Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This is our brain on health (Salutogenesis). Its neural networks have evolved to allow us to skillfully process the energy and information of our daily lives. For most of us, much of the time, more network capacity is better than less network capacity.

Purple Network A

This is our brain responding to kindness, compassion and connection.

Purple Network C

This is our brain reacting to the toxic stress of being a despot, a criminal or corrupt politician. Compare it and call it Neurokarma.

Purple Network B

Any questions?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In Russian folklore there is a word describing a wise or Holy Fool. It’s yurodivy. In Russian culture the yurodivy is a social misfit, primarily because he has direct access to truth with a capital T, and he has little concern about protecting people from hearing or experiencing it.

adrenal-glands-fatigue.jpeg

Adrenal Glands

Because he or she holds “outcast status,” the Holy Fool could care less about what other people think about them. In other words, he or she is … an Adrenal Ninja. Neither their bones nor their adrenal glands nor their neural threat detection circuitry get activated much in the presence of other people’s opinions, judgments or condemnations. This makes a yurodivy free to blurt out inconvenient truths or question social conventions. The child who declares the Emperor is walking around naked has the sensibilities of the Holy Fool. Many children do, in fact. Just ask parents embarrassed to no end by their small children in polite company.

The Rarity That Proves the Rule

Statistical research says that, relative to the larger population, liars, crooks and con men are rare. A yurodivy sees them everywhere. Most currently, evidence of their operation has shown up in the person of whistleblowers in the U.S. intelligence community reporting on the president making deals with foreign governments that are not in America’s or democracy’s best interests. In terms of the stress and disruption to their life, you can assume that these political Holy Fools are going to initially pay a steep price. Hopefully, time and history will be much kinder to them.

Those of us not born with the ability to stresslessly operate in the world with inherent wisdom, would do well to develop practices of mind, body, brain and spirit to help us become Holy Fools, I think. The freedom to think and speak and act freely has creative, liberating elements to it. From the few times I’ve experienced it (in a chemically altered state, I confess) the freedom which that neurobiological state engendered did indeed feel ecstatic.

Practice Makes Pluperfect

What might such practices look like? From my own research and personal experience, I suggest such practices first have to change our neurophysiology. We need to prune and inhibit Image result for osteocalcin functionthreat-detection circuitry that all too often becomes activated and reacts to threats that are not real in terms of actual harm they can deliver to us – negative criticism on social media, our partner’s momentary expression of anger, our children revealing embarrassing personal quirks about us. Our threat-detection circuitry, our body’s cells, our adrenal glands and our bones all work to flood us with stress hormones in response to far too many contemporary false positives. They respond as if many things are potentially life-threatening that really are not.

Live Wired to Connect

After we give the threat-detection circuitry a good trimming, next we’ll need to develop practices that can increase the connectivity up from there to our prefrontal areas, the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) for one. This is the home where Executive Function 101 mostly establishes its base of operations. Increasing that connectivity primarily means that every time our threat-detection circuitry runs wild generating false positives, we catch it quickly and are immediately able to lower our stress hormone levels. One practice I have that has been working well for me in recent years is to ask many times throughout my day, “What’s operating here – wisdom or ignorance?” Invariably, as soon as the question arises, I already know the answer.

Image result for jester's hatContemplative practices come in many flavors. Asking about wisdom or ignorance in response to many of my daily challenges works for me. But anything we truly love to do can be turned into a contemplative practice that can change up our neurobiology for the better. Violinists, for example, massively grow the connectivity area in the brain that activates the fret-fingering hand. Were they simultaneously to place violin-playing into service as a contemplative practice, that connectivity would almost certainly generalize to other parts of the neural network. 

Another contemplative practice might be juggling. Juggling takes concentration and repetition and cultivates connectivity in the brain while at the same time increasing critical white matter. All you need is a quad-partitioned jester’s hat and your persona is complete.

May your journey towards Holy Foolery be filled with wisdom.

 

Read Full Post »

I have a friend who has studied financial markets for more than 50 years and become extremely financially successful as a result. For the last three years he’s been informally offering me the benefit of his wisdom and experience.

