Monthly Archives: July 2009

Live Long and Prosper

The quality of our connection to one another is the #1 determinant of how long and how well we live. Science first learned of the biological power of relationship back in the early 1960’s from the people of Roseto, Pennsylvania.  Since then, a mountain of research has validated what researchers found there.  It’s an amazing story.

Forty odd years ago, medical researchers were drawn to Roseto, Pennsylvania by a bewildering statistic that defied medical logic. Rosetans were nearly immune to the primary stress-related disease that is the number one cause of death in America – heart disease. Over a seven year period, no Roseto men under 47 had died of a heart attack and the community had half the national death rate. This made no sense, given that most of the men smoked, drank heavily, eat a high fat diet, were poor and did back breaking work in the rock quarry.

The researchers could find not biological, genetic or environment reason for their happy prognosis. Then the researchers stumbled across social factors that illuminated something about the character of the people. First, they discovered that there was zero crime rate in Roseto and no one on public welfare, even though the community was poor.

The researchers also found that the people were unusually vivacious. “These people,” the report stated, are “happy, boisterous and unpretentious. They are simple, warm and very hospitable.” Most striking to the researchers was the genuinely positive regard they held for one another: “When the researchers took a closer look, they found that Rosetans took pride in taking care of their families. Nearly all the homes contained three generations and elders were held in high regard. Mealtimes were much more than a matter of eating. It was a time for the family to gather and to strengthen intergenerational ties. Community events were also common in Roseto. In warm weather, villagers took evening strolls and dropped in to visit one another.

As they became more affluent, children went off to college or moved away and the community lost its cohesion. In 1971, the village recorded its first death from coronary disease of a person under the age of 45. The traditional communal experience that enabled people to live longer, healthier lives had eroded. One of the young people who left the village for the big city stated, “I’m sorry we moved; everything is modern here and we have everything we need, except people.

THRIVING OR DYING

Study after study in the last forty years has corroborated what the researchers found in Roseto. It is now a fact. We thrive or fail to thrive based on our quality of connection to others. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University relates a story about a boy who was severely abused, emotionally and physically. After he became a ward of the court it was discovered that he had zero growth hormone in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down his growth system, threatening his life.

He was hospitalized, and over the next two months he developed a close relationship with the nurse at the hospital-undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever had. To everyone’s amazement, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. When his friend, the nurse, went on vacation the boy ‘s levels dropped back to zero, rising once more immediately after her return.”

“Think about it,” Sapolsky commented. “The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.”

MIRROR NEURONS

We are neurally constructed to connect with one another. The neural network most responsible for achieving our state of connectedness is the mirror neuron system. This mirroring is the neural mechanism by which we can read the minds of other people and empathize with them. “Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person’s mental shoes,” stated Marco Iacoboni of UCLA School of Medicine. “In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend; we practically are in another person’s mind.

Neurons track the emotional flow, body language, tone of voice, and even the intentions of the person we are with. It explains emotional contagion, instant rapport, instant dislike, and how we play off of one anther. It is why my hostility bumps up your blood pressure and your show of respect lowers mine. It is why biologically, friends are healing, enemies are toxic.

IN BUSINESS

The Gallup Organization surveyed hundred of companies and found that seven factors determined sustainability; meaning how long a company would exist. Four of the seven factors related to interpersonal strength.

The medical prescription for a long  and successful life is simple, connect with people.  Staying connected is simple but not always easy.  It involves

  • Listening better,
  • Judging less,
  • Forgiving more, and
  • Loving unconditionally.

As Bob Dylan said in a song: “Love is all there is.  It makes the world go round.  Love and only love; it can’t be denied.  No matter what you think about it, you just won’t be able to do without it.  Take a tip from one who tried.”

Peace On The Inside Makes Us Larger Than What’s Happening Outside, Even In This Economy

A Dialogue between Don and “Joey”

Joey: You said in one of your blog posts that stress is mostly “fearful thinking that stirs up a perception of threat, often where no real threat exists.” Right?

Don Joseph Goewey: Right.

Joey: Well, that’s all fine and good, but I am barely making it in the world. I have lost my job and don’t know if I will be able to keep my house. I don’t even know in this economy if I will ever be able to find work. Isn’t that a REAL threat, a REAL danger? And if so, then this book or work won’t really help me. Right?

