Can We Become Indigenous?
I coach leaders for a living. Almost all of them have spent more time in school than me. As a proud college dropout I took my education into my own hands decades ago. I took ownership of the information that enters my mind and the values that I assign to it. This has made me a bit of a weirdo; a necessity when people come to you for a new perspective.
I struggle in classrooms. I zone out. I read the texts before the class gets to them. I prefer to think orthogonally. I take carefully selected tangents and then trace them back as a source of illumination. I go down rabbit holes. I find the source material the authors studied and use it to dissect the thinking that the teacher is presenting. I learned to bite my tongue in classrooms. I learned to sleep.
Being out of sync with the status quo can be a super power. I do most of my learning alone, with a stack of books, via Google, and then with hundreds of clients who help me test ideas in the real world. Every coaching session leads me down new avenues of exploration. What I learn I bring back to my clients to test in the real world. What is WISDOM, but knowledge applied?
Last week I was on Zoom with 20+ coaches and two outstanding teachers getting certified in The Leadership Circle Profile (LCP). For the past decade I have looked down my nose at assessments. Most seem more capable of illuminating the past and reifying existing patterns than pointing out developmental paths tailored to the individual. This is the best tool I have seen. It is data driven, deeply rooted in developmental psychology, capable of illuminating shadow, and points towards nuanced growth areas as well as problem ones. The worldwide data base is rigorous and well tested. Most of all, it is deeply contextual. The test does not provide facts, but potential inquiries to be explored with a leader and their team.
Because I am me, I did not learn most of how I will apply the LCP while in class. I spent a full day with one of the creators, Bob Anderson, a couple of months ago. In anticipation of that, I bought his book. Once I read that, I bought a half dozen books from the primary thinkers who inspired his model. Many of the others I knew fairly well. I then heard a second hour long presentation by Bob. All of that was a deep dive prior to the class. The real fun comes from the orthogonal exploration and the practical application. Let’s start orthogonally.
The week of the program I was reading Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta. It’s amazing. Tyson “is an academic, an arts critic, and a researcher who belongs to the Apalech clan in far north Queensland, Australia.” This book is not a window into Aboriginal culture. It is a window into western culture through an Indigenous lens. His logic is not static, but deeply embedded in living systems. It warps and weaves and seems to get lost only to draw disparate elements back together into more integral wholes. It asks great questions that undermine our assumptions. It refuses to dislocate data from story. He speaks about sustainability and groups and culture and health. The following passage gives a taste of indigenous knowledge.
In the land of Yunkaporta “When the wattle tree flowers, the wild honey is ready to harvest as medicine—a native honey I know as may at, which can kill bacteria like streptococcus on contact. It boosts the immune system and gives you boundless energy. River fish are fat at that time as are the birds who dive for those fish and show us where to find them. The fruit bats are at peak fat in that season too, and the fat is good medicine for respiratory conditions that might be triggered by the wattle flowers. The leaves of the wattle can be burnt for ash to mix with the leaves of the native tobacco that grows nearby, releasing more of the alkaloids and saponins in the tobacco when chewed. Those compounds are more concentrated at that time than in any other season, making for a wonderful non addictive stimulant that enhances concentration and an alertness.”
This is, as David Whyte says, “The conversational nature of reality.” Meaning emerges through relationship. Functional effectiveness is equally relational. Ignore the facts and focus on the relationships, the embeddedness. In my house honey feels vaguely medicinal, but mostly like yet another source of sugar to be wary of. Even our attempts at integrated and holistic medicine tend to simply extract what is convenient from another culture and use it out of genetic, regional, seasonal and bacterial context.
This attempt to tame what is wild, to domesticate, or bring indoors that which we find in nature, has a parallel in the way that we educate our children, and therefore our leaders. The results of this show up in the LCP when it highlights the ways that leaders fail.
Yunkaporta contemplates the Western invention of adolescence, “a method of slowing the transition from childhood to adulthood, so that it would take years rather than, for example, the months it takes in Indigenous rites of passage.”
