It takes 13 milliseconds for your brain to process the input it receives. That means everything you see, hear, taste, touch, smell has a brief pause from the time your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and fingers sense it to the time it becomes recognized for what it is.
In that time your brain connects the input with all of the memories you have ever had or could even imagine having in order to classify it as good or bad, safe or unsafe, friend or foe. In that brief amount of time your brain uses whatever is going on in your life as a filter for what is in front of you and all around you.
Your emotions, your experiences, the breakup you just went through or the wedding you are about to go through guide you to classify what you perceive as important or It takes 13 milliseconds for your brain to process the input it receives. That means everything you see, hear, taste, touch, smell has a brief pause from the time your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and fingers sense it to the time it becomes recognized for what it is.
In that time your brain connects the input with all of the memories you have ever had or could even imagine having in order to classify it as good or bad, safe or unsafe, friend or foe. In that brief amount of time your brain uses whatever is going on in your life as a filter for what is in front of you and all around you.
Your emotions, your experiences, the breakup you just went through or the wedding you are about to go through guide you to classify what you perceive as important or unimportant in your life at this moment in time. All those memories, emotions, hopes and dreams are what direct you choose one path over another. They are why you decide what you want to eat, drink, work on or escape to. Your need to eat something richly satisfying may help you get over a slump of depression or to eat something high in fiber to take on the day are chosen, not by you, but by your 40,000 year old brain as it struggles to guide you through the contemporary world you live in.
The world as you see is not made up of the input you are taking in. It is a reflection of everything you are going through in this moment. If it is why if you are in Love the world is a brilliant place where hope can be found in every object you touch, every scent you smell, every taste you bite into.
If you are upset, everything grows just a little darker, a little less inviting. That same cerulean sky is suddenly a darker shade of blue. It is still blue, just not quite what it may seem to someone in the throes of Love. It is no different for the people you interact with. You suspicions or anger with someone is not just based on their actions, but your own as well.
This same distortion is why you mirror yourself onto the lives of those around you. You assume what you are feeling and experiencing must be felt by those around you as well. Whatever fear is pulsing through your veins must also pulse through their veins as well. If you feel confused by someone’s actions, suspicious of their reasons, it may not be just them, it may be your own feelings of self doubt that you are struggling with.
Your own emotions can distort the circus mirror to make you see a skinny person or a fat person in front of you, rather than the world as it is in reality. Your distorted view of the world and those around you is more often off base than it is on – because of how you perceive reality rather than how it really is.
It is not until you awaken to the fact that your brain creates your world that you can truly be free of your own distortions and begin to live life in the real world and in a whole new light.
The next time someone seems to be undermining your efforts, take a moment to breathe and bring yourself back down to earth. Think about what is going on in your life and how that could distort your view of your friends and your community. Did you recently lose someone who is dear to you? Did your boss choose someone else for “the big project?” Then think about how that might affect the way you view the one you Love and have always trusted. Do you really want to throw that away because of what someone else did?
Take a moment to cool down before you rush into something you might regret. Even though you are convinced you are in the right, just know that the world around you is not always what it seems.
Be well and I hope this helps.
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Stop trying to be the One. Just sit. Just be. The moment you recognize your meditation as something more than it is, you lose the reason for meditating in the first place. That is to clear your mind of all thought, good or bad, wanted or unwanted.
In formal sitting you may start by counting your breath. At some point the very count that opened the path before you becomes a distraction. When it does, let it go. Perhaps you can let it go all together. Or perhaps you simply allow it to drift into a simple recognition of “in” and “out” as you allow your mind to continue its practice by observing the flow of the breath. Simply being who you are in the here and now as you observe the way in which you mind and body interact.
Do not try to get anywhere with your practice. You have already arrived. The very desire to “get” somewhere is enough to prevent you from arriving. No matter how hard you work to erase the thoughts, the very effort you place onto your practice will not get you any further than you were when you first sat down. In fact, it may erase the distance you already took on your path.
Do not curse your desire. Do not even recognize it. Simply smile to yourself as you allow those thoughts to float into the ether that is within you and all around you.
Arise from desire and simply Let Go. Do not try to achieve anything. Do not cling to anything, even to the practice of enlightenment. It will come when it will come.
Trying to speed the process will only slow the process down.
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There is no homosexuality. There is no heterosexuality. There is only human sexuality.
Every one of you has a range of traits buried within you that expresses itself differently. For some there is a recognition that you prefer men or women over women or men. For others there is a recognition that you see beyond labels and see only the Love within, regardless of gender, race, religion or creed. Neither is right nor wrong, neither is good nor bad, better or worse, as long as it comes from a place of Love.
