A brief glimpse…

A brief glimpse…

In yoga this morning, a brief space opened up between thoughts. It felt like a sweet droplet of ambrosia on the tongue of a thirsty man. This has been a busy year and as it draws to an end, clients are crawling onto the couch ‘thin’, exhausted and overwhelmed. The specter of family, or lack thereof often haunts thinking at this time of year, the mind begins to automatically audit and take stock of our individual journey’s. As I was on my mat this morning, holding one excruciating pose after another, before the gap opened, I was thinking about the long list of duties and responsibilities I have managed to accumulate this year. Slowly a realization dawned about the parallels between what was happening on my mat and in my life. My mind (dressed as a nagging aunt, curlers, fag hanging out of her mouth) had begun to complain, to feel sorry for itself, ” I’ve got to do this…and that…blah blah”, on and on it droned until another trusted part emerged on the scene, strong, patient, calm, it said “Jamie…stop being such a pussy- stop moaning and focus on this pose, in this moment, find the balance between your exertion and letting go of the drama it brings up in your mind, find the beautiful fulcrum, the still point where your chattering mind can soften, beneath the furious motion of mind, into the depths beneath”… And for a brief moment… I glimpsed that space, I felt it enter and soothe the bones of my heart and mind.
It is rare, something akin to seeing a beautifully, elusive, rare bird.
If I could give you all something for this festive season, it would be an encounter with that species of inner quiet. So amidst all the tumult that we generate, sit quietly somewhere and seek it out. It’s your ally in all this madness we call life.

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Learning to Ride the Stallion
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Learning to Ride the Stallion

The thing about those we love, is that at times, they can really piss us off. I’m not sure whether Mercury is in retrograde yet again, but my ability to communicate appears to have curdled somewhat. I feel misunderstood, my irritability is high and my tolerance low.

I’ve been here at different times in my life. This week though, was unique because it actually felt as if I was having two distinct experiences: one, the experience of the Jamie who has spent the last thirteen years tuning my empathy and sensitivity as a therapist, father and partner and developing tools to remain centered in a place of self-love and innate goodness; and the second from the perspective of my ego, which is, apparently, still most comfortable dealing with these situations much the way I did when I was five — like a little boy who takes his toys and storms out of the sandbox when he doesn’t get his way. What resulted was an internal sensation that felt a bit like having my large intestine pulled apart in a giant tug of war.

The Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chödrön has a quote about moments like these. It goes like this: Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves,

“Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?”

My ego, as egos are programmed to do, chose to answer that question with a resounding cry of WAR! The experience was really no different from the many times I’ve confronted similar experiences, which I’m sure is similar to the way your ego reacts too. I took one look at what had occurred between me and my partner and decided right then and there … on the spot … that it was insulting, disrespectful, and tantamount to a slap in the face. I stepped up on my soap box, pulled out my mental resume, and began to recite all of my exceptional emotional qualities of my nothing less than illustrious life that justified the deep indignation I was feeling. Before long my ego, like Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart, had mounted its high horse and, with blue war paint smeared all over its face, prepared to ride off to do battle with someone I love.

The other voice — the one that sounds a bit more like Ani, the one I begin to listen to as my old way of coping with conflict lies dying in my arms, the voice that’s been honed by the compassion of my teachers, clients, children and partners, the one I’ve grown to trust through hours and hours of silent meditation, the one that always chooses peace — that voice leaned into my ego, gave it a knowing wink and a patient “I know … I know … shhh … it’s all going be okay …” The voice then took my ego, Mel Gibson, and me to the meditation cushion to, as Guru Singh likes to say, ” bolt your butt to the cushion and ride the stallion” — not to battle, but to peace.

