Me and My Brother

An open letter to my friends:

I just spent a week with my brother.  Gregg is 70 and has lived with a PKD (Parkinson’s Disease) diagnosis since he was 45.  He has been on PKD meds for 25 years, had a “brain stimulator” procedure which failed to produce the desired relief of his symptoms… and YET, he still golfs, lawn bowls, paints, boxes, does yoga, sings in a choir, weight lifts and does a PKD stretch class.  He jogs, dances, does tai chi, writes music, sings karaoke (we sing duets), plays the guitar, plays cards & games, rides a bike, cooks, drives a golf cart and knows the value of a massage.  He can make a great smoothie and makes me laugh a lot.
He manages his finances, fixes things that break, and offers help wherever he sees a need, including organizing support groups for people with PKD.
My sister-in-law, Jo, has been in my family since I was 20.  I love and respect her for being Gregg’s constant companion and support for so many years.
I am 66.  Gregg was 3 when I was born  and has been my steady, solid friend all of my life.
I have rarely heard Gregg speak in the negative about anything.
Depression is a part of his disease for over 60% of those diagnosed.
He told me, that when he learned his brain stimulator was a failure, he got depressed.
He says, “I let myself have a pity-party for a couple of hours, and then I said, OK, enough of that.  Let’s get moving.”
If ever I start to feel down about my life, all I have to do is spend time with Gregg and everything gains perspective.  He inspires me with his willingness to be vulnerable… all the time.  With him I realize that life is what I make of it.
What do I perceive? How many layers can I peel off to experience the essence of life?
Everything is moving energy.  Can I relax my gaze, relax my body, relax my mind?
Can I  rest back…behind the parade of thoughts that is passing through the field of my mind?
In this relaxed state of perception, I see life with no clothes on.
“Naked Life”, is the experience of my primordial state, pre-domestication.
“You wild-animal, you!”
In this state-of-mind dwells my “true nature,” and it will always choose the efficient “path of least resistance.”  Gregg has shown me that this choice is not related to the conditions or external circumstances of my life.  It has everything to do with how well I am able to choose my thoughts (or even better!  Simply watch the parade go by…) rather than be a slave to my “thought-processor.”
My brain, the “think-tank” of my mental body, is programmed to run on auto-pilot.  The program produces rationalizing thoughts to neutralize the “events” of my present experience that are  creating a “disruption” in my nervous system/state of equilibrium.  This “disruption” can be good or bad.  The mind doesn’t judge it, it just wants to bring things back to balance.  Too high, bring it down.  Too low, bring it up.   Using data gleaned from my life-history recording, it’s purpose is to try and make me think I am balanced, equalized… okay…It wants to hear me say, I’m in a homeostatic state.  The truth is, I already am okay.  I was okay and I’ll always be okay, with or without the mind’s constant balancing act.
My body works very much the same way on it’s physical level.   My body’s immune system continuously meets whatever is coming into my field to neutralize it and try and keep my body in homeostasis.   My body uses it’s immune system cells while my mind uses thoughts.  The body uses the physical system’s cells of  the immune system, and the mind uses the mental/emotional system’s thoughts. 
What I am practicing, and I invite each of you to try it if you haven’t already, is to rest back behind my constant thread of thoughts.  As I rest back and observe my thoughts like a parade going down the street (it used to be a ticker-tape, then a computer screen,  but I needed to slow it down, so I made it a parade, you know, like the speed of walking horses and kids.) I relax and watch the parade of thoughts go by and when one catches my eye and tries to lure me in, I notice it and I say,“Thank-you, but, no thank-you.  I’m just great and I don’t need your help.”
With the mind ignored, the body does what it’s programmed to do… innately.  You don’t have to think to breathe, pee, eat, have sex and sleep…sounds like retirement to me!!
The thing I love best about myself is the way I joke with my own process.  I truly do not believe my own bullshit!  Eliciting a laugh is the best possible use of a thought!  Right?
So I say, “Right on, my Fellow “Feel So Much It Makes Me Crazy but THERE IS NO BETTER WAY TO LIVE!”
You are my peeps!

