Cranial nerves, eggplant, screentime, and neuroscience.

The autonomic nervous system (most commonly understood as the fight/flight and freeze system) has 12 cranial nerves, 5 of which are responsible/necessary for social engagement (a feeling of safety, restoration, resiliency, and a desire to connect with others and not isolate). These five cranial nerves #5,7,9,10, & 11, manifest in our facial expressions/non-verbals and our voice prosody (the patterns of emphasis and intonation in language)—this plays an important role in developing awareness of our own and others emotions and experiences and supports the development of empathy.

In 2004. Dr. David Walsh’s study revealed that kids ages 8-18 in the US were consuming 40 hours of screen time per week on average. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation did a follow up study to Walsh’s which revealed that number had climbed to over 55 hours/week on average and its speculated now to be over 60 hours/week. I love technology but I think the math is pretty simple. When were consuming that much screen time it just leaves less and less time for lived experiences and the necessary exercise of these 5 cranial nerves to learn, practice, and master these skills which help us regulate our emotions and behaviors.

Neuroplasticity, or the process by which we strengthen or create (neurogenesis) neural pathways (as Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do) we do this through activities/exercises that are intentionally focused, experiential, redundant, visceral, novel, consistent, meaningful, and require action—sound familiar? Of course it does because although it’s not rocket science, we know that just like the dirt road forms due to repeated traffic, we learn stuff and get better at it until we master it—by doing it over and over and over —like learning to play the guitar for example—it’s strangely difficult to do this, if possible at all, without actually engaging ourselves physically or engaging others. I can look at the kettle bells next to my tv every day and think about using them but I can tell you not using them does nothing!!

How we get to “freeze”

When someone has experienced trauma, chronic overwhelming stress, etc. our “fight/flight” part of our nervous system stays in a state of hyperarousal, just like repeatedly getting punched in the arm eventually leads to bruising (physical/physiological changes) so does hyperarousal create physical changes in our nervous system and eventually our viscera (bodily organs) (see ACE’s Study) causing the autonomic nervous system collapse or to the “freeze” mode (immobilized, collapse, shutdown—often manifested symptoms of depression and anxiety) promoting isolation, withdrawal, and a slowing of metabolism, etc.

So it’s not difficult to understand how someone who has experienced these things can have a collapse response. But there are lots of kids that struggle with emotional and behavioral dysregulation due to a lack of lived experiences which are necessary to develop the ability to work through frustration, bounce back from disappointment, sit in and through discomfort—because these experiences teach sticktoitiveness (tenacity), perseverance, and grit—these are skills that prepare us for actually living life beyond the screens at a visceral and nervous system (neuroception) level.

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Convenience: the New Golden Calf or Post-Modern Screwtape?

Based on 30 years in the Human Service/Mental Health field I have heard concerns about other people “abusing” or “scamming the system” and “expecting everyone else to pay their way”, etc. Ive heard a lot about how people “are just lazy and just collect welfare because they can”. I’ve heard about how people fake out social security disability administration and yet everyone I know who has ever tried to apply has been turned down an average of at least 3 times if they ever got approved. I know that I haven’t met everyone in the world but I have worked with hundreds of individuals and families receiving public assistance. In addition, I have presented numerous times at state conferences, schools, churches, communities, etc. & in doing so I have heard countless others reports of their observations as well. I have conducted research within urban and rural settings relative to children’s mental health and families who were often targets of these quotes. Most of these opinions are held by thinkers of the quotes above, and have been expressed most often in my experience about people of color or “white trash”. Sadly, these sentiments have usually been expressed by people who report to be “Christians”…

