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Monthly Archives

January 2013

The Iceberg Mind: Stress and The Unconscious

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I just finished a book titled, Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow. The premise of the book is that our behavior is governed by our unconscious mind. We may THINK we know why we do what we do, but more often than not, we haven’t a clue. Consider these interesting facts highlighted in the book: People give bigger tips at lunch to restaurant servers when the sun is shining, than when it’s cloudy. People will order a higher priced entrée if the server touches the shoulder of the customer compared to no physical contact. Colors and music in various stores can make people linger longer (and, of course buy more things). Humm! In the 1960’s a major shift occurred—from studying the dynamics of the unconscious mind toward the study of pharmaceuticals and brain chemistry. All that lurked below the surface of the iceberg was (once again) ignored. After the invention of the Functional MRI (fMRI) there became this HUGE fascination with brain physiology particularly when it’s engaged in a whole host of activities, from drinking Coke or Pepsi to (I kid you not) what brain activity looks like during orgasm (I’m just the messenger). It should be made clear that there are two schools of thought about the mind. The first suggests that the mind is a consequence of brain physiology. The second suggests that the mind acts independently from the brain (e.g., near death and out of body experiences), but uses the brain, as it’s primary organ of choice. The author of Subliminalresides in the first camp, yet he does agree that the unconscious mind indeed rules behavior. This goes well beyond Coke, Pepsi and orgasms to how we deal with stress.
Stress Tip for the Day
Regardless of what “mind camp” you reside in, for better or worse, your unconscious mind plays a huge role in how you cope with stress. Research in meditation (yup, that too, has been looked at with fMRIs) shows that the act of meditation not only calms your thought processes, but shifts the brain waves from Alpha (highly active) to Theta (highly conscious, but very relaxed). Mystics remind us that meditation is a way to “domesticate the ego” so that we can respond, not react to our problems. Although fMRI research has not located the ego in the brain (but the Amygdala could be good starting point), they have located a portion of the brain associated with mystical experiences (now called the God part of the brain), which by the way, does not appear to be active during periods of intense stress!) Meditation, it is said, helps to make the unconscious mind conscious. This is truly a good thing, because it allows you to navigate your life journey by avoiding the shoals that can cause metaphorical shipwrecks. Psychologist Carl Jung spent his whole career studying the unconscious mind. His advice is as sound today as it was many decades ago; learn to speak the language of the unconscious mind: colors, metaphors, symbols, stories, archetypes and dream fragments. By doing so you become whole. If you don’t meditate…today is a great day to start. Find a quiet place, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. If your mind wanders, that’s OK. Just focus your attention back to your breathing. Try to do this for 5-10 mins.. then tomorrow … the same thing.
Links, Books and/or Movies Worth Noting:
Here are some links to some interesting fMRI studies, the first with a video:
http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2012/02/14/a-study-of-peoples-ability-to-love/
The book, Subliminal, has a lot of interesting data from current fMRI studies, even some new  data from interesting classic psychology studies on human behavior, but I would recommend books by the current leading expert in the field of psychology on the unconscious mind, Eldon Taylor, including Choices and Illusions.
By the way, the use of subliminal messages in advertising is illegal, BUT there is no penalty for it… so draw your own conclusions on this (smile).
Quote for the Day:
“Modern man is sick because he is not whole.” —Carl G. Jung
“The unconscious mind of man sees clearly even when conscious reason is blind and impotent.” — Carl G. Jung
Photo For the Day
When I was in Greenland in 2009 filming Earth Songs, I had the great fortune to photograph/film many (huge) Icebergs. True to form, the majority of each berg is below the surface, much like the mind. Here is one of my favorite images. Enjoy!
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

