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My father abandoned our family when I was four years old, leaving my mother, my two sisters and me to fend for ourselves. My brain wasn’t sufficiently developed at the time to fully understand the impact of his leaving. I had no way of knowing that my sisters and I would be consigned to being members of the 1 billion people raised in poverty, with little adult supervision and even less guidance and direction – that statistically, our lives would be short ones filled with poor nutrition, reduced educational opportunities, great pain and suffering. That one or all of us siblings would subsequently enjoy a greatly increased probability of ending up in jail, or worse.

dad-goneWe were fortunate in one respect, however, and that is our mother accurately assessed and reported that our father was seriously ill and unable to carry out parenting responsibilities. She encouraged acceptance and understanding, if not outright compassion. When friends or school officials asked about dad, she instructed us to simply say: “Parts Unknown.” Although I don’t recall my mother ever directly saying it, she seemed to feel that his leaving was the best thing that could have happened under the circumstances. She was probably right, but that didn’t make it easy for me to forgive him. It would take a lot of work on my part to neurobiologically, psychologically and spiritually get to that place. 

Forgiveness Job No. 1

Over and over again I had to make the connection that how my body is feeling is directly related to the thoughts my mind is generating. My thinking mind constantly operates on my neurobiology. For example, thoughts like, “My father was a dumb cracker and a coward. He was a quitter,” could not be thought without serious consequence to my body and brain. What those kinds of thoughts do is elevate the stress hormones required to generate and sustain such feelings.

How such thoughts do this is by making several muscle groups in my body contract – muscles in my abdomen, in my throat and across the back of my shoulders. The next thing I feel are waves of anger arising – small at first and then growing larger. Without dear old dad there when I was a kid to help contain, direct and express this energy in constructive ways, it headed in the opposite direction – hunting and killing rabbits, squirrels and lamprey eels for sport, vandalizing neighbors’ homes and school property, getting into fights with kids I knew I could beat up. Where the path of loss and non-forgiveness is heading without guidance or intervention becomes crystal clear to those familiar with its trajectory.

It’s About Me Mostly

Kathleen Singh, in her book, The Grace in Aging details a neurobiological developmental path that she extracted from years spent at the bedsides of people at the end of life. It essentially describes the healing process that must unfold in order for many of us to genuinely reach a place of authentic forgiveness:

We can see the psychological part of our path as wound healing – an important step, as stable growth beyond ego can’t occur without a healed foundation. The path goes beyond psychological when we begin to let go of the stories of the wounds. whole-earth-handsThe path enters depths of spirit when we begin to let go of the teller of the stories. In a beautiful synergy, the telling of the stories, the healing of the wounds, and the letting go of the stories work together to release the teller of the tales. It is a process that can occur in a microsecond or over years of mindful work. It’s a necessary process.

We share the story first as story. Each of us can find a trusted other with whom to do this. We share the story, conscious of it as story, but honest about the fact that we still believe much of it, and that we will continue to, until we have grown considerably in wisdom.

Having the courage to share our stories, to stop hiding both from ourselves and others, allows the healing experience of feeling understood and known. It allows connection through our vulnerability. We become spiritual friends, kalayana mitra in Sanskrit. We become soul friends, anam cara in Gaelic. We encourage each others’ boundaries to become more porous in the healing space of undefendedness and acceptance.   ~ Dr. Kathleen Singh, The Grace in Aging, pg. 235

Forgiveness Job No. 2

I believe the main reason most of us struggle to forgive is because, unless we can afford to hire professional listeners (psychologists, social workers, counselors, hair dressers), there simply aren’t enough people on the planet willing, trained and able to hear the stories of our wounding as many times and as many ways as they need to be told and we need to tell them. Forgiveness Job No. 2 then is to begin the work of training yourself in the art of becoming a spiritual friend. But first comes the creative requirement to work on our own forgiving – of self and other. Both are, above all, Listening Arts.

