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Archive for the ‘neuroscience’ Category

My daughter, Amy Palko, who produces a knitting blog on youtube, entitled “The Meaningful Stitch” did a poetry advent in the month of December with one of her online friends from the knitting community, Jackie, of Cady Jax Knits. You can find their videos here

One of the things they discussed was creating a personal anthology of your favourite poems. I thought that was a great idea and got out this handmade notebook which my wife, Hilary, had created and given to me, and started writing some of my favourite poems in it.

I think it’s important to actually write the poems in, not to print them out from the internet and paste them in, though, if that would work better for you, then go ahead. I find that taking the time to hand write each poem enhances my experience of the poem itself.

I keep this notebook on my desk beside my computer and from time to time I read a poem or two, or I copy in another poem that I really love.

I really recommend this. It’s one of those practices which takes something meaningful and enjoyable – in this case poetry reading – and increases the time and attention you give to the poems you select. In the process you create a unique collection of exactly the “best” poems for you.

If you’ve read a few of my posts on this blog, I’m sure you’ll be aware of how Iain McGilchrist’s thesis on the differences between the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Well, if he’s right, which I think he is, then there is an imbalance for each of us, and for our wider societies, between the approaches, the world views, or the ways of engaging with reality, which each hemisphere offers us. We have become left brain dominant, and it would be much better to use our whole brain more, and re-set the balance, to put the right brain back in its rightful role as “The Master” and use the left brain “Emissary” to do what it does best. Since I came to understand that thesis, I’ve been more aware of trying to support and develop what the right hemisphere can bring to my life.

Well, there are many ways to do that, but I’ll just share three with you here.

The right brain loves novelty and finding connections, so as I practise curiosity and the sense of “émerveillement du quotidien” I’m building up the right hemisphere.

The second thing is music. The right brain relishes music – both creating music and listening to music. I play music a lot. Mostly I listen to music, but I also try to play a bit of piano and guitar from time to time. Music is very personal and what I like, you might not like, but I’ve recently discovered Paradise Radio, a commercial free, internet radio station from the US, and I love, love, love it. You can select between “main mix”, “mellow mix”, “rock mix” or “world mix”. Check it out.

The third thing I’ve identified is poetry. We activate our right hemispheres a lot when we read and write poetry. More so than we do when reading stories, or articles.

So, there are my three daily practices, which I hope lead to development of a more whole brain way of living……curiosity, music and poetry.

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In order to learn and grow we need two, apparently opposite, behaviours. We need to do, or discover something different, something new, or else we’d be stuck where we are. We need to move out of our comfort zones, and to try new things, if we want to develop.

But we learn nothing well, if we never repeat things. Have you ever tried to learn a new language, or acquire any new knowledge? It’s a lot easier if you go over the new words, new concepts or information, again and again. In fact, a key insight from learning theory is to re-present to you, at timed intervals, whatever it is you are trying to learn. There are many pieces of software which facilitate this, and language learning programmes use this technique as well. They present you the words you’ve just learned and test your learning. If you pass, the item is shown to you again after a longer interval than it is if you fail. So the items you haven’t quite learned yet are repeatedly presented to you over a short period until you’ve got them into you brain.

At university, studying Medicine, we had to acquire a lot of new knowledge. I remember being presented with three volumes of a manual of human anatomy before we started dissection class, and I asked the tutor, “Which bits of this do we need to learn?” His reply was “Which bits of a human being do you hope to treat once you qualify?” OK, I got it. It was ALL of it! Everything described in those three volumes! And that was just human anatomy.

Well, we all pretty quickly created our methods to learn and retain all these new facts, writing notes in notebooks, copying out the notes into other notebooks, turning some of the information into flashcards and shuffling those packs time and time again until we got them all right.

Our right cerebral hemisphere is great for seeking out and learning what’s new. It seems to have a real predilection for novelty. Our left hemisphere on the other prefers what it has already encountered. It loves to repeat again and again, rehearsing and refining everything which the right hemisphere presented to it. That’s why it’s good to use the whole brain – we need to encounter the new, and we need to repeat and revise to learn.

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As best I understand it, the latest discoveries about the nature of the universe suggest that everything which exists comes into being within an infinite field. The “field” is a beautiful concept. You might also think of it as a network or a web, but part of the reason why I like the “field” metaphor is that it works at the level of energy. We know that electromagnetic energy exists as a field. It doesn’t really fit to see it as a beam, or as building blocks, because it washes over, around and through everything. Think of how you can pick up radio signals anywhere within the field of transmission, and think of how different radio signals can “interfere” with each other.

