Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rumble stripped

My daughter was beginning to get uncomfortable in her car seat during a long car trip. To intensify her message that she wanted some kind of relief, she began successful efforts to make me uncomfortable. Now, I've moved from looking in the rear view mirror to turning in my seat to attend, unsuccessfully to her. Suddenly, we are overwhelmed by vibration and loud noise – the car had drifted onto rumble strips. Naturally, we both stopped everything, except driving, and performing something like a systems check. Is everything, actually, OK? In that instant we became alert, and focused. Driving on, we are, actually, all good. Any former discomfort was gone. Whatever was the matter, evaporated in the face of the interruption, leaving only clear attention to “Yes, everything's OK,” and gratitude for remaining on the road. She no longer needed anything.

Drifting drivers account for about one-third of all deaths and serious injuries on our nation's highways. Rumble strips are hailed as the simplest, most cost-effective way of preventing drifting. Safety officials know there are many reasons drivers drift: they may be distracted(including cell-phone/texting), drowsy, drunk, or drugged. But the strips still work. Rumble strips are a perfect representation of the simple and effective action in the neurofeedback process.

Neurofeedback can sound complicated, but it is so simple. The feedback acts like rumble strips. When your brain drifts out of its lane, you get a sharp message to pay attention! You are transported from inadvertent mental drifting to undisturbed focus. There are many reasons you may drift. Like highway designers, you don't need to know why the drifting occurs, only that the call to attention works. You may have compelling challenges at home or at work. There may be a health concern, or physical pain. We are all often too busy, working too hard, on too many things. Stressors are calling for your attention – Hey! Need some help here! - But a signal from right now always trumps those long standing issues. This is how we are designed.

Continuous attention is applied, both consciously and unconsciously to a never ending stream of signals – OK or not OK? The best help you can offer is to engage your attention fully on each thing. If OK, let it go. If not, do something. However, you can't really work on several of these things at once. Not effectively, anyway. You are most effective, most efficient when you stay in your lane. When necessary, take action. When choosing not to take action, put it on a shelf for now. While talking to your kids, is not a good time to drift into the work lane, or the financial worry lane. Neurofeedback helps you stay in your lane, and shift lanes when you want to.

The goal is concrete: It is for your brain to work the way you want it to. To do what you ask it to do, rest, think, or act effectively and efficiently, and to shift lanes easily, but only when desired. Of particular importance is the ability to get good rest. It is extremely beneficial to rest and sleep without finding yourself drifting across the double yellow lines into your life's oncoming issues. Neurofeedback helps you stay in your sweetest spots without being derailed by discomforts and worries.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Noise Canceling

The other day a friend confessed to a growing unease at the roller coaster her mind had seemed to become recently. The sheer frequency of this kind of complaint belies the simplicity of the antidote. At times, my computer asks me, “If you've started this action, click here to continue.” That's it – the “abracadabra” that stops the gut wrenching motion, changes the ride completely.
If you try use a powerful microphone to hear, say, a mouse walking in the forest, the challenge isn't in hearing a sound that slight, but in deciphering that kind of sound despite competing background noise. Any number of sounds may inhibit the recognition of those tiny steps: wind in the trees, cars in the distance, even your own breath. Although there can be value and interest in any of those sounds, when you're listening for mice, the rest is just noise.
In our brains, our minds if you will, there is also a tremendous amount of noise. It doesn't take a meditation retreat to see that we are very busy, mentally. Or that we can't stop this activity. Or that we didn't start it. If we aren't in control of what happens in our own mind, what then? The way out of this dilemma is two-fold: recognition and right (in)action.
The first thing to recognize, is that most of that stuff that is going on in there, is just noise. It is not who we are. How could it be, if it starts on its own, if we can't effectively stop it? Those things we want to pursue are the mice, and the extraneous thought process that distracts us, is the noise. This noise is a product of the mechanics of the system. One that was not designed to process so much information, or to sustain almost continual danger signals. Unresolved need fuels the “noise” activity. That is, when something registers as “not okay”, the gears start rolling, until “not okay” turns to “okay”. Often, “not okay” persists, barely recognized, and the gears don't stop. Simply, we see too much, move too fast, and work too hard to allow our human software to conclude each thing begun.
Taking stock of the true essence of this “noise”, the second aspect is revealed: It is important not to try to shut down all that activity. “Trying” to shut it down is another kind of activity. That effort then becomes another program overlaid on all the others. This effort- the “something is NOT okay” driven effort- fans rather than douses the flames. Often referred to as mental chatter, I like to think of this noise as reruns, broadcast on a television in another room. I'm not really watching the shows, but I can still hear them. If I happen to tune in for a second, I note, “How many times have I seen that tired script?”
So the antidote is simple. You activate the dialogue box in your head, “If you didn't start this action, click here to cancel.” Canceling is easy – don't try to turn off the TV, and don't get caught up in the shows. If no one is engaging a show, it will wear itself out. Contentment – it(this, here, now) is okay how it is, or, more to the point, I am okay, how I am – severs the fuel supply to this unwanted activity. To be clear, if something is wrong, we should absolutely engage our intent and intellect to try to fix it. However, the figure it, fix it, discuss it activity is not helpful if it is not conscious and self-directed.