There’s a tendency to believe (or perhaps hope) that meditation and yoga turn us into floating saints that never have bull-in-china-shop moments. But it’s not true, at least not in my experience. The truth, I’ve discovered, is a much more vulnerable and honest reality: that is, that we are all human. Inside we are all facing the same fears and insecurities. We all want to be loved, and valued … and we want to feel safe. When someone in the course of a negotiation — or during one of the many normal, everyday interactions we have with others — says or does something that threatens our sense of well-being, our egos pop out to defend us. This is a normal and natural response. In spiritual study and practice we aren’t learning how to turn off our emotions: that’s not real. Instead we’re learning the skills to be okay while we feel them. Meditation and yoga aren’t some magic potion that we take to make every situation perfect, they’re tools that help us to feel okay amidst the difficult situations that come up in life. We’re not learning how to eliminate the ego, just to keep it from destroying all the expensive china when it shows up. That’s why it’s riding the stallion. Because any true sense of well-being must be inclusive of all of life’s experiences, every thought, fear, insecurity, hope, and dream. The practice is to be okay with it all. We are learning to embrace life by riding the stallion, by feeling it all, and in the process we develop the skills of peace and calm so we can have them at our disposal when challenging situations arise.

For much of my life I lacked the skills to achieve what I said I wanted. I talked about ideals like fulfillment, happiness, peace, and love but I rarely practiced them. Instead my days were spent working hard, feeling exhausted and (often) wishing I was somewhere I wasn’t. Those activities became my habits … my routine, my practice, and I developed tools to support them. Soon it was all I knew how to do. When something arrived in life that required a little patience, serenity, or presence, I would turn to my toolbox but all I could find were tools of struggle, fighting, and wishing it wasn’t so. This is true for most of us: lacking the proper tools, we often make things worse for ourselves and others.

That day, as I sat on the meditation cushion listening to the two voices of my indignant ego and my compassionate heart, I experienced something different. I opened my toolbox and looked inside to see what might help. I began with a series of deep, controlled breaths to calm the sensations of fight or flight I was experiencing and open the door for a third option — patience. When the physical sensations had calmed a bit, I grabbed a new tool and began a loving-kindness meditation. First for myself:

May I be loved, may I be safe, may I be understood.

After a few minutes of self-soothing words, I shared the same desire with the person I had been fighting with: may they be loved, may they be safe, may they be understood. Before long the lines between us began to blur. As I experienced more balance and calm, I released my thoughts and just sat there quietly. With the stallion safely resting, my heart opened and I felt a sense of deep well-being. I breathed and allowed myself to experience the innate peace and inner joy that is our birthright.

This week I invite you to open some doors in your life by opening your heart to the voice beyond your ego. Have compassion for your ego while taking the time to listen to the message of your heart. Discover the beauty of connecting around the human desires for love, safety, and comprehension in yourself and in those you encounter in work and life. Explore your toolbox, see what’s in there, be grateful for what you’ve developed, and begin a practice of developing the tools you find are lacking. View the many moments of your day as an invitation to practice choosing:
peace over war,
love over fear,
and understanding over delusion.

May you be loved, may you be safe, may you be understood.

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Meditation and Science are becoming firm friends
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Meditation and Science are becoming firm friends

Brain imaging shows that when we master a task such as playing an instrument or the advanced performance in a sport, specific parts of the brain are transformed — certain neural pathways grow and strengthen. Neuroscientists have now shown that the same is true for mastery of meditation with direct benefits for improving focus, overcoming depression, dealing with pain and cultivating emotional well-being:

“A comparison of the brain scans of meditators with tens of thousands of hours of practice with those of neophytes and nonmeditators has started to explain why this set of techniques for training the mind holds great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional benefits. …

“The discovery of meditation’s benefits coincides with recent neuroscientific findings showing that the adult brain can still be deeply transformed through experience. These studies show that when we learn how to juggle or play a musical instrument, the brain undergoes changes through a process called neuroplasticity. A brain region that controls the movement of a violinist’s fingers becomes progressively larger with mastery of the instrument. A similar process appears to happen when we meditate. Nothing changes in the surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states to achieve a form of inner enrichment, an experience that affects brain functioning and its physical structure. The evidence amassed from this research has begun to show that meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body. …

