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Recently the country of Jordan repealed Article 308 in their Penal Code. It allowed a rapist to “restore a woman’s honor” by marrying her. Lebanon followed their example only a few weeks ago. But a surprising number of countries, like Egypt, Guatamala and Iraq, still have laws in their lands that allow rapists to marry their victims and escape criminal prosecution.

Doubly Cruel and Unusual

From a neuroscience perspective, marrying your rapist might not be optimal for healthy brain development. Rape, by definition, is non-consensual. Non-consensuality invariably involves high levels of stress hormones. Being forced to be constantly associated with, or in the proximity of, people who violate the sovereignty of another person’s mind, body and spirit, is immoral and profane. It’s also bad for the brain.

file-20170606-16856-gqwp6g.jpgAs forensic psychologist, David Lisak points out, the high levels of natural opioids and stress hormones that sexual assault releases, ends up “disintegrating” the wiring in a victim’s brain. They literally cannot think straight. They cannot clearly tell the story(s) of what happened to them because the stress hormones and opioids have disconnected fibers crucial for neural network integrative functioning. A “coherent narrative” is then almost impossible to put together and clearly express.

I Don’t Know What’s Wrong With Me

And it’s not just about the traumatic assault. Emotional self-regulation in many other walks of life also ends up being compromised. For example, the ability for a woman (who’s been assaulted by a man) to be fully present and cognitively and creatively engaged in the presence of a “threatening” male – which subsequently tends to be potentially ALL males – is frequently compromised. This kind of brain disorganization and self-regulation struggle often pervades daily living for decades. We tend to place labels on it – Borderline Personality Disorder or Bi-Polar Disorder, but the truth is it’s not a “disorder” at all. It’s the vulnerable brain’s best response to a criminal assault. What we need though, aren’t labels; we need knowledgeable, effective and compassionate understanding, treatment and care.

Nectin 3When our internal ability to easily and automatically self-regulate the rise and fall of stress hormones in the body becomes compro- mised by the enzyme MMP-9 severing the Nectin-3 adherence proteins that hold our neural network together (see illustration at the left), human beings have little choice but to seek out and deploy external means of accomplishing that regulation. Nicotine, opiods and alcohol do a marvelously effective job. So does food and sex. Shopping and social media also can take us away from our dysregulated neurobiology.

But only for a limited time. Eventually, the discomfort re-arises and dysregulates our nervous system all over again, leaving us little recourse but to reach once again for the all-too temporarily effective external regulator. Without them, though, how many of us would be doomed to spending much of the time of our lives in the red or yellow zone below?

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A better possibility might be to become involved in a program such as Life Course Health Development (LCHD), headed by Neal Halfon, a medical researcher and pediatrician at UCLA. LCHD emphasizes the importance of intervening and pre-empting an event’s ability to generate adverse neurobiological and epigenetic change. Unfortunately the women in countries with laws such as Article 308 have no access to such enlightened policies or programs. Not only will they suffer, but their children and their grandchildren will suffer as well. If you dare to see a more comprehensive list of all the ways that suffering can show up after a rape, please go here: A Joyful Heart.

Threat-Free Living: an Essential Developmental Need

Each of us should be free to choose the people we wish to be regularly associated with. To be required by law to be in the regular company of people who pose unpredictable threats to our health, safety and well-being goes against everything any country operating under the rule of law would willingly impose upon its citizens. It’s not a stretch to think that rapists generally pose such unpredictable threats. As such, many more of the brain’s resources will necessarily need to be devoted to threat-detection and self-protection, leaving us very often with significantly delayed development across crucial areas of human functioning. The result, on a country-wide scale, is often one that invariably causes widespread suffering.

Finally, here is a thematically appropriate Enchanted Loom review of Caroline Adams Miller’s recent book, Getting Grit.

