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Words frazzle me. They make me nervous. The things people say, when and how they say them, the stories my brain makes up in response to the words people say, all have an impact on my adrenal glands – I am constantly on a homeostatic roller coaster as I interact with other word-using beings on the planet. When the products secreted by my adrenal glands – stress hormones – flood my brain and body, they raise my inflammation levels. Raised inflammation levels are associated with all kinds of nasty life experiences from hyperthyroidism to flatulence. Especially nerve-wracking, all too often, are the words my own brain generates.

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My Internal Stock Market Maven

Bad News Triggers My HPA Circuitry

Recently an investment I have in a drug company’s stock received the good news I was anticipating. The news came after the market closed. My brain and I spent a good part of the night generating happy words in anticipation of the riches I would be reaping come morning. However, when morning came, the price of the stock actually opened lower! Apparently all the good news was already baked in. I could feel the anger, disappointment and frustration building. The internal word-generation did a complete one-eighty. Many of those words were not saying kind things to me about me. Time to take the dogs for a walk in order to discharge those stress hormones triggered by my Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis 😦

(One of the great things about dogs is they rarely use words that dysregulate me; the main communications I receive from our dogs are: 1. It’s time to eat; 2. I have to go to the bathroom; 3. It’s time to go to the dog park!; and 4. I’m SOOO happy you’re home!! These are all communications my nervous system has very little difficulty managing).

Simply Experimenting

In the Neurobiology class on addiction I recently taught at Bastyr University, we did a simple experiment with words and how they affect the nervous system. I invited people to pay attention to how their bodies responded to first one and then another word I said aloud to them. The first word I announced boldly and authoritatively. That word was “NO!” The next word I said more softly and with kindness in my voice – “Yes!”

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As you might expect, there were noticeable differences in how each word made people’s body musculature react. No caused constriction in the throat and tightening in the belly for some people, along with a holding of their breath. Yes allowed them to soften their belly, relax their muscles and breathe much easier. From this simple experiment it becomes easy to see that words have neuroceptive effects. That is, depending upon a whole host of factors such as context, voice tone, intention of the speaker, etc, words can frequently show up in threatening ways and affect our nervous system adversely without us even realizing it. For an unmistakable experience of this ability for spoken language to adversely affect us, watch any of the Hannibal Lecter movies. Notice how you feel whenever Anthony Hopkins speaks to any other character on the screen. Hello, Clarice. Creepy, right?

Learning Nonresponsiveness

As young children, because parents are human and have limitations and difficulty managing their own adrenal glands, we are many times more likely to hear the words No! and Stop! repeatedly. As you might expect, this (and any multitude of other things) works to shape our developing nervous system. In fact, it’s an infant’s recognition of “not us,” often implicitly and unconsciously communicated by a parent’s stress response to other races, that rascism – a fearful response to other races – begins in the cradle.

gauge-nedle-dragging_thumb_142ad167All the words we use daily in our interactions with other people (and with ourselves) are constantly affecting the amount and speed of stress hormone secretion throughout the day. What I find generally is that artists, who rely upon one or more of their senses being wide open in the pursuit of their art, are often much more sensitive to the impacts that words have on their nervous system. As a result, many of them elect to spend a disproportionate amount of time in voluntary seclusion or hanging out with a small circle of friends who can be counted on to not adversely hyper-arouse them. Here on Whidbey Island – with a preponderance of painters, writers, musicians and poets – which makes it “off the charts in arts vitality” – this propensity seems to show up in spades.

Wipe Me Down With a Wet Noodle

Some words in the English language (and research suggests such words actually exist in every language) are so disturbing that they produce “a visceral experience of revulsion and discomfort.” According to Scientific American one such word is moist. Roughly 20% of Americans find the word moist to be the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard! Go figure. Or better yet, stick your finger in your mouth. Whatever it takes to solidify the truth of the greater reality that, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” … but only after I gain practice in managing my neurophysiology skillfully.

A favorite saying that I repeat to myself so many times a week that it’s turning into a perpetual personal mantra is: “It’s not me, it’s my brain.” This is primarily me acknowledging one or another of the many ways that the basic organiza- tional and structural function of my brain is limited and quite vulnerable. For example, here’s some recent research from Texas A & M University that points out how we’re ALL susceptible to potentially becoming addicted to one or ano- ther person, place or thing. Researchers at the Salk Institute want to blame that vulnerability on patch and matrix neurons in your brain’s striatum! And this is only ONE vulnerability.

