Twelve reasons your life isn’t as crap as you think it is.

Twelve reasons your life isn’t as crap as you think it is.

1: You paid the bills this month, and maybe even had extra to spend on non-necessities. It doesn’t matter how much you winced as the debit orders went off, the point is that they did, and you figured it out regardless

2: You question yourself. You doubt your life. You feel miserable some days. This means you’re still open to growth. This means you can be objective and self-aware. The best people go home at the end of the day and think: “or… maybe there’s another way.”

3: You have a job. For however many hours, at whatever rate, you are earning money that helps you eat something, sleep on something, wear something every day. It’s not failure if it doesn’t look the way you thought it would – you’re valuing your independence and taking responsibility for yourself.

4: You have time to do something you enjoy. Even if “what you enjoy” is sitting on the couch and ordering dinner and watching Game of Thrones.

5: You are not worried about where your next meal is coming from. There’s food in the fridge or pantry, and you have enough to actually pick and choose what you want to eat. You can eat because you enjoy it. It’s not a matter of sheer survival.

6: You have one or two truly close friends. People worry about the quantity but eventually tend to realize the number of people you can claim to be in your tribe has no bearing on how much you feel intimacy, acceptance, community, or joy. At the end of the day, all we really want are a few close people who know us (and love us) no matter what.

7: You could afford a cup of coffee, or the petrol in your car this morning. The smallest conveniences (and oftentimes, necessities) are not variables for you.

8: You’re not the same person you were a year ago. You’re learning, and evolving, and can identify the ways in which you’ve changed for better and worse.

9: You have the time and means to do things beyond the bare minimum. You’ve maybe been to a concert in the last few years, you buy books for yourself, you could take a day trip to a neighboring city if you wanted – you don’t have to work all hours of the day to stay alive.

10: You can sense what isn’t right in your life. The first and most crucial step is simply being aware. Being able to communicate to yourself: “something is not right, even though I am not yet sure what would feel better.”

11: You have a space of your own. It doesn’t even have to be a home or apartment (but that’s great if it is). All you need is a room, a corner, a desk, where you can create or rest at your discretion; where you govern who gets to be part of your own world.

12: If you could talk to your younger self, you would be able so say: “We did it, we made it out, we survived that terrible thing.”

So, come now, I’m not asking you to ‘think positive’ and “be grateful”, we all know life can be shit and often is. But as humans we have the most incredible capacity to shift our perspective and sometimes, it is the smallest recalibration to our thinking that can influence a whole sequence of events. It’s a bit like changing your reality by what you are thinking…hmmm, more on that later.

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The preferred treatment for Panic Disorders.

The preferred treatment for Panic Disorders.

A Large study has compared the effectiveness of different types of therapies for panic disorders.

A new study has found that Cognitive behavioural therapy is the best treatment for panic disorders.

In addition, most people prefer therapy to taking anti-anxiety medication.

Dr. Barbara Milrod, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, said:

“Panic disorder is really debilitating — it causes terrible healthcare costs and interference with functioning.

We conducted this first ever large panic disorder study to compare therapy types and see if one type of therapy is preferable over another.”

Panic disorders involve suffering from an extreme feeling of anxiety and fear, sometimes for no apparent reason.

Panic attacks can also be triggered by many things, including irrational fears such as phobias.

During panic attacks people can tremble, become sweaty, feel sick and may experience heart palpitations.

The study randomised around 200 people with panic disorders to various different commonly-used therapies.

Therapy lasted for around three months and involved one 45-minute session each week.

Across the two different sites where the therapies were tested, cognitive behavioural therapy was the most effective, and only one-quarter of people dropped out.

Professor Milrod said:

“If patients stick it out and continue with therapy rather than drop out, they have a far greater chance of seeing positive results or getting better.”

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (Mildrod et al., 2015).

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Mind Your Head- workshop

Mind Your Head- workshop

Mind Your Head is a 2 hour mindfulness based workshop on Saturday the 27th of June, from 3-5pm.
The workshop is a gentle introduction to mindfulness approaches that can be used in the management and treatment of mild anxiety and depression.
Mind Your Head is donation based, all proceeds will go the Homestead home for young boys at risk.

