What Would You Do?

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There’s a show on broadcast television called, “What Would You Do?”  Immediately after one of our favorite shows, it came on.   We just started watching it, so horizontal and lazy were we that changing channels seemed too huge an endeavor.   It works like this:  actors portray a brief scenario in public while being filmed.   Whatever it is, you are compelled to ask yourself:  What would you do in this situation?  An online stalker propositioning a young victim, an racist mother talking her daughter out of buying a brown-skinned doll, a couple arguing loudly about whether they should divorce.  Then-you guessed it-we see what happens.   A person will step in at some point and try to help, or to confront, the actors.  Then our host comes from behind the shadows and surprises everyone!  And interviews him/her!  And makes everyone feel good!  It’s overproduced and inauthentic but has sparked some great conversations with my kids.

There are a couple things which have always bothered me about this concept.  First of all, it feels like you are tricking the people into reacting.  After all, it’s not really happening, it’s actors.  I always appreciate the ones who step in and try to help, I’m not sure I always would under the circumstances, but still…It’s. Not. Real.  The other thing that bothers me is that my kids are just sitting and watching.  It’s reality television after all, everyone is always waiting for the train wreck to happen.  It’s not active, it’s passive, even if they are yelling at the television.

As I read “The Whole Brain Child” by Dr. Dan Siegel last week, I was thinking about the show.  He talks a lot about the “upstairs brain,”  which is the thinking and reasoning part of your brain.  And then there is the “downstairs brain” which is ruled by emotions and reactivity.  You know when your child has a tantrum (yes this happens even when they are teenagers) and it’s impossible to talk to them?  That’s when the downstairs brain is at work.  When you wait until they are calm to have a discussion, that’s when the upstairs brain is operating.  Newsflash frazzled parents! You are also calmer once the tantrum is over.  Dr. Siegel mentions using “what would you do” questions to develop your child’s ability to problem solve!  Imagine how brilliant I am that I was thinking the same thing as him!

So I sat down, thought about the ages of my kids, and wrote a bunch of questions on index cards.  They range from “what would you do if you saw your friend cheating on a test?” to “what would you do if you saw your friend’s boyfriend kissing another girl?”  and everything in between.  It’s actually kind of fun thinking of these questions.  Sometimes I throw them out during a long car ride, sometimes at dinner.  But someone always says something I wasn’t expecting.  It’s not really an opportunity to correct them but more connect to them.  It’s cool to know what they are thinking, even if I don’t agree with them.

We all have times in life that we have to make a choice.  For me, that comes down to asking myself what kind of person I want to be.  For my kids, I hope that I can guide them into asking those kinds of questions of themselves.  After all, I won’t always be there.  You take them to practice to help them be better at sports, why not practice being a better thinker?

What would you do?

 

photo at top of post by Barbara Paulsen at tandemechoes.com

 

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When Do You Feel “In Your Body”?

“I’ve always felt the brain organizes and computes while writing, but the body is the place where story lives.”— Kathleen Winter, “Writing with the Body

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Just curious, are you in your body right now?

This seems like a bizarre question.  Of course I’m in my body, you idiot!  Being in your body means more than having a body.   It means how your hands, your heart and your mind have an effect.   You know how all the self help gurus are always saying, “be present”?  This is what they are talking about.  Cut away the bullshit and pay attention.

The idea of transcendence fascinates me.  People think it happens on a yoga retreat in India, but you know what?  It  happens every fucking day.  It starts with your creativity, and how you know intrinsically what you are meant to share in the world.  By creativity, I do not mean your blue-ribbon quilting or your published book or how many followers you have (or however one defines “worth”).  I mean, what makes your heart leap?  What is it that you do that you can feel from your head to your toes?

I thought I would provide some examples of people I know, and what this means.

  • shopping second hand stores, then making something beautiful out of something that wasn’t.
  • going to a PTA meeting and speaking your mind.
  • walking miles and miles to bring awareness to an issue you care about.
  • cutting flowers from your garden and making your home beautiful.
  • writing a letter to a good friend.
  • making dinner for someone who needs to be nourished.
  • taking photos all afternoon.
  • making beer and serving it to friends.
  • turning up the music and dancing with your kids.
  • keeping a journal.
  • having a party with a theme.
  • going to your favorite band’s concert.
  • decorating your house for the holidays with your kids.
  • for me, writing a poem.

 

“…I  took a mental picture of the moment.  I looked around and thought about my life.  I felt grateful.  I noticed every detail.  That is the key to time travel.  You can only move if you are in the moment.  You have to be where you are to get where you need to go.” –Amy Poehler, Yes, Please. 

 

I really love being around people who are sharing their stories.  You can share your story in a zillion ways, many of which do not require words.  But what they do require, and what I hope we can all do in the most ordinary of ways, is be there.  Show up with your whole self.  Whenever you do that, you are in your body.  Isn’t that so awesome?

 

photo by Barbara Paulsen at tandemechoes.com

 

 

“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”
Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Can our bodies change our minds?

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Last weekend, I attended a two day conference.  Very rapidly, I became aware of the mini social experiment that was occurring right before my eyes.  Within a mere 48 hours, you could tell exactly who were the extroverts, who were the talkers, who felt confused, who were the leaders, the followers, the jokers and the brown-nosers.  It was not necessarily what they said, it was more the non-verbals.  Standing instead of sitting. Raising hand straight up or propping it up like it was not able to raise on its own. Slumping.  All these started to inform my brain who was who in the classroom.  And it all could have been assumed just by watching.

Then I read an article in Wired magazine about the research of Amy Cuddy, and then watched her TEDtalk.  It turns out you can infer lots of things about a person’s body “language” as I did in my conference.  But what’s really cool, what’s news you may even be able to use, is that being in what Cuddy calls “power postures” can actually make you feel more powerful.  What?