The Preoccupied Life

In Tibetan Buddhism there are concepts known as The Worldly Concerns or Worldly Preoccupations – four opposing pairs of life conditions that affect all of us. In no deliberate order they are:

  • insignificant_by_eye_crazyhope for happiness and fear of suffering
  • hope for fame and fear of insignificance
  • hope for praise and fear of blame
  • hope for gain and fear of loss

What’s interesting about each of these concerns is that the four hopes we are drawn to mostly involve the reward systems of the brain’s mesolimbic pathways. Happiness, fame, praise and gain get those dopamine neurotransmitters afiring. The fear side of the ledger operates quite differently – what they mostly activate are liberal amounts of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Just picturing my mother pointing a finger, or a thought of my wife blaming me for forgetting half the items on the grocery list (I occasionally get my wife and my mother mixed up) is enough to get those adrenal glands running wild.

Moderation Makes It Happen

The aim, both in Buddhism and in neurobiology is not to deny all hope for happiness, fame, praise or gain. Nor is it to avoid fearful feelings involving suffering, insignificance, blame or loss. Rather, the work is to find skillful ways to navigate amidst these life realities, to not be pulled too far to one side or the other. My mother, the Axiom Queen, used to remind my sisters and me constantly as children, “All things in moderation.”

MarshmallowModeration though, turns out to be more easily preached than practiced. We seem to need time and experience to grow the Self-Organizing Criticality (SOC) of a neural network possessing sufficient balance that we can pass The Stanford Marshmallow Test. The picture on the right shows how I most often manage the test.

Aspirations Are

What then, is a “network-deficient” aspirant to do? Assuming I don’t have the financial resources to hire a team of high-functioning monks, trainers or adults to re-parent me or turn me into a lifelong contemplative, here are three options (among tens of thousands, most likely) that I’m currently working with:

Patience Practice – remember, it’s not me, it’s my brain! I can be patient with the learning I struggle with. I can be forgiving when I make mistakes, learn super-slowly, fall off the wagon into the marshmallow vat (yet again). It doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for my short-comings and I don’t have to do what I can to address them. It just means I’m not to blame. Blame is an errant assignation that only retards progress by distracting me from thinking more deeply and creatively about possible alternative approaches to navigating the 8 concerns.

Minding My Environment – None of us lives our lives in a vacuum. Where we live and whom we live with matters. I currently spend a significant part of my week attempting to bring increasing order and beauty to my external environment, believing in the axiom – turned inside out – “As without, so within.” So far, 8 months in – I have daily managed to find one thing in the house that no longer brings me joy or I’ve simply outgrown, and deliver it to one of our local thrift stores. It turns out to be a much more challenging practice than I ever imagined. And that’s just one bit of care-taking the environment around me.

Contemplative Practice – I have a growing number of them. Every morning begins with Dog Walking Practice. I take our dog-park-banned-Berner, Olliebear, for a two-mile walk through the woods over an abandoned logging trail near our house. Spring, summer and fall mornings are a delight. Winter is when I really earn my stripes for this practice.

Writing Practice is another daily contemplation. Every day I read, research and write something. Often it’s for this blog, but I also have two books and several talks and presentations that I’m actively working on.

yoga-weirdContemplative Collab- oration – Some part of every day I spend paying attention to the wild and woolly machinations of my social mind – the thoughts my brain secretes, often of its own accord – as I interact with the people who populate my world.

Each of these activities I place into service as a means for attempting to organize my life around moderation in all things. My mother would be proud.

She’d also enjoy this week’s Enchanted Loom. It’s a review of Timothy Wilson’s book, Strangers to Ourselves, exploring what else but … many of our brain’s hidden vulnerabilities.

One reason: We never learned contemplative collaboration. And here are four reasons why we never learned it:

1. No one ever told us it was a thing. It is: Contemplative Collaboration.

Many years ago, after an intoxicated Rodney King had to be chased at high speeds and forcibly subdued by the LAPD, in the wake of the unfolding drama that became the 1992 LA Riots, King issued a televised plea that went viral: “Can’t we all just get along?” he begged.

Well, the answer is no, no we can’t. French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre offered one reason, “L’enfer c’est les autres.” (Finally, my 7 years of grade school French gets put to use!). “Hell is other people,” Sartre proclaimed. He would get no argument from either Rodney King or the LAPD.

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Rodney King

There are many other reasons why we can’t get along, but most of them are related and boil down to a single one – few of us have been trained to masterfully manage our own adrenal glands. Excessive stress hormones short-circuit the thinking brain and close the heart.