Don: The approach in the book can help you, especially with the situation you described. But first let me say that my heart goes out to you. I understand how you feel. I’ve been there. Years ago, I had a high powered job at Stanford Medical School. I had worked hard, climbing the career ladder and thought I was headed for even greater things. Then one day the world came crashing down on me. My boss and I didn’t see eye to eye and I got fired. Nine days later I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was married with four children and I had a high mortgage payment that unemployment insurance or disability couldn’t possibly cover.

Joey: Really?

Don: Yes. The doctors told me to prepare for a paralyzed face, being half deaf, and using a walker to navigate across the room. I thought at that time: Who is going to hire an executive who staggers into the interview on a walker, speaks out of a half frozen face that drools, and has to ask “What?” a lot because he can’t hear that well. Especially, a guy who had just been fired. All the signs said “You and your family are doomed. You’re all headed for the poor house.”

To make matters worse, my marriage, which was already in trouble, was falling apart. All the stress and fear just widened the cracks that were already there. I have never felt more lost and more alone and more afraid and more stressed than at that time of my life.

Joey: So how did this thing you call Mystic Cool help?

Don: I had a kind of awakening. It was a moment of epiphany at that dark hour of my life. I described the event in my book. The short version is that I saw with clarity that the extreme stress I was experiencing had more to do with the way I was seeing things through fearful eyes than anything happening to me. It was like my eyes were wired back to some part of my brain that was locked into fight of flight. It made fearful eyes that saw a threatening world. And I felt the damage this way of seeing was doing to me: to my brain, my body, my career, my relationships — to my entire existence.

Joey: I think I know what you mean. It’s the trouble caused by a troubled mind.

Don: Yes, well put. I think it’s how a troubled past and probably some bad genes wire the brain for fear. Because of it, I couldn’t perform well, I couldn’t see opportunities that were there or make the moves I should have been making, or even face the handwriting that was on the wall. I was too afraid to look. I felt lousy physically. I was fatigued and lackluster. I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that when I wasn’t angry, I was depressed. My relationships were strained because I was hard to be around. I felt like a victim and victims are not good company.

All these negatives were indications that stress and fear had taken control of my brain. Then, in the middle of a kind of breakdown, I saw it all with penetrating clarity. I saw that the cause of my stress and fear was internal not external. It was something that was happening in me, far more than something that was happening to me. As I said, I saw that the stress and fear I was experiencing was a choice.

Joey: How did seeing all that help you?

Don: Because I also saw with absolute clarity that peace was also a choice. It was the choice I was not making. I discovered that I could actually choose to be at peace even in the middle of all these hard circumstances. As I did, I discovered that peace made me powerful. It made me larger than what was happening to me. Peace gave me that “calm under siege.” It also opened the door to that mystical zone that athletes, artists and scientists talk about, where we gained the clarity, insight and joy that enables us to excel. I saw that peace was the polar opposite of stress. Time disappears. Intelligence flows. It’s like the dots connect themselves. Peace gave me that power, and I began to think that peace was powerful enough to change all the dire circumstances I faced.

Joey: Did you?

Don: Yes, it was the change that changed everything in my life. I was finding out, in real life terms, that what Plutarch said two thousand years ago was 100% correct: Plutrach said that what we achieve inwardly changes outer reality. The surgery was a huge success with none of the disability that was predicted. I got my job back or actually I was offered a better job in the medical school. My wife and I divorced but it was for the best. These outcomes were all related to my shift in attitude.

Joey: Do you think attitude makes a difference in what actually happens? I find that hard to believe.

Don: It’s more than an opinion, Joey. Science has laid to rest any doubts about the power of attitude. The motivational posters are right: attitude is everything. In my book I lay out the research that supports that statement. Eventually, I left Stanford and started to work with people facing some of the most stressful situations any of us will ever face — from people faced with life threatening illnesses, to parents who had lost children, to inmates at San Quentin, to refugees of the Bosnian War who had lost everything. Together, we taught each other how to transcend stress by letting go of fear and to live from the powerful heart and mind that builds a dynamic attitude. It’s the attitude all the saints and entrepreneurs tell us about … the attitude that can achieve the miraculous in this world, even in the face of dire circumstances.