Last year I researched and found a company that seemed to fit his investing criteria – low priced with the possibility of one or more catalysts to drive the share price higher. Arcadia Research (RKDA) is an agricultural biotech firm born out of the well-regarded agricultural research department at UC Davis outside Sacramento, CA. Three products (of several) they have engineered are high-fiber, starch resistant wheat (Good Wheat), tomatoes that can be allowed to ripen on the vine and not be damaged during shipment, and drought-tolerant soybeans that can continue to be grown in areas of the world that have been adversely affected by global warming. All positive, pro-social endeavors to my mind.

RKDA

The stock first came to my attention when it shot up from $5 to $66 in March of 2018. I’ve learned the hard way NOT to buy on parabolic price spikes like that, but rather to wait until it sells off and the price stabilizes. I bought my first shares in April at $26. By June the stock had fallen to $7 after they issued more stock that diluted the value of company shares for existing shareholders. By December RKDA was selling for $2.60 after they made the surprise announcement they lost a patent-infringement lawsuit they initiated against an Australian cereal company who had hired away one of their key employees. Needless to say, in 2018 I lost a significant amount of money on this investment.

There’s Money to Be Made

Cut to 2019. In February RKDA shows up on my friend’s radar and he opened a small position after they announced they were going to be genetically modifying hemp. The stock price jumped to over $7. I followed suit, even with my history of losing money with the company. I started buying at $5. The price promptly dropped down to $3, after the company announced another dilutive share offering, ostensibly to raise money to buy a Hawaiian pot/hemp farm (which I didn’t understand, since the company is within an hour’s drive of Humboldt County – the greatest pot-growing locale on the planet). Not understanding this reasoning, and assuming they were just joining the pot-growing craze, I sold a significant portion of my shares at another loss. My friend bought more. He realized that what they’re actually modifying and expecting to increase is the commercial production of hemp, not pot.

Image result for stock chart with lossesAt the end of July, the RKDA stock price suddenly dropped further for no apparent reason. I did some research and discovered the Australian cereal company Arcadia initiated the lawsuit against in 2018 – and lost – has now turned around and filed a lawsuit against them for theft of intellectual property. Company management made absolutely no mention of this fact. Now my trust in management is significantly eroded. I sold my remaining shares at under $2. My friend bought more. Experience has taught him that most corporate lawsuits eventually reach a compromise out of court.

Buy High, Sell Low

Days later, the company announces USDA approval for their drought-tolerant soybeans. The stock price shoots up to over $7. I own no shares, of course. I contact my friend, ask if he’s selling. He tells me he’s buying. So, I buy at $7. The price promptly drops to $5.50. So I sell. My friend tells me he’s buying more. The price immediately runs to $9! So I buy. The price then promptly falls back to $5.50. So I sell. My friend, of course, is buying. Three days later the price runs to over $10 when the CEO of the company resigns and is replaced by the CFO. I buy. My friend tells me he’s selling everything. It’s “tax loss selling season” and these kinds of parabolic moves rarely last more than 3 days.

Through this whole “learning adventure” I managed to lose a significant amount of money. My friend, on the other hand, made more money on this single trade than many people make over the course of their whole working lives. What might we point to that could account, at least in part, for the profound difference? Polyvagal Theory.

Feeling It In Our Bones

One of the central premises of Polyvagal Theory is that “state drives story.” Not only did I have a history of losing money with this stock, but I also have a lengthy history of losing Image result for feeling it in my bonesmoney in the stock market over many decades. When positions go against me, my threat-detection circuitry becomes hyper-active. Stress hormones, activated by adrenaline and cortisol from my adrenal glands, and osteocalcin proteins secreted from my bones, flood my nervous system. My investment now becomes “scared money.” Scared money almost always loses in the stock market.

My friend’s bones and neurobiology work very much in the reverse. When positions go against him, his cognitive capacities do not go offline. Rather, they sharpen significantly and allow him to accurately assess whether he’s being presented with the gift of a “buying opportunity” or not. They also allow him to hold a big picture in mind, unless and until something develops that definitively tells him it’s time to sell and take profits (or sometimes losses).