Mark Twain once reported: ““I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Twain’s life was much different than Rodney King’s, but essentially, he’s stating how poor he was with his own adrenal management practice. What makes troubles most troubling are the stress hormones they generate. And the majority of our most troubling troubles are the result of the thoughts our brain secretes about the past or the near or distant future. Those thoughts are often intended to head trouble off at the pass and keep us safe. But excessive stress hormones “close down the thinker.” They were needed in an earlier time, but much less so here in 21st century America. Unless you’re a police officer or someone fleeing from the police. In which case it would likely require saint-level adrenal management to keep things well-directed. Having a sufficient supply of the Corticotropin Releasing Factor, Urocortin-3 can be a help as well.

Contemplative collaboration practice holds the potential for such saintly management.

2. No one ever taught us what to practice.

It takes work to realize areas where we would be well-served to become more skillful. After that “Aha!”the next step is to realize that acquiring skill requires practice. If its piano or golf or kung fu, for starters we can study past masters and learn what they did. We can also find and invite current masters to mentor us, hopefully tailored to our own inherent proclivities. One main benefit mentors can provide is to serve in an external Executive Function capacity – helping us become increasingly disciplined in putting structured time in on the piano bench or the fairways or the mat. Without that internal or external discipliner, our sincere desires to become more skillful end up at the Best Intentions Recycling Center.

Contemplative collaboration practice holds the potential for increasing Executive Function.

3. No one ever taught us how to practice it purposefully.

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Purposeful Practice, or Deliberate Practice as it’s also known, emerged out of the research of CASBS Fellow, Anders Ericsson at Florida State University. He studied masters in a variety of different disciplines. His research has been popularized as “The 10000 Hour Rule,” but what his research really discovered is, not only did talented masters practice their craft diligently, but they primarily practiced with the intention to continually improve. In order to actually do that, they had to practice the parts they sucked at. Pianists, for example, had to practice extensively with their non-dominant hands. Golfers had to hit shot after shot out of the rough and the sand traps (Mark Twain once observed that “golf is a good walk spoiled.” This is taking that spoiling to a whole new level).

Contemplative collaboration practice holds the possibility of discovering the joy in purposeful practice.

4. No one ever told us why we might want to practice it.

When you tease the essence out of every authentic spiritual tradition and practice, you discover they are all mostly designed with one purpose in mind, similar to what I mentioned above: to keep your adrenals well-managed in order to keep your heart from becoming closed.

Gene Knudsen Hoffman, founder of The Compassionate Listening Project once observed that “An enemy is someone whose story we haven’t fully heard.” The main reason we haven’t fully heard our enemy’s stories, and why hell so often IS other people, is because we struggle to manage our stress hormones when we are confronted directly with their (and our own) soul-crushing pain and suffering and the unskillful ways they can act it out. No one has ever intimated to us that it’s possible to become a virtuoso in our capacity for being fully present to the pain of our own and each others’ broken hearts.

Contemplative collaboration practice holds the potential to learn how to keep our heart open in a hell populated with other people.

Here are 3 central elements of my own discipline: Contemplative Collaboration Trilogy. I invite you to practice.

I was 55 years old before I realized I was someone who suffered from panic attacks. I thought the feelings they periodically generated were simply part of who I was. It was while attending my daughter’s college graduation ceremony that I began to wake up to this signal I was receiving. Sitting in the audience, suddenly I was overcome with a powerful urge to flee the scene. I didn’t realize it then, but the familiar discomfort I was feeling was the way we feel when our body/brain floods itself with stress hormones in response to an acute, immediate threat. In reality, there was no one in the processional or the audience representing any such threat, but for some reason my body/brain decided there was. And so I fled the scene. And skipped the after-party. And felt much better. But also sad that I couldn’t fully participate in this milestone celebration. I have had to flee many such seemingly harmless social events over the years.

I’ve Heard About People Like Me

Coincidentally, I was taking a post-graduate class in trauma at the time, and it was in there that the light bulb fully lit up. The description the professor offered of panic attacks perfectly described what happened to me at my daughter’s graduation: Panic.jpg

  • Pounding heart
  • Intense feeling of dread
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sweating

There are other symptoms as well that I didn’t have, but essentially it came down to my brain generating a flight or fight response when nothing truly represented any threat at all. (Interestingly, just last week I could feel my brain doing something similar again at a much lower intensity when I began the familiar, easy job of changing the oil in my truck! Only here I could identify the trigger: thoughts my brain spontaneously generated of the truck falling off the ramps it was raised up on and crushing me). This is my brain doing its best to look out for me. Very often unnecessarily.