“Neuroscientists have now begun to probe what happens inside the brain during the various types of meditation. Wendy Hasenkamp, then at Emory University, and her colleagues used brain imaging to identify the neural networks activated by focused- attention meditation. … Advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the ‘flow’ of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control. …

“In our Wisconsin lab, we have studied experienced practitioners while they performed an advanced form of mindfulness meditation called open presence. In open presence, sometimes called pure awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in particular yet vividly clear, free from excitation or dullness. The meditator observes and is open to experience without making any attempt to interpret, change, reject or ignore painful sensation. We found that the intensity of the pain was not reduced in meditators, but it bothered them less than it did members of a control group. Compared with novices, expert meditators’ brain activity diminished in anxiety-related regions — the insular cortex and the amygdala — in the period preceding the painful stimulus. The meditators’ brain response in pain-related regions became accustomed to the stimulus more quickly than that of novices after repeated exposures to it. Other tests in our lab have shown that meditation training increases one’s ability to better control and buffer basic physiological responses — inflammation or levels of a stress hormone — to a socially stressful task such as giving a public speech or doing mental arithmetic in front of a harsh jury.

“Several studies have documented the benefits of mindfulness on symptoms of anxiety and depression and its ability to improve sleep patterns. By deliberately monitoring and observing their thoughts and emotions when they feel sad or worried, depressed patients can use meditation to manage negative thoughts and feelings as they arise spontaneously and so lessen rumination. Clinical psychologists John Teasdale, then at the University of Cambridge, and Zindel Segal of the University of Toronto showed in 2000 that for patients who had previously suffered at least three episodes of depression, six months of mindfulness practice, along with cognitive therapy, reduced the risk of relapse by nearly 40 percent in the year following the onset of a severe depression. More recently, Segal demonstrated that the intervention is superior to a placebo and has a protective effect against relapse comparable to standard maintenance antidepressant therapy. …

“About 15 years of research have done more than show that meditation produces significant changes in both the function and structure of the brains of experienced practitioners. These studies are now starting to demonstrate that contemplative practices may have a substantive impact on biological processes critical for physical health.”

From: “Mind of the Meditator”
Author: Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz and Richard J. Davidson

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Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason- Tim Lawrence
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Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason- Tim Lawrence

By Tim Lawrence

I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.

I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.

He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.

And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:

Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.

That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.

It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain in my free newsletter. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.

While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.

Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.

In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.

I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.

Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.

Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.

This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.

In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.

No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.

The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amidst loss is grieving.

So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.

If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.

If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.

Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.

You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.

I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.

I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.

The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.

In that nothingness, they did everything.

I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.

Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.

Are there ways to find “healing” amidst devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.

The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.

Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.

Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.

What to Offer Instead

When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.

Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:

I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.

There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.

Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.

Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.

Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.

You are more needed than you will ever know.

And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.

Everyone else can go.

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Life Architecture- How to Build a Life.

Life Architecture- How to Build a Life.

Sometimes I get a bit lost. Days bleed into each other, energy is scarce, I forget what is really important for my growth, caught up in responsibilities and admin. And then, along comes this little fragment of consciousness, dressed up like a leprechaun, with a cheeky, wise glint in his eye and he says (in a caricatured Irish accent) ” Jimmy my lad, what the fewk are ya up to?! What are you tryin’ to do with this precious life of yours? It’s then that I stop and do an ‘audit’ of my life.
One of the great teachers I have found when doing a ‘life audit’ is James Hollis…he has the extraordinary ability to make the work of Carl Jung meaningfully applicable to everyday life -and this genius is apparent in Creating a Life: Finding your Individual Path.

The book takes you on a journey into living an examined life, a journey towards consciousness. But Hollis warns this journey will not solve all your problems or heal your pain, it will simply make your life more interesting to you. And who doesn’t want to feel that they are really living; that life is an exciting, meaningful journey as opposed to a boring sequence of mishaps and misadventures?