The first line of Patanjali's seminal Yoga Sutras translates as, “Wholeness comes from releasing the ripples within our awareness.” This is a practice which can have stark, immediate benefits. We can't pat down the ripples. We let them roll away, without attending to them or pushing them. However, if one is literally overwhelmed and vulnerable then disengaging from the subconscious drive of our most important survival tool (our intellect) is very difficult. This is where neurofeedback shines. If we can't or won't consciously let go of a frenetic level of activity which is intended to ease our situation, but actually does the opposite, the feedback impulse does it for us. It interrupts this non-helpful activity on conscious and unconscious levels. We then relax, and know the experience of deepening the parts of us that we choose, and disengaging the unwanted program, the ripples carrying on from the kerplunk of things gone by.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lose the Battle

Last time, I mentioned misapplied effort. There is a popular urban legend which exemplifies this. It is about a soldier who remains hidden for decades after the war has ended. I think the story is popular, and apt, because we all battle on, at times, when the need to fight to survive has passed. Neurofeedback relieves us of this misapplied effort, not by vanquishing the enemy, rather, it shows us the treaty has been signed.
In 1974 a Japanese soldier who either had not heard or did not believe the surrender order issued by his government on August 16, 1945 wandered out of the Philippine jungle into the postwar world...” This actual news story is typical, of this type of legend, but also of what happens to our brains when we are scared or wounded. The soldier is not crazy, his mind is not damaged. After all, he had good reason to be scared, and to be suspicious of letting his guard down. It is not that his defenses were inappropriate, that his fear was unfounded, or that he was incompetent. The main problem is that his world view was stuck out-of date. He was either relying on old information, or refusing to incorporate new information into his perspective.

This is a perfect model for what happens in our brains. Growing up in an imperfect world, nobody escapes scary situations, and physical and emotional wounding. There can be a real necessity to defend ourselves or fight in order to survive or escape further injury. These fight, flight, and freeze mechanisms often include the same strategy unwittingly used by the soldier: hiding; closing down the free flow of painful information from our current situation. Even though the situation which caused us pain is long-gone, we still feel hurt and afraid. We cover our eyes. But hiding from the ever-changing present, can only leave us with the recreation of an inaccurate reality based on the past. The same past where the pain originated. You can see the catch-22 there. Unfortunately, if we cannot accurately attend to the discomfort, and sometimes we cannot, we don't know when it's over.
Neurologically, there is a different pattern in our brains during moments of non-acceptance and fabrication, than during moments of open receiving. The primary difference is the amount of effort required. Maintaining the struggle, even if the battle is over, is labor intensive. It is even more inefficient than it is expensive, because it also creates a need to do more, to work harder. On the other hand, noticing, feeling, and awareness is effortless. We don't have to try to notice a car's horn, a tap on the shoulder, or sautéing garlic. Our human equipment is designed for it, and it happens without our purposeful direction, though we can inhibit the process. Although we are designed to be aware, uncomfortable events can inhibit our openness. At those moments when our stuckness rears up, when we cover our eyes, neurofeedback arrives as a repeated invitation to the present. “See for yourself!" it says. The battle is over. You may keep your weapons, if you still feel the need. But, please check to see if you do. Very sensitively tuned in to evidence that the brain is working too hard interpreting and making up story, the feedback cuts in. It compels us to include what's real, what's present, into the world as we see it. In the story above, the only information the soldier will trust, is the word of his commanding officer. Neurofeedback gives us information, not on a rational, but on a gut-level. Because when we feel we can't let go, we create stories to support that, and don't trust concepts to make us feel safe. We only trust the gut-feeling, the command of the actual experience of being safe. And neurofeedback takes us there.

