“Education can direct our attention to faculties of mind, not just facts in memory.”
The Mindful Brain, Dan Seigel
My smart phone provides access to information I don’t need to carry around in my head. A few years ago I didn’t have a machine on my desk that answered my questions. As a classically trained ballet dancer, juggler and circus arts performer I learned decades ago that training my body to do various physical moves was a whole different scratching of a place in my mind that was hard to itch. Here is the deal. Faculties of mind are not so much about the mind as storage container as it is about the mental muscle of the mind. The attentiveness muscle in particular seems to produce measurable changes in the brain. Here is a list of the key functions enabled by the middle prefrontal areas: body regulation, attuned communication, emotional balance, flexibility, empathy, insight, fear modulation, intuition, and morality. That list of attributes comes from the Mindfulness Research Center of UCLA…For example increasing our intuitive powers would include focusing more attention on how our gut feels. It might include looking at a persons face and bringing attention to the muscles in their face, observing the tension in their eyes, clenching of jaw, posture, tone of voice. It doesn’t take long before we begin to see that our practice produces an increase in our intuitive skills. Figure that most of what I’m talking about is part of the cognitive toolkit we can play with. Playing with this toolkit in the good times increases our talents without having the pressure of coming to a crisis and frantically trying to grasp for them in the hard times. This is not a fix/broken model (I’m not into thinking of us like that) it is a cultivate/enhance model… I like that. Hopefully you will too…
“They cannot see themselves well enough to form a true liking and since we automatically fear and dislike strangers, we fear and dislike our stranger-selves.”
From About Ed Ricketts
I’ve my own personal theory of the timing of maturity’s arrival. It seems to arrive more often sooner in some than in nearly half of others. Some of us never grow up, and some of us arrive better late than never. Some of us vow to stop doing stupid things, to listen with greater care to our aboriginal inner authenticity. For example in some they are born with a womb, and with this furnace of creation literally interpenetrating their bodies they can be rendered mature instantly. This is just an opinion, not to be taken too much to heart. Now, for those of us who are not gateways that bring life into this creation we have to work at getting serious about this thing from a different angle. At some point we look up from whatever it is we’ve been toiling over and we survey things. One thing we notice is the thing beneath the likeness we see when looking in a mirror. Then, sometimes, not always, and only if the viewer chooses to listen do we hear this voice, and it is this voice that suggests our visit here is not going to last forever and we might just want to be a little more careful about the way we spend our time here. Once testosterone’s vice grip is loosened from the instincts, it is as if a fog has lifted, and things that rendered maturity mute at once are provided a voice. I have witnessed this miracle of late life onset maturity myself, and it is really something to behold. Of course maturity sounds kind of silly, humorless, mature people can take themselves serious, and this is not the destination I am talking about at all. I’m suggesting a more wondrous mindscape… it’s the Big Bang, the whole enchilada, the unified field. It is that instant flashing across the frontier of your own self awareness when you are moved by something bigger than YOU…the veil is pulled back and at long last you glimpse and hold the thing right in the grasp of the minds eye…it is your souls version of rock art. You laugh like a coyote at the moon. That’s a game changer…
With A Dream In Your Heart You’re Never Alone Hal David
On Tuesday night I found out that I still knew my way to San Jose. I got a front row at The Magique Bazarre staged at the Improv on Second Street, downtown, where I’ve been away so long. Wednesday night I drove into San Francisco to be in the audience of another show, The Road to High Street Circus. Not so new, New Vaudevillians, Mike Stroud, magician and Andrew Potter, musician presented altogether different shows, but that wasn’t the show at all. Instead there were a thousand chards, a veritable feast of vulnerabilities and even with all that I had the opportunity to see into continuity, the ever flowing, always evolving circumstances of performers seeking to bring their most authentic self to the enterprise. Caught like in a snap shot with a flash attachment, between polished old show versus evolving show…And circumstances were ejecting them from the comforts of the sure fire into the bittersweet jaws of what do I do now? We gain weight, we lose a girlfriend, we buy a house, we move to Tulsa, we take ice skating lessons, we learn to walk. Try this one, we do a show that puts food on our table, and a roof over our head, and we keep doing it over and over again no matter how much everything else in our life changes…that’s the highest high wire of all.
In mindful awareness we have the opportunity to get beneath the layers of adaptation and enhance the possibility of change. Dan Seigel from The Mindful Brain
All of us have our own story, our own narrative, memories we recall and use to extract lessons to organize our lives. It is common to my experience to speak with a friend and hear a story that draws a conclusion that seems to point to a more constricted life.(I’ll never get that job, she’ll never forgive me, I can’t do that…) We can not change our biography, but we can change the story. The novel is an opportunity to illustrate how a character changes the narrative and how that change alters the story of their life. All of this might appear to be understood, but how many times have we needed help because we’ve become trapped in a narrative and find it almost impossible of letting go? “Why do you think that way?” someone might ask. What stories do you tell? Are you aware of these stories? How might changing these stories change your life? Why is it so difficult to do perform this trick….
