most of Leningrad’s 3 million citizens during WWII).

Dealing with Brain Damage

When someone with this kind of compromised personal history comes into power internationally, the stakes for the rest of us change profoundly. The wisdom response to such people is that they must be restrained in order to keep them from perpetrating the pain and suffering that they inevitably wreak upon others.

The possibility for restraining such people becomes challenging, to say the least, when that person has a nuclear arsenal at their disposal. Nevertheless, such people cannot operate in a vacuum. They must have people around them to do their bidding. It is those people – the high-ranking authorities around Putin – that I believe the most strategic interventions should be directed. Presumably, some of them have had less disorganized early beginnings, beginnings that will have resulted in robust capacities for Executive Functions being operational in their brains. When you look over THE LIST of those capacities, it becomes clear that they are compromised in Putin’s brain, especially the ability to see the big picture going forward. Despots who invade other countries with no provocation tend not to fare well over the long term. The world’s best hope is that such capacities are not compromised in at least a few of Putin’s inner circle.

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If you’re like me, some part of your life has been spent avoiding or turning away from things that make you nervous. For example, in my life a number of traumatic experiences have happened while I’ve been traveling. As a result, I tend to avoid travel, especially to foreign countries. I’ve taken only a single travel vacation in the 14 years I’ve lived here on Whidbey Island. It was to the Oregon coast, and my wife and I (mostly I) decided we’d prefer to come home early!

I’ve also avoided job interviews for much of my life. As an education consultant and an independent contractor, people usually reach out and initially contact me. Since my nervous system experiences most all evaluation as threat – job interviews are all about evaluation – I managed to orchestrate a reasonable workaround.

Unfortunately, this neurobiological vulnerability has caused me to miss out on a lot of experiences I might have had but didn’t. For example, I spent ten years semi-retired and underemployed working at a Stanford think tank. Every Fall MacArthur geniuses, Guggenheim fellows and Nobel Laureates would come and spend a sabbatical year. Many were warm and welcoming, and yet I never interpersonally interacted meaningfully with a single one of them.

Another example: my former wife’s family had a number of close friends who were successful Wall Street traders and hedge fund operaters. All I had to do was ask and any one of them would have been happy to have me come and shadow them as they made and lost fortunes in the financial markets. It could have be an eye-opening education. And while I wanted to do it, I never asked.

Abdication Is Not Integration

Integration means: the organization of constituent elements into a coordinated, harmonious whole. Where our brains and bodies are concerned, it refers to neural networks that are not richly connected being able to become enriched in their connectivity. We know there are 12 areas in the normal human brain (Rich Club Networks) that are richly populated and connected with brain cells. Energy and information easily flows within and between these networks (think Grand Central Station or major airline hubs).

An Analysis of Delta Route Maps : Networks Course blog for INFO 2040/CS  2850/Econ 2040/SOC 2090

Traumatic experiences, poverty, chornic stress, other adverse life events, even an imbalanced left-brain education (think STEM) can fragment and impoverish this connectivity in different parts of the brain. For example, trauma I experienced in junior high school significantly adversely impacted my speech and language centers, making it especially difficult to speak in front of groups. For many years I avoided that possibility completely, even when specifically requested to address such groups. Nevertheless, the healing/integration urge continued to draw me in that direction, and after a number of painful false starts (like being fired from my first three teaching jobs), I finally managed to figure out ways to comfortably stand in front of a classroom and engagingly connect with students – the integration phase that unfolded after years of abdication.

Whole Brain Living

In her book Whole Brain Living, Jill Bolte Taylor identifies four neural network complexes and the characteristics of each. Below is a list of some of those characteristics:

The careful observer will notice that many of the characteristics of Left Feeling & Right Feeling and Left Thinking & Right Thinking are in conflict with one another. I would posit – and I’m pretty sure that Jill would as well – that such conflict results from a lack of neural integration.

What to do? Jill’s recommendation is to learn the specific characteristics of the four individual networks and whenever a “disturbance in the force” arises, call a Brain Huddle and give each network a voice. Once the “unconscious” has been made conscious, a clear path forward generally emerges. It seems like a worthwhile practice, one that Jill implies has contributed greatly to her almost full recovery from the left hemisphere stroke she experienced in 1996.

