PRACTICAL METAPHYSICS —- NEUROTHERAPY & MEDITATION

I was excited to come upon an interesting synergy between meditation and technology.  Individuals who have found deep and meaningful experiences with meditation seem open to exploring how modern neurotherapy can assist them and others in exploring these states of consciousness.

Perhaps the Dalia Lama led the way by encouraging neuroscientists to study his Buddhist meditators under sophisticated scanning technology.  This open-minded approach seems most exciting and promising.

The potential for neurotherapy [neurofeedback and cognitive therapy] to enrich our cognitive and emotional lives is enormous and those who have adopted more traditional spiritual approaches are participating in exploring these states of consciousness.

While neurotherapy seems most promising for individuals who have problems focusing their consciousness for periods of time [ADD]  there is no reason not to adapt this technology to assist others in reaching a state of mindfulness in which the mind can calmly explore its contents and NOT focus at all.

Let's hope this open-minded approach to metaphysics, exploring the nature of reality, will continue.

DRIVE SLOWLY — BRAIN UNDER REPAIR

Welcome to the brain-damaged club. Don't feel bad, everyone you know is a member. Of course by this statement I do not intend to demean those who suffer from TBI [traumatic brain injury] for which compassion and hope for new innovations in treatment are prayed for.

I am referring to all of us.  We have all suffered from some sort of emotional traumas at some time in our lives.  In retrospect they might even seem laughably small and quite irrelevant.  Yet to a child even a taunt from another kid, pointing out some physical flaw, for example, can etch itself into our brain and produce lifelong damage.  Likewise the statement of a teacher or adult made hastily can induce a lifetime of subliminal insecurity.  The rejection of a sought-after lover can wreck havoc with our self-esteem for years.

What is fascinating is that we might even assume that we have long ago "healed" from such affronts, only to find that some contemporary insult or negative comment taps into these childhood injuries with a fury.

Defensive behavior in adults often reflects the damaged child who is determined not to be emotionally injured again without a robust response.  This may explain how reactivity often appears excessive compared to the present day insult.  To the brain damaged long ago, no insult can be ignored.

The good news is that these "acquired" brain injuries can be healed.

We can seek repair through the modalities discussed previously–psychotherapy, meditation, neurofeedback, cognitive therapy or perhaps just our own awareness of why we feel and react the way that we do.

And this awareness can do something else.  It make us more compassionate towards those who seem to deserve it least–the adults who sling insults or make snide remarks.  They are the most seriously damaged of all, and the least aware that they are so.

Perhaps the best response to someone like that is to confront the remark with an statement acknowledging their damage.  Of course that might just set them off even more.  But it might get them to think about their need for introspection and self-healing.  And, even more, they can be encouraged to drive slowly while they attempt to do so.

LIBERATION & NEUROPLASTICITY — Passover 2010 II

As a follow-up to my last posting several hours ago, I would like to address psychological  liberation from a neuroscientific perspective.

Old habits of behavior and thinking die hard.   From the perspective of neuroscience, our brains have been wired over years to think and react in habitual patterns. 

This issue also touches upon the age old debate of what is the nature of our minds [thoughts and feelings] and are they distinct from our  brains [neurotransmitters, neuronal systems, the physical matter] ?

Neuroscience is providing us evidence [through EEG, SPECT scans, fMRI] that our brain and mind, though related, are not identical.  They are continuously, mutually interacting and transforming each other–ie via neuroplasticity. 

The revelation that our brains/minds exhibit neuroplasticity  offers us a new awareness that change is possible.  Most of us may understand this on an intellectual level, yet in our day to day lives we find it extremely difficult to make changes.  Perhaps, deep down, we don't believe it is possible to change our habits of thought and action.

Slavery, addiction, repeating patterns which reinforce our negative feelings about ourselves reflect the downside of neuroplasticity.  Our brains have been wired to react according to these old and self-defeating patterns.

To some extent, the worrier inside of us, that voice which expects the worst of every possible outcome, is the human default position.

From an evolutionary perspective, those who worried may have avoided destruction better than the eternal optimists.  Therefore, their genes have survived to "infect" our brain patterns with a negative bias.

In our lives we react to each insult, negative response,every news report, every phone call at night, every possibility of failure…..as life or death.