Fear of change comes into view when it requires hoisting up a mast of a sailboat to change a light bulb. The mast on this Jeanneau sloop measures 45 feet from the deck. One person goes up the mast to do the work while a second is depended upon to winch the worker both up and then back down safely. Fear and trust are not intellectual when doing this work. Fear doesn’t seem to be located in the mind although it does seem to clutter it. It seems out of the mind and in the body where it advertises its presence…slight shaking, sweaty palm, rhythm of breath. When looking aloft from the first spreader to the next spreader and then from there up to the top of the mast I get the opportunity to stare right into the jaws of my instincts. Then, as if a symphony is playing my mind becomes orchestral…heart is timpani…hello gut it says, are you sure you want to do this? Yes, I am sure. I don’t want to do this. People who tell me they are bored, that nothing ever happens to them. Have I got a cure for you….
In other words, drastic change, under certain conditions, creates a proclivity for fanatical attitudes, united action, and spectacular manifestations of flouting and defiance; it creates an atmosphere of revolution.
Eric Hoffer, Longshoreman, Philosopher from his book The Ordeal of Change
I think we all look and wonder at the changes taking place in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. We look at the clash in Wisconsin and some cheer while most look aghast at the effort to rescind the right to collective bargaining. In this hall of mirrors the CEO of 3M, Mr. George Buckley bellyaches on the front page of The Financial Times about how repressive the current President is to his business interests. I grew up along the San Francisco waterfront. There is this concept called foreground/background. In the foreground for example there is an individual and in the background a time, place, and circumstance. Individuals in pursuit of personal change try to cultivate wholesome and skillful means toward that end. In the background it seems there are social/economic/political forces let loose from one side or another attempting to change the balance of power. In my second novel I am trying to describe individuals who are caught up in the Great Recession that came about by the implosion of the financial sector. At least eight million American workers lost their job. It is difficult for me to understand how in the world we have not put a single person in the financial sector in prison and instead political forces sympathetic to this financial sector have decided to launch an attack on the public employee unions. This is change… just not the kind I can believe in….
How fictional characters change in Highway Home and Bankrupt Heart.
Neuroplasticity is a term to describe how we build connections in our brains. We can build connections by physically moving our bodies and we can build connections simply by thinking. Old thinking tends to travel down familiar neural highways. New thinking tends to travel along new highways. Jugglers know that repetition leads to the ability to do new tricks. For a very long time it was believed that the brain was fixed in size and structure, but now we know that we grow our brain throughout our lives when we use our brain. When we use our brain in new ways we potentially grow new parts, new regions, (connecting one region with another in new and interesting ways). So, it seems there is something of a virtue in making up our minds to make up our minds…
Resistance seems natural. Our survival techniques encourage us to reduce the number of variables so that we might reduce the number of threats in the jungle we hunt in. In this modern jungle we find ourselves interconnected to complexity is both ally and enemy. We cheer change we like and resist change we fear. There is no end to the paradox. As they say we are entitled to our own opinion, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts. Change happens! It is a fact. We are sure to be pushed by change, sometimes that push supports our opinion and sometimes that push is supported by fact. Climate change is one such fact. Getting a facelift after consulting our changing looks in the mirror another… Small Change got rained on by his own 38……resisting change in this jungle of life is self inflicted… If you listen you will hear facts speaking. An open mind is a ready mind…what are you open to? What do you resist?
I am interested in thinking. Cognition is a word used to describe thinking. Metacognition is the process of thinking about our thinking. Dan Siegel a psychiatrist from UCLA has been doing brain scan research. He has been mapping brains of people while they think. We are learning many interesting things about how our minds actually work. Metacognition is a tricky thing. Our minds are always thinking and while trying to remain alert to being aware of our thoughts we can end up lost in them. Then, a light bulb goes off and we wake up and remember that we just forgot that we wanted to continue to think about this one thought and not the new thought that just swept our attention away… Now, Dr. Nora Volkow has been doing research on cell phones. Her research team did brain scans of people who are using cell phones and find that the weak radiation is having a measurable effect on the brain. In fact the brain is speeding up! Now, skeptics have already struck at the finding! It is important to raise doubt as soon as a fact has been established. My mind goes into ping-pong mode, bouncing from one thought and then back to the other. I am swept away by debate, and then find myself finally not knowing what to think! And then I wake up and remember that I am the species that remembers that I forget, and that what I had been forgetting is that I only get this one ride on this trip called life and I want to remember to take care of my brain, remember that, remember not to forget that I am the one in charge of that important action. So, I try to remember not to put that phone near my head, then I forget, and then I remember, and then I forget to remember, and then I remember that I forget….
Technological innovation is external change… Changing relationships, changing jobs, changing where you live… changing your own habitual way of thinking about the world is where change meets the interior human soul. Finding tools to work with our changes seem scattered here and there. It appears many people don’t know that what they are experiencing is a loss of knowing that they are going through enormous change and not knowing how to work with it, shape it, understand it, and nurture it. When you find a toolkit you can rely upon to work with change you have found humanities tranquilizer to the modern changing world we find ourselves born into at this lightening quick flashing phenomenal moment in time.
And with that I’ll leave you with an audio track, a fragment from my new novel Bankrupt Heart….