You May Never Know What’s Eating You

It has long been both my assumption and very clear to me personally that there is no gold in mining the past for anything that will “cure” whatever distress is lingering in my daily life. That is not to say that where something disturbing me comes from cannot be useful, it’s that I don’t think it’s necessary.
In fact the more I am exposed to quantum theory and the research coming from the genetic dynamics we are heir to, the less I am inclined to lean on the past for anything but storyline.
I want to share with you this article I found recently as I think it speaks to so much clarity we could have using strategies in the moment without the concomitant muddying of waters gone still.
Reminds me of the teeshirts I have seen proliferating – Keep Calm and Carry On or variations which satisfy the makers’ intentions.

Phobias may be memories passed down in genes from ancestors

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent   @The Telegraph

Memories can be passed down to later generations through genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors, according to new research that may explain how phobias can develop.

Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences built up during a lifetime must be passed on by teaching later generations or through personal experience.

However, new research has shown that it is possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, found that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences – in this case a fear of the smell of cherry blossom – to subsequent generations.

The results may help to explain why people suffer from seemingly irrational phobias – it may be based on the inherited experiences of their ancestors.

So a fear of spiders may in fact be an inherited defence mechanism laid down in a families genes by an ancestors’ frightening encounter with an arachnid.

Dr Brian Dias, from the department of psychiatry at Emory University, said: “We have begun to explore an underappreciated influence on adult behaviour – ancestral experience before conception.

“From a translational perspective, our results allow us to appreciate how the experiences of a parent, before even conceiving offspring, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations.

“Such a phenomenon may contribute to the etiology and potential intergenerational transmission of risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In the study, which is published in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, the researchers trained mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom using electric shocks before allowing them to breed.

The offspring produced showed fearful responses to the odour of cherry blossom compared to a neutral odour, despite never having encountered them before.

The following generation also showed the same behaviour. This effect continued even if the mice had been fathered through artificial insemination.

The researchers found the brains of the trained mice and their offspring showed structural changes in areas used to detect the odour.

The DNA of the animals also carried chemical changes, known as epigenetic methylation, on the gene responsible for detecting the odour.

This suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

The researchers now hope to carry out further work to understand how the information comes to be stored on the DNA in the first place.

They also want to explore whether similar effects can be seen in the genes of humans.

Professor Marcus Pembrey, a paediatric geneticist at University College London, said the work provided “compelling evidence” for the biological transmission of memory.

He added: “It addresses constitutional fearfulness that is highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, plus the controversial subject of transmission of the ‘memory’ of ancestral experience down the generations.

“It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously.

“I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

Professor Wolf Reik, head of epigenetics at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, said, however, further work was needed before such results could be applied to humans.

He said: “These types of results are encouraging as they suggest that transgenerational inheritance exists and is mediated by epigenetics, but more careful mechanistic study of animal models is needed before extrapolating such findings to humans.”

It comes as another study in mice has shown that their ability to remember can be effected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk

Dr Miklos Toth, from Weill Cornell Medical College, found that chemokines carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory in later life.

Everyday Choices

“When you are more aware you can make better choices.”

Deepak Chopra said that in his book, What Are You Hungry For? But anyone can say that, has said it. Your mother or father probably told you that. They may have substituted other words – older, more one thing or another – but basically it’s a simple thing to say and very true.

Not simple to do. It’s one of those moments in my practice – or with myself – when I say something really obvious and they say or I say, “Oh I know that!”

Yes, but what can you do about it? That’s the question, and the follow through pretty much determines how you feel about your life.

What is “awareness?” We all talk about it a lot but defining it in the moment is another thing. The nasty word “discipline” comes to mind. We all think we are disciplined until we really look, then, if we are lucky, we can see the cracks of where we could be better, where life can teach us something maybe without hitting us over the head.

Start with joy, love, fear, a feeling of peace. Their presence or absence and how much and how often. You can go a long way just watching your life according to those feelings.

Emotions cloud the feelings sometimes with justifications, sometimes with resentments or envy. Those pretty much take the equation to a much lower level and as long as we dwell in “I’m better than or worse than,” the fear we live in will be masked by jealousy and hubris and all their relatives and cousins and the truth of who we are will elude our grasp.

In the moments of willingness to take a risk, to take time off, not check something, take a breath, we let in what’s real for us – or it knocks at our door and to the extent we are comfortable or not, we make excuses or see a thing as what it is.

Our lives are changing all the time – our thoughts wiggle around like the microscope slide of pond water. We are never still, even as we are completely still in our human viewpoint, our bodies are oceans of activity. Our thoughts send neuropeptides all over our bodies. Our hearts have more receptors for emotions than our brains, every organ we recognize (and those we don’t) is listening to us, eavesdropping on our every micro moment. Even thoughts we don’t recognize ourselves as thinking are heard in our body in their fullest voice. What passes through the conscious mind is picked up by the unconscious with full comprehension.

