Thursday, November 20, 2008

The 90 Second Rule

I wrote a little about Jill Bolte Taylor's book My Stroke of Insight in a previous post and I continue to talk about it with anyone who will listen. The part that most excites me currently is what she calls the "90 Second Rule".

Usually when one feels an emotion, whether it's joy or sorrow, it is because the limbic system has been triggered by the sensory systems. The feeling seems automatic - you see someone abusing a child and you feel angry, you hear a child laugh and you feel happy - and often it is. But the time it takes for your limbic system to be triggered, for the chemicals (what we feel as emotions) to be released and dissolved in your blood stream takes 90 seconds.

That means if you are feeling good or bad (because we have a lot of names for our feelings, but there are really only those two) for longer than a minute and a half it is because you have chosen to feel that way. In physiological terms, you are continuing to hook into your neurocircuitry rather than be in the present moment.

I love knowing this so much because finally I feel like I have the last piece of the puzzle I've been trying to put together since I read the (for me) life-changing books Loving What Is and A New Earth. They both clearly articulate that all events are neutral but it is our story about the events that create our happiness or our suffering.

For me this made theoretical sense but it was sometimes hard to put into practice. Especially when things don't always seem neutral - like in the case of abuse. Last week, I went in to an exam room to see a patient and her child was climbing on the stool and tearing up the paper on the exam table and the woman was yelling at her son to stop and grabbed him roughly and the child started to cry. The mom yelled at him some more.

At first I was upset - for 90 seconds - and then I could see that both the mom and son were having a hard time. And in that moment I felt empathy for the mom and smiled at her and said, "I know you both have been waiting a long time to see me and I'm sorry for the wait. I think it's especially hard for kids to wait without anything else to do. Can he get up on this chair and stand next to me while I check on the baby? He can hold the measuring tape and the doppler." This worked well and we had a great visit.

Of course, I find it most challenging to apply the 90 second rule in relation to the people closest to me, like my husband. Just last night I was tired from being up all night the previous night on call. I asked dh if he had done something I had asked him to do and he hadn't. I was annoyed and in a bit of a stink for more than 90 seconds. Fortunately after a few turns around my negative neural loop I became aware that I could stop feeling bad.

I knew in that moment that I couldn't stop feeling bad and think of the problem with my husband so I put my attention on my son who was very happy and excited about a little trip we were about to take. I decided to put my focus on my son and got us in the car. After just a few minutes in the car, chatting with ds and listening to fun kid music, I felt much better and even saw a solution to the problem with my husband that I had not seen before. When we got back I felt great and was able to tell dh I was sorry for my fit of peak and we quickly resolved the problem.

Not only is Jill Bolte Taylor brilliant, she also has a great sense of humor. She says that she whole-heartedly believes that 99.999 percent of the cells in our brains want us to be happy. But a tiny portion of our cells do not have our best interest at heart. She calls them the "Itty Bitty Shitty Committee". These are the cells that are very good at giving us lots of reasons why we are right to be angry, resentful and less-than-generous.

And just like parents and children who have been cooped up in a small exam room for too long, you can feel some empathy for those confused cells, take them in hand and give them something else to do. You become very good at re-directing and focusing on what is going well. I think of it as a discipline, like learning a foreign language and exercising, and it becomes easier and more automatic with practice.

It is so fantastic to know that I have the ability to choose a positive feeling. I can always choose to tell a different story. I can always bring my thoughts back to the present moment where all of my power is. And now I feel like I have all the tools I need to do just that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our 5th Annual Alternative Thanksgiving Party

It's that time of year when our non-belly button family gathers to get a start on all the holiday fun. It has been a year since I've gotten to spend time with some of these friends and although I don't like that fact, I understand it given our busy schedules. I'm just grateful we have *at least* one time each year when we will celebrate our wonderful community with great friends, food and music.

I think the most striking and satisfying aspect of this party is seeing how much the kids are growing and thriving. These next two were just tiny babes-in-arms last year - now look how actively they are engaging with the outside world - amazing!

And, of course, a highlight every year is the music. First, in order not to disturb conversation, our musician friends moved into our study.

But that room just could not hold all of our amazingly talented friends and they moved outside to our porch.

And although it was quite chilly, they did not complain. The young gentleman without the pants, however, did and so the revelry moved back inside. By that time everyone really wanted to hear that beautiful music.

One of the other great surprises and pleasures of this party was that it was the first year D joined the music jam with his guitar and voice - even breaking out into a solo of one of my favorites (one he has been singing to me for 15 years) - 'Women and Men'.

And he was a hit!

And here we have a very sweet young gentleman who is a natural on the piano - we're expecting great things from him at future parties!

And here I am with his proud mama!

So many wonderful friends!

Of all the friendships I am perhaps happiest to catalog the one between G and O. O is G's oldest and dearest friend and we have quite a lovely collection of photos of the two together You can look back at last year's party and see how much they've grown. And as you saw from an earlier picture in this post, G discarded his pants pretty early in the festivities and it wasn't much later that he gave up on all formality. I gently tried to encourage him to put them on by saying, "You know, O might not want to see your penis." O, very obligingly, chimed right in, "Oh, I don't mind seeing his penis. It's fine with me." Now one of our male friends is trying to follow his lead and lobby for what he's calling "Pantless Fridays".