My work is to continue to do my best to grow similar bone and brain responses, not only to stock market stressors, but to life stressors in general. Wish me luck.

Read Full Post »

“Trauma not transformed will be trauma transmitted.”      ~ apologies to Richard Rohr

There are some people in the world whose courage in the face of life-threatening danger is breath-taking. Malala Yousafzai is one of them. Shot in the face in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for being an outspoken advocate for education for women in Pakistan, she continues to this day to champion the rights of women and girls to an education the world over.

Another courageous champion I’ve recently come across whom I long to be like (when my brain and body become sufficiently integrated in ways that don’t so easily allow my adrenal glands to be the boss of me) is Deeyah Kahn. Deeyah is a Muslin activist and filmmaker. Here’s something she said in a recent interview:

I’ve been an anti-racist campaigner pretty much most of my life, having experienced racism from childhood. It’s personal to me, and I’ve responded in all sorts of ways — being angry at racists, shouting at them, confronting them, protesting against them, self-righteously shunning them. I’ve done all that, and I’m not sure what difference it made.

So I wanted to do something I’ve never done before, which is try to see if I could sit down with people who hold views like that and see if it is possible for us to move somewhere from that point, from sitting face to face. Because it’s really, really easy for everybody involved to hate each other from afar, to judge each other from afar, but it’s much more difficult to hate up close and personal.

The Seduction of Abdication

When confronted with the ignorance and hatred in the world, my first impulse is to turn away – to abdicate, to leave the finding of solutions to such problems to others. “Not my current life karma.” “Others are better equipped for this battle than me. Let them fight it.” “You can’t fight ignorance with ignorance.” I have a million narratives that my brain can generate to make me feel okay about turning away. But abdication is not integration.

Image result for deeyah khan documentary netflix

Deeyah Khan

Deeyah Khan took a different turn. Instead of turning away, she became curious. She honestly wondered – What kinds of experiences go into the making of a white supremacist? What makes them think and act the way they do? Honoring that cultivated curiosity, she inserted herself into their organizations in the context (pretext?) of wanting to make a documentary film about them. White Right: Meeting the Enemy was the Emmy Award-winning result of that authentic inquiry.

Emergent Curiosity

Curiosity is something we’re all born with – provided early Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) don’t traumatize that impulse and inquisitiveness out of us. Growing up with caretakers who don’t condemn, who constructively channel our inquiring natures (you know – the toddler who constantly asks “Why?”, “Why?”, “Why?”), who are contingently available to soothe us and help us self-regulate when our adrenal glands flood us with stress hormones – that kind of early life experience will invariably work to keep our inherent curiosity alive. 

Gene Knudsen Hoffman

Gene Knudsen Hoffman

When we can be curious and feel safe, we can often go into novel situations without an excessive flooding of stress hormones. We have access to fluid intelligence to allow us to creatively construct circumstances and contexts within which our curiosity can safely operate. For Deeyah, embedding herself inside a group of white supremacists became possible in the context of making a documentary film about them with a team around her. There is “safety in numbers.” With no other agenda but to find out what makes white supremacists tick, the simple act of being fully present to various actors in the movement allowed a number of them to expand their thinking and eventually move off their polarizing positions. 

Gene Knudsen Hoffman was a Quaker activist, mystic and “compassion junkie.” She is probably best known for her observation that, “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” In the simple, non-judgmental hearing of an “enemy’s” story, new brain wiring has the space to grow, blossom and make unexpected connections. It can happen in an instant. Or over a lifetime. When it does, it looks and feels like magic has taken place – persuasive curiosity! By Deeyah Khan simply being genuinely curious about what makes a person hate Muslim people whom they don’t even know, she “persuaded” them to take a closer look at how so much of their early Adverse Childhood Experiences – their early traumatic conditioning – was driving their current circumscribed life perspectives, and being transmitted to the world around them.

P.S. If you’re tired of Google ruling internet search, you might try Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees. It’s not the same as confronting white supremacists, but its intention is to reduce suffering.