Please RSVP directly to Jamie Elkon on 0825500750.
The address is The Shala Yoga Studio, 15 Wandel Street, Gardens. Cape Town.

Jamie Elkon is a registered clinical psychologist, yoga and MIndfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher.
(No prior yoga or meditation experience is necessary to attend)

Jamie Elkon
Clinical Psychologist

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Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

Yoga for anxiety and depression

Harvard Mental Health Letter

Studies suggest that this practice modulates the stress response.

Since the 1970s, meditation and other stress-reduction techniques have been studied as possible treatments for depression and anxiety. One such practice, yoga, has received less attention in the medical literature, though it has become increasingly popular in recent decades. One national survey estimated, for example, that about 7.5% of U.S. adults had tried yoga at least once, and that nearly 4% practiced yoga in the previous year.

Yoga classes can vary from gentle and accommodating to strenuous and challenging; the choice of style tends to be based on physical ability and personal preference. Hatha yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced in the United States, combines three elements: physical poses, called asanas; controlled breathing practiced in conjunction with asanas; and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Many of the studies evaluating yoga’s therapeutic benefits have been small and poorly designed. However, a 2004 analysis found that, in recent decades, an increasing number have been randomized controlled trials — the most rigorous standard for proving efficacy.

Available reviews of a wide range of yoga practices suggest they can reduce the impact of exaggerated stress responses and may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends.

Taming the stress response

By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems. This, in turn, decreases physiological arousal — for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. There is also evidence that yoga practices help increase heart rate variability, an indicator of the body’s ability to respond to stress more flexibly.

A small but intriguing study further characterizes the effect of yoga on the stress response. In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah presented preliminary results from a study of varied participants’ responses to pain. They note that people who have a poorly regulated response to stress are also more sensitive to pain. Their subjects were 12 experienced yoga practitioners, 14 people with fibromyalgia (a condition many researchers consider a stress-related illness that is characterized by hypersensitivity to pain), and 16 healthy volunteers.

When the three groups were subjected to more or less painful thumbnail pressure, the participants with fibromyalgia — as expected — perceived pain at lower pressure levels compared with the other subjects. Functional MRIs showed they also had the greatest activity in areas of the brain associated with the pain response. In contrast, the yoga practitioners had the highest pain tolerance and lowest pain-related brain activity during the MRI. The study underscores the value of techniques, such as yoga, that can help a person regulate their stress and, therefore, pain responses.

Improved mood and functioning

Questions remain about exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques.

In a German study published in 2005, 24 women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Women in a control group maintained their normal activities and were asked not to begin an exercise or stress-reduction program during the study period.

Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. They were also one standard deviation above the population norm in scores for perceived stress (measured by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale), anxiety (measured using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and depression (scored with the Profile of Mood States and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, or CES-D).

At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Initial complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also resolved much more often in the yoga group than in the control group.

One uncontrolled, descriptive 2005 study examined the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included patients with bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue dropped significantly, as measured by the Profile of Mood States, a standard 65-item questionnaire that participants answered on their own before and after the class. Patients who chose to participate in additional classes experienced similar short-term positive effects.

Further controlled trials of yoga practice have demonstrated improvements in mood and quality of life for the elderly, people caring for patients with dementia, breast cancer survivors, and patients with epilepsy.

Benefits of controlled breathing

A type of controlled breathing with roots in traditional yoga shows promise in providing relief for depression. The program, called Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY), involves several types of cyclical breathing patterns, ranging from slow and calming to rapid and stimulating.

One study compared 30 minutes of SKY breathing, done six days a week, to bilateral electroconvulsive therapy and the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in 45 people hospitalized for depression. After four weeks of treatment, 93% of those receiving electroconvulsive therapy, 73% of those taking imipramine, and 67% of those using the breathing technique had achieved remission.

