Saturday, January 28, 2012


Self Help

I never really thought of what I was writing as self-help until my
independent student saw it as fitting that category. Her insight got
me thinking about knowledge as self-help, appealing to us not just for
the new information and increased perspective, but because so much of
it is concretely useful in navigating the world. Maybe that’s why
philosophers say pursuit of knowledge is the greatest happiness. It’s
not just how understanding increases with a broader point-of-view, but
how the new piece of the puzzle changes the picture and how that bears
on other ideas. What I’ve studied about the brain has been so useful
to me that I want to spread that knowledge around, along with the
connections I’ve made in how to apply that information. As one
neuroscientist put it, “Neuroanatomy illuminates psychology.” Learning
how different regions of the brain relate to each other demonstrates
their neural significance and how we can utilize it. Knowing more of
the map offers more flexibility about how to get where you want to go.
As our models of reality expand so do the choices we have about what
the possibilities are and what we want to accomplish.
By spending a long string of days cleaning and sorting through
all the piles of papers that have been accumulating for months I not
only got rid of the burden on my workspace, I stimulated lots of
reward chemicals for the activities along the way. It was the thing
that helped the most after my dad died. Using executive functions like
sorting and problem solving, how to better organize, drew my mental
energy to the front of the brain, site of the most connections to the
reward areas. That’s why journals are so helpful, putting thoughts
into words involves areas in the front. Comprehension is farther back
near memory, which is more associated with negative moods. Any action
helps you feel better because it moves the energy forward in the
brain. It affirms a sense of agency, the opposite of the helplessness
associated with depression. The beauty of mundane activities like
cleaning to fight unhappiness is they have concrete results as well as
the beneficial brain chemistry. It doesn’t really matter what the
action. It happens in the present and is organized by a purpose, moves
mental energy forward and stimulates dopamine production. Action is
rewarded because it’s good for survival.
Knowing what the brain has evolved to do clarifies how to develop
its capacities. Most dramatic of the still untapped potential is the
power of visual intelligence. Cultivating the wisdom of the big
picture as understood by the right hemisphere could be key to solving
some the problems mired by an old way of seeking solutions. Treating
the universe and everything in it as a machine is an outdated
orthodoxy that ignores the multiple variables of actual experience.
Since vision is central to understanding it makes sense to visualize
and represent our situation in ways that illuminate important
underlying patterns. The ability to see patterns in complexity is a
function of the visual right side of the brain. Imagination and
insight are among our highest powers. Naturally they’re at the front
of the brain, which is why its so exhilarating to create and invent,
explore and discover.
People are largely unaware of the power of art to help them do
just that. They think that art is something you do or don’t do, when
it’s always been more about what you see and feel. Just looking at the
art that draws your attention activates personal emotional themes that
can function as a mirror held to the inner world. Art resonates with
emotional patterns. It stimulates feelings and the ideas connected to
them. Since we’re attracted to what shows something we need to see,
it’s an opportunity to reflect on the personal inner reality. This is
where the wisdom of personal experience lives. Building visual
intelligence starts with seeing your feelings. Find artists you like
on the Internet or in books. It’s never been easier to find
sensibilities that speak to your own emotional core. For some fun
self-help give art books as presents. Look at them with friends. Enjoy
the conversations stimulated and the endorphins that reward new

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Regaining Bearings

In the time following the memorial service for my father a steady stream of past memories have surfaced. He’d been sick for so long that the demands and image of his condition blocked any broader view of the relationship, particularly involving the formative first two decades of my life. And as it comes to me now, I realize how much there was about growing up with a man like Dad, creative and involved in all things, that shaped the person I am now. It was more because of who he was and how he lived than how we were raised that showed my brother and I what meaningful life was all about. With so many other demands on his time, full time job and writing his dissertation, he would manage to teach me card games when I was sick, focusing my mind on something other than being sick, and, he spent every Saturday over an extended time teaching a paralyzed man Fortran computer programming so he would be able to earn income. Giving himself so completely to whatever he was doing, there were no better or worse things to do.
As such a visible and assertive point of reference, parents are, first and foremost, models for how to be a person. Dad demonstrated the relationship between goodness and happiness, the joy of living as the reward of full involvement in whatever is happening.
Watching how engineers solved problems with diagrams seeded my deeply held belief that images are the best tool for figuring things out, that solutions had to be seen. A monument to inventiveness, resourcefulness and ingenuity, he was always there in my field of vision.
Without that point of reference, lost would be the best word to describe how I’ve felt since Dad died. Lost about how to continue with ideas that preoccupied me before. Lost in the changed emotional dynamics now missing a significant field of influence. A big area of my psychic landmass just slipped beneath the water and the map of everyday life will never be the same. It’s disorienting. Searching for that point of reference, it’s as though a mountain has been wiped from a familiar landscape. Navigating without that landmark will take some getting used to. The old map of ordinary living is wrong.
But I AM the accumulated layers of all the maps. Future layers won’t include Dad but the layers beneath them will mold their shape. The deeper the layer, the stronger the influence. The shape of my past life with Dad goes forward with me and influences my own way of being. In what I admire and in all that guides me I am grateful for what I’ve been given. Looking for deeper understanding I use images to externalize the obscure emotional dynamics within. Frequencies and fields of influence, vibrations and wave properties in my own visual language are so clearly layered onto to the appreciation of electromagnetic fields that grew from my father’s work with radar. The work continues and expands, and the idea flows onward. Ripples and influences are everywhere I look.