Asking Good Questions

Lately I’ve been thinking about questions. How asking the right ones can open our minds up, sparking curiosity, and offering new perspectives. When someone asks a thought-provoking question, it sets our neurons a-firing. We get interested, we lean in, or we might lean back in reflection. Good questions are like that: juicy, the meat of rich conversation. A good question can change us, reverberating into the soil of our internal landscape. This week, these three podcasts asked exactly these sorts of questions.

In this episode of This Jungian Life (Lee et al., 2022), Machiel Klerk discusses dream incubation, and reminds us that the dream want to help us. By asking a good question, we can tap into the highly personal wisdom that our dreams offer us. He discusses what kinds of questions are good ones and how a vague question—or a biased one—is going to yield a confusing answer.


Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist and all-around cool human, in a recent interview with Krista Tippett (2022), asks one of those reverberating questions: ‘What if we get it right?’. The entire episode is so good, including Johnson’s recitation of Ayisha Siddiqa’s poem, called “On Another Panel About Climate, They Ask Me to Sell the Future and All I’ve Got Is a Love Poem” (which you can find at 34:56). Johnson talks about how being motivated by love is a wonderful way to approach our work. The times we are in are uncomfortable, everything is shifting, breaking, collapsing, and yet there is also great possibility for transformation.…and, what if we get this right?


Krista Tippett talks with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen (2005). This is not a recent episode, but it is timeless. Remen is a repository of wisdom and insight, and I enjoyed her voice; familiar, raspy, wise, and kind. In sharing about tikkun olam, Remen says, “We heal the world one heart at a time” (6:20). Regarding the Mystery that is Life, she shares this gem: “I have no answers, but I have a lot of questions, and those questions have helped me to live better than any answers I might find” (38:17).


References

Tippett, K. (Host). (2005, August 11). How we live with loss [Audio podcast episode]. In On Being with Krista Tippett. https://onbeing.org/programs/rachel-naomi-remen-how-we-live-with-loss/

Tippett, K. (Host). (2022, June 9). What if we get this right? [Audio podcast episode]. In On Being with Krista Tippett. https://onbeing.org/programs/ayana-elizabeth-johnson-what-if-we-get-this-right/

Lee, J., Marciano, L., Stewart, D. (Hosts). (2022, June 16). Dream incubation with Machiel Klerk (No. 218) [Audio Podcast episode]. In This Jungian Life. https://thisjungianlife.com/episode-218-dream-incubation/

Two Rites of Passage: a graduation, a death.

Two weekends ago, I officially became a college graduate, earning my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from CIIS. We sat in the living room. On the right was my laptop, where we watched the virtual commencement ceremony; on the left, our dog Coco, propped up on a pillow and bundled with blankets. Her health was failing rapidly, having taken a dramatic turn for the worse just days before. It was a strange juxtaposition; the future, the past, life, and death. The following day we put Coco down.

Two rites of passage, standing at the threshold of a new life chapter. The experience of losing our dog continues to transform me. There is grief, pain, and heartache; what has also arrived is a deep, deep gratitude of the transcendent experience that is love and loss. There is a phrase that I like very much, which goes something like, the depth to which we can experience pain is equal in measure to depth to which we can love. In this blog post I share some of my reflections since Coco has been gone. In sharing what is personal, we can connect to what is universal.

***

May 16: Here I stand at a crossroads, and it’s as though a river is rushing by. I can smell the clean comforting water that carries scents of mossy rocks and wetland runoff. The past is behind me, the future ahead, and here I stand in this river of life. There is nothing to do or change, only allow it all to flow. This river flows from me and through me, in me and beyond me. Our doggie, Coco, has passed on.

We said goodbye yesterday, tears streaming, hearts aching with the hole she has left in her absence, the empty space in our home, our lives. It was time and she told us so. She was always such a good communicator. She had a mass growing in her stomach, we’d found this out in January and the vet said it was about quality of life now. A new protocol with diet change and pain meds, we tuned in our dials to high alert, and we wondered, how will we know when she’s in too much pain, how will we know when she’s ready to go? We kept asking her to let us know and eventually she did. In truth, the last few months were tense in this regard. And I can only notice it now, in the absence of tension, in the absence of our fur baby, Coco. Not that I would have changed anything. Nor do I resent that tension. There is an interplay of deep care and concern and being ready at a moment’s notice to do or attend to whatever she needed. This kind of willingness is born of true love and friendship. When someone- or somebeing- you truly care for needs and depends on you, there is a joy in the giving; a satisfaction that comes from being of service. In love’s selfless giving there is great receiving, too. And Coco gave us mountains of joy. Buckets of love. She gave us love like a river flows downhill, naturally, without any pretense. Because a river just flows, it is the nature of River. The nature of dogs is simply to love and be loved. There is no question, no trying, there is only loving.

Coco taught me about love, about seizing the day, finding joy in the routine. Our daily walks gave us space to share all that cannot be spoken. There are emotions and ways of knowing and being that live between words. When you engage over years and years together, be it a partner or best friend, there is so much conveyed in the in-between.

This is a love story. And in remembering all the wonderful times, I feel immense love and huge gratitude for the near fifteen years Coco shared with us.

When I first met Coco, she was six weeks old, playing with her litter mates, in a small fenced in corral. I sat down cross-legged on the floor with these bouncing balls of cuteness as they scampered and played. Pretty quickly, a small brownish gold fur-ball wriggled under my knee and popped up between my legs. They say that your animals choose you. Two weeks later, after she got her shots, I went to pick her up and make it official. We drove home together, Coco zipped up against my chest inside my stretchy jacket, like a makeshift babybjorn.

Coco Kaplan, born: June 18, 2007, died: May 16, 2022.

***

May 19: Learning to get comfortable with the edge. The edge of discomfort, the edge of change, the edge of unglorified moments; moments of death and life and rebirth. Finding comfort in the constant transition that is life. Adjust and readjust, as my dad would say. I thought Coco was scratching at the bathroom door when it was actually the air humidifier this morning. Split-second moments of coming to terms with her absence. She lives in my heart forever, yes, but I cannot cuddle her or play with her, nor take her for a walk anymore. She has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It is beautiful to imagine this bridge, where all our passed-on loved ones are reunited in spirit. Perhaps they are frolicking together, cheering us on from beyond? There is a thunderous silence in Coco’s absence. There’s no Hi, sweet Coco when she’d look at me, or Good morning, punkin!; there’s no How are you, my sweet girl? With these everyday exchanges gone, along with her presence, the house is suddenly so still and so quiet. But it was me who was talking, and now it is me who is quiet. My little mascot was a daily inspiration, and now there is just an outline where she used to be. It all comes in waves. I know I will find my inner joy again; it is not even gone really. It has just retreated in a respectful reverence for the grief that is here now. I am navigating a new edge; I adjust and readjust.

***

May 20: Coco has been gone four days and yesterday I overate the strawberry-rhubarb crumble and made myself feel gross. Eating my feelings is not something I have ever known myself to do…at least not till now. But you know what? All is OK. This is a new edge, with new emotions, a new reality. I have not been here before and it is OK to feel out of my element. Adjust and readjust.