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Well, here we are at the end of the second year of our small group money experiment. You may recall it was intended to change the fiber networks in the brain each of us has been using to navigate our money relationships in the world. We’ve all managed to pretty much stay the course over these last two years. And, for all intents and purposes, it looks like the Neural Dictum – “Whatever our brain pays positive attention to tends to increase,” is true. My money brain has definitely changed, and for the better. Here’s one way …

hqdefaultIn my mid-forties the dot-com boom was all the rage in Silicon Valley. Instead of coming up with a brilliant idea and getting venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park where I lived to fund it, I thought it would be a meta-brilliant idea to trade shares of stock in the companies they did fund. Not just bad, but a horrendous idea. I didn’t know anything about stock trading. And I continued to know nothing enough to lose money in the stock market now … for 21 years straight! Who loses money for 21 straight years and keeps taking his lumps year after year? I’m sure many of you are familiar with the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Well, when it came to stock trading, I have been the Poster Boy for this unique form of insanity.

Until this year, that is. This year, through persistence, determination, True Grit and the help of a number of smart, successful stock market people, I’m going to finally have a profitable year in stocks. How do I know when the year’s not even over? Because my portfolio is currently up 57% this year and, except for a few small positions and a short hedge, most of my money is currently on the sidelines. It’s going to remain there through at least the rest of the year, too. I currently have too many other things I want to do that don’t allow paying daily attention to market fluctuations. It’s about time. And money. And the fact that Work, as we’ve known it, is radically transforming.

But our Money Relationships and the Brain Group isn’t all or only about me. Part of it is about learning how to use money as a Happiness Tool. Here are a few perspectives from a couple other participants who’ve been along for the ride for the whole two years …

Dory Jo: Healthy Relationships Make It Happen

A year into our group, I still felt pretty overwhelmed and was wondering why. I thought that the support I had at the time ought to be plenty. If it wasn’t enough, then I must be The Problem. Why was I so slow to get rolling with income generation?

In November I joined an online fellowship specific to earning money, following a conversation with a friend who’s in that fellowship. Until that conversation, I had no knowledge of this organization; it’s shared only by word of mouth.

Are-you-underpaid-Self-help-group-can-help-J8261DUJ-x-largeAlmost immediately I noticed how my brain and body changed, calmed down. I also noticed getting clearer and more open to doing things I’d been too afraid or too addled to do before.

This new organization and my readiness reminded me that I’ve always needed more support than I thought I ought to need for the major challenges in my life, including the current one of earning without the structure, guidance, and support of an employer.

Still, and again, I learn this fundamental lesson: look for and find more support. My brain and body let me know when I have enough – and the right kind – by calming down and letting me get on with the challenge.

Penny: It’s Not the Money, It’s My Brain!

When we started the group two years ago, I was quite sure that EVERYONE was much better at managing money and emotions around money than me. I realize now how old those stories are…and how not true!

I have never been part of a group where it is really okay to be open and vulnerable, without needing pretense. I don’t like pretense; it has a terrible stink to it! However, pretense seems to have been a lesson I learned early and often in my life. Along with pretense was the naked truth that I am just me, but growing up others didn’t really want to know ME. They wanted me to be who they needed me to be! And I did my best to live up to their expectation.

money-flies-500x357Joining our calls at first was a journey into my inner world. Money was the medium for exploring my own feelings, reactions without need to BE someone for everyone else. What a gift.

As we developed our bonds and our trust, I could be vulnerable and be okay. Through our journey together I have witnessed a shift in my relationship with money. I have witnessed a shift in my life such that, earlier this year when my body was battling with mercury fillings from old dental work, our Friday morning talks were a safe place for which I am so grateful.

Having never aspired to be “rich”- whatever that means – I now have a very fluid relationship with money and I don’t get scared, nor do I belittle my occasional lack of fiduciary nimbleness. I trust that I can check in with my inner wisdom and bring it to our little group and get nitty gritty, compassionate feedback. Thanks to all.

