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Power, Purpose & those Adolescent Years

From: Jay
Sent on: Thursday, March 13, 2014 9:35 PM

The Science of an Adolescent Brain, Upcoming Events in the Bay Area & Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other.
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Do you have experience with adolescence? Every human has, either with their children, a relative or, if memory serves, their own passage through those “emotional" years. It could be the toughest period of raising kids for parents who feel the child is morphing into a strange being and for the child who can’t understand why the parents don’t know how it feels.

I spent a splendid evening earlier this week in the company of my neuro-biologist friend, Dan Siegel from UCLA Medical Center, who spoke exquisitely on understanding the adolescent brain. He decided to study it because of his own struggle with understanding his two children who passed through it and there was no good reference guide. He also found it quite insulting when people try to either ignore the symptoms of adolescence as a passing phase or blame it on "raging hormones”. It’s not uncommon to hear the cynical “I’m sorry" when when someone says they are raising a teenager. Dan’s research unravels the mysteries of an adolescent brain, particularly ages 12 - 24. If one makes the effort to understand, it could change the experience completely. These finding along with his recommendations, which are very handy for both parents and teenagers, are published in his latest book, Brainstorm.

So what exactly is the issue with adolescence? It’s quite like metamorphosis inside the chrysalis. The adolescence brain undergoes significant rewiring to prepare for it’s life outside the “nest”, where one can expect the unfamiliar, the unsafe, the uncomfortable and the uncertain. The process includes “pruning” of excess neurons and integration of the remainder with the laying down of myelin (“mylenation”) in the cortex. This transform the human from a knowledge soaking generalist to a rapid response specialist. The outcome is a system capable of performing 3,000 times faster. 
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Upcoming Events

March 15 & 16 - 1 to 6pm
Inner Peace Inner Power
Anubhuti Retreat Center in Marin County

March 22, 2 - 4pm
Men's Wisdom Circle with Rahul Brown
San Francisco Meditation Center

April 5 - 10am to 5pm
Art & Science of Happiness
Anubhuti Retreat Center in Marin County

Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other

Recall a time when you reacted angrily to someone who has offered to help in some way, but perhaps their communication wasn't so clear. Immediately after you likely felt a little guilty for that reaction, and perhaps offer an apology.  Deep within you know that you acted against the natural 'tone' of your being which is not anger but love, not irritation but appreciation.  You were momentarily 'out of tune' with your conscience!

Similarly if you bribe someone to do something against another you will also feel a 'pinch' in your conscience, albeit more subtle.  And maybe a thought will form to say, "Was that really the right thing to do"?

If you consciously tell someone a lie you will know immediately something is out of alignment within your self as your conscience will send you a mental text message in the form of a thought, "You know that was wrong don't you?".

Just a few examples of thinking and acting against our 'truth', and how we innately and intuitively know by the messages that our conscience sends us.  If we repeat such acts over time then habits form, and in parallel we create the habit of suppressing our conscience.

When we think and act against our conscience, in each case the basic message is 'guilt'.  The feeling of guilt is the sign we have acted against the true note of our being which is essentially 'what is true'.  Not to be confused with the guilt that others would like us to feel so they can manipulate our feelings and therefore our behavior.  A 'guilty conscience' is always worth taking note of and inquiring into its cause.  But the guilt that comes up as a reaction to someone else's judgment of us deserves to be ignored.  It is likely to be a throwback to some relationship, often with a parent, where we learned that we were responsible for their happiness.   And they then used their unhappiness to induce guilty feelings within us.   When we realize we are not responsible for the happiness of others, when we stop seeking the approval of others, we release ourselves from the prison we have built for ourselves in our own minds.  It can take time to break out of this mindset as both parents at home, and managers at work, often learn to induce our guilt to get us to act in ways they want.  And when they do seem to be successful in exploiting our guilt they create the illusion that they are able to control others. 

The classic image of the tension that emerges when we lose touch with our conscience is of two little figures sitting on each of our shoulders.  Each is whispering in our ears.  One is a little angel and other is a little devil.  One is trying to remind us that there is a right way to live, a right way to be and do, a right way to think and feel, while the other is trying to tempt us to ignore all that and just party!  Which is shorthand for do anything you want to get what you want.  But often we do not realize that in the words of an old Chinese proverb, "He who sacrifices his conscience to ambition burns a picture to obtain the ashes".  Ultimately these voices must war within us until we ignore the little angel of our conscience enough that the discomfort and suffering reaches such a pitch that we are forced to review and change our way of living.  Which means re-aligning with our little angel!  In the meantime others may attempt to interfere with this process and take advantage of our growing sense of guilt in order to manipulate our thoughts, decisions and actions.  A process found in some religious contexts and in some political processes.  But only some! 

Ultimately however, guilt and a guilty conscience creates its own self-perpetuating image which is "I am a person who does bad things", which eventually becomes, "I am a bad person".  It is in this negative self-image that another face of 'the ego' will come to reside.  Any suggestion that we are an innately good person, a being who is a source of goodness in life i.e. a source of love and joy, will be resisted in order to sustain the negative self-image.  Which means the conscience, which is simply designed to signal us when we veer 'off course' has been hijacked by the ego and poisoned by the idea that guilt is necessary in life, that guilt is natural, guilt is good, get used to it.  When that happens, as it does for many