May 21: There is no backwards. This is a phrase I used to say to Coco on our walks when she’d catch a scent in the opposite direction…I mean, otherwise, we’d be there all day. I love this phrase because it applies not just to walking, but to life in general. Especially now in these times of pivotal change on our planet. There is no backwards and we can accept this and face each moment fully alive, saying yes to whatever comes up inside us, making friends with our shadow and our light. This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer; but we will suffer less and it will not fester. (It also doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes try to stuff our feelings with strawberry-rhubarb crumble. This being human thing is hard.) We could also choose to dig in our heels, pining for the scent that was, that blade of grass that got away, the opportunity lost, the delusion of the good ol’ days. At that only postpones our suffering temporarily, if at all. So really, there is no backwards, there is only right here and now.

Essay: The Neurobiology of Sound in Attention Deficit Disorder

            In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5), attention deficit disorder (ADD) has lengthy criteria for diagnosis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) provides this shortened form definition from the DSM-5: “A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development” (para. 7). Persons with ADD have unique neurobiology which has been linked to reduced dopamine and norepinephrine activity (Kolb et al., 2019). It has also been shown that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) brains have less volume in the frontal cortex, cerebellum, and subcortical structures as well as similar symptoms to those of persons with damage to these areas, such as inhibition and executive functioning (Herbert & Esparham, 2017). Medication is effective for many, but it is not for everyone. Even for those whom medication has proven useful, it does not control all symptoms, nor is it a cure. Psychiatrist William Dodson (2021) states, “Stimulant medications are very good at keeping the ADHD brain from getting distracted once they are engaged, but they do not help you get engaged in the first place” (para. 17). There exists a need for adjunct therapeutic options. The goal of this paper is to present a case for using sound as a therapeutic tool, in the absence of or in addition to medication, and for improving cognitive function in the ADD mind, with the ultimate goal of moving towards a state of coherence.

The Neurobiology of ADD and Sound Perception

Brain Activity

            Throughout this paper, the words “mind” and “brain” are used interchangeably. In addition, the acronyms ADD and ADHD will be used interchangeably in a narrative tone, when referring to attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; when paraphrasing or quoting from published works, I will use the author’s term. 

            Childhood trauma expert, Dr. Gabor Maté (n.d.), characterizes attention deficit disorder by “the dis-order it creates in one’s life” (para. 27, 28), as well as by the persistent patterns of inattention, and/or hyperactivity, impulsivity, distractibility, tuning-out, and disorganization, such that it interferes with functioning or development. There are several regions of the brain involved in manifesting these patterns of disorder (Silver, 2021). And it may come as no surprise that they are all connected.

            The prefrontal cortex, also called the frontal lobe, is the most recently evolved region of the brain and governs executive functions like decision making, organization, and planning for the future. The limbic system, or limbic circuit, which includes the hippocampus, amygdala, and cingulate cortex, interacts directly with the hypothalamus; this circuit regulates emotional and motivated behaviors. The basal ganglia also plays a role; a subcortical collection of forebrain nuclei that are involved in controlling motor behavior (Kolb et al., 2019). And lastly is the reticular formation, a network of neurons in the brain stem which may play an important role in the circuitry of arousal (Maté 1999).

            This issue of arousal is an important one since the ADD brain is often characterized by a feature of arousal and emotional dysregulation (Bellato et al., 2020). Regulation refers to the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which balances internal functions and the two sub-branches of the ANS, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which balance states of arousal and calm, respectively, by the vagus nerve pathway. Dysregulation then, is when these excitatory and inhibitory states are out of balance, as in hyper and hypo-arousal, which is what occurs in the ADD brain (Kolb et al., 2019). 

            Two neurotransmitters, norepinephrine, and dopamine have been found to play a role in the ADD brain (Herbert & Esparham, 2017); specifically, their reduced availability. Higher amounts of the dopamine transporter protein have been noted, which causes faster reuptake of dopamine back into the presynaptic neurons. Faster reuptake translates to reduced availability in the synaptic cleft, which is where a transmitter needs to be for neural utilization. Stimulant medications are thought to work by either blocking reuptake and allowing it to “hang out” longer in the synapse, and/or by reversing the transporter production thereby increasing the release of existing dopamine. (Kolb et al. 2019). 

The Importance of Environment

            ADD has been correlated to many factors including genetic predisposition, environment, brain structure, neural pathways, neurotransmitters, in-utero influences, as well as psycho-social adversity in childhood (Herbert & Esparham, 2017).

            In Maté’s book Scattered (1999), he addresses the nurture vs. nature argument, asserting that, “Genetic inheritance by itself cannot account for the presence of ADD features in people, but heredity can make it far more likely that these features will emerge in a given individual, depending on circumstances” (p. 59). These circumstances are early stressors that can show up in childhood, and they are what Maté believes makes ADD a developmental disorder rather than an inherited condition. There is another aspect that he highlights, a quality of the ADD brain that is not often mentioned: hypersensitivity (1999). “It is sensitivity, not a disorder, that is transmitted through heredity” (p. 59). 

            The dysregulation of the ANS and the inborn hypersensitivity to environment, underscore the importance of establishing a tailored management plan, with habits and routines that facilitate engagement (Dodson, 2020). Habits like consistent sleep-wake times, healthy meals, and physical exercise are the core foundation of such routines. 

            Behavioral therapies and pharmaceutical treatments have been shown to be quite effective at alleviating ADHD symptoms, especially when used together (Herbert & Esparham, 2017). Yet, medication is not a cure. Dr. Dodson of ADDitudeMag.com says, “Stimulant medications are very good at keeping the ADHD brain from getting distracted once they are engaged, but they do not help you get engaged in the first place” (2021, para. 17). Additionally, many standard treatments for ADD do not work or have unwanted side effects (Huang & Charyton, 2008). There is clearly a need for adjunct therapies and this is where sound therapy comes in.

Sound As Therapy

Brainwaves

            The brain’s electrical activity can be measured and recorded by an electroencephalogram (EEG). The EEG records this activity as waves, which can be matched to specific brain regions (Kolb et al., 2019), and each wave that the brain produces has an associated hertz (Hz), which is the repetition per second, a.k.a. frequency, as well as an amplitude (wave height).

Modulating these brainwaves is the basis for sound therapy. The brainwaves we look at are gamma, beta, alpha, theta, delta; hertz ranges noted below are approximated.

            Gamma waves are the fastest oscillating of the brainwaves, 30 Hz and higher. Gamma is associated with profound insight and peak states of awareness (Source Vibrations, 2019).

            Beta is a fast-wave pattern, associated with waking, thinking, and a general focused state, in the 13 to 30 Hz range. (Huang & Charyton, 2008). Excess beta can result in chronic stress, anxiety, and decreased cognitive performance (Source Vibrations, 2018). Many studies reference the ADD brain having high theta/low beta ratios in the frontal and midline areas (Herbert & Esparham, 2017). This could correlate to the inability to focus, common to the ADD brain. However, other studies show a null correlation with theta/beta ratios in ADD; while EEG recordings can be a useful guide, they have not yet been proven as a universal tool for ADHD diagnosis (Herbert & Esparham, 2017).