The book is divided into three parts and has twenty-eight short chapters.
Part one of the book, has six chapters which take you on a journey of self discovery, providing a new frame of reference through which to look at your personal history, understand your life choices, examine your core complexes, uncover your wounding. The chapters move through the necessity of finding a personal myth, understanding your core complexes, the necessary fictions that make up your life and the problem of spiritual authority. And in each chapter, Hollis gently guides the journey by providing literary examples and insightful, thought provoking questions:
What is urgent in our lives?
What owns us?
What do we seek to transcend?
What myth are we living?
Are we living out our parent’s unlived lives, compensating for their fears?
Are we in thrall to the values of the herd, which may offend the soul but keeps one complaint company?
What kind of play has our life been, in service too what, or to whom?
Do we like what we see, if we look honestly, and whose fault is it then?

By taking your time and savouring what Hollis has to offer, you arrive at the end of the first part of the book with a new consciousness, an awareness of how your wounding is living in the world, a sense of where you are stuck.

Part two of the book is divided into twenty chapters which explore the attitudes and practices necessary for the second half of life. These chapters begin with Jung’s concept of individuation and the necessity of loving one’s fate.
The recognition that it is here, in this time, in this place that you are called to live your life, not the life envisioned by your ego or your parents or by societal expectations but your life!

Jung asserted that the greatest burden a child must carry is the unlived lives of their parents and in the following chapter Redeeming Ancestors, Hollis explores four ways in which you can heal the family history that is operating autonomously in you.

Crisis come at critical points in a life and Hollis includes a chapter on crises and their meaning in your life, which inevitably leads to the need for mentors, teachers, gurus and sages who can provide you with all the answers. But Hollis asserts, nobody can find your path but you, nobody knows more about your history, your struggles, your challenges than you. In this chapter Hollis explores Jung’s concept of the Self, the carrier of your soul and your very own inner guru and it is through connection with the Self that you can find meaning, purpose and a general sense of the rightness of your life. Hollis description of the Self fires the imaginations and creates a longing for this connection.

The following chapters explore the necessity of accepting your failings and limitations, the necessary mess of things, leaving ambition behind and the necessity of getting over your wounds by attending to your soul.

In the chapter on The Complexity of Relationships, Hollis illustrates how relationships provide mirrors through which you encounter yourself, your patterns. your wounding. It is through encounters with others that you meet your core perceptions. Perceptions formed in childhood about how valuable you are, how trustworthy other people are and how the world will meet you. And it is through this meeting with the other, this forced confrontation with yourself, that growth occurs.

Part three of the book is concludes with two chapters, which explore the necessity of feeling grateful for the journey of life and importance of images, of the imagination in creating your life.
For anyone seeking greater consciousness, for anyone wanting to live an examined life, this book provides a rich resource of reflections, a guiding compass with which to navigate the journey of life. Through the many poems and excerpts from the works of many modern writers, including John Fowles, Rilke, D.H. Lawrence, Thoreau, Pascal and Kierkegaard you get a feeling that your journey is undertaken in good company and you are not alone.

I find myself returning to this book time and time again and with each reading I find myself excited, interested in my journey, in the life I am creating. I discover new trails I want to explore. I discover new ways of getting myself unstuck and moving forward. I find myself creating my life, finding my individual path.
If however, you are looking for a how to manual or a set of guidelines to help you create a life or find your individual path, this book will leave you unfulfilled. It is not a new age cure all. Hollis ask more questions than he answers and the questions he does ask need a lifetime of deep reflection to answer. And yet, if your journey is to be truly individual, you must find your own path, you must create your own life.

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In Praise of Imperfections.

In Praise of Imperfections.

No longer do I fantasize about bikini clad, airbrushed women with shiny hair and gleaming teeth…
Give me a woman with honest hips and an open heart.

