Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Neurology of Ego, Desire and Fear

Much has been said about the Human condition and the source of human suffering.  Thinking that I have something new to add would be the height of arrogance so I will simply give another viewpoint of what is already known...a neurological one.  

Our journey in this world began with the union of 2 cells and their growth into what we consider to be "I".  Week 5 of embryonic development the nervous system begins to form and by the 3rd trimester the 3 primary functional components are in place.  These components are categorized as Sensory input, Motor output and Central integration.  The primary purpose of the nervous system is movement toward something we want (ie food) and away from something we don't want (ie predators).  These 3 functional components make this possible by sensing the environment, integrating that information, and generating a motor response.  The establishment of this circuit establishes the subject/object or Self/Other dichotomy and is the birth of Ego.  Prior to this, we were simply cells at one with all the inputs that created them (carbon from a long dead star, oxygen from plant life, and nitrogen from the death and recycling of this plant life, ect ect).  

The sensory input coming into this "I" is in the form of smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste and can be loosely divided into 2 categories, Pleasure and Pain.  The "I/Ego" judges the pleasurable inputs as good and the painful inputs as bad and learns to desire one and fear the other.  This is not necessarily a bad thing and is necessary for the basic survival of the organism.  The error in judgment here is not everything that is pleasurable is good (ie too much sugar or alcohol) and not everything that is painful is bad (ie learning your multiplication tables).  In fact, there's an argument to to be made that the fastest way we learn is through the pain of failure.  

Babies come out of the womb hardwired for this Desire/Fear combination in the form of 2 primitive reflexes. The Suckling reflex is seen when tickling the baby's cheek causes them to move their head toward the stimulus in Desire for food.  This reflex activates the Parasympathetic or REST/DIGEST nervous system which governs growth, healing, and digestion.  The Moro reflex is seen when a loud noise causes the baby to extend their arms and legs quickly in Fear to protect themselves.  This reflex activates the Sympathetic or FIGHT/FLIGHT nervous system which governs the quick activation of resources to fight or run away from threats. Too much parasympathetic activation can cause lethargy, eating disorders, addictions, inability to focus and brain fog.  Too much sympathetic activation can cause adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia and PTSD.  So we see that extremes of Desire and Fear are not healthy for the organism. 

Through the process of neuro-plasticity the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain grows to include more and more things in our reality and take on a reality of their own.  Desire grows into Greed, Envy, Gluttony and Lust.  Fear grows into Anger, Pride and Sloth...the 7 deadly sins.  If you think about it though, there are elements of both Desire and Fear in all 7 sins.  

As "I/Ego" and judgement grows, so does Desire and Fear and the resultant 7 sins until you have a world situation like we have today.  

Knowledge of how we got to our current dilemma is nice, but what do we do with it?  The mystics of all religious traditions know that the Self/Other dichotomy (ego) is a creation of mind.  If you know how the process begins, then limiting Ego to that of a child's because "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" would be a good place to start.  Also, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" makes more sense because the more you fire that judgement circuitry, the more it grows until it becomes that little voice in your head that judges and berates you for your shortcomings and creates shame. The story of Adam and Eve talks of the fruit of the Tree of KNOWLEDGE of good and evil...which would require a judgement.  Prior to this judgement, nakedness was not considered evil and providing our daily needs was natural and not "earning our living by the sweat of our brow".  Limiting desire and fear can be achieved by complete acceptance of whatever happens and perhaps by reciting the mantra "Not my will, but Thy will be done" which helps to limit the extremes of both.  You need just enough Ego, Desire and Fear that you don't starve or "walk in front of a bus" as Suzuki Roshi said.  

True Love helps us to transcend all three extremes, but only if it is "unconditional" or "without discrimination" as Thich Nhat Hanh says.  As is expressed in the Tao Te Ching, virtue (or love) that is shown in order to get something in return is transactional love, not true love.  True love limits ego, desire and fear to the point of being willing to lay down your life for another, it's highest expression.