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Our dear, sweet dog, friend and companion died today. Last week a friend of mine from high school died after a painful struggle with cancer. I am so grateful that I just recently read Jill Bolte Taylor's book My Stroke of Insight. She had a talk at the TED conference that was popular on YouTube. She is a neuroanatomist who had a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She writes and talks about how it was hard for her to choose to recover her lost brain function because she found that "living" in her right hemisphere - the place where you *know* all is well and you are one with the universe and there is no death for this immense spirit that has just chosen to manifest in a fluid-filled sack for a short time - was so ecstatic. I am deeply sorry that I won't get to be with Andrew or Zoe in their physical forms again, but I am truly glad to know that they are no longer in pain and I take great comfort in knowing that they are having an ecstatic experience as non-physical spirit. They are with us always.

I will start scanning and posting photos of Zoe and sharing stories along with them. I will just post this now so that friends can start sharing their memories of Zoe. I'd love to come here and have a place where Zoe is celebrated and honored. Thank you already - so many of you have offered us so much support and love through my Facebook page and email. It means so much to us.

Zoe was born 10 years ago today. I anxiously anticipated her birth: a friend raised her mom and dad as puppies and her love for them and their puppies was so great I knew I wanted a part of that. D was always a cat person - never had a dog - and brought 2 cats into our relationship, so he had never been interested in having a dog. I had always had dogs growing up and used every day during Zoe's gestation to convince Doug that our family could and *should* include a puppy. I prevailed and we met all of the puppies just a few days after their births. I read everything I could on raising a puppy and my favorite book was "The Art of Raising a Puppy" by the Monks of New Skete. They talked about the importance of "natural disposition" (or something like that) and even provided tests to put your prospective puppies through. At 4 weeks of age when the puppies were really getting around and I could see how different they were - of the six her golden red coloring most resembled her mom's and I was smitten. At just a few weeks old, our friend gave us the "pick of the litter" and we put her first through the tests - rolling her on her back to see if she could be submissive, throwing her a small ball to see if she would go after it, things like that. She didn't do very well, seemingly more interested in nursing than performing, so we went to her other siblings. Some of them did quite well, and then Zoe seemed to take more interest, as if to say, "Oh, this is so important to you? You're really going to use these silly tests to choose who goes home with you? Well, then, bring it!" and she nailed every test. This picture is of us after I put her collar on to identify her as ours. We would bring her home about 8 weeks later so that she could get her fill of mommy milk - but we came to visit her often.

When we got her home it took all my will not to bring her into bed with us – something the monks warned against – and considering the 10 pound puppy grew to be almost 90 pounds, I am glad she never developed that habit. Although, I will say, when we stayed at my parent’s home or went on vacation with her, she was always allowed in bed with us – hey, it was her vacation, too!

We were delighted to find that our next-door neighbors adopted a puppy, Lainey, at the same time as Zoe. They became best friends and delighted us every day with their antics.

Her first snow! How she loved to burrow her nose in the stuff!

In her first Spring a tornado tore through our neighborhood and ripped a 100+ year old oak tree in our backyard out of the ground. Zoe claimed the cavernous hole below the root ball as her own and named it Fort Zoe.

Our gangly pre-adolescent. Never happier than when she had chased after a ball.
Until, that is, she learned to swim. She could never get enough of the water.

She also loved getting "airplane" rides.
Zoe was so full of joy - it was always a celebration when she was in the room.

For years, every May, we'd hike a section of the Appalachian Trail and camp for the weekend. Zoe loved it as much as we did.

Around the campfire.

She'd sleep in the tent with us - and it was a tent barely big enough to sleep two people. D would grumble good-naturedly, "My pillow is kicking me."

Zoe taught me to run. She was always so spirited that we would take her for long walks and she would still be full of energy. The monks recommended something called “road work” where you get the dog to follow behind your car as you drive along for miles. I thought maybe that might work on the quiet country roads where the monks live, but that clearly was not going to work on our busy streets, so I started to run with her. I had never been a runner, but once I started I learned that I loved it. I found beautiful mountain trails for us to run on and we both enjoyed those times – at least 3 times a week - immensely. A friend, learning that I enjoyed running, invited me to join her in a street race. I ended up winning in my age group, learning that I not only loved to run, but that I was very fast, too. You see, Zoe made me fast - she wasn't going to truck with no slow-poke. She always ran twice as far as I did - she'd dash ahead, sniff around and then come back to cheer me on. I know for sure that started me on the path to completing 4 marathons – Zoe by my side for the training of every one. She ran with me in rain, sleet and snow – the uglier the conditions the better, it seemed to Zoe. She loved coming up on water-filled trenches to slosh through the mud. I remember once it was so cold and wet that my eyelashes froze together as I ran and icicles formed on Zoe’s fur. I thought, "This is insane! Why I am doing this!?!", until I looked at Zoe and realized that she was sublimely happy. It was at that moment that I decided to cultivate the “Be Like Zoe” attitude. I learned from her that no matter what the conditions, you can be happy.