This lights a fire in me. I suffered immensely as a young man attempting to navigate my place in the world. I nearly killed myself multiple times before I dropped out of college while attempting to individuate and explore the limits of my power. One of my clients, a brilliant executive, has been consumed recently by his 13 year old sons rocky transition into adulthood. Our conversations explore the parallels between son and father; the demons he faced, those he turned away from, and the lack of rights of passage in our culture. We don’t just talk business, but culture, philosophy, spirituality, and the impacts of the way that we raise and educate our children. We help them to become productive, but what of the development of their souls? What happens to their creativity? Are they in sync with their environment? If so, why so much destruction of self and other? Who does it all serve?
Yunkaporta contemplates the Prussian creation of adolescence later adopted by Americans, “This delayed transition, intended to create a permanent state of childlike compliance in adults, was developed from farming techniques used to break horses and to domesticate animals. Bear in mind that the original domestication of animals involved the mutation of wild species into an infantilized form with a smaller brain and an inability to adapt or solve problems. To domesticate an animal in this way you must:
1. Separate the young from their parents in the daylight hours.
2. Confine them in an enclosed space with limited stimulation or access to natural habitat.
3. Use rewards and punishments to force them to comply with purposeless tasks.”
I have a flashback to sitting in a tiny deskchair, taking a multiple choice test, hoping to get a gold star.
My kids are being educated outdoors this year; a silver covid lining. But will we send them back to public school next year with a heavy heart? And how will all of this show up coaching leaders?
One big challenge in leadership development, one which the LCP highlights brilliantly, is moving people from socialized mind, also referred to as reactive mind, where more than 80% of the population tends to lead, to self-authoring mind or creative mind, where less than 15% of the population operates. This is a developmental leap akin to the one we are attempting to make around puberty, in adolescence. As a child we attempt to individuate from, and see beyond, our family so we can find our place in society. As adults we attempt to step outside of the rules that society has handed us, to individuate from culture, so we can co-create the adaptations needed to keep society and culture in sync with the planet.
The difference between the two stages is, statistically (across 200,000+ leaders scores), the difference between effective leadership and ineffective leadership (R = .93). Reactive solutions attempt to reinforce the system they are being handed. They might be expert problem solvers, but they need problems to give them purpose and their best efforts to solve them result in a return to stasis. In a VUCA environment, in a time of exponential growth, they flounder when it comes to helping their teams innovate. As a coach I notice that this type of leader also tends to be less fulfilled personally. They succeed, but are often addicted to work and lack hobbies, creativity, spirituality, and time spent with loved ones. They struggle to love themselves and therefore to relax. They get sick more often as well.
Creative leaders, on the other hand, nurture the evolution and transformation of the system, or business, they are operating. They do this by nurturing their own development as well. They don’t motivate people to solve problems. They inspire people to create based on a vision of what is possible. It is not coincidence to me that creative leaders also tend to lead more balanced lives. Visionary thinking does not emerge from busy work, but from the confluence of many disparate elements. Meditation, movement, cooking, sex, art, and music are cross training for the best business minds.
My favorite book from the deep dive was Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Horney; a contemporary of Freud’s. The bottom half of the LCP, the Reactive half, is deeply rooted in her theories of personality development. Getting stuck in reactive mind is intimately entwined with wounds developed in childhood. We all build a persona, a way of impressing and pleasing others that masks our spontaneity and stifles our creativity. Our personality forms based on coping strategies developed to feel lovable in an environment that rejects our natural impulses. We reject what we want and cultivate a lot of should’s to win love, respect and feel safe.
I am the coach leaders come to when they have climbed the highest mountain only to realize that they prefer the beach, or that doing so came at too high of a cost. I will never forget a client telling me that the year his net worth reached 9 figures was the worst year of his life. He came to me to shut down one career and begin another. His new business is aligned with both the planet and his pain. Overcoming the drives that created his wounds allowed him to see a vision of what was possible and create an amazing business to capitalize upon it. You love his products because of his self proclaimed crazy, fanatical obsession with their quality. His net worth tripled.