I have often felt victimized in my life. From being born to a mother with alcohol addiction and an abandoning father with severe, war-induced PTSD from a moral injury, to being raised in poverty on welfare, to getting all kinds of poor direction and guidance through most of my primary developmental years. Early life experiences like these have seemingly provided me with an unconscious bias that ends up with me often feeling “less than.” Or, bizarrely at the opposite extreme – with an inflated sense of “superiority.”

portfolio-featured-katherine.jpgFortunately (and unfortunately) my brain is designed to meet these “environmental” challenges and adapt to them. That’s what brains do – they have this neuroadaptive, chameleon-like ability to operate to some degree of capacity by adjusting to whatever external circumstances they find themselves in. So, for example, when my elementary school, ranked in the bottom 5% of all elementary schools in Connecticut (still, after more than half a century!), turned out to be a very dangerous place to attend week after week, my brain grew in ways that ended up devoting a preponderance of its neuroplasticity to laying down robust threat-detection circuitry. I learned to easily spot dangerous people, places and situations days ahead and miles away. Then I would find creative ways to avoid them. One way was to end up being the kid with the worst attendance record in every public school I ever attended. And when I wasn’t able to skip, I acted out in ways guaranteed to get myself expelled (like the time in 6th grade after a snowstorm when I trudged up and down the hill behind the school in front of the 4th grade classrooms and spelled out the word – F**K. When Mr. Fisher, the principal met me at the bottom of the hill and demanded that I erase what I’d written, I trudged back up the hill and added – YOU!). Mission accomplished.

But when children are required to robustly grow their threat-detection circuitry at an early age, that adaptation comes at a cost – growth and development in other parts of the brain become seriously delayed. The prefrontal cortex is one area that markedly suffers from such delay. I’m pretty sure there is no way during any of my grade school days I would have been able to demonstrate the impulse control required to pass The Stanford Marshmallow Test (I struggle to forego dopamine-activating sweet treats even today!). As it was, I wasn’t able or ready to enroll in college until age 26! And that had to be a junior college.

Learned Helplessness

Over the years I’ve learned to pay creative attention to feeling like a victim. Often what’s being activated in my brain are old connections – early childhood learning rooted in helplessness. Helplessness, is afterall, each of our birthrights from the outset. If we’ve had relatively healthy parents, teachers and other members of the community paying sufficient attention to our organic growth and development, then they’ve set tasks and learning before us intended to facilitate growth that would take us fully onto each succeeding stage of development. For most of the people I know, that didn’t happen very deliberately. And when it did, it was mostly a slapdash, hit-or-miss affair.

buscrash.jpgRather, what happened for me instead is: I want to ride my bicycle through Westville traffic to school and the thought of me doing that calls up images in my mother’s brain of me being splattered by a city bus. Those images then flood her system with excessive amounts of stress hormones which immediately shut down her cognitive reasoning abilities – she’s got few neural resources available to accurately assess bus-splattering probabilities. With her adrenals out of control, the only way she can regulate them is to attempt to regulate me: “No, you will be taking the school bus to school just like the other project kids.” Either I helplessly give in, or I rebel and hide my bike near the school bus stop, keep the bus money, and ride my bike to school – or more often to the New Haven Public Library instead of school – without my mother realizing it. Until, of course, my Report Card shows all those “Days Absent.”

It’s a Good News Week

The good news is that much of the “damage” our brains suffer in childhood, much of the disorganization and learned helplessness mostly results in delayed development. And most of that delay has to do with prefrontal operations, i.e. Executive Functions. Interestingly, much of that “damage” can symbolically show up in relationship to money in our lives. If you look over this list of “symptoms” from Underearners Anonymous (identification provided for non-promotional and informational purposes only; information does, after all, want to be free!), you may see a pretty clear picture reflected pointing to any number of areas where your own brain development has been delayed. The more good news is, it’s never too late to remodel your brain’s Executive Suite. Might developing a healthy, mindful relationship with money serve realistically and metaphorically as a great place to begin unlearning learned helplessness?

While you consider that possibility, you might also take a look at fellow neuro-rebel David Linden’s book, The Compass of Pleasure, newly reviewed on this week’s Enchanted Loom.

Recently, in my imaginal brain, I invited myself to try a little experiment. I took two different timed tests intended to measure my ability to think straight. One is called the Automated Operation Span task, or the Ospan. Basically, the test had me read some words then add some numbers and then later try to recall as many words as possible. It’s intended to be a way to “measure working memory while keeping track of task-relevant information while also engaging in complex cognitive tasks.” In other words, it’s trying to measure how straight I can think.

