It is not unheard of for someone to look back on their upbringing and marvel at how they could have been raised by same parents in the same house and with same conditions as their siblings to the end of flourishing into a lively, productive adult while their sibling struggles to find solid footing in a meaningful existence. It’s easy enough to guess that conditions alone are not enough to predict the way a child will emerge into adulthood. It’s commonsensical to assume that people are all different and how we view the world and our experiences would have impact on who we become. Yet, even with countless examples of the same events ultimately shaking out to be described as very different experiences by the folks sharing them, for quite a long time, in the area of education, past expectations have been that if the teaching event is high quality enough, the students should all share the same learning experience. To be sure, I am stating this in oversimplified laymen’s terms, as I am not an educator. However, I am a student—since I was 5 years old—and I do know that the system of uniformity and comparison under which I was educated did not seem to take into account any variables of my personhood (outside of grouping by age) that might lend to how, what, when and why I might learn best. So when I heard her Ed talk (see link above), my interest lit right up.
Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, as a affective neuroscientist, education researcher and former teacher, personifies the intersection between the varying fields of study helping to shift the lens through which we examine how what we learn and the way we learn it, that is, what strikes us as memorable and relevant, can be impacted by the emotions and cultural perspectives. While she advances the idea that students would benefit from teachers delivering lesson plans that integrate emotional experiences, she is also careful to express the importance of avoiding inadequate or overreaching responses to neuroscience research and she offers strategies to do so. She calls for creative and collaborative cross talk between educators and neuroscientists. This Immordino-Yang explains would help pave the way for the most creative questions to be pursued in the field of science.
So, what does our daily decision making have to do with the wellness of our brain’s emotional centers? According to Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio…much. Their research raises questions about how our ability to make judgements day-to-day relies on our brain’s ability to process choices through a sense of right and wrong and the calculation of risk. You see, like pedals on a bicycle, to keep things rolling along smoothly, logic and emotional feelings work in tandem, creating a point-of-reference by which we avoid social discomfort or disapproval. In the absence of this coalition, one might be more likely to be more cavalier in his actions than social rules dictate. Research suggests that emotions may be the stuff that our unique capacities to function are made of. We are motivated, inspired, moved, cautioned and driven by emotions in a way that makes learning applicable for each of us in a unique way.
Neuroscientifically speaking, recent years have seen an upgrade in thinking to an understanding that affective thinking systems and cognitive thinking skills, including recalling memories, deep thinking and making decisions that matter, operate by some of the same neurological processes. In other words, our beautiful brains have evolved and these processes activate common areas in the brain. And, they do so to the extent that if something doesn’t really matter, it won’t earn real estate in the mind because the brain won’t be bothered processing it. And if the brain doesn’t think it’s important how can we learn it? And, educationally speaking, this is a conundrum worth drumming up some attention, because while there have been some changes in educational methods that reflect this reality, Immordino-Yang and Damasio make the point that for a long time, teaching methods have approached the two skills as separate.
Immordino-Yang, as a young teacher, had an aha moment. She noticed that her student’s learning was being influenced by the connections they could make between the lesson content’s and their personal, social and emotional experiences. She was provoked to dig into more research and her subsequent questions emerged as the theory that emotions are important to learning in ways that will extend beyond classroom performance and test scores. That emotions are not only important but integral to helping learners integrate information or skill in a deep, organic way that can then be negotiated in the world.
The scientist educator also noticed something else in her quest. She also found evidence of the evolutionary nature of the brain. That is, emotions which drive our basic needs for safety, comfort and growth and the survival mechanism that has always been responsible for keeping us from becoming tiger food light up the same areas of the brain. This might mean that the only thing worse than being chased down and eaten by a tiger is thinking you’re being chased down by a tiger and are going to be eaten. That tiger in the imagination may present in the form of an SAT, disapproval of a parent, ridicule of a peer or self-loathing and when it does, the emotions are processed no differently from those of real events. The point is, how a student perceives what might happen, what did happen or what should happen—or what is good, bad, right, or wrong—regarding the most important aspect of their life can also affect their learning. .
So, the idea that our human experiences real or imagined, and how we feel about them, cannot not be extracted from the collection of thoughts that make up our mind, and therefore, become our experiences, abides by the notion that we are each multiple forms of the same substance—light, vibration, energy. And the idea that taking an expanded look into what learning looks like, means students can perhaps step into a classroom with their mind, body and soul, encounter information that feeds the totality of who they are, utilize experiences that in past might have provided a distraction to learning, and walk away continuing the learn-burn even while contributing what they have into the world. That sounds to me like thriving above and beyond surviving. As the world becomes more conscious by the minute, meaningfulness will become a prerequisite to anything we do. The long path of education (K-12, higher education and graduate programs, etc.) can be exhausting and disaffecting or it can be expansive, cultivating and renewing. As a student, across time, I have experienced both. And to the extent that technology and research is allowing us to know ourself (the body of humanity) better, I am appreciative of the push to do the work, have the talks, share the information and take the next steps to allow creativity to thrive in relating to one another in education and every way.
