Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Life As Music

"Existence, the physical universe, is basically playful." - Alan Watts

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Body Keeps The Score

Every so often I buy a book, rather than get it from the library, because it demands underlining. 

Here are some concepts from Bessel Van Der Kolk's The Body Keeps The Score that I found interesting and want to remember:

Our brain stem and limbic system make up the "emotional brain" while the neocortex forms our "rational brain". When we have an experience, sensory information is integrated and filtered in the thalamus before passing to the amygdala, which lies in the emotional brain. The amygdala determines the significance of sensory information in consultation with the hippocampus, which sorts sensations by referencing past experiences. If a threat is identified by the amygdala, it will direct the hippocampus to release stress hormones and recruit the autonomic nervous system (which we can't consciously control and acts as an accelerator or expender of energy) to facilitate a whole-body fight/flight response. 

It takes slightly longer for information from the thalamus to travel to the rational brain. The rational brain contextualizes sensory data from the thalamus. It offers us a "view on high" of our situation and the capacity to objectively and calmly observe, predict, and consciously choose. The rational brain controls the parasympathetic nervous system which acts counter to the autonomic system, as a brake or preserver of energy. Its function is key to our ability to connect with others and care for ourselves outside of emergency situations.

So our emotional brain leads the charge when it comes to hard-wired reactions, while our rational brain (operating at a deficit because it receives information with a delay) facilitates our more thoughtful responses. When the emotional and rational brain work together in a balanced relationship, we feel healthy and like ourselves. When our emotional and rational brains are in conflict, this tension plays itself out viscerally in our bodies. 

Traumatic experiences change the threat-perception system in the brain. The amygdala looses its capacity to differentiate between the past and the present or recognize the possibility of a future. The trauma has a beginning, but no end, and is continuously relived. With each flashback, the imprint of the past trauma is engraved deeper in the mind. The thalamus shuts down and sensory input bombards the brain unfiltered. Dissociation, a physiological response to trauma, causes difficulty focusing and a blunting of engagement in life.

Shame floods in as a person looses their capacity to self-regulate, hijacked by a brain on high alert. Once the emotional brain sounds the body's alarm, no amount of reasoning or insight will silence it. And as long as a person is stuck in survival mode, their ability to imagine, play, learn, love, and nurture are deeply compromised. 

Debilitated when it comes to connection and growth, a traumatized person is vulnerable to feelings of irrelevance and alienation. Yet the body never stops trying to heal. As french psychologist Pierre Janet said, "Every life is a piece of art, put together with all means available."

The critical role of a well-functioning emotional brain is to initiate movement that will restore a person to safety and physical equilibrium. The word emotions comes from Latin and means "to move out". Thus, being able to do something to protect oneself is a key factor in determining if an experience will become traumatic.

Because of this dynamic, babies are particularly vulnerable to trauma. Research shows that infants who are not seen or known by their mothers grow up into adolescents who struggle to know or see others. Traumatic feedback loops are thus easily established between generations. Van Der Kolk believes that the gravest and most costly public health issue in the United States is child abuse.

In breaking cycles of trauma, he quotes Auden saying, "Truth, like love and sleep, resents approaches that are too intense." He relies on phrases such as "Notice that" and "What happens next?" when helping patients ease into and out of sensation. Van Der Kolk explains that terror and safety are incompatible and that people need to feel safe in order to let go of trauma. 

He underlines that people recover from trauma within the context of relationships-- in relationship with their inner experience, in relationship with their body, in relationship with others, and in relationship with their surroundings.

Understanding and applying the Buddhist concept of shenpa, meaning "biting the hook", may help us address the personal risk of being traumatized in our current political context.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Going 70mph And Tossing The Steering Wheel Out The Window

Robert Earl Keen's lyrics are an apt description of our experience pulling the goalie. 

Evan and I were shocked by how easy it was to remove my IUD once tarot cards helped guide us towards that decision. Yup. I just said that.

They also capture the madness in overdrive of Trump's first week as president. 

Didn't see that coming? Careful of letting the butterflies distract you from noticing the teeth.

Nope. No teeth in Lithuania, just tongue. 

Which brings me to baby names, words, and how something can be read completely differently by different people. 

My brother saw Frere Jacques and innocently read aloud, "Fra fra Jacquay". One of the contenders for all time greatest name has got to be Asshole, pronounced "As-shole".

You say tomato and I say tomato. 

The question becomes how to right a world gone upside-down. The question becomes how to focus on beauty and love amidst the fear.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Stranded in Jeffrey City

Like much else in Jeffrey City, Wyoming, this sign is no longer there... 

A busted town in a boom and bust state, about fifty people make a home here in the leavings of what used to be a uranium mining town. In good weather, it takes around an hour to get to the nearest grocery store. Because it is so remote, there is a working gas pump next to the bar/cafe where truckers gather to smoke, watch tv, and eat a greasy meal. 

A few years back, Lander's resident pot dealer and most infamous alcoholic moved out to Jeffrey City and opened Monk King Bird Pottery. His was the only business in town beyond the Split Rock Bar and Cafe until a local couple reopened the abandoned motel a few hundred yards down the highway.

Not the best place to get stranded and not the worst... 

Before the motel, when folks got stuck in Jeffrey City, they would be put up in the school (which currently has four students) or sleep on the floor of the bar. 

When Evan and I pulled into town at 11pm in a snow storm, we saw the plow driver out of his vehicle putting down the gate and turning on the lights to close the road out of town. Our hearts sank. We asked if we could continue on and he shook his head, informing us of the $1,500 fine for ignoring a road closure. And then he closed the road coming into town. 

Exposed out on the high prairie with no cellphone service and facing a night in our truck, we decided to explore our options. The cafe owner called the motel owner, who got out of bed and moved us into Room #3. The motel looked like the set of a B-rated horror film, but our hosts were kind, it was too cold for bed bugs, and the place offered warmth, a bed, and wifi. We felt blessed. 

The next morning, we began the ritual of refreshing the WYDOT road conditions map on our phones every few minutes. We grabbed breakfast at the cafe-- eggs and hashbrowns made for us by two other patrons, stranded in their camper until they could head home, around a ten minute drive down the road. The friendly couple encouraged us to make ourselves at home, pointing out the fridge stocked with sodas and the public lending library of DVDs. The owner of the cafe was out feeding her cattle.

Our benefactors made quite a pair. He was a large Southern man, in his forties with a single dread hanging down from below his chin and an open smile. She was a small Southern woman, in her twenties with an easy laugh who joked about being broke, her addiction to cigarettes, and falling for each other despite their best intentions.

Time passed and we waited...

Evan helped shovel snow at the motel. We canceled our appointments for the day. I watched a movie on my phone and took a bath. We refreshed the WYDOT map. 

Then, at 4pm, the roads opened. Lucky by some measures and unlucky by others, we tucked a brief and unanticipated stay in Jeffrey City under our belts. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Women's March

Ten percent of Lander's population, more than 750 people, showed up for the Women's March and our local tribute to the larger marches around the world garnered a mention in the Washington Post

The humor, beauty and creativity, the peaceful and positive collective action, the strength in solidarity-- every bit of it made my heart glad.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

 What a difference.

I am reminded of David's immortal words after he went to the dentist.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You've Gotta Be Kidding Me

An obscene truth:

The eight richest people in the world are as (materially) wealthy as the poorest 50% of people on Earth. Those eight people are all men. Six of the eight are white men from the United States.