brain

Off Coffee

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I’m off coffee again. I used to drink it like a maniac, but these days I go through phases where I drink a cup or 2 a day and then go off it for a few days. I usually get a headache on the second day off coffee — it used to be my Sunday headache because I drank it every day Monday to Friday but didn’t have any on Saturday. I have heard various things about it being bad for you, good for you, and that it adds to your “fire” or “yang” energy. Either way, I’ve pretty much decided I am going to stay away from the cheap stuff (especially instant) but enjoy a nice, hand-ground cup whenever I feel like it.

And what is hand-ground coffee, you ask? It’s what you do when you have some really great beans you want to brew but you don’t have a grinder — you grind it by hand in a cast-iron frying pan. With a rock, preferably. :) This is what my awesome roommate and I did in Wrigley when I was there. It was, hands down, the best coffee ever! (The beans were Kicking Horse Coffee.)

A little over a week ago, I went to visit this roommate of mine, and he offered me a cup of tea. It was evening, so we weren’t going to get into coffee. I chose a nice black tea with loose leaves and put a few into my cup. I hadn’t had any coffee or black tea for about a week or so, and let me tell you what the first sip of caffeine felt like! It went straight to the frontal lobe of my brain — I’m not joking — and I could feel it doing something there. It was so obvious and so strange!

This got me thinking — are there any other times I have done this — gone off something and noticed a big effect when I started up again? One time, it was television.

I was totally off television for a couple of years, only watching tiny bits in restaurants and at friends’ places. Now, I’m still “off television” in principle, but my landlord likes to watch it sometimes, and I seem to find myself eating with him in front of the TV occasionally, or visiting with him in the living room with the TV on. Let me tell you how it affected me!

The first time I sat in front of it and actually watched some, I felt like someone was trying to program my brain. I felt like I was being manipulated and sold certain messages. I also felt like I was being “talked down to,” like I was stupid or at the very least, slow. It was so clear to me, it was startling. I remember turning to my landlord while the news was on and saying “do people actually believe this? Do they think this is all there is to this issue?” He had a sort of numb look on his face, but then he agreed that there was more to it. I don’t even remember what story was on the news. I felt a little better watching football — at least the message was straightforward and I didn’t feel manipulated.

I was off the internet (almost completely) for about a month this year too, not by choice. There were major delays in getting the phone and internet hooked up (read the story here), and when I went back online, I noticed something then, too. I felt a slight stress come back — stress to check my emails regularly and respond, to check facebook, to be reachable, and of course, to get all sorts of blogging and other things done on my various websites. Life had been so simple before…

I have realized something from this experience: Caffeine, TV and the internet are not inherently bad, but if I want to know how they effect me, the best way to do that is to go off for a while and then try a sample again. By paying attention while trying that sample, I can learn a lot about myself and how I react to whatever I had cut out. Then, I can decide if I want that affect on my life all the time, or if I want to stay “off.” So, for example, if you think TV is totally harmless, I challenge you to go off TV for a couple of weeks and then watch something again. How does it make you feel? Do you feel like I did? I am curious if you’ll have the same experience. Perhaps more than a couple of weeks is needed — let me know what your experience is.

I also think that things like TV and internet and coffee complicate our lives. We arrange our schedules around when certain shows are on, we use up large amounts of time on the internet and we change our travel route based on the drive-thru coffee shops along the way. When you eliminate these things, it is simpler, but then again, didn’t I recently discover it’s not about having a simpler life? Aaah well, I slipped back into an old pattern there! :)

If You’re Happy and You Know it… Grow Some Neurons!

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We’ve all heard and intuitively know that when you’re happier, you’re healthier. Joseph Campbell has been saying for ages — follow your bliss. Abraham-Hicks says it too — the most important thing is that you feel good now. Well, I recently came across a tidbit of research that tells me science is finally catching up!

