Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When apprehensiveness is a Virtue (and a Moir)

I seem to be on some sort of roll today, maybe because of that wonderful ice dance last night won by "Canada," a concept momentarily inhabited by the wonderful young ice dance couple, Moir and Virtue, who in their unbelievably fabulous performance managed to successfully downregulate any negative nervousness and upregulate every particle of their well-honed strength and grace to take the gold in a most transcendent manner. I think they managed to navigate "even keel" through several different potential realities, toward victory. I think their sturdy sea-going vessel was "apprehensiveness." Let me explain:

If there was ever a word to describe human primates in general (perhaps me in particular), I think it would be the adjective "apprehensive." It ordinarily conjures up a sense of suspicion, nervousness, or anxiety, which I think is a negative social meaning that has accrued to it because of how extroverted people like to downplay sensible precaution; in fact, there is way deeper meaning to it than that.

"Apprehensive" means many different things: let's take a look:
1. quick to understand
2. mentally upset over possible misfortune or danger or consequences
3. in fear or dread of possible evil or harm
4. anticipating something with anxiety or fear
5. quick to learn, intelligent, capable of grasping with mind or intellect
6. the cognitive condition of one who understands
7. from Lat. (ad, "to"; prehendere, "to seize"), a term applied to a model of consciousness in which nothing is affirmed or denied of the object in question, but the mind is merely aware of ("seizes") it
8. (as verb) to legally seize or arrest

It was wonderful to hear Tessa Virtue thank her physiotherapist during a post-win interview. She's had injuries, for sure.

Well done, you two. You have made us (Canadians) proud and have entertained us all (wherever we are on the planet) absolutely beautifully and dazzlingly. So pleased you were able to "apprehend" the possibility, "apprehend" each other sufficiently to get the job done, let your combined brains "apprehend" gravity and other physical forces, "apprehend" correct responsiveness in each nanosecond in perfect poise, then "apprehend" the opportunity, and that medal, with all weight of its attached symbolism, graciously smile the whole time, and allow a sense of relief, joy, pride and connectedness to race throughout Canada and likely all round the world. Well done. Well apprehended.

Thank you (as a Canadian) also to the coaches (one from Russia) and the host rink (in the US, I think). It was a great moment to "apprehend" while putting in time in this Big Waiting Room called "life."

Navigating "even keel" between uncertain death and uncertain death, toward certain death

Life, if we are realistic, is just a waiting room in which we amuse ourselves before we can go through a door with a sign on it, upon which is clearly written, DEATH. Lucky for us, the waiting room is huge, big enough to encompass entire oceans, full of brightness, infinite distractions, lots of other people, most of whom are merry, many useful and interesting ways to spend time together or alone.

"Even keel" is a metaphor. It stems from the many centuries, I like to imagine, when humans traveled by ship to visit each others' cultures, trade, conduct war, all those human things. Thinking about "even keel" takes up quite a bit of my personal hard drive. Not only have I learned how to be even keel in my own life (am not finding myself blown sideways by it or capsized as often anymore, that is..), when I am at work I focus on how to help brain parts in another person' nervous system get along better together, or at least I imagine that's what I'm doing. Like an engineer fixing systems in a building, or in a computer. Except, I don't really do anything, I just add bits of provocation and wait for feedback to tell me I'm on the right track. Most of it has to do with waiting for then seizing moments. But I'm geeky enough to want to know everything I can, anyway, about the systems I work with, even though human primate social grooming is really quite instinctive.

"Even keel" applies to nearly everything on any level in human life. I made a little picture (thank you photoshop) out of other little pictures to illustrate the old Greek story about the sea monster and the whirlpool that I first read about in James Willis' excellent essay by the same name. In his essay, the two-headed sea monster represents pseudo- and anti-science, which he does not want to steer too close to in his work as a doctor. The whirlpool represents scientific reductionism, tyranny by protocol. He doesn't want to become sucked into becoming a protocol zombie. Instead he wants to be able to steer his own boat, stay even keel between two extremes, retain his own locus of control within his treatment relationships.

I decided to steal his metaphor, practically intact, for my own work as a human primate social groomer. My sea monster has two heads too - one is anti-science and the other pseudo-science too, although, some days their names change to myofascial release and craniosacral therapy. The whirlpool is orthopaedic manual therapy, which (at least in Canada) is almost a Byzantine religion with its own high priests and devotion toward evidence-based regimented protocols, ostensibly to keep therapists safe from harm or blame, keep them "pure" and untainted, keep the money of society flowing toward our profession. But when I look at OMPT in Canada, I see huge flashes of tooth fairy science as described so succinctly by Harriet Hall. In Beyerstein's excellent essay on pseudoscience (50-page pdf) he stated that in his expert opinion, any "science" which doesn't take neuroscience into account is pretty much, by definition, pseudo. I have never sat in an ortho training workshop in Canada and once heard the slightest whiff of anything to do with neuroscience, not even physical nerves which slide past the beloved joints upon which ortho-lovers are so transfixed. In the workshops I attended they taught that you can actually feel movement in joints and improve movement in joints with fancy pressures at precise angles. From outside the living human body. Maybe this has changed in the last few decades, but judging by the kinds of ortho-esque "studies" I see done... somehow I doubt it.