I mentioned that Zoe was never allowed on furniture - unless of course we were at Papa's house. I never encouraged it, but I'd come into the family room and there she'd be, by Papa's side.
Zoe loved the ocean. I can't find any of the many pictures we have of her riding waves - the heavier the surf the better. We'd have to hold her in the ocean to give her a break from swimming - there was no getting her out of the water until she was thoroughly exhausted. Here she is looking longingly out at the beach with my nephew who was then about 2. He's 8 now and was always so sweet with her.
Zoe just made every picture more beautiful. Here are the gorgeous rhododendrons at my mom's house and yet she was the star.
She just made everything, every day, better with her presence.

Zoe had so many wonderful puppy friends/brothers. Her closest running buddy was Zak, my parents' dear dog for 13 years. He was with us the day we brought Zoe home and he understandably mistook her for a tasty snack - until she squealed in protest. You would think she would have kept her distance after that, but they were inseparable. There is a tree on my parents' property that is the Zak and Zoe Tree - they would run around it, chasing each other endlessly. My mom says she has a picture of them playing there and will put it up as soon as I get it. After Zak passed away my parent's got a new puppy, Xano, and we were thrilled that she also taught him the tree game.
My dear friend's dog, Skyler, stayed with us while she was on her honeymoon. Skyler was a bit old and arthritic and we only had one dog bed and otherwise hard floors. Zoe didn't always love to share, but she seemed happy to in this case. Sky would lay down first and then Zoe would "spoon" him.

Two things Zoe was not at all likely to share were her favorite chew toys: Monkey Boy and Monkey Boy, Jr. She was happiest when she had them both by her side.
So, as you can tell, she was a bit of a treasured only-child, always reveling in her center-stage status. Then came the belly.
And then the baby. Zoe was the one who first knew I was in labor. The night before I gave birth she would *not* leave my side. When I went to the bathroom I thought it was a bit much - like, "I'd like some privacy, please!" I hadn't had one contraction and I was 2 weeks before my due date, but I realized then - because of Zoe's heightened alertness and protectiveness - that it was time. I labored at home and when Zoe tried to climb into the tub with me we decided it would be best if she spent the day at a friend's house. I gave birth at home a few hours later and she was right back with us - and immediately extended her great big love to G from the first moment. As you can see from the next picture, the love wasn't exactly mutual. The picture was taken right after she had given him a very wet kiss. (Can't you just hear Lucy (from Peanut's fame) saying, "Eww, I've just been kissed by a dog! Get the alcohol! Get the iodine!")
G warmed up to her quickly, though, and they became best friends.

For me one of the hardest aspects of losing Zoe is that G won't have the many years with her that D and I had. But in their short time together they had a BIG love. It has been fascinating and heartbreaking to see him cope with her death. The night before she died he said, "I'm worried about Zoe. I love Zoe so much. I don't want Zoe to go. I want to give him a treat." (He doesn't have his personal pronouns quite down yet.)

My parents were with us - they came especially to say goodbye to her - and G asked them to take her with them back to their home and make her all better. He knew she had gotten better when we went to California and she had been with my parents. We knew she wasn't well when we went to CA, but we didn't think she was as sick as she was. A few days after we left my parents were so worried about her that they took her to their vet and tests revealed that she had such severe anemia that she wouldn't survive unless she got a transfusion. They had no blood banked at the animal hospital and so my parents suggested that they use their puppy, Xano, as the donor and his blood was directly transfused into Zoe. This saved her life at the time, but unfortunately, her condition could not be cured.

G came into the room shortly after she died and we told him she was gone. He bent down close to her, looked at her and then at us and said, "She's not gone. She's right here." and then he knocked on the floor and said, "Wake up, Zoe." I told him it was like she had been wearing a costume and she left her costume with us, but her spirit was no longer in the costume. A couple of hours later when we buried her he looked down at her and said, "That's her sad costume. Her happy costume is at Grammy and Papa's." We keep telling him that she left her costume but her spirit is still with us, but this is obviously a tough concept to wrap one's mind around.

My mom was the person Zoe adored the most. And what was not to adore? My mom always showered Zoe with love and affection, and dog treats, and hot dogs...and I could go on and on. A wonderful testament to my mom's love for Zoe is that she spent days after her death doing nothing else but collecting photos for a beautiful scrapbook for D and I and a separate photo album just for G. I've scanned some of the photos from the scrapbook below.

That's Zoe with my mom in the corner. I'm so grateful for that picture because my mom is in so few with Zoe - she was always the one making sure the pictures were being taken, the one behind the camera.

That's Zoe after she's sloshed through one of those mud-filled ravines. And then taking a bath in a stream after.

And here she is with my dad and D. I love that photo of D with Zoe so much. She loved getting those belly rubs!
No one could resist this face.

And this is how I love to remember her. She and I on the trails at Bent Creek. Our little slice of Heaven.