Fruit for the Juicer

It is these kinds of stress-hormone-generated activations that seem to continually point the way for my personal growth and development. These afflictive emotions provide the fruit for my neurological juicer. Local Seattle author Mary O’Malley writes about the benefit of paying close attention to such disturbances in her recent book, What’s In the Way Is the Way. One primary challenge though is that what’s in the way usually doesn’t feel all that great. Combine that with my brain’s and body’s preference for feeling good and we have a perfect recipe for aversion, for turning away from pain and suffering – both my own and other people’s. What’s the problem with that? Only one thing: abnegation is not integration.

Integration means “to combine things together to produce increasingly greater wholes.” Where the brain is concerned (and as we’re learning, on many levels, the heart as well), integration benefits its operations in several ways. University of Washington neuroscientist William Calvin argues that Albert Einstein’s brain was integrated in ways that made it appear that structurally he had two right hemispheres. Where most of us have a deep groove (Sylvian Fissure) separating our left temporal and parietal lobes, that fissure on Einstein’s left hemisphere was completely filled in with brain tissue – integrated!

Sylvian FissureNature Versus Nootropism

Whether he was born that way or he grew it that way, I would argue for a little bit of both. For more than seven years Einstein reviewed innovative patent drawings and applications for the Swiss Patent Office. But here’s a part I think may have played a significant role in Einstein’s brain integration: every day he would walk to and from work accompanied by a colleague. During those daily walks they would fantasize and regale each other with accounts of the innovations they had reviewed during the work day. Why is this walk-and-talk important? Well, since almost 90% of the neurons in the brain are employed in moving the body, and every single one of them eventually traces a route that terminates at a muscle, walking may turn out to be a massively facilitating integrative mechanism. Steve Jobs, among many luminaries, thought it was pretty important.

Integration Makes It Happen

There are other ways to place life challenges into the service of neural integration as well. Any number of these somatic therapeutic modalities can and do work for many people (more than half of them have worked for me).

Another is to simply begin a concerted study of how your own brain works. Here’s a list of some considerable benefits that can be obtained.

Finally, simply observing and realizing that all of us – individually and collectively – are on a journey of wholeness and increasing mind-body integration (even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it – for example, during political season in America), that realization can serve as a reason to begin to consider the possibility of using life’s difficulties as directional signals.

There’s a confabulation that frequently circulates among a few of my financially successful friends that being rich is their Divine Right. “If all the money in the world was taken from the rich and redistributed to the poor, in a very short time it would be back in the original hands of the rich” they argue. They have a point, and while I would argue things are considerably more complex than that, neuroscience – in one sense – comes down in their camp where the acquisition and management of money is concerned. But not necessarily for the reasons they think.

Money Is as Money Does

From a purely neural network perspective, if you have done the work to become wealthy with respect to money (and as Buddhist poet Gary Snyder points out – there are many, many ways to become wealthy that have little to do with money), the brain cells in your network have become connected in massively large, dedicated networks. Robust money networks in the brain deploy greater amounts of energy and information when it comes to money than do the networks of people who don’t have much money (poor people’s networks do all they can to try and manage the excessive levels of stress having little money generates). The more you immerse yourself in any field, the more your brain grows nerve cells and makes connections related to that field. It’s called learning, and the neurological underpinnings of learning are universal (an interesting corollary: 90% of people who inherit money, that is, people who themselves have NOT spent decades with their brains immersed in learning about money and finance, eventually dissolve their accumulated wealth – they typically go from “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” – in three short generations!).

Among many things that Bill Gates is known for, one is his apparently well-earned observation that, “It’s harder to give money away well, than it is to earn it in the first place.” Right, unless the people he’s giving it to have neural networks learned in managing money well. In which case, they probably don’t need his money! Better would be to require recipients to grow money-management networks first. Who does Warren Buffet give all his charity money to? Why, Bill and Melinda Gates, of course.

Attention Must Be Paid

There’s a neurological truism that suggests whatever we pay ongoing attention to tends to increase. There’s a common descriptive term that applies. It’s one that we’re all familiar with: kung fu. Kung Fu essentially translates as “skill acquired through hard work.” At a very basic level Muhammed Yunus took advantage of this neurological truism and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for establishing micro-credit and micro-loans. He essentially taught money kung fu by making small loans to people to start small businesses. Once that loan was paid off from business profits, borrowers could borrow incrementally larger amounts of money. Rinse and repeat.