The reason meditation is so impressive an avenue for change and positive growth is that it is channeling the unconscious, the part of us not so involved in our outside world of fame and misfortune. The unconscious has, from our sentient inception, been aware of our every thought and move, has received all the input that our cortex was not mature enough to take in and is processing it as I write. The more it can be counted in any decision-making process we embark on, the smarter we can be.

Finding well-being doesn’t happen by itself. It isn’t lying in wait for you ready to pounce. You must receive it. Your motion of looking, seeking, opening – the door, the box, the mind – is a way of saying you’re ready, you are not too full or empty to take more in. Awareness isn’t like food of which you can have enough, it’s a quantum field, expanding as you fill in and inhabit its spaces.

There is a story about what’s important. There is a jar, water, big rocks, small rocks and sand. Maybe you’ve heard this, bear with me. The jar is your everyday life, the choices you make in every minute, and the big rocks represent what’s the most important to you, the smaller rocks, yes, you get it – and the sand, the sand is all the phone calls to return, facebook posts, emails and so on.

Many of us put the sand in first on an everyday basis. We say something like, “oh, they’ll (our loved ones, family, friends) be there, they always are.” Or, “nobody cares anyway so what difference does it…..”  You get where I’m going.

So with the jar full of sand, there’s no room for the rocks, or you have to choose really carefully. What to do? When I have the visual, it’s perfectly clear that you’re going to get nowhere with the sand first, it just doesn’t work. So I take it out – because if I start my day with things like emails, I’ll have a lot of sand in the jar and a few little rocks and maybe a big one on a good day.

When I put the big rocks in first (I’ve chosen ones that fit), and then I place the smaller ones, maybe shake the jar a bit, then I put the sand in. It all fits! And I can add the water, which will make everything happier and more workable.

In practical terms what that all means is I put my oxygen mask on myself (big rock), I take care of what is important to me every day – more likely than not it’s just an attitude (very big rock), not something you’ll see me grinding away at. Keeping the long view (big rock), looking at the nitty (what I have to do to get where I want to be – part big & little rocks, sometimes involves sand) of life not so much as gritty but as supporting the long view. If there’s something I’m doing I find frustrating or painful, hopefully it will be in support of a brighter, more aware future me. If it isn’t, I hope I can let it go. Just as I let this lily be the next thing it’s going toward.

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Where I’m going with this

This is an expansion of my last post, The Long View. When I first wrote it I realized I had more to say but I wasn’t sure what. I found more today – tell me if it expands the ideas for you – or what? Thank you.

The Long View

When I was growing up everyone around me gave me suggestions for “what to do when…” I grew up. My friends and I wrote on our notebooks and in our journals what we wanted, to do, to be, to have and to hold. We girls tried different names on with our “first” names, we got “married,” wore “big” clothes, generally did everything we could to avoid being who we were; little girls growing up.

It wasn’t different for the boys, just different jobs, no name change and different responsibilities. We all had help from those around us. Teachers, parents, aunts, uncles, headmasters, principals, ministers of all kinds and creeds told us pretty much the same things: Do your best by following the designs laid down by our forebears. Take the next step, don’t be a surprise. No one wants a surprise.

When I was ten my mother’s cousins sat around me – I remember a close circle, but that was more how I felt than how they were arranged I suspect – and, talking over my head, decided where I would go to college, what I would do for how long before I married into their version of a suitable match.

I took notes. I listened (it made no sense), smelled their breath, their perfume, their shoes, and, in the invisible notepad in my heart vowed to do nothing they said. Nothing.

What a great set up that was for a willful rebel, for a kid whose mission was to fly under the radar. All of which I did (flew under) and none of which supported me anymore than following their objectives could have.

Now in the age of Facebook I see everyone married to everyone else – transcending age and gender – all goals and paths, up and down laid out in not very elegant prose. (If my mother’s cousins were anything, they were elegant.)

It feels so much like freedom I could almost be fooled into thinking there is less planning today and more “happy being me.” Instead I think not so much in terms of “more” and “less” but in the same. For instance, a few weeks ago I spoke with a young man of 25 who (I think) was trying to impress me with his plans. He said he had just landed a job with a well-known company in the tech field, he was being paid to be trained (and very proud of that) and he claimed to be willing to work for that company for 35 years. He had the list of his steps up the ladder: one year entry level, three years field work, and ending somehow in management after 35 years.