Read Full Post »

After 17 years of marriage, one day it became apparent that the mere sight of my daughter’s mother would send my adrenal glands into hyper-overdrive. The main way I was able to regulate those organs was mostly to avoid her – to go missing in action. My avoidance/abandonment would then do the same thing to her adrenal glands. And round and round we’d go. Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars worth of psychotherapy had failed to help. The idea of actually being able to work with and repair the networks holding stored traumatic memories in each others’ brain and body was a completely foreign concept to therapists at the time (and for many, still is). Consequently, no therapist ever taught us anything useful about our neurobiology or offered regular practices to help manage the childhood-conditioned, threat-detection neural circuitry we were each triggering in the other. The only workable solution seemed to be for us to separate.

Image result for couples separating

How best to accomplish this separation in a way that would cause the least amount of harm for the three of us? For me it was a sincere dilemma. The larger culture didn’t offer many models to look to. I thought we might simply separate emotionally while continuing to physically live together in the same house. It was large enough for each of us to have our own bedroom and work spaces.

Before I could broach that possibility however, my daughter’s mother informed me that she had taken a family loan and gone out and bought another house and would be moving her and my daughter into it. Less than a week later I came home from work to find both of them gone and a realtor’s For Sale sign in front of our house. I immediately broke it into bits and tossed it in the trash. 

The Jesuit Perspective

Malcolm Gladwell recently offered up a three-part Revisionist History podcast on “Thinking Like a Jesuit.” Essentially, Jesuits practice casuistry. As Gladwell defines it, casuistry means: “resolving specific cases of conscience, duty, or conduct through interpretation of ethical principles or religious doctrine.” Image result for jesuitsThe Jesuits begin with broad ethical principles and religious doctrine, but then morph and adapt it to fit particular cases. Gladwell presents a compelling case of how the Jesuits applied casuistry to convince the Church to accept birth control. It was ultimately accepted as a means of reducing Catholic suffering that comes from birthing too many children into the world that two parents alone can’t sufficiently care for.

Minimizing suffering in the wake of my marriage dissolution was also high on my list of ethical, spiritual and neurobiological principles. One day while out walking the trail around Crystal Springs Reservoir in Hillsborough, California I was delivered a message by vox divina. Two older men were walking towards me on the trail and when they got within earshot, I heard one say to the other, “No matter what else you do, by all means, avoid the lawyers.”

If my intent was to reduce suffering in THIS particular instance, avoiding lawyers sounded like divine instruction to me. And so I did. Rather than pay a lawyer, I could contribute those fees to my daughter’s support. My ex-wife hired a high profile, Silicon Valley lawyer, however, who charged her a small fortune. In the end she pretty much ended up with what she would have gotten had we both hired a mediator. In the wake of the separation – with suffering-reduction as my overriding concern – I agreed to co-sign for the mortgage on her new house; I installed a skylight and new dishwasher in her kitchen; and I mounted a brass nameplate on the door to her home office. Through it all we each had the well-being of our daughter paramount as our concerns, and to this day we are on amiable speaking terms where Amanda is concerned. 

Ultimately, in my estimation, there is only one good reason to cultivate Jesuit Brain or any other kind of brain, for that matter – in order to do what we can to reduce human suffering. Out of that cultivation we very often surprisingly find ourselves able to take human suffering … to heart.

Read Full Post »

If you live in America, odds are about even that you are indeed poor and don’t know it. How could that be you might ask? Well, in very much the same way that a large number of Americans are rich by comparison and don’t know it. First of all, their brain doesn’t have a standard, stable metric to measure against. But even it it did, that wouldn’t provide the embodied network connectivity necessary to actually feel rich or poor. Related imageTo grow that capacity takes growing the awareness and realizing that reality over and over. Inside the brain learning how rich and poor feels works in much the same way that learning multiplication tables or the fingering on a musical instrument works – it requires repetition. We need neural networks to make many new and repeated connections over and over and over to be able to actually grow embodied into either a poverty or an abundance mentality. Virtuoso musicians don’t need to think about where to place their hands or fingers while they’re playing; their hands and fingers have simply become massively innervated with that learned connectivity. Actual physical wires (axons) in the body and brain have to make actual connections (to receiving dendrites). And so it must be with learning to feel rich or poor.