Interference patterns are one of the things I remember from schoolday science. I remember learning about them in Physics class and finding them beautiful and intriguing even then. Watching one set of ripples encounter another set, and seeing the new patterns emerge as they interact with each other was, and still is, a delight.

I thought of that when I saw the concentric rings around this duck sitting on the water. I’ve returned to this image many times and one of the things which draws me in is the fish – they really seem to be arranging themselves around these circles of influence which the duck is emitting. I’ve wondered if they are just keeping their distance from the duck, but although ducks do eat fish, I’m not sure they eat these ones.

However, it’s the pattern which captures my attention because the duck is just sitting there. It isn’t swimming around. It’s just being. And I think that all of us continuously interact with, and affect, whatever is around us, just by being.

For example, researchers at the Heartmath Institute, have studied the electromagnetic waves and fields set up by the beating of the human heart. Did you know that your heart rhythm can influence the heart rhythm of someone standing next to you? It seems that the actual rhythm sets up a field which can harmonise with the rhythms of other fields within a couple of meters or so…..an effect enhanced by actually touching each other. Ever since I read about that I’ve wondered if that’s the basis of the feelings and intuitions we get about others. How often have I thought about how some people just seem to be “on my wavelength” and others never are? I know there are many other ways we signal to others and many other signs and influences we can detect, but I’m pretty sure these heart waves are a significant part of it.

That’s where I find my thoughts returning to when I look at this image. I realise that I send out energies and information all the time….just by the way I live. I send out vibes from my heart, my mind, perhaps even my soul. And I know most of that occurs below the level of consciousness. I’m not aware of it. But surely it’s a good idea to become more aware and to choose more deliberately what kinds of energies I’m sending out into the universe?

And surely it’s also a good idea to become more aware of the influences on me which come from the vibes and ripples sent out into the world by others? That’s partly why I choose to direct my attention towards what is loving, what is beautiful, what is creative and curious and amazing. Because I want to magnify all of that. And why I choose to direct my attention away from negativity and hatred – and I don’t mean by that to ignore them – I mean to deliberately shift the balance so that they don’t overwhelm me, so that I can adequately defend myself, and, more than anything, so that I can refuse to be a repeater – magnifying and sending on those destructive energies to others.

It’s tricky, huh? But it’s inescapable. As this duck shows we affect the world around us just by being. The only choices we have are how aware we want to become, and then how we want to respond to what we become aware of. And finally, what we then choose to magnify with our attention.

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I took this photo five years ago, but I still find it one of the most dramatic images of a storm that I’ve ever taken. You can see the leading edge of the storm system making its way from the West, heading over the vineyards to where I live.

Of course, if you weren’t actually there you might think this is the back edge of the storm system which has passed over and is now receding. You’ll have to take it from me that that’s not what was happening.

What do we do when we see a storm coming? Brace ourselves? Batten down the hatches? Run away? Or just do nothing apart from feeling afraid?

I don’t mean only literally in the face of a weather event……I mean what do we do when we think we see the signs of a big challenge or problem looming over the horizon?

Our body’s nervous system sets off three possible responsible responses to threat – you’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response – well, in addition, there’s a “freeze” response. I always remember watching the news footage of the bombing of the Boston marathon. After the blast the first thing you hear is silence and then quickly after that screaming and shouting as people run in all directions. That first silence really grabbed me. That’s the freeze response. Part of our defence system (the parasympathetic nervous system) kicks in at that moment and basically shuts down a lot of activity so we can really pay attention, really become aware, then after that the adrenaline/sympathetic nervous system response is activated and we are set to fight or flee.

Of course our range of reactions and behaviours is incredibly varied and individual, but we all share these basic reactions as the information and energy flows through us.

What I’ve just described there is the “acute” response. It’s short term, time limited, often very brief and kicks in when there is a clear and imminent danger. But on a day to day basis our whole system responds to our thoughts, to the words and behaviours of others, and to both memories and imaginings with aspects of these systems playing a part in creating “chronic stress”. That chronic stress is pretty damaging, impairing our immune systems, creating chronic inflammation in our bodies, and undermining our mental well-being.

What can we do about it?