If you understand, that the Self/Other dichotomy is a creation of mind and not an absolute border between Self and Other, then these verses make more sense;

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12 

"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:18

"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." — Confucius[14](c. 500 BC)

"What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. " – Sextus the Pythagorean

"Treat your inferior as you would wish your superior to treat you." The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca

"...and you should forgive And overlook: Do you not like God to forgive you? And Allah is The Merciful Forgiving." — Quran (Surah 24, "The Light", v. 22) "One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter." — Dhammapada

And Allah will judge with (Justice and) Truth: but those whom (men) invoke besides Him, will not (be in a position) to judge at all. Verily it is Allah (alone) Who hears and sees (all things)." Ghafir (Surat al-Mu'min) 40 Verse 20

We are born with the neurology necessary to survive, but like any tool, it can hurt they wielder if not used properly.  Used properly, it can create a masterpiece of a life.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Health, is an inside job.

It's time to rethink our model for "Health".

The current model we follow is an above-down and outside-in approach.  Doctors are in the position of authority, dictating what's healthy and what's not (above-down) and primarily prescribing medications to manage the symptoms of the problem at hand (outside-in). 

Health is currently defined as the absence of a disease, and no care is given until a diagnosis has been determined.  The outcome of this approach has been rising numbers in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  While our average lifespan has increased, our quality of life has decreased. 

What if we turned the current system upside down?  What if we defined health as optimal function instead of absence of disease?  Instead of doctors dictating our health we took responsibility for our own health and educated ourselves on the factors that increase true health instead of simply treating symptoms.  Doctors would become "Health Coaches" that in addition to alleviating symptoms, educated you on the things to do to increase health and prevent the problems in the first place.

Our office has a wealth of health information we share daily on our website and via Facebook and Twitter.   Want to know what your health indicators are via blood test?  There are websites you can go to and order your own blood tests and check your results for optimal ranges rather than just the presence of a disease.  Want to know how well your brain is functioning or how susceptible you are to Low Back pain and other musculoskeletal problems?  You can check cerebellum function via a simple android app.  Want to know how your stress levels are affecting your heart health?  There's an app for that too.  If you have questions, our office is always ready to answer questions and point you in the right direction with lots of other patient health resources.  If you do come to our office, you can have access to your health records anytime in "the cloud" via our certified EHR (electronic health record).  Just contact us for details and your password. 

If we paid attention to the 3 health stresses (chemical, physical, emotional) and took steps to control them, we would then be practicing an inside-out approach to health.  This would be cheaper, more effective and increase our quality of life as well as prevent the big 3 of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Get going, and take charge of your health from the inside out.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Our Toxic Environment and 5 things you can do to protect yourself

It seems that every day we are learning about toxins in our environment.  From pesticides in our food, mercury in HCFS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) and even fog, to Brominated Vegetable Oil in Gatoraid and other drinks.  It seems every day we swim in a chemical soup of toxins that are bad for our health.  In my opinion (and others) we have reached a point of environmental toxin levels that it's virtually impossible to limit ALL exposure and we need to turn our attention to increasing our body's ability to eliminate/minimize the effects from toxins. 

The majority of these toxins have one thing in common.  What makes them toxic is that they rev up free radical production and promote inflammation.  So, if we want to remain healthy and keep our children healthy, we need to focus on free radical/inflammation reduction and toxin elimination. 

Here are 5 things you can do to increase the removal of toxins from the body:

1.  Avoid it in the first place:  This one seems obvious but bears repeating.  Educate yourself of the toxic elements in your environment and avoid them as much as possible.

2.  Direct Current Foot Baths:  All Detox Foot Baths operate through a process called electrolysis. This is done by generating the proper amount of current in the foot bath water causing the molecules of H2O to divide producing negative ions. Once the negative ions are present in the water, the body absorbs these ions through osmosis and these ions remove free radicals.

3.  Increase Glutathione in the body:  Glutathione is the workhorse of the body's toxin elimination system.  It provides detox effects at many different levels.  Increasing your body's levels of this element improves your body's ability to detoxify.  There are several different ways to elevate glutathione in the body. 
4.  Infared Sauna:  Probably the biggest toxin eliminating system is your skin and the process of sweating.  So getting a good sweat 1-2 times/week is a good way to make sure you're eliminating toxins. 

5.  Breathing:  Another way your body removes toxins is breathing (oxygen in and toxins out) so making sure you're using proper deep breathing mechanics is a must. 