How much shame is created at home due to our parents fear that our behaviors will not be accepted by society? How much brilliance is diminished in schools that turn childhood exuberance into attention deficit disorders and the creative impulse into an optional art class for the few who are unlikely to find success in the “real” world. Show me the child who learns best sitting in neat rows indoors and taking standardized tests. I haven’t met her yet.
How badly does our world need leaders who are focused on their inner work? Leaders committed to healing the wounds that knocked their natural curiosity and spontaneity off course? Leaders capable of becoming exquisitely embedded in and in tune with the world around them? This is one definition of indigenous, occurring naturally in a particular place. We deny our nature at great peril.
Coaching leaders who have found success, but struggle to find fulfillment, almost always involves helping them reclaim the parts of themselves that they have compartmentalized, judged, and shamed out of existence. It almost always looks like finding the place where their deepest want meets the worlds deepest need. Can we really be happy without being creative? Be healthy, without being integrated into our environment? Experience joy, without being silly, and unpredictable? Don’t leaders hire me because I refused to become domestic in the classroom? Don’t I need them because they did? Together we find balance.
Does the phrase The Fertile Ground of Bewilderment perfectly sum up the current election to you?
Does it point to the real path forward when it comes to climate change?
How about the way to figure out what to do with your career or your health?
If the fertile ground of bewilderment does not point towards a solution, perhaps it should. This is the argument that one of my favorite thinkers on the planet puts forth in his forthcoming book and in the lecture that gives us a preview below.
Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and The Yoga of Eating, is working on a new book about climate change that promises to evolve the discourse around this topic by asking us to go deeper than the simple solutions that we have all been talking about. Through an exploration of our fear of the phrase “I don’t know” Charles pushes us to look deeper. The simple, linear, carbon is the enemy, Trump is the enemy, sugar is the enemy, lines of thought are great for choosing our enemies, but doing so can actually make things worse. Charles invites us in to a space of deep unknowing where true insights can emerge. In essence, he asks us to let go of the overly mechanistic/rational ways we view our problems and move towards a more sacred view of ourselves and our planet. Ever wonder why caring for children or for the dying doesn’t seem to be a great way to make a living? This is the place where even your smallest efforts to connect with and care for others are essential to all of our futures. (It’s worth the journey just for the parking lot metaphor)
The New & Ancient Story Podcast (the audio has a little static, but it’s worth it)
Do you consider yourself to be creative? Do you have a strong critical mind? What connection do you think there is between these two? Which has your education helped develop? Which does the world need you to have more of right now?
Reading the first chapter of the book Presence today I came across the words of Stanford business school professor Michael Ray. Mr. Ray teaches very popular courses on creativity. His courses start with three assumptions:
- Creativity is essential for health, happiness and success in all areas of life, including business.
- Creativity is within everyone
- Even though it is in everyone it is covered by the Voice of Judgement
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Ken Robinson. Sir. Robinson has written some wonderful books on creativity, the modern education system and finding your purpose or “element”. I wrote about “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” earlier in one of my posts on FLOW. In his previous book “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” Robinson raises the very pressing possibility that “we are educating people out of their creativity.”
In an article on the Huffington Post Robinson writes, “First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them. Second, it is increasingly urgent to cultivate these capacities — for personal, economic and cultural reasons — and to rethink the dominant approaches to education to make sure that we do.”
Years ago I came across a popular story, perhaps from Robinson, about what happens when you ask school kids who in the room is an artist. The story starts out in a kindergarten class. The question is asked and every hand goes up. Then the question is asked again in the 1st grade classroom, then 2nd grade and on up through senior year in high school. In elementary school the number of hands going up quickly drops towards half and then less. By high school there are only a few hands and by the end of high school a room is lucky to have one hand go up. Often all of the other students agree and say “yes, she is the artist.” What happened? Is school to blame? And does this narrowing of identity really have an impact on our health, happiness and success?