I have to admit my head swam and I might not have gotten all his details correctly. Why would anyone put himself on such a journey. I didn’t hear about discovery, I didn’t hear about enjoyment. I heard entrainment, a version of responsibility. I was at a loss – for words, among other things.

After spending much of the summer researching trauma and loss, fear, recovery and memory – and why would anyone study that unless they felt they would grow in the understanding of those close around them (that would be me!) – I did recognize that I was listening to fear. I was hearing about unacknowledged choices, unrecognized chances and a life lived within the barest of minimum tracks.

Of course I see myself in him. The fear of failure, the holding tight to what is known. We can all relate to some degree to the young who are starting out with what we call “chances of a lifetime,” while we know something about lifetimes and the longevity of denial. Denial has its own life. It can go on and on. It can hide in the smallest cracks, the most reasonable choices, the most sensible moments.

Who among us does not have a story about a dream unfilled, a lover denied. Not all of mine were chances lost, most were gains – but what about the mini-moments of denial, the tiny efforts let go, the chances I thought I couldn’t handle because I wasn’t good enough or didn’t deserve. There are those moments that come to each of us every day. How do we meet and greet them. What plans do we make to avoid them, what skills do we fall back on to justify choices? How do we treat our moment of green thrust? Do we make room?

Being here, where I am now, having parried with choices, with denial, with feeling good and bad about myself, I can see the well- lived, the half-lived, under and over the bar, within or without the spectrum, the degree to which I have been me, myself. It has become easy to see when I stray, when I strain. It was not so easy then. I thought strain was part of it. Part of the path – strain to be on it, strain to be off it. I was often filled with self-conscious confidence, judgement of where I was, where they were. Lots of judgement, like a chocolate sundae, so good at the first bite, a bit sickening at the last.

I don’t have the story that Mark Twain told of being amazed how much his father had learned in such a short time – when he got older and saw the wisdom of his father. I don’t feel anyone is right or wrong. I think there are a lot of confusing choices. There always have been and there always will be. That’s why we are here. Not to have an easy life but to bump up against ourselves, to make our marks like wrinkles as well as those of us who get to be known for something. To keep on going is enough. Putting one foot in front of the other, keeping our eyes and our hearts open, the wind in our face. As James Taylor wrote, “It’s enough to be on your way, enough just to cover ground, it’s enough to be moving on.” But for a life “well lived,” we are tasked to mindfulness, to feelings. (not emotions – that’s another article) We want the best for ourselves and in order to get that, we have to give ourselves the best – and accept it.

 

 

This Is My Room

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I’ve been studying a lot about the brain lately – and habits. Such important tidbits and bytes that make up our worlds, personalities and basically our lives. How we see things – things as they are are how we see them. Pirandello wrote a play called Cosi e se vi pare – as usual I can’t do the accents on my accentless keyboard – but loosely translated it means we see what we want to see. (it is so if you think it is)
One of my brain readings involved toast. Burnt toast. It seems that when we in the christian world burn toast, we often see Christ’s face. This is not because Christ’s face is there, no, but because we see what we expect to see and we see the face of Christ a lot.
Gives me pause about the court system and any leaning at all toward believing in the truth of the eyewitness. Bystanders are no exception, they see what they want to see. I read what I want to read. Sometimes I think I’m making up the whole novel as I go along – but then every once in a while an idea plays in front of me that I know didn’t come from my head!
What about you? What do you see? Who do you see? Where were you when you saw…?

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Something Old, Something New

The field fallow for fifty years

Does not open to rain right away

But takes its time in the slow days

Of age that fly by, the days marked

By the rise and fall of sun and moon.

The moon taking the greater impression

 

This field has taken care of others all its life,

So far. All its time it has been a caretaker

Never grown its own crops. So how can the

Seeds not planted grow? How can the life not

Lived look in the mirror when what’s

Been the view all these years were others’ needs.

 

Think a minute in the still white mind

Take a moment of the apron’s cloth, know

The Larch for what it is, see the water pouring

Into the kettle. Watch the egg bounce to the boil,

Take into your sweet hand the spoon stirring gently

And do not lift the veil of loneliness but dwell

In the land of you and promise to love.

photo

Earth Day

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Earth Day: The History of A Movement

“Each year, Earth Day — April 22 — marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

The height of hippie and flower-child culture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Protest was the order of the day, but saving the planet was not the cause. War raged in Vietnam, and students nationwide increasingly opposed it.

At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.  Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962.  The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center.”

Today, call it Earth Day or anything you like, is a day just like any other. It is what we – each one of us – makes of it.