            The Alpha rhythm is a large, consistent wave in the 7 to 11 Hz frequency range. It is associated with calm, relaxed attentiveness and creative receptivity. Excess alpha can result in feeling scattered, overwhelmed, or lethargic (Source Vibrations, 2018). 

            Theta waves are at 4 to 7 Hz, associated with liminal states, trance states, dreaming, visions, and insight. Excess Theta waves may be connected to cognitive issues like ADHD and other psychological disorders; reduced theta may be related to sleep disorders (Source Vibrations, 2018).

            Delta waves are .05 to 4 Hz and slow with large amplitude. These waves are produced by deep, dreamless sleep, or deep meditation, yogic sleep, and unconsciousness (Source Vibrations, 2018). 

            In the scope of this paper, sound therapy can be defined as aural tones, rhythms, beats, acoustic harmonies, and/or vibrations, which aim to alter or change a brainwave state through external frequency stimulation, with the intention of moving the listener’s state towards one of synchrony (coherence) and away from stress and disorder (incoherence). There are different sound therapy modalities, and even Kundalini yoga, which uses rhythmic breathing, could be considered sound therapy under the definition provided. This paper will review shamanic drumming, binaural beats, solfeggio frequencies, singing bowls, the didgeridoo, and gonging, and then discuss the concept of brainwave entrainment, which all of the aforementioned modalities employ to achieve their results. 

Modern sounds/ Ancestral roots

Types of sound therapy

            Shamanic drumming is a fast-paced rhythm at 4 to 7 Hz (beats per second), and a similar frequency to that of theta waves. (Theta states are associated with trance, dreaming, visions, and insight.) The ancestral roots of sound began with the drum. Ritual drumming exists in almost every culture across the globe. It is used in shamanic journeying, tribal storytelling, celebrations of life, honoring the dead. It is both transportive and primal, familiar and sacred. The heartbeat is the first sound we hear when in utero. It seems hardly a coincidence that the drum which sounds like our mother’s heartbeat has remained a sacred tool for connecting to our ancient roots (Tarnacki, 2019).

            Binaural beats are a perceptual phenomenon, which happens when two slightly different frequencies are presented separately in each ear, and the brain bridges the gap by creating a single illusionary tone, that is equal to the mean frequency of the two tones together (Garcia-Argibay et al., 2019). Popular binaural beat tracks tend to use one or more frequencies, layered with relaxing music, and sometimes include what is called a carrier frequency. The Garcia-Argibay et al. study (2019) had positive outcomes for the potential benefits of using binaural beats, however, they suggest the possibility of carrier frequency playing a crucial role in binaural beat effectiveness, which might help explain why other recent studies have presented inconsistent data the efficacy of binaural beats.

            In 2008, Huang & Charyton published a comprehensive review that examined twenty peer-reviewed studies for psychological outcomes within a group of criteria and discovered relevant patterns, most notably an improvement of outcome when a combination of gamma/beta waves was used. And Garcia-Argibay et al. (2019) found that the magnitude of the experienced benefits was correlated with several factors, such as binaural frequency and duration of exposure, and that better results occurred when participants primed their brain by listening before, as well as before and during the task, vs. only during the task.

            Source Vibrations (2018) produces sound therapy music and brain “state training”, using “neuro-acoustic” beats and layered frequencies for brain entrainment and cite a cumulative effect of use. The more you use it, the easier it is for your brain to “drop-in” to the desired frequency. They claim that delta states are easiest to achieve first thing in the morning, or the last thing at night; theta is easiest first thing in the morning, especially if one is practicing any kind of self-hypnosis or trance; alpha sessions are easy to do any time of the day, as they facilitate calm, centered focus

            Binaural beats work by hearing two separate tones in each ear, so headphones are necessary for the best neuro-aerobic workout.

            Solfeggio frequencies are often found layered into binaural beats music, commonly at 528 Hz and/or 432 Hz tuning. However, solfeggio frequencies are controversial in origin and there are few if any studies on solfeggio frequency efficacy. Believers claim this “ancient tuning” to be aligned with Pythagorean geometry (Attuned Vibrations, 2019).

            Singing bowls were found to show favorable improvements in tension levels, anxiety, as well as increasing a sense of spiritual well-being (Goldsby et al., 2017).

            The didgeridoo, an Australian wind instrument, produces a deep, vibratory resonance, and has been found to relieve tension and increase relaxation (Hartley Phillips et al., 2019). The didgeridoo and the hanging gong are sound therapies that are ideally experienced in person, as they can be felt as well as heard, due to their vibratory resonance and reverberation; singing bowls produce a similar effect, but to a lesser extent.

            All of these modalities share something in common. They use brainwave entrainment; when rhythmic stimuli are presented at a target frequency, and that stimuli elicit a “frequency-following response” of the listener’s brainwaves, to match the frequency of the stimuli. This frequency-following response speaks to the tendency of the electrocortical activity of the brain to fall in synchronization with the externally presented sound, rhythm, etc. (Huang & Charyton, 2008). This could be interpreted as what we hear, we emulate. Herbert & Esparham (2017) posit that the brain states achievable in sound therapy are comparable to those of meditation and mindfulness training and may even facilitate overall coherence.

The Goal: Coherence

Moving Out of Disorder

            Taking Gabor Maté’s viewpoint that ADD develops due to early traumas and hypersensitivity to one’s environment (1999), and that at its core, ADD is a condition of dysregulation (Bellato et al., 2020), it seems plausible to say that ADHD is a condition of being stuck in a state of dis-order that vacillates between hyper and hypo-arousal, likely as a learned coping mechanism. Dr. Stephen Porges, founder of the Polyvagal theory says, “When we are in safe states, we can access higher cortical functions, but when we are in danger states, those systems turn off and we’re defensive” (2018, 0:27). 

What is coherence?

            The HeartMath Institute, in their book called Science of the Heart (2016), defines coherence as “the measurement of the order, stability, and harmony in the oscillatory outputs of the body’s regulatory systems during any period of time”(p. 11)

            Emotional self-awareness and self-regulation are perhaps the most important skills to cultivate, according to HeartMath, because it is the neural systems that underlie all cognitive and emotional experiences. And it is our neural systems that, if they have an unstable baseline pattern, will perpetuate instability (McCraty, 2016). What is exciting is that the brain has the inherent trait of neuroplasticity and new patterns can be learned, especially when they are new patterns (Kolb et al., 2019). Through self-regulation techniques that begin with changing our brainwave states, we can move into deeper synchronization with our hearts and bodies, our partners and loved ones, our communities, and ultimately, our planet (McCraty, 2016). 

            The work and research of HeartMath unsurprisingly focuses on the heart, and specifically the heart rate variability (HRV). Heart rate variability is not the heartbeat itself, but the time between heartbeats, as it speeds up or slows down, and the ability to regulate those gaps relates to high HRV levels (McCraty, 2016). Studies have shown associations with higher levels of resting HRV and better performance of cognitive tasks and executive functions. Additionally, some of the same neural structures which are thought to play a role in ADD have also been found to show involvement in heart rate regulation: cortical, subcortical, and the medulla oblongata (McCraty, 2016). It is through the modulation of HRV that we can move into heart coherence. 

