Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meditation Physically Changes the Mind

"Clarity" - a pastel drawing I did about meditation

A new study led by Harvard researchers used mind scans to track the physical changes made to participants' brains over 8 weeks of a daily meditation practice. Sue McGreevey for Harvard Science described the study and its findings:
Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta H√∂lzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.” (Source)
I'm excited that this study is lending more validity to meditation being worthwhile.

It took me 8 or 9 years since I first tried meditation to make it a regular habit in my life. I've still got lots of the same problems I always did with social anxiety and over-thinking everything, but it has helped me to relax, to get in touch with feelings I kept ignoring, to forgive my mistakes, to learn to love myself, to learn to be present with my breath, and to choose where I place my mental attention.

There's no better way to realize the thoughts that are holding you back or to open yourself up to creativity than to be in a state of meditation. It's enabled me to be creative at a level of intensity that I simply would not have been able to keep up in the past.

I'm also grateful to be at a point in my meditation practice where I don't feel like I'm forcing my mind into relaxation, or trying to wrestle with my thoughts. Now I can just close my eyes, take a deep breath, and enter immediately into a state of peaceful observation.

Have you tried meditation or do you meditate regularly? If so, I'm interested to hear your experience with it.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Feather Friday

So, as you can tell by my dead grandma's ceramic bear that now serves as my headband holder, I like accessories with feathers on them. Unfortunately for me, until this week I didn't have any feather earrings. But my awesome friend Jaime changed that!

May + Jaime = Redhead awesomeness

We hung out and painted on Sunday (?), then she pulled out her feathers and jewelry equipment, and let me go to town!

I ended up making two pairs of earrings that night:

Day 169 of my 365 Self-Portrait project - wearing both pairs

Then, we both ended up having yesterday off from work, so we got together again for more jewelry making!

I made three more pairs of feather earrings and it was way easier the second time around!

I'm totally hooked.

Will definitely have to do more of these in the future. Of course, then I might have to find a different storage method:

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

PostSecret: Honest, Anonymous

As I was sitting around, thinking of what to talk about today, I realized that I have not talked about PostSecret on here yet. What an oversight!!!!

PostSecret is one of my favorite blogs these days. It's a very simple premise that has created an incredible response: people send their secrets on postcards, often decorated by the secret-holder, and the postcards are published to PostSecret.

These were the secrets that most intrigued me from this week's edition of Sunday Secrets:

For more secrets, visit PostSecret.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Sewing for a Steampunk Soiree

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! For a great meditation on the man and his legacy, you should visit What's race got to do with it? and read her post for today. It's a good one.

Meanwhile, I've got a couple of sewing projects to share with you. Both were made with my friend Esther's steampunk-themed birthday party in mind, which was this past weekend - and a total blast. Granted, my outfit was more punk than steam, but whatevs...

I started out with this dress, which is too snug in the hips...

...and this skirt, which had unpleasantly tight, twisted elastic in the waist.

I removed the bottom of the dress,

then removed the elastic from the skirt by cutting into the waistband.

Frederick holding the elastic for me.

Next I pinned the skirt waist to the dress waist, sewed it together and that was that! (You have to wait til the end of the post to see it tho...)

A few days later, I decided to make a flask-holding garter (like I saw on Etsy a while ago) to wear, so I took this shirt...

and cut out the few gathered sections in the front and back.

I sewed those together...

...and then used the elastic from the skirt to finish off the garter section.

I cut off another section of the shirt, this time with button holes in it, and pinned it around the flask to make a little pocket.

I sewed that together, then sewed it in place on the garter.

I prettied up the flask pocket with some ribbon and I was done!

For the party, I added a vest, goggles, gloves and s'me other accessories:

Day 168 of my 365 Self-Portrait project.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Double Feature: Black Swan & The King's Speech

Today I'm going to talk about a couple of fabulous films I've seen lately: Black Swan and The King's Speech. I went and saw both of them with my future sister-in-law (aka Matt's sister) while she was back in KC on winter break from law school.

Black Swan
Of course, being vaguely obsessed with ballerinas since I was a kid (lately I decided it's because ballerinas are the closest I feel humans can come to being fairies), I was totally psyched to see previews and costume designs for this movie on some of the blogs I follow. I was not a bit disappointed.

Black Swan
is so elegantly disturbing, blending the ordinary everyday life events of this dancer with her terrifying premonitions and nightmares. To me, it was like a short story in that much of the character motivations are not made explicit, but the viewer is presented this tiny segment of a life and a personality to puzzle over.

I was interested to observe a fair amount of "shaky cam" footage used throughout the film. It was often as if the camera was looking right over the main character's shoulder, which added a greater sense of danger and threat, in my opinion.

I liked that the film managed to address so many issues that females in our society face: body image problems, eating disorders, parental demands, fierce infighting with other females over perceived and actual slights, and a culturally-encouraged obsessed with perfection and success.