The bible wrote about homosexuals in the time of Abraham, and in the story of David and Jonathan, the animal kingdom is rife with examples. You see, sexuality is not a human thing, but a think of the spirit. It is like a color wheel that you can scroll around, selecting just the right mix of reds and greens and blues, that lies deep within hues and tints that make every color an entire color wheel in and of itself.
The combinations are endless just like the mixture of possible expressions of sexuality that lie within each of you. Whether that expression is nature or nurture, genetics or learned, does not matter. How comfortable you are with yours is all that does. How you express you sexuality is an endless display that is as human as the mix of features on your face.
For a man or woman to look at another person of the same sex and say they are not able to tell if they are beautiful is the greatest lie of denial I know. For a man to stand before Michelangelo’s David and deny he can find the beauty in it is to deny that he can find the beauty within himself. The same goes for a woman. If they cannot find beauty within others, what they are really saying is that they cannot find the beauty within themselves, and that is a shame. To them the world is a dark and ugly place that is led by fear, not worthy of their rejoicing in who they are. It means they cannot find or appreciate the Love within themselves.
The label of LGBT or Q is just that, a label and nothing more. It is a reflection of the very human need to label define everything around us. Those labels are arbitrary and meaningless, important only to those people who are so insecure in their own skins that they hide their weakness behind the neat little boxes they proudly display on their shelves, all lined up and sealed with a bow, never to be pulled out and examined until they come across it at some future point while looking inward in self examination with a “wow” or an “aha!”, as if in sudden recognition of the thing that has been with them all along.
Sexuality is a funny thing, because it exists in denial, just as Love exists in denial for so many. It is not a convenience to be pulled out and paraded around when it is time. Human sexuality is something to be proud of every minute of every day of every one’s life. No matter what you consider yourself – gay, straight, lesbian, bi, trans or queer – you are all of those things, each expressed at different levels at different times.
Coming to terms with your sexuality is like saying I am coming to terms with my need to drink water or to eat food. When you are hungry you will eat, when you are thirsty you will drink. It is less about if, as it is about when. When you are comfortable admitting your own sexuality to yourself and to those around you – family, friends, associates, the world.
When you come to terms with your sexuality and grow comfortable with the sexuality of others, what you are really doing is coming to terms with the Love that flows all around us and through us, connecting each of us and protecting us as the global family we truly are. That Love is the true community we are all a part of, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality.
So welcome to the contemporary world and to contemporary thinking – Love is Love. It is what it is to be human.
Love expresses itself in many ways and on many levels of intimacy. Sometimes is the friendship you feel with someone. It can be expressed as kinship, a sexual bonding or even as an all consuming relationship. Within each of these your sexuality plays a part. So be comfortable with your sexuality or your ability to Love on any level will be unable to move past that age old and stodgy handshake of yesteryear.
If you consider yourself asexual or sapiosexual, that is still a statement of sexuality.
It is why the idea of trying to out someone for their sexuality is absurd. It only matters to those who are dealing with their own fears of being banished from the tribe that has not existed in modern society for centuries except in our own minds. Like all things we will evolve past the notion eventually. The only question is, when…
The story of David and Jonathan or of Abraham and his head servant were written into the bible thousands of years ago. Yet people still fail to embrace them.
In this day and age to label people as this or that, black or white, suntanned or untanned is not just a mark of ignorance, it is the mark of living in another time and another era – one that humanity outgrew ages ago.
Within each of us is a conscious, sentient being. And your consciousness is not a binary element that is turned on or off with the flip of a switch. It is more like the dial on a stove that allows you to turn the heat up or down, from 0 to 10. Sexuality is about finding the right number for you, and that number will probably change throughout your life. So learn to be comfortable with your sexuality no matter where it leads you.
Remember, no matter how hard we try to classify each other, there will always be someone who will surprise you, who will remain – unclassifiable, and that is what being truly beautiful is all about. Surprising each other with discovery and being comfortable with that discovery.
Just remember the more you ridicule somebody, the more you show your own fear for what you know is inside you. The greater your hate or anger, or need to act out in violence, the more you show your own true desires that live deep down inside of you, beyond the wall you built that you hope no one else will see over.
Deep meditation is a wonderful way to remove the stress, anger, negative thoughts, and the distractions that generally undermine our lives. It is a way to calm ourselves so that we, you, can turn dreams into ideas and ideas into actions, free from the delusions that all too often undermine the higher purpose to which we are trying to arrive.