I read this excellent article recently that explains how scientists have proven that serotonin — the hormone associated with happiness — helps rats grow new brain cells. Specifically, when a certain serotonin-receptor is stimulated, the rats grew new neurons in their Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS is a complex system of about 100 million neurons that inhabit the “gut” which supervise digestion and have intricate ties with the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). This alone is quite revolutionary, that we have neurons, essentially brain tissue, in our gut and not just our brain. In fact, we have two “small brains” — one in our gut and one in our heart, which account for the nervous, fluttery or heart-poundy feelings we can get at times. As a fetus develops, all the neurological tissue starts out in one area, a sort of tube, which extends out to form clusters which eventually become the brain, the heart and the gut. The exact role of these “small brains” is unknown, but I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with our intuition. This is another excellent article about the heart’s rhythms and how the heart is a “small brain.”

The results of the study on the rats was published in The Journal of Neuroscience in August of 2009. So this isn’t even cutting-edge research (it’s just new to me). Yet so many of us are taught that if you drink too much, you’ll kill brain cells, and that you were only born with a certain number of them and if you kill them, you’ll never get them back. This is only half true — you can kill brain cells but you can also grow them back. If you are happy, your brain is healthier, and you are able to regrow new brain cells and the health of your existing cells is maintained. Plus, you can grow neurons in places other than your brain, and keep your gut and heart healthy.

Rack it up with all the other evidence that being happy is the best way to be! Nourish your playful spirit! Don’t let anything get you down. You are 100% in charge of your happiness and you can never blame circumstances when you’re miserable.

Note: I don’t approve of animal testing in general, but these studies on rats are pretty revolutionary. I hope the rats were treated well.

Science Doesn’t Have All the Answers

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I love science. I even have a T-shirt that says “Eat. Sleep. Explore Science.” Mind you, I haven’t worn it in a while, but still, it expresses a certain sentiment.

The other day, I had a revelation. It’s a pretty big shift from that traditional “loving science” paradigm. That revelation is

Science is overanalyzing the one you love.

If you get it, feel free to click on to some other website now, perhaps one of the links to the right. If you don’t immediately get it, let me explain what I mean.

Science is great, but it is a lot of analyzing. It’s all left-brain. I think there are a few scientists out there using both hemispheres, but on the whole, it’s detached, objective and logical. Well, except when scientists get attached to a theory and then ignore evidence to the contrary of that theory, which happens more than we know, I think. But I digress.

The problem with living in the left brain is that we miss all the beauty, the art, the loveliness of the thing we are studying. We can measure the heck out of Mother Earth, and how will that help? I wonder if we could make more of a difference by just loving her?

Any happily married man will tell you — analyzing his wife, especially to her face, is not a good idea. It is not going to help her or their relationship. But loving her, and not focusing on anything besides the things that he likes about her makes all the difference. Could it be the same with Mother Earth?

I think we may already have our answer. If you look at the science that has been done on our planet, most of the time, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for our future. But when I am actually out on the planet, in the wilderness enjoying myself and loving it — loving the Earth — I can see nothing wrong with it. I don’t see global warming. I don’t see any of the other myriad of problems the scientists say Mother Earth has. Perhaps this is just another example of the Law of Attraction at work, I don’t know. I want to see beauty, I focus on joy, so that’s what I get. Or, maybe I am just putting my head in the sand. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we all did it my way, and gave less power to science?

And I’m not saying science is all bad. But if you go looking for problems, you will find them. I look for beauty instead (all right-brainy now, I know)!

Ramifications

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For the size of our brains, we really don’t think very much, do we?!? :) Sometimes we think we have a situation all figured out, but we really don’t!

Interpersonal stuff can be so tricky, or is it just me? For example, I have a friend, let’s call her “Susan,” who has a boss who is becoming increasingly more controlling, questioning, and untrusting. When this started, her first response was to be a little angry, frustrated and resist. Don’t we all want to resist being controlled?! One day, the boss demanded she fill in timesheets to track what she did every hour she worked. She began taking responsibilities away from Susan, saying “it wasn’t her job to do,” even though she’d been doing those things very well for quite a while. Then, the boss wanted Susan to write a report to summarize what she’d been doing, so all the managers could review it at a monthly meeting! Susan felt like her word wasn’t good enough, that she wasn’t being trusted. It’s not like she was a slacker, wasting time in the coffee room all day — she didn’t even take breaks!