The second test was called Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices. Psychologist John Raven developed the test to “isolate my capacity for abstract reasoning and understanding and solving novel problems (fluid intelligence), independent of any influence of accumulated knowledge or domain-specific skill (crystallized intelligence).” In other words he is trying to see how smart I am. Raven developed the test as a way to try to control for cultural and learned biases.

Each Raven Test has the same format: a 3 x 3 matrix in which the bottom right entry is missing, and must be selected from 8 alternatives. Solving Raven’s matrices type problems essentially requires figuring out the underlying rules that explain the progression of shapes. Here is an example that you can try to figure out yourself:

The variations of the entries in the rows and columns of this problem can be explained by 3 rules:

1. Each row contains 3 shapes (triangle, square, diamond).

2. Each row has 3 bars (black, striped, clear).

3. The orientation of each bar is the same within a row, but varies from row to row (vertical, horizontal, diagonal).

From these 3 rules, the answer can be inferred (*See the correct answer at the bottom).

ET – Leave Your Phone Home

So, here’s where the test got interesting. I had to turn my smart phone off and leave it in an adjoining room. Other people who took the test were also asked to turn their phones off, but they could keep them on a table nearby. Who do you think did better on the Ospan and the Raven tests?

Here is Professor Adrian Ward’s discussion of the results: The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.

The findings suggest that the mere presence of one’s smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity and impairs cognitive functioning, even though people feel they’re giving their full attention and focus to the task at hand. “We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” Ward said. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”

Love Me, Love My Smartphone

The compulsive nature of smartphone usage is driven by many factors. NY Times science writer Sharon Begley cites one driver as FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. In addition, many people compulsively use their phone much like infants use pacifiers – as a way to manage the anxiety that often naturally arises in social situations. Proximate Separation can feel a lot less threatening than interacting with other live human beings.

Prefrontal AjnaBegley suggests that “one reason we often feel anxious if we’re not using every tiny slice of time is that we find it hard — even unpleasant and anxiety-producing — to be alone with our thoughts, as a 2014 study showed. Researchers led by (one of my favorites) social psychologist, Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, gave volunteers two options: do ‘nothing’ for 15 minutes or give themselves a small electric shock (which three-quarters had previously told the researchers they’d pay money not to experience). Two-thirds of the men and one-quarter of the women chose the latter, so anxious were they for ‘something to do.'”

“The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself,” Wilson concluded.

Cause for Concern

This finding is of great cause for concern to my tutored mind. When you consider the discovery that long periods of contemplative activities deliberately work to train the discursive mind to single-pointed attention and the way that shows up on an fMRI as massively increased neuron numbers and connections of prefrontal and cross-hemispheric connectivity, it only makes sense that the constant interruption, distraction and addictive allure of “smart” phones would result in diminished Executive Function. Robust Executive Function is precisely what was not available to kids who failed the Stanford Marshmallow Test. Those kids were later found to have struggled in their later lives to a significantly greater degree than the kids who easily passed the test. Executive Function matters. But here’s the even bigger problem – there is currently no app for your phone that has Siri announcing: “Executive Functioning is currently not functioning optimally right now.” And I didn’t even mention the research suggesting that the “iGeneration” which smartphones may be creating, has the worst mental health ever.

One possible hack to caring for your brain: start taking regular “phone sabbaticals.”

*The correct answer to the matrix above is 3.

“I love you like a fat kid loves cakes.” ~ 50 Cent

I remember the first time I ever felt love that wasn’t wholly driven by the desire to pass on copies of my genes. One thing was clear: it didn’t match anything I’d learned from any love song. I was sitting alone in a room with Serena, a young woman who was explaining to me what it felt like to have her five-year-old son kidnapped and murdered by being burned alive. As you might guess, I had no clue whatsoever what that might feel like. And I told her so. And I started crying as I did – apparently my nervous system did have at least a small clue. Moments later I felt this familiar wave of sweet peace and joy wash over me. It was the feeling I associated with new romantic love, only more intense. But as a trusted confidant, volunteering as a community grief counselor, there would be no romantic relationship between Serena and me. Years later I came to more deeply understand what actually did emerge between us in those moments.