Other possibilities for increasing network integration could include meditation: we know from research by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin and Andrew Newberg (then at Penn) that long time contemplatives have more robust fiber tracts between hemispheres and that run from subcortical regions up to the six layers of cortical cells where the potential for wise action lives.

Finally, there’s the possibility of working with somatic therapeutic modalities that have proven effective in ameliorating retained traumatic memories. Here’s a collection of nineteen that I put together a number of years ago. There are probably new ones that have come into being since then that I’m not currently aware of as well. Best wishes for skillful integration going forward.

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If we consider the brain to be part of our whole nervous system, then I think the answer to the above question is an unequivocal, Yes! And while I only have myself and a small circle of friends to offer up in evidence – I’m friends with both ex-wives – I will suggest that it’s in everyone’s best interest to be friends with Exes whenever that’s possble.

In my case, my Exes became my Exes primarily because of my inability to man-age my stress hor-mones (the HPA Axis and spinal sympa-thetic activation) in relationship with each of them. In my first marriage, without me ever realizing it, early trauma repeatedly became activated which sent me into what looked like a withdrawn depression. However, the internal experience was more like being stuck in a kind of fragmented confusion.: my brain simply stopped working in a coherent, integrated manner. But I didn’t know that, and I couldn’t articulate that my nervous system was reenacting a dorsal vagal collapse at the time. I simply showed up as a lump in a funk day after day. Finally, my wife, at her wits end, suggested we get a divorce.

In my next primary relationship, early trauma presented itself once again for healing, and it took the similar form of looking like withdrawn depression. I would sit in my home office for hours on end. Only this time I had online computer activities to distract me from my internal fragmentation and confusion. Compounded by financial and parental stressors, I decided the family (and especially me) would function much more effectively distanced from each other’s daily, dysregulating presence.

When Ruptures Happen

Connection seems to be a biological imperative all the way down to the cellular level. Neurons connecting is what makes a brain a brain, a nervous system a nervous system. And just as ruptures can happen at the micro cellular level, they invariably happen at the macro, human relations level.

Deb Dana, an expert on nervous system function, has this to say about repairing ruptures:

Healthy, nourishing relationships are naturally filled with moments of (rupture). When we, or the people around us, move out of regulation, misattunement and disconnection happen. These ruptures are a normal and expected part of our relationships, and when they are noticed, named and repaired, they form a foundation for strong and resilient connections.

When ruptures go unnotice and unnamed, they linger below the surface of awareness, shaping our relationship stories. To bring these implicit experiences into explicit awareness, we need to know how our nervous system sends a signal that there has been a rupture.

When Ruptures Aren’t Repairable

To this day my nervous system still generates elevated levels of stress hormones whenever I interact with my Exes. One differnece is I understand what’s going on in my brain and body and I have breathing techniques and mantra and movement practices that allow me to quickly metabolize those elevated levels of stress hormones when they show up. But it still takes work.

For many people, for whatever reason, the face above instantly generates a noticeable increase in stress hormone levels. If you lived with a person whose presence automatically triggered a stress response like that day after day, it wouldn’t take too long before your health would begin to suffer. We know that the majority of doctors visits are stress-related. How much of that stress is related to relationship dysregulation?

We also know that humans are evolving to be increasingly more forgiving and that their brains (and bodies) are better off for it, as this research suggests.

The Forgiveness Imperative

Again, from Deb Dana:

When we remain unforgiving, our autonomic nervous system holds on in an activated sympathetic survival state. Offering and receiving forgiveness are both tied to a regulated nervous system.

Knowing how my neurobiology works, and in particular, the limitations of those workings – depending upon early experiences and present-time ongoing challenges – has brought me to a place where I can only have compassion for humanity and for The Human Dilemma. I can also feel compassion for myself, and of course, my Exes. We all walk around with the same wiring, Just the situational limitations are different. I am also a firm believer that we are all doing the very best that our nervous system will allow in any moment. For that reason alone, I consider forgiveness to be an organic, biological birthright. And some surprisingly good news is: if we get only 25% of ruptured relationships around the world repaired, we reach a Tipping Point and it becomes a Thing!