I recently told a student of mine, do not create issues that do not exist in your life just so that you can be the one to solve them. There are more than enough issues out there for you to focus on. Just open your eyes and ears. Contemplate those issues and develop a resolution based on your observations.
If you jump too quickly into solutions, you will resolve the delusions that you have created, but not the underlying problem. In time the core problem will resurface. You will once again scratch your head, state how similar your current issue is to the one you had a week, a month, or a year ago as you once again try to resolve the problem that has surfaced without looking any deeper.
When a thought interrupts your meditation, do not simply ignore it. Take a breath, examine it. Hold it in your hands and contemplate it as you turn it so that you can see it from a different perspective. Ask yourself if it is a thought that is worth further examination, or one you should simply release back into the ether.
Use this same approach for all issues you come upon in the “real world”. Do not jump to the solution too quickly before you have spent time examining the issue. Take time to explore whatever obstacle lies in front of you.
Take a breath to look at it from a new perspective. Some obstacles you see may not even be relevant, they are things you can avoid by simply adjusting your direction until you have passed it. Do you really have to bump into that person walking toward you on the sidewalk, or can you simply drop your shoulder to miss them altogether? Do you really have to wait for that car to drift into your lane? Or can you be fully present when you drive and slow down, to avoid them with little or no interruption in your journey. In some instances you may need to stop or step off your path, but is that really all that bad? Considering all the regret in your life, will that really make a difference in the future?
There are many ways to avoid an obstacle without confronting it. Simply give yourself enough time to plan an appropriate response and you will be surprised by how many seemingly insurmountable issues fade away before you even arrive at them. This is how to take a meditative approach to your life, without changing your life.
I know many meditation “masters” say to remain in the here and now if you want your life to be a happy one. But there is something far better in looking ahead, perhaps spending 80% of your time in the here and now while spending the other 20% looking just far enough ahead so to see the obstacles that may block your path, or if there is even a path to continue on.
This is the difference between living a meditative life in the here and now, in the 21st Century world we live in rather than meditation as it was created for the world as it was 2,500 years ago.
Be aware, and your life will unfold before you as it is supposed to.
I hope this helps.
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There will always be days, weeks, even months when you feel as if the delusions of your life are over-running your life. It’s okay, we all get them. This is when it is time to wake up to the real world, not the one you think you are living in, but to the real world that is all around you. It may feel like you need a boost or a shot of caffeine. More than likely you are simply feeling tired of living your life in delusion. Stop thinking in terms of success and failure, winning or losing, think in terms of delusions.
I know it is not easy, but these tips may help get you back on your path and overcome you own nature – to truly Awaken to your own Simple Truth.
Here are a few ways to jumpstart your engine to keep you moving in the right direction. After all, it is your life and now is the time to start living it your way, only this time with a meditative twist:
Ask yourself when was the last time you got 8 hours of sleep? When was the last time you sat down to a healthy meal? When was the last time you sat down with a friend and listened, really listened? What you hear may surprise you.
Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back, and smile. With every inhalation feel the relaxing strength of each breath flow from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. Begin with your scalp, feel each relaxing breath flow up to your scalp, then down to your eyebrows, your eyes, your cheeks, your lips and your jaw line. Feel that relaxing strength pass down your neck, your shoulders, your arms and your fingers. Feel each breath flow down to your hips, your legs and your toes. Relax and feel the ebb and flow of that energy as it flows through you, lifting you, giving you the Focused Calm to move forward.
Reach out and help someone. It does not have to be earth shattering. It can start with a smile, holding the door for someone, being fully present as you listen to them without judgment. Make someone else feel good about themselves without seeking anything in return. Then smile to yourself for doing so.
Touch the earth. Even if that is the side of a building or the pavement, a sidewalk or an office floor. Remind yourself that they are connected to the earth in some way. Tune yourself into that connection and smile as you follow that connection no matter how thin it may be. Remember energy travels though the thinnest wire to illuminate a lamp from the tiniest of batteries. Do the same as you re-energize.
Write down five things that you are proud of. Put that list in your pocket or handbag. Remind yourself that you have done great things in your life and will do many more in the future.
Stand in front of a mirror, raise your hands above your head in a power pose and stare at your smile in your reflection. Think of the great things you have achieved in your life. When your mind turns to dark thoughts return your gaze to your smile and say to yourself, “I am smiling through my delusions.”
Acknowledge what is happening in your life. Label the instances where you think things went wrong. Then acknowledge that you still have fingers and toes to feel the world with, you have eyes to see the world with, you have ears to hear with, you have a mouth to taste with, and if all those senses are gone, you still have a heart and your spirit to steer your moral compass by.