Mr. Ray tells the authors of Presence about “a study by Howard Gardner’s Project Zero at Harvard that involved developing intelligence tests for babies. The project also tested older subjects. The researchers found that up to age four, almost all the children were at the genius level, in terms of the multiple frames of intelligence that Gardner talks about – spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, mathematical, intrapersonal and linguistic. But by age twenty, the percentage of children at genius level was down to 10 percent, and over twenty, the genius level proportion of the subjects sank to 2 percent.
Everyone asks, ‘Where did it go?’ It didn’t go anywhere; it’s covered over by the Voice of Judgement.”
The solution offered by Ray? Become aware of the Voice of Judgement, the voice that tells you “that’s a stupid idea” or “you can’t do that” and choose to disregard that voice. In a sense we must practice willful disobedience within our own minds. The key is simple awareness. Much of what he describes sounds just like meditation, albeit meditation with a specific intention. The first, hardest and most powerful step is simply deciding to notice this voice and label it. That’s it. As I am found of saying, consciousness is curative. When we decide to bring awareness to something with the intention of loving and healing ourselves the solutions do become apparent. We don’t have to be fearlessly creative to begin. We simply have to open up to the possibility that deep within us there lies an immense capability to be creative. We must consider the possibility that our education, training and cultural conditioning has been unbalanced and has favored critical reasoning (the Voice of Judgement) over creative imagining.
If you would like to re-invigorate your creative side and are having a hard time doing so perhaps it is time to look for, label and summarily dismiss your Voice of Judgement. The Voice of Judgement relies 100% on the past to determine what it thinks is possible or reasonable. Being creative, being an entrepreneur or an artist is an unreasonable act. It must be. It is about bringing into being something which does not already exist. All great creators are unreasonable in the eyes of those who did not share their vision. There is a playfulness, a childlike naivety, in all acts of creation. What would you do if you were suddenly free from your Voice of Judgement?
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
Last week I began talking about how habits work and how, by increasing our awareness of the simple pattern that all habits seem to follow we can choose to replace bad habits or install good ones. The ideas that I am discussing are from a new book by Charles Duhigg called “The Power of Habits.” I Introduced the cycle of cue – routine – reward that Duhigg describes and gave you a brief overview of how to identify and bring more awareness to the cues that precede the behavior or habit you wish to change.
Once you have identified and tracked the cues that send you into autopilot you can now choose to follow that cue with a healthier, more supportive behavior. Consider the woman I mentioned who bites her nails. When she gets bored and feels a tingling in her fingertips her old behavior was to start rubbing her finger tips feeling for bumps or edges. When she found one she would chew on it and then, on autopilot, proceed to chew every nail on her hand until here nails were completely smooth (or completely removed). Once she had smoothed out the skin and nails on every finger she felt a sense of completeness, her reward (more about this later).
Step two of reprogramming her habit after identifying and tracking her cues was to install a new program. Whenever she became aware of the cue, of boredom leading to a tingling sensation in her fingertips, she was to do something which physically stimulated her fingertips such as rub them on her arm or wrap them on a hard surface. She practiced this routine with her therapist for 30 minutes and was then sent home with another index card. This time she made a check when she felt the cue and a hashmark when she successfully engaged the new physical stimulation. A week later, after biting her nails only 3 times instead of the usual 18 she rewarded herself with a manicure. This felt satisfying and rewarding in much the same way that completing a round of nail biting did.
Did you catch that? The key is not avoidance. When I say “don’t think of a purple elephant” what are you doing? You are thinking of a purple elephant. When I say “don’t bite your nails” what are you thinking about? Biting your nails. This can actually increase the compulsion and anxiety. If I help you to recognize the trigger that leads to biting your nails and then offer you an alternate behavior suddenly you have options. You have a new coping mechanism and instead of simply trying to shortcircuit the cycle you are completing it in an alternate way.