Another study examined the effects of SKY on depressive symptoms in 60 alcohol-dependent men. After a week of a standard detoxification program at a mental health center in Bangalore, India, participants were randomly assigned to two weeks of SKY or a standard alcoholism treatment control. After the full three weeks, scores on a standard depression inventory dropped 75% in the SKY group, as compared with 60% in the standard treatment group. Levels of two stress hormones, cortisol and corticotropin, also dropped in the SKY group, but not in the control group. The authors suggest that SKY might be a beneficial treatment for depression in the early stages of recovery from alcoholism.

Potential help for PTSD

Since evidence suggests that yoga can tone down maladaptive nervous system arousal, researchers are exploring whether or not yoga can be a helpful practice for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One randomized controlled study examined the effects of yoga and a breathing program in disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe PTSD. The veterans were heavy daily drinkers, and all were taking at least one antidepressant. The five-day course included breathing techniques (see above), yoga asanas, education about stress reduction, and guided meditation. Participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), which ranks symptom severity on an 80-point scale.

Six weeks after the study began, the yoga and breathing group had dropped their CAPS scores from averages of 57 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 42 (mild to moderate). These improvements persisted at a six-month follow-up. The control group, consisting of veterans on a waiting list, showed no improvement.

About 20% of war veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD, according to one estimate. Experts treating this population suggest that yoga can be a useful addition to the treatment program.

Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are offering a yogic method of deep relaxation to veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Kristie Gore, a psychologist at Walter Reed, says the military hopes that yoga-based treatments will be more acceptable to the soldiers and less stigmatizing than traditional psychotherapy. The center now uses yoga and yogic relaxation in post-deployment PTSD awareness courses, and plans to conduct a controlled trial of their effectiveness in the future.

Cautions and encouragement

Although many forms of yoga practice are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option.

But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.

Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part I — Neurophysiologic Model,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Feb. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 189–201.

Brown RP, et al. “Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II — Clinical Applications and Guidelines,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Aug. 2005): Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 711–17.

Janakiramaiah N, et al. “Antidepressant Efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in Melancholia: A Randomized Comparison with Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Imipramine,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Jan.–March 2000): Vol. 57, No. 1–3, pp. 255–59.

Khalsa SB. “Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention: A Bibliometric Analysis of Published Research Studies,” Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology (July 2004): Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 269–85.

Kirkwood G, et al. “Yoga for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of the Research,” British Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec. 2005): Vol. 39, No. 12, pp. 884–91.

Pilkington K, et al. “Yoga for Depression: The Research Evidence,” Journal of Affective Disorders (Dec. 2005): Vol. 89, No. 1–3, pp. 13–24.

Saper RB, et al. “Prevalence and Patterns of Adult Yoga Use in the United States: Results of a National Survey,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine (March–April 2004): Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 44–49.

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A peek inside my head at 3:30 am.

A peek inside my head at 3:30 am.

I’ve got 18% battery life and it’s 3:30am, let’s see if I can bang something out.

My three year old lies snoring next to me, she’s been restless tonight, I’m not sure how long I’ve slept, this week feels like one, very long day. My head has been full of turgid thoughts, clogging clarity, a slight anxious beaver runs through the periphery of my consciousness (in Afrikaans we’d say ‘bewer’- tremor- but I like the image of an anxious beaver).
I’m thirsty for an adventure that would slow the undercurrent of midlife ennui. I turned 44 on Monday, it’s an interesting age, I met a mate for a pint in the pub and realized that I don’t necessarily want to be sitting around necking beers in a rainy, traffic clogged city, chatting about how much our home loans are costing us in (dis) interest.

I watch once vital men writhe on my couch as they wrestle to rediscover the fire in their bellies and yet here I am, struggling with the same foe. I’ve heard weary, grey men, beaten senseless by the mediocrity they find themselves mired in, describe the taste of a cold, metallic gun barrel resting against their teeth as they try to find the ‘courage’ to tear themselves out of their numb lives. I’ve watched dull eyes flicker briefly with fiery life force as they describe past passions with a lovers remembrance. I spend a moment with them there, waiting to see if a gentle touch of the past can rekindle something resembling hope.