Gone are the days of envying rich men with expensive colognes and practiced smiles,
Too often I see beneath their Emporer’s clothes to the aching depths beneath.

No longer do I pimp and preen like a young cock of yore,
Now rather, I prefer to peer with loving curiousity at the cracks we all try to conceal.

I smile as I stand in the shopping queue, reading the covers of glossy magazines that promise multiple orgasms and eternal youth, we buy their lies in a vain attempt to nurse our inadequacies, creating chronic disappointment with our unique reflections.

As I grow up, I begin to understand and welcome that I am more flawed and human than I ever imagined,
I am more than the size of my penis, or how much money I have, or the make of the car I drive.

I am becoming more comfortable with my skinny calves and my slightly skew teeth, more accepting of not being the smartest, nor the most witty at a party.

I can handle rejection and heartbreak with more wisdom, although it still hurts,
I can mourn my losses with more courage and begin to own my shit, but I don’t have to like it. I’ll practise letting go of guilt
And forgiving myself…and others.

I am no longer addicted to comfort or to my own importance, I can handle the fact that I’ll never be a rock star, or painfully hip.

I’ll slurp my soup and risk a little fart while no one’s around.

My dance moves are still lame, but I kinda like them, they remind me of a time where I didn’t take it all too seriously and my biggest concern was whether the girl wearing the red blouse would think I was cool.

Now I am more interested in weaving words on a page, or in learning the names of trees and how to cook, than in trying to impress an other with someone who is not my imperfect self.

We are who we are, for better or worse and more often than not, that’s more than enough.

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Brain Candy
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Brain Candy

Today’s selection — from The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin. The human brain consumes more energy than any other part of the body…

“The entire brain weighs three pounds (1.4 kg) and so is only a small percentage of an adult’s total body weight, typically 2%. But it consumes 20% of all the energy the body uses. Why? The perhaps oversimplified answer is that time is energy.

“Neural communication is very rapid — it has to be — reaching speeds of over 300 miles per hour and with neurons communicating with one another hundreds of times per second. The voltage output of a single resting neuron is 70 millivolts, about the same as the line output of an iPod. If you could hook up a neuron to a pair of earbuds, you could actually hear its rhythmic output as a series of clicks. …

“Neurochemicals that control communication between neurons are manufactured in the brain itself. These include some relatively well-known ones such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and epinephrine, as well as acetylcholine, GABA, glutamate, and endocannabinoids. Chemicals are released in very specific locations and they act on specific synapses to change the flow of information in the brain. Manufacturing these chemicals, and dispersing them to regulate and modulate brain activity, requires energy — neurons are living cells with a metabolism, and they get that energy from glucose. No other tissue in the body relies solely on glucose for energy except the testes. (This is why men occasionally experience a battle for resources between their brains and their glands.)

“A number of studies have shown that eating or drinking glucose improves performance on mentally demanding tasks. For example, experimental participants are given a difficult problem to solve, and half of them are given a sugary treat and half of them are not. The ones who get the sugary treat perform better and more quickly because they are supplying the body with glucose that goes right to the brain to help feed the neural circuits that are doing the problem solving. This doesn’t mean you should rush out and buy armloads of candy — for one thing, the brain can draw on vast reserves of glucose already held in the body when it needs them. For another, chronic ingestion of sugars — these experiments looked only at short-term ingestion — can damage other systems and lead to diabetes and sugar crash, the sudden exhaustion that many people feel later when the sugar high wears off.

“But regardless of where it comes from, the brain burns glucose, as a car burns gasoline, to fuel mental operations. Just how much energy does the brain use? In an hour of relaxing or daydreaming, it uses eleven calories or fifteen watts — about the same as one of those new energy-efficient light-bulbs. Using the central executive for reading for an hour takes about forty-two calories. Sitting in class, by comparison, takes sixty-five calories — not from fidgeting in your seat (that’s not factored in) but from the additional mental energy of absorbing new information. Most brain energy is used in synaptic transmission, that is, in connecting neurons to one another and, in turn, connecting thoughts and ideas to one another.”