I always start with awareness. When I worked as a doctor, usually my first priority was to understand – to figure out what was going on, to make a diagnosis, to assess the situation. That usually involved an element of analysis, but you can’t analyse anything until you are aware of it, so the first response is to be present. In becoming present, you become aware. In fact, being present is a powerful therapeutic behaviour. It’s good for the patient and it’s good for the doctor, too.

I think the next step involves responding with intention. It’s one thing to become aware, and even to figure out what’s happening, but it doesn’t amount to much without an intention which shapes your next thoughts, ideas and behaviours. In Medicine, that intention is to care. If you care, if you give a damn, if you activate love and kindness, then the healing responses will fall into place.

I reckon it’s the same with life. I think a good place to start is with awareness and intention. If we aren’t present, if we aren’t aware, we’re on autopilot, “zombie” mode, and we are open to the manipulation of others, and to becoming stuck in habits created by rumination and pain. But if we do wake up, we have a chance to recognise what’s happening, to stand back a little, by taking a pause, or a few deep breaths, and then make a choice…..make a choice formed by our intentions.

What if our intentions are kindness, love, and understanding? What if our intentions are to feel joy, wonder, and connection? What if our intentions are to build “mutually beneficial bonds”? What if our intentions are what the French call “bienveillance”…….well-meaning, well-wishing?

What do you think the experience of seeing a looming storm would be like then?

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The pine forest at the “Côte Sauvage” in the Charente Maritime, the “Foret des Cedres” in Provence, the deciduous forest around the Bracklinn Falls in Central Scotland, the maple forests around Kyoto……these are some of my most memorable forests. They delight me.

It’s many years since I learned about the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” – which simply means spending some time in a forest – well, actually, not so much just passing some time there, but immersing yourself in it, really engaging with it, listening to the sounds of birds calling, of the branches swaying in the wind, breathing deep the scents of pine, cedar, and other trees, watching the play of sunlight through the leaves as together they create whole performances of light and shade, of shape and shadow – you get the idea.

We have learned a lot about forest bathing in recent years. We’ve learned of the benefits it brings to everything from a sense of well-being to a boost in some of the chemicals and cells involved in our immune system, to a calming of the harmful chronic inflammatory activities inside our bodies which occur as a result of stress. It’s just GOOD for you! And that’s a sweet spot for me – finding what is BOTH good for me and just utterly enjoyable – health boosting and happiness boosting – result!

We’ve also learned a lot about the lives of trees and forests in recent years. We’ve learned that trees don’t live in isolation, that they are in constant communication with each other, sending out warnings when they are attacked or vulnerable, sharing nutrients, and supporting each other. They do this both by sending out chemicals through the air, and by an astonishingly complex network of root systems intertwined with microfibres of fungi creating what has been termed “the wood wide web”.

Here are some of the main books I’ve read which have taught me what I know about how trees and forest demonstrate inter-dependency, how they communicate with each other, and how they behave as one complex adaptive organism. “The Hidden Life of Trees“, by Peter Wohlleben, subtitled, “What they feel, how they communicate: discoveries from a secret world”; “Gossip from the Forest” by Sara Maitland, subtitled, “The tangled roots of our forests and fairytales”; “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, which blends “indigenous wisdom” with “science and teachings of plants”; and, the novel, “Overstory“, by Richard Powers. You can probably add your own favourites to that list, but if this is something you want to explore, you could do worse than start with any of those books.

This fairly new knowledge of forests is part of a much wider trend in science – the attempt to understand connections. I think this is a radical, and much needed, shift. The reductionist science of understanding parts has led to an explosion of knowledge, but too often, we fail to really understand the real world because we fail to see that every single part only exists as an embedded, inextricable element of the whole. The fabulous improvement in that approach mirrors a shift in the use of the left hemisphere of the brain which engages with the world by separating it into parts to analyse and categorise, towards the use of the right hemisphere with engages with the world as a whole, and focuses our attention on connections and relationships.

We are now looking much more at whole environments, whole webs of inter-relationships. We see such networks everywhere, from the activity of micro-organisms in our guts (the “microbiome”), to the “neural networks” within the brain, the inter-relationships of species within ecological “niches”, or “biomes”, and in world wide cycles of movement of water, gases, and other molecules.