No wonder anxiety and depression are rampant.

But the concept of neuroplasticity offers us hope—of liberation from the habitual negativity that keeps us slaves to our own minds.

Our minds can comprehend the possibility of change and work towards it by choosing to effect change.  Methods include meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, neurofeedback and, at times, drugs.

What neuroscience now reveals is that possibility of our minds to make choices which will change our brains in ways that bring our ultimate goal–healing.

We should be grateful for the good news.

KABBALSTIC THOUGHTS ON LIBERATION–Passover 2010

Passover brings with it a rich source of metaphysical speculation.  It occurs in early spring and coincides with the return to visible life of what might appear to be a hibernating biosphere.

This winter was particularly punishing for many and therefore Spring seems to be the true beginning of the year.

The clear and unambiguous meaning of Passover concerns liberation from slavery.  It is the repetition of this message which permeates the Haggadah and Seder.

It is about Resistance and persistence.  It is about war and violence. It is about despair and joy.   It is about life and death.

And it is about the slavery of our minds.  The Israelites who followed Moses into the desert did so with strange reluctance.  They "knew" what their lives were like as slaves and as despicable as they were, they were familiar.

Kabbalists offered prayers and gratitude to God but recognized that their personal liberation and spiritual growth depended on their choices alone.  It is the way of the universe that free will is the operative force.

Liberation means taking risks.  Embracing liberation means that results may be uncertain, unclear.  Liberation may end tragically.  Liberation takes courage.

The celebration of the Golden Calf at the base of Mount Sinai was more an act of fear than defiance.

It is said that the wanderings for 40 years in the desert allowed a new generation to be born who were never slaves.  Despite physical liberation, their parents were mentally and emotionally still slaves to their past.

This season offers a unique opportunity–to begin again.  To question everything. To question the beliefs that cause us suffering, to liberate ourselves from ideas and relationships that hurt us.

Spring offers an opportunity to shake off the weight and cold of our fears, our restraints, our self-imposed limitations, our failure to reach our highest potential.

We read  in the Haggadah that each year we are to feel as if we personally were liberated from slavery.  That is both a responsibility and an opportunity.

Let us use it wisely.  

Shalom

NEUROSCIENCE OF ADDICTION RECOVERY

Addiction is us.  At least it seems so.  From celebrities to our neighbors to our own family, no one seems untouched by this phenomenon.  But is "every" obsession and addiction?  Is social networking among our youth an addiction?

When it comes to drug addiction recovery, the approach needs to look to neuroscience for help in healing because it offers insight into  both the brain and the  mind

 Once again the philosophical issue arises of how the two concepts differ or are the same. The two are so interconnected and continuously feedback on each other that it may be inappropriate to separate them.   But when it comes to addiction recovery I believe that there are two distinct concepts that can be approached in complementary methods.

Mindbasedtherapies would include psychotherapy.  It would explore the psychological/emotional disturbances which were the fertile field upon which the choice to take drugs took root.  Then there is the cognitivebehavioral approach which is less concerned about the back story and more about practical methods of thinking about negative and damaging thoughts/feelings.  This practical approach is the basis of the SMART techniques and other non12step methods.

There is much evidence, however, to support the need for brainbased therapy.  Addicts often suffer from disease states such as manic-depression, learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD which underlie their need to "self-medicate" with drugs in the first place.  Frontal lobe abnormalities often lead to impairment in "impulse-control" which is an associated factor.  And drug therapy itself alters brain function (evidenced from abnormal EEG/ MRI/ SPECT scans) so that re-wiring and healing the brain itself  is a necessary part of therapy.

And of course therapeutic drug therapy  to deal with the underlying mind/brain disorders is available as well. Some practitioners emphasize the this approach but there is evidence that combined mind/brain therapy can eliminate or reduce the dosing of drug treatment.

This neuroscience (mind/brain) approach does not disregard to deny the value of 12Step recovery particularly in the initial phases of recovery.  But it offers something beyond that.  12Step sees addiction as a permanent disease state which will require an ongoing community and spiritual guidance to maintain sobriety. 