These five things can go a long way in increasing your body's ability to remove toxins naturally.  In today's toxic environment, we need to do everything we can if we want to live a long healthy life.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Brain Fog: How air pollution is robbing us of our focus

I was stationed in LA for 2 years while in the Marine Corps, so I know what uncontrolled air pollution looks like.  Even on the clearest of days there was a greenish haze over the city.  I got used to the smell since there were many competing smells at the Port of Long Beach.  Whenever I got out of the city, to the desert or off shore (I was part of the Marine Detachment aboard the USS New Jersey) I notice my outlook improved as did my thought process and focus. 

Turns out research is now looking at the connection between air pollution and brain function, and it's not good.  As with most problems, you can see it's effects first in the very young and the very old.  Decreased cognitive function in senior exposed to air pollution has been shown in addition to the problems with respiratory function and heart problems.  In children, an increased risk of Autism development has been linked with air pollution exposure.  Theories are even being explored of a link with decreased sun exposure due to pollution, causing lowered levels of Vitamin D.  This also leads to decreased immune function in general.

Seems fresh air and sunshine are good for us in more ways than one.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Late development of the frontal cortex in teenagers" or "Why does my teenager act brain-dead sometimes?"

Anyone who is the parent of a teenager has undoubtedly at times searched their memory to identify any incidences of dropping them on their heads as infants. What else could possibly explain their behavior? I'm convinced my own teenager, must have played bumper cars with the kitchen cabinets using his head (all on his mother's watch of course).

Turns out there's a perfectly valid reason that teenagers act the way they do. To understand it, we have to understand a little about evolutionary brain development.

Inside our skulls is a story of our evolution displayed the pigment of neurons (nerve cells) and their connections. Three distinct layers of brain structures trace a history of brain development. The "Reptilian Brain" which mainly consists of the brain stem. The "Mammalian Brain" which consists of mainly the Thalamus (a sensory relay station) and the Limbic System which is the seat of our emotions. Finally is the "Neocortex" or "new brain" which is where we humans come in. In this Neocortex the biggest portion (and the part that separates us from the "beasts of the field") is the Frontal Lobes. All of your executive reasoning, logic, and planning takes place in these frontal lobes.

From the time we are conceived till adulthood, our brain development retraces our evolutionary trail. Before and at birth, the reptilian brain is developed first, which controls our heart rate, breathing, digestion and an array of primitive reflexes for our protection and survival. With parent interaction comes the development of the mammalian brain with regulation of emotions, and non-verbal communication. The next step is walking and talking and development of the neo-cortex which continues and is refined throughout our lives.

Herein lies the rub, dear readers. Seems that the frontal lobes don't fully finish maturing until early to mid 20's. Which means a teenager is like a jet fighter plane, with a full tank of jet fuel (hormones) and the pilot is asleep at the wheel.

So the next time your teenager does something that makes you swear they were dropped on their head, respond with a little patience that only a fully developed frontal lobe can provide.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Myths, Misconceptions, and Options in ADHD

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, has become an all too common diagnosis these days. In fact, according to the CDC, nearly 1 in 10 children (9.5%) had been diagnosed with ADHD in 2007. With the diagnosis growing at a rate of 5.5% per year on average, the number of cases is well above that today. Unfortunately, that increase in incidence has not been followed by an increase in understanding of the disorder, and there are still many myths and misconceptions concerning the causes and available treatments.

The first myth is that ASD's (Autism Spectrum Disorders) are a purely genetic disorder. Up till now, most research into ASD has been directed at finding the genes involved in the hopes of developing more effective treatments. Some progress has been made in this area and genes controlling development of dopamine regulating systems in the brain have been implicated as part of the problem, but no definite "smoking gun" gene, or set of genes, have been found as yet. Furthermore, the dramatic increase in cases we have today would tend to discourage the idea of a purely genetic cause.

Another myth is that this epidemic increase is due to better diagnostic tools. However, a study in California showed that the increase in ASD cases could not be credited to better diagnosis alone and we needed to better identify the environmental factors involved.