Healing Creatively Starts at Diagnosis:Our bodies speak in symptoms; there is more room for healing when we don't shoot the messenger.
What’s more terrifying than finding out that you have been conscripted to go to war? Finding out that the opponent with whom you are warring is actually your own body. Scary stuff this is. Yet, this is what sitting in the doctor’s office receiving a diagnosis of autoimmune disease can feel like. After all, you likely knew something was wrong, which is probably what led you to get things checked out. You were nervous when you entered the medical arena, and now that you know you’re not necessarily dying, you’re terrified. The Boogie Man that had been hiding in the recesses of your imagination, peeking through the cracks of your google search of possible illnesses, is now exposed. You’re relieved it no longer remains nameless, but with a name like Grave’s Disease, autoimmune hepatitis, dermatomyositis, or diabetes it certainly doesn’t sound like anything you want or can live out a normal life with. Then comes the other bad news: the disease that is threatening to rip your life apart is self-induced. Maybe it’s environmental, maybe it’s genetic but the bottom line is your body, seemingly of its own volition, is producing the dangerous antibodies that are attacking you and sending your systems out of whack. And it must be stopped.
If you have ever been in this position, you may identify with the sense of helplessness and dependency on the prescribed responses of the medical community that can occur. Without question, these intelligent and kind individuals want to see you get better. They want to help you win the war. However, it can feel remarkably like a well-intended big sister who finds out you have been bullied and decides to drag you right back down to the playground by your collar, no less, to help you confront that bully with a disregard for your fear that this move might exacerbate an already horrible situation. I mean, it’s not that you don’t want to stand up for yourself, it’s just that you need time to figure things out, decide what it all means, where you fit in…how else you might approach it. And this is where your superpower comes in.
We all have the power to decide (meditate, contemplate, pray about) how we will think about the problems that have been set before us. There is really no better time, albeit no more difficult time, to think creatively. And because the basic survival aspect of the brain gets involved when we make decisions with emotion, as pointed out by neuroscientist and educator, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (2015), it is a great time to ask some meaningful questions of survival: What might be all the ways I can heal? What ways might I listen for the greater message of my illness? How to find balance in my mental, spiritual, and physical self that will alleviate my symptoms? How might I partner with my friends in the medical community and leverage their good intentions and expertise to make space for my body to heal? How might I integrate homeopathic or naturopathic approaches with conventional ones? How might I trust my body to heal? How might I approach this problem with love and appreciation for the symptoms that showed up to inform me? How might I respond with careful listening instead of defensive suppression of these symptoms? In what ways might I seek support outside of the medical community to help guide my approach to healing? How might I find others who have healed at the source of their illness rather than merely suppressing the symptoms? How to communicate all my needs to doctors when they stand in the position of apparent authority? How might I love myself? How might I transform my fear into trust? How might I allow myself the courage to move to the surface? In what ways might innate wisdom guide me? How to access my deeper level of consciousness for freedom from disease?
The superpower we all hold in sickness and in health is to think and learn creativity—deeply and connectively. More than ever, in the throes of a new medical challenge, we need the principles of divergent thinking—deferred judgment, lots and lots of novel ideas and collaborative, integrative building onto what we already know—and we need good judgment to sort through it all.
When it’s all said and done and a plan of action has been decided on, then we can go forward, loving and trusting our ability to heal, forgiving the terrifying circumstances and thanking the symptoms for alerting us to the underlying imbalance in our greater self. But never–ever, should we regard any aspect ourselves as the enemy.
— Published on February 24, 2020
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all women and men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A feminist, leadership enthusiast, and creative problem-solving consultant, the author takes the reader on a heartfelt journey of self-awareness, love, and personal freedom. Powerful, funny, and as sincere as they come, this book reminds us all that we're in control of our legacy.
A wonderful look at the encouraging and motivating letters from a mother to her son during his darkest hour. Jacqueline L. Jackson is loving, supportive, witty, and very descriptive in the letters she writes her son daily in her efforts to let him know he is not alone. She wants him to know he is loved, supported, and covered in prayer every day. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr states, "the letters from my mom kept me going." This book should be the blueprint to guide families with family members in peril on how to support each other.