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

Author: Daniel J. Levitin
Publisher: Dutton a division of Penguin Group
Copyright 2014 by Daniel J. Levitin

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I’ve never really been invested in generating personal wealth, possibly because I’ve always been more interested in building and exploring experiences, adventures that put me in unfamiliar situations. I have been hungering for adventure since doing the Camino last year.
Each time I remove myself from routine, I learn. Journeys often teach us what we already know deep inside, but tend to forget through the hypnotic pulse of familiarity.

As soon as I finished work I began to explore the mechanics of disburdenment.
It’s hard to make ashes of the mind and to still the body.

How foolish the preparation for travelling to Indonesia now seems… we pored over maps, charted our route, geared up… camera, backpacks, hats, ibuprofen- forgetting the meaning of simply going.

The first couple of days are an assault to the known- the shape of faces, enticing aromas, indecipherable language, silver light dancing between alien plants, all so different, my senses are slapped awake.

Time slows, I observe everything with a child’s wonder.

Circulation begins to return to the numbed parts of my mind.

When we reach a tiny, palm drenched island off Lombok, I am forced to run an internal diagnostic. Renting my mind out, hour after hour, month after month, without a nourishing solid rest has bruised my mind. Many clients carry sharp objects that need to be handled with care in order to avoid needle-stick injuries.
Sometimes I get pricked.

Here, with room to roam, I feel the shape of my ferocious spirit stir again.

I have come here to sniff out “shizen”- the Japanese word for a spontaneous, self-renewing, inherently sacred connection to the natural world of which humans are an inextricable part. I want to see how and where holiness reveals itself, to search for those ” thin spots” on the ground where divinity rises as if spirituality were a function of the landscape itself.
In Bali, temples are scattered around like litter, bathing locals in a soft glow of faith. This faith insulates and illuminates them, standing next to its warmth, I feel strangely empty, hungry for a connection to the Divine.

I begin to understand how spiritually emaciated we have become in the West.

I befriend a Balinese man with a deep, serene smile. We roam for hours, sharing the rings of being alive, seasons of famine and fortune. I ask him a multitude of questions about his faith and culture, so happy to finally connect with a local who is willing to take the time to offer me more than what’s on a tourist brochure.

I ask, ” do many Balinese suffer from depression?”

He answers ” what’s that? Depression?”

“You know…when people become low…sad, when they can’t cope with the world”

“Why would they want to feel like that?” He asks confused…he explains,
“In Bali…even a poor family who has one plate of rice to share between them are grateful and offer thanks, even if they do not know where their next meal will come from. If they have nothing they will not starve, or if they have nowhere to put their heads, because their neighbors will look after them. We look after each other, you people in the West are always focussing on yourselves…me, me, me. It makes you sick.”

The simple, humble truth of what he was saying, the deep gratitude these people feel and the thanks they offer to the divine struck me to my core.
I have been exposed to enough facile self help literature to know about the benefits of ‘gratitude journals’ and ‘counting one’s blessings”, but the way he spoke about gratitude, as if it were a living, breathing entity made me feel as if I’d stumbled upon a universal truth for the first time.

He went on, ” in Bali we have a sacred trinity,
mans’ relationship with his (or her) God,
mans’ relationship with other people and
mans’ relationship with the environment.”

I mused about this for a while, is it possible that the multi-billion personal development industry (of which I am an integral part), promotes relentless ‘navel-gazing’ and ego augmentation at the cost of engendering a much deeper connection to spirituality, to other people and to our natural environment?
Is this relentless pursuit of individualism above all else, not a contributing factor to our growing isolation from each other, to our relentless plundering of the environment to serve our needs and to a burgeoning narcissism fueled by the ‘Cult of the Self?’