            HeartMath has developed various focused breathing techniques for increasing heart coherence. They have also created a heart coherence app and a wearable device. But it is their Heart-Focused Breathing that is simple and accessible to all. It includes focusing on the heart area, breathing in a rhythmic measured pattern of five breaths in, five breaths out, and generating a positively associated emotion, like love or gratitude (McCraty, 2016). Consciously slowing one’s heart rate and deepening breath increases the space between beats (HRV). Remember that the vagus nerves travel in both directions—afferently (from the heart to the brain) and efferently (from the brain to the heart). However, while efferent vagus nerve fibers are involved in the heart’s regulation, the majority of the vagus nerve fibers are afferent. This means “the heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart” (McCraty, 2016). 

            The heart is the largest source of electromagnetic energy in the human body (McCraty, 2016). The electrical field that the heart generates is approximately sixty times greater than the electrical activity generated by the brain (in amplitude), and it can be measured by an EKG. 

The amygdala functions as an organizational center for familiar patterns. If the heart generates rhythm patterns that are discordant or chaotic, especially early on in childhood, the amygdala learns that a state of discord is the expected baseline. Yet, by becoming self-aware, especially in such moments of discord, and shifting focus to the heart area, as well as deepening breathing, especially on the exhale, it is possible to create new coherent patterns for the amygdala to organize (McCraty, 2016).

            The heart is the largest source of electromagnetic energy in the human body, and generates an electrical field that is approximately sixty times greater than the electrical activity generated by the brain, HeartMath sees coherence as an achievable state, with potential on a global scale (McCraty, 2016).

Conclusion

            Sound therapy has the power to connect us to our ancestral roots, adjust brainwaves and neuronal activity in positive ways, and establish new baselines for wellness. By starting where we are and changing our brains through daily habits and meaningful self-regulation, there is the potential to create lasting change in the ADD/ADHD mind and neuroplasticity supports us in these endeavors (Kolb et al. 2019). Such change may even ripple out in exponential ways on a global scale (McCraty, 2016). “We are coming to understand health not as the absence of disease, but rather as the process by which individuals maintain their sense of coherence (i.e. sense that life is comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful) and ability to function in the face of changes in themselves and their relationships with their environment” (McCraty, 2016, p. 9).

We have our brains and our hearts on our side. It is up to us to make use of these wonderful, wired connections of rhythm and possibility. 

 References

Attuned Vibrations. (2019). What is 432 Hz tuning? attunedvibrations.com. https://attunedvibrations.com/432hz/

Bellato, A., Arora, I., Hollis, C., & Groom, M. J. (2020). Is autonomic nervous system function atypical in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? A systematic review of the evidence. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 108, 182-206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.11.001

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (21 September, 2020) https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html

Dodson, William (2021, February 5). 3 defining features of ADHD that everyone overlooks. ADDitude. https://www.additudemag.com/symptoms-of-add-hyperarousal-rejection-sensitivity

Garcia-Argibay, M., Santed, M. A., & Reales, J. M. (2019). Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychological Research, 83(2), 357-372. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-018-1066-8

Goldsby, T. L., Goldsby, M. E., McWalters, M., & Mills, P. J. (2017). Effects of singing bowl sound meditation on mood, tension, and well-being: An observational study. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(3), 401-406. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156587216668109

Herbert, A., & Esparham, A. (2017). Mind–body therapy for children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Children, 4(5), 31). https://doi.org/10.3390/children4050031

Huang, T. L., & Charyton, C. (2008). A comprehensive review of the psychological effects of brainwave entrainment. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 14(5), 38-50. https://www-proquest-com.ciis.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-journals/comprehensive-review-psychological-effects/docview/204837524/se-2?accountid=25260

Kolb, B., Whishaw, I. Q., & Teskey, G. C. (2019). An introduction to brain and behavior (Sixth ed.). Worth Publishers/Macmillan Learning.

Maté, G., (n.d.) Faq AD(H)D, para. 27, 28. https://drgabormate.com/topic/adhd/ .

Maté, G. (2000). Scattered. Penguin Publishing Group.

Mccraty, R. (2016). Science of the heart, volume 2, Exploring the role of the heart in human performance: An overview of research conducted by the HeartMath Institute. HeartMath Institute. https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.1.3873.5128

Philips, K. H., Brintz, C. E., Moss, K., & Gaylord, S. A. (2019). Didgeridoo sound meditation for stress reduction and mood enhancement in undergraduates: A randomized controlled trial. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 8, 216495611987936-2164956119879367. https://doi.org/10.1177/2164956119879367

Porges, Stephen (PsychAlive, 2018, 0:27). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec3AUMDjtKQ 

Silver, L. (2021, February 5). The neuroscience of the ADHD brain. ADDitude https://www.additudemag.com/neuroscience-of-adhd-brain/

Source Vibrations – International Music. (2018, November 6). State training with brainwave entrainment ~ Module 1: Introduction and overview [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/kdom2amIrNU

Tarnacki, J. (2019). This is Your Brain on Drumming. Medium.com. https://medium.com/swlh/this-is-your-brain-on-drumming-8ed6eaf314c4

Frequency signatures? The future of medicine is here.

Resonance, sound, and energetic signature frequencies. I know these sound like woo-woo words. But as Dr. Beth McDougall and Mark Hinds tell it, they may also be the future of modern medicine, wellness, and agriculture.

I first met Dr. Beth ten years ago. I had gotten very sick and had all sorts of stuff going on, including an undiagnosed autoimmune illness. Dr. Beth helped me get healthy, she got me on the right protocols with medication and diet changes, and my life changed dramatically.

Through her newsletters, I’ve followed the research and development that she’s been involved in and she is into some cutting edge, next-level stuff. But hearing her talk today, wow!

My head is spinning with all the possibility in front of us as a collective and I’m super excited for what is to come. What an exciting time to be alive! And I believe that many of us who are awakening at this time, we chose to be here right now. There is a lot to do as we create a new world, but as long as we lean into the energy of our heart, we cannot go wrong. Listen to this video and get inspired by the future…because the future is now.

https://fb.watch/bleDBseJ0B/

Here are some of the sources mentioned in the talk:

https://sourcewave.com/

https://upterra.co/products-services/

https://www.sonaphi.com

Project: Dreaming with Purpose

The senior project is a big deal. It is a capstone to the three semesters of hard work, and a requirement for the successful completion of the undergraduate program at CIIS. Because I chose the Bachelor of Science in Psychology, the senior project assignment is to conduct a study, as in research. In the 2nd semester there is an entire class, Research Methods, which prepares us for carrying out the senior project in the 3rd semester.

So yeah, this was a massive undertaking, and somehow, remarkably, I really enjoyed it. Had I not chosen a topic that I am truly passionate about, it could have been miserable (I learned that lesson in the first semester- another story). There were multiple components to this project, including a 30 plus page research paper, a research poster, and a video, where I address the main data points that I gleaned from my research. For the poster and video, scroll down this page. To read the research paper, click here: https://librakaplan.com/my-senior-research-project/ , password: staylucid


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Essay: Queering Normal

My final paper for the class, Neurodiversity and Mad Studies, Fall 2021, BS Psy program.