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Last month I decided it was time to replace our 28-year-old dishwasher. I’ve probably installed 30 or more dishwashers over my 25 year career as a building and remodeling contractor. Removal and reinstallation is intended to be a pretty simple operation. Step One: Turn off the hot water faucet and disconnect the supply line; Step Two: Loosen the clamp and remove the drain line; Step Three: shut off the electric power and remove the protective metal panel and undo the electrical connections. Pull out the old dishwasher. To install the new dishwasher simply reverse those three steps. Piece of cake. Right?

Well, as a longtime student of Polyvagal Theory and of my own nervous system, and as someone who knows all too well that where plumbing and electric are concerned, if something CAN go wrong it very likely WILL go wrong, I decided I needed to take preemptive precautions. I would phone a friend, someone to help me regulate my nervous system when the inevitable sympathetic, hyper-adrenal response(s) came to call. Because I know that a dysregulated nervous system inevitably begins generating poopy stories that limit creative problem-solving and invariably make a difficult job even harder. Coincidentally, Frank had just bought and installed this very same dishwasher at his own house two months ago!

Step One

In order to get a bit of a head start, I thought I’d begin the process of removing the old dishwasher before Frank arrived. I closed the hot water shut off and began undoing the supply line to the dishwasher. Residual water in the line began leaking, of course, or so I thought. As I continued loosening the connection nut, the water pressure didn’t drop. Suddenly the nut popped off and water began spraying a high-pressure stream all over the sink cabinet. The shutoff valve didn’t work at all! I put my thumb over the spigot to try and stem the flow, but the pressure was too high and the water quickly became too hot to keep touching. Water began running out of the cabinet, all across the kitchen floor. I could feel the dread and helpless feeling of elevated stress hormones immediately coursing through my body. The only option left to me was to resign myself to letting the kitchen flood while I ran out to the well house and shut down the main water line. Then I called Frank and told him not to bother coming over. The kitchen would need a few days to be cleaned up and dry out. So much for Step One.

Step Two and Three

Before I could get to Step Two and Three I needed to get my stress levels back to the left, Allostasis side of the stress Bell curve. Good things rarely happen when we’re caught up on the right Allostatic Load side of the curve.

One thing that helped was my wife mopping and drying the floor and assuring me that the new plank flooring I’d just installed the week before wasn’t damaged. Another thing that helped was taking a long, brisk mindful walk in the woods with our Bernese Mountain Dog, Emma. Suitably stress-reduced, I was once again ready for Frank to come over and help with the new dishwasher installation the next day.

Disconnecting the drain and the electric from the old dishwasher went off without a hitch. But when we went to install the new machine, we discovered that the overhang of the countertop was too low by a quarter of an inch. Of course. We thought of taking the feet off the machine, but elected instead to cut the overhang out of the counter, since it will be replaced once the new base cabinets on order arrived.

The Home Stretch

Next up: connecting the electric. We pushed the new machine into its space, only to discover it was blocked by something preventing us from going the last two inches. After several attempts just pushing harder, we pulled the machine out and finally realized that the electrical wire coming up through the floor to the old machine, was hitting a protective panel on the bottom of the new machine.

Instantly, I could feel my stress hormone levels rising once again because I immediately got the implications: I was going to have to crawl down under the house and feed a wire up in a new location that allowed the machine to fully seat. Earlier that month I had been in that crawl space for the first time in several years, only to discover that rats had dug a hole under the foundation and were now nested all through the underfloor insulation. As you might expect, the prospect of returning to a dark, confined, cramped space filled with rat poop and urine and hungry rats, began to activate my threat-detection circuitry.