I’ve returned home pensive, replenished and with a fervent desire to expand the way I work with and serve others. I must admit though, I have a bad case of the ‘Bali Blues’, it feels as if I caught a glimpse of what it could be like to live in harmony with all other beings on this planet, a more enlightened world view which made so much sense to me. I miss it, but I won’t forget.

Now, anyone got any ideas about how to cope with this bloody jet-lag?

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Creating Joy

Donna Rockwell

I want to feel joy for joy’s sake
Not wanting to earn it
Or reach it
Or arrive finally at its door
After working
And seeking
After years of wracking pursuit, falling at the threshold
Begging for mercy and entry and somewhere to rest and sleep in peace.
I want to awaken there
Dancing on the head of that pin
Smiling in my sleep
And rising to a peppy dawn
I want to jump up in inspiration for the new day
I want to take pen to paper
And explode upon the page,
my existence on this planet
At this time, at this place, in this body, with this mind, and countenance, and spirit and soul
With these eyeballs, and ears, and fingers, and taste buds, and ability to experience aromas, exotic and sublime, miraculously breathing in and out, and in and out again.
I want my moments of being alive to be a celebration of the moments I get to be alive
Love the people I get to love
Feel the love of those whose energy, flow, willingness for interbeing, makes me somehow feel loved, too.
I want to bathe in child-like wonder
For innocent experience, naked awareness, clear seeing
Present a truer reality
A realization longstanding
A wisdom
Transcendent of deluded mind, frightened mind, ego mind, hurt-child mind
To original mind, mirror-like
and free
I stand, reflecting awe, embracing mystery, curious, openhearted, immersed in the now and loving the opportunity to be in love with this very life.

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The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

An excerpt from Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep by David K Randall. The effects of sleep deprivation.

“In the 1980s, researchers at the University of Chicago decided to find out what happens when an animal is deprived of sleep for a long period of time. In but one of the many odd tests you will find in the history of sleep research, these scientists forced rats to stay awake by placing them on a tiny platform suspended over cold water. The plat­form was balanced so that it would remain level only if a rat kept moving. If a rat fell asleep, it would tumble into the water and be forced to swim back to safety (or drown, an option that the researchers seemed strangely blase about).

“Fast-forward to two weeks later. All of the rats were dead. This confused the researchers, though they had a few hints that something bad was going to happen. As the rats went longer and longer without sleep, their bodies began to self-destruct. They developed strange spots and festering sores that didn’t heal, their fur started to fall out in large clumps, and they lost weight no matter how much food they ate. So the researchers decided to perform autopsies, and lo and behold they found nothing wrong with the animals’ organs that would lead them to fail­ing so suddenly. This mystery gnawed at scientists so much that twenty years later, another team decided to do the exact same experiment, but with better instruments. This time, they thought, they will find out what happens inside of a rat’s body during sleep deprivation that ultimately leads to its death. Again the rats stayed awake for more than two weeks, and again they died after developing gnarly sores. But just like their peers in Chicago years earlier, the research team could find no clear reason why the rats were keeling over. The lack of sleep itself looked to be the killer. The best guess was that staying awake for so long drained the animal’s system and made it lose the ability to regulate its body temperature.

“Humans who are kept awake for too long start to show some of the same signs as those hapless rats. … Within the first twenty-four hours of sleep deprivation, the blood pressure starts to increase. Not long afterward, the metabolism levels go haywire, giving a person an uncontrollable craving for carbo­hydrates. The body temperature drops and the immune system gets weaker. If this goes on for too long, there is a good chance that the mind will turn against itself, making a person experi­ence visions and hear phantom sounds akin to a bad acid trip. At the same time, the ability to make simple decisions or recall obvious facts drops off severely. It is a bizarre downward spi­ral that is all the more peculiar because it can be stopped com­pletely, and all of its effects will vanish, simply by sleeping for a couple of hours.”

Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep
Author: David K. Randall
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Copyright 2012 by David K. Randall
Pages 32-36

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