Luckily, my friend’s capacity for anger and frustration ran out. She decided that if they wanted more reports, fine. If they wanted to question her, fine, she’d answer. She knew she wasn’t doing anything wrong, and if she had to prove it, fine. So far, things seem to be settling down, largely because she has changed her own attitude to the situation.

But she could have had a very different response. What if she had been snarky (a temptation, for sure) and put on the daily reports that she spent 2 hours doing reports for the boss! She might have thought this very clever, a little “dig” to point out the boss’ ridiculousness. But the boss could have reacted very badly, saying “that simple, one-page report took you 2 hours?!?” There could have been many ramifications — being sent for time management training, having one-on-one meetings to review how the reports are to be done, or just more hostilities between them, as the power struggle intensified. That’s what it started to feel like — a power struggle of epic proportions! Okay, not really epic, but do you see how we can blow things out of proportion? Susan has done a great job thinking and then responding, although it hasn’t been easy.


From dictionary.com:  Ram•i•fi•ca•tion   n.  A development or consequence growing out of and sometimes complicating a problem, plan, or statement: the ramifications of a court decision.


We seem to get in our worst trouble when either A) we don’t take the time to think before responding (just reacting) or B) we don’t know as much about a situation as we think we do (just plain ignorance). For example, people get angry at the big oil and gas companies for what they are doing to the environment. “We need to shut them down,” they say. I love nature, and I agree with the sentiment, but what are the ramifications of shutting down gas and oil companies overnight? Could you heat your house? Drive your car? How would you eat — do your groceries arrive at the store via truck, or via electric train? See what I mean? Very few of us are are really well-informed, and have taken the time to look at an issue from many sides and see all the consequences of our proposed solution.

I came across a blog today, about choosing not to have children. There were many comments on it, and I shared it with Darren and we spent a while reading some other blogs and sites we found. Some people only see the issue from one side, and are very opinionated! I’ve had a few thoughts on it myself, but I think this is the key: have kids, or don’t — but think about what you’re doing and decide. Don’t just have them because it’s expected of you, because everyone thinks you should, or accidentally. Did you forget the ramifications of having sex?

Some people get into huge arguments with friends or family members about the child-bearing issue. It’s always harder to have a calm discussion — thinking before responding — when we are emotionally charged or attached to a situation or issue. With my husband, sometimes I just talk without thinking — ack! If only I took 3 seconds to breathe and think, instead of immediately responding! Why do conversations have to be so rapid-fire? Am I really in that much of a hurry? Yes. No. Of course. Come here. Talk to me! Darren thinks before speaking way more than I do, and sometimes I get frustrated when he takes so long to respond! Talk to me, Goose! (If you get that reference, you rock!)  :)

Perhaps if I practiced more of the Buddhist idea of non-attachment, it would be easier. As I understand it, this doesn’t mean I’m not attached to my husband (don’t care about him), it means I am not attached to a certain outcome of our discussions — intensely needing him to agree with me, for example. We can agree to disagree, and I can accept and respect that he has his own perspective and it’s every bit as valid as mine. I think non-attachment is powerful, but I don’t know enough about it to say more now!

Now that I think of it, words have the most ramifications of any of the daily, ordinary things we do. They can make or break a relationship, change our attitude, and even change our world.


On a personal note, I have been working hard on publishing my book lately! I’ve been in conversation with an artist about the illustrations I need and I’m all over the lulu.com site, learning about how it all works and deciding on page sizes. Then I go into my publishing program and mess with page sizes, margins, fonts, and all that fun. It won’t be long now! I’ll keep you posted… :)