Sometimes, it feels as if many of us have lost our way, crucified by expectations and comparisons, we become disconnected from our essential essence , no longer stretching beyond our confining comforts, we become small and shrunken, nursing ourselves on series and pornography, wishing that we were something more, but not taking enough time to figure out what that could possibly look like, what it would feel like to have life rush through our veins again.

Come, dream with me a moment, close your eyes and remember the happiest moment of your life so far…were you on your own?
with a partner? were you witnessing the birth of your child?
Now…fast forward to your funeral, who will be there, who won’t? What squabbles will you drag to your grave? What measure of ‘success’ will you have wanted to achieve by the time your bones return to the earth? A bigger house? A fancy car? A better job? More money?
Or will it be the experiences and relationships you have engaged in and nurtured during this time that will have mattered?

And slowly, as I write these words, I begin to realize that the adventures I seek can also be found in the small hours of morning, with my daughter’s little body tucked into my side, watching her eyes flicker beneath closed lids as she dreams…her eyelashes are so long!

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The Organized Mind

The Organized Mind

Today’s selection — from The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin.

We live in a world with 300 exabytes (300 billion billion) of information, an amount that is rapidly expanding to ever greater amounts from this already brobdingnagian level. And yet the processing capacity of the conscious mind is a mere 120 bits per second. This presents a challenge to not only our processing capacity, but also our decision-making ability:

“Neuroscientists have discovered that unproductively and loss of drive can result from decision overload. Although most of us have no problem ranking the importance of decisions if asked to do so, our brains don’t automatically do this. … The mere situation of facing … many [small] decisions in daily life creates neural fatigue, leaving no energy for the important decisions. Recent research shows that people who were asked to make a series of meaningless decisions … showed poorer impulse control and lack of judgment about subsequent decisions. It’s as though our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions per day and once we reach that limit, we can’t make any more, regardless of how important they are. One of the most useful findings in recent neuroscience could be summed up as: The decision-making network in our brain doesn’t prioritize.

“Today, we are confronted with an unprecedented amount of information, and each of us generates more information than ever before in human history. … Information scientists have quantified all this: In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 — the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of 5 hours of television each day, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.

“Just trying to keep our own media and electronic files organized can be overwhelming. Each of us has the equivalent of over half a million books stored on our computers, not to mention all the information stored in our cell phones or in the magnetic stripe on the back of our credit cards. We have created a world with 300 exabytes (300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces) of human-made information. If each of those pieces of information were written on a 3 x 5 index card and then spread out side by side, just one person’s share — your share of this information — would cover every square inch of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.

“Our brains do have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost: We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired. Neurons are living cells with a metabolism; they need oxygen and glucose to survive and when they’ve been working hard, we experience fatigue. Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

“The processing capacity of the conscious mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second. That bandwidth, or window, is the speed limit for the traffic of information we can pay conscious attention to at any one time. While a great deal occurs below the threshold of our awareness, and this has an impact on how we feel and what our life is going to be like, in order for something to become encoded as part of your experience, you need to have paid conscious attention to it.

“What does this bandwidth restriction — this information speed limit mean in terms of our interactions with others? In order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second. With a processing limit of 120 bits per second, this means you can barely understand two people talking to you at the same time. Under most circumstances, you will not be able to understand three people talking at the same time. We’re surrounded on this planet by billions of other humans, but we can understand only two at a time at the most! It’s no wonder that the world is filled with so much misunderstanding. With such attentional restrictions, it’s clear why many of us feel overwhelmed by managing some of the most basic aspects of life.”

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Intersex, Fifty Shades of Grey

Intersex, Fifty Shades of Grey

Today’s selection — from Galileo’s Middle Finger by Alice Dreger.