There’s Something Happening Here

suicidal_thoughts-prvA similar experience happened shortly after some friends and I decided to create a grief program to specifically serve young children. Emily was the six-year-old daughter of a troubled father who had committed suicide. Shortly before he did, her father took Emily aside one night and admonished her: “Some day I’m going to kill myself … and it’s going to be your fault.”

Needless to say, this experience would leave a mark on the heart of the strongest among us. On the mind, brain, body and heart of a little six-year-old it had the potential to be devastating. But in our little grief group, joined together with a collection of other kids going through similar struggles, Emily flourished.

One evening, as we were picking up toys together after group, Emily and I were walking hand in hand down the hall towards the storage closet. I felt her little fingers squeeze mine and in the tiniest whisper she asked, “Will you be my daddy?” And there it was – a wash of peace and joy flowing through me together with an uncontrolled flood of tears. “I will be your daddy,” I told her. “But I can only be him on Tuesday nights when you come here and we can spend time together.” That seemed to be enough – Emily gave me a big smile and told me not to cry, reminding me in her own innocent way that grief is, afterall, love facing its greatest challenge.

What SHeart in Stoneerena and Emily and I and grief had managed to awaken in me was “the natural liberation of affection.” It seems to be a state or an experience that many saints and wisdom teachers are intimately familiar with. I’m convinced it is a state that involves a lot more than just dopamine neurotransmitters activating the Caudate Nucleus and the Ventral Tegmental Area. Rumi’s well-known quote points toward the real complexity of such a foundational experience: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself, that you have built against it.” Sometimes life’s great trials can work to remove such barriers. Vulnerable innocence, the kind evoked by puppies, kittens and young children, seems to be one requirement.

It’s Your Neurobiology Singing, Silly.

It’s interesting to me that Rumi deliberately uses the word merely in his celebrated saying. As if seeking and finding such barriers is a simple walk in the park. Not in the least. When I look back at the experiences I’ve described above and try to tease out the commonalities that might have made conditions ripe for love’s emergence, several other things, in addition to vulnerable innocence, seem essential.

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Professor Barbara Frederickson

One is I was intentionally doing my best to be a help to other people who needed and wanted it. I was attending in a state that had a pretty high level of arousal, while at the same time had a pretty low level of fear. I’ve never seen a neurobiological profile of such a state, but UNC love researcher, Barbara Frederickson suggests that its signature is unique.

It’s also a neurobiological body/brain reality I’ve been working on growing for most all of my adult life – my kindness circuitry. From the time I embraced the directive to “provide shelter for people,” to the time two days ago when I built a small soffit extension under the eave of my roof to keep a pesky neighborhood squirrel away from the bird feeder. It was that or set one of the Berners on him. Kindness has also been the motivation for faithfully researching and writing this blog every week for ten years(!), and why I’ve published a half dozen books on improving listening skills.

There’s a Capital I in Kindness

I also apply similar kindnesses to myself. Intimately knowing and understanding the ever-changing realities and limitations of my aging neurobiology allows for authentic self-compassion. And at the same time, I’m constantly putting challenges before myself, such as keeping a commitment to work out several times a week; to learn new things by reading hard books (Alan Shore’s Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self, for example); to start saving for retirement (while simultaneously being gentle and understanding with myself for not beginning 30 years ago!).

Applied love and kindness is good work if you can gain access to it. I whole-heartedly recommend you foresake a few half-loves and go for it. Feel free to write a love song or two along the way.

Before you do though, you might want to check out this Enchanted Loom review of “recovering neurologist,” Bob Scaer’s master work, The Trauma Spectrum. It deeply underscores why seeking and removing the barriers to love can be extremely challenging work.