Right Brain, Left Brain

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I’ve been listening to some of Oprah’s Soul Series Webcasts, and the latest one I finished is of a brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, who suffered a massive stroke but somehow remained conscious throughout and has memories of her whole experience. She’s written a book about it, called My Stroke of Insight, which I’m going to order at some point.
It’s so interesting! Her left brain was affected, and one of the first things to change was her perception of the world – her senses became hyper-sensitive to the point where regular room noise was overwhelmingly painful. Because her language centre was affected, she couldn’t understand any noises as words and even lost her internal mental voice that thinks in words, too. So communicating was out of the question. Besides that, her perception of her body went all out of whack. Not like many people’s distorted body view, thinking they are ugly when they aren’t. This was about the boundaries of her body – she had no perception of where her body began or ended. This is something I had never really thought about, so it intrigued me. She felt boundless, humungous, like she spanned the entire universe. That gets me thinking about how much of my reality is just a perception – what my brain thinks is true. If my brain worked differently, or certain parts were damaged, I wouldn’t be who I am. So I am the sum of my parts, but only as my brain sees it.
So can I change what my brain thinks? Of course! A new idea is just a new thought away! So lately, I’ve been trying to imagine how Jill Bolte Taylor felt when she was boundless. I am trying to shut down my left brain a little, analyze the world less, slow down the language centre, and use my big-picture right brain. And I think it’s working – I have had inklings of being connected to the universe, just feeling things, not trying to understand or analyze things. I think I am going to keep doing this throughout July and I’ll let you know how this experiment goes!
The other thing I want to keep doing more and more is living in the moment. Sometimes I get frustrated, frazzled, or feel rushed (I am working a new second job, and am getting quite busy!) and I realize that I feel that way because I’m not staying in the present. I am trying to rush through it to get to some “better” moment, somewhere I need to be, would rather be, or something I need to do. Not good! I end up getting overwhelmed, and lately I realize that I am breathing very shallowly and have all sorts of tension in my body. I guess that’s what happens when we try to time travel! :) But as soon as I remember to be present in the moment, I feel much better and the anxiety fades. So that is my focus for July… it’s going to be a great month!

Mind Your Television

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I’ve been noticing lately that I feel different when I watch TV. Within minutes of watching, my mind, somehow, feels different. It’s like the free-flowing thinking is being re-routed. Difficult to explain or understand, until now.

I’ve been reading in a very good book Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza, D.C. He talks about how when you think a certain thought over and over, new neural nets are produced. In other words, neurons that fire together, wire together (as he puts it). This does make sense when you think of habits and things… you seem to do them automatically, don’t you? Those particular thoughts are so used to occurring together, they become almost “hard-wired,” probably to make it easier for your brain to do repeatedly. Well, we also have automatic thought patterns, although many of are unaware of what those are. It’s a great exercise to start becoming aware of what you are thinking, and also practicing staying in the moment with your thoughts and feelings, and not letting yourself get carried away in daydreams, or negative fantasizing (which I have dubbed “apocalypsing”). But, this is the subject of another blog, or heck, a whole book!

So, as I was reading Evolve Your Brain just now, it occurred to me: what if millions of people are all watching the same TV program, and all the commercials, at the same time? What does that do to the collective consciousness? For example, if a million women watch an hour-long show, and during that show, see the same anti-aging commercial 6 times (at least!), what effect does that have on women-kind as a whole? I think it might make us kind of obsessive about wrinkles or sagging, or age spots – you get the idea! What if that message affects only half of those women negatively (and the other half resist the message, knowing there is more to you than how young your face apparently looks)! That’s still an awful lot of people thinking the same thing at the same time… I wonder what that does to the Earth and all of mankind’s consciousness as a whole? What about violent shows, shows where the criminal takes centre stage, where twisted, aberrant behaviour is showcased. Maybe people would start to see those things as normal, or even as a way to get attention (since the criminal gets lots of attention, people chasing him etc.)… Scary, isn’t it? I am starting to understand how violence (in shows or video games) can be seen as entertainment. I never used to understand, but it’s the excitement that goes along with it – what will happen next, wow, I can’t believe he did that, etc. That excitement can be addictive – in fact, I think it’s pretty accurate to say that excitement is addictive no matter what form it comes in – TV, real life adventures, reading books, playing games to escape reality, etc.

So, the messages of TV are powerful, and they are amplified by the fact that so many millions of people see them. Even if you think they aren’t affecting you, they are. See if you can notice how you think or feel differently when you start to watch – you’ll probably only feel it for the first few minutes before the brainwashing begins and you lose your immunity to it. See if violent shows change you. That’s my theory anyway! Thoughts anyone?

Evolve Your Brain