Thousands of babies are born each year with dual or anomalous sexual characteristics. The standard practice for attending physicians has been to try to “fix” the problem. Alice Dreger argues that this generally does more harm than good and often results in permanent damage or diminished function:

“Human sex comes in two big themes — male and female — but nature seems to enjoy composing variations on those themes. Some sex variations occur at the level of sex chromosomes, some at the level of hormones, some at the level of hard-to-detect internal structures, and some at the level of anatomical parts you can see with the naked eye (assuming your eye isn’t the only thing that’s naked). If you call all of these variations intersex, you can then ask how common intersex is. That’s a question people love to ask. The problem is that to answer that question, one has to first decide how subtle a variation to count. How small should a penis be to count as intersex rather than male? How big a clitoris should count? How subtle a difference in hormone receptors? The truth is that human sex isn’t simple. Human sex is practically fractal.

“Nevertheless, wherever nature draws unclear boundaries, humans are happy to curate. And the specialist curators of sex tell us this: In America today, about one in two thousand babies is born with genitals so notably intersex that a specialist team is immediately called in. About one in three hundred babies has genitals unusual enough that the average pediatrician will give the parents a referral to a specialist. If you add up all of the dozens of kinds of sex anomalies — including incredibly subtle things you might never know you had without the benefit of a lot of fancy medical scans your insurance company probably doesn’t want to cover — the frequency of intersex in the human population comes to about one in a hundred. …

“[Starting] in the 1910s — biopsies [became] possible, and … suddenly doctors could conclusively diagnose working ovaries in men, working testes in women, and ovotestes in both — not a happy thing unless you’re a gender radical. So again doctors did what they had to do to preserve the two-sex social order. Although they still categorized a patient’s ‘true sex’ according to gonadal tissue, in practice they classified patients according to which gender was most believable. If an attractive housewife happened to have testicles, no one besides her doctor needed to know her diagnosis of male pseudohermaphroditsm. If a man really was menstruating, you just quietly took his ovaries out and hoped no one found out about his insides. Doctors continued to clean up nature’s little indiscretions and thus take care not only of individual bodies, but also the social body.

“Given the way intersex could always threaten a sexist two-gender society, this approach of ‘cleaning up’ nature’s sexual ‘mistakes’ persisted in American medicine. … Modern medicine now sought to reinforce the ‘optimum gender of rearing’ by early management of children born with sex anomalies by means of ‘sex-normalizing’ surgeries, hormone treatments, delicate euphemisms, and sometimes lies. …

“This was … the system that led to a lot of really angry intersex adults who discovered that they had been harmed by the medical care meant to ‘save’ them and who knew the same basic system was still being used on children who would likely grow up as hurt and angry as they were. In the early 1990s, a core group of these people formed [an] intersex rights movement. … Some of these intersex adults had been physically harmed — left with damaged sexual sensation, incontinence, or repetitive infections. Many had been psychologically harmed — left with a sense of having been too monstrous for their parents to accept as they came, of being sexually freakish, of being fountains of familial shame. All were left with a burning desire to try to save others from going through what they had. …

As late as 1995, medical students were being taught the following in the latest medical books, If a baby is born with a large clitoris, she might turn out to be a lesbian, so you have to cut down her clitoris. If a boy is born with hypospadias — wherein the opening of his urethra is not at the tip of the penis but on the underside or down near the scrotum — he will not be able to write his name in the snow next to other little boys, and then he might turn out gay. Therefore you have to do a ‘corrective’ surgery to make sure he can pee standing up. Mind you, this surgery failed so often that doctors had a special term for the men in whom it failed. They were called hypospadias cripples, because life is tough with a surgically scarred, infection-prone penis, but, the urologists insisted, you had to try to get that boy to pee standing up. Or else.”

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The Crossroads of Should and Must.

The Crossroads of Should and Must.

“Does what goes on inside show on the outside?,” young Vincent van Gogh despaired in a moving letter to his brother while floundering to find his purpose. “Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” A century later, Joseph Campbell stoked that hearth of the soul with his foundational treatise on finding your bliss. And yet every day, countless hearths and hearts grow ashen in cubicles around the world as we succumb to the all too human tendency toward choosing what we should be doing in order to make a living over what we must do in order to feel alive.