Cuddy’s research goes on to say that if you assume the power postures she suggests for two minutes, you can feel more assertive, more optimistic, better able to think abstractly, task risks, reduce your cortisol and become less stress reactive.  Your brain’s neurochemistry is actually influenced by how you choose to position yourself in the world.  So I decided to try this.  First, I tried it at work.  Didn’t go so well.  Our office is so small and four or five people have to share it.  So making myself “bigger” in my power postures wasn’t very doable.  Plus, I felt weird.  It occurred to me that I was used to making myself small at work, partly because of space limitations.   But also maybe because all my co-workers are pretty amazing and are doing some really cool stuff, and  I can be a bit intimidated by them.

So the next part of the plan involved me doing the power postures before work.  Or before a meeting, or anything I might be a little nervous about.  And you know what?  Even when I was alone and had plenty of space, it was hard for me to do them.  I am used to making myself small:  curling up, hunching over my smartphone, etc…so it was really tough to make myself do it.  Yet another exercise in understanding my brain and how it relates to my body.  This research was done in 2012 and I’m off to look up what Cuddy has discovered lately.  But I’m pretty sure it’s going to conclude what we all have at some point- you can’t just tell your brain what you want it to do:  stop smoking, lose weight, stop yelling at your kids.  You have to get your body to listen.

 

photo by Barbara Paulsen at tandemechoes.com.

My Brain on Blogging 201

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Actually Blogging 201 has sorta been kicking my ass.  Blogging 101?  Loved it, got it, got a lot from it.  Blogging 201 has a larger scope, bigger ideas and it is frankly making my brain hurt.  Writing is all I want to do, and of course I want people to read.  But examining my stats?  Social media expansion?  All that stuff makes me a little, well, nervous I guess.  Can’t I just write, I find myself asking?  Isn’t that enough?

You already know the answer.  It’s not.  We all want others to read our work and there are things we have to do to get ourselves going.  It’s about knowing ourselves and what it is that we have to do in order to get what we want.

Which of course, leads me back to my favorite subject, and of course my favorite organ!  My brain.  I know my brain well enough to know that I resolutely go after my goals if I have the steps in mind.  It’s not what my brain wants to do.  My brain wants to write, read, assign ideas to categories, etc.  It does not want to do hard work and things it thinks it’s not good at.  But that’s only my frontal lobe.  My limbic system, the area that processes emotions, knows that it will FEEL SO GOOD to get my work out there, and that’s what all this business is about.  Like the quote from Charles Swindoll:

“Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.”

On that note, off to read some of your fabulous blogs, and of course, get my brain to come along for the ride.

 

Thanks Lost Girl Blog for goal #2

 

Our Most Common Denominator

"Where are you?"

“Where are you?”

My mom used to say that all the time.  “Where are you, Jeanne?”  I am frequently in La-La Land, I admit.  What can I say?  I love thinking.  And somewhere along the way, I fell in love with thinking about thinking.  The way our brains operate, you know, neuroscience (for the rest of us).

I am an occupational therapist and I work primarily with kids.  A good healthy knowledge of the brain and its inner workings has made me a better therapist, a better mom and a better person.  We all have those gooey, wrinkled things in our heads.  But we lose sight of this, that we all exist as wired entities.  I don’t mean hooked up to computers.  I mean the electricity of our minds.   We all have primitive neurological impulses that don’t always mesh with our often messy worlds.  Call it “intelligence,” call it “mental health,”  call it “willpower.”  It’s all our brains, people.  And we are are not, in fact,  people without them.  That’s pretty awesome.

I wish I could give my brain a hug.

Has Anyone Seen My…?

 

This happens just about every day.

This happens just about every day.

So, our family is planning a trip to Europe.  Somewhere along the way, while looking for a place to stay,  I got my euros and dollars mixed up.  I found myself putting in a reservation request for an apartment for WAY more than our budget.  On top of that, I booked our flights for a 3 week period instead of one because I reversed the dates.  My husband finds these things infuriating.   He’s lucky.  I find them infuriating, confounding, humiliating and irritating.  And worst of all, I just feel…old.

Experts say this “brain fog” is part of both perimenopause and menopause.  It seems that my hormones are conspiring against me in some kind of sadistic dance that affects my cognition.  Dammit!  As I am now 46, I can feel menopause banging on my front door.  She sounds shrill, angry and slightly insane.  She sounds like one rip-roaring bitch.  I don’t want to let her in, but man is she persistent.

While the research says that this brain fog is “normal,” it sure feels anything but.  Now I was never Einstein or anything but I graduated magna cum laude!  Give me a break with the fucking “fog.”  As many of my comrades will tell you, getting up in the morning can be a marathon event, saturated with fatigue and punctuated with other people needing things from you that you cannot bring to the surface of your otherwise underwater brain.

Sometimes I feel sorry for my brain.  It has a lot to remember!  Having become the eyes and ears of this institution I call “my family,”  it holds reams of data that it’s having a hard time coaxing outward.  When is her dentist appointment?  How long since we treated the dog for fleas?  Are we out of milk?  Is it too late to get the flu shot?  My brain is walking a very fine line here, speaking very least of the extreme bouts of emotion which also may accompany “the fog.”

Sometimes I imagine my brain in it’s confused, mixed up and overwhelmed state.  It appears shrivelly and gray.  It looks like it, if touched, would be the roughness of sandpaper.  And then, taking a deep breath, I recall all that I manage.  All that I complete, and all that I am.  That icky wrinkly brain begins to look smoother, plump and pink and glistening with renewed vigor.

And then, I decide, it’s time to go to bed.