Anyway, enough rambling on about that. "Even keel" is what each human, regardless of what one ends up doing in the Big Waiting Room called "life" prior to going through the door called DEATH, tries to achieve. We each have a life to navigate and moods to manage. How we each end up doing that and whatever success we manage to demonstrate in the process, has a lot to do with luck and circumstance in terms of genetic makeup plus upbringing, nature/nurture. I found a nice paper today, Psychosocial and Neural Correlates of Resilience, which is open access, at least for now. (Thank you to Integral Options blog.) In it I found:
"In experiments by Meaney and colleagues, the offspring of female rats displaying more nurturing behavior (high licking and grooming compared to low licking and grooming) had less methylation of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene in the hippocampus, resulting in higher GR expression, lower anxiety-related behavior and better HPA axis regulation. In addition, research by Nestler and colleagues has delineated molecular mechanisms underlying resilience to a social defeat stress paradigm in rodents, including the induction of gene expression changes only seen in resilient mice."

Gee, I like to think I'm resilient, even keel, or at least have learned how to be, even though I ended up with a human mother who did not believe much in pleasant licking or grooming. Somehow, even though this happened to be my personal fate, in the big waiting room of life, I was drawn, explicitly and implicitly, to work which is all about (metaphoric) licking and (actual) physical social grooming! The complete and utter simplicity and rightness of it, the naturalness of it to me as a human primate, is the wind that fills my sails, rows my boat, has helped me attain/remain "even keel."

That is pretty much all that is at the core of what I find mysterious in my own life. It's not earth-shaking or dramatic or life-threatening, it's just a story, likely a boring one. But it's my own little one. And I don't mind putting it here, where very few will probably ever find it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It gives me grief and makes me mad

So.. It's high time, my brain has decided, for a bit of a rant.

My last sporadic post was about thinking I probably had chronic contemplation syndrome, and went sideways into being distracted by the Olympics, etc.

This post is about a few reasons why I seem to have chronic contemplation syndrome.

Lately I stumbled across this blogpost on Twitter: Infant Dies After Craniosacral Therapy: Therapist Gets Off Scot-Free. Something inside me seemed to galvanize just a little - I could feel it. The action I took was to post it to my Facebook page and let it sit there, as testament to wrong thinking, and how important it is for manual therapists to move away from piss-poor treatment concepts onto more science-based ones. Naturally there was a hue and cry and protest from a few who apparently thought I ought not mention such a scandal or whose "belief system" I had besmirched somehow. Was the therapist a PT or not? How is craniosacral therapy different in the Netherlands than in N. America? Surely it must be different, the kind "we" use "here" safer. I steadily asked questions, sent out feelers, got more links, as more information came along from those who speak/understand Dutch and are more familiar with the issue posted on the thread about it at SomaSimple.

How I feel about stuff like this, manual therapy memeplexes which are just plain indefensible or which can do real harm, is no secret - I wrote about it here, and here. What's different is that my life is organized such that I'm in a position to really be outspoken about it on many levels. I have time to write, to think, to organize, to present. I've been invited to speak at two separate venues about research I'm doing, opportunities to refute such ill-formed and misleading treatment concepts. I've worked like a Trojan online and offline to study, think, redesign my own brain, mesh the physicality of human primate social grooming with the neuroscientific and pain science basis, context, in which it all starts to make sense. It's a great opportunity.

But I'm mad at myself. For watching TV, for being disorganized, for not knowing how to find my own files on my own desktop, for having a messy bookmark list, messy messy messy, my life feels like it's still in a mess and like I still don't have a clue how to proceed. When I'm not mad at myself I easily get mad about stuff like what happened that poor Dutch therapist, stuff that happens because of very poor thought processes, because of not thinking something through first, because of adopting memeplexes that some extrovert dreamed up out of thin air then sold in a confident manner to gullible hungry-for-info people in a workshop who trusted whatever he said, applied it, then killed a baby. It makes me scream with anger. All of it. Then I look at myself again, and think, OK, I'm not gullible, I'm careful, I know that a stray thought here or an assumption there can make a big difference downstream, I've always sifted things carefully, always chucked out ideas that don't make legitimate sense without a second thought. But to DO that, to be that careful, takes a lot of inner stillness, which I'm now so good at that it feels like my brain has neuroplasticized itself into quite a rut, and when I add my ordinary introversion to it, it feels like I'll never be able to say what I want the way it needs to be said while at the same time smoothly managing to persuade the entire profession over into thinking about manual therapy in a new way, toward science and away from dangerous baseless mesodermal explanations for things. It's like I feel responsible for changing the world, all by myself, and I know that's a crazy unrealistic thing to be thinking. So I feel like screaming. Which is not a solution, just a feeling, so I rant for awhile instead.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Chronic contemplation syndrome"

