Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mirror Neurons and Social Contagion

On Saturday, I had the distinct pleasure of helping a group of aspiring hypnotherapists develop their (already pretty advanced) intuitions. Before we started, several members of the group told me they’d been looking forward to this session, and afterwards, I perhaps understood why: they were natural psychics, and needed a little help understanding, and, in at least one case, coping with, what they were already doing.

After my usual explanation of intuition, we began the practice exercises. One exercise is designed to increase the students’ awareness of others’ emotions at an energy/intuitive level. It requires that one member of a small group fully experience some emotion, by recalling an instance of it, as in method acting, so that the others can notice how that emotion manifests, and what it brings up for them. This is critical to healers, because sensing what is going on for your client and managing your own emotions around that is necessary to your client’s healing.

As I told the students that the next emotion they were to experience was anger, one woman standing quite close to me jumped the gun, and remembered her anger immediately. I caught a glint of it in her eye, and before I was aware of what had happened, part of me thought, “Oh, s**t, she’s mad at me!” And this happened even though I knew I had just asked the students to “run anger”.

At another point, I asked the group to run fear, which they gamely did. While I was not part of the exercise, just managing it, I found myself nauseated and desperate to leave the room, in the classic “freeze or flee” mechanism.

What was going on?

What was going on was that my neurology was working perfectly! Our brains apparently have certain neurons, called mirror neurons, which “reflect back an action we observe in someone else, making us have that emotion, or have the impulse to do so”, according to Daniel Goleman in his book, “Social Intelligence”. These mirror neurons are the mechanism of our understanding what someone else is experiencing. They create a sort of emotional contagion between people (and even among crowds), especially when they interact face to face, and particularly when they look each other in the eye. This happens completely outside our conscious awareness.

So when I caught the eye of the woman who was “angry”, I experienced her anger, and when several members of the group were “afraid”, I became afraid.

So if you are someone who “catches” others’ negative emotions quickly and easily, what do you do?

The first step to solving a problem is to recognize it. If you regularly have emotions that seem to come out of nowhere, for no reason, your mirror neurons are probably very sensitive (or you have more of them, or they’re working overtime, or something). So the first thing is to ask yourself, “is this my emotion?” If the answer is no, then find a neutral or positive thought which will bring you back to your own decoupled physiology. A few good neutral thoughts are:

I am balanced, centered and grounded. (And really feel your connection to the earth.)
I have a protective bubble around me (or my aura). (Again, take a moment to notice the protection.)
I’m me; you’re you; we’re different (or separate).

Not only will you feel better, but then, in a more resourceful state, you have the ability to shape the interaction, so that the other person “catches” your more positive state.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Does synchronicity have a structure?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines Synchronicity as “Coincidence of events that seem to be meaningfully related, conceived in Jungian theory as an explanatory principle on the same order as causality.” Here’s an amazing example, that just happened to me:

A few weeks ago, I decided on the spur of the moment to launch a 5 week teleclass on the practice of happiness, based in current research into meditation, emotional intelligence, luck, and positive psychology (the psychology of happiness). I picked weekly Wednesday evening “meetings” from 6 – 7 PM California time for a few reasons. I chose the 6PM time because it would be accessible to anyone in the US. I chose Wednesday because mid-week sessions are likely to be better attended, I sometimes go to meditations on Tuesday nights, and people tend to go out on Thursdays. That left Wednesdays. I did it really quickly, without considering what else was going on in my life, and without looking at my calendar.

What was I thinking?

After I sent out the email, I noticed that my favorite yoga class runs from 7 – 8 PM on Wednesdays. Bummer! I was going to have to be late to class for 5 weeks. Oh, well.

And then I noticed that I had a dental hygiene appointment, about 45 minutes away from my office, from 4:30 – 5:30 PM on the day of the first class (yesterday), which meant that I couldn’t get home in time for the class. It is almost impossible to reschedule an appointment, as they are made 6 months in advance. And I had already tried to reschedule this appointment to accommodate the schedule of the hypnotherapy school where I teach, to no avail (had to change the teaching schedule instead — luckily another teacher was willing to trade). I was going to have to do the first class on my cell phone, with probably poor reception, from the discomfort of my car in a parking lot on a hot day. Major bummer!

And here’s what happened:

Last Wednesday night, the yoga teacher announced that for the next 6 weeks, Wednesday night class would be moved to Thursday night! And in fact, this exactly matches my need, because one of the Wednesdays is July 4th, and so my 5 classes are spread over 6 weeks.