“Consciousness presents us with an altered, subjective, tampered-with view of reality, but it rarely tells us so. ~ Tor Norretranders, The User Illusion

One of the great gifts Harvard neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor has given us is an intimate account of what it’s like to lose the language networks of the brain, but then to be able to closely attend as a neuroscientist and watch them regrow, reconnect, reanimate and come back online. I’ve excerpted Jill’s original brief account and posted it as a separate blog entry HERE. What I’ve learned from Jill – and continue to re-learn over and over again – is that if The Vigilant Sentinel my brain is not paying exquisite attention to what is unfolding moment by moment in the time and space right around me, there’s a high probability that my brain is making up a story. And it is most likely a Past Story or a Future Story, a Pleasant Story or a Painful Story. Many wisdom traditions refer to these stories as Daydreams and urge us to awaken from them.

jill-b-tWhat Are the Odds?

One reason to mindfully understand and not be captivated by these stories is that without, ongoing, directed, concentrated work, the vast majority of them can not or will not come true. Your brain and the world are too complex. It has 88 billion neurons making 100 trillion connections. Multiply this times the 7.5 billion other ever-changing human brains on the planet all making up their own pleasant or painful stories and the resulting complexity is beyond comprehension. Who really knows what’s going to happen from one day to the next?

To demonstrate for this blog post how my Storyteller frequently operates in pain-causing ways, I’m taking Jill’s account of her brain’s healing process, and I’m altering and editing it to fit current world conditions. See if it resonates at all.

Don’t Believe What You Think When It Hurts

One of the most prominent characteristics of our left brain is its ability to weave stories about Donald Trump. This story-teller is specifically designed to make sense of the world outside us that seems to be filled with Donald Trump. It functions by taking whatever minimal information it has to work with about Trump, and then weaves it together in the form of a Trump Story. Most impressively our left brain is brilliant in its ability to make stuff up about Trump, and fill in the blanks when there are gaps in factual data about a Trump whose brain is constantly changing.

As my left brain language centers recovered and became functional again, I spent a lot of time observing how my story-teller would draw conclusions about Trump based upon minimal information. Or second, or third-hand information. For the longest time I found these antics of my Trump storyteller to be rather comical. At least until I realized that my left hemisphere whole-heartedly expected the rest of my brain to believe all the Trump stories it was making up! . . . . I need to remember however, that there are truly enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know about Donald Trump (my italics). I learned I need to be very wary of my storyteller’s potential for stirring up personally and politically painful trauma and drama.  ~ adapted and significantly modified from Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight

So does this mean that we’re never supposed to believe what we read online or see presented in the media? I can’t tell you. You’ll have to weigh the Opportunity Cost and decide for yourself. What I CAN tell you is that my own Storyteller is a VERY FORMIDABLE OPPONENT – clever, seductive, compelling, and it knows my every vulnerability, every desire, every bias, every weakness. Engaging skillfully and successfully with him day after day, week after week, month after month is more than a full-time job.

In the Beginning Was the Word

Neuroscientist and surgeon, Leonard Shlain wrote about the Storyteller in our brain in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess. Shortly after the human brain developed the ability to put the words it was speaking and hearing into a form that made speech visible – by creating alphabets – it shifted the dominant development of the brain’s hemispheres from the right to the left. brocas-areaThis was a profound transformation, shifting from a world in which Goddess theology predominated into one in which male monotheistic religions took center stage. The stories human beings’ brains began to make up – rooted primarily in the rigid, constricting confines of the left hemisphere – resulted in women’s rights taking a beating. In the beginning (of the left hemisphere’s ascension) was the Word and the Word was masculine. And the Word (born of Broca’s Area and Wernicke’s Area in the left hemisphere) was God. Image (feminine and born predominantly in the right hemisphere) was a blasphemy and fearsome. Scary images generate scary stories. They undermine cognitive and compassionate function. Scary stories and scary pictures hijack our adrenal glands. Ask any guy if he ever heard the story as a little kid that some women’s vaginas have teeth! Little good results when scary stories compel the adrenals to take overpowering command of and dominate the human sideshow.