Misconceptions abound as to what exactly is happening in the brain of these kids. What we can see on imaging is that there are certain parts of the brain that are under-developed and some areas that are over-developed, leading the unevenness in skills commonly seen. Some consider the problem to be a dopamine shortage in the brain, and this is the basis of the main form of current treatment, Methylphenidates (Ritalin and others). While the drugs are a useful tool in controlling the disorder, it is not a cure. These kids are on the drugs for years and their symptoms return once they are discontinued. Furthermore, prolonged use of them has been associated with unwanted side effects of growth suppression.

One theory that is gaining ground in the research is the idea of ASD's as a form of "Functional Disconnect Syndrome". In this model, there is a relative underdevelopment of connections in one hemisphere of the brain (usually the right in ADHD and Autism) and a corresponding over-development of connections in the other hemisphere. This leads to poor gross motor skills, focus, and reading facial emotions/eye contact (all relative right hemisphere functions) and normal or overdeveloped fine motor skills, attention to detail, and repetitive movements, actions or thoughts (all relative left hemisphere functions). The deficient gross motor skills explains the missed developmental milestones we often see in kids with these disorders such as sitting up, crawling, and walking. The overdeveloped left hemisphere explains the Savant Syndromes we sometimes see we see in autism.

This new theory of the mechanisms involved in ASD's is leading to new options for treatment of them as well. The brain grows and develops through sensory input. New treatment options based on this model include "multi-modal" brain stimulating exercises in the hopes of creating growth in the underdeveloped circuits of the deficient hemisphere. These "Hemisphere Specific Remediation" exercises focus on the deficient hemisphere only and can include motor/balance input, light and sound inputs, in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy. The initial results of research of these treatments are positive and encouraging.

As the ADHD/Autism epidemic continues to grow, it's good to know that science is starting to provide some answers to what is causing it, and providing some possible new options in treating it. As is the case in most things, being informed is the best defense for both our own families and society as a whole.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Daddy, I want to be like you!....

This was what my youngest child said to me the other day that got me thinking. How much of our children's reality is shaped by that of their parents?

Realities, yours and mine, are created by us, through our thoughts, words, and deeds. Our predominant thoughts, both conscious and unconscious, influence the words that we speak and the actions we take. So if I'm constantly thinking that people don't like me, I will tend to reflect this in my conversations and actions which in turn will cause others to not like being around me. Most people don't want to be around the "poor, pitiful, me's" of the world. Not for extended lengths of time anyway.

But how much of our reality effects and molds that of our children? Far more than we think or are comfortable with in most cases.

Behavior modeling has been well established as a primary influence in how our children behave. Children will do what we do and act how they see us acting regardless of what we tell them to do. So if you don't want your children to belch loudly after a meal in a public restaurant, you shouldn't do so at home. Because chances are, they are going to do so when your boss or your pastor is sitting in the booth next to yours.

This also goes for our speech as well. You smash your finger and utter a word they've never heard in their lives and they choose
that word repeat over and over every time you're in public for the next week. They do the same thing internally (subconsciously) when you tell them they are "getting chunky", "goofy looking", or "stupid", and this shapes their self image for the rest of their lives.

A parent's thoughts would not seem to be high on the list of potential problems for their children. However, recent research into epigenetics shows that the stress levels of the parents, profoundly effect the genetic expression of their children's ability to handle stress. So how you handle stress not only effects you and your health but effects your children's genetic expression and ability to handle stress in their lives. This has profound implications for our children's lives.

Ghandi said we have to "be the change we want to see in the world" and this applies to our own children as well. We need to change the way we create our realities through our thoughts, words and deeds to help our children change theirs. We can do this by controlling our Thoughts, Words and Deeds.

  1. Thoughts: Thoughts and their attached emotional responses can be controlled through Mindfulness Training and Breathing Exercises.
  2. Words: Be more mindful of how we talk to ourselves and our children. The purpose of Mindfulness training is to enhance our emotional control so we don't speak on our feelings before we think about them.
  3. Deeds: Lead by example in how we respond to stress. Get yourself and your children checked for Subluxations by your Chiropractor to reduce the effects of stress on you and them. This one thing effects all the other efforts as well.

The time to do these things ideally would be before conception but anytime is a good time to start changing you and your children's reality.