Stop picking up your mobile phone, stay off of social media [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram]. Pick up a book, sit back, and read instead.
Stop comparing yourself to others. You are not someone else, they are not you. Just know that they are just as insecure as you are. Now, laugh at yourself for being foolish and only seeing the curated life they want you to see.
Do not allow negative thoughts in. Every time you feel one bubbling up, call it out, label it, and return to the very real world that you are in. Scroll through your five senses as you look around, listen, touch and smile until you find one teeny, tiny bit of beauty in your world. Trust me, it is there. Feel that bit of beauty expand until it fills your world, the real world you are in, free from delusions.
[BONUS] Train yourself to quit the negative and focus on the positive. Start today. Know that we are trained at birth to see the rain more than the sun. It is human nature, but it does not have to be your nature.
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Consumer Psychologists spend a lot of time following people around stores, both online and off. It is not what they buy that interests them. It is the why behind the what people buy that they are interested in.
Not only do consumer psychologists find an incredible assortment of products in people’s closets, they find products that have never been worn before, and never will be worn. It is an amazing phenomenon that is shared by people from all walks of life who purchase things they never wear and, most surprisingly, never return.
The old explanation for this is that it was a well intentioned mistake the consumer made. However, after probing a little deeper consumer psychologists have uncovered a consistent pattern going on. At first consumers make excuses for themselves like, “I saw a really amazing item and I just couldn’t let it go.” Or, “after I purchased it, I found a little flaw, but I got it at such a great sale that it not worth returning.” They tell themselves this until it is no longer possible to return the item and have to keep it – thus being out of their control.
It is such a common phenomena that psychologists have put a name to it. They call it cognitive bias. It is the way in which we ignore information that doesn’t support our perceived needs, enabling us to remain in a world of delusion, that is simply not real.
It is now a completely unfit person can win an election by delivering unreal promises with absolutely no intention of keeping them, but knows that is not what the voter, or consumer, wants to hear.
Buy Reality, Not Delusions
Everyone lives in a world of delusion to some degree. Perhaps you see clothing and rather than step back to consider if they will work with what is already in your closet, you begin to dream of all the places you could see yourself wearing whatever it is that you want to buy. Perhaps it’s a car that you picture yourself in, driving up to the valet at some chic restaurant or through the rough terrain of the desert or jungle. If it’s an apartment you think of the fascinating people you might entertain at all the fabulous dinners you never have. If it’s a gift for someone it may be to see the smile on their face once they open it.
At some point you forget that these scenarios are just fantasies you created for yourself. This is the moment sales people wait for. That point when they swoop in to confirm your dreams and help you complete your purchase. The problem is, these scenarios are delusions. They are not real, and when they don’t happen, you see that you have left the door to depression and suffering wide open. That is the moment when you leave the world of delusion and see reality in all its cold truth before you. Rarely is this a pleasant sight to see, so off you go again, daydreaming about your next purchase.
No, this does not mean you should not dream, or that you should not “fake it till you make it.” Just the opposite. It means you should dream. That your dreams are a wonderful and very real part of your necessary psyche. You can wish for more or better. You can and should push yourself to grow. Just do not lose yourself to the dream world you want so badly to be a part of your very real life. Fake it till you make it? Yes, just keep one foot firmly planted in reality so that you never lose sight of where you are.
Shopping is Not An Escape
One of the top reasons so many people love to shop is that they can escape their lives for a while. You can allow your imagination to run wild as you wander through a store or sales room. Just do not forget that at the end of the day, you will have to return to the world you are in, with or without the credit card bill you have acquired, and is that bill worth the dreaming you just enjoyed?
If only you stop for a moment before you put your credit card down. Or voted, or did anything. You could have enjoyed your dream without having to wake up to the real world that is all around you.
Allow yourself your fantasies and your dreams, they are a very healthy escape in the world we all live in. Just never lose sight of the real world that is all around you. Your landing will be so much easier when you do – free from the delusions that are so easy to get lost in.
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Unconditional Love, as versus conditional love, is so rare. Conditional Love is easy. I give you Love when you do something for me that I want you to do. You do the dishes, I kiss your cheek. I hold the door for you and you smile at me. You do something in the bedroom I enjoy. I return the favor. It is a give and take. At times I give more than I take. At others I receive more than I give.
But it is not give freely. There is a cost, a condition, to this kind of Love. Compliance. You will do what is expected of you if you are to receive the Love and attention you desire.