Queering Normal: A Critical Analysis of the Netflix Show, Love on the Spectrum

The Show

Love on the Spectrum (LOTS) is a show on Netflix about autistic 20-somethings in Australia, seeking love (2019). Over the course of two show seasons, we follow these participants on dates—for many it is their first ever. They attend speed dating events; they show us their rooms, their hobbies; we met their families and friends; they receive dating advice from relationship specialist, Jodi Rogers; and, because it is a reality show, they sit and talk directly with the camera. Their ages range from 19 to 27, there is a fairly even mix of single men and women, and most, but not all, live at home. There are also two couples who were already together when the show began.

Queering Normal

Neurodiversity is the natural order of humanity. Considering this fact, it becomes important to recognize that since no two people are exactly the same, neurodivergence is not only an organic expression of life itself, but it is also a huge relief. There is no normal! Nevertheless, our society has, for hundreds of years, persisted on striving for a fictious ideal, based on standards of normal, typical, and general averages. Normal is built on generalizations. When there is a normal, there is by default, an abnormal. The pathology paradigm looks at people through the lens of their disease and disorders; humans become a problem to be fixed. This kind of distorted thinking is especially harmful and stigmatizing for neurominorities such as autistics, whose uniqueness and quirks are inherent to who they are; there is no curing or fixing their brains. The problem, therefore, lies in society, in what has thus far been considered acceptable and correct, and what has not. One of the ways that the neurodiversity paradigm is queering normal is through employing neuropositive language.

Language

In LOTS, the most significant element that is out of alignment with the neurodiversity paradigm is some of the language, with the title being the most obvious example. The term ‘on the spectrum’is used often, sometimes by the participants, but especially by the narrator, the parents, and Jodi, the relationship specialist; ‘autistic’ is also used, more so by the participants. The term ‘high-functioning’ is used by two of the female participants; ‘low-functioning’ is not used.

While the terminology may still be rooted in a pathology paradigm, the energy and intention of the show comes through as one of love and kindness; and in so doing, this is challenging neuronormative assumptions of autism. Michael, a 25 year old male, when asked how he feels about being on the spectrum, replies, “…autism is just a neurological disability. People with autism or Asperger’s, they just learn things a different way. As far as I’m concerned, if anything it’s actually more of a gift” (2020, 1:22). The other participants share Michael’s attitude; they know that their brains are unique, and while some say it took them awhile, they now see their neurodivergence as an asset.

Image

The opening image shows each person posed glamorously in evening wear attire, perched in various positions against a luxurious sofa in an empty loft warehouse space. This image is the marketing picture that one might see on a billboard, or the side of a bus. Everyone looks glamorous, but the image itself conjures up another reality TV show, The Bachelor. It is this evocation that is problematic. Although, LOTS is the total opposite of pretentious, this image shows a lack of creativity at best, and at worst, paints a false picture of the show, namely that it is aligned with trashy sensationalism. As if The Bachelor is the pinnacle for anyone who is dating? There is some mention made here and there from participants, claiming to either love, or love to hate, The Bachelor. Fortunately, the opening image and the fact that are both are reality shows are the only things LOTS has in common with The Bachelor. Unfortunately, by using that image, LOTS unknowingly forges an alignment with neuronormative assumptions around love and finding a partner.

Some of the participants are multiply neurodivergent, but even among those who are solely autistic, each participant’s unique traits and quirks manifest in different ways. It is no surprise that humans are a neurodiverse species; just like stars in the sky, we all have our unique sparkle. And yet, a persistent neurotypical belief is that autism looks a certain way. We see this stereotype confronted head on when Chloe, who is deaf and autistic, tells the camera, “When I tell someone that I’m autistic, people go, ‘Really? You don’t look autistic’. And I can say, ‘What does an autistic person look like?’” (2020, 5:15). Other participants echo this experience. Seeing the many faces and manifestations of neurodivergence works to challengs deeply rooted beliefs and societal assumptions of autism.

Humans tend to fear the unknown. Because autism has been so stigmatized throughout history, it has, by and large, been oppressed, denied, and hidden, which further perpetuates stigma. This is fertile ground for fear, shame, blame, and guilt. If we don’t know what autism presents like, then it is disturbing when we see an autistic who is stimming, or rocking, or having a meltdown. LOTS gives us a portal view of autistic anxiety and the ways it can manifest.

Out on a blind date, and struggling to make conversation, we see Kassandra getting nervous and she tells the camera she needs a break. She goes to the restroom but returns in a more anxious state than before. She tells her date that she’s on the verge of a panic attack, and politely takes her leave (2021). The heightened levels of anxiety and stimulation that autistics experience can be overwhelming and debilitating. While we can never completely know what is happening inside, Kassandra gives us a glimpse from the outside, and her vulnerability fosters a bridge of compassion and kindness for what she might be feeling. And even small bridges take us to new paths. We begin rethinking our thinking; cultivating new acceptance and respect for what may have previously been unacceptable. And now we are taking the necessary baby steps to the elevator of a new paradigm.

Highlighting Bias

In season 1, episode 4 (2020), Olivia explains that it is extremely difficult being an autistic girl and getting diagnosed. This is because, she says, there’s no criteria for girls, only boys, and so, “…You get assessed on how male you are” (12:29). This was a candidly real moment, and potentially helpful for parents of a child who is yet to be diagnosed.

The matter of how participants are being matched and with whom is a gray zone that may be connected to bias. Many of the participants are explicit in their interest for dating only fellow autistics, because of relatability. A couple of the autistic female participants go on dates with allistics, but there is no spark. Per his own request, Michael attends a speed dating event (2021) that has both autistic and allistics. He chats with three women while there. We learn through the narrator that one is autistic, the others are not. Michael likes all three, but it is up to the women to confirm their interest for it to be considered a match; he waits to hear from the event’s coordinator. It turns out that his interest was only reciprocated by the autistic woman, Heather, and this gives Michael a brief pause, while the camera focuses on him. We cannot fault the other two women; it is all about chemistry after all. Yet it did create a question in my mind as to who is choosing the matches and what the parameters were. While Michael requested to attend that event, are all the other participants given the choice? Whether or not this is an actual issue or something that is not detailed in the show, remains unclear. It may simply be irrelevant within the scope of this paper, due to the inherent speculation that arises from a gray zone.

Conclusion

LOTS is helping to queer normal, and neuronormative concepts around what autism is and how it presents. Additionally, by seeing other people’s struggle, and finding common ground through the search for love, I believe it may offer the spaciousness for neurotypicals to be a little more themselves, and to loosen their grip on perfection.

While LOTS can do better in their application of neuropositive language, I felt a definite underlying intention of neuropositivity in each episode. The director (who is also the cameraman) does an excellent job showing the highs and lows of autistics looking for love.  Their struggle is relatable and that has nothing to do with neurotype; dating is difficult and awkward no matter who you are. This relatability creates connection, taking the viewer outside of any Othering that may have been there, replacing it with fellowship. We all want love, and finding it is never easy. There is no normal, and we are all more alike than we thought.