The Biology of Courage and Compassion

Chemical structure of Neuropeptide Y

Chemical structure of Neuropeptide Y

Today is the anniversary of the attack on the twin towers in NYC. It seems like a good day for me to resume my lost practice of writing a daily blog. A friend sent me a “Ted Talk” link this morning by a young woman named Kelly McGonigal. It is about stress.
Like Kelly, I have thought of stress as my enemy, the underlying cause of all disease and disorder in the human body. I have thought if only I could practice enough meditation and other stress-releasing techniques I might offset the negative effects of everyday stressors in my body. I am thrilled to learn that stress does not kill! The belief that stress kills, kills.
I learned this morning that when my environment feels stressful to me, my body goes into a “stress response.” This is my body “rising to the occasion” to meet the stressor. Among the many chemical reactions happening, like adrenalin, which raises my heart rate, oxytocin, a neuropeptide, releases from my pituitary gland. Oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone”, fine-tunes the brain creating a craving for physical contact. It increases empathy and compassion. It motivates my body to seek out support. It creates an urge to surround myself with those who care about me.
I am amazed and fascinated to discover that a belief I have held all of my adult life has been proven wrong. I love that! It reinforces my intention to recognize that all of my beliefs are simply opinions, not truths. I recognize that this belief about the negative effects of stress is simply an opinion that is false and I can let it go and respond differently to stressors in the future.
My amazing body has a system for meeting stress in a way that is protective of my heart if I choose to believe it. Listening to my body, I will follow the urge to seek out support in times of stress. I will be watchful of opportunities to be supportive to others who are experiencing stress. It is in moments of heart-felt connection when we feel empathy and compassion, that our bodies go into heart healing. Our cells release natural anti-inflammatory neuropeptides and our heart cells relax and regenerate resulting in a stronger more resilient heart. This new information makes my heart sing.
Listen to Kelly’s Ted Talk and reinforce your heart health today!

It’s One Thing to Know…

Carl Jung

Consciousness of my Dreamtime has returned. I’ve read that sleep scientists say that the average person dreams about two hours out of eight every night. They also say that only about 5% of dreams are remembered. For me, total recall of a dream has been a rare event, happening as little as six times a year. The complete dreams I remember have been epics that seemed worthy of writing about and investigating for possible information about myself.
Of all the theories about dreams, and there are many, I am most aligned with the ideas of Carl Jung and Fritz Perls. Jung and Perls described dreams as messages to the dreamer from their unconscious. They believed that dreams should be noticed and studied for the possible revelations they might bring to the dreamer. Fritz expanded on Jung’s theory, “that everyone in the dream is an aspect of the dreamer” to include inanimate objects.
To put their years of research into my nutshell, my dreams are my sub-conscious mind speaking to me about myself. I am being shown, through my dreams, information about myself that my conscious mind is not privy too. The unconscious mind doesn’t speak ordinary English to me, it speaks through imagery using symbols and archetypes. My dreams rarely have dialogue; I see images, sometimes like a silent movie but often just snapshots.
In the past week or two, I have awakened with memories of my dreams almost every morning. The predominant symbol is water, usually a large body of deep water that is dark and often has debris floating in it or sometimes large shark-like fish. There is a theme of danger in these dream images. For instance last night, the water was choppy with swells, like the ocean on a stormy day, and the floating debris included big slabs of rough wood with nails sticking out, as if a house had been destroyed by a tsunami and was floating in the middle of ocean. Sometimes I am swimming in the water and other times I am out of the water, on a bank, a beach or a boat. My emotion in these dreams is a feeling of confusion and sometime slightly fearful. I have been told by dream interpreters, although I don’t subscribe to universal interpretations of dreams, that water represents emotion. If this is true, I wonder if my dreams of water speak of unfelt, unexpressed “dark” emotions.
The other imagery that has recurred in my dreams for years is what I refer to as my “bathroom” dream. In these dreams the theme could be called, “over-exposure.” The basic premise is I need to urinate, urgently. I can’t find a bathroom. I finally find one and these vary from dream to dream but they have one common feature; the toilet is either totally exposed in a room full of people (usually women) or it is in a stall but the walls are so short that when I sit on the toilet I can see over the top of the wall and the people in the room can, of course, see my head. Sometimes this dream has the added element of the toilet being strange in shape or size or the stall being unusually small. The rooms are usually kind of dim and old-looking,” institutional green” painted wood (I just remembered that the bathrooms of my junior high school looked like this…) as opposed to more modern bright, clean, light tile. In these dreams I feel a slight feeling of discomfort or anxiety but no overriding fear, anger or sadness. These dreams may be speaking to me of unfelt fears about being transparent (which is the goal of my conscious life.)
I believe that the only path to truth is full disclosure/exposure. There is a part of me that believes I am an imposter. It thinks that if everyone could see me for who I truly am, they would be repelled by my dishonesty. It is this part of me that feels unworthy of approval, acceptance, and love. It thinks that I should be more than I am and accomplish more than I do. To this part of me, I am not only never enough, I am a charlatan. That part of me is called “Charmer.”
Fortunately, there is another part of me that doesn’t buy what “Charmer” is selling. She is known to me as “SheRae.” SheRae is the part of me that is kind, compassionate and doing her best to walk a spiritual path to Self-Realization. These parts of myself take turns in the driver’s seat of the “bus of who I am.”
It’s one thing to know, it’s another to act upon what I know. Knowing is a wasted effort if action doesn’t follow. Action based on knowing is what I call wisdom. Knowing without action is what I call foolishness. Am I a wise woman or a fool? Each moment is another opportunity to choose.