With unconditional Love there is no compliance. It is the act of simply giving. It is so rare, simply giving again and again and again. Not expecting anything in return, not asking for anything with one’s eyes or hands or heart – simply giving.
Can you imagine what this world would be like if everyone simply gave without expecting anything in return? It would be a world filled with Jesus’, Buddhas, Mohammads and Abrahams.
I have experienced unconditional Love on occasion. At my bedside, when my mother fed me ice chips when I could not sip from a cup. When my wife lifted me up when I toppled over in rehab, neither asking if I wanted it, each simply offering, helping and assisting without expecting anything in return. On the rare occasion that I turned it down, they simply accepted that without a word, and smiled with more Love for me.
It is the Love a mother gives to her child when going through labor or when nursing. It is Loving through the pain. It is the Love a father gives to his child when explaining why the world is the way it is, free from feeling his own pain or regret, or acknowledging if his own needs are being met. Simply being present to the needs of the growing consciousness that is before them.
Unconditional Love is about caring for someone else’s happiness without a thought to the needs of the self. It is about being fully awake and aware, being fully present to the world around you, the person in front of you, to yourself.
It is not an excuse to stay in a bad marriage or relationship. It is saying I love you no matter what happens to us, not I love you no matter what you do to me.
I will love you when the sun is shining or the skies are grey.
I will love you even when I have a horrible day.
I will love you even if you do not return my love.
I will not look for love elsewhere even if you do.
For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.
No matter what happens to us, I will Love you.
Because when I love you, I also love me.
I Love you no matter what conditions occur around us is unconditional Love.
Do not bother looking for it.
It will find you when you are ready to accept it.
If you want to feel unconditional Love simply open yourself up to it. It is all around you. It is within you.
Give it to yourself first. Hold yourself in your own heart unconditionally. Respect yourself, Love yourself, free yourself from those undermining comments you allow to fester within you. Free yourself from the self-loathing, the self-bashing you waste so much time on. All of that does nothing but distract you from the Love that is within you.
Once you see the Love within, you will begin to see the same unconditional Love within those around you. When you can feel the Love pass through you as you send it out unconditionally.
You will be amazed at what will transpire.
Not just with others, but within yourself.
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The Simple Truth is that many of you do not need meditation. you simply need to stop grasping.
Centuries ago, letting go was probably enough to bring calm into someone’s life. It was really all you needed to do to remove the stress that may have built up in your life. Life back then was pretty immediate, but there was simply not that much information moving back and forth to cause the kind of stress you have in the first few minutes of your day.
In today’s world, however, you are connected 24/7. You are overwhelmed with Megadata and microbytes. The level information spinning you comes in through all of your devices. The Simple Truth to it all is that most of it has little direct relevance to your life. The result is that you spend a lot of time on irrelevant topics and fail to actually live your life, in your way.
This year, make your life less about “Letting Go” and more about not rasping in the modern the first place. The simple truth is that most of the information coming across your screens is irrelevant. Most of it deals with subjects that will never effect your life.
Some of the rest may be important, but there is little, if anything, that you can do about it; no matter how hard you try. What remains is so distorted by the media that uncovering the truth is rarely worth the time and effort you will have to put in, in order to dig it out.
What this means for you is that if you truly want to find your own peace and calm, then stop grasping at the straws that inevitably fly by. Why hold onto opinions from pundits so that you can “Let it Go” later on. Stop carrying all of this information around with you. It will only add weight to your already complex life.
In the short-term it will prevent you from being nimble and able to move quickly. In the long -term it will wear you out and exhaust you. Either way, stop grasping at straws. Simply before those straws become issues you now need to Let Go of.
Teach yourself to live with an appreciation of the present moment you are in. Train yourself to see the information that is out there, but to ignore the distractions that are all around you. Do not put on the blinders all together, but recognize what is relevant so that you are free to focus on the things that effect your life directly.
Once you are able to do that you can begin to expand your sphere of information and to begin taking on additional topics when you are ready.
It is okay to admit you cannot do it all. Nobody can. There is simply too much going on in today’s world for your brain to handle it all, and that is okay.
When you stop grasping, you will no longer need to let go. Better still, you will be free from the weight of all that irrelevant information you now have in that baggage we call life.
Do not look back. Look Forward to School, to Work, and to Life.
The holidays are over, so it 2015. It’s time to face 2016 with elation, excitement, and energy.
If those feelings are not there, meditate for a moment but no too long. If there is some trepidation, do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed. Turn that knot into a fiery ball of energy from within and without.
Know that some loose ends will never get tied up. Simply assess the hand you have been dealt and move on – past the loose threads that are left behind.