Micro1

Along the way, the people Yunus’s Grameen Bank funded significantly changed their brains: money was no longer this mysterious commodity that mostly caused them anxiety and that they never had enough of. Their brains increas- ingly learned to simply use borrowed money as a tool, just like Apple Com- puter does with the $85 billion dollars of debt they currently have on their books.

The Effect Effect

The Matthew Effect, first coined by CASBS fellow Robert Merton in 1968, underscores this neurological reality. Matthew 25:29 from the King James bible, declares: “For unto every one that hath, more shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.” And while Merton primarily applied the meaning to scientists and their ability to garner fame and research funding, the Effect clearly generalizes to other activities where human brains operate.

Two neuroscience corollaries are worth noting. The first is Hebb’s Law: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” The learning that Yunus’s borrowers experi- enced by borrowing money to start and expand small businesses changed their brains, expanding and wiring together network connections in the process. They had to grow in their knowledge and ability to recognize and creatively address the money challenges that every small business owner has to recognize and overcome. In other words, they had to do hard work, i.e. practice kung fu.

Lose It or Use It

The second corollary is, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Tracey Shors and her colleagues at Rutgers University have shown that adults – even old fogies like me – grow thousands of new brain cells every day. Unfortunately, many of them fail to thrive. The reason: they are not placed into productive service. By productive what Shors means is – deploying them in the service of new learning.

failing-715x715My own experience can serve as a cautionary tale. Hailing from a background and ancestry rooted in poverty, I was cognitively and emotionally overwhelmed when I suddenly found myself with a net worth of several million dollars as the result of a series of successful Silicon Valley real estate trans-actions (building and selling expensive spec homes). I simply had insufficient knowledge (brain networks and people network connections) that I could draw upon to guide me in successfully putting that acquired capital skillfully to work (Bill Gates was busy). Nothing in my background – models, mentors or living examples – was available to light the way. And while I struggled to find and figure out how best to intelligently deploy those resources, I unwittingly made bad choice after increasingly stressful bad choice, until eventually all the money was gone. If I had it to do over, with the benefit of diamond-brilliant hindsight, I would have used a significant portion of that capital to buy farmland or other raw acreage on Whidbey Island where I currently live. I already possessed networked knowledge of how to add value to raw land and skillfully leverage its appreciation. Plus, and this is a critical piece … transforming and creating is something I truly love to do. It’s one reason why I’m a neuroscientist!

It’s also one reason I read brain books and offer you this week’s Enchanted Loom review on The Compassionate Brain.

I hear voices. Most of the time the voices are one or another intonation from what I consider to be my usual discursive or directive mind. However, every now and then a strange voice shows up that doesn’t “sound” like me. It doesn’t have a tone or feel or flavor or scent I readily recognize. And it tends to show up as something other than the emergent narrative my neural network regularly generates. Also, it usually shows up offering guidance, which I’m rarely very keen on receiving or acting upon, thank you.

I must be mellowing in my old age, because recently I’ve begun giving some thought and making some space for the still small voice to show up in my life more often. But not without negotiating certain parameters for it. Either show up the way my skeptical, cognitive, scientist brain needs you to, or don’t bother. Here are some qualities I use to make sure my Inner Psychopath is off the grid when the voice comes through.

Manacles On / Manacles Off – I once worked myself into a job where all I had to do was show up and play the equivalent of video games for fun all day long. I had no boss and no job requirements and was free to come and go as I pleased. I made enough money to buy a boat, a plane, a new Corvette and my very own house. A dream job, right? Imagine what my Wild Mind did when my still small voice announced: “You have to quit your job.” At the time I had little doubt that this was the voice of my Inner Psychopath. But of course, it was the voice of wisdom doing it’s best to guide me onto a more spiritually mature path. That path became crystal clear when another voice – that of a real, embodied, living Sufi wise man directed: “Provide shelter for people.” That advice led to a successful, life-saving, 25 year house-building career. And now a Prayer Podz building career.

Golden handcuffs

Later, when I became curious about why I was given the internal directive to leave my work-free job and began to reflect upon it, I realized a number of things. With my basic life necessities covered, I needed something meaningful to actually work and make money FOR. Otherwise, I was a prisoner to money-making for money-making’s sake. It turned out that being of service to other people tended to make me pay considerably less attention to my insatiable, ever-changing ego needs. In The Land of Ego Needs there be many dragons.