 The neuroscience approach would build on the 12Step by offering the next step–a hope for transformation and true healing.  It places more of this responsibility on the individual.  Its message is that unless that individual seeks their own healing and are willing to work towards it true recovery will be in doubt. It does not deny the value of spirituality either (unlike some non12step therapies) but emphasizes the spiritual strength of the individual in recovery and the need to recognize and empower themselves through that awareness.

Unless the knowledge and methods of neuroscience are followed, however, true healing, true recovery is unlikely.

THE BRAIN / MIND PROBLEM–It’s About Neuroplasticity

I hope the initial topic of the relationship between the brain and mind doesn't turn most of you off. Because it is much more than a futile philosophical exercise.

True it has engaged some of the deepest thinkers throughout human history and continues to do so.

The range of beliefs runs from Descartes's strict duality in which mind and brain were completely different substances all the way to a commonly held belief among neurscientists that the mind is strictly a product of neuroelectric transmission.  They are monists [versus dualist] by believing that our impression that our mind is somehow unique and special is an illusion produced by the brain's neural processes.

I believe the answer is somewhere in between.  There is compelling evidence to suggest that the mind can function independently of the brain during certain states such as the NDE [near-death experience] and clearly if we possess a soul intelligence, it is a form of mind not strictly dependent on the brain.

But it is also quite clear that our conscious minds are dependent upon brain structures and affected by physical disorder of brain function.  From learning disabilities, ADD, manic-depression, addiction potential, post traumatic stress syndrome, possibly OCD and other psychological disorders are probably related to physical brain abnormalities.

What is interesting to ponder is that some of these brain disorders are congenital [born with them] while other are acquired [post traumatic stress syndrome, physical brain injuries, drug usage].

In either case the problem then becomes that of the brain predominantly.  Certainly healing approaches to the mind such as psychotherapy and cognitive therapy can be helpful.  They change behaviors and thought processes which then change the physical brain.

Neurofeedback offers real hope for changing brain wave patterns and re-wiring the brain.

In effect the brain and mind are in a continuous feedback loop.  They may not be identical.  An example of the mind effecting the brain is demonstrated by meditation.  Physical changes to the brain are the result of consciously willed actions.

Perhaps the best way to understand the relationship rests on the concept of neuroplasticity.  The physical brain changes depending upon the thoughts and feelings of the mind—and vice versa.

BEAUTY & THE BEAST–A Children’s Poem

One might

Take flight

 

From the mug

Of a slug

 

There's little appeal

In the sight of an eel

 

There's more I suppose

To a pig than his nose

 

I avoid the display

Of the face of a ray

The octopus charms

By his number of arms

 

Who's the most, who is the least

Who's the beauty, who the beast

 

An armadillo had a fright

A human face came into sight

HER ONLY CHILD — A Poem

 

Only one kind of nursing for her

Neonatal ICU

Her heart pounded compassion

For the newly born unfinished ones

 

Her own large  Irish family

Seven children, sixteen grandchildren

And now 

Two new twin granddaughters

 

Pat sighed deeply

 A heaviness to her downward stare

A glistening coated her eyes

Beautiful identical twins 

 

 Kara and Karen

But Kara's cord

Had strangled her

She would never be like her sister

 

From the abyss of absolute darkness

She released

A silent scream

Impotent  to heal

 

Her loved one

And I knew

Kara had become

Her only child

 

THE BLACK HOLE — A Poem

Will there be a black hole at the end?

A void that suck in all light and matter?

Let me slide ever faster

Unfettered by the tug of atoms

Like that moment as a child on a swing

That instant of free fall

That tingle somewhere behind the scrotum

That titillated and confused

May that orgasm by magnified

Until I'm enveloped in darkness

And home

2010–LET’S START OVER

Am  I the only one who is looking forward to March 20 this year, the first day of Spring ?

It seems as if the first quarter of this year should be considered a "do-over" or a "mulligan" as we say in golf.  Its been pretty bad for most of us.  On a global scale we have been hit by earthquakes and tsunamis (not giant unless you or yours died in it), by horrendous snow storms which have killed  some and inconvenienced millions, economic stagnation and frustration,  government quagmire and name calling and by one of the worst cases of laryngitis/pharyngitis I have every had!

Somehow I know that many of you would have problem chucking the first quarter of this year.

Let's hope the year begins on March 20 the leads us all to much happiness and success.  Happy New Year 2010 !!