A similar routine replacement is described for other patterns. A man who snacks when he is bored at work recognizes that the rewards of going to the cafeteria include a break from his desk and some social engagement. He chooses the routine of walking over to a co-workers desk and talking to them instead. New habit installed, same rewards felt. One of the reasons that AA meetings work so well is likely that the habit of drinking is replaced with a habit of meetings (90 meetings in 90 days). The cues such as anxiety remain the same, but the coping mechanism or habit is replaced and the reward can be surprisingly similar. The social engagement, sharing of stories and camaraderie of a meeting are often shockingly similar to those at a bar, party or other social drinking event.
A cue must be identified, a new routine chosen and a reward given for following it. Sound too simple? Too good to be true? This simple process is called Habit Reversal Training. Duhigg quotes one of the developers of this process, Nathan Azrin, “It seems ridiculously simple, but once you’re aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it. It seems like it should be more complex. The truth is the brain can be reprogrammed. You just have to be deliberate about it.”
Let’s be clear. This tool is massively powerful. A simple awareness of it and dedication to following it has helped many and can be a positive tool for anyone. But it will not always be enough. Each habit is complex and unique. And there is another factor which plays a huge role in both whether or not we can succeed at changing a habit and in whether or not the habits that we do change last. This factor is belief.
Next week we take a look at the role that belief plays in changing habits. Belief is the key to understanding how to succeed in creating the habits we do want, changing the habits we do not want and why some new habits fail completely at critical moments.
This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
Do you have a bad habit…or 12? Maybe you have or have had an addiction? Have you ever tried to pick up a new, more healthy habit? Do you know how to change bad habits? Or how to install good habits? That’s right, I said install, like installing a program in a computer. Conventional wisdom tells us that habits are mysterious and control over habits is an elusive and mysterious process. A new book by Charles Duhigg tells us otherwise.
“The Power of Habits”, published by Random House in 2012 takes the complex issue of habit change and boils it down to a simple formula with cute little graphics and one magical element. Much like computer language, Duhigg refers to habits as routines. A routine is a patterned behavior that we perform with such frequency that it has become mostly automatic. We routinely repeat habits with little or no effort or conscious awareness of a decision to do so.
If we have good habits we pat ourselves on the back. When we have bad habits we often chastise ourselves and feel as if we are failing somehow. Either way the behavior seems to happen without much effort. Some will say that they have created a good habit implying that their will-power is strong. Most are aware of some habit that they have tried once or a thousand times to alter with little or no sustained success. Most of time you hear someone speak of the effort that habit requires they are referring to failed attempts to create or curtail a habit. What if there really were a formula for changing habits that any of us could use to choose our behaviors?
Cue – Routine – Reward
This is the forumula that Duhigg offers to explain all of our habits, good and bad, from working out to smoking cigarettes to drinking coffee and alcohol to over eating or biting our nails. The exciting thing is that bringing awareness to this loop with a very simple plan does seem empower people to change their subconscious patterns. As I love to say, consciousness is curative. When we increase awareness enough we tap into enormous power with very little effort.
First we must understand cues. A cue is a trigger. It is the stimulus or experience that starts the cycle of a habit. Most of us focus on the habit itself and put all of our effort into preventing or creating a change in our behavior but completely overlook the very thing that put that pattern in motion. Duhigg describes a woman who can’t stop biting her nails even though it causes her much pain and embarrasment. When asked by a therapist when or why she starts biting she describes a sensation, a tingling in her finger tip. This sensation is the cue. Becoming aware of the cue is step one. Her task then was simply to carry an index card with her and make a check every time that she felt this sensation. Instantly her awareness of the cue increased. Later, when asked when she felt the tingling sensation she was able to recognize that this happened when she was bored. The habit was not fixed, but she was on the way to increasing her conscious awareness of the process simply by developing her awareness of it at an early stage she had never before attempted to objectify.