References

O’Clery, C. (Director, Creator). (2019) Love on the spectrum. [TV series]. Northern Pictures; Netflix.

O’Clery, C. (Director, Creator). (2020) Episode #1.1. (Season 1, Episode 1). [TV series episode]. Love on the spectrum. Northern Pictures; Netflix.

O’Clery, C. (Executive Director). (2021) Episode #2.1. (Season 2, Episode 1). [TV series episode]. Love on the spectrum. Northern Pictures; Netflix.

Walker, N. (2021). Neurodiversity: Some basic terms and definitions Neuroqueer. https://neuroqueer.com/neurodiversity-terms-and-definitions/

Essay: Illuminating Spirit

My final paper for the class, Cross-Cultural and Multi-Cultural Psychologies, Summer 2021, CIIS, BS Psy program.

Illuminating Spirit: Sakhu Djaer as Coherence

As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love’s the cure
You can rest your mind assured
That I’ll be loving you always

—Stevie Wonder (1976, para. 1).

Spirit is Essential     

These are the opening lyrics to the song “As”, by Stevie Wonder, on the album, Songs in the Key of Life (1976). It is one of my favorite tracks of all time. The lyrics are deeply reflective with an upbeat energy, and a steady, mounting tempo that never fails to shift me into a joyful place or take me even higher when I’m already feeling good. It is also not a short song, clocking in at seven minutes and eight seconds long. This length, I discovered, is the sweet spot for music accompaniment when jumping on my mini trampoline, which I have been doing a few times a week. (Five minutes is never quite enough; longer than eight and I get bored.) There is something uniquely powerful about “As”, that even as I write this, I can feel the frisson along my arms and neck. A musical composition of this caliber does not come along every day. There is a whole-beingness contained in this song; it is a quality I intrinsically sensed and gravitated to, but until recently, I had no concise explanation for.

While Spirit has always been an essential part of my life, before this 2021 summer semester, the breadth of my language had felt limited. Words like awesome, divine, energy, frequency—they are useful, sure, but they have also become buzz words in many respects. It is not easy to describe the invisible world; in truth, the language of Spirit has always been mysterious.

The wisdom my father would share with me in his after-dinner speeches always came in hushed tones. His wine glass in hand, and belly full, he would espouse the new insights he’d gleaned that week through his mystery schools and alchemical texts, sharing epiphanies bridged by parables, told in metaphor and myth; connecting ancient dots to present time. This was certainly wisdom far beyond my teenage years, yet I was captivated. Hours would pass with my father perched across the tiny living room, on his Koa wood bed, and I, posted up on a bar stool leaning against the kitchen counter. Sometimes I asked questions, but mostly I just listened. Something in me knew that even if I did not understand everything, what was important would get absorbed.  

Now that I have completed the Cross-Cultural class taught by Dr. Adeeba Deterville at CIIS, the awareness I’ve gained to African ways of being and knowing has opened me up, and with this, a new understanding of Spirit; and of why I find the song “As” so powerful. The answer is contained in the concept of Sakhu Djaer.

Sakhu Djaer is defined by Nobles (2015) as essentially the “illumination of the Spirit” (p. 37).  He emphasizes, “…Skh Djr requires one to think deeply about African meanings and understandings about being human” (p. 38).  

In “As”, the journey of the lyrics start with Nature and end with Nature. The sun knows when to revolve, the flowers know when to bloom, kindness and love reign, and as Wonder repeats throughout the song, “…I’ll be loving you always”. This is ultimately a love song. To a partner, children, family; it also speaks to his love of all Creation. But there is a secondary meaning that is implied, which is that perhaps it is Spirit who is singing to us, that the love is flowing from the Universe to all living beings. With this layer of meaning, a sacred circle of continuity arises. There is no beginning, no end, and “I’ll be loving you always” speaks to the eternal in us and the eternal that created us.

Originist at Heart

Through the coursework I came to identify with an “Originist” positionality (Hine, 1992), as it aligns with archeological and anthropological findings that cite the Fertile Crescent as one of the cradles of civilization. There were likely several cradles, although none of them were in Europe. Greek civilization came much later than Egypt/ Mesopotamia, and the Roman civilization was later still. While there were obvious enlightened thinkers that came from Greek and Roman times, why are they the only ones we have been taught? Sumerians have some of the oldest written texts, but I never learned about them in school. The knowledge I have gained through this course has illuminated the many holes and lies of omission that our Euro-centric education system lauds. It is time for this to change.

While my Originist positionality has been borne from a scientific and logical understanding, and then confirmed through this coursework, this quote from Hine sparked my thinking about how much deeper the Originist positionality truly goes:

“The late Nathan Huggins observed that, Tradition is a legitimizing phenomenon. All peoples and all nations want to tie themselves to an ancient past (ideally, preliterate and mythic)” (p. 17).

A desire for belonging is a basic social psychological need. We all want to belong, and we all deserve to have a tradition that we feel in our bones is ours, not simply because we were told it is. The quote above suggests that every tradition and culture want the oldest, most ancient past, the path that ties us to the truth, the Myths and Gods of origin. I can feel how I too, want the original Gods and Goddesses, the Old Gods, not the New. This kind of thinking however, has a competitive nature, a me-them positionality. If I am to be true to the Originist epistemology, then anything that takes me away from my heart, takes me away from Spirit, and therefore must be reevaluated.

Authenticity

We inevitably create versions of ourselves in order to function in society, which so often requires a soul sacrifice. The phrase ‘soul-sucking’ comes to mind, be it a job, relationship, behavior, etc. Instead, Piper-Mandy & Rowe (2010) offer the seven moments on the Path of the Human Spirit, which are refreshing and hopeful. They are: Before, Beginning, Belonging, Being, Becoming, Beholding, and Beyond. This African-centered way of being feels like spirals of intertwined experience, as we travel each moment of the path, it is all connected to the larger whole, never separate. The focus is in the human body experience, as well as in the unseen worlds; the before and the beyond are welcome additions to acknowledging the Greater Is-ness. It is a little sad that mainstream general psychology has historically been disconnected from anything remotely spiritual, as it has sought to recognize only that which can be quantified and measured. While there have been many achievements, at this point in our history, I believe a heart-centered paradigm is required.

Being authentic describes a way of being that is original and truthful to your personhood. Authenticity has become a somewhat overused term, but maybe that is because while ubiquitous in theory, it is so rarely actualized. If we were all more authentic, exclaiming things like just be your authentic self would have no meaning, in fact it would be bizarre. In the current state of things, being real is still somewhat of a novelty. Conformity is a powerful social mechanism and humans can become inauthentic very quickly if it means fitting in. And yet, as Piper-Mandy & Rowe (2010) state, “We cannot simply lift African rituals and rites from ancient record and weave them as whole cloth into the fabric of contemporary diasporan African life” (p. 9). This quote holds up a mirror, asking us to examine something before we weave it into our story, personally or collectively. Does it resonate, do we know what its deeper purpose is, the significance? Did our ancestors practice this, and if so, does it serve us now and why? 

The Bridge of Sakhu Djaer

Spirit is ether, our ancestors, guardians, sacred animals; Spirit is also nature, the earth, the soil. Spirit is in everything. No amount of human companionship can fill a void when the soul is empty. If I am not first right in my heart, I will not be right in any endeavor. When my motives and intentions are kind and true, I feel in alignment. My breathing is deep, not shallow. My parasympathetic nervous system is calm and focused. I am tuned in and activated in a higher mind sensation. This is what coherence feels like (McCraty, 2016). To connect in harmony with ourselves and community, our motives must be heart-centered, which is also where our truth and vulnerability reside.

The bridge of Sakhu Djaer speaks to the soul of me, like the language of my dreams. The process of enlightenment is one of walking backwards towards Spirit. We are already illuminated, but we must shed the layers that have covered us—the baggage, societal demands, trauma, shame, guilt, oppression. With each layer, our true divine connectedness is revealed a little more and little more. We are spirits having a human experience, moving out of dissonance towards coherence, towards the embodiment of Sakhu Djaer. The final section of lyrics I wish to highlight is the bridge, below. It comes in at minute 3:49, when the momentum is moving stronger and higher into a frenzied energy, and Stevie is belting it out with throaty reverberation. There is so much connection offered in this song, but especially in this bridge; it is primal, much like the bridge of Sakhu Djaer.

Beingness operates outside of chronological time; our future is now, our past is never gone, and how we act and how we live our lives matters not just for us but for future generations, for ancestors, for timelines we haven’t seen and memories we have yet to remember. We are divine creators, and the Divine is creating through us.

We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles

Can make you wish you were born in another time and space

But you can bet your life times that and twice its double

That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed

So make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it

You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell

Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love

And maybe our children’s grandchildren

And their great-great-grandchildren will tell

I’ll be loving you

Stevie Wonder (1976, para. 8-9)

References

Hine, D. C. (1992). The black studies movement: Afrocentric-traditionalist-feminist paradigms for the next stage. Black Scholar, 22(3), pp. 11-18

McCraty, R. (2016). Science of the heart, volume 2, Exploring the role of the heart in human performance: An overview of research conducted by the HeartMath Institute. HeartMath Institute. https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.1.3873.5128

Nobles, W. W. (2015). From black psychology to Sakhu Djaer: Implications for the further development of a pan African black psychology. Journal of Black Psychology, 41(5), 399–414. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798415598038 

Piper-Mandy, E., & Rowe, T. D. (2010). Educating African-Centered Psychologists: Towards a Comprehensive Paradigm. The Journal of Pan African Studies, 3(8), 5–23.  

Wonder, S. (1976). As [Song]. On Songs in the Key of Life. Tamla Records; Motown. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/steviewonder/as.html

You have a gift.

Normal is a lie. What a relief, right? As Jonathan Mooney (2013) says, “…the only normal people are people you don’t know very well” (47:59).

We need to be challenging normalcy. Why? Because normal is a lie, and yet this myth of normal is keeping so many of us locked into a belief that we are less than, that we are failures, that we are deficient. Especially those of us who are defined as cognitively or physically different. We need to be challenging the current pathology paradigm, which has always sought to isolate and pathologize every variance that veers too far from the fabricated standard of what is acceptable–mentally or physically–and what is not. If you think about it, our entire society, the whole Western Anglo-Saxon world and beyond, is built on an ideal of normal. And because of this, everyone, every single one of us, we lose. yes, even if you are so-called “normal”. Because what happens when you fit in to the normal bracket, you end up othering everyone else. This unknowingly perpetuates the stigma of normal/abnormal. But guess what? Not one single one of us is “normal”. Think about that. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t have some kind of struggle and it always comes back to what we are supposed to be living up to. Happy, healthy, successful, powerful. Even the people that the media props up as pinnacles of perfection, they show up years later with booze problems, sex addictions, abuse scandals, gambling debts. They confess to depression, to childhood trauma, to attempted suicide, to cancer, to heart disease, diabetes. The list goes on. Somehow we are always surprised by this. OMG, can you believe that so and so has such and such? They put a crack in the grand facade…yet we still keep clinging to the myth of normal.

I propose that we crack this facade right in the clunker. Why not embrace the truth: we are all unique. Regardless of brain type, blood type, gene type, each and every one of us is different. Rather than let this separate us further, I believe that acknowledging our quirks, our kinks, our weird, our geek, this will actually bring us closer. Because if we don’t have to be so normal and by extension perfect, that takes a lot of pressure off. Suddenly we don’t have to measure up to anyone. AND we are free to just be ourselves. This leads us to finding our gift!

If you are alive, then you have a gift. Are you someone with a unique brain that is cognitively different? Autistics, add’ers, dyslexics, I’m talking to you. You may not know what your gift is yet, but that is okay. But more likely, you do know, in fact, you may have been aware of your gift all along, but dismissing it, thinking oh no, that’s not good enough, not marketable enough. That’s not perfect enough, normal enough…? I say to you, nonsense! Society has done a great job making you believe that you are not worthy, because you are not normal. And as you may have guessed by now from the tone of this article, that is just not true. Normal is lie and you are beautiful. Shine that wild light, you glorious diamond. Shine it bright and big and may we begin to shift this societal paradigm towards one of Love, kindness, and inclusion. Remember: difference isn’t a deficit–in fact, difference is the norm.

Give Jonathan Mooney a listen and tell me what you think…

Adaptation

In childhood, we often learn coping mechanisms that help us adapt to our environment. This is especially true in situation of early childhood trauma. These early efforts at adaptation which served us so well at one time, can become hinderances later on, manifesting in adulthood as addiction, attention deficit, tuning out, defiance… According to Dr. Gabor Matè, such neurodivergent traits that society labels as abnormal are not genetic flaws, they are a human process which results from growing up in an environment that did not meet our developmental needs.

https://soundcloud.com/publicprograms/mate-buggs

Essay: The Language of Wisdom

My final paper for the class, Listening to Earth, Summer 2021, at CIIS, BS Psy program.

Hearing Tree

A deep ecology mind-set of thinking like a mountain has brought me peace. I have been reminded of things I know, deep truths that are often clouded by the temporality of this life. I am already whole. The African concept of Ubuntu—I am because we are—collides gently with thinking like a mountain, and they are like brothers, forming a peaceful union, a way to be, and act, and move through the world.

Then this morning, I woke up to find the tree in our backyard had been chopped into by our neighbors with whom we share the fence. The tree is on our side, but a section of the bough extends onto theirs. The tree is always shedding something—leaves, flowers, berries, depending on the season; there is always sweeping up to do. It is an annoyance, to be sure. And yet, the tree did not deserve this! Such an inelegant execution. Not the carefully pruned attention and forethought of a professional tree trimmer, which this tree has been used to during the seven years we have been caretakers of this little spot of land. No, this was a poor and unfortunate hack job; like a home haircut gone tragically wrong. Walking out through the back door, I am rudely greeted by a giant hole, where there was once branch and leaf and shade. There was privacy! Now this slicing and dicing act has left a swath of exposed area along the top of the fence; and there is a clear line-of-sight to an apartment building one street over, and several rooftops that do nothing for me.