To explore the way stories work to help form our sense of self for better or worse, check out this Enchanted Loom review of Bruce Hood’s book, The Self Illusion.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I confess: I’m a Face Man. I love looking at women’s faces. All kinds. If I look long enough, depending upon how the women who own them operate in the world, inevitably they all turn beautiful. For many years I was ashamed of this covert draw to women’s faces. Until I realized I was in very good company: Pope John Paul II. In 2000 he emailed UCLA neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel and told him he was very “interested in the mother’s gaze.” Apparently Pope John Paul was a Face Man as well!

Breast Generated View

Almost all of us come into the world and spend our early life experiences gazing at a single woman’s face, our mother’s. Over time our relationship develops and as we ideally learn to skillfully co-regulate one another, mother’s face takes on a unique a sumatran-orangutan-profile.jpgbeauty that emerges out of us being well cared for. The pleasure and reward circuits of our brain fire repeatedly in response to being bathed, fed, powdered, swaddled, soothed and snuggled. In the process they almost unavoidably become Pavlovily paired with mother’s face. Even the face of a woman homely by social convention, when she’s kind, considerate and loving in relationship, in the eye of the beholder, her face will morph into a thing of beauty. It’s something that our neural networks seem pre-wired to do. So it’s of little surprise that women too, love looking at a beautiful woman’s face. Like so much of early life, it traces back to mom.

In other face attraction research, Laura Germine, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed the preferences of people who looked at 35000 different faces. Her takeaway from the study: what people find attractive is primarily dependent upon their early life experiences. What she didn’t test, but what Craig Roberts at The University of Newcastle did, was when and if a woman’s face is more attractive at some times more than others. Turns out it is: when they’re most fertile women and men find women’s faces most attractive.

Eyes Beholding

One reason beauty is in the eye of the beholder is that we learn what’s beautiful by how it makes us feel – how it triggers the serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and other arousing pleasure bio-drivers in our body and brain. Scientists who know a lot about our brain’s draw to faces have long argued for the face-specificity hypothesis – that humans have specialized cognitive and neural mechanisms dedicated to the perception of faces. Most of their research has pointed, not unexpectedly, to the “fusiform face area (FFA).” I say not unexpectedly because this area was discovered to be the part of the brain damaged in people suffering from prosopagnosia or “face blindness.” Face blindness results in an inability to recognize the faces of people whom you’ve known for long periods of your life. You can even lose the ability to recognize your own face in a mirror if your FFA is sufficiently damaged.

One of the world’s leading fusiform face area researchers is MIT neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher. Her discovery of the properties of the FFA has come from placing herself in a fMRI brain scanner over and over again while she looked a thousands of pictures of faces alternated with pictures of things that weren’t faces. Only while observing faces does the FFA light up. As Nancy so eloquently points out, while we all have a fusiform face area, each of our areas is unique to us – different in size and place in the brain. Presumably a large FFA would seem to account for me and Pope Paul being such “face men.”

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Dr. Nancy Kanwisher

It’s Not You, It’s Your Mother’s Face

And if you’re the beautiful woman being constantly stared at? Until someone actually spends time with you and gets to know you, how can it be the least bit personal? It’s not. It’s neurobiological (Neurobiology probably also accounts in some small degree for why MySpace and Linked In have become massively overshadowed by … FaceBook, which began as a tool called “Course Match” used to study and learn about art works for an art history class, but then morphed into a tool used to study and learn about art works called … people. With faces. Additionally, faces turn out to be the single most common image found in Western art).

So, if you happen to be a person blessed with a so-called beautiful face, recognized that every upside comes with a downside to it – both are inevitably your cross to wear for the world to see. Learn to live skillfully with people’s draw to it.

A number of years ago I had an opportunity to visit a Waldorf Camp Hill facility for developmentally delayed people. The moment I walked onto the property I could feel my brain and body begin to relax into a kind of ancient remembered ease. As I looked around me the feeling evoked was “safety.” It arose first from members of the community paying exquisite attention to visitors’ needs. From the landscaping, to the way the buildings were designed and maintained, to the clean and simple way the people dressed – it all communicated one message: “This is a safe and protected place.”