Poor and Don’t Know It

In this Medium article by research journalist Umair Hague, we discover just what it means to be poor and not know it in 21st century America:

43% of American households can’t afford a budget that includes housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation, and a cellphone. Translation: nearly half of Americans can’t afford the basics of life anymore.

Hard to believe, right. If you’re reading this blog post, might you be an … ALICE and not even realize it? ALICE is an acronym for: Assets Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Which basically means you’re working one or two jobs, you have few or no appreciating assets, your monthly expenses likely exceed the income you earn, you’re saving little or no money, and have less than $400 of ready cash available for an emergency. You’re also a planetary citizen who is carrying $220,000 of the world’s debt (and you’re also probably NOT reading this blog).

Shifting the Balance

Okay. Now that we’ve got poor out of the way, what’s it going to take to grow the neural connectivity in our brains so that we can actually begin to feel rich in body, mind, spirit and bank account? Essentially, it’s all a matter of perspective, and frequently meditating on it.

Image result for cell phone

Massive Intelligence at Hand

Even when I was living on welfare in the housing projects as a kid, or when I was in graduate school living off of student loans, I was enjoying way more wealth and privilege than any of the 108 billion humans who have lived on planet earth before me. How many of the people who have lived long before us ever had phones, or asphalt roads, or electric bicycles, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or dentists?  (imagine having to tie your tooth to a doorknob and have someone open the door fast and yank that tooth out of your mouth! Talk about traumatic interventions). By comparison to prior eras, humanity has never enjoyed such prosperity. And yet …

We’re Golden, Jerry

Many of us were born of parents (and grandparents) who were victims of war, disease and poverty. What neuroscientists tell us is that those conditions take up residence in the very fabric of our brains, bodies, bones and genes and can become unwittingly passed down from generation to generation. These stressors that permeated the lives of the people in our genetic lineage are literally residing in the marrow of our bones. Being poor (or wealthy) is not our fault – it’s greatly a result of structural and developmental limitations of our neurobiology. That, and the people, places and connections our neurobiology allows us to make in our lives.

Related imageIf it’s true, as motivational speaker Jim Rohn is often touted as claiming – that we are each the product of the five people we spend the most time with – then one way to begin to move out of our poverty genes and conditioning is to begin spending more time with people who are different than us in the way they operate financially in the world (Note: spending time with such people will often not feel all that comfortable, since … such people are different than us!). As we do, the Golden Rule of Social Neuroscience will begin the work of rewiring and reorganizing our brain. It will accomplish that in much the same way that a master music teacher or martial artist will changes the brain wiring of their students – by practice, practice, practice. Try it. There’s everything to gain and a lot of less-than-ideal neural connectivity we would be well-served to prune out of our neural network.

 

 

Read Full Post »

                        Silver

“How many years of beauty do I have left?”
she asks me.
“How many more do you want?
Here. Here is 34. Here is 50.

949513B6-EF6D-40CA-8139-6ED3A6ED7331.jpegWhen you are 80 years old
and your beauty rises in ways
your cells cannot even imagine now
and your wild bones grow luminous and
ripe, having carried the weight
of a passionate life.

When your hair is aflame
with winter
and you have decades of
learning and leaving and loving
sewn into
the corners of your eyes
and your children come home
to find their own history
in your face.

When you know what it feels like to fail
ferociously
and have gained the
capacity
to rise and rise and rise again.

When you can make your tea
on a quiet and ridiculously lonely afternoon
and still have a song in your heart
Queen owl wings beating
beneath the cotton of your sweater.

Because your beauty began there
beneath the sweater and the skin,
remember?

This is when I will take you
into my arms and coo
YOU BRAVE AND GLORIOUS THING
you’ve come so far.

I see you.
Your beauty is breathtaking.”

    ~ Jeannette Encinias

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »