created by Kristin Prevallet

the gameRecently, I was driving with my 11 year old daughter and out of the blue she said, “I lost the game.”

“What game?” I asked.

“It’s a game where basically if you think about the game, you’ve lost the game.”

“So the game is just the thought of the game?”

“Yep,” she said.

I started thinking about how to apply this game to obsessive or unproductive thoughts. So every time I had a thought that wasn’t the thought I wanted to be thinking in that particular moment, I’d catch myself and say, “Ha!I just lost the game.”

The practice of mindfullness is about observing thought – a key practice that helps to regulate overly-emotional responses to the mundane triggers of everyday life.

(David Nichtern’s technique of “Simply see what arises in our mind as it comes up. Just notice it” is one of my favorites.)

But sometimes, mindfulness practices seem so serious and contemplative.

The cool thing about this trick is that it’s hard not to laugh when suddenly, out of the blue, you think about a game you had forgotten you were even playing. And laughter is a great way to redirect obsessive thinking into a more resourceful state of mind.

So maybe the trick is actually to say, “I won the game” every time you catch yourself interrupting your thoughts by thinking about the game.

I ran this theory by my daughter and she said, “Well, if you win the game all the time you’ll probably loose interest in playing it.”

I told her that if that happens, she’ll need to invent a new game.

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

Kids these days…

At the end of the school year, 5th graders (10-11 years old) in NYC public schools got a puberty lesson and learned about their changing bodies from an emotional and biological perspective. My kid came home informing me that the gym teacher told everyone they had to start wearing deodorant.

I don’t remember learning about puberty until I was in 8th grade (late bloomer?) but the fact is that the age at which children begin puberty has been decreasing over the past 20 years. There are of course genetic and environmental causes for this, and its well know that growth-hormones are increasingly being added to milk, meat, and other food products.

I wanted to pass along this article written by Dr. Joan Hardin — an amazing clinical psychologist who treats gut and hormonal health as central to psychological health–because it seems  important that parents be mindful about the personal hygiene products we’re buying for kids.

If the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that parabens (the preservatives added to products that prevent microbial growth and increase the shelf life) have hormone-disrupting qualities that mimic estrogen and interfere with the body’s endocrine system, it’s probably a good idea to keep these products away from kids in their varying stages of development:

http://allergiesandyourgut.com/2014/06/22/carcinogens-cosmetics-personal-hygiene-products-estrogen-disrupters-disrupters/

Reprogramming the Self-Sabotage Code of Human Evolution

Here is another one of my poetic tangents into evolutionary biology, featured today on Reality Sandwich.

As Gregory Bateson said in a lecture called “Men Are Grass: Metaphor and the World of Mental Process,”  perhaps theories of mind and theories of evolution are very close to being the same thing….

mustard seed DNAIn a recent study, scientists found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA. The study suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

That’s not such good news if phobias, anxiety, and PTSD are written into your genome, but it does provoke ideas about how other kinds of memories — such as those experienced during Past Life Regression and other trance narrative experiences — can be so meaningful to people’s lives. We know that our genes can and do turn “on” and “off” when triggered — by environmental influences, as well as internal thoughts. The idea that stories are written into our DNA means that DNA can be rewritten — positive stories can also be passed down.

Of course Shamanic healers have been performing radical revisions of biological narratives for centuries. The ancient belief that disease is the fault of evil spirits who need to be banished from the body of the sick person is a kind of ritual editing in which disease is removed and replaced with a new story — one where the person’s now-restored soul can begin the healing process.

Using very different methods and philosophies than shamanic healers, poets have been the keepers of memory throughout written history. And in the epigenetic spirit, 20th-century avant-garde traditions of poetry have been un-telling old stories and re-coding them into new experiences for the reader. William Carlos Williams connects this practice of linguistic magic back to healing in “The Yellow Flower.” (Click on the link to hear Williams read this amazing poem).

Given that poets and shamanic healers have known for centuries that the body houses memory, it seems to me that the importance of this study — and others like it — isn’t the proof that ancestral memories are encoded in our DNA. This isn’t proof about destiny, or fate, or any other pre-scripted ending.

Rather it’s a reminder that memories are biology; that narratives of memory are the congealing of cells, chemicals, hormones, and blood into the moment of the telling. The passing down of memories is central to how we communicate the deeper messages — what some might call The Information — in ways that have the power to both cure, and kill us. The body is written as the memories are retold, from blood to bone, to mustard flower. 

Believe that memories are  not set in stone and that revision is possible. Then pass it on.

...the tortured body of my flower
which is not a mustard flower at all
                        but some unrecognized
                                                and unearthly flower
for me to naturalize
                        and acclimate
                                                and choose it for my own.
-
From "The Yellow Flower" by William Carlos Williams

***

(NOTE: The photograph I’m using for this blog entry was found putting the keywords “Mustard Flower” and “DNA” into Google Images. Mustard Flower is “The Yellow Flower” evoked by William Carlos Williams. The photograph is linked to a study of wild mustard weed, and the ways that it may uncover how the environment and genetics interact during a crucial moment in the life of a plant: Genetic Flower Power. Somehow,  it’s all related.)

fire ritualCelebrating the winter solstice with a fire ritual (no matter if by candlelight or bonfire) is a good way to honor the cycles of seasons as symbols of your own cyclical life.

One way to ritualize the solstice is to acknowledge yourself within the cycles of space and time by locating yourself within the specifics of your location. What is to the North of you, and what is to the South? Where is the nearest body of water, or the nearest mountain? Whether you live in the desert or in the Northeast, winter is symbolic of the land preparing for its Spring re-emergence.Preparing, in other words, for the amazement that Spring brings. 

This metaphor of covering/uncovering, freezing/thawing, hidden/emerging has applications in our spiritual/emotional/physical lives as well. You can think about what in you has been buried that you might release into the symbolic and transformative field of fire. Fire that transforms wood into coals and smoke also transforms your physical/psychic/emotional field.

So participate in it by conjuring up something you’re ready to manifest, to realize, to feel, to express, to be done with, to move on from, to metamorphosize…perhaps not now when it is winter, but as you symbolically articulate your intentions now, when Spring comes, comes you’ll be ready to be amazed…

Write/draw a symbol of what in you is buried that you’re either ready to manifest in the world. This is private and does not need to be shared except with the fire as it carries your intentions via smoke, skyward…

Examples of buried energies: healing, creativity, love, hope, beauty, joy, belief in your capacities, belief in the possibility for change.
Practical effects: letting go of old resentments, letting go of control over other people, releasing tightness around money, re-opening of your physical/sexual body, new perspectives on work/family/relationships, creative outpourings.

Or, you can simply think of something that you’re ready to get rid of from 2013, so that 2014 begins with a fresh start.

Or, you can spend some time reading Bernadette Mayer’s poem Midwinter Day out-loud.  Afterwards, dance!

This morning my husband appeared at the breakfast table, agitated. He was anticipating a meeting at work, and had it all planned out in his head. In a nutshell, it went something like this: his co-workers were going to be so intent on stopping his project that he was going to have to yell at them.

I reminded him of the “This Means War!” scene in Duck Soup, one of his favorite Marx Brother’s films. Rufus Firefly works himself into such an indignant fit that by the time the Ambassador arrives to make peace, he slaps him.

Most things that cause us anxiety are, quite literally, a projected future that is all in our heads. This COULD happen, that COULD happen, he COULD say that, I COULD feel that…and the firestorm begins.

If you’re prone to this kind of thinking, here are three things you can do right now:

1) Take a deep breath and say “stop” out loud.

2) Close your eyes for a moment and focus on your feet on the floor.

3) Take inventory of what is ACTUALLY happening, now. Right now. What is true, and what isn’t?

4) Re-assess, and repeat as often as is necessary.

Most importantly, next time you work yourself into a fit remember this scene from Duck Soup and laugh. Richard did, and just sent me an email saying that his meeting went very well. It works!

 

It seems pretty clear that the metaphors that are commonly used to describe the immune system — “fighting off” diseases and “pumping up” your immunity to “fend off” “invading” tumors or parasites —isn’t the whole picture. Really, because your immune system is evolving simultaneously with the cacophonous yet totally synchronized symphony of your body’s billions of chemical processes per second, it’s more like a braided river: A network of small channels separated by small and often temporary islands:

Image

The flow of channels that form this braided river work best when they are moving coherently, and not surprisingly the Braided River is a metaphor for acupuncture: the channels are opened, blockages in the system are re-balanced. In the midst of this energetic movement, a body is evolving into who (heshe) is at this moment of cellular organization.

According to Francisco Varella, your immune system defines your identity. It is “self/non-self discrimination” and defends itself only when it is excessively perturbed — just as the channels of a braided river will do its best to push out, or diffuse, chemicals that are dumped into it.

And our immune systems — like our waters, our ecosystems, our forests and our economies — are excessively perturbed. We are excessively perturbed and right now your immune system is evolving your identity in order to reject or absorb these perturbations into something useful that will allow you to survive. 

This is useful knowledge for everyone battling the medical model.

A poetics of coherence: language changed with music, patterns, and meaning is a frequency, an emission of energy that provokes thought. Thoughts can trigger a chemical wash of cellular permutations and reactions that always cause a physical reaction. Always.

 Think about someone you love and who makes you smile. As you think about them smiling, you can’t help but smile yourself. And when you smile into thought you are regulating your heartbeat. You are calming your fight or flight response so that it can properly defend you when you really need to freak out. You are igniting a slight dose of serotonin that as it moves up and down your spinal fluid is stimulating your immune system. Just a little smile. Imagine what a daily dose of gratitude in the midst of all that sucks does for your immune system. 

Gratitude means remembering the most basic stuff: I’m grateful that my heart is still beating. I’m grateful that I have two hands that can type. I’m grateful that I still have two eyes.

FILL THE WILDERNESS in the eye-bags,
the call to sacrifice, the salt flood.

 

Come with me to breath
and beyond.

                                 – Paul Celan (from Corona)

This doesn’t replace political and social action and it doesn’t replace being pissed off about the environmental and social injustices that are perturbing our immune systems. It doesn’t replace paying attention to and effecting actionable change in communities who are under attack.

It simply means that the bodies who are not being sustained by the protective shells of corporate, institutional, or family tethers are empowered by their self-identified and evolving understanding of immunity. 

Language, in other words, transmits the knowledge of how to survive, not just through action, but through thought and emerging evolutionary immuno-self-awareness.   

 

From a sketch of the revised preface of Trance Poetics: Your Writing Mind (Wide Reality Books, 2013). Written for a panel at Naropa University’s 2013 summer writing program on “Eco-Poetics & Poethics: The Braided River.”

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