Posts Tagged ‘Hippocampus’

Flexible Focus #30: The 8 frames of life: Home

by William Reed on December 2, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Considering the number of songs with home lyrics that long for home, are coming home, or are homeward bound, there is something deep in our psyche that tells us there is no place like home.

Home is the 4th in the 8 Frames of Life of the Mandala Chart, Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Character, Study, Leisure, and a critical pillar for life-work balance.

Yet, broken homes, dysfunctional families, domestic violence, and broken hearts are pandemic in our society, an outward reflection of an inner conflict.

The Mandala Chart is a comprehensive compass for life, and provides helpful perspectives on themes surrounding our Home.

Ecology in a Möbius Strip

The Möbius Strip is a 3-dimensional seamless strip of paper turned in on itself, with only one surface. A Möbius Strip Video by Robert Krampf shows a simple experiment, in which you can prove to yourself this remarkable phenomenon by drawing an unbroken line on the surface of the Möbius Strip with a crayon, until you return to the same place. He also shows that even when you cut the Möbius Strip down the line which you have just drawn, you still have a single seamless loop. It remains whole even after you cut it in half!

The Möbius Strip has featured and fascinated people since its discovery in ancient times, and is a perennial symbol in topology and popular culture. It is also the shape of the universal recycling symbol.

It represents an energy loop, a self-sustaining energy system, which contains the core principle for making homes, relationships, and families work. James Redfield explores this in depth in his bestselling book The Celestine Prophecy. His exploration of energy dynamics occurs in what he describes as the Fourth Insight, that when humans are cut off from the self-sustaining energy systems of the universe, they compete for energy by psychologically stealing or sponging it from other people. This unconscious competition is the source of all human conflict. Redfield compares humans to broken circles seeking a connection. The healthiest connection is when two broken circles join to form a figure 8, in effect a Möbius Strip.

It could also be a symbol for the ecology of a happy home, in which we are not energy drainers, but energy gainers.

Where do you call home?

In today’s mobile society, the place you call home may not be the place you were born. Traditionally, when people were more tied to territory, the proverbial wisdom was bloom where you are planted. However, the view of the Mandala Chart is based on flexible focus, and is closer to the Zen proverb, be master of the moment (zuisho ni nushi to naru). This means to be at home wherever you are, in your body, where you live, in this time of history, on this earth. A person who is engaged, connected, and skilled at navigation can be at home anywhere.

There is a part of our brain called the hippocampus, which acts as both filter and connector for our long-term memory and spatial navigation in the outside world. London Taxi drivers are famous for their knowledge of streets and spatial navigation, and they have been found to have a larger than average hippocampus, possibly through extensive training and experience in navigation. They know how to find their way home.

Neuroscientists studying depression, dementia, and disorientation have found it associated with atrophy in the hippocampus. James W, Jefferson, M.D., a senior scientist at the Madison Institute of Medicine and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin Medical School, wrote an article in Geriatric Times called, My Hippocampus is Bigger than Yours, which looks at the hippocampus’ role in memory and depression. He describes the Greek word for hippocampus as a creature with the forequarters of a horse, and the hindquarters of a fish or dolphin, what we know as a seahorse. The hippocampus in the brain was named as the seahorse of the brain because of its remarkable resemblance to a seahorse in shape.

We have referred often in this series to the processes of engagement, connection, and opportunity. The Mandala Chart is a navigational compass to facilitate the process, and the more actively you use it, the more likely you are to engage your hippocampus, keeping it healthy, vital, and alive. Likewise, if you let yourself drift you risk the consequences of an idle hippocampus. Here the folk wisdom applies, use it or lose it!

We are family

Of course a home is nothing without a family. We don’t live in isolation, but rather as interdependent beings, in various kinds of families.

The family for some is a source of love and protection, for others it can be a source of conflict and frustration. In either case, your family has an inestimable effect on the quality of your life. This is why Home is one of the eight fundamental areas of life on the Mandala Chart.

Regardless of your family or lifestyle, things are likely to go better if the members of the family care about and support each other. However, even blood relatives are born with different personalities, and the differences can be a source of delight or of conflict, depending on the degree of understanding and acceptance in the family.

One approach that can facilitate understanding is to look at Temperament and Personality Types. An excellent book on this subject is Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, and the sequel Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates.

You can even take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter test online, and gain immediate feedback and insights into your own character and that of others around you. This test looks at the four main temperaments, Guardian, Rational, Idealist, and Artisan, and the supporting materials offer advice on how this affects relationships in families, careers, and schooling. The test has been taken by more than 40 million people, and is used widely by corporations, colleges, coaches, and consultants worldwide. It can give you one perspective that can facilitate understanding and acceptance of our differences. As a reminder of the key points, download the WE ARE FAMILY Mandala.