The ending surprised me, (and I was thinking that it should have made me dislike the movie, cause I'm not one for what my Creative Writing thesis adviser called "tricks" that cheat the audience) but for whatever reason, it satisfied me in a strange way. Maybe because it was such beautiful imagery? I don't know. But I know I liked it.

Also, I thought this was Natalie Portman's best role and performance since she played Mathilda in Leon: The Professional.

The King's Speech
I didn't hear anything about this before I went to see it, except the tiny bit Melissa told me: a king, played by Colin Firth, needs speech therapy. Colin Firth + Historical Drama = Yes, please!!

This was also a very beautiful film. Certain ways that shots were set up, especially in the beginning sequence, reminded me of a The Royal Tennenbaums, which is one of my favorite movies.

Set before WW2 broke out, The King's Speech tells the story of the Duke of York, second son of George V, who stutters. His wife finds him an unusual speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who requires the Duke of York to be on a first-name basis with him, and to do exercises that His Highness finds completely humiliating. (Those part reminded me of My Fair Lady.)

It was a pleasure to watch consumate actors, Firth and Rush play opposite each other. Both got completely into the characters and the true drama of the story is the relationship their characters build in the learning process. I was a little concerned that Helena Bonham Carter would totally overact the way I feel she has been in her roles lately, but she also acted beautifully and very subtly at some points. I was quite impressed.

The film also showed the difficulties that the Royal Family had in adapting to new technologies (like the radio) that required them to be present for the country in ways that were just not even thought of before. Additionally, it showed how lonely and isolating such a position of authority can be for those expected to hold themselves above the common man and woman.

And, I know for me, it gave personality and interest to a period of time in the monarchy that I'd only known before as "that time when the one guy abdicated for his woman so his brother took over instead." I had no clue what incredible internal resistance and fear the man who became George the VI had to overcome to take his place as king.

But, ultimately, the story is about the incredible connection that can be forged when one human being tirelessly works to teach another human being and give them confidence for life. It was lovely to watch and very heart-warming.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Arizona Shooting Tragic, But Telling

Today, by request, I’m going to talk about the politically-motivated shooting that took place recently in Arizona, killing 6 people and injuring 14 others. My heart goes out to those affected by this, who lost loved ones, or who are waiting in the hospital for them to recover. I hope they will find solace despite their grief, which has to be considerable.

As awful and unfortunate as incidents like this are, the one benefit we receive from them as a culture is that it makes us question things deeper than we normally do. After all, most of the terrible things in the world are taking place elsewhere to other people and it’s easy to block all that out in the business of our daily lives. But when something terrible like this happens in these United States, everyone tends to sit up a bit straighter and actually get concerned about what is happening in our culture.

So I’m going to share my thoughts as a person with Asperger’s who is constantly studying the culture around me in order to fit in enough to interact casually with neuro-typicals. Though, to be honest, I’m glad that in a lot of ways I don’t fit into the culture around me very well. I think it’s pretty fucked up, which is why I’m constantly advocating to change it.

Tell me, is it really so surprising that a culture that glorifies violence and power is constantly producing violent individuals?

People think shootings are surprising and senseless, but it makes perfect sense to me. Our culture fosters and feeds on mistrust, hatred, violence, and judgmental attitudes, so of course we create people who are mistrusting, hateful, violent and who believe they have the right to judge others.

It is my observation that everyone, no matter what, on some level believes they are a good person and that their motivations and subsequent actions are always justified. I also have observed that most people pretend to be rational when they are acting based on pure emotion and ego and then creating “logical” reasons to present to others and themselves for their actions.

Because, it turns out, whatever stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world are the stories we will believe and act on. That’s why if you give someone facts disproving one of their beliefs, they will simply cling to their belief with more fervor that before.

I don’t say any of this to make light of the very serious and horrible event. I am just totally convinced that peace in our nation and in our world starts within, with the stories we choose to believe and the actions that grow out of those choices. Hence the saying:

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
-Frank Outlaw

America’s destiny is the destiny of the people who make her up. Until our collective destiny is one that points towards peace and compassion or at least genuine acceptance of differences, we will continue on the violent path we’ve collectively chosen.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Michael Garfield: Glass Chrysanthemum

Over Christmas, some of my out-of-town friends came to visit, including the incredible live painter/essayist/experimental song-writer Michael Garfield! You might remember, I've talked about him before, but if not, suffice it to say that this guy has talent just POURING out of his fingertips.

While he was here, he gave me a signed copy of his recently-released live album, "Glass Chrysanthemum," subtitled, "cyber-acoustic adventures in hyperspace."

Michael is a one-man-band. He uses sound loops to add percussion by tapping on his acoustic guitar and effects to make lots of awesome sounds come out of the strings. I've listened to it all the way through at least three times now, and it still surprises me. The songs are unpredictable explorations of sound that remind me of Pink Floyd or Mars Volta because their complexity and because of the synesthetic effects they have on my mind when I listen.

Like the sound of that?? You can download it for FREE with all of Michael's other music by clicking HERE. You can also read his blog over here. Enjoy!

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