Sunday, March 10, 2013

A bowl full of jelly(fish) and opening up your right brain

We went back to the aquarium this weekend -- braving the Saturday crowds so that Lily could watch her beloved dolphins jump up and down and 'pash* in the water. Brad's parents joined us on our excursion -- a tremendous help in a place where strollers are banned and babies feel heavier by the exhibit. (Not to mention, I thought they'd enjoy watching Lily watch the dolphins. And for added adorable-ness, 10-month-old Jovie just figured out how to clap, like, yesterday, so she, too, clapped, for Chesapeake, Bailey, Noni and the rest. I know. Cuteness overload.)

As it turns out the aquarium is great place to find inspiration. After our last visit I blogged about vulnerability and this time around it's lead me to Inner Calm (with a small detour through Anxietyville). 

Here's what happened -- after stopping by the dolphins and finding out that there might not be a chance to see the dolphins 'pash and play, I was a bit stressed. For weeks we've been talking about going back the visit the dolphins so that she could clap for them. Watching them swim around underwater wasn't doing it for her. She wanted a show. And she asked about it over and over again. And that was just 10 minutes into our visit. 

We headed over to the jellyfish exhibit with a promise to Lily that we'd go visit the seahorses afterward (she spent the entirety of our time with the jellies telling Brad she wanted to see the seahorses ... her grasp on sequences of events is limited, at best). 

And it was with the jellies that I got a glimpse at Inner Peace: Gelatinous, floating blobs.

Moon Jellyfish
Seriously, I could've spent the day watching the jellies pulse and drift through the water. They were beautiful and alien and uncomplicated. 

(OK, as evidenced by the name of the exhibit, "Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balancenot everyone is happy about the jellies. Massive swarms of jellies with voracious eating habits have threatened the entire oceanic ecosystem. So, that's a problem.) 

But if you can forgive them their appetites and stinging tentacles (and by the way, we humans are partly to blame for the jelly boom -- surprise, surprise) they are rather mesmerizing. 

And watching them causes your thoughts to drift in nowhere in particular. Which is better than your thoughts drifting to "I hope Lily doesn't lose her shit if we don't get to see the dolphins 'pash in the water later on." Or "What am I going to do when Jovie decides she doesn't want to be contained in the carrier anymore?" Or "Crap, I forgot to call the preschool back about my application." Or "What if the world hates me and I'm a failure at life?"

You know, those sorts of thoughts. The Jellies just float into your field of vision and wrap those thoughts into their stingy tentacles, paralyzing them and carrying them away. 

A Pacific Seat Nettle
(I think my anxiety is ensnared in the blobby white bits).
Which is why I think I need an aquarium of jellyfish in my house, because lord knows I have enough self-defeating, resentful, dark, angry, anxious and otherwise unproductive thoughts throughout the day. The thing wouldn't starve. And you know, I only have two kids under three, a dog and three cats ... what's an extra Cnidaria or two?)

I think maybe if everyone had jellyfish in their house that we'd help put a dent into those dangerous swarms and also we'd all feel a little more peaceful and maybe less prone to wearing our judgy pants). 

The jellyfish reminded me of an interview I did a couple years ago with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who wrote about her experiences during and recovering from a stroke in the book "My Stroke of Insight."** 

One of the things she talked about during the interview (well and in the book and in her famous Ted Talk  and the presentation I saw her give at Penn State York) was how the stroke affected the function of her analytical left brain and opened up the door to her creative right brain. She had none of the "past emotional baggage, perceived limitations and critical judgments." She was able to live in the present moment and embrace her oneness with the universe.***

She said that when she wants to access that place again she tries to connect with nature. Getting outside for a walk or watching a light breeze shake the leaves on a tree. 

And I think if she went to the jellyfish exhibit, she could add that to her list of pathways to her right brain. 

Here's where I'm going to make a stretch to other thoughts plaguing me lately. In "My Stroke of Insight" Taylor writes:
“When we are being compassionate, we consider another's circumstance with love rather than judgement... To be compassionate is to move into the right here, right now with an open heart consciousness and a willingness to be supportive.” 
Honoring our creative mind allows us to connect with others and to love others, in part because it helps us be more at peace with ourselves. 

I thought about this as I read this column about the hidden poor by one of my former colleagues, Mike Argento.

He writes:
"We are turning into a coarser nation, a more unfeeling nation, a nation where 'empathy' is viewed by some to be a pejorative term. We are turning into a nation where we say we simply can't afford to assist people who need assistance just to get by, but we can afford to give huge tax breaks to the wealthiest. We stigmatize the poor to the point where it's acceptable for pols to rail about welfare recipients, but unacceptable to suggest that the wealthy contribute more to the country that enabled their wealth. Suggest that poor people are moochers and you get your own show on Fox News. Suggest that the wealthy pay slightly more in taxes and you're called a socialist and compared to Hitler." 
And it also reminded me of This American Life's excellent two-part show on a violence-plagued high school in Chicago. Listen to Part 1 and Part 2.

It is not enough to be compassionate toward the people who look like us or think like us. Compassion should be equal opportunity -- shared in even quantities with the parents of those murdered first graders and the children at inner city schools who can't catch their breath between the acts of violence they witness every day. They are all of us and we are all them.

And as Taylor points out, the power to shut down preconceptions in favor of open heartedness is within each of us. We're already wired for it. 

On days when it seems like the world just keeps getting uglier, I try to remind myself of this. 

It'd be easier if I had a jellyfish or two though.

* As evidenced by 'parkly deer and 'pashing, Lily has trouble with words that start with "st" or "sp" 

** Read this book. It's really interesting and you'll be grateful for the insight you'll get on how to take control of your negative emotional cycles for a more positive life. And it's sciencey, not new agey (for those of you concerned about such things) ... but really they're all connected.

*** OK, yes, this sounds new agey. And it is. But, again, I remind you she's a neuroscientist. And anyway, don't get hung up on preconceptions. 


  1. As a thought connecting to yours, "ahimsa," "a Buddhist and Hindu doctrine expressing belief in the sacredness of all living creatures and urging the avoidance of harm and violence. Compassion." This principle applies to ourselves, especially when the negative voices get loud.
    Farmer Jim

  2. As always Jim - you offer such great thoughts. Thanks for sharing. May we all remember each other's sacredness.