I don’t hear a lot of other reasons people vote conservative because of these or very similar held opinions/beliefs. I have heard these reports with specifics on this family or that—and I honestly can’t say that I could or could not verify those statements. I have met other people who I have observed have likely “abused the system”…BUT—I must tell you in nearly 3 years playing rock n roll around the country and 30 years in this field—I’ve been blessed to meet lots of people from every walk of life—but I have not met “those people”, (Julia Dinsmore), described by the quotes above. I have met many, many who may be receiving public assistance but working one FT job at a minimum but most often a PT job on the side as well and not making it but working really hard so someday they’d be able to. I have met so many people that lacked the lived experiences to learn how to do things the way most people learn the best. I have NEVER met a single person the quotes above supposedly reference who didn’t want to learn about how to build their capacity into competencies. What I have found is that we have turned convenience into the New Golden Calf as our standard—if I’m successful it means I have enough money to pay everyone to do everything for me so I can exist in a state of leisure/pleasure/bliss = the American Dream—is it any wonder we’ve created a society where we worship easy, fast, fun now and anything less is almost considered painful. Discomfort, failure, rejection, and disappointment are considered useless and beneath us. We pursue more and more convenience/minimizing discomfort and any need for perseverance—(or value thereof). Young people’s social and emotional learning today is being undermined by the scarcity of experiential/lived experiences which require us to engage our entire physiology thereby fostering learning, practicing, mastering, & generalizing life/social/emotional skills which prepare them for life (Turck, 2011)!!

I think it’s time we begin to look at each other differently and understand most people are not using the system. Most people want to build capacity into competencies but if we ONLY rely on “easy, fast, fun, now…social and emotional learning is minimal. Social and emotional intelligence requires lived experience. Screen-based living doesn’t provide that—but it does act easy, fast, fun, now—the insidious grip of the dumbing down of AMERICA and exploding emotional dysregulation.

Social and emotional intelligence is required for executive brain function (empathy, altruism, selflessness)—there’s a reason it seems like we are seeing more and more emotional dysregulation—we have eroded into everyone gets a trophy, my feelings can’t get hurt, nobody fails, and everything that we value is easy, fast, fun, now—and then give me more and more because for some reason this isn’t satiating.
According to recent research in neuroscience in order to change this we need to engage children in activities which are:

Requires intentional focus
(Siegel, 2011)
And include the integration and understanding of 5 major theoretical applications (Experiential Learning, Social Learning, Symbolic Interactionism, Strength-Based, & Ecological Systems theories (Turck, 2011)

When world leaders glamorize and idolize materialism, greed, and unrelenting pleasure is the standard by which ones stature is determined at all costs//we lust for more—-because we can just do it—does it mean we should? Is there physiological value in delaying gratification, persevering on difficult tasks or projects?? When we learn, practice, and master these skills—we have mastered self-control and self-discipline. We can be consistently, thoughtful, reasonable, kind, and sincere.

Instead our would be role models live lives of luxury and excess and as a society we have made this the standard by which we determine value it’s no wonder we’ve become afraid of hard work, our current leader embodies hard work as just two more 4-letter words. We have been lulled to sleep by this Giant with greed/lust for more convenience—more “easy, fast, fun, now!” As with technology, convenience is a good thing but it has also become the screw tape of our time/society.

As parents, over the years it has become common knowledge that there was this notion that good parents always want their children to have it better (easier) than they did. With every good intention we have removed barriers, obstacles, hurdles, discomfort, rejection, and failure from children’s lives thinking that would be a good thing. We all know though that to learn something really well you have to do it over and over and over, right? Well if I have no practice in bouncing back (resilience), how does my body ever learn to deal with that discomfort? The answer is it doesn’t (the need for lived experience/hermeneutic phenomenology). Instead we become dysregulated because we don’t know how to handle out shit. “No” never really meant “no” consistently, and my hissy fit always got my parents to cave—

everyone is telling you it’s no big deal—(or at least you’re telling yourself that)and our kids grow up lacking the lived experiences to develop social & emotional intelligence and significantly lack empathy and insight (Siegel, 2011) so everything is everyone else’s fault.