When I was 40 years old, my wife and I decided to take a badly needed vacation to Cabo San Lucas over Winter Break. Our daughter was off traveling with school friends and we’d just successfully completed a stressful, complicated property subdivision. We thought this would be the perfect place to spend time alone and get our groove back.

151104203829-russian-plane-final-moments-marquez-dnt-erin-00014922-super-169.jpgApparently, because the airport is situated at the base of a mountain, to insure he had sufficient runway to land, the AeroMexico pilot had to turn a steep bank and then make a rapid, nose-down descent, which he executed very quickly and gave no advance warning to us passengers.

I disembarked the plane with my stomach in my throat, only to be confronted with a swarm of Mexican nationals insisting that I attend a “free” condominium time-share presentation. I paid two of them $20 just to move on and leave my wife and I alone.

But my baseline stress hormone levels had now been significantly elevated. They became raised even higher when the very next day I suffered a severe sunburn even though I spent almost all of my outside time in the shade. And then, that night after we sat down to dinner, I discovered several ugly, dead bugs in my Mexican salad.

Suddenly, there at dinner, a feeling of dread flooded over me, leaving me speechless. My wife could tell something was wrong simply by looking at me, but when she asked me what was going on, I had no words to offer her (thanks to a stress-compromised Broca’s brain area). We left in the middle of the meal and returned to our cabana. When I refused to leave it the whole next day and and the day after that and could not offer her (or myself) any reason why, she suggested we cut the vacation short and return home.

South by Southwest

Another time I was invited to a Native American Green Corn Festival on a reservation just outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’d never been to an “Indian” Reservation, and so I was completely unprepared for what I found. Essentially, it was a barren strip of land situated next to this surprising, sad trickle of water called … the Rio Grande River. religion.jpgDotting the banks of this sickly streambed were a collection of ramshackle homes that were little more than one room, corrugated metal huts, looking nothing like the peaceful, idyllic reservations portrayed in the movies of my youth. This native community was poorer than the housing projects of my childhood.

When a collection of tribal elders appeared in feathered headdresses banging drums and tamborines, I moved off into a corner of the processional area. I was standing in front of a torn and tattered screen door when a little girl, perhaps two or three, appeared behind it. She was wearing a diaper stained with pee and had brown smudges on her legs. Flies walked across her forehead and her naked chest. She seemed to be completely uncared for.

Upon seeing this neglected child, a great wave of anxiety, similar to what I experienced in Cabo San Lucas, spread through my body. The only way I could think to relieve it was to simply walk away from the reservation without saying anything to anyone (known colloquially as “ghosting” or The Irish Goodbye – an effective, but often confusing self-regulation strategy for friends and colleagues to comprehend). Greatly relieved, I got in my rental car, returned to the airport and flew directly home.

Surfacing Early Trauma Memories

Extensive research suggests that early terrifying experiences take up residence in implicit (unconscious) memory networks primarily on the right side of the brain. These memories essentially compromise the flow of electro-chemical energy and information. In response to overwhelming experiences, our neural networks abruptly inhibit the firing of action potentials in the brain so as to cause the adrenal glands to stop flooding both brain and body with excessive amounts of adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. In the amounts generated by life-threatening emergencies, without this safety shutoff, that quantity of stress hormones would do even worse damage than the trauma itself. The lived experience feels like going numb or being checked out – dissociated. But that’s not the end of it.

Yearning for Healing

The brain knows when its functioning has been compromised by traumatic experience. As a consequence it seems to constantly attempt to identify or morph people, places and familiar environments into circumstances where its impoverished networks can be rekindled and activated, ideally for integrative re-connectivity. In both the incidents I’ve just described, that didn’t happen. Abdication (flight) is not integration. Actions that could have served an integrative function might have been the Hakomi method of assisted self-discovery, or a Somatic Experience intervention that resulted in me being able to give voice to the affective experience and move my body in ways now that I wasn’t able to when the original incident took place – i.e. taking “triumphant action.” I have since had such healing work happen and it truly is life-affirming and liberating in ways I would never have imagined. I have thankfully now been free of such “speechless terror” experiences for over a decade.