A cue can be identified and monitored for any habit. For smoking or snacking or drinking we can look for and find a feeling or experience that precedes the actual habit. An uncomfortable emotion such as boredom, anxiety, frustration or restlessness is common. The need to take a break, relax or simply switch gears while working is often cited as the reason to smoke a cigarette or take a snack break. Often times physical cues such as dread in the stomach, shortness of breath, tension in your shoulders or an elevated heart rate exist much like the tingling in her fingertips. For some a particular type or tone of thought might be a cue. Identifying and charting this cue will bring you one step closer to understanding and changing your habit. For some, this alone will radically alter your relationship to your habit or addiction. For most this the necessary groundwork to then take a look at the rest of the cycle.
What I have described are the types of cues that precede a negative habit that you wish to change (notice I am not saying get rid of, but change). This same concept will be important as we talk about installing new positive habits. First we must understand the rest of the cycle. Then we will explore the magical element.
Next week we talk about routine and reward.
This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
Today’s blog post can be found over at Beams and Struts:
Have you ever been caught in a gumption trap? I am going to guess that you have. A better question might be ‘how did you handle the gumption trap?’
Put simply, gumption is your initiative, your energy to move forward and your ability to do so with commonsense and shrewdness. Gumption is the drive that pushes you to start a project and also the focus, clarity and motivation that carries you through until you finish it. When your gumption is high you will find yourself scribbling feverishly, drawing up plans, writing with acute focus, speaking with confidence and full of insights. When gumption is high you work through a project with enthusiasm and a sense of possibility. States of extremely high gumption are akin to FLOW states.
In his 1974 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig coined the term gumption trap. Here he explains the power of gumption while working on a motorcycle:
“Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in the whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption. “
What Pirsig so clearly understood is that it is not knowing how you will succeed that drives you forward, but rather an ineffable sense that success is possible. Gumption is our ‘reservoir of good spirits’. Another word for gumption in this sense might be faith.
A gumption trap is something which saps your energy, undermines your faith or otherwise causes you to falter in your drive towards completing a project. Gumption traps can stop you cold before a project is begun at all.
Pirsig identifies two types of gumption traps. One arises from external circumstances, he calls these “set-backs”. The other arises from internal circumstances, he calls these “hang-ups”.
Set-backs come in all shapes and sizes. In motorcycle maintenance Pirsig describes going through a complicated assembly process only to realize that you skipped an early step, “What’s this? A connecting-rod bearing liner?! How could you have left that out? Oh Jesus, everything’s got to come apart again! You can almost hear the gumption escaping. Psssssssssssss.” Set-backs could also be a stubbed toe, a lost computer file or an unaccounted for expense. Basically, any circumstance that adds time, effort or expense to your project is a potential gumption trap. When you first become aware of such a set-back there is a very real sense of having the wind taken from your sails and if you are not careful the entire project is now in danger do to one simple question: Will you have the gumption to continue?
Hang-ups come in many forms as well. The key to hang-ups is that they are something that you brought to the project with you. They are your own personal kinks and shadow issues that threaten to steal your thunder when working on a project. Pirsig identifies a few: Ego, “if you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened.” Anxiety, “You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all.” Often times anxiety is mislabeled as ‘laziness’. Boredom, “the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you are not seeing things freshly, you’ve lost your “beginners mind”.
Each gumption trap has its own unique request and getting your gumption back takes many shapes ranging from taking a break to studying more to seeking inspiration elsewhere (go to a show, make love, exercise) to doing some self exploration and facing your demons.
Many things can be a gumption trap; a bad work environment, disrespectful coworkers, cheap tools, self doubt, an accident or an unsuccessful first try. The key is to recognize that gumption is not a fixed commodity. At times you are full of faith. At others you need a break. Awareness of this dynamic can free you to choose how to use your energy more wisely and free you from beating yourself up unnecessarily for not being 100% at all times and in all circumstances. Learning to recognize gumption traps will help you to avoid them at times, but simply acknowledging them when they do arise and adjusting accordingly can save you immense effort and may be the thing that allows you to finish what would otherwise have become an aborted project.
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey. – Devin Martin
Disclaimer: I have known Josie for most of my life. She is a phenomenal human being in many ways. So I may be biased here. None the less, when any friend hands you something they have created, there is always excitement mixed with the fear that you will hate it. More often than not I am underwhelmed by my friends attempts at greatness. Aren’t we all? This is not the case with Starcrossed. I fucking loved it!