Personality differences aside, we are connected to each other, in present, past, and future. The message is plain. Just listen to Sister Sledge, We Are Family

Flexible Focus #7: Inside the lines

by William Reed on June 24, 2010

The common catchphrase for creativity is thinking outside the box. This metaphor originated from the nine dots puzzle, in which you must connect nine dots in three rows, using just four connected straight lines. As long as you stay inside the box, you cannot solve the puzzle. Only by going outside of the square can you actually connect the dots. This puzzle is often used by creativity and management consultants to encourage people to look at problems from a fresh perspective.

Although this metaphor has captured the popular imagination, the real challenge is to engage in applied creative thinking that solves real problems. Tennis, for example, is a game that is played entirely within the box. It would certainly be easier at first to play tennis by taking down the net and ignoring the lines on the court. But players would not progress and audiences would find nothing worth watching. The presence of rules and limits is a prerequisite for progress in any discipline. Of the ideas and approaches that appear to come from outside of the box, the most exciting and productive creative work is often produced and performed inside the box.

It is on the court inside the lines, where action occurs. The word court has multiple meanings. A court can be a field of play in tennis or basketball, an interior garden court, a court of royalty, a court of law, or even courting as a process of wooing to gain attention and affection. A court implies focused action or judgement inside the lines.

The Mandala Chart is a court of play for your thoughts. You start with an 8-Frame Mandala Chart. To expand your thinking you do not go outside of the box, but rather dive deeper into the box by expanding each of the 8 frames into a 64-Frame Mandala Chart. You can change your focus by zooming in or out, as you flexibly reframe your thoughts.

As a practical matter, anything past the first level of 64-frames probably belongs in a library or database. You can also divide 8 by 8 to create a single frame, and this can be part of another set of 8 or 64 at a higher level. But as a practical matter, too much abstraction and you lose the plot. A great number of practical issues can be solved by simply reframing by 8 to the level above or below.

The Magic of Memory

George A. Miller, a cognitive scientist at Princeton University in 1956 published a famous study in which he argued that the largest number of objects a person can hold in working memory was the magical number 7, plus or minus 2, a phenomenon now known as Miller’s Law. The 8-Frame Mandala Chart is well within Miller’s Law, and its companion simply multiplies 8 x 8 to create a 64-Frame Mandala Chart.

Memory experts seem to defy this rule through such feats as memorizing the random digits of pi (the ration of a circle’s circumference to its diameter) beyond the textbook definition of 3.141… out to an astonishing number of non-repeating decimals in the tens of thousands, as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. However, all mnemonic devices and memory systems work by converting abstract data by association into more familiar images that can be chunked and compacted into strings and stories that are easier to recall.

Musicians do the same thing when they learn to sightread a musical score. In effect, they juggle the same magic number of mental objects, but manage to connect more of them together by chunking and mental association. This is a good example of flexible focus, and  how performance improves with practice.

Both mental depression and memory loss are associated with a loss of the ability to make flexible mental connections, leading to a feeling of disorientation, feeling cut off from everyone and everything. The hippocampus is the seahorse of the brain most closely connected with this process, and neuroscientists have discovered that it has the capacity to regenerate as well as to atrophy. It makes sense to give your brain’s seahorse lots of exercise in flexible focus.

The Unfettered Mind

The process of flexible focus was described by Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a Japanese Zen priest and a genius of Renaissance proportions, in a work entitled The Unfettered Mind. This remarkable piece was written to Yagyu Munenori, head of the Yagyu Shinkageryu School of Swordsmanship, and is now a well-known classic on Zen in Swordsmanship. Takuan cautions that the stopping of the mind in an abiding place is what leads to ignorance, and can be fatal to a swordsman. Takuan advises that the unfettered mind has the ability to see all of the leaves of a tree, without being fixed on a single one, to catch the essence of movement without being caught in the details.

Olympic athletes work with attention control training, a field pioneered by Robert Nideffer, who found that tennis players, divers, gymnasts, golfers, and other athletes shift their attention flexibly from broad to narrow, and from internal to external focus, depending on the demands of the moment. In this case, enhanced performance depends on a flexible attention style.

So we return to the tennis ball, which of course must be served and returned over the net and inside the lines. That is where skill is developed, and where practical problems are solved. Whatever your game, use the Mandala Chart to develop flexible focus and enhance your performance when the ball is in your court