Morning Poem
by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches—
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead—
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging—

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted—

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

 

The Language of Doubt

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This morning as the cats and dogs aligned themselves with my body in a way designed to prompt wakefulness, I was reminded that the only difference between aggravation and enjoyment is how I see it.
“It” can be anything. Does the above photo look ominous? Playful? Beautiful? If I remember correctly, (or if I don’t) it was windy in a playful way and I was stirred to participate with the earth and the wind, the clouds were my playmates and my feet were happy to be on the ground.
I have to say that I prefer those unchallenging times – but, it’s all in the way I see it, isn’t it?
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this must be shared – from Mary Oliver

Leda and the Swan

 

From Mary Oliver’s book, Winter Hours

The Swan

Years ago I set three “rules” for myself. Every poem I write, I said, must have a genuine body, it must have sincere energy, and it must have a spiritual purpose. If a poem to my mind failed any one of these categories it was rebuked and redone, or discarded. Over the forty or so years during which writing poems has been my primary activity, I have added other admonitions and consents. I want every poem to “rest” in intensity,. I want  it to be rich with pictures of the world. I want it to carry threads from the perceptually felt world to the intellectual world. I want each poem to indicate a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy (not my life – not necessarily! – but the life of my formal self, the writer).
I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)
“The Swan” has some of these qualities. It has as well a “secret” humor; I was watching geese not swans when I began the poem – that is, thought of the poem, felt it in concept, and wrote down a few lines. Since I had only recently written a poem about geese, I thought I would intensify the poem’s display, and make something even fancier than wild geese out of the beautiful bird shapes I was watching. I thought this fairly funny, and I remember it was therefore with a certain light-hearted pleasure that I proceeded with the description. Though unknown as a fact to the reader, I don’t wonder at all if my mood attuned me more finely than otherwise to my work – I am sure it did.
The form was no problem – long sentences and short lines, a little enjambment to keep things going (the swan is in motion) but not too much, so that the lines, like the swan’s movements are decisive, and keep their dignity. Take out some commas for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (in words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time – invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty, and to configure in his or her own mind what that might be. Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would keep the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem. And, that’s all. The final phrase – “touch the shore” – is vital; it is a closure yet it is also a moment of arrival, and therefore a possible new beginning.
The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room, inside a building. My poems have all been written – if not finished at least started – somewhere out-of-doors: in the fields, on the shore, under the sky. They are not lectures. The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it. If the reader accepts and thinks about its question, “The Swan” accomplishes what it set out to do.

The Swan

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating – a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers –
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company –
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
white wings
touch the shore?

painting, “Leda and The Swan”   Pam White

Galloping Along

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Everyone is writing and posting about the Year of the Horse – the Wood Horse. I am too, and I’m going to put a long essay at the end of this post all about what to expect this year.
What I personally want to write about is the habits we have that might get in the way of our thoroughly taking full advantage of these opportunities.
There is a story about awareness and the readiness to act that goes like this: A long time ago in a place not too far away from us here, there was a river running fast and cold. In the river were many rocks and it was well known that there was a rock that even in this cold river was hot. It’s heat could change your life for the better if you happened to find it. A young monk heard about this rock. He thought that if he could find the rock he would be able to change all of humanity for the better. He deeply wanted to do this. So he took himself to the river and knelt in its cold waters near where he felt the rock might be. He put his hands into the cold running water and began to feel the rocks as he picked each one up, he would say “cold rock.” He spent many hours in a day and many days. One day he was on his knees, “cold rock, cold rock, cold rock.” as he released them back to the stream. “Cold rock, cold rock, hot rock, cold rock, cold rock,” then he jumped up and cried out, “oh, I felt it, I felt it!” But nothing he could do, no amount of mindfulness or attention could bring the hot rock to his hands again.

This is what there is to be mindful about. We have all dropped the “hot rock” without responding in time. Chances missed are chances missed, it’s what we do after that defines us.
This young monk became clear on his wishes for himself and his dreams for the world. He redoubled his efforts – not at the stream, but in the world around him. He took his fine hands to the task of bettering all he found. His brave heart supported his efforts and his diligence made him into a fine man who many looked to and learned with. He never lost heart and he allowed whatever could happen to be.

Happy New Year!

 

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The Year of the Horse brings great promise. We mostly all love horses, even if we don’t relish the thought of being next to them, we love the promise of them.
This is the year of the Wood Horse, there are many Horse years and I think this is a good one. Here’s why from Wikipedia, “In Chinese Taoist thought, Wood attributes are considered to be strength and flexibility, as with bamboo. It is also associated with qualities of warmth, generosity, co-operation and idealism. The Wood person will be expansive, outgoing and socially conscious. The wood element is one that seeks ways to grow and expand. Wood heralds the beginning of life, springtime and buds, sensuality and fecundity. Wood needs moisture to thrive.”
That all sounds good to me, lets pray for rain!
Stallion with Orange Mane - nfs