We need a 30 year plan to correct our country and it must be focused on developing social and emotional intelligence utilizing the recent findings in neuroscience integrated with the theories identified above. We need to begin with early childhood education so that by the time these kids have grown we will have well-balanced, socially and emotionally intelligent citizens which really would make America great again. We live in a dysregulated society. Gun violence is only a symptom and until we get down to this systemic issue of human development we will continue to nurture a more and more dysregulated society.

Siegel, D. Mindsight, 2011

Siegel, D. The pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology, 2012

Turck, K. DIRT GROUP: Growing to learn, learning to grow. How does participation in experiential gardening groups influence social-skill development in at-risk youth?, 2011

Van Der Kolk, B. The body keeps the score, 2017

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wild grapes by alan levine Wild grapes photo by Alan Levine, public domain


Bird Woman, brave woman,
sixteen years old and
explorer of unknown frontiers.
Baby on your back.
mother-wit finding
food, medicine, plants, berries,
paths through mountains to the big water.


Helen Ann, dreaming of adventures,
rides a fat pony
around the yard and into the woods.
Branches grab her braids, and
brother hears her cries,
rescues, laughs,
names her Sacagawea because
she loves the woods and wilds.


90 degrees in the shade,
Aunty takes us wading,
digging river clams,
picking gooseberries in the bushes,
chokecherries from scrubby trees.
Showing us the way—college, career, even
Blazing new trails as surely as
Bird Woman did.


Together, we forage fall fencelines,
tramp the forty,
pick wild grapes,
bake Christmas cookies.
Who knew this would be the last time?


Sacagawea silver dollar in my wallet
to remember you both forever.

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mock orange blossoms

Twenty-nine years ago
friends overflowed the yard, front and back,
as deep purple clematis climbed the wall and
bountiful blossoms covered the mock orange bush.

Over the years we
said goodbye to that clematis,
and to my dad, his dad, aunts and uncles.

Over the years we
put down roots, and
planted peonies, ferns, tulips, trees,
and children.

A few friends remain.
The mock orange blooms again today,
though showing its age,
as we are.

Twenty-nine years together
watching the world change
outside our doors
inside our hearts.

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Sneaky stuff in omnibus bills

News Day

mct state capitol

Thanks to two whistle-blowing state senators, we know about two sneaky provisions hiding in plain sight in the final three weeks of the Minnesota legislative session: repeal of campaign finance reforms and a sell-out of Minnesota privacy rules.

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Sanctuary city attacks and resistance and other immigration articles – April 25, 2017

Immigration news

Sanctuary CityFrom News Day post: On April 21, the Department of Justice sent letters to nine jurisdictions “having laws that potentially violate 8 U.S.C. §1373:” — Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, and Chicago. A press release accompanying the letters charged that “many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime.”

The press release charged that, “New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s ‘soft on crime’ stance.” That’s a flat-out lie, according to New York’s mayor and police chief:

“[NYC Mayor Bill] De Blasio said such remarks were “absolutely outrageous”. James O’Neill, head of New York’s police department, similarly rejected the justice department’s claims, saying they showed “a willful disregard for the facts”.

“O’Neill noted that 2016 saw the fewest shootings in New York City…

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Celebrate Jeanette Vizguerra and other immigration stories – April 21, 2017

Immigration news

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 5.08.20 PMJeanette Vizguerra (Time, 4/20/17) An undocumented immigrant activist living in sanctuary is on the 2017 Time 100 list of “the most influential people in the world: the artists, icons, leaders, pioneers and titans who are shaping the future.”

“Jeanette moved to the U.S. to be a janitor, working as an outspoken union organizer and building her own company before becoming an advocate for immigration reform—a bold and risky thing for an undocumented immigrant. After fighting off deportation for eight years, she decided to go public with her story and sought refuge in the basement of a Denver church….

“She came to this country not to rape, murder or sell drugs, but to create a better life for her family. She shed blood, sweat and tears to become a business owner, striving to give her children more opportunities than she had. This is not a crime. This is the American Dream.”

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