Pedaling for Peace

On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I continued volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. As of August 9th, 2014 I began"Stage III" of my cross-country adventure, this time heading south from Santa Barbara to San Diego and then east to El Paso, TX. It was there that illness, winter weather, and diminishing resources brought that leg of my journey to an end. After staying with another friend in Columbus, GA for several months, I moved "back home" to Kentucky to stay with my dad for a while and build a better "resource base" for future endeavors including review and further tracking and primitive survival skills training at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School , and a possible longer tour of the east coast, northern tier, and north west coast back down to Santa Barbara, CA.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts on a Boston Globe article "When did parents get so scared?"

Hi, Everyone!

I know it's been a while. Of late I have been trying to figure out what I am going to do with the rest of my life! As I have been living with my friend in Columbus, GA, in exchange for room and board, I have become the "house manager" - taking care of food prep, dish washing, laundry, pet care, etc., while he and his oldest daughter, who is also living with us now, focus their attention on college.

I've also been continuing my own "studies" including Sam Harris' first book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Patricia Churchland's textbook, Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of Mind-Brain. In addition, most recently, I have been in contact with Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, Improvisation Coordinator at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in Stony Brook, New York. Since I saw Alan Alda give his presentation at the National Institutes of Health when I worked there, I have been thinking the improvisation classes would be of benefit for the NAPF Peace Leadership Workshops as well. In the course of talking with Valeri, she explained that there was a position being added to the program for which I might qualify and I let her know of my interest. I'm not anticipating anything to happen right away, but given my history, I could definitely imagine working for them! In the mean time, I still have my boxes to finish sorting through here in Columbus, and at least one or more yard sales on the horizon.

This article, When Did Parents Get So Scared?, came to me via Gregory Caremans from whom I took the Master Your Brain: Neuroscience for Personal Development course via Udemy not so long ago. It was associated with another of his courses, Neuroscience for Parents: How to Raise Amazing Kids. Since I was even more overprotected than most as a child, given my mother's mental illness, I have very personal experience to relate to this article. However, what I'd like to add is what I have learned more recently about everyone's tendencies toward negative bias.

Rick Hanson writes about negative bias in his book, Buddha's Brain: Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. I came to understand his ideas through the Brain Smart webinar lecture series presented by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. He explained that the brain has a specific area in which it registers negative experiences, especially those that may be life threatening. Where our lives were once more directly threatened by predators, etc. in the wild, many of us today feel just as threatened when our beliefs and points of view are challenged. In other words, it is our "identities" that are at stake, not just our physical lives. Thus, negative experiences can take many different forms other than just threats to our physical well-being.

Furthermore, as I also learned from Paul K. Chappell, the most common human phobia is being attacked by another human being and the media focuses its attention on such negative stories because it knows we will, too. The above article makes the point that now that we can access media coverage from all over the world, we can be impacted indirectly by negative experiences far more often than we would ever actually be impacted directly. Unfortunately, this just exaggerates our negative bias that much more and, according to this article, there seems to be a growing generational effect.

From my own study of childhood development, especially from reading The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, Stages of Faith by James Fowler, and The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, I came to an understanding of how young children especially tend to internalize the directives they receive from adults as if all of them were a matter of life or death. As Lipton points out, these messages get programmed into the deep subconscious through the various "hypnogogic" states that infants and young children are in up until the age of six or so. Again, in a more primitive environment, knowing what tracks to follow and what tracks to avoid, what plants were edible and what plants were poisonous, really were matters of life or death. Nevertheless, that is not the case in modern society when it comes to having the latest technology or wearing a particular brand of tennis shoes! I dare say there are children out there who do harbor deep rooted fears that their very lives actually depend on such things! (I've written more about this here.)

It is part of the challenge of our now much more complex society to find ways of mediating the effects of this constant bombardment of information - being able to recognize what is actually relevant to life or death or happiness, for that matter, and what is not. Although society has grown so much more complex, our brains, especially the lower limbic parts, are struggling to keep up. As Rick Hanson points out though, there are ways to combat the problem: We have to learn to very, very consciously and deliberately pay more attention to positive experiences! In addition, from Brené Brown's point of view, when we are inclined to "forebode joy" in any given moment, our best defense is to consciously choose to Be Grateful for each moment of joy that we do get to experience.

As Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith..., and I would offer, this applies to each of us as individuals as well as to our children:

You [or your child] could die at any moment. You might not even live to see the end of this paragraph. Not only that, you will definitely die at some moment in the future. If being prepared for death entails knowing when and where it will happen, the odds are you will not be prepared.... And as if this were not insult enough, most of us suffer the quiet discomposure, if not frank unhappiness, of our neuroses in the meantime. We love our family and friends, are terrified of losing them, and yet are not the least free merely to love them while our short lives coincide. (Page 37)

I would offer, as well, love is not the opposite of fear. Faith is the opposite of fear - that is the kind of faith that Sam Harris talks about, not faith in a system of unjustified beliefs, but rather faith in the Greater Processes of Life in this World that we are coming to understand. This kind of faith is what can help us transcend our fear and keep our hearts open to loving and appreciating every moment that we have with one another, every moment that we have with our children, and every moment we get to experience joy!

Each of us will eventually die. Some of our closest friends and relatives will die before us. Some will die after us. This is one thing that is certain for our physical bodies, in this lifetime. (What one chooses to believe beyond that is up to them.) However, I, for one, have come to believe This Is It! This is the one life each of us has to live and for parents, it is the one life they will shape for each of their children, for better or worse. Will those children live their lives cowering in fear or will we teach them, as Brené Brown suggests, to "Dare Greatly"?

Having lived both sides of that dichotomy, I would definitely recommend the latter!

To end I will quote from the movie "Strictly Ballroom":

A life lived in fear is only half lived!