Mind Matters

Cover of "Rain Man"
G and I watched Rain Man last night. If you haven’t seen the 1984 movie, it stars Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant. Screenwriter, Barry Morrow, based the character on Kim Peek, an American man who lived from 1951-2009. Peek was the subject of much scientific study and it was determined by medical scientists that Peek was not autistic, but rather a mega savant with FG syndrome, similar to Down’s syndrome in that it is linked to the X chromosome. FG syndrome causes physical anomalies like low muscle tone and an abnormally large head. When given traditional psychological testing, Peek scored lower than average with an IQ of 67 and had difficulty with motor skills like walking and dressing himself.

Kim Peek (1951–2009) probably had FG syndrome.

Kim Peek (1951–2009)

Like the movie character, Raymond Babbitt, Peek had instant recall and a photographic memory. From the time he was a small child he read books, memorizing them with one read and retaining the information indefinitely. He could read two pages at once, one with each eye! He was able to do highly advanced math and calculate the day of the week for any date on the calendar as well as remember events that were in the news on that day. He enjoyed sharing information with strangers about their birth date.
Peek’s mega savant condition was the result of “brain damage.” He was born with a condition in which the bundles of nerves that connect the two hemispheres of the brain are missing. Speculation is that his mega-memory was the result of the way in which his neurons made unusual connections due to the absence of a corpus callosum.
Learning about Kim Peek triggered a lot of questions in my mind about the capacity of our human minds.
Is it possible that with the right neurons connecting we all would have photographic minds with infinite memories and computer-like calculating abilities?  Would I even enjoy that mind?  If my mind has the capability for such greatness what does it take to tap into that resource? Is it simply the luck of the draw that some brains are born with neuron configurations that create conditions for particular skills and abilities? Is “talent” based on the way the cells of the brain fell into place as we were developing? What is happening that allows for one person to live a life dependent on their five senses while others have a highly developed sixth sense? What techniques, practices or behaviors affect the brain’s cellular structure?
These are all questions I may never have answers to and I’m okay with that. It is just fun to speculate. I have ideas based on experience regarding the last one. Although I haven’t any of Kim Peeks memory or mathematical abilities I have developed my sixth sense through practice and techniques. The technique of meditation seems to give me more clarity and it appears that a lot of useless thoughts falls away and my mind better focuses on whatever is serving me. Through the practice of CranioSacral Therapy for nearly twenty years I have developed the ability to “listen” deeply to the body. This ability is dependent on a sixth sense supported by the other five. I believe that our “brains” are not only in our head but in every cell of the body. When I am “listening” to another body, I am using my own body as a navigational system to pick up information coming from the other. Since I can do this over the phone as well as in person there is definitely something going on here beyond the basic five senses.
Where does this “knowing” come from? I think we all have a part of ourselves I call the “all knowing.” The “all knowing” is present in every cell as the brain is present in every cell. When we are able to let go of the ego’s need to “know it all,” ironically, the “all knowing” is able to surface.
Sir David R. Hawkins M., died last year. He was a nationally renowned psychiatrist, physician, researcher, spiritual teacher, writer and lecturer. His early works, included the co-authorship of Orthomolecular Psychiatry with Nobelist Linus Pauling. In 1996 I read his newly published book, Power vs Force, The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior.
Dr. Hawkins said, “With humility comes the willingness to stop trying to control or change other people or life situations or events ostensibly ‘for their own good’. To be a committed spiritual seeker, it is necessary to relinquish the desire to be ‘right’ or of imaginary value to society. In fact, nobody’s ego or belief systems are of any value to society at all. The world is neither good nor bad nor defective, nor is it in need of help or modification because its appearance is only a projection of one’s own mind. No such world exists.”
The concepts put forth in Power vs Force supported my burgeoning beliefs about the brain and the power that is within the minds of us all, if only we can discover the secrets to tapping into it.