Yesterday morning, the dentist’s office called, very apologetically, to say that the hygienist with whom I was scheduled couldn’t do my session! And that I would go to the top of the cancellation list for another appointment. In fact, they called me back the same day with a new date.

Here’s another thing: a couple of weeks after I announced the class, Neale Donald Walsch, author of the “Conversations with God” series, announced that he was holding a one hour teleclass on “Happiness with God” -- from 6 – 7 PM PDT on the night of my first class. How weird is that?

I’d like to believe that it was my clear intention to do this class — for free, and the universe supporting that choice, that led to the synchronicities, but I truly don’t know. Or maybe all this other stuff was set up in advance, and I picked that time because I subconsciously knew about everyone else’s plans. And the question for me is, is there a structure to synchronicity, like there’s a structure to luck (See Richard Wiseman’s “The Luck Factor”)? Because if I understood that, life would be a LOT easier!

Where or when in your life do synchronicities happen? Have you noticed anything that seems to trigger them? Please let me know. If enough people write back, maybe we can figure out a pattern... I’ll share (anonymously) anything useful that I get (unless I’m asked not to).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Can you go home again? Hope... and Acceptance

Last week was quite a whirlwind — NJ for a class, visiting family and friends, and a college reunion, back to SF, only to go to Sacramento on business. But I’m finally home, thank goodness! And because there was such a whirlwind, I have a few impressions I’d like to share with you:

Can you go home again?

It’s very odd to walk around a college campus where you spent almost all of 4 years (I worked as a research assistant in the summers, and stayed for a month or so after graduation, so it really was almost all of 4 years). There is this time travel experience — you know you are you, and it’s 2007, but then, you hit a part of campus that hasn’t changed since you lived there, and... you’ve traveled back in time. I walked by a dorm I lived in one summer, and the window of “my” room had a window fan in it, just like I had. It literally stopped me in my tracks. When am I? It’s as if the present is layered onto the past in the physical place. (Read “Time and Again” by Jack Finney for a terrific novel based on this premise — and no, the movie just isn’t as good).

But then there is also this sense of the place growing and evolving as the community grows and evolves, as everything evolves. Some buildings are the same; others have only been changed on the inside. There are new buildings, housing new scholarly departments and new students. Some trees have gotten bigger, some have died and been replaced by smaller ones. The black squirrels seem to have been replaced by gray ones. The faces, of course, have changed, but the feel remains the same. Engineering students are still working their butts off -- I commiserated with a current engineering student, and one who’d been out 5 years, about how hard we all worked as undergrads. And everyone still feels connected.

So if you can accept that everything changes, then you can go home again.


I had the good fortune to get a ride (thanks, Julie & Rich!) out to the Plasma Physics Lab, which is 4 miles from the main Princeton campus, for the first time ever, so I could take a tour of the facilities. The PPL is one of the few experimental locations in the world for the development of nuclear fusion energy. Currently used nuclear energy is produced by fission, splitting atoms, and it leaves nasty by-products. By contrast, fusing types of hydrogen atoms to make helium, which is an inert gas, also frees up vast amounts of energy, and leaves only the helium as a byproduct.

Here’s the good news: according to the tour director, who is a physicist (although the communications director of the lab and not an experimenter), commercially viable fusion energy is pretty much inevitable. Certainly many things remain to be worked out, but apparently the question is not if, but when. His view is definitely by 2050. The (slightly) bad news is that the PPL would like to be doing experiments 25 weeks a year on the test reactors they have, and are only funded by the Dept. of Energy for 12 weeks a year. How much sooner could this happen if the lab were fully funded? Can we afford to wait until 2050?

A further question is which nation will commercialize fusion energy, and thereby gain the business for putting these small reactors everywhere. Other research institutions are in Russia, China, the EU, and Japan. While the research is apparently a joint endeavor of these countries with India at this point, commercializing it may not be.

All in all, from the Earth’s point of view, this is the most hopeful thing I’ve heard in years.


10 years ago, when I told people at my reunion that I did clairvoyant readings and coaching (which wasn’t called that then), most people who didn’t know me well, and a few who did, looked at me like I was crazy. It wasn’t much better 5 years ago.

But this time, the reaction I got from most people was “Cool!” I had pretty deep conversations, where I was passing on psychic information, with a couple of people who I’m sure wouldn’t have given my information any credence back then. And this is a pretty mainstream group of professionals. Is it because the culture has changed? Or because we’re older? Or because I speak about it in a way that’s easier to relate to? I don’t know, but I sure hope it’s the first of these. Anyway, my sense is that it’s safe to come out of the closet with your abilities (for those of you who have been in one).