A Place for Everything

When I visited the woodshop where the community crafted wooden building blocks for the nation’s elementary school children, I found myself absolutely astonished: every tool had a place, and every designated place for a tool had one in it! ded529ccad1125791961b5ef0913ac9a.jpgWhen I thought about my own home and my own workshop, it became clear to me that something was organizationally very different about my brain and the brains of the people living in this community. I was simply not ready or able to operate with this degree of attention and mindful awareness in my everyday life. This community was answering The Big Brain Question in nuanced ways that I didn’t even realize it was possible or important to do. If there’s one thing that stands out in memory in the welfare housing projects I grew up in, it’s that they weren’t beautiful. They were ugly: Morning Glory flowering vines dying from lack of water and care, broken doors and windows, graffiti everywhere, discarded whisky bottles and beer cans and fast food wrappers lining the sidewalks and streets.

Calm Before the Rush

The one thing you notice about unsafe, dangerous environments: they are often dirty, disorderly and ugly. Having sufficient money to meet our daily needs allows us to look beyond ourselves at the world around us. And then get busy doing our best to beautify it.

“There’s a certain Buddhist calm that comes from having money in the bank,” novelist Tom Robbins reminds us in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. That calm seems to be a first, fundamental requirement for being able to fully apprehend beauty and art. I think of it as a vulnerability of the brain, one that won’t allow us to even begin to notice the 10 intrinsic neural substrates that will draw us to people, places and things of beauty when we aren’t constantly flooded with stress hormones, especially money stressors.

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Could have used a little more bronze

Camp Hill was a beautiful, wealthy community. And beauty has great potential to massively stir the pleasure centers in the brain. It’s not an accident, I don’t think, that so many millionaires and billionaires become art collectors in later life – paying, for example, $141 million dollars for Giacometti’s bronze sculpture “L’Homme au Doigt” (“Pointing Man”).

Neuro-Parsing Beauty

In case you were wondering about those neural substrates, here’s U. C. San Diego neuroestheticist, V. S. Ramachandran’s list of them: “10 Principles of Artistic Experience.” I’m not going to go into a long explanation of each of them. Visit the link if you’re curious as to how they apply to artistic appreciation:

  • Peak shift
  • Perceptual Grouping and Binding
  • Contrast
  • Isolation
  • Perceptual problem solving
  • Symmetry
  • Abhorrence of coincidence
  • Repetition, rhythm and orderliness
  • Balance
  • Metaphor

Growing Beauty Brain

But the question is, if we currently have little interest or appreciation of beauty right now, can we really grow that capacity? And if so, how? This is mostly conjecture on my part, but somewhat informed.

If we assume that appreciation for beauty is learned, then it stands to reason that we will have to design and engage in activities that change our brain the way learning anything new works to change our brain. 85a9ec09893e78ac75bd67c88afe8b50.jpgIn this case, we will have to immerse ourselves in engaging with beauty of one sort or another. We may take up watercolor landscape painting that forces us to visit beautiful natural environments. We may be drawn to photography where we train our eyes to begin to see our everyday world through a series of captivating frames. It could be portrait painting where we sit and stare all day at unique and beautiful people of one sort or another. Or it could be something as practical as learning about nutrition and compelling meal presentations.

The basic premise is this: whatever we pay ongoing, immersive attention to, tends to increase and expand the neural network resources our brain devotes to those things we regularly attend to. It’s simply learning at the most fundamental cellular level. And learning seems to be one of the things this life is for. Why not learn to make life beautiful?

To help encourage such possibility, here’s an Enchanted Loom review of Leonard Shlain’s book, Leonardo’s Brain. In that book we discover a number of ways Leonardo’s brain is something the marvel of neuroplasticity allows us all to aspire to.

There’s a potential life-changing question at the end of this post.

