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                        Silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see you.
Your beauty is breathtaking.”

    ~ Jeannette Encinias

My friend Jeanne has some ideas about why this video was viewed tens of millions of times in less than a week. One of her ideas is: the Plague of Screens all over contemporary planetary culture has so starved humans for real contact – Image result for Empire tv showi.e. Contingent Communication – that anytime a small smattering of it show up, it presses our Yearning Button – our yearning to be clearly seen, deeply heard, fully felt … and lovingly responded to. To watch the video, hit the words “CLICK HERE” right above the picture in this link:

Co-enjoying the Empire finale

I have some additional ideas. That video demonstrates the exact opposite of the pain elicited by the Still Face Experiment. It also answers a resounding “Yes” to the Big Brain Question.

When the Nervous System Rejoices

Wisdom teacher Jeff Foster seems to have a good idea about what makes this video so compelling to so many people as well  (it’s also why I’ve written six “instruction manuals” for personal practice). Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of his …

LOVE: WHEN THE NERVOUS SYSTEM REJOICES

The most beautiful quality of all in a human being, in my humble opinion? 
The ability to listen deeply to another.
To listen from Presence. From stillness. 
To listen without trying to fix someone, or change them, or ‘save’ them. 
The ability to allow another to be exactly as they are.

Rejoice.jpegNot giving unsolicited advice. Not lecturing them about the latest psychological research or the “most true” spiritual teaching. Not trying to mold them in your own image, manipulate them into matching a concept of who they “should” be. Not projecting your own trauma – or traumatic answers – all over them. 
Just listening. Listening with an open mind and an open heart and a receptive nervous system. Allowing them to breathe, to express, to weep, to question, to be completely unique, to expand into the space, to discover their own truth.

I have met world experts in intimacy, relationships and honest communication who are unable to do this. 
I have met spiritual gurus, so-called “enlightened masters,” expert psychologists and life coaches who are utterly unable to do this. 
I have met popular teachers and authors on “listening from the heart,” “holding space,” “pure awareness” and “embodied spirituality” who are completely unable to do this.

It is a rare gift – the ability to allow others to be exactly as they are. 
Broken. Whole. Sad. Angry. Afraid. Lost. Awake or asleep. Whatever. 
To listen to them with every fiber of your being. 
To receive them through the senses, like the wild animals of the forest. 
To swaddle them in undistracted, fascinated attention. 
To envelop them in a silent, warm Presence. 
To make them feel – in those precious moments that you are together – like they are the most beloved One in the whole Universe.

When you sense this kind of sacred listening from someone, it’s unmistakable.
It cannot be manufactured. It cannot be faked. It is utterly rare and holy. 
It is nothing less than unconditional love.

Your nervous system senses it, and rejoices.

What’s your own sense about why this video might have gone viral so quickly?

Many years ago, in my early 40s, I took one of the first online courses in the country. It was entitled, simply: Manifestation. David Spangler, one of the “practical mystics” involved early with the Findhorn community in Scotland (the arid, rocky place where they grow monster vegetables), was the instructor.

Alanna_Moore-Giant_Cabbage.jpg

A monster Findhorn cabbage

I had a lot of things I wanted to manifest. Like a ton of money, so I wouldn’t have to worry about my financial survival any longer. I could also fund things I thought the universe was doing a poor job supporting – like pre-and perinatal parent education and secular spirituality and creativity in public schools and social safety education, and, and, and …

Needless to say, the amount of money I was looking to manifest – a cool $5 million – never showed up. But since that time, and even before – even while living on welfare as a kid – my life has been lived with more financial abundance and material wealth than 99.9% of all the people who have ever populated planet earth. The only problem is: it rarely FEELS that way to me. Even, perhaps especially, when I had a documented net worth in excess of $2MM.

What’s up with that? Very simply: my conditioned neurobiology, that’s what.

To Trust the Universe or to Think Magically?

If you’re like me, you probably have at least a small inclination towards the magical thinking side of the life-living spectrum. After all, people do buy lottery tickets and win. Wealthy friends and family do die and leave surprising fortunes behind for their beneficiaries. Serendipity does sometimes seem to bring the perfect helpmate into our lives. 

But lottery winners often die broke, heirs go “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” The perfect helpmate somehow manages to morph into my mother (or father, depending upon whom I have the most unfinished business with). 