Starcrossed is exceptional. Recently published by Harper Teen it is the first book in a trilogy. It takes the Illiad, the epic Greek poem with Helen of Troy, the Trojan War, gods, demigods, love and destruction, and places it in a high school in modern day Nantucket. Josie described it to me as Romeo and Juliet meets the Iliad. There might be a touch of Twilight and Harry Potter in there as well.
It is an epic love story and a battle for the fate of humankind with the gods. It has super powers, timeless beauty; there is mystery and deceit both hidden and revealed around every corner. I started it on a flight and finished it the following day at 1:30am. I was totally hooked. My sister Aileen is mentioned (as a dead character). And I think one of the actual living characters takes a few notes from Aileen’s chutzpah.
The story of how the book got written is equally amazing. Check out this video piece that tells the tale. Basically, her amazing husband Leon demanded that Josie stop working for a year and finally write a book. Over the course of that year they went into credit card debt, but stayed true to the goal of Josie finishing her book. With the book complete they were now staring at real financial uncertainty. But! Within weeks of Josie finishing the book and getting it to an agent she had a seven figure publishing deal! Everyone who read Starcrossed loved it. It is already published and becoming a best seller in multiple countries.
Check out this video that tells the story:
I loved reading it. I can’t wait for part two of the trilogy to come out. And when do they start making the movies?!
I got only 50 pages into ‘The Biology of Belief’ by Bruce H. Lipton and already was in love. It is rare that a scientists views of the world truly resonate with my own interpretations. I have long argued that DNA as a causative factor in our lives is a confused and partial truth. I occasionally read of studies that point at this, but far too often the opposite conclusion is drawn. ‘My genes made me fat, caused my cancer, leave me crippled with ADD, depression, chronic fatigue, addiction, obesity, etc. and there is ultimately little that I can do.’
The fact that there is some truth in this does not mean that we are powerless, quite the opposite I think.
Lipton makes some very important points early on ‘…genes can not turn themselves on or off…genes are not “self-emergent”. Something in the environment has to trigger gene activity.’. So our genes certainly speak of (often latent) potentials, but they alone can not be studied to tell us why we are as we are. (p26)
Later Lipton gives us the analogy of the belief that keys ‘control’ cars. If one were to study all cars that are moving (much as geneticists may study all people with cancer) in an attempt to determine causes of this ‘movement’ phenomenon they may well find that all moving cars contain keys. They may even go so far as to look and find no stationary cars containing keys. Does this mean that keys control cars or cause them to be moving? Obviously not, they are correlative, not causative. (p50) There are other environmental and interior factors at work here as well (driver, gas, battery charge etc). DNA (keys) may very well be the newest and most fundamental factor to receive sciences attention, but how is it that this leads us to ignore or belittle the myriad other factors at play? And more importantly, how useful is this towards empowering us to make positive change?
Mr. Lipton goes on to point out Darwin’s late life realization: “the greatest error which I have committed has been not allowing sufficient weight to the direct action of the environments, I.e. Food, climate, etc., independently of natural selection.”
“When a gene product is needed, a signal from its environment, not an emergent property of the gene itself, activates expression of that gene.” – H. F. Nijhout (p52)
Lipton also points out that, while it holds a wealth of information and can rightly be considered a warehouse of potentials, DNA alone does not interact with the environment to determine our response to stimulus. “In the chromosome, the DNA forms the core, and the proteins cover the DNA like a sleeve. When the genes are covered, their information can not be “read”.(p67) What causes the protein ‘sleeve’ to roll back and allow the DNA to express itself? Environmental signals. So, it would seem that in many ways the regulatory proteins surrounding our DNA are deciding which potentials we will express, and when, more than the DNA that is getting so much media attention these days. Lipton even points out that more often than not, in an attempt to get at and study DNA, the proteins surrounding it are removed and discarded. Is this because DNA houses all of the necessary information for the life that is me?