Stress and The Art of Apologies

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In a time and age where egos clash daily and everyone is vying for their 15 minutes of fame, we begin to see the ugly side of humanity…sadly, all too often. Take Lance Armstrong, for example. The simple truth is that when we make a mistake we need to apologize (and quickly). The delay of seeking forgiveness only becomes heavy emotional baggage. It is stress: fear (beginning with embarrassment, but progressing toward arrogance) that keeps us from righting the wrongs that we commit again our fellow humans, not to mention ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, the remorse of an apology needs to be sincere. If you happened to watch Lance Armstrong’s event last week (with Oprah), then you saw an excellent example of how NOT to make an apology. From a spiritual perspective, those people who have had a near death experience often come back to explain the need to offer apologies to those people they have wronged. It seems that it’s best (and perhaps easiest) to do it now, and the sooner the better.
Stress Tip for the Day
In the A.A. movement, there is a step in the recovery process called “making amends.” In the Jewish tradition this is called Atonement. Every culture has a strategy for seeking peace and reconciliation. You don’t have to be a member of AA to start making amends. Is there someone whom you have been unkind toward, someone whom you have violated their trust or human spirit? Now is the time to offer an apology. If it is too hard to do it face to face, then consider writing a letter. The Golden Rule applies to apologies too.
Links, Books and/or Movies Worth Noting:
This article in the Wall Street Journal provides some great tips on how to make an apology the right way.. it is highly worth reading.
Quote for the Day:
“A stiff apology is a second insult… the injured part does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged. He wants to be healed because he is hurt.” — Gilbert Chesterton
Photo For the Day
Using a photo of cyclists was an easy choice, but not a wise choice, so instead I selected a nice photo of a waterfall in Ohio… taken many years ago. Water is a symbol of spirit, where things move in a natural rhythm, when one apologies, then the rhythm of life returns to a more natural flow… Enjoy!
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

Stress and your Skin

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I am here in sunny Florida enjoying the weather, talking to a colleague of mine, and the topic of skin cancer comes up quickly in a conversation.  Being of fair skin and blue eyes, I pay attention to these comments. Here are some things I learned that I think everyone should know: Arizona has the highest rate of skin cancer. Colorado has the second highest rate. Florida is further down the list. There is a 5% increase in skin cancer for every 1,000 feet of elevation (This begins to explain why people at sea level has less skin cancer, as a rule than those say, in Arizona and Colorado who live a mile higher). Your skin is the largest organ of your body. Your skin is the second organ of choice for elimination (your GI tract is the first), however your skin also has the ability to absorb various substances directly into the bloodstream. Your skin cells replace themselves about every 30 days or so. Your skin is said to be a mirror of your small intestine, meaning if you GI track has problems, it will show up in/on your skin. Stress can also affect your skin, particularly with acne blemishes. Sunblock may block ultraviolet rays, but the chemical compounds in sunblock may be absorbed into your skin… causing problems down the road. Take note! Skin cancer is defined as abnormal growth of skin cells. Note: skin cancer can appear on areas of the body that are NEVER exposed to sunlight. Many skin care products are made from petro-chemicals which are eventually absorbed into the body and may cause problems elsewhere (including back to the skin). The consumption of essential oils (omega 3’s and 6’s) is beneficial to your skin as well.  May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Take care of your skin every day!
Stress Tip for the Day
When outside, no mater what elevation, wear a hat and protective clothing if you are out for more than 30 minutes. Remember your ears too! Don’t be afraid of the sunlight (sunshine on your skin helps create Vitamin D), but don’t be cavalier either. The most hazardous time to be out in the sun (due to ultra violate light is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. —depending on time of year and latitude, of course). Be mindful of how much time you spend outdoors, particularly if you are fair skinned (and have blue eyes or red hair). Consider getting a full body check-up by a certified dermatologist every year after the age of 30. There are different types of skin cancers (see links below). Finally, tanning booths are a stupid idea. Be smart.
Links, Books and/or Movies Worth Noting:
This first link lists the various types of skin cancer:
http://www.dermatology.ucsf.edu/skincancer/professionals/types.aspx
Here is more info on skin cancer detection
http://www.medicinenet.com/skin_cancer/article.htm
Quote for the Day:
“Pale is the new tan.” — Melanoma Skin Cancer Foundation
Photo For the Day
Rather than posting a Florida beach scene, reinforcing a perception of fun in the sun, here is a photo of a White Egret gracefully flying by, and I was in awe of its beauty today. Enjoy and have a great weekend.
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