Neuropsychiatrist David Kreuger has something interesting to say about such morphing and magic and manifestation as he discusses the Law of Attraction:

The Law of Attraction is based in neuroscience. Your mind is an energy field and responds to focus. Where you focus your attention creates brain connections. Quantum physics tells us that each of us generates energetic frequencies or vibrations. We project energy in our emotions and thoughts that are the source of what and whom we attract, as well as the basis of our sense of well-being.

Magical Thinking(Attraction and manifestation), rather than being about wishing for something and getting it, is about understanding and refocusing personal energy.

There is a subtle but significant difference between this principle and the notion that where you place your attention you manifest in reality. Magic is the backdrop of the latter concept. Your mind is a powerful goal-seeking mechanism. When you focus on a goal, your mind begins to figure out how to get it. Your mind takes the focus as instruction to attend. The difficulty is not a lack of ability to focus, but a difficulty with intentional and conscious control over what you focus on. Your mind is preset to focus on certain things, and it deploys that focus unconsciously and unintentionally. The automatic pilot of your mind—what it is preset to focus on—has to be consciously redirected.

The mental act of focusing attention activates brain circuitry. Paying attention over time keeps the brain circuits open and active. Focused attention plays a crucial role in actually altering the structure of the brain. With repetition, these electro-chemical links actually become stable changes in the brain’s structure.

This concept explains at a brain level why a solution focus is more effective than a problem focus. Focusing on possibilities creates new neuronal networks and pathways, while focusing on problems deepens—further etches—the already existing circuitry. 

The real secret behind (manifestation) is to ask the question, “How can I create X?” This “How can I?” question focuses attention on precisely what you want and enlists your full energy to find answers and pathways to achieve it. Thus (manifestation) moves from imagining and wishing to doing.

To Function Executively or Not, That Is the Question

Astute readers will readily recognize that Dr. Krueger is using a More Beautiful Question to primarily point to … Executive Function. But what happens if we don’t already have strong Executive Function? How can we develop it? Good news: it’s Learning No. 11 in the “Ten Most Life-Impacting Neuroscience Learnings” program I’ve recently put together. Email me at: floweringbrain@gmail.com and I’ll send you the program gratis.

 

There are certain teachers whose wisdom resonates immediately upon encountering it. Their words deliciously activate the pleasure centers in my body and brain. This week’s Enchanted Loom features two such wisdom teachers. The first is by clinical psychologist and best-selling author, Mary Pipher. Image result for Woman rowing northI’m sure many of you are familiar with her book on female adolescence, Reviving Ophelia. With her current book, Women Rowing North, Dr. Pipher has leapfrogged the developmental spectrum and taking us directly into the depths of women’s experience navigating Act III. Having grown up in a family filled with only women, I feel comfortable with the issues and concerns she presents and explores at this time in human history. Click HERE to view my Enchanted Loom review of Women Rowing North.

The other wisdom teacher who’s got my reward neurotransmitters reverberating is Dr. Bonnie Badenoch. Her book, The Heart of Image result for the heart of traumaTrauma turns out to be a very deep dive into many the challenges contemporary life presents to our brain, essentially unchanged since we roamed the Serengeti Plain. That brain struggles in its capacity for sustained, healthy human connection and much of what Bonnie addresses are many of the reasons why and what we can actually begin practicing to foster healthy relationships. We live in a left brain dominated world and unless we learn ways and means for beginning to shift that neurobiological hemispheric imbalance, our lives together are going to continue to be filled with struggle and suffering. Click this Enchanted Loom link to begin exploring the heart of your own trauma

It was 11 years ago this month (Holy Cow!) that I struggled to write my first blog post trying to explain Polyvagal Theory. It wasn’t very illuminating, given what turned out to be my limited understanding of plain, vanilla biology. Needless to say, a number of readers were pointed in their criticisms and let my ignorance be forcefully known in the blog comments (to which I only responded privately). While I didn’t necessarily have all the details 100 percent accurate, I did get right the importance of applying the theory as a real world practice: it’s skillful to be aware of the need for people to feel safe in our presence. When we’re working mindfully to actually make the world safe for us, other people and other living creatures in our lives, we recognize that there are myriad ways of making people feel unsafe that we frequently fail to recognize. Critiquing people’s blog posts, for example. That’s not something so easily accomplished without triggering a defensive reaction. Unsolicited criticism often makes people feel unsafe – a central tenet of Polyvagal Theory.