There are any number of things my brain would be delighted to have me ask for if it was absolutely certain that the answer would be “Yes.” For example:

It would like me to ask my local truck dealer to pay me top dollar for a trade-in, discount a new, tricked out truck 50%, and give me a no-money-down, zero interest loan for 10 years. IMG_3517-x600.jpg

It would secretly smile if I would ask my neighbor to let me put my trash in her garbage can each week that she puts it out to the curb half-full.

It would sing with glee if I would ask our local veterinarian only to charge us for procedures that actually produce what we’re paying her to produce (puppies).

It would be surprised beyond belief if I would ask my wife to make our relationship be more about me than it already is. 😉

All right, let’s stop with those four. For now.

Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Adrenal Glands

So, why don’t I ask for these pretty simple, straight-forward things? Because getting a “No” in response would generate a stress hormone adrenal response that would feel worse than the mostly neutral feelings I carry around when I don’t ask for them. It’s this anticipatory aversion response for many of us that makes it hard to even think up things to ask for. It’s like my brain censors my Asking Potential before requests can even surface into consciousness. This is Rejection Sensitivity.

Rejection Sensitivity, it turns out, is a real thing. Smart people actually study it, and they’ve given it a clinical name: Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. Dysphoria means “difficult to bear.” Psychiatrist William Dodson claims it’s neurologic and genetic. If it’s genetic that means it’s also likely to be … epigenetic. Which means it’s capable of being positively or negatively influenced by the people, places and things around us. Which is also one of the primary reasons brains were built – to learn to creatively navigate the everyday world.

Building the Asking Mushkle

Jia Jiang, a Chinese immigrant was inspired to grow his Asking Mushkle by deliberately going out and intentionally seeking rejection (a mushkle is how a four year old – who’s learning to become rejection sensitive – says the word “muscle”). Jiang set himself a goal to be rejected 100 times in 100 days. Interestingly, it was a lot harder to accomplish than he expected. Not only did it force him to think up strange and delightful things to ask for – permission to sit in a police squad car and pretend to drive it; knocking on a stranger’s door and asking to play soccer in their back yard – but he also found himself getting way more “Yes’s” than he ever expected. By Rejection No. 100 Jiang discovered that when your nervous system becomes practiced at it, it becomes harder and harder for a “No” to fire your adrenal glands’ stress launch codes.

Amanda Palmer, in her TED Talk: The Art of Asking, has devoted much of her life and career to creatively navigating Rejection Sensitivity. She has made a large part of her work “Asking Practice.”

amanda-palmer-plays-an-intimate-outdoor-gig-02.jpg

Amanda Palmer

For her, it began by standing silently on a plastic milk crate in a bridal gown with a hat for people to put money into on the ground in front of her. This “silent ask” would predictably produce $60 on Monday and $90 on Friday. Asking without using words is a brilliant way to begin taking small steps in managing Rejection Sensitivity. From there, as her dysphoria became increasingly easier to bear through practice, her neural network connectivity grew together with her creativity. Along with it grew her feelings of trust, care and connection to other people to the point where she was able to ask for $100,000 on a crowdfunding platform. And the crowd responded joyfully and generously with … 1.2 million dollars!

Talk the Walk

So, how am I going to begin building my Asking Mushkle? Well, like Amanda Palmer, I’m going to start small, with a “silent ask.” Right here, right now: please think of two or three friends who could greatly benefit from studying and developing this practice: Contemplative Collaboration. Since this is a majority of the people on the planet, it shouldn’t be difficult. Will you buy them the collection? If you do, I’ll mail it to them today in your name.

Next question: what small steps are YOU going to take to build your Asking Mushkle? Whatever you creatively orchestrate for yourself, will you drop me a note and let me know?

Of course, some of you might take issue with what exactly I’m referring to when I use the term “brain.” Admittedly, it’s not a very big brain. In fact, if we go by comparison – the bigger the penis, the smaller the penile brain – since the brain in the penis is mainly composed of only two nerves (nerves are simply “wires” that are attached to cell bodies in your head brain through any number of “extension cords” [interneurons] that run down into your body). But hey, if a one millimeter worm can have a brain and a mind, why not a penis?