Neuroplasticity of Your Brain

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Through the use of Functional MRI research, scientists have discovered some remarkable insights of the human brain. Prior to this time it was pretty much understood that the number of brain cells were established at birth and could never increase. Now we know differently. Researchers like Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, who have studied (via fMRI) the brains of Buddhist monks, have come to understand that our brains are not static, but quite dynamic. Not only can new brain cells form, but the neurological connections between cells can be created  and reinforced, by our thoughts (in the case of meditation, our non-thoughts.)  Emotions too! The term used to describe the pliable nature of our brains is neuorplasticity. In essence, we create a nervous system “training effect” with regard to our thought processes, much like an athlete creates brain to muscle neural pathways. The act of repeated meditation can create one training effect (a very positive one). Multi-tasking, via technology, can create quite another.  Nicholas Carr, author of the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, suggests that the repeated, if not addictive, use of the Internet is altering the circuitry of the brain, and not in a good way. Repeated distractions create a paved super highway of brain neurons resulting in a decreased attention span, poor memory and dull right brain thinking skills. The result of Internet overuse (addiction) is a brain engaged in a perpetual fight or flight response.
Stress Tip for the Day
There is no doubt that we live in a culture of distractions, not the least of which includes Facebook, text messaging, emails and all other forms of social media. To find balance in the high tech world, make a concerted effort to practice meditation. Learn to sit quietly, in an unplugged environment and allow your mind to relax. By doing so you create and strenghten neural pathways in your brain to navigate a more peaceful, well-balanced life.
Links, Books and/or Movies Worth Noting:
Nicholas Carr wrote an excellent article on the topic of the Internet and the brain in this Atlantic article…. Does Google Make Us Stupid?
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/
If you wish to know more about the wonders of our brain, here are a few links of interest:
http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/26/brain-plasticity-how-learning-changes-your-brain/
Quote for the Day:

“Among other things, neuroplasticity means that emotions such as happiness and compassion can be cultivated in much the same way that a person can learn through repetition to play golf and basketball or master a musical instrument, and that such practice changes the activity and physical aspects of the specific brain areas.” —Andy Weil, MD.

 

Photo For the Day
After a wonderful hike up Ireland’s sacred mountain, Crough Patrick, (near the town of Westport), some of us took some time to meditate on the beauty before our eyes. Here is Matt being very mindful of this mystical experience. Thanks Matt (and everyone that joined us that day!) Enjoy!
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

Do You Suffer From Social Jet-lag?

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Over the weekend I read an interesting article in the Smithsonian magazine (their most recent issue). Till Rosenberg, a professor at the University of Michigan, has noted that a great many people report symptoms similar in nature to that of jet lag, but the catch is that they haven’t been on planes. A closer examination revealed that their body clocks are quite off, primarily from the lack of sleep. Rosenberg explains that people see sleep as a “luxury,” rather than a necessity. NOT! By and large, people have to get up at the same time to go to work, so they shave off hours on the front end in the evening. Combine this fact that people spend less time outside, under the influence of natural sunlight, and you have a recipe for social jet lag. (time may be flying, but remember, we are in the driver seat). Our bodies DO have a natural clock, known in science circles as our circadian rhythms. When these rhymths are thrown off, it becomes quite stressful to the body, including a great compromise to the immune system. In fact, a great many hormonal processes. Scientists think our body’s clock is located in the hypothalamus (which also regulates the fight or flight response) Take note! If your body clock is off, you will more prone for fits of anger and anxiety. What is the cause of hitting the hay later these days? The consensus seems to be our love affair with technology, specifically, social media, hence the term, “social jet-lag.”
Stress Tip for the Day
Do you feel like you are being pulled in a million different directions with not enought time for yourself? Do you spend to much time on-line? Do you take your smart phone or tablet to bed with you? Do you feel like your 24 hr body clock needs a tune up?  It’s not to late to make a new year’s resolution to get your full 8 hours of sleep each night. This means in bed by 10:00 p.m, if you get up at 6:00 a.m. While you’re at it, make a second goal not to bring your smart phone in the bedroom. Anything that’s important can wait till morning. Really!
Links, Books and/or Movies of Note:
Here is the article mentioned above:
Here is one more article about the addictive nature of smart phones:
Quote of the Day
“The circadian clock must be rewound every day to keep operating. Sleep has not been put out there by evolution as a time when we’re lazy. It’s a time when we’re preparing to be extremely active.” —T. Rosenberg.
Photo of the Day
Exercise also helps keep our body clocks in check, particularly if we exercise outside. I took this photo on Hanalei Bay last month… Enjoy!

