Saturday, September 24, 2016

Impulse Control - Stay? Go? Hide?

Referring back to Christopher Reeve's comment above - I wouldn't have gone into the ocean unless I lost my playmate in the shallow end of the pool.  But this week, though the ocean remains compelling, keeping this Blog going was not.  The reader count of last week's post only inched to 25, f i n a l l y, so Blog Oblivion appealed.  I'm lonely.  I have had trouble keeping up with  all my friend's blog posts recently.   Sorry!

Right now, I'm in one book group, another online course about 'Deeper Dating', and finally addressing the weeds in my yard.  This week I prepared the area for a 14' tall sculpture to be installed.  The sculptor delivered it last Wednesday.  Beautiful!  I meant to post about it - took lots of pictures - but I started writing today, and this came out instead.

Vote!  You want posts about 'Deeper Dating'? Pictures of the sculpture? What I write here?

I'm still reading  The Brain's Way of Healing , and starting to read Eckhart Tolle's 'A New Earth' for next month's book group meeting.  I'm amazed how the brain never stops responding to the stimulation we give it.  How much the brain can grow new capabilities, like sight for eyes once blind, like grasping new spiritual ideas or emotional outlooks.  Clearly, I'm evidence of how much one brain can grow to overcome emotionally traumatic injuries.   You're evidence too, of amazing growth.  How many of you, widows or divorcees or retirees or whatever, could easily step back into your old life, given who you have grown into?  Sometimes I wonder if my late husband could recognize all I've become if he popped back in.

Neuroplasticity in the brain and in our spirit helps me realize that no experience can finish us off.  Yes, our bodies will finish us off, but we have amazing say in how it all shapes out in the meantime.  As a kid, I used to hear "Don't be so open-minded that your brains fall out!".  But this past year and a half, I'm coming around to believing it's required that my brain fall out, if it means coming unstuck from beliefs and identities that bind me.  The world opens up. 

Hah!  I'm becoming so open-minded, my heart's showing!

Still, I felt increasingly disheartened this week, given how long it takes to write one post, that I talked it over with my friend. 

"I write about what excites me! I used to get more hits!  Do I belong here? "

Maybe you need to uproot your blog, out of 'Widowhood' category?

"No"  I said.  Widowhood was my portal.  IS my portal.  This is still about one woman getting her wheels rolling after the emotional hub of her life dies and she's in the ditch.  Bottom line: Widowhood is merely the current wrapping for the precious gift all of us are inside - flawless 'love' beings working out the conundrums of ordinary life.

"So write! "

....So my "Go and Hide' impulse lost out to 'Stay'.


Speaking of conundrums and impulse control, are you excited about watching the first debate two days from now?  Hah!  My eyes will be glued.  I wonder...Who will lose impulse control first?  Who will out-disdain the other? 

Such a conundrum.   Do you think we'll come out of this election inspired?

I started chatting with the woman sitting next to me at the Diner this morning.  "Who are you going to vote for?"  I asked.

"Hilary, of course!" 

This led to an animated discussion, during which I said "Me too.  I'm afraid to put my Hilary bumper sticker on my car, though.  Afraid some volatile Trump supporter will take her or his key and scratch their opinion of my preference down the length of my car."

We agreed we'd seen few, if any Hilary OR Trump stickers or lawn signs.   Are you as intimidated as me?  My decision's been made, but I'm not advertising it.

I'm curious.  Are there many political bumper stickers or lawn signs where you live?  Have you decided who you are going to vote for?  I'd love to know!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Writing My Experience

"I love you" I spontaneously said as I hugged my counselor at the end of our session two days ago.  "I love you, too" she said, her eyes suddenly red and swelling with tears.

At least I think I heard her say this.  I do know her eyes suddenly got red and glistened.

Such is the filter of my mind, screening out incoming 'feeling' data.  But not entirely, not this time. This was the first time in 63 years and 135 days that I believed I was reading love from a woman.   Yes, this woman has a pure agenda of love, marveling at who I am, and wanting to enhance my life.  How natural it is to love back love.  How I wish my readers who comment could manifest; you are love vessels, too!

My brain was exhausted with the effort it took, during the session.  I had to continually bat away my 'knowing' and tolerate my stress of 'not knowing'  to 'experience' with my heart.  The book I'm reading, "The Brain's Way of Healing" by Norman Doidge, has convinced me that tiny, incremental decisions made through a sensory organ - in this case, my eyes fixed on hers - recruits neurons and synapses to forge new neural pathways - neuroplasticity.   No baby arrives with a mature nervous system; it requires input and loving attachment to a consistent caregiver to develop more than instinctual survival impulses.  The brain...well, it grows and develops until the day we die.   So in Somatic Experiencing Counseling, one slows down one's awareness to detect the tiniest options of choice.  Options of 'being' you didn't realize existed, because your brain is held in thrall of habit.  This is what traumatized patients have to do - create new pathways in the injured nervous system and brain.  It takes the spark person to person - love to love, but reading non-fiction sure does open my mind. 