One concept which is useful in all these areas is the one of the “connectome” – this is the activity of mapping out the interactions and relationships within whatever we are studying. In terms of the brain it can be helpful to imagine that every single thought has the “neural correlate” of a “connectome” of nerve cells. Apparently we have so many neurones in our brain, and each of them is so massively interconnected, that if you were to consider all the potential permutations of activity of little networks within the greater network, then that number would be greater than the number of atoms in the universe! Well, I don’t know how anyone works out something like that, but suffice it to say, the potential for our imagination, for our cognition, for our memory, for our ability to visualise, conceptualise, analyse, synthesise and create, is pretty damn close to infinite!

There’s something else interesting about all these “connectomes” – they are related to each other. Each one is nested into several others, and each one of them sets up resonances and harmonies with other ones. Perhaps that partly explains how we feel what other people feel, how we come to think what other people think, and, maybe even how our inner environments are affected by our external ones.

Amazing what a walk a forest can do for us, huh?

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I do think these little yellow flowers are beautiful, but after overnight rain, once the sun comes up, their embellished appearance lifts them to new heights. Aren’t they gorgeous?

We tend to take water for granted. We don’t really think about it much until either we have none, because of drought, or burst pipes, or something else which has cut off our supply, or until we have too much, when the rivers burst their banks and the land is flooded. Both of those circumstances are very distressing. There are those who live with drought, struggling every day to find enough water, those who live with polluted supplies, who are constantly drinking infected, or poisoned water, and those whose houses have been indundated and made uninhabitable.

Too little, or too much…..neither is welcome.

Water fascinates me. It’s an astonishing substance, created from the combination of oxygen and hydrogen…..how did that happen? Where were the first water molecules in the universe created? Without that happy combination of those two elements, each produced in the great furnaces of stars scattered across the night sky, life here on Earth would be impossible. About 60% of the human body is water…….60%!

This peculiar, but vital, substance, with two hydrogen atoms bound to one oxygen at its essence, has astonishing properties. It’s one of the few substances which expands as it freezes, and it has the incredible ability to exist in solid, liquid and gaseous form in the natural world. It’s what clouds are made of, it’s what falls as rain, tumbles down the mountains as streams and rivers, fills the oceans and thanks to wind and the sun flies up from the ocean surface to disappear into the sky, completing what we call “the water cycle”. I think it was the water cycle which first introduced me to the idea that everything in this planet is connected. It introduced me to the whole subject of ecology, and to the study of bio systems.

We don’t really understand how it behaves the way it does, but one thing which were are very familiar with is the ability of water to separate out into droplets, the way you see it adorning this beautiful yellow flower. There’s some exquisite balance of opposites….of surface tension and molecular bonding….which produces sparkling displays like this. However, as best I know, nobody is able to predict either how many water droplets will form on a single flower, nor tell us where exactly each drop will form.

When I look at this image, I start with a feeling of delight, of joy at the sight of such beauty, but then, that delight is flooded with a sense of wonder, and my thoughts fly off in all the directions I’ve just described – back to the origins of the universe, around the water cycle which makes life possible on planet Earth, into the human body, and further, into the very structure of water itself. All this involves my whole brain – my right brain engaging with the totality of the phenomenon, and my left abstracting, categorising and analysing. I don’t do all that in a deliberate way…..it just all happens, and contributes to one of those moments of “émerveillement du quotidien” that I’ve written about before.

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Vineyards consist of several parallel rows of vines, each plant pruned and tied onto wires which run from stake to stake. The cognac makers call each row a “wire” and a contract between a grower and a distiller will detail how many “wires” are being sold each year. As best I understand it, this is the unit of agreement – a number of wires, not a number of grapes. Interesting, huh?

This photo is one of many like this which I’ve taken over the years. I love how the Sun catches the wires at certain times of day. It makes them vibrant. It makes them sing.

You can tell this is a Spring photo from the fact that there are no leaves on the vines yet, and that beyond the vineyard the trees are full of blossom. Everything has its season.

This image of wires sets off my train of thought along two different paths.

Firstly, it reinforces my understanding of the world as multiply and massively connected. The wires are a symbol of connection for me. They connect the plants together, they connect the growers to the distillers, and they create the basic structure of each and every vineyard. They are an underlying, foundational, creative structuring force which makes the vineyard look and live as it does. There are many such patterns, forces and structures running through and below our lives. There are many, in fact, which give us the forms of physical reality in which we live. I love it when we glimpse these patterns and become aware of the flows of energy and change which shape our lives.