Consider that our bodies are made up of over 100,000 different proteins. “Conventional thought held that the body needed one gene to provide for each of the 100,000…Add to that 20,000 regulatory genes, which orchestrate the activity of the protein-encoding genes. Scientists concluded that the human genome would contain a minimum of 120,000 genes.” (p62) But it turns out that they found closer to 25,000. The spineless, thousand-celled Caenorhabditis worm has 24,000. Obviously there is more at work here building each of us than just DNA.
Epigenetics – Control above genetics
Epigenetic research is now showing us that, not only is there a lot more to our complexity than DNA can account for, the whole process is a lot more fluid than previously believed. Epigeneticists are the scientists who keep the regulatory proteins and study them when breaking open a cells nucleus to get at its contents (DNA and regulatory proteins). These are the scientists who are teaching us that the holy grail of building life is not DNA–>RNA–>protein, but Environmental Signal<-->Regulatory Protein<-->DNA<-->RNA<-->Protein. Notice that the arrows actually go in both directions. ‘DNA blueprints passed down through genes are not concrete at birth’. They change!!! They respond!
Yes, this does seem to imply that the outside world, and our interactions with it can actually rewrite our genetic code. Is this actually surprising? Does the idea of ‘random mutation’ followed by ‘natural selection’ really make more sense? What does the word random usually imply in a scientific context? It usually means ‘we have no fucking clue what is happening, and are not going to admit any attempts to figure it out’. Thank god someone did.
In attempting to explain what I view to be one of our current limitations when attempting to understand what DNA, RNA, proteins etc. are and how they interact with the world I have come up with a train analogy:
Picture the human mind/body as a train. Let’s say that science wants to know what’s happening inside of the train in order to determine where that train will end up, and in what condition. So science decides that people control trains. Science then finds a way to capture a static image of the entire contents of the train, who is in it, what they are saying, what their plans are, etc. Science then spends a great deal of time studying the content of that one image and comparing its findings to similar snapshots of information gathered from other trains. What science can not yet honor is that the train is full of holes and its contents change over time. Windows and doors open and close both as the train stops and when it is in motion. The train made many stops before the image was captured and has made many more stops since the image was captured. Most likely it was making stops or had windows open while the image was being captured. And what is happening at these stops and through these openings? People are getting on and off, they are smelling the air outside, breathing its contents, hearings it’s sounds. The environment around the train is permeating and changing the contents of the train and vice versa. The conversations that the passengers on a train are likely to have rest heavily on where the train is, who has entered, exited, and who is being mesmerized by the sights out the window. The train may have a schedule, and should environmental conditions be one particular way, it may even follow that schedule to the mili-second with no malfunctions or mishaps, but neither this schedule nor the people on the train at the time of the imaging are necessarily causative. They are correlates. And not one piece of this ever changing information can be looked at in a deterministic fashion if we really want to have a clue how that train is going to end up.
We currently have the capability to sequence the entire human genome (It’s still really fucking expensive) and have done it quite a few times. I am not aware of any comparative studies that attempt to look at the human genome at birth, death, and at many intervals in between. I suspect that we will see differences. I do not believe that our genetic code is static or causative. We are a product of our genes, our proteins, our community, our society, and, as Mr. Lipton states clearly in other sections of the book, of our beliefs as well.
What is beautiful about all of this is that the idea that we need to dominate (survival of the fittest) or control others so that we can survive just doesn’t make sense when it is precisely those others whom we rely on for all of the growth that we have ever made. It seems as if by nurturing our environment we are actually nurturing ourselves.
What is the impact of all this? Not that survival of the fittest is necessarily 100% wrong, but that it is certainly not the whole truth either. There may be more value in cooperation with our environment (others) than previously imagined. There’s really no reason to feel trapped and scared, as if the environment is out to get you and you are ill prepared to meet it. We are being created by it. We are creating with it. We are perfectly in sync with it. The imaginary lines that we have drawn around ourselves, separating self from other, are melting every day.