What to do? The only thing I could do: bite the bullet. I donned protective mask, gloves, kneepads and goggles and under the house I went, exhaling mindfully as I crawled. With Frank drilling a new hole topside, I was soon able to relocate the wire and exit the crawlspace as quickly as possible. Big outbreath as I exited the access door. From there, the remainder of the installation actually WAS a piece of cake. 🙂

What’s the takeaway here? There are at least three. First is, as I age, I’m discovering that my adrenal glands seem to secrete stress hormones with much more ease and in greater abundance than they did when I was younger. Two is, it’s important to have ways and means to skillfully manage those stress hormone levels. Three is, other skillful, kind, knowledgeable people can help co-regulate us in times of dire distress. As we can also do for them at different times. All for one and one for all nervous systems regulation.

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During my lengthy cancer recovery I became a big fan of certain types of Reality TV shows. From The Profit, to Alone, to Extreme Makeover Home Edition, to Back in the Game, I’ve become pretty hardcore. It’s especially easy to become hardcore with over 700 Reality Shows currently being produced around the world for weekly viewing.

Surprisingly, I’ve only recently found a show that’s managed to broadcast 19 seasons without me: Restaurant: Impossible. The premise is simple and repetitive, Master Chef and successful restauranteur, Robert Irvine visits a failing restaurant somewhere in the U.S. He samples the food, tells the owner it tastes like crap, walks them around the restaurant pointing out defects and flaws like dusty lights, stained carpets and faded upholstery. The owners, already under significant stress, now have it added to. Next Robert has the owner and their staff empty the restaurant to the bare walls. Then he brings in his personal designer and construction people, and in two days transforms the place into an inviting, elegant eatery.

While all that’s going on Irvine takes the owner and head chef aside and teaches them how to calculate food costs and margins, while also teaching them to pare down the menu and prepare a few simple, savory, high-margin entrees. It’s not brain science! Except, as I explain below, it actually is!

Each show ends with Robert walking the owner(s) blindfolded back into their newly renovated restaurant. The response, when the blindfold is removed, is almost universal: The owner(s) put their hands to their face, exclaim, “Oh my God!”, and begin to cry. Depending upon how much I’ve empathized with the owner(s), I find myself tearing up as well. Why? Because Robert has brought The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience – It takes a more organized brain to help organize a less organized brain – to bear, while at the same time answering The Big Brain Question – Are you there for me? – with a resounding “Yes!” In my experience this is a powerful, healing, integrative, interpersonal dynamic.

The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience

Being Ram Dass: Dass, Ram, Das, Rameshwar, Lamott, Anne: 9781683646280:  Amazon.com: Books

Each of us navigates the days of our lives with our own unique neurodiversity and network organization. All of which is dependent upon and conditioned by the world that’s operating all around us and inside us. The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience recognizes this reality along with the importance of a more organized, integrated brain’s ability to help organize and integrate a less organized and integrated brain. Healthy parents, teachers and clergy often function as the former, children and students in the the latter role. This is generally true at the cognitive/learning level, but socially, it’s especially true at the emotional or spiritual level. Noted psychedelic researcher Richard Alpert/Ram Dass details in his autobiography, Being Ram Dass, how encountering a wise man in India completely changed all of his sense perceptions, especially his cognitive mind – evidence of The Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience operating at pretty rare integrative levels.

On a more material level, Robert Irvine’s lifelong immersion in cooking and the restaurant business has organized his brain in a much more effective, integrated way than the restaurant owners he elects to help. It is this gift of growth and change that he brings to each of them.

The Big Brain Question

In bringing the gift of his life experience and his organized brain to bear, Robert also answers a fundamental question that at some level we are all looking to have answered positively – The Big Brain Question. I’ve written extensively about the BBQ over the years, especially about how powerful a positive answer can impact a human life. You can review some of those accounts here, here and here.

The thing is, unless we’ve served in the military or trained as tag-team wrestlers, most of us have never been taught about this question or about the human need to have it answered “Yes”, beginning before birth! As a result, few of us go about consciously asking (or answering) this question deliberately for ourselves or others. But when you think about it, isn’t it this the question that underlies the grand Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? Ideally, it’s just a more proactive invitation to take more initiative in beneficially “doing” unto the people we care most about.

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