Saturday, January 28, 2012

Self Help

I never really thought of what I was writing as self-help until my
independent student saw it as fitting that category. Her insight got
me thinking about knowledge as self-help, appealing to us not just for
the new information and increased perspective, but because so much of
it is concretely useful in navigating the world. Maybe that’s why
philosophers say pursuit of knowledge is the greatest happiness. It’s
not just how understanding increases with a broader point-of-view, but
how the new piece of the puzzle changes the picture and how that bears
on other ideas. What I’ve studied about the brain has been so useful
to me that I want to spread that knowledge around, along with the
connections I’ve made in how to apply that information. As one
neuroscientist put it, “Neuroanatomy illuminates psychology.” Learning
how different regions of the brain relate to each other demonstrates
their neural significance and how we can utilize it. Knowing more of
the map offers more flexibility about how to get where you want to go.
As our models of reality expand so do the choices we have about what
the possibilities are and what we want to accomplish.
By spending a long string of days cleaning and sorting through
all the piles of papers that have been accumulating for months I not
only got rid of the burden on my workspace, I stimulated lots of
reward chemicals for the activities along the way. It was the thing
that helped the most after my dad died. Using executive functions like
sorting and problem solving, how to better organize, drew my mental
energy to the front of the brain, site of the most connections to the
reward areas. That’s why journals are so helpful, putting thoughts
into words involves areas in the front. Comprehension is farther back
near memory, which is more associated with negative moods. Any action
helps you feel better because it moves the energy forward in the
brain. It affirms a sense of agency, the opposite of the helplessness
associated with depression. The beauty of mundane activities like
cleaning to fight unhappiness is they have concrete results as well as
the beneficial brain chemistry. It doesn’t really matter what the
action. It happens in the present and is organized by a purpose, moves
mental energy forward and stimulates dopamine production. Action is
rewarded because it’s good for survival.
Knowing what the brain has evolved to do clarifies how to develop
its capacities. Most dramatic of the still untapped potential is the
power of visual intelligence. Cultivating the wisdom of the big
picture as understood by the right hemisphere could be key to solving
some the problems mired by an old way of seeking solutions. Treating
the universe and everything in it as a machine is an outdated
orthodoxy that ignores the multiple variables of actual experience.
Since vision is central to understanding it makes sense to visualize
and represent our situation in ways that illuminate important
underlying patterns. The ability to see patterns in complexity is a
function of the visual right side of the brain. Imagination and
insight are among our highest powers. Naturally they’re at the front
of the brain, which is why its so exhilarating to create and invent,
explore and discover.
People are largely unaware of the power of art to help them do
just that. They think that art is something you do or don’t do, when
it’s always been more about what you see and feel. Just looking at the
art that draws your attention activates personal emotional themes that
can function as a mirror held to the inner world. Art resonates with
emotional patterns. It stimulates feelings and the ideas connected to
them. Since we’re attracted to what shows something we need to see,
it’s an opportunity to reflect on the personal inner reality. This is
where the wisdom of personal experience lives. Building visual
intelligence starts with seeing your feelings. Find artists you like
on the Internet or in books. It’s never been easier to find
sensibilities that speak to your own emotional core. For some fun
self-help give art books as presents. Look at them with friends. Enjoy
the conversations stimulated and the endorphins that reward new

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Hello Susan,
When I saw the image you had created it was a portent that something changed, I did not at first look at the blog title until later. I sympathize with you regarding your loss. My father suffered a long time even during my time at Maryland Institute from Multiple Sclerosis and passed away last summer.
The image when I saw it struck a memory chord. It was very clear. I was reminded of this image.
The composition is similar but the color has shifted the not quite the inverse of the intent of this image, because the line and composition are related but the hue makes altogether a different statement.
The process of acknowledgement, change, memory and discordance is on display. It is shattering but despite that the hue of the work is fundamentally blue, a color of healing, wisdom and understanding not injury. There are details whose colors reflect that but nothing you cannot handle.
I usually re read your posts because at first read you get it but there is always more in the second read. I have always been impressed by your willingness to share your feelings and process with others and to not be fearful. It's an admirable quality.
You are a great example to creative people who want to really get in touch with the strength of their creativity and methods to build on having that creativity suffuse other areas of their core day to day reality.
I sincerely hope that your journey through this brings new support and possibilities.