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Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Introverts and Extroverts at the Neuronal Level

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak

9780262028981_0Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I have a thing for metaphors. Those of you who have been to my workshops know that I have a thing for the brain. I have been delighted to read Giorgio Ascoli’s book, Trees of the Brain, Roots of the Mind (MIT Press). In this illustrated book, Ascoli presents the primary metaphor of the brain: Trees. Neurons branch like trees. The photographs of trees and the colorful plates of actual neurons provide a compelling way for understanding the structure of the brain.

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Like trees, neurons have a trunk, roots. and branches. Unlike real forests, the forests of the brain are densely packed with neurons–unimaginably dense. Also, neurons are so fine that if they were trees, they would reach miles into the sky.

There are two basic types of neurons in the brain: principle neurons and interneurons. These neuron types lend themselves to a metaphor on the differences between introverts and extroverts.

The fact that pyramidal cells (principle neurons) communicate with other brain regions to stimulate activity, whereas interneurons only talk to neighbors to keep them quiet, suggests a division of labor between protagonists and supporters. In this view excitatory neurons would be the protagonists of cortical computation, representing, processing, and transmitting the content of information. Inhibitory neurons would provide a supporting role, maintain the proper tempo of activity and fine-tuning network dynamics.

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While admittedly oversimplified, this distinction is a metaphor for the differences between extroverts and introverts and why both aspects are necessary for function. There are exceptions to the rule that interneurons are always inhibitory, but mostly they are.

Introverts have always provided a heedful, inhibitory function in groups. Within an individual, introverted qualities provide the quiet tendency to pause and reflect and not to act (when action would not be appropriate).

The extroverted neurons are the stars of the show–flashy, active, and brash. The introverted interneurons quietly go about their business making the show run behind the scene.

While a metaphor, it is interesting to speculate how the basic personality difference between introverts and extroverts is mirrored in the basic building blocks of mental life (indeed all of life).

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This is also an equalizing metaphor. Neither type of neuron is better than the other. They are both required and we can’t function without both the noisy and quiet aspects. Within ourselves, too, we can see both action and reserve as necessary parts of life. Extreme imbalance in either direction will result in the extroverted circus on the one hand or immobilization on the other.

As with all metaphors, not every aspect fits perfectly. Introverts can and do provide supportive roles, working behind the scenes. However, we can also take the lead role, like the principal neurons, engaging in quiet leadership, thoughtful action, and wise resolve.

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Set Aside Greed and Distress with Reference to the World

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Photo Credit: Benjamin Balázs

Photo Credit: Benjamin Balázs

The Buddha encouraged his monks to be “ardent, alert, & mindful” and to put “aside greed and distress in reference to the world.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about these recommendation lately. What does it mean to set aside greed and distress? First, what is greed and what is distress?

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Greed is desire. It is wanting things to be a certain way. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting things but greed is more than just the natural inclination towards pleasurable outcomes. Greed becomes a problem when we identify with that satisfaction of that greed. That is, how we are is make or break on the results.

Greed is intimately connected to distress. If the desire isn’t satisfied we feel distressed until it is. If the desire is satisfied, we might want it to last and there is a background anxiety about losing it at any moment, now or in the future. Or, once satisfied, we may just be on to the next desire.

Pretty much everything humanity does is tinged by greed–not overt greed like you would see on Wall Street but more subtle in the dance of desires.

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Being in nature where there has been very little evidence of humanity, presents a situation in which, at least externally-imposed, greed and distress have been put aside. We can still engage in our own versions of greed and distress but there isn’t massive evidence of it around in the form of traffic, malls, and masses of people hurriedly moving through the world.

This separation from human-made greed and distress is an aspect of nature that I hadn’t considered before. Going into nature we can enjoy solitude, a respite from the demands of the world.

The “greed signatures” if you will made by human beings can have a corrosive effect. Even if we are not consciously buying into them, exposure creates at least a subtle form of stress, or distress. Getting away from it all is certainly no panacea, but it can be a healthy part of self-care, especially for introverts but really for anyone and everyone.

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Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 2

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Source: Marek/Dollarphoto.com

Source: Marek/Dollarphoto.com

The second part of my interview with Self-Promotion for Introverts author, Nancy Ancowitz, is now available on her Psychology Today blog or her .

In case you missed the first part, here is the link to that.

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Here are the links to the interviews on her Self-Promotion for Introverts blog: Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 1Tame Your Sabotaging Self-Talk Part 2

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Laughter and Awakening

posted by Dr. Arnie Kozak
Photo Credit: Ramil Sagum

Photo Credit: Ramil Sagum

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A recent column in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review discussed laughter. It was written by Bodhipaksa and debunks the quote that is attributed to the Buddha and something that he never actually said.

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”

The article discusses the role of laughter in the suttas (the written record of the Buddha’s oral teachings). The Buddha did not appear to be sanguine about laughter. He discouraged monks from being merry when suffering was all around. In another place, he chides a comic actor becuase what he does can contribute to “intoxication and heedlessness.”

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Laughter is a double-edged sword. On one edge, laughter can be the chief product of self. Bodhipaksa cites research that finds humor is often at the expense of others and thus gives rise to a feeling of superiority. This reinforces the sense of self and further girds suffering. On the other edge of the sword, laughter is a natural by-product when one has done much work to liberate from the entanglements of self.

Take the Dalai Lama for example. He has called himself a “Professional Laugher.” His jocularity does not stem from making himself superior to others but arises from his directly felt connection with everyone and everything. When we are not caught up in our personal stories and seeking to make ourselves okay in every moment, laughter will naturally leak out.

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The incessant identification we have with our stories is what suppresses laughter. When the stories stop, the laughter is free to emerge.

It’s good to laugh. We know that it can improve your mood and has been reputed to aid in healing. To the extent that we can vanquish our limited sense of self, we can look to laughter as a barometer of our progress along the path.

The Buddha may not have been as jovial as His Holiness, but he did have a sense of humor–a wry, sarcastic one when it came to lampooning the religions of his day.

Laughter is very connected to the unencumbered voice. In fact, unbridled laughter is one the voice exercises that I do on a regular basis. I am not laughing at anything in particular, just laughing. In the Awakened Introvert, I explore the power of the voice and how to get beyond self-consciousness.

Give laughter a try. Rather than consuming a joke, try to laugh at the sheer joy of being alive.

 

 

 

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