niclucas.com, on "chronic contemplation syndrome."

I'm guilty of this. Or else, my brain is still in recovery from being in the dark for decades, living in rainy Vancouver. While watching the Vancouver Olympic torch run/celebrations on TV yesterday, I kept seeing the pouring rain and thinking, so glad I don't live there anymore. Nice job, though, extroverts. It was a very nice series of moments all strung together serially through TV time, like a string of happy pearls.

So sorry about the luge guy. And the perpetual rain. And that one chunk of cauldron that got stuck/wouldn't lift up. The rest was GREAT! The infinite boundless free-wheeling bright feeling of the prairie vignette was on the mark. Loved the First Nation dancing and diversity. Loved the edgy punky fiddler/dancers, so different from Don Messer days of my childhood. Loved the poet from the North West Territories, riotous colors of fall, whales swimming across the floor, the lit maple leaf motif toward the finale. Loved that you included sonorous Donald Sutherland (who voiced-over in many of the Olympic ads) in the ceremony, one of my all-time favorite actors. Loved that the announcer didn't notice that the torch carried by Wayne Gretzky was smoothly traded at least twice on the way to the outdoor cauldron, causing him to wonder aloud why the Gretzky torch was so long-lasting compared to the normal torches...

But I digress. Back to chronic contemplation syndrome... and for now, chronically contemplating... Having a name for it will help my brain work on a way to overcome it. Just a teeny shift - that might be all it takes, to change the course, the outcome, the direction of accumulation of small efforts over time that amount to a life lived more rather than less successfully. Thank you for that, Nic Lucas.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Letter to another Un-happy INtrovert

This excerpt is from a letter written by me, several months back. It has been edited slightly to protect the recipient's identity.

"I think, like the skin horse, we just get more real over time. It's inevitable. We probably get finally as real as can be, one second before our lights go out forever. That would be the last joke life has on us: Haha, guess what, all those little things you thought were so important and fought so hard to swim upstream for, they are nada.

So, you're an Unhappy INtrovert. Doesn't surprise me (the Unhappy part) - the world, the social world, the everyday interaction of the human primate troop, is made by EXtroverted people and reflects their sunny ways, so it becomes the measure against which we non-happies automatically fail. Which I guess is good.. what a rained-on parade introverts would make if we were in charge of setting the overall tone of life. So, us introverts or unhappies or whatever we are have to do double duty figuring out what is, what we are, how to relate to a rear-view mirror image of ourselves while we learn to drive ourselves forward. It seems like a lot more work, so it's kind of a good thing there are endless combinations and permutations available for neuroplastic social adaptation. It has taken me two-thirds of a life time to become even remotely even-keel, let alone consider myself capable of making any kind of contribution beyond one-on-one. What a long process.

I do envy social effortlessness as displayed by extroverts/apparent "Happies". They seem to have so many fewer issues. Maybe they are less transparent to themselves or just fake it better or maybe they feel better just being around someone/anyone else to the point where they placebo themselves automatically, a brain mechanism that others of us (like introverts) must construct consciously instead. It isn't like they aren't smart or don't think, because they do. And they have sadnesses, which they mostly hide, which I used to think meant they were superficial. I misjudged their consideration for the feelings of others in the human primate troop, and their apparent jolliness in being connected and chatting and social, as outright behavioural lying. I didn't realize it was brain food for them, that they absolutely depend on it, crave it every day. Since I've aged, I'm a lot more nuanced about how I judge others' social motivations. We are all total liers, because of how troop-y we are as human primates. No one knows which side is up, because of all those built-in perceptual biases that fool us continually. We are all here, doing the best we can to get along and help each other. Stepping away from troop situations which become, or that we finally realize are, uncomfortable or incongruous with our centroversion.

I decided long ago to hitch my wagon to science, learned to aim for mere "contentment" in life. For me "contentment" is practically synonymous with "containment," in every aspect of life but writing, over which I have temporal and environmental control, i.e., feel safe. Safe enough at least. Steam valve writing."