Aside from my personal irritation, I am saddened for this Tree. Such lack of style, such disregard! I begin to feel a different respect for this Tree being, one which I admit has been absent till now. Tree stands proudly in the face of rain and heat, in the face of humans cursing his mess, and even when he has been made to look his worst, Tree still stands as though nothing of this world commands him.

I am undecided as to whether I will confront the neighbors. In the meantime, I question, what would Mountain do?

Breathing To Listen

The wind murmurs outside, flitting about, humming through the leaves of Tree across the street. She tells stories all but few pause to hear. Tonight I listen, watching her chatter from just inside our garden. She is lively, wired, nervous; then calm, placated; then wired again. She speaks a language I used to know, a tongue of old wisdom and mystery; she recalls a time of strength. But what of the destruction on the horizon, I ask. She reminds me to breathe, that even in the midst of chaos, of flitting about, calm, tenured tones always arrive in between the notes. Take them when they appear, inhale, exhale. The steady solid ground is at my command. Tree is here to remind me that nothing is set in stone. Remain flexible. Move with the wind. Even destruction has a purpose and there is a gift in all things that happen. Let the wind whip with wild, searing, wonderous love. Tree and me, we are believers, light bearers. Tree is strong; I know now I can lean on Tree. She dances and flits about, the wind playing in her tangled hair, telling ancient stories of future memories. Nothing is set in stone. Surrender, be here now; inhale, exhale.

Dreaming to Remember

Today is a day of kindness and care; and love, to be sure. I woke in some tears, upset by my terrible haircut. As I lay there and probed deeper: yes it is just hair, yes my hair grows quickly, and all is OK. But the experience hurt my heart. Sitting there, my hairstylist doing so many things all at the same time; doing nothing well. Totally not present with me, washing her car and running after her son, while I sat under the dryer. Her little son, playing in the water, wasting water, so much water! I spoke up finally when it came to the water! Yet, I did not advocate for myself.

This morning I lay crying because I did not speak up, I forgot to protect my inner child, my little Libra, the part of me that gets frozen in the most random of situations…the ones that conjure up my mother, strung out. Naturally, I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my hairstylist, whom I trusted, or at least I had in the past; but also betrayed by myself, for not protesting as she kept cutting.

If wish I had said, hey, you’re cutting too much! I had booked highlights, not a haircut, but she was on a roll. I only wanted her to clean up any unevenness in my cut. It is a fact that I do my own hair shaping quite often and I do it well; much to the surprise to all my hairdressers over the years, yet they all concur. Yet because doing this myself has its limitations, I tend to require a “cleaner-uper”, someone with technical knowledge who can clean up any stray bits and strands.

I gather my bearings and go make some tea, searching for the exact moment that I forsake myself. I had been sitting there in her chair, post-color, post-washing, just watching her snip and snip, and I sat frozen and scared to speak up. But, why? Because I trusted her and now suddenly, I no longer did? Because the signs of her chaotic energy had been there from the start? Yes, and yes. So, indeed I share some of this responsibility and this admittance hurts more than the haircut.

As I stir the honey in my tea, the notion of Ho’oponopono comes into mind. This is the Hawaiian healing prayer that is about balance and making things right; it is ultimately about forgiveness…especially for oneself. And I took my tea and my journal and went out to my special place, to sit and speak my mantra prayer in the morning light.

I’m sorry, Libra, please forgive me, Libra, thank you Libra, I love you Libra.

I whispered these words in several rounds, and then I wrote down my dreams from the night before.

I am driving on Laurel Canyon, a well-known, well traversed road in Los Angeles, a road I have driven on many times. Up the hill, down the hill. I was driving a very sturdy car like an Oldsmobile; no I think it was an old Caddy; it was steel blue. It was not fast nor was it slow, but perfect for the terrain. The steering wheel had a square attachment of some sort, basically an edge that allowed me to cruise, not having to grip hardly at all, just easy to drive. The brakes were good, and I was in the flow. Driving was downright pleasant.

This comes as a lovely reflection, especially given the distressing car dreams I have had in the past. Oh, how those car dreams have vexed me! Always so difficult to shift gears, to brake or steer, always a car from my past, tedious, and at times even physically painful.

It is wonderful to observe that it takes just one good dream to have a new memory, a new baseline for which to imprint a new way of thinking.

Oh yes almost forgot! In the dream, I saw myself in a mirror and my hair was cute; longer and shaggier, just enough to have a pair of pigtails. I had a big smile on my face.

The ironic connection to Tree in our yard, and the synchronicity of both of our unfortunate hacked-off haircuts, this is not lost on me. Perhaps I can adopt the royal stance of Tree in all of this? I am more than my hair. My worth is not determined by exterior forces. I am beautiful because of my insides. Thank you, Tree. You are growing on me.

The Mystic Redwoods

Last year at this time, before I had enrolled in CIIS, we rented an Airstream and camped in Del Norte Redwood State Forest, at Mill Creek Campground. My love affair had just begun. While reading Obi Kaufman’s The California Field Atlas this semester, I made it a point to look out for his mentions of Del Norte Campgrounds, or Jedidiah Smith which is just north of Del Norte. We are headed there again, this Saturday in fact, for six glorious nights. Perhaps we will see some of the Perseids meteor showers?

This region in the upper northwest of the state is a dense collaboration of mostly state Redwoods parks and two forest reserves of the national level. On one of Kaufman’s maps, this area is painted densely black; it is a carbon sink. Yet the forest is wise, and while it produces all this carbon, it also has a means to remove it, a process called carbon sequestration. Because of the density and the forest’s high functionality, this upper northwest Redwoods region (as well other areas, including Sierra Nevada and Coast Ranges) are considered working carbon sinks. Talk about bio-efficiency in action!

Del Norte County is home to the tallest trees in world, according to Kaufman (and I have no reason to doubt him). Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park has 4 square miles of old-growth coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), which is cousin to the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum); and Jedidiah Smith State Park has 14 square miles of old-growth. The coast Redwoods is a species that has been living for 2,000 years. There is something so celestial and magnetic about the wisdom contained in these trees. It is a language that I can feel in my body and words do not seem to capture the magnitude of manna I feel when I am in the forest with these gentle giants. They are striking, ancient beings that have much to share and offer; we only need to pause and listen.

            As a child my mom said I was very moody; she was not wrong. While it took me a while to find my footing, today at 46 (almost 47) I feel like I am just hitting my stride. What was once moody, has become balanced and I have found acceptance in the truth of it: that I am an empath. This word has become somewhat trendy, so I tend not to use it. I just say I’m sensitive and leave it at that. But in the scope of this paper, it feels right to claim this. What was once a heavy burden—I felt everything! —has now, with training and diligence, become something of a superpower. Through the tender and powerful coursework of this class, Listening to Earth, I was able to touch once again the little spritely part of me, the one who can communicate with the elementals, and sense into the beingness of a tree or flower. I already marveled at the butterflies, pausing to watch their flight; or a hummingbird in mid-air, who seemed to be watching me, watching her. Yet, I credit this class with giving me a much-needed confirmation that in my sensitive nature, I am not alone. There are many like me. Even if we don’t always speak of it. In the thinking like a Mountain, I found my strength. In the role model of Tree, I found the grace to be me. Bad haircut and all.