Neuroscience & behavior

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You must get on the path

You start somewhere, pretty much like everyone else, sometime in your budding adulthood.

You may set out with a bang, thinking you’ll conquer this thing called life, or opt for a stroll. It may feel like you’re standing in a field of possibilities, filled with thrill; or it may be tinged with a dose of fear and anxiety – will you make it? Will you be safe? Will you reach the promised peak?

It doesn’t really matter. You must get on the path. This is the rule of life.

You may wind your way up a gentle hill, or yours may be a steep mountain. You may run along lush riverbanks, or rugged coast, through a thick forest, or along the sandy beach. You may run into thunderstorms, or gentle rain, smell the musty air, the breezy sea.

You keep going. That is the rule of life.

Others may join you, some lock hands and walk with you. Some carry you a part of the way, some drop you to the ground like a bulky log and run. You keep going.

Your heart swells with love, shrinks in pain. Your legs get weary, your hair turns grey. You may speed up, or slow down.

It doesn’t really matter. You keep going.


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Meet Klara

As Klara tells the story, this is how it begun:

[Fourteen-year old Josie and Mother walk into the store. They look around for a while. Mother strikes up a conversation with someone, but Josie is clearly unhappy]

“But Mom, what’s the point?”, she asks. “She is great , I know. But she is not who I want!”

“We can’t keep searching forever, Josie”.

I hear the Manager’s voice coming again, and there is something new in it.

“Excuse me, miss. Do I understand that you are looking for someone in particular? One that you’ve seen before?”

“Yes, ma’am. You had her in your window a while back. She was really cute, and really smart. Looked almost French? Short hair, quite dark, and all her clothes were a little dark too and she had the kindest eyes, and she was so smart”.

“I think I know who you mean”. Manager said. “If you’d follow me, we’ll find out”.

I stepped into the Sun. When Josie saw me, her face filled with joy, and she quickened her stride.

You’re still here! Mom, this is her! The one I’ve been looking for!”


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I am sitting in my living room chair, my laptop wide open in front of me and anxious to swallow my words. But none are coming. I can’t focus. My mind is scattered like mist over my head, and none of it wants to flow onto the page.   I recognize this madness; I’ve been here before. It’s just another week-in-hell, of waiting for test results that will decide my life. I have zero ways of knowing which direction it will go – life or death.

There is no relief from this pile of uncertainty. I constantly scan my body for signs of disease, aches and pains. Suddenly, I get this feeling in my legs – like there are steel rods running inside each of them, so they feel simultaneously completely stiff and completely paralyzed. Bitter fear fills my mouth. It grows until I am gagging.

I can’t do this. I can’t live with my fearful heart in my mouth all the time. I can’t.  No. The answer is no. There must be another way. My way.


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What is happening to me?

I am lying flat in the passenger seat of my car, being driven down La Cienega Blvd right after my latest radiation treatment. I am letting out primal screams as I am reliving the earlier moments in the machine. High-energy particle beams spinning around my body and shooting at me, while I am immobilized in a position that causes me excruciating pain. I cannot move. I am in agony but trapped in this contraption. My heart rate goes up. I break out in cold sweat. It is terrifying. And the terror repeats, day after day, same time, in a relentless pattern of planned prison torture, like having your nails pulled out, or your tongue snipped daily.

In a rare moment out of the mental fog, it occurs to me to question: What is happening to me? Why am I having this reaction? After all, it is not my first time in pain! But this is different. I feel like my entire body is in violent shock, is revolting against it. Why?


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Role models for weird people

If you are a bit odd (like me), where do you find role models that are a good fit for your oddness? I never did.  Until now.

Let’s talk RBG.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice. I suddenly grasped the immensity of her existence. Not just her impact, but her entire reality. Unique. Focused. Intense.  Aware that she saw the world differently from most and convinced she had it right. With striking clarity of mind. (What’s not to like?)

She is honored for many things. For winning cases. For arguing cases. For dissenting her losing cases.

Oh, the dissents! The legacy of RBG. She made dissent hip and famous. To me, that is a life-affirming boost. Because I dissent a lot: Traditions are beautiful and wonderful? I dissent. Mindfulness will save your life? I dissent. The ‘new normal’? I dissent. (more…)

74 million. Where have you heard this number before?

Oh, yes! The election we just went through.  74 million. It’s the number of people who voted for Donald Trump.

And if you know I am not in the Trump fan club, I am guessing what you’re thinking now: 74 million problems must be the 74 million people who voted for him. Hmmm… No. Not quite. It’s complicated. (more…)


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There was that summer, many years ago, when my travels through the rough seas of mental pain hit a category 5 hurricane. My heart grieved losses so catastrophic, so life-crushing, that I lost all anchors. It felt like my brain had detached from my skull, that is was swirling and shifting inside my head.  I was in depression severe enough to have me dissolve into rivers of tears, so sudden, that I had to bolt from the dinner table and go hide until the storm passed. I needed to do something to not drown.

Know when you need help

And I did: I explored everything. The magic of therapists, and of mind-bending gurus; Medications; And meditations, kirtans, retreats, temples in Indian valley villages, I needed help. I did everything by the book: Sat through deep breathing exercises, trying to let my thoughts come and go without engaging them, without judging, passively staying in the one breath.

“You can do anything for one breath”, they said. “Your mind will be constantly buzzing, just let it be”; “try slow-eating a raisin for 5 minutes”. The problem was the mind, the mind, the mind. “We need to silence the mind”. Everybody was convinced that therein laid the root of human suffering.



My brain seems to be going a million miles an hour, every hour. It is constantly busy. I cannot find peace, it bothers me.

Is there a way to stop this? Is it any good anyway?

The good news is, the answer is yes. There is a way. The bad news is that it takes work. Effort. Until you make it a habit (See here about habits).

  • My brain is firing constantly because that is what brains do. It’s a muscle.
  • What I am really after though, is some relief. A destination. Some point where there is meaning, not noise.

A useful brain is a disciplined brain. The other kind is just torture.

What can I say?

Two thoughts:

1 – You can transfer your brain’s electrical signal to another through a wire – it’s really that simple?!

2 – Gage’s group has put together DIY brain science technology. The goal is to promote the teaching and learning of neuroscience in schools – and at your home. You can now do neuroscience at home. Enter the BackyardBrains era:

If you, like me, have spent the many years of mandatory (and optional) schooling sitting at a desk and listening to a teacher ‘teach’, and you now wonder whatever happened to all this information you ‘received’, we have good news and bad news:

The bad news is, we didn’t really learn much of any of this. Really not. It was mostly good until test time, and then it was over. Done. Basically, hugely wasted time. And immensely wasted opportunity.  13 years in K-12, then college and grad school(s), and what remains? It hurts to think about it.

Neuroscience now proves that the 'Sage on Stage' model fails to deliver long-term learning. Intensely experiential, effortful models do that.

But there is also good news: We now know exactly why we did not learn much. Better yet, we know how to really, really learn! Seriously. Neuroscientists have understood enough – maybe just enough still – about the way the brain records, stores and retrieves information, to be able to tell us, conclusively, that… the methods we have been using, the “Sage on Stage” instruction model does not result in ‘real’ learning.