Secondly, the phrase from neuroscience “what fires together wires together” comes to my mind. Although I think the metaphor of wiring for the elaborate, complex set of relationships between neurones in our brain is somewhat overdone, the truth is that it seems that our habits of thought, feeling and action, do actually change the physical structure of the brain. When we think, feel or do something repeatedly we lay down strong, fast pathways of neurones which not only make it easier to do or think those things….they make it harder to not do them! They become the underlying structures which determine some of our unconsciousness activity. To develop new, different, thoughts, feelings and actions, we need to consciously choose to initiate them and repeat them. That’s great news actually, because as well as “what fires together wires together”, we have discovered the brain is “plastic” – not made of the material we call plastic, but has the characteristic of “plasticity” – it can constantly be remoulded. We are not stuck with a set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We can change them. We just need to consciously choose to do so, and to repeat what we have chosen. That’s at the basis of the teaching about creating new habits by doing them each day for 30 days. It seems that by that time we’ve created new pathways, or new wiring!

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I’ve seen this only once.

One day, three years ago, I looked up and saw this sort of rainbow. I say “sort of rainbow” because it isn’t actually an arch. From time to time, in different places, I have noticed various rainbow-type phenomena. I’ve seen them in the spray of water in a fountain, in short almost square patches in the sky, and even in long thin strips once. But this particular one looks different from all the other ones I’ve seen elsewhere.

I don’t expect I’ll see another one the same.

What caught my attention? Was it the sudden appearance of colours in the sky? Perhaps. But I don’t think it was all down to the colours. The shape, the size and the location were equally important. What really caught my attention was its uniqueness. It appeared strange, rare and peculiar.

Some of you may recognise that triad of terms – strange, rare and peculiar. It’s one which was at the heart of my medical practice for several decades. I found that every single patient who came to see me was unique. I was never able to, nor ever wished to, reduce them to a diagnostic category. Naming their disease was one small step towards understanding them. Listening non-judgementally, with genuine curiosity and interest allowed them to unfurl their stories. Every story was strange, rare and peculiar. In every story I would be struck by something. Something would provoke a question, stir a sense of awe or amazement, in me, move me, suggest to me that here was a story of a unique life, a life where particular (peculiar) events occurred, and which had unusual (rare) effects. Every story would strike me as having something distinct, something “not normal” (strange) about it. Because that’s how life is.

Every single one of us is “strange, rare and peculiar”. We cannot be understood as “data sets”, spreadsheets full of “variables”, “averages”, “norms” or “typical features”.

And so, I learned, this is true, not only of patients in a consulting room. It is true of life.

Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary” remains one of the key texts of my life. His description and exploration of the asymmetry of the two halves of our brain (our two cerebral hemispheres) has helped me make sense of things in so many circumstances. Our left hemisphere is great for picking bits out of what we perceive, matching them up against our memory banks of what we know already, ascribing labels to them, and filing them away as further examples of familiar categories. Our right hemisphere, however, is continually on the lookout for what’s new, what’s different. It engages with the world as a whole, not as a collection of bits. It sees whatever we are looking at in its contexts, understands it in its vast web of connections and relationships with everything else.

In short, I think, our right hemisphere is terrific for finding the “strange, rare and peculiar”.

So what? you might ask. Well, look again at this photo. I find that the colours and shapes together are beautiful. I love the way light has been prised apart into these bands of colour, in two clouds, one above the other. I love how this phenomenon hangs on a setting sun orange sky, how the silhouettes of the trees form the lower border of the image, and how flocks of birds scatter across the entire sky.

It’s all very beautiful. Enchanting. Entrancing, even. It amazes and delights. It makes me feel good to be alive, and humbles me with the awareness that I will never know all that can be know. I will never cease to encounter what I’ve never encountered before. And neither will “we”, we humans together. I love the feeling of wonder and curiosity that these events create. I love the sense of mystery.

Opening ourselves up to what’s strange, rare and peculiar, turns out to be a great way to live.

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Do you know what I like most about this photo?

The heart shape is carved into the keystone.

Without the keystone, the entire structure will collapse. The bridge can’t exist without the keystone. What are our keystones? We, human beings? What are the keystones without which we cannot exist?

Well, actually, I’m simplifying things already, aren’t I? Because you can’t reduce the entire existence of a single human being, let alone the entire human species, to a single structure. In reality there are many essential “keystones” in a life.