I'm writing differently today, with only the tiniest bit of editing.  I can't tell you how many times I want to blurt out some new insight online.  Then I inhibit myself.  #1 - time doesn't allow.  #2 - It will sound too term-paper-y were I not to process my experiences to rubber hits the road experiences.  #3 - Inner experience is so individual, mine will carve my readership into an even tinier audience... approaching zero.  So I wait, until all but the last inner processing is complete, to 'make sense' in a post. 

No more.  You get what you get.  I will trust myself to write in the midst of learning, because this is where excitement lies for me.  Mistakes?  Part of learning.  Comments are welcome!

As expensive as the New York Times paper delivery is in my state, I can truthfully say it has proved to be a good parent for me, if a good parent's job is to emotionally mature their child.  This morning, two fascinating articles propel me further in my quest for emotional maturity.  One, in today's Sunday Review How Intelligence and Rationality Differ , and the second Where's the Love? in the Social Q's column. 

The first article differentiates between I.Q. -  raw intellectual horsepower, and R.Q. - which measures "the propensity for reflective thought - stepping back from your own thinking and correcting its faulty tendencies."  Unlike I.Q., R.Q. can be improved, and those with a high I.Q.  are "if anything, more prone to the conjunction fallacy."  (My I.Q. is partway up there, as I discovered with a professional I.Q. test in my 30's.  My husband had countered that my family's pegging me as the 'dimwit', was wrong. )  The problem with people like me, who work hard to figure things out, is that we trust what our minds conclude way too much.  It's like we build grand citadels inside our minds with kindling from early personal experiences, when all we had to work with was lies.

I'm learning that my heart-mind is more reliable indicator of truth than my mind-mind.  Some folks call our mind-mind our ego.  What do you call it?  I call it my constructed self, constructed of lies and half-truths.  The grand citadel is a sham!

The second article's author, the New York Times' etiquette columnist Philip Galanes, prods me in his article.  Today in his column, a father is seeking advice on how to prod his fat 9-year old daughter to get thin.  Mr. Galanes responds to his ideas  "I have hoped to find a kernel of compassion for you... I can't find the love in your question.  As a Dad, your job is to build your daughter up. Let her know she is awesome just the way she is. (There are enough creeps out there who will try to make her feel bad...)....Please get smart on this issue before you do any harm to her."  Holy jiminy.  There wasn't a non-creep IN my family growing up.  Out with the creeps!  Mr. Galanes's compassionate answer rips right through this father's self-serving self-righteousness.  At least I hope it does, and this father can take his advice to heart.

I have a theory that maybe 20% of people did not get the assurance of their family as a safe, loving, and affirmative haven.  Terrorized by insecurity, they reach for certainty, be it any dogma - liberal, conservative, hedonistic, ascetic, cynical.  My theory is that politicians who spout certainty are attractive for people unnerved by nuance and uncertainty.  Once in this dogmatic space it is really hard "stepping back from your own thinking and correcting its faulty tendencies".

Synchronicity in my life, like these New York Times articles, gives me faith that the mysterious road into my heart, and away from my 'mind', is indeed the road of sanity.  I know I now feel a reverence for life and know I am fine, just the way my heart leads.

Have a super day.
Love, Flow

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Oh, goodness. A Serious Post on the Heels of Vacation?

A few days into my vacation in Downeast Maine, I knew I wasn't going to do everything I wanted to.  Better than growing my leg muscles, or finishing the books I brought, I decided the best use of my time was exercising my perspective to make IT - my perspective - larger.

Have you ever heard of this acronym?  M.I.R.R.O.R.
It comes from a book I'm listening to for my book group, called

The Brain's Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity

by Norman Doidge, M.D. 

If you want to know what I did on my vacation, besides revere and revel in the scenery, this acronym M.I.R.R.O.R. nails it.  M.I.R.R.O.R. is a change agent for the brain.

  • Motivation
  • Intention
  • Relentlessness
  • Reliability
  • Opportunity
  • Restoration

Every time we successfully erase a habit, or tackle a thorny issue head on, or learn a new language, we're creating new brain circuits and eclipsing others.  This method takes this a step further with the final 'R':  Restoration.  I'm only 20% into this book, but Dr. Doidge has told of two diseases - chronic pain and Parkinson's Disease - whose normally intractable symptoms have yielded to the patient's own mental effort.  It takes very particular efforts.  He describes specifically how, yet it's not a 'one size fits all' cure. My understanding thus far, is that pointed mental exercise can replace many or most patients' impairments with beneficial function.  It calls for knowledge, time and effort, not money, and can substantially lessen reliance on medication. 