Joey: Well, maybe you just got lucky.

Don: My experience tells me that looking at life through the fearless self-confidence of peace, instead of the stressful self-doubt of fear is what brings you “luck.” The great American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, said “Attitude is more important than facts.” Viktor Frankl, the father of Existential Psychology, is living proof of that. He was a Holocaust survivor. It doesn’t get worse than Auschwitz. He said it was attitude that often determined who survived that horror and who didn’t. “The last of human freedoms,” he said, “is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” Frankl said that attitude gives us the power to make a victory of difficult circumstances, turning life into an inner triumph. He said that even in the face of the Na
zi’s brutality and deprivation it was possible for one’s spiritual life to deepen.

Frankl scolded people who viewed him and other Holocaust survivors as special. He wanted us to understand his life as a demonstration of what is potential in all of us. He understood that we’re all capable of living an attitude that makes us larger than what’s happening to us.

Joey: Yes, but isn’t it hard to be peaceful in the middle of things falling apart?

Don: Sometimes it is. At times, life seems to go to hell in a hand basket. We can restore our peace of mind at those times with compassion for ourselves and maybe a little humor. It’s not about being perfect. Perfectionism is Type-A behavior after all. It can give you a heart attack. We need to keep remembering that a bad day doesn’t change the fact that a dynamically peaceful attitude makes us powerful.
If we have a bad day we can remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said this:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

If everyday things are a little better, a little more harmonious, a little more health giving and joyous; if each day we are expressing more life, we are going in the right direction. That’s all we need to know.

Joey: You make it sound so simple.

Don: Mercifully, growing inner peace couldn’t be simpler. We just got to want it enough to practice it enough to show us how sweet peace makes our life. Then the motivation to build on it grows exponentially. Nothing is more motivating than positive results and there is no more positive result than inner peace. It’s pure power, we just don’t get it. But we can. When you find that freedom, you become the most powerful person on Earth.

Joey: So that is what Mystic Cool delivers?

Don: Yes. It provides the proof that neurologically, biologically, psychologically and spiritually what’s in you is much larger than the problem that’s happening to you. The aim of my book is to give the reader a way to experience and then live from that powerful attitude.

Mystic Cool is about going through a difficult time without fear, without torturing yourself with fearful brain storms. It’s even downsizing your life if you have to, and still have peace in your heart and joy in your attitude. It’s learning, from experience, how peace lights up the brain to release the genius that only you possess so it can flow into the joy of excelling. When it does, you can move mountains. Mystic Cool is about bringing on that ordinary genius to serve you, not just now and then, but every day. Not just when times are good but also when times are tough.

Joey: And you think I’m capable of that.

Don: You are capable of that, Joey. Everyone is. No question about it, except when we’re afraid and stressed.

The Most Powerful Healing Force In The World – Part 1

Part 1: The Science Behind This Statement Is Extensive

Robert Sapolsky of Stanford relates a story about a boy from a psychologically abusive setting, who was hospitalized with zero growth hormones in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down the body’s growth system, threatening his life. Over the next two months the boy developed a close relationship with the nurse at the hospital—undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever had—and soon, amazingly enough, his growth hormone level zoomed back to normal. However, when the nurse went on vacation, the boy’s blood level dropped again. Then, immediately on her return, his blood level bounced back to normal. “Think about it,” Sapolsky commented. “The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.”

The research of Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers into the biochemical, neurological, and social foundations of love has led her to conclude that love is not an emotion; it is a drive more powerful than the sex drive, emanating from the engine of the brain.

Mirror Neurons
The neural network most responsible for achieving our state of connectedness is the mirror neuron system. This cluster of nerve cells was discovered in 1996 in an experiment conducted on macaque monkeys. Researchers observed on brain scans that a specific cluster of brain cells fired in the frontal lobe of a monkey when it grabbed a peanut. The curious thing was that in another monkey, who was watching the first monkey grab the peanut, the same cluster of cells fired. The cells seemed to reflect the actions of the other monkey almost like a mirror reflects one’s image. As the researchers investigated further, it became easy for them to predict which specific neurons would fire based on the activity performed by one monkey and observed by another. The scientists dubbed this cluster of cells mirror neurons.

