I Have A Brain Injury

The internet is a funny place that seems to run on fairly predictable fuel. Survival.

Any of you who have fallen into the black hole of Facebook or the rabbit hole of Youtube can attest to this. If a link or site produces some kind of adrenaline rush in your body, positive or scary, chances are, you'll see where it leads. But maybe I should speak for myself alone.

Of course we all have different things that get us amped up. Maybe it's the recent antics of 45 or a debate on white supremacy amongst white folks. Maybe it's a pair of really cute overalls or something that just blew your mind on Pinterest. Whatever your bait, the interwebs seem to be built on triggering the fight or flight mechanisms in our brains.

Over the last six months, I have been deliberately rewiring the excitement center in my brain, otherwise known as the Limbic System.

But, you say, it's FUN to be excited and provoked!

Why would I do this?

Well, for one, when anyone's brain is being commandeered by the limbic system for any length of time, there's rather a domino effect throughout the body.

The limbic system is designed to respond to situational events of a limited duration. Think stumbling on a tiger in the jungle and needing to get safe NOW. It's great for mobilizing fantastic bursts of action, speed, strength and LIVE.

But only if you can have a good sleep and recover afterwards.

So let's say you live in a world where everything is telling your brain that you are UNDER THREAT...all the time.

Maybe it's not a tiger chasing you, but how about the pressure of either measuring up to unachievable expectations or not receiving approval and love from family or friends? Perhaps your tiger is a looming sense of being fired or not being able to pay your bills. Maybe you were in a car accident that created a heightened sense of the impermanence of safety.

Whatever the trigger, our beautiful limbic systems interpret them all the same way. TIGER. RUN. NOW. And when they keep showing up in our lives, the limbic system can fall into a rut. That's right, a certifiable, viewable neural pathway that feeds our inherent negativity bias.

Negativity bias? What?

Oh yes. Being the evolved and clever monkeys we are, our brains are wired to default to noticing threats before they notice boons. Cause boons won't kill you but tigers sure will. Call it a vestigal throwback that isn't really necessary for most people living in the West, call it an amusing inconvenience, but check this out.

When your limbic system gets switched on and STAYS on, other stuff that makes life, well, ENJOYABLE goes out the window.

So for me, it was stuff like being able to eat foods I liked, fighting off illnesses, being able to be around molds or mildews ( I live in the Pacific Northwest), remembering stuff and moving my body how I wanted to. Oh, and feeling like it was safe to be in a body, full stop.

I had a brain injury. When and where it happened is a longer story which I'm happy to go into in future installments if people are raring to know, but suffice it to say, my limbic system was running the neural show and my body was not digging it.

Over the last 6 months of retraining my brain, which I do for 1 hour or more every day depending on how touchy and awake my limbic system is, I have noticed several positive changes. Like having more energy. Bouncing back quicker from illness, feeling more calm, clear and positive in ANY situation.

These changes have created enough space and energy for me to return to grad school for a masters in Leadership in Sustainability Education.

It just feels enlightening to type that out, though it's a bit muddier to unpack what that actually means.

I've been reflecting on it alot over the last 3 weeks since class started, especially this last week.

I enrolled in this program because I wanted to connect with a broader community that was actively involved in creating a third way forward. Not perpetuating the capitalistic resources grab that has pitted rich against poor, human against nature and Christianity against everyone else. Not the apocalypse that so many devout religious folks seem to be (un)consciously hoping will wipe the slate clean of the mess we've made and leave them to start over with a fresh planet.

I wanted to invest in action centered in hope, responsibility and diverse collaboration. So far, it looks like I wandered into the right place at the right time.

There are so many ideas I have held without being able to sythesize or express as a coherent system which are emerging from the pages of our class readings, from the conversations I'm having with classmates and in stories told by the teachers.

For example, my orientation to the program was held at a learning garden and a forest. We camped over night, potlucked and brought personal totems that represented some aspect of who we are or what values we hold. The first thing the founder of the program said as we stood in the garden was, "I want to acknowledge that we are standing on stolen ground, and I want to thank the Multnomah and Clackamas peoples for allowing us to use it."

My heart yelled, "YES! Thank you!" like the words were medicine I'd been trying to take for so long. And then she passed around seeds from her own garden. They were smooth and tiny as I held them in my hand. Warm from being in hers.

Sustainable leadership is about being in community and collaboration with the earth, other sentient life and onesself. It is about recognizing that we learn through experience instead of intellectualizing, that time to reflect and be self-aware is just as necessary as being in production mode. That in order for creative solutions to emerge, conflict and change must be welcomed.

As sustainable leaders we see that leadership is a quality that all of us possess instead of a role that gives you a bigger piece of the pie. We take time to observe our environment and situation before we act so we can make choices that will speak to many needs. We attend to our spirits so we can sit with change and remain open.

We recognize that we are nature- not masters over it, not stewards of it, but nature itself. Mother nature does not need us, but we need her, and therefore it is our responsibility to learn her language by spending time with her, by preserving and treasuring indigenous peoples who hold deep wisdom about how to be in relationship with her.

I am only three weeks in and still have a wealth of things to learn and experience, and I am entirely certain that this is the path I am meant to walk. And yet, if it hadn't been for my brain injury, I would perhaps never have found it. Because of my recovery process, I know first hand the power of thought, will, hope, joy and discipline.

We are quantum beings, capable of shifting and rising to new occasions and creating things because we can dream them. Some of us have always known this, and now science does too.

I can't wait to see what we dream up as sustainable leaders...

Comments

  1. Reading your blog post helps me feel relieved that there is a younger generation of thoughtful and inspired beings searching for and creating a different way forward. My limbic system...as well as other systems of my being...are more grateful than words can express. Can't wait to hug you next time I see you, which I hope is really soon!!! <3 <3 <3

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    1. Thanks for your encouraging and affirming response, Betsy-we are all in this together and I am certain that hope and action will always show themselves to those willing to diligently search them out....

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