Image result for bliss and gritLast month, my friend Valerie sent me a podcast of two women, Brooke Thomas and Vanessa Scotto (Bliss & Grit) who not only understand, explain and discuss Polyvagal Theory in easy, everyday language, but they also recognize and speak to the importance of actually practicing making yourself someone that others feel safe around. For those of you already practicing, you know that this is NOT something so easily accomplished. Often, our best intentions can go sideways, especially if we aren’t fully knowledgeable about another person’s trauma history.

Is the Best Defense Defenselessness?

Byron Katie is fond of saying, “Defense is the first act of war.” If we look at how that declaration might play out in our nervous system, what we find is that defense – in response to the brain’s subcortical circuitry constantly monitoring and detecting threats – activates the sympathetic nervous system, significantly elevating stress hormones in the process. Elevated stress hormones tend to take our “Wisdom Circuitry” offline and activate our fight, flight or freeze neurobiology. If we’ve learned to be dominant in defense, we are more likely to fight. If not, then hitting the low road in getaway mode is what most likely happens. Either way, human connection – our birthright and a biological imperative – is nowhere to be found.

War, in any form, is not good for living breathing beings. It’s not good for their brains, their bodies or their hearts. When I look in my own personal life at those times when I have “gone to war,” they mostly have taken place in the absence of operational Wisdom Circuitry. For example, years ago when I hyper-extended the hinges and ripped the door off my girlfriend’s VW Rabbit in a fit of rage, there was no Wisdom in sight (in my “defense,” my rage was in reaction to her having just tried to run me over with that Rabbit. Ain’t love grand!). 

Something similar happens when countries go to war, I suspect. In those instances, the collective Wisdom Circuitry of a country’s leaders and citizens becomes sub-operational. Collective elevated stress hormones propel a course of action devoid of any clear, creative, integrated thinking. It’s all self-protection all the time, unless and until it isn’t. Here’s my favorite elegant example of Wisdom trumping reactive hyper-arousal in ways we might all aspire to.

Tipping the Bliss/Grit Scales

At some point in human evolution, I can imagine that the scales of Bliss and Grit are going to tip to the defenseless, Bliss side of the balance beam. Related imageThat will likely begin to happen when children are raised by parents who have a granular understand- ing of the nervous system and are able to provide accurate cues for safety throughout childhood. They will also be able to refrain from non-contingent communication and “digital neglect” (paying more attention to their cell phones than they do to their kids). Parents will also intimately understand Developmental Trauma in order that later interpersonal relationships won’t become playing fields where we hook up with partners who somehow magically reflect back layer upon layer of early unmet safety needs. We will meet and greet other humans on planet earth with politeness, kindness and care, because with expanded awareness we know we are meeting a fractal reflection of ourselves. Until then though, might we actually benefit by spending some quality time with Bliss AND Grit?

The Neuroscience and Power of Safe Relationships

My lone psychophysiologist hero, Steve Porges seems to think so. Some of you will recognize him as the creative force behind Polyvagal Theory. This extended Youtube interview with him is worth watching for sure (possibly in ten minute chunks for those of us who are attention-challenged like me). In it you’ll see and understand just how much of each day we spend walking through the world in self-protection mode.

The Pied Piper of Polyvagal TheoryPolyvagal Ladder.jpg

If you’ve been looking for someone to explain Polyvagal Theory in ways that don’t require an advanced degree in neurophysiology, Deb Dana is the translator you’ve been looking for. With great humility and compassion, she takes Steve Porges’s work and makes it accessible to anyone who has the ability to pay even a little bit of attention to how their body feels when it’s under stress. I wish she’d published this video 10 years ago! It would have saved me a LOT of time and confusion.

Can Polyvagal Theory Foster Resonance Consciousness?

In this article two UC Santa Barbara professors argue that the “hard problem of consciousness” all comes down to how we resonate. Or more specifically, vibrating at specific frequencies. All of the physical world vibrates and things in proximity long enough often begin to sync up, spontaneously self-organize and vibrate together so long as there is no interference patterns are present. The unconscious, neuroceptive presence of threats, Polyvagal Theory would posit, would be one such interference. At that point we’re less and less conscious and no longer getting Good Vibrations.

The Link Between Your Insanity and Mine

buraquinhocapa-350x230.jpg41% of college freshmen feel overwhelmed. That’s up from 18% in 1985. It’s unlikely to get any better for them after college. In this piece exploring Johann Hari’s book, Lost Connections, we discover three of the main drivers of overwhelm and depression: Social stress, lack of community, and childhood trauma. “With a fuller picture of his mental health, Hari realized he focused too much on himself and self-promotion. He began making a conscious effort to spend time helping others and to just be present with the people I love. Really, it was a radical transformation.”