M.I.R.R.O.R. operates on the notion  of 'Competitive Plasticity', meaning that the circuits we use in our brain crowd out the pathways we don't.   Only so much room in our brains, evidently.  New habits can replace old ones, we've just got to go at it patiently.   And relentlessly.   The first impairment described: chronic (not acute) pain. The brain learns to actually crowd out the pain signals and eventually the brain relents, making pain-free signals second nature.  Though the original physical cause remains, referred pain 'vanishes'.  Some people can get completely off meds.   The second: Parkinson's Disease.   Using conscious deliberate walking and movement that utilizes another part of the brain, the 'second-nature' motor circuits hobbled by Parkinson's Disease are overridden.  But only when conscious effort is employed; the new movement never becomes second nature.   Plus, only some, not all of Parkinson's symptoms can be influenced thusly. 

It's hard.  The trick is accomplishing this herculean brain shift while you're in that brain fog that pain and illness heap on everyone.  

Hah!  Brain fog sound familiar?  I can walk into another room and forget the reason I came in.

M.I.R.R.O.R. is exactly  the method I've been using to shift my ingrained beliefs.  Well, not the only one.   But during this vacation, I altered my perception about a core value: 'JUST DO IT!  Whether you feel like it or not!'   I went from believing that overriding feelings to 'just do it'  was useful, to believing it's no such thing, in social situations, anyway.  In fact, it's more than useless.  It's a brain malfunction.  My brain malfunction to fix.   Although I didn't know to call it the M.I.R.R.O.R. technique until I started reading this book afterwards, that's exactly the technique I used. 

I experimented on a few social occasions.  When I concentrated on putting my feelings first  -  NO anxiety.   It took complete concentration, staying in touch with my feelings.  When I succeeded, my care for others started flowing. 

The difference between using my 'default' impulse and my new 'forced' impulse was stark.  My default made anxiety surface.  Putting my feelings first made my anxiety go away.

What the???  Is my anxiety is telling me I'm off-course with this 'Ignore your feelings and DO IT' ?  I thought all this time that approach was the very definition of social courage.  It's what I was taught...

("Think about it, Flow.  Everyone in your family was either miserable or making you miserable.  So your inherited value makes you miserable, too.  They were wrong!  Instead, use focused sensitivity to tune in to your feelings.  You especially need them in social situations!" )

(I never learned this from anybody!)

("Wail all you want.  You're learning it now and I'm proud of you.")

My trauma counselor asked the other day, when I was exalting in my Maine breakthrough:   "Wonderful!  Yes!  You get it!"

"But I'm still bracing for impact (without this method)..."

"Is there a part of you now that isn't bracing?  Even ONE molecule?"

"ONE molecule. Yes."  I announced.  "An elementary molecule."

"Where is that molecule?"

"In my brain stem.  Instead of being captive to a fight-flight-freeze reaction, ONE molecule is staying here, feeling safe."  ( Hah!  PTSD.  You are toast!)

Doesn't it feel sometimes like we're acting on a wisp of hope and strength?  Well,  ONE safe molecule can open a world of options.

Later..."I feel like a heretic putting my feelings first" I wailed to my friend.

Her response?  It's not only you, who has difficulty putting their own happiness first.  For generations, women have been taught to put others' feelings and happiness above their own.  And men, too!  Our particular western culture has valued rational intellect over irrational feelings for what...centuries?  It's hard to be true to your feelings!


In this afternoon of my life; sensitivity is IN! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Come Round the Campfire

I'm no novice at camping, but I am at building a campfire.  Took a deep breath...looked at the directions, took my ax to split the logs, built the teepee of kindling, lit, added bigger logs...

Much better than the first time three years ago.

'Smores are good, and my spirit's getting nourished even more.  Somehow, here, I'm not ashamed to set my intellect aside to become a student of my heart.  My heart's whispers - they're my weakest signal at home.  I used to hear my heart whispering and painted what I heard.  Back, as an art student, I had idealistic fervor that art could bypass anyone's prejudices and head straight to the heart.  "Here's my soul"  my art blared.

But people passed it by, so I figured i wasn't blaring it loud enough.  And since I believed good art is art that sells, and I needed to put food on my plate, I turned to making art people bought.  Until I couldn't stomach making that 'art' anymore.

Now I'm thinking "What the h***".  Let my heart's sensitivity show.  Blare what my soul whispers here:  that all hearts really beat together, beneath all the 'circumstances'.  If I ignore my fears I can glimpse this.   Here.

My muses inspire

I ran into my 'Maine' friend, the artist Elizabeth Ostrander, this afternoon.  She has a few pieces in the show opening tonight and invited me.  If there's any artist who reveals the tender soul in her work, it's Elizabeth.  I head to her show in a few minutes.

Peace in your heart.  I want her brave soul, but I'll have to find mine, instead.