I’m ashamed of getting old. I’ve never been old before and I don’t really know much about how best to go about becoming old. So many things I expect of myself that I took for granted ten, five, even one year ago, I find myself often struggling with today.

The ability to hold more than two things in mind at the same time for at least a few minutes is a challenge. So is reading. The longest time I can currently sit and read a book or magazine or academic paper is 10 minutes tops – I hold Neuroenergetic Theory responsible. After 10 minutes I need a break and am not able to return to reading for a good half hour or more. I have to carry a reporter’s notebook with me so I can write down things I want to remember. Then, of course, I forget to look at the notebook. I also forget to remember the research that suggests fast walking might make my elder brain work better.

Inclining the Decline

Physical things are harder as well. Walking more than 45 minutes fatigues me. When I take one of the dogs with me, Ollie, the big Berner pulls me all over the dog park with ease whenever another male dog shows up to challenge him. I’m forced to take him there really early in the morning when no other dogs are around.

3chopwood.jpgI like to cut firewood, load and split it. I’m only good for an hour max at any portion of that process. I’ve had to learn to be hyper-vigilant when using the chainsaw, since many accidents tend to befall the elderly using power tools. Same thing with climbing up and cleaning off the roof. However, I’m determined to stay active and NOT be one of those statistics.

My typing has significantly deteriorated. I used to be able to type full paragraphs and pages without so much as a single misspelling. Now, my fingers hit keys for the wrong letters repeatedly. It’s as if my fingers have a mind of their own. Unfortunately, it’s a dyslexic mind that constantly types letters like it thinks I speak a foreign language.

I’ve always been an early riser, but for the last 10 years or so, 3AM has been my regular wake-up time. Is this normal? Neuroscientists suggest it’s not; that it’s bad for my brain. However, I wake up reasonably rested without using an alarm. What am I supposed to do – try and force myself back to sleep?

Beware the Predators

Scammers prey on the elderly. We can’t think as clearly as we once could. I almost fell for a not-very sophisticated scam only last month. I worked hard to finish the 4th Prayer Pod I’ve been building all winter (after running into all kinds of bureaucratic mishegas, I decided to build them and sell them and give a percentage of the profits to homeless organizations, rather than to try and donate the pods directly).

Curvy Pod FrontWell, I got the pod com- pleted and put it up on Craigslist. Almost imme- diately my wife and I got an email from a “marine engineer” away at sea. He wanted to surprise his father with the pod for Father’s Day. Would we accept payment through Paypal? What could go wrong, right?

Well, on a hunch I went online and looked up “Paypal Scams” and there was the script this “marine engineer” was using, almost word for word. Fortunately, we escaped with only a small amount of time wasted.

Sense and Sensibility

I feel perhaps the greatest shame in the clear deterioration of all my physical senses, most pointedly, smell. Several weeks ago my wife took our dogs out for a romp on the beach. That evening, sitting in the living room she noticed a stink. Only after she pointed it out did I notice it. Her sense of smell has been forever more keen than mine. “The dogs must have rolled in something dead at the beach,” was the explanation we eventually settled on.

In the morning, when I got up the stench was stronger than the night before. It was a cold morning and I was about to take the spring chill out of the house by starting a fire in the woodstove. But then I thought it would be a good idea to let all the dogs out. Then I decided I would first take a shower. It was in the shower that my neural networks finally connected the brain cells that identified the pungent smell permeating the house: it was propane! I immediately jumped out of the shower, went into the kitchen and sure enough – a knob on the gas range was turned on and had been spewing gas into the house for the previous 15 hours. I don’t know if the fuel concentration was strong enough to ignite had I lit the woodstove, but I’m thankful I didn’t run that experiment!

Needless to say, what’s most disconcerting is that I wasn’t able to recognize the smell of that escaping gas immediately. Thankfully, it wasn’t a deadly sensory decline. This time.

And then there’s the subject of Fogey Sex. I think I’ll save that shameful topic for another post. Instead, let me offer up a related Enchanted Loom review HERE – Buddhist psychiatrist, Mark Epstein’s best-selling book, Open to Desire.