I’m not claiming Penis Brain is one of Einsteinian proportions. Einstein’s brain was roughly composed of 86 billion brain cells (neurons) with probably more than 100 trillion wires. And the two-wired brain in your penis probably works best in close collaboration with the brain in your head when it practices skillful Male Organ Management (MOM). (Interestingly, the brain in Einstein’s penis didn’t work at all well with the brain in his head: thinking thEinstein brain.jpgere was little chance he would ever win – he agreed to give his wife, Mileva any future Nobel Prize money if she would grant him a divorce. One of his brains desperately wanted to be able to legally keep putting his penis in his cousin Elsa [whom he would later marry]. Makes you wonder who the real brains of the outfit was, doesn’t it?).

Two, Two, Two Nerves in One

To check to see if the two nerves in your penis – the dorsal nerve and the cavernous nerve – truly constitute a brain, first check to be sure that you actually have a penis. Now pretend you’re 19 years old and find pictures of attractive naked men or women and imagine having sex with them and see what happens. Remember, in reality, it’s just you alone in a room while your brain, your pictures, your Kisspeptin Hormones and your penis contingently communicate with one another. Brain networks love feedback loops and care little how they come together or what they come together concerning.

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Ready to talk?

When you look at those naked pictures, messages from your brain cells travel along spinal cord nerves, then branch off and wind their way down to your penis. Chemicals called neurotransmitters are then released from the ends of the nerves in the penis. Physical stimulation of the penis of one sort or another can also cause penile nerve endings to release neurotransmitters.

Here’s MedScape describing how the brain in the penis gets busy doing its work in great detail. It can make for some very stimulating pillow talk:

Adrenergic nerve fibers and receptors are present in the cavernous trabeculae, and they surround the deep penile arteries. Noradrenaline is the major neurotransmitter controlling penile flaccidity and tumescence (erectilation). Sympathetic contraction is thought to be mediated by activation of postsynaptic alpha-adrenergic receptors and modulated by presynaptic alpha-adrenergic receptors. Acetylcholine is required for vascular smooth muscle relaxation, and cholinergic nerves have been demonstrated within the cavernosal smooth muscle and surrounding penile arteries.

Nitric oxide (NO) appears to be the principal neurotransmitter causing penile erection. Nonadrenergic, noncholinergic (NANC) neurons release NO. The release of NO increases the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which relaxes cavernosal smooth muscle. Other neurotransmitters, including vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), prostaglandins, and other peptides, may also be involved in the erectile process. With relaxation of the smooth muscles in the trabeculae and the arterial wall, the following events occur in sequence, which leads to an erection:

penis blood supply.gif

The dorsal & cavernous artery each has a nerve associated with it.

1. Arterial inflow increases as a result of dilation of the arterioles and arteries. The sinusoids within the corpora cavernosa distend with blood. Subtunical venular plexuses are compressed between the tunica albuginea and the distended sinusoids, leading to decreased venous blood outflow.

2. The tunica albuginea is stretched to its capacity, compressing emissary veins and thus further decreasing venous outflow; as a result, intracavernous pressure increases and is further increased by contraction of the ischiocavernous and bulbospongiosus muscles, resulting in full rigidity.

3. The neurotransmitters released in the penis cause another chemical to be made – cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). This chemical causes the arteries in the penis to widen (dilate). This allows extra blood to flood into the penis. The rapid inflow of blood causes the penis to swell into an erection. The swollen inner part of the penis also presses on the veins nearer to the skin surface of the penis. These veins normally drain the penis of blood. So, the flow of blood out of the penis is also restricted, which enhances the erection.

Once you stop having sex, the level of cGMP falls, the blood flow to the penis returns to normal, and the penis gradually returns to the flaccid state.

Was it good for you? I thought so. Here’s something else that might be good for you: an Enchanted Loom review of Daniel Amen’s book, The Brain in Love.

To say that I was surprised to learn that the woman who invited me to lunch for my birthday was a New York model in high demand throughout the fashion world would be an understatement. First of all, why would Siona want to have lunch with me? Secondly, what was up with those angry, nauseating rashes on her arms and neck running down the front of her chest?