How to turn that invisible inner fire into fuel for soul-warming bliss is what artist and designer Elle Luna explores in her essay-turned-book The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion – an intelligent and rousing illustrated manifesto that picks up where Campbell left off.

Distinguishing between a job (“something typically done from 9 to 5 for pay”), a career (“a system of advancements and promotions over time where rewards are used to optimize behavior”), and a calling (“something that we feel compelled to do regardless of fame or fortune”), Luna recounts the pivotal moment in her own life when she was suddenly unable to discern which of these she had. As an early employee at a promising startup, she was working tirelessly on a product she deeply believed in, and yet felt disorientingly unfulfilled. She found herself before a revelatory crossroads: the crossroads between Should and Must.

Luna writes:

Should is how other people want us to live our lives. It’s all of the expectations that others layer upon us.

Sometimes, Shoulds are small, seemingly innocuous, and easily accommodated. “You should listen to that song,” for example. At other times, Shoulds are highly influential systems of thought that pressure and, at their most destructive, coerce us to live our lives differently.

Echoing Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous admonition – “When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity,” the longest-serving First Lady wrote in contemplating conformity and the secret of happiness, “[and] become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.” – Luna adds:

When we choose Should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.

She offers a counterpoint:

Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges and desires – unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own – and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.

And yet as simple as Luna’s elegant prose makes it sound, anyone who has lived through this crossroads – she has; I have – will attest that it is anything but easy; the road is strewn with difficult choices. Luna considers the osmotic relationship between Should and Must, even as we turn away from one and toward the other:

If you want to know Must, get to know Should. This is hard work. Really hard work. We unconsciously imprison ourselves to avoid our most primal fears. We choose Should because choosing Must is terrifying, incomprehensible. Our prison is constructed from a lifetime of Shoulds, the world of choices we’ve unwittingly agreed to, the walls that alienate us from our truest, most authentic selves. Should is the doorkeeper to Must. And just as you create your prison, you can set yourself free.

One of the most common ways in which we imprison ourselves is by comparing ourselves to others and, upon finding our situation inferior, placing blame – on circumstances that we feel are unfair, on the people we believe are responsible for those circumstances, or on some abstract element of fate we think is at play. The self-defeating catch is that we often end up judging our circumstances against others’ outcomes, forgetting that hard work and hard choices are the transmuting agent between circumstance and outcome.

Joseph Brodsky captured this with piercing precision in the greatest commencement address of all time, cautioning: “A pointed finger is a victim’s logo… No matter how abominable your condition may be, try not to blame anything or anybody: history, the state, superiors, race, parents, the phase of the moon, childhood, toilet training, etc. The menu is vast and tedious, and this vastness and tedium alone should be offensive enough to set one’s intelligence against choosing from it. The moment that you place blame somewhere, you undermine your resolve to change anything.”

Luna touches on this perilous tendency as she considers the origin of Should:

How often do we place blame on the person, job, or situation when the real problem, the real pain, is within us? And we leave and walk away, angry, frustrated, and sad, unconsciously carrying the same Shoulds into a new context – the next relationship, the next job, the next friendship – hoping for different results.

Must is fantastic, and Must is just on the other side of Should. Should is this world of expectations – it’s like a camouflaged force. That’s one of the tricky things about Should – it can kind of creep in there when you’re not looking. It’s easier – it’s this invisible force moving against us [and] it often comes very early on in life. It can come from the time into which we’re born, the society or the community into which we’re born, the body into which we’re born… It can be a lot of different things that happen early in life [which] really take on that trajectory … and have us often running a different race than the one we were intended to run.

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The Journey

The Journey

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations, though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
but little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do,
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver, Dream Work

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The Prefrontal Cortex

The Prefrontal Cortex

Today’s selection is from Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin.