Over Functioning

English: Holistic health, body, mind, heart, soul

My dear friend and mentor Suzanne Scurlock-Durana posted a page yesterday called Rejuvenation in the Age of Speed. It is her intention to start a conversation around the idea that “some of us” tend to over-function at the expense of our bodies and perhaps ultimately our lives.
As I read her blog I recognized myself. I have learned ways to rejuvenate myself and the healthy habits I have cultivated allow me to accomplish a lot. The question her blog raised for me is “What does it mean to accomplish and why is it so urgent for me?”
I had a conversation yesterday morning with G (another human who admittedly keeps working when he should sit down) about this very topic. Staying in a state of physical and mental activity is a way to avoid feeling what we may not want to feel. The feeling that may arise with inactivity is guilt! The inner critic may say something like, “You good-for-nothing, get off your ass and do something productive.” Whatever the words, the basic message is clear; “Unless I am producing, I am worthless.”  G and I agreed we were both programmed with this basic message from an early age.
I was domesticated with a number of beliefs that support my over-functioning. Words like these came frequently from my father’s mouth; “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” “Good luck is the result of hard work.” “Never give up.” “If you work hard enough, you can have anything you want.” And this rhyming gem, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”
G and I talked about the role of the mind with regard to work. My attitude about what I am doing has everything to do with whether it is life-giving or life-taking. If I approach a task with a negative mind-set, doing it but wishing I was not, it is the feeling of resistance that is energy draining. If I do the same job with full presence, creating a mind-set of acceptance and appreciation for any aspect of the moment, perhaps gratitude that I am physically able to do this job, the joy that arises is energy giving.
When I stop and rest, I have learned to tune into the first-level sensory experience of my body. I ask myself, “What am I feeling right now?” As I “listen” to my body, it tells me how it is feeling, what its needs are, and how it feels about whatever I am doing. The challenge I face, is honoring what I hear. The message of my body may be in competition with the tapes of my domestication. I am learning to quiet the voice of my inner critic and follow the advice of my body and it has been a long journey of self-discovery to get to this place.
If I am able to discover my life passion and align it with purpose and persistence, the definitions of work and play dissolve and all efforts towards my goal become joyful and life enhancing. As I continue to practice “full body presence”, the voice of my inner critic gets more and more quiet and I am able to hear and honor the needs of my body.

More about Suzanne Scurlock Durana can be found at http://www.fullbodypresence.com.

 

Brain Blur

brains!

brains! (Photo credit: cloois)

This ought to be interesting. I have “Brain Blur” this morning. I slept deeply last night, in bed by ten, so I can’t attribute this feeling to lack of sleep. I was in the middle of a dream when G woke me at 6 am. Maybe Brain Blur happens when the right hemisphere is dominant (sleeping dream state) and I move into a left brain activity (writing at the laptop.) As I pause to sip my tea I can feel it starting to clear a bit. Brain Blur is different from Brain Fog. I experienced Brain Fog when I entered the “sacred state of menopause.”
I remember trying to describe Brain Fog to my doctor as I sat deep inside it, wishing I had fog lights so I could “see” more clearly.
I told him, “In my normal state of being, my mind is a great problem solver. I seem to have a knack for approaching a problem or challenge of any nature and knowing what sequence of events will move me from where I am to where I want to be. It’s like approaching a puzzle with the pieces mixed up in a pile and knowing exactly how to sort them and order them so that the puzzle is solved. I always know what to do first, second, third and so on.”
“Since menopause started,” I continued, “my capacity for problem solving has changed.” “I now approach a project and my mind is confused. I don’t know what to do first! I can often see the parts of the problem, but they won’t order themselves. What I used to take for granted; that easy way of knowing that if I do this and that and then the other, voila, solution has arrived, is now gone. I feel worried and frustrated.”
I’m happy to report that “Brain Fog” is now gone. Dr. T. prescribed low dose 5 mg. Selegiline for me. Selegiline prevents the breakdown of a chemical in your brain called dopamine. It was originally developed for Parkinson’s disease but is considered obsolete for PD as much more effective drugs have replaced it.
I also learned about the nature of menopause. A woman’s body moves through its natural changes and leaving her child-bearing years is a big one. As her hormone levels drop to allow her body to stop the menstrual cycle, she is in a state of instability. I think of it as this: life before I started was menopause was my “normal.” Life after menopause is my “new normal.” What happens as I move from “normal” to “new normal” is a state of flux. My body is recalculating itself, adjusting and reorganizing. Symptoms arising from this period of reorganization include hot flashes as the internal thermometer regulates itself to the new level of hormones that are present. Mood swings and brain fog are also common responses of the brain to the hormones that are regulating.
The good news for me was this period of reorganization is not a life sentence. The body will at some point (how long it takes is very individual) reach its “new normal” and the symptoms will subside.
The “Brain Fog” has lifted. I am back to problem solving with the best of them. I am still taking Selegiline but weaning off it to see if indeed my brain’s new normal will feel like the previous normal. I’ll let you know how that goes!