Better still, use them to plot your course for the year ahead. Take one step in the direction you want to go. Do not over think the year past or the year ahead.
Life does not come with a cleanly pressed hem. Life presents a rough edge that it is tattered and frayed. It is up to you to accept that as the beauty that is found in the imperfections that is.
Take one small step in the direction you want to go. Reflect on where it is leading you. Find the inevitability on where your path leads. If an opportunity comes, take it. If it moves you in the right direction, stay with it. If it doesn’t spread out your hands and find another path to follow.
Forget about those big resolutions you used to make. They will only end in disappointment. Forget about setting goals for the physical world you may never meet – there is too much going on outside to take it all on your shoulders.
Instead, focus on how you want to maintain yourself. Focus on your intentions, on how you want to live your life, how you want to be known, or how you want to look back at the end of 2016 and realize how you want to see yourself.
This past Saturday I practiced yoga for the first time in two weeks – it helped align my muscles.
Yesterday morning I enjoyed a walking meditation along the Hudson River – it helped align my mind.
Yes, the birds do sing along the Hudson. Yes there are quiet places in the middle of the world’s largest metropolis. It simply depends on where you decide to place your attention and what you decide to focus your attention on.
This post is a story of what you can do when you place your attention on a single point of focus, and where that focus can take you.
Both practices, the yoga and the walking meditation, were the first time I was able to abide them since I had a rather massive seizure on September 20th. It knocked me down and took me out for several weeks. There was no convulsions. There was a simple shutdown as my brain experienced an overload and quietly rebooted itself.
In between these events, the September seizure and my walking meditation, I have floated in a muddle of missed connections and forgotten streets, of thoughts that have gone unexpressed, and of the constant reminder that the human experience is a glorious thing to behold.
Throughout it all, I knew the information was in there, I was just unable to access it. The process of which has been a process of breathing and patience, of stopping in silence, interrupted by flashes of knowledge as my brain awakened itself.
It has been a path of following the tried and true, interrupted by frantic thoughts and the need to quiet my mind, of getting lost in a city in a well laid-out grid, of waiting on random corners as my neurons settled down, of not moving until my sense of space and direction returned to me. Of getting lost in time on a park bench, blankly contemplating a leaf in empty silence until something sparked a memory in the back of my brain and stirred my mind to life.
On September 20th, the last coherent text I sent out was at 4:39 in the afternoon. After that my wife received a call from a stranger at 6:49, telling her I was sitting in our lobby, unresponsive and not moving. Unseen by either of them, the electrical pulses in my brain had quietly lapsed as it seized.
During this time, my brain was reducing the input, shutting down my sight and my hearing as it went through its own reboot. My sight closed in on me, reducing my field of vision to a very narrow band of light. My hearing began to fail as my brain, the good computer that it is, shut off the sounds that overwhelmed it a short while before. My fingers tingled and went numb as my sole focus was to painstakingly scroll through my phone to my wife’s number in the hopes that I could find someone to dial it before everything went dark.
What usually takes seconds took me well over an hour that afternoon – all with the thought of preparing for the chance passing of a stranger.
If I could have spoken intelligibly, I knew what I would have said, but the words and thoughts were trapped deep in my mind at this point, unable to be expressed. So I sat down on the stone steps of the lobby, resigned to setting things up; remembering, forgetting, taking each step one at a time before forgetting and having to reverse direction once again, reminding myself what it was I was trying to do – prep my phone so that I could hand it to a stranger and point to the dial button.
This was how I spent the seventy minutes between those two points of contact.
I remember the conversation going on inside my head. One voice saying “this could take for hours,” the other voice saying, “Well, it’s not like we’re going anywhere anytime soon, so just breathe and focus, and move as smoothly as you can so you don’t make any mistakes.”
It was a meditation of remembering, of forgetting, of focusing and of letting go.
As luck would have it I saw movement somewhere in the lobby. I tried to speak and showed him the screen of my phone. I may have said the word “wife” but I am not sure if that is what made it out.
He called her from his phone before realizing his phone was a stranger’s number to her, and he pushed the send button on mine.
In minutes I began to hear the wail of sirens as the ambulance raced my wife for the lobby to take me to the Emergency Room at NYU.
Collapse & Recovery
My seizures are somewhat unique in a way. They are the result of 9 brain surgeries that have removed more than 20 tumors in as many years, as well as a few rounds of radiation that have left my brain swollen and angry.