The prefrontal cortex is the all-important part of the brain that handles reasoning and implies control, in counterbalance to the emotions and impulses generated in other parts of the brain. It is not fully developed in humans until after the age of twenty:

“We have a more highly developed prefrontal cortex than any other species. It’s the seat of many behaviors that we consider distinctly human: logic, analysis, problem solving, exercising good judgment, planning for the future, and decision-making. It is for these reasons that it is often called the central executive, or CEO of the brain. Extensive two-way connections between the prefrontal cortex and virtually every other region of the brain place it in a unique position to schedule, monitor, manage, and manipulate nearly every activity we undertake. Like real CEOs, these cerebral CEOs are highly paid in metabolic currency. Understanding how they work (and exactly how they get paid) can help us to use their time more effectively.

“It’s natural to think that because the prefrontal cortex is orchestrating all this activity and thought, it must have massive neural tracts for back-and-forth communication with other brain regions so that it can excite them and bring them on line. In fact, most of the prefrontal cortex’s connections to other brain regions are not excitatory; they’re the opposite: inhibitory. That’s because one of the great achievements of the human prefrontal cortex is that it provides us with impulse control and, consequently, the ability to delay gratification, something that most animals lack. Try dangling a string in front of a cat or throwing a ball in front of a retriever and see if they can sit still. Because the prefrontal cortex doesn’t fully develop in humans until after age twenty, impulse control isn’t fully developed in adolescents (as many parents of teenagers have observed). It’s also why children and adolescents are not especially good at planning or delaying gratification.

“When the prefrontal cortex becomes damaged (such as from disease, injury, or a tumor), it leads to a specific medical condition called dysexecutive syndrome.

“The condition is recognized by the kinds of planning and time coordination deficits that Ruth the homemaker, Ernie the accountant, and Peter the architect suffered from. It is also often accompanied by an utter lack of inhibition across a range of behaviors, particularly in social settings. Patients may blurt out inappropriate remarks, or go on binges of gambling, drinking, or sex with inappropriate partners. And they tend to act on what is right in front of them. If they see someone moving, they have difficulty inhibiting the urge to imitate them; if they see an object, they pick it up and use it.

“What does all this have to do with organizing time? If your inhibitions are reduced, and you tend to do things not that you might regret later, or that make it difficult to properly complete projects you’re working on. Binge-watch an entire season of Mad Men instead of working on the Pensky file? Eat a donut (or two) instead of sticking to your diet? That’s your prefrontal cortex not doing its job. In addition, damage to the prefrontal cortex causes an inability to effectively go forward or backward in time in one’s mind remember Peter the architect’s description of starting over and over and not being able to move forward. Dysexecutive syndrome patients often get stuck in the present, doing something over and over again, perseverating, revealing a failure in temporal control. They can be terrible at organizing their calendars and To Do lists due to a double whammy of neural deficits. First, they’re unable to place events in the correct temporal order. A patient with severe damage might attempt to bake the cake before having added all the ingredients. And many frontal lobe patients are not aware of their deficit; a loss of insight is associated with these frontal lobe lesions, such that patients generally underestimate their impairment. Having an impairment is bad enough, but if you don’t know you have it, you’re liable to go headlong into situations without taking proper precautions, and end up in trouble.

“As if that weren’t enough, advanced prefrontal cortex damage interferes with the ability to make connections and associations between disparate thoughts and concepts, resulting in a loss of creativity. The prefrontal cortex is especially important for generating creative acts in art and music. This is the region of the brain that is most active when creative artists are functioning at their peak.

“If you’re interested in seeing what it’s like to have prefrontal cortex damage, there’s a simple, reversible way: Get drunk. Alcohol interferes with the ability of prefrontal cortex neurons to communicate with one another, by disrupting dopamine receptors and blocking a particular kind of neuron called an NMDA receptor, mimicking the damage we see in frontal lobe patients. Heavy drinkers also experience the frontal lobe system double whammy: They may lose certain capabilities, such as impulse control or motor coordination or the ability to drive safely, but they aren’t aware that they’ve lost them — or simply don’t care — so they forge ahead anyway.”

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Author: Daniel J. Levitin
Publisher: Penguin Group
Copyright 2014 by Daniel J. Levin

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