But I still like this concept of the keystone. It’s kind of a declaration of a priority. It highlights something so important that life would be utterly different without it.

And this keystone has a symbol of a heart carved into it. So, here’s something to consider today –

What if we recognise that our heart, our way of “seeing with the heart”, our “heart felt emotions”, our “heart felt values”, should be the keystone in our life?

Without going into all the science of affective neurology, of neural networks within the human body, of the intricate and elaborate connections between the heart, the brain and the rest of the body, I just want to focus today on how we support, nurture and develop the heart……the heart-centred way of living.

Well, we know the heart is healthy (and I don’t just mean working well as a pump) when it is in harmony, when the “heart rate variability” hits a certain sweet spot. And we know that this sweet spot is associated with certain emotions and certain experiences. Specifically, joy, awe, wonder, and love. Whether you look at the work of someone like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who describes flow states from a psychological perspective, someone like Dan Siegel, who teaches about achieving a state of integration, or The Heartmath Institute, which focuses on heart rate variability, you will discover what experiences and behaviours are associated with a healthy heart.

If we put the following to the fore –

  • love
  • joy
  • kindness
  • compassion
  • gratitude
  • wonder
  • awe

then we are creating the opportunities to build healthier and better lives, for ourselves, for loved ones, for others, and for the entire planet.

It’s not everything, there’s a lot more we can do, but if we create the intentions every day to exhibit, to practice and to experience love, joy, kindness, compassion, gratitude, wonder and awe, then we will build a really powerful, strong keystone – a heart-centred keystone.

You might say, but, hey, I can’t experience all of those every day, and you’ll be right, but I’d be surprised if you can’t choose to express, and/or discover at least one of these, every single day. I mean, why not give it a go? Why not take it as one of those “30 day challenge” exercises? How about making a chart and recording each day which of the ones you have expressed or experienced?

Maybe something like this ……….

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Ever since I saw this door with its heart shaped hole (presumably a “peep hole” to see who is knocking at the door?) I’ve really liked it. It got me thinking how this shape, this powerful symbol, right there on the front door, might influence the lives of those who come across it every single day. It also made me wonder about whether or not it led the residents of this house to see the world through the lens of the heart – and as Saint-Éxupery wrote in “The Little Prince”, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

Of course there is a lot in that simple little phrase, but the meaning I’m reflecting on today is the power of the heart to shape our best thoughts, our best ideas, our best behaviours. The heart, it transpires, is not a simple mechanical pump pushing blood around the circulatory system. Around the heart is a network of specialised nerve cells – neurones – the kind you find in the brain. It seems that this “neural network” around the heart acts more to send information to the brain, than it does to respond to information from the brain. Just stop and think about that for a moment. We tend to have the idea that we do our thinking, our imagining and our feeling in our brains. But it’s not that simple. We also do a good deal of our mental work with the heart. Actually, there are other neural networks in the body too, and the reality is that the “mind” is an “embodied” phenomenon. The division of a person into “body” and “mind” is a tad artificial!

It seems the heart is especially involved in creating some of our emotions and in harmonising the diverse elements of our being. By that last phrase I mean, one of the things the heart is good at doing is producing “integration” of our entire complex being…..of producing “resonance” within ourselves, and between ourselves and others – yes, it actually sends out detectable energy waves beyond the body…..in rhythms which can influence the rhythms of those around us.

It turns out that the “symbolism” of the loving heart is rooted in biological, physical reality.

The truth is acting with love, wonder, generosity, gratitude and kindness is something that is really good for our health. When we approach others and the world from the heart-felt position of care and compassion then we increase the healthy resonances within ourselves and between ourselves and others.

So, that’s partly why I return again and again to the role of kindness. Can’t we use that more as a tool for living? Can’t we use it more to improve our own lives and those of others? How about we use that as the main touchstone? How about we ask ourselves, of our own actions and words, as well asking of others and even of governments and organisations, “how much kindness does this spread?”

Because I reckon whatever we do, think or believe that diminishes kindness harms us, and harms every other living being. In fact, I believe it harms “Gaia” – the living Earth. Conversely, when we come across the stories of cruelty, injustice, neglect, or violence in the world and we wonder “what can I do to make things better?”, then, one thing (obviously not the ONLY thing) we can do, is try to act, to speak and even to think with more kindness…..to live in better harmony with our hearts.

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