It is not that I lose consciousness of what was going on around me. I am actually hyper-aware of the input coming in – I am just unable to process it into anything meaningful. I can walk up to a door, I know that on the other side of this door is my destination, but I am unable to understand how the door works. I can see the key in my hand, but I have no idea how to fit it into the keyhole, let alone to turn it in order to open the door.
In this case I was able to make it into the lobby of our building, but that was about as far as I could get. So, there I sat, in a stupor, patiently abiding my breath as I gave myself up to the actions of those around me, trusting they would do the right thing.
In so many ways these seizures remind me of the inherent kindness and goodness that is within us all. It would have been so easy for someone to grab my wallet, my mobile, or to shuffle me off to some nightmare scenario that screenwriters are so quick to turn into a blockbuster. But this has never happened.
Not once in all my experiences has anyone ever done anything other than to help, to assist, to see me through. For that I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally optimistic that the human experience is not one based on hate or anger or fear, but on love and compassion and understanding. That it is within each of us to reach out and lift up those who are in need, as has happened to me again and again and again.
This seizure followed a fairly predictable pattern. I was running a number errands and had forgotten to take my Keppra – an anti-seizure drug. I dehydrated myself and skipped lunch which lowered my electrolytes and blood sugar, in order to get one more errand done. I put myself in what I call the danger zone, by adding level of stress to the whole situation, until I ran into a market that was loud and crowded and bright with more food choices than you could ever hope to see, and that is what flipped the switch. It over-stimulated my senses with brighter lights and jostling people and more noise than I could handle; and that is when my brain just said enough.
When then the seizure starts, it comes on pretty quickly. The signs give me perhaps a thirty or forty minute warning. It is like watching my brain shut down the inputs so that it can reboot. My field of vision quickly diminishes to create a tunnel. I begin to see flashing lights. My hearing begins to dim, and I get a numbness and tingling in my fingers and toes.
On this occasion I determined I had enough time to get home.
As I focused on the streets I knew it would not be long until my speech become unintelligible. I also knew I would start forgetting how to make the connections we all take for granted – like how to use a key in a door, how to take an elevator upstairs, or how to make a cell phone work. It is the funny thing about my seizures, I conceptually understand what something does, I simply cannot for the life of me make the connections that are necessary to make it work.
It’s kind of like being a car without a driver. The engine is idles just fine, but it’s not going anywhere without someone turning the wheel or stepping on the gas, let alone being ready to step on the brake.
In some cases if I catch it in time, I can stop the seizure by taking a cold shower to lower my body temperature, drinking an electrolyte replacement designed for marathoners called Skratch, or meditating to quiet down my brain’s activity. I can even nap for a few hours, or collapse into a deep unmoving sleep, until things seem to return to a normal path of recovery.
Needless to say, this time I missed that window of opportunity.
Instead, I felt the growing disassociation with the world as it shrunk in around me as I headed home, key in hand. I remember putting myself on as direct a path as possible. It was only a few blocks to our loft, not even ten minutes, but by the time I got to our front door, I wasn’t sure how to use the key that was in my hand in the lock.
I knew what was going on, so I stopped and breathed and settled things down. I focused on my breath until a connection was pulled together and slowly slid the key in, turning it, and opening the door.
In front of me was the steel door of the elevator that would take me to our loft. I knew what the elevator was for, but by this time I could not sync up the concept of the elevator with the idea of how to operate it [i.e., put the key in the lock, turn the key and push the button for the right floor].
I also somehow knew having my wife find me collapsed in the apartment would be less desirable than accosting someone in the lobby and getting them to call her. Don’t ask me how, but this is the way my brain works in times like these.
So I sat inside the lobby with my keys in my hand and waited. My vision continued to degrade into a very narrow band of light, into which I scrolled my phone one step at a time. I remember thinking to myself, “this is just like yoga, one movement for each breath. Slow and steady,” with the idea that if I could set everything up, if someone came in, if I could catch their attention, I could just push send and give them the phone.
As you already know, a neighbor eventually did come in. I managed to garble out the idea for him to use my phone to call my wife. How he understood I have no idea, but he made the call.
Alex, I thank you for that.
06:49 – Laura sent a text that she was on her way down and calling 911
Into the ER at NYU
I remember sitting there, sweating and listening to the sirens as they approached. Alex stayed with me until the ambulance arrived. I acutely aware of my head hanging down as I focused on my breath. I was aware of everything going on around me, without placing too much attention on any one detail. It was as if my brain was absorbing the events in a very distracted way. It was detached, but taking it all in, as if floating just beneath the surface of a lagoon, watching what was going on above the surface without being able to interact with it; calm and serene.