 

Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.

Fracking, Stress and Your Food: Oh My!

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Over the holidays a good friend sent me an award winning documentary movie to watch called Gasland; a film about hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.  Much of the movie was filmed out west, some of which included footage from a town 20 miles east of where I live. Like most environmental films these days, it leaves one a little numb. I thought it essential to mention a few points that are made in the movie (points I also heard mention independently on a recent NPR story as well.) Gas and oil companies use over 100 chemicals (many of them quite toxic) in the fracking process to acquire natural gas. And like McDonald’s “secret sauce,” they are not required to list these publically, despite the fact that these chemicals seep into people’s drinking water making them quite sick, many with neurological diseases and cancer. One Wyoming rancher was quoted as saying,  “Our cattle have to drink this water or they will die. And this beef, loaded with toxins, ends up on your dinner plate all across America.” Fancy that! This gives a whole new meaning to consider being a vegetarian, something that I am strongly recommending. The bottom line is that our food supply is in trouble, and not just cattle. Our water supply is in deep trouble, too. It is very likely that your body is stressed with toxic chemicals that over time accumulate to a critical mass creating a healthy crisis. (on a similar but independent note, Boulder based Florence Williams, author of the book, Breasts, discovered that she had traces of jet fuel in her breast milk. Yikes!) Time to wake up about our energy policies and the dangers they promote.
Stress Tip for The Day:
Decades ago I learned that it takes nearly 500 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of hamburger. (WOW!) Today water is in short supply, making this effort seem rather stupid.  (You won’t believe how much water is needed in the fracking process). When I learned how chickens are raised in factory farms I decided to strip that from my diet as well (with the exception of free range, and even then). With all of this in mind, please consider moving toward a vegetarian diet by eating meat once, perhaps twice a week, if that at all. Please really think “organic” when buying your food. And…while we have just started winter, consider planning your own veggie garden this spring/summer. Finally,  become educated about the promise and dangers of fracking, even if it’s not in your area, because everyone is affected by this—everybody. Think globally, act locally, as they say…
Links and Books of Note:
If you haven’t seen the documentary film, Gasland, I highly recommend it. http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking
Here are a few more links of possible interest:
Hollywood has it’s own take on fracking with the new Matt Damon movie release called Promised Land, and the gas and oil companies are furious. Perhaps they should be.

Quote of the Day:
“The scientific analysis that is supposed to provide our Governor the facts and information he needs to make a crucial decision was crafted with the guidance of the gas industry, not of the state’s scientists.” – Sandra Steingraber, speaking to the NY Senate Democratic Conference
Photograph of the Day
Today’s photo was taken a few days ago as the full moon set over the Colorado Rockies. Enjoy! Oh yeah, Happy New Year!
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D. is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing and stress and human spirituality. He is the author of over 12 books including the bestsellers, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water, Stressed Is Desserts Spelled Backward, The Art of Calm, Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart and Managing Stress (7e) and the newly released, A Beautiful World: The Earth Song Journals. He can be reached through his website: www.brianlukeseaward.net
© Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D.