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Not Siona, but close.

If that was surprising, imagine how astonished I was when three months later I found myself in the midst of a crazy-wild romantic relationship with her, sans rashes. Or how surprised I was to wake up from a lazy, post-coital nap one Saturday afternoon to sounds of loud, angry shouting down in the kitchen. Siona and her ex, Alan, were apparently in the midst of another heated disagreement. When I roused myself from bed, got dressed and headed for the hallway, I suddenly heard footsteps downstairs pounding across the hardwood floors. I got to the head of the stairwell just as Siona reached the top and dashed by me. Alan was not far behind.

As he made the turn in the stairwell, I moved to block his path. When he reached the top step I spontaneously held both my arms out as if to welcome him. I truly knew how it felt to have someone abandon a primary relationship with me that I desperately wanted to continue. And I would know it again.

With absolutely no hesitation at all Alan fell full into my embrace and immediately began sobbing uncontrollably. To say Alan was surprised by this emotional outpouring would do it no justice. Siona couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Neither could I. It certainly wasn’t part of any well-crafted plan. But shouldn’t I offer Alan at least the same compassion I have offered a rattlesnake?

Care Training

Pulitzer Prize winning writer Isabel Wilkerson, in a recent interview – The Heart is the Last Frontier – asks a very curious question: “After they have shot a citizen – effectively removing the threat lawbreakers represent – why don’t police immediately being offering compassionate care?” If they came upon a person lying in the street with a gunshot, wounded by someone else, they would immediately offer aid and call for help.

shooting (1).jpgThere are lots of neurobiological reasons I could offer for why that doesn’t happen, but here’s the thing – there’s little in our human potential to actually prevent it. But like most things in life that lead to successful change, we need knowledge, training and practice.

Here’s why this is such a critical issue. It’s something we rarely learn about our own unskillful, hurtful behavior: our brain is watching everything we do; and in its wiring there’s no separation between you and me. Your brain wiring and my brain wiring are much like the underground root systems of trees – in constant, ongoing communication. Policemen, soldiers, or any of us, don’t shoot people and have our brains and bodies escape without dire, compromising consequence, no matter how “justified” the act (assuming killing or hurting another living creature is ever justified).

Good Book Neuro-Wisdom

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” from Romans 12:19 is a truism that essentially speaks to this neurobiological reality. Whatever we do unto others gets recorded and stored in our own neural networks. If it’s unskillful or reactive behavior that our Vigilant Sentinel observes, it can later express itself as high levels of stress hormones, poor sleep, disorganized thinking, compromised immune function and physical illness. Leave the vengeance for God and a perpetrator’s own neurobiology to take care of.

Memoirist, Mary Karr elegantly articulates what happens when the Vigilant Sentinel watches us lying:

Lying carves a lonely gap between your disguise and who you really are. The practiced liar projects her own manipulative, double-dealing facade onto everyone she meets, which makes moving though the world a wary, anxious enterprise. It’s hard enough to see what’s going on without forcing yourself to see through the wool you’ve pulled over your own eyes. The Art of Memoir, pg 12

Home Is Where the Hurt Is

We need training and practice in recognizing that many ways hurtful and antisocial behavior shows up in our cities and towns have their roots originating in early Adverse Childhood Experiences. Alan didn’t show up angry in Siona’s kitchen completely free of all personal history. Early unfortunate experiences frequently affect brain development in angry, anti-social ways later down the road. But it’s difficult to connect the dots 25 years afterwards when you show up emotionally hijacked in an ex-lover’s kitchen. Cause and effect end up being too complex and too far removed.

Nevertheless, every public servant and policymaker the world over should be given a primer in developmental neuroscience and trauma-informed policies rooted in compassion. If they were, they might enact legislation that I believe could help right many early wrongs and the human race could make exponential leaps in development over the course of just a few generations. If for nothing else, then for the $300 million! we would NOT have to spend on abused children in just one American city every year.

Policies best for the children, are usually best for the human heart.