I could not see the EMT when they came into the lobby, but remember hearing them. I was trying to say something, but realized whatever I was saying made no sense. I knew what I wanted to say, but could not get the words out, so I just let it go and let them handle the situation.
I could feel them moving me this way and that, strapping me onto a stretcher and loading me out the door. It occurred to me that this was what Stephen Hawkins must feel like. Able to take in the world around him, observing and noting from afar, without the ability to interact.
Laura climbed into the ambulance and told them NYU, and off we went. The ride itself was a benign trip through which I closed my eyes. I felt safe, knowing that from this point on, everything would be fine.
When I opened my eyes, it was to the noises and lights of the ER. We had arrived at the NYU Medical Center where the doctors have had me on file for decades. The orderlies were taking vitals and placing electrodes on my chest and head. The nurses were securing IVs into my arms. There was nothing for me to do but lie there and breathe. Everything that could be managed was being managed. I was stable.
When I woke, it was to the flashlight of a nurse checking the dilation of my eyes. It wasn’t great, but they would get better.
The key difference between my seizures and the seizures caused by something like epilepsy, is that in my case, it is all about the buildup. I hover in the yellow-zone for hours until something pushes me over the edge. I get over-stimulated by some trigger, my brain gets overloaded and simply says enough as it starts to shutdown.
After the seizure occurs, the event is over. There are no follow-up seizures. It’s a one-time event before my brain goes into repair mode, busying itself as it re-establishes the neural connections it once mapped my life to. There are no cascading of electrical impulses where the brain continues to misfire. I am not sent down into a series of seizure after seizure after seizure. And yes, I consider myself extremely lucky in this sense.
It took a day or two of observation for the doctors to confirm that my brain’s activity had normalized, after which they saw little reason to keep me. In effect, releasing me on my own recognizance.
The Road Back
What I have learned over the various surgeries and seizures that I have had, is that the physical brain is a truly remarkable organ. Not only does it have millions of connections that not only keep the body alive, but it reorders those connections every second of every day in an infinite number of combinations to create the thoughts and dreams we call the mind.
It also reprioritizes the way in which those connections are put together, in order to better respond to the world around us. A London taxi driver’s hypocampus, the area responsible for mapping and directions is heavier and more deeply folded than yours or mine. It is a survival skill they need having to drive through the more than 10,000 streets of London that have been built up over the past several thousand years – few of which follow any kind of a grid pattern.
I was reminded of this as I began to look out the window of our apartment at the streets of Soho in Manhattan. This is the haphazard area that was laid down before the grid on Manhattan was established. No right angles. No first, second, third or fourth. Instead it is a mishmash of Spring and Mercer, Prince and Wooster, it was this pattern that I needed to access before I could leave the loft.
The amazing part of relearning the streets is that the harder I tried to picture them, the more difficult it was to do so. Instead, the more I relaxed, that more I let go, the quicker the image of the streets would come to me.
On the one day I went out thinking I would wander around the reacquaint myself with the neighborhood, I got lost within half a block. I could not remember what was North or South, East or West, uptown or downtown. I had to stop against a building and breathe for several minutes until I slowly realized where I was, and more important, where our loft was.
That was enough to send me back home for a very long nap.
On my second trip out, I thought of taking a different approach. I would take a left out of the apartment and stick to one street. As I walked down the street I read the signs as they begin to spark my memory. I could feel my brain make the familiar connections that were already there.
After several days of this I begin to visualize a grid around me. It was only a few blocks, but I begin to remember the names of the streets several blocks away. I even began to see the stores on the next block as if they were appearing out of some recess in my memory.
In between, there were moments of standing on a corner for minutes on end, unwilling to go any further until my brain could catch up with where I was. I was taking baby steps, allowing my brain to familiarize itself with the neural network it had slowly established over decades.
As my brain mapped the streets of the city, I could feel other aspects of my mind coming online. I learned it helped to put everything in a very specific place, and to not take any shortcuts. Life became easier when I was able to create familiar patterns that I could return to. As these patterns established themselves within my head, I could expand upon them more easily.
The moment I took a shortcut, was the moment I would get lost or confused, and have to take several steps backwards before starting over.
My conversation begin to get tighter. My writing became crisper. I could even remember the focus of a paragraph from the time I started and finished writing it. Oh, and autocorrect no longer confuses me by misspelling my words.
/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/JeffCannonLogo.png00jeffcannon/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/JeffCannonLogo.pngjeffcannon2015-10-07 12:47:042020-04-29 16:38:54Meditations & Seizures to Recovery - Seizure Pt I