The Neurobiology of Loneliness

The good news: it’s not you, it’s your dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), a small cluster of cells at the top of your brainstem. The bad news: it’s lonely at the top. If you like being the life of the party and easily engage with groups of people, when the party’s over and the crowds have all gone home, your DRN is much more likely to activate deep feelings of loneliness than it does for the rest of us.

And if I haven’t bugged you enough about The Science of Social Safety (Polyvagal Theory) and how it impacts every area of your life for better or worse, simply click HERE and consider yourself sufficiently bugged.

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” ~ Anonymous

Tell me if you’ve heard this one*: a behavioral optometrist walks into a juvenile detention center and tests 1000 kids. Turns out 96% of them have abnormal vision. Chronic stress in their lives has put constant tension on their eyeball muscles and pulled those organs out of shape. The kids all receive corrective lenses. Cognition improves significantly overnight. The recidivism rate for this cohort goes from 55% to 10%!

Take It On Down the Road

When I was 19 I got a Mulligan from a New Haven, Connecticut juvenile court judge after being arrested for illegal discharge of a firearm in the city limits. He pointedly suggested I move and find a different town to go shoot up. Shortly thereafter, I took his advice to heart and drove with friends across the country to Los Angeles. On that drive late one night, just playing around, I put on one of my friend’s glasses. I couldn’t believe the difference! I had absolutely no idea how poor my vision actually was. As soon as I earned enough money, I went to an eye doctor and got corrective lenses. Less than a year later I enrolled in my first college classes!

Taking Another Perspective

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about Blindsight. Different than simply poor vision, it is essentially the inability to see things that actually are in our field of vision. Related image

There are currently three theories to explain the phenomenon. The first states that after damage to our primary visual area, other branches of the optic nerve deliver visual information to several other areas of the brain, including parts of the cerebral cortex. These areas then unconsciously generate blindsight responses.

Another theory of blindsight is that even though the majority of the visual cortex may be damaged, tiny areas of functioning neural tissue remain viable. These aren’t large enough to provide conscious awareness, but nevertheless they are large enough for some unconscious visual perception.

A third theory is that the information required to determine the distance to and velocity of an object goes elsewhere in the brain before the information is projected to the visual cortex. It’s that singular, early advance processing that is responsible for blindsight.

Making It Up As I Go

I have my own pet theory with regards to some forms of blindsight. My theory is that many of us are blind to things going on around us all the time and never even realize it. For many of us stress compromises the “Pay Attention” structures in our brain (the reticular activating system). It narrows the field of vision that we walk through our daily lives deploying. And with a growing tsunami of things to pay attention to critically decreasing our attention span, it becomes more and more difficult to see anything for very long, let alone “the big picture.

But it’s not only our visual cortex that gets compromised. Unaddressed and/or unremitting stress and trauma compromise every aspect of our sensory functioning (which isn’t all that robust under the best of circumstances – neuroscientists calculate that we only consciously take in and process roughly 2% of all the sensory data that surrounds us in any moment). We don’t sense what we don’t know we don’t see, smell, taste, hear or feel. How great a wealth of life experience are we missing because we haven’t cultivated a rich sense of smell. And don’t get me started on hearing and listening. I’ve written SIX (count ’em) books on the topic, all in an attempt to provide possibilities for enriching your auditory abilities. 

Impoverished NeuronsThe Poor Get Poorer

One way stress and trauma and information overload compromise sensory and somatic functioning is mostly by impoverishing our neural networks – the strong connections brain cells make in our brains and bodies. And it does it without telling us it’s doing so. Impoverished neural networks don’t flash a neon sign signaling us that our processing power is diminished. Rather, all kinds of other things happen that we dismiss or create explanatory fictions to help us rationalize. We gain “winter weight” to keep us warm through November, December and January. We will join a gym and work out regularly once the weather warms up. We will begin a daily spiritual practice as soon as we get around to cleaning out the back room to make a sanctuary space. It’s always something. And it is: our brain functioning continues to be adversely impacted by the stressors mounting in our lives without us even realizing it. And in the process we are all neurobiologically poorer for it, especially our hearts.

* From the book, The Heart of Trauma by Bonnie Badenoch, pg. 78. Coming soon to an Enchanted Loom review near you!