Cilantro Voice – Recovering Ob-Gyn Lissa Rankin hears voices as well. One way she checks to insure that it’s not her own IP (Inner Psychopath) giving orders is by paying attention to the tone the voice uses when it speaks to her. If it’s authoritative, harsh and demanding, then she’s pretty sure it’s her IP. But if her still small voice is sweet and gentle, non-judgmental and undemanding – what she calls “Cilantro Voice” – then she’s much more receptive to the guidance she’s receiving. It makes organic, herbal sense to me.

Suffering Up / Suffering Down – do my adrenals respond by turning off the stress hormone cascade? This is sometimes a difficult measure to make. Hearing my still small voice tell me to quit my job, was not without some stress. But once I did manage to give notice and actually get out of the building, to my great surprise I found myself washed over by a completely unexpected calm. A very similar experience happened when my still small voice told me to take my Ph.D. and my multiple California contractor’s licenses and go take a maintenance man position at a Stanford Think Tank … where I joyfully worked for 10 years, learning much about my brain in the process!

Welcome to WhidbeyNeuroceptive Resonance – Is there something about the voice or what it says that enables me to at least glimpse the possibility of safety, security, and/or survival in my life? Several years ago when the Voice told me to leave the San Francisico Bay Area where I’d lived for 30 years and move to an offshore island (Whidbey, near Seattle), it did give me certain pause. But now, after eight years and more than eight trips back to the drought-ridden and climate-changed Bay Area, it’s hard to make a case that my still small voice gave me bad direction.

Visionary Guidance – Is my still small voice pointing me to something that might lead to one or more of my heart’s deepest desires? Is it activating my imagination, intimating inspired, creative possibilities of what might be? Is it “inviting me deeper into the mystery?” If so, and even if it’s suggesting something that I might not be initially comfortable with, I am probably well-served to take the guidance to heart. Since growth and change is a basic human, spiritual and neurobiological need, I might as well follow a direction that potentially inspires.

Separation Verses Connection – Is the download I’m receiving designed to get me more connected with people or moving me more in the direction of the illusion of separation? As a means of measuring, I often use Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of Unity Consciousness that she discovered after her language network centers stroked out. She was able to clearly see and experience the interconnection of all people, places and things at the level of energy just dancing. No Inner Psychopath operating there.

For those of you in the Seattle area, if you’d like to hang out for a day in September, consider this possibility: Bastyr Learning.

Brains are built for learning. Beginning in the womb they take sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, and smells from the world around us and craft meaningful stories from these sensory experiences. Early sensory impressions tend to be much more entrenched and long-lasting, since the cells and the connections they must use are so sparse – we have little learning to compare anything with. First times are memorable. Early learning becomes gospel. Early adverse experiences are also memorable and tend to condition memory networks in ways that often are less than ideal. My own Unwelcome Inheritances include: poverty, addiction, PTSD and ignorance – just some of the fruit for my own personal juicer. Here are 12 additional ways that early conditioning can become an unwelcome inheritance (borrowed from Marin, CA psychologist, Mark Wolynn). Many of us, me included, spend the bulk of our later lives trying to return these “gifts” to their rightful owners:

You suffered a break in your early security bond with mom or dad.

child parentYou were delivered the requirement to be a “parentified child” needing to take care of mom or dad.

You learned how to be unhappy in relationships by observing your parents.

You were taught that it’s okay to leave a relationship when things get hard.

You received implicit instruction in what betrayal looks and feels like.

You learned to accept a primary relationship for reasons other than love.

You observed that big people point the finger of blame at others.

You learned that mistakes deserve punishment in various forms.

You discovered that your mother aborted a child before she had you, or that she considered aborting you.

Kate Bolick (Writer & Editor)

Spinster author, Kate Bolick

You were taught that it’s often better to live alone.

You learned there are many problems we are helpless to solve.

You believed it’s normal for families to have a crazy aunt or uncle or grandparent.

I’m arbitrarily limiting the list to twelve early experiences. This list could obviously go on and on, filled with untold early learnings that we might experience and make up stories about – unwelcome inheritances all. But in addition, a lot of learning that we inherit can adversely affect body and brain when it takes place before we actually learn words to make up stories with. Those stories live in the body and the brain without the benefit of language. These inheritances and hidden loyalties are harder to root out and shine the light of healing repair and compassion upon. Harder, but not impossible.

If you want to know more about how our near and distant past can adversely affect our present – as well as what to do about it – check out THIS Enchanted Loom review of … It Didn’t Start with You.