In humans, the mirror neuron system is highly developed. It provides the neural mechanism by which we are able to read each other and feel empathy. “With mirror neurons [we are] practically in another person’s mind,” states Dr. Marco Iacoboni of UCLA. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, writes, “Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, movement, and even intentions of the person we are with, and replicate this sensed state in our own brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active in the other person. Mirror neurons offer a neural mechanism that explains emotional contagion, the tendency of one person to catch the feelings of another, particularly if strongly expressed. This brain-to-brain link may also account for feelings of rapport, which research finds depend in part on extremely rapid synchronization of people’s posture, vocal pacing, and movements as they interact.” Goleman points out that mirror neurons work both ways. My hostility bumps up your blood pressure; your nurturing love lowers mine. Biologically, friends are healing, enemies are toxic. This explains why the research of Fred Luskin at Stanford has shown, over and over, that a willingness to forgive reduces serious health risks.

A Person-Centered Approach
The psychological approach that maps to the way mirror neurons achieve interpersonal resonance is the person-centered approach, formulated by Carl R. Rogers, Ph.D. Rogers’ approach is one of the most scientifically validated approaches in psychology, earning him a nomination for the Nobel Prize. The three essential conditions he established are now at the core of nearly every form of psychotherapy, communication, conflict resolution, community building, and education.

The Most Powerful Healing Force In The World – Part 2

Part 2: The Three Indispensable Conditions for Positive Relationships

Carl Rogers formulated three indispensable conditions that must be present to create a climate of growth and resonance in a relationship. These conditions apply in any and all relationships, whether it is lover or friend, therapist and client, parent and child, leader and group, teacher and student, or management and staff. The conditions apply, in fact, in any situation in which the development of the person is a goal.

1. Genuineness
The first condition is genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more a person is him or herself in the relationship, presenting no professional front or personal facade, the greater the likelihood for resonance and connection. This requires that we be aware of and open to the feelings and attitudes flowing within us as we relate to another. The term transparent catches the essence of this condition: we are willing to make ourselves transparent to the other person so the other person can clearly see what we are in the relationship. There is no holding back. There is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed.

2. Acceptance
The second attitude of importance in creating a climate for connection is acceptance and caring, or what Rogers called unconditional positive regard. He refrained from using the word love to define this condition, but love is what it is. By love, I mean a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the other person is at that moment. We are willing for the other person to be whatever he or she is experiencing, whether confusion, resentment, fear, anger, courage, pride, kindness, or compassion. We value the other in a total rather than a conditional way.

3. Empathic Understanding
The third facilitative quality of the relationship is empathic understanding. Being empathic is to perceive the point of view of another with accuracy, along with the emotional components and meanings. It means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he or she senses it and to perceive the causes of the feelings as he or she perceives them. It is to enter another’s private world so completely that we lose all desire to evaluate and judge it. “This kind of sensitive, active listening is exceedingly rare in our lives,” Rogers stated. “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change [in a relationship] that I know.”

Resonance proceeds from an accepting, empathic, and honest way of being in a relationship. This way of relating arises naturally in the absence of judging, advising, admonishing, ordering, or directing. It helps us to get in touch with our actual feelings and experience so we can become more real, less distorted, and ultimately achieve a close match between the person we strive to be and the person we are. Resonance means we are alive in the present moment, attuned to its ebbs and flows, open to a state of becoming; rather than being fixed on who or what we think we should be, or how another person should be.

How Mirror Neurons Come Into Play
The more a person feels accepted and prized, the more they tend to develop a more caring attitude toward themselves. Our acceptance literally mirrors in their brain as self-acceptance.
As a person is empathetically heard, it becomes possible for them to listen more accurately to the flow of their own inner experience. Our listening mirrors as self-understanding.

As a person understands and prizes him or herself, he or she becomes more congruent, in ways that feel real, grounded and genuine. Our willingness to be authentic with another mirrors within them as the courage to be authentically who they are.

When all three attitudes are present in a relationship, resonance is inevitable. This is because inevitably, it shifts the question from how can I change or fix this person to how can I provide a relationship which this person might use for personal growth?

Who doesn’t want a relationship with a person like that?