If you're tired, but can't seem to stop the inner conflict, call for a trial session. $25 until April 30th; 508.737.6066.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Unbraking Waves

Sometimes, when I begin to talk about brainwave training, I see that I've already lost my audience. The notion of “brainwaves” often induces the “glaze-over” look that means a listener has disconnected. Because brainwaves are so fundamental to neurofeedback, or brainwave training, a brief explainer is warranted.
Although our entire body makes use of low levels of electricity, our central nervous system is the primary designated electrical network. Recall that electricity is simply the movement of an electrical charge, or the resulting movement of electrically charged particles. We can think of this movement as energy or its result, action. In the brain, all actions begin with this energy, a form of biological electricity. It works like this: each cell in the brain, called a neuron, has links to other neurons, and the ability to communicate with them via flow of a charge or charged particles. These particles are called neurotransmitters. It is important to note that each time a neuron talks to its neighboring neuron, a charged particle jumps from one to the other. The movement of a charged particle is also an electrical charge. That is, there is no action or communication in the brain without the movement of a neurotransmitter, and the movement of electrical charge. The chemical essence of the brain is inextricably linked with the electrical essence of the brain. This movement oscillates, hence we describe it in terms of waves. A crucial aspect of what makes brainwaves work, and how we work with them, is that actual brainwaves result from the synchronous activity of millions of cells working together. Large sections of brain pulsing, communicating in harmony in waves of specific actions.
The other day, a friend of mine asked to try the neurofeedback equipment, to “check under the hood.” Once he was hooked up, I was taken aback by the display of his brainwaves. It looked like some kind of firestorm of asynchronous activity. I asked if he was okay. Through an uncharacteristic kind of grimace, he said he was. My eyes quickly darted between his face and my display. “I don't know what you're trying to do,” I said, “but just drop the whole thing!” In as quick a shift as I've seen, his brainwaves changed from the previous chaos to a display of harmony, like waves of grain in a light breeze. In later discussion, he confessed he was trying hard to be or do something else while the spotlight was shining on the most prized and private window to his inner self.
I share this story because it is a classic, benign example of the kind of misdirected, misapplied effort we all exhibit. Things don't just happen in our brains, it takes electrical energy, which is real effort to make them happen. While it is true that we may not be aware of many of the processes happening in our brain (!) and we may have forgotten why we had begun them and where the off-switch is, a part of us still drives them. And it takes effort.

We are all taught to drive using our one, right foot to step on the accelerator or the brake. For good reason – it prevents us from attempting to go and stop at the same time. Life, though, is not so simple. Whenever there is a conflict within the nearly myriad processes in our heads, many of which are unconscious, we, in effect, step on both pedals simultaneously. Neurofeedback, through analysis of brainwaves, detects the shuddering of the vehicle that can not stop and go at the same time. Neurofeedback brings the switch back within reach. By interrupting the effort underlying the conflicting forces, it asks, “Do you really want to drive with the emergency brake on?” And once you ride without the brake on for a while, you'll answer, by coasting away, effortlessly.

I enjoy your comments and questions. I especially enjoy introducing people to this wonderful process. Call for an introduction - two sessions for $50, until 4/15. 508-737-6066.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Derailing Dysorder

What we call psychological "disorder" is actually not disordered, neither unruly nor chaotic. Disorder characterizes a mind or brain that is highly ordered, organized and predictable. It is constrained, over-controlled and results in all the symptomatic suffering that comes from the trembling of a system which is overwhelmed by fighting to maintain and to overcome self-made limits. I propose that dis(apart from, other than)order is more rightly called dys(badly, ill)order. Dysorder, then, is a kind of control which is not missing, but improperly applied.

For example, a client who was typical of those I've met who experienced panic attacks, came to try neurofeedback for relief. She described a sense of a continual need to push away, or hold down an advancing terror. As the neurofeedback training began, she quickly relaxed, and let down her guard. That is, she let go of the pressure she habitually maintained to hold down the rising discomfort. Within a few moments, with her eyes closed, this terror started to bear down on her in the form of a train barreling toward her. This time, she didn't run or fight it. As the train overran her, she became exhilaratingly aware that the train, her terror, was a mirage that only had power when she struggled against it. She thrilled at the visceral relief, and at regaining her power, her freedom in the release of such exhaustive efforts. The panic attacks haven't returned.

Neurofeedback presents us with information about what our brain is doing, right now. Revealed, in particular, is our dysordered aspect of self. That is, neurofeedback is a mirror specifically tuned to reflect the efforts we make to constrain our experience. The information, the “feedback” draws us out of our particular mirage, our struggle, and leads us back to who and what we are in the deepest and truest sense: the pure open sky of conscious presence. When we try to refuse to feel the train that threatens us, the value of the feedback information is that it compels us to forgo what we are creating, in favor of Creation itself. We don't need to, nor can we control all of what comes to us. We can respond most appropriately to what is in front of us. Moment by moment, neurofeedback presents us with the existential dichotomy between that which is most not us, our attempts to deny and change what is, and that which is most essentially us, our awareness of our special place in the richness of this moment. It is literally a tap on the shoulder - “Open your eyes, take a good look at that train...What do you want to do now?”

I appreciate the time you've invested in this piece. If you'd like to invest a little in yourself, in something priceless, call. Mention this article before March 28th for a special rate of $90 for three sessions. 508.737.6066