brain

The farther you get away from the body, the more you know you

On a drive back to Colorado in 2017 I listened to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the book, The Lady Chablis talked about how much the estrogen shots affected her, mentally and physically — her thoughts, such as who she was attracted to, and her physical attributes.

I’ve often thought about how our thoughts and behavior are affected by our hormones (estrogen, testosterone, etc.). That’s one reason I like meditation: The farther you get away from the physical body and chemically-influenced brain, the more you can figure out who you are.

The intensity of a monk’s meditation states befuddles science

“While his brain was probed by the fMRI, Mingyur (a Buddhist monk) followed the instruction to engage compassion. Once again the minds of everyone watching in the control room felt as though they had stopped. The reason: Mingyur’s brain circuitry for empathy rose to an activity level 700 to 800 times greater than it had been in the rest period just before.”

“Such an extreme increase befuddles science; the intensity with which those states were activated in Mingyur’s brain far exceeds any that had ever been seen in ‘normal’ people. The closest resemblance is for epileptic seizures, but those episodes last brief seconds, not for a full minute. And besides, brains are controlled by seizures, in contrast to Mingyur’s display of intentionally controlling his brain activity.”

~ from a story about brainwave tests of a monk in 2002

A tub of applesauce exploded

A tub of applesauce exploded when I returned to higher altitude (driving back to Colorado from Kentucky). I’m always surprised when that doesn’t happen to my brain.

~ December 7, 2017

Mary Steenburgen after surgery: “My brain was only music”

From this people.com story:

When Mary Steenburgen woke up from minor arm surgery in 2007, her brain was “only music,” an odd result that lead her to a new songwriting career — and one that may earn her another Oscar.

The actress, 66, said that her brain felt out of control immediately after surgery.

“I felt strange as soon as the anesthesia started to wear off,” she told IndieWire. “The best way I can describe it is that it just felt like my brain was only music, and that everything anybody said to me became musical. All of my thoughts became musical. Every street sign became musical. I couldn’t get my mind into any other mode.”

(In a slightly related story, Scientific American has an article titled, The Hidden Dangers of Going Under.)

People go through tremendous personal stress when life doesn’t jive with their mental model (ego)

Thought of the evening: People go through tremendous personal stress (distress!) when the way their life is turning out doesn’t jive with the mental model of who they think they are (i.e., the “little ego”).

As just one example, my father always talked about opening up a hot dog restaurant. “Hot dog joints” were a big thing in northern Illinois, and they still are. He was a social person who ran projects, and I thought that was a great idea for him.

But he had a mental model that he was an engineer, so even after he was laid off from an engineering job he didn’t like, he kept trying to pursue engineering jobs rather than his dream. He never could break through that, “I was trained as an engineer so I’m supposed to be an engineer” mental model. As a result he became angry, and his life didn’t end well as a result.

In my own case, for many years all I wanted was to be a professional baseball player, and it took several injuries and many years before I finally had to accept that it wasn’t going to happen. Sadly, those were lost years in many ways, and all because I couldn’t let go of the old mental model I had of who I thought I was supposed to be. And because I couldn’t let go of the old model, I couldn’t see the new opportunities that were staring me in the face.

But finally I reached a breaking point. Everything literally came to a head and I said, “F*** this. This is not how I want to spend my life.” To this day I remember that moment.

Some time later I would look back and think, “OMG, why did I waste all those years?” But I understand, even when everyone around you can clearly see what needs to happen, when it’s happening to you — when you’re in the middle of it — it’s a big, ugly, emotional mess. Something is trying to crack your cosmic egg, and when anything tries to destroy the little ego you’ve spent all your life building up ... well, it’s insanely stressful. You’ve spent XX years building up this mental model of who you are, and now something is trying to destroy that model. (A model which I should add exists only in your brain.)

All I can say is that in my case I found a new way to live, and indeed, many of the happiest years of my life.

Wrong Thinking

Here’s a story about what I call “Wrong Thinking.”

Way back in high school when I was playing baseball, a pitcher named Catfish Hunter became the first baseball player to get paid over a million dollars a year. I thought that was crazy, in a bad way. One day I talked to my dad about it, and asked him why people like farmers and engineers who did more important work didn’t get paid like that.

He didn’t have a great answer at the time, and that thought kept on bothering me. These days I think a correct answer he could have given me goes like this: “Baseball is in the entertainment business, just like singers and actors. For whatever reason — some sort of supply and demand, and a need for entertainment — society is willing to pay those people a lot of money. So if the money bothers you, what you can do is make that money just like Catfish Hunter, and then give it away however you see fit.”

Shaman

The Native American woman I met last week had an aneurysm and brain surgery last year. (She showed me the scar, and she’s fine now.) Before the aneurysm was discovered, she went to a shaman who’s well-known among Natives here. He lit something, made some smoke, did whatever else he does, then looked at her, put his finger on her forehead and said, “You are blocked here.”

Unfortunately she assumed he was referring to a mental blockage, and thought, “No, I’m an open person, he’s wrong.” Shortly after this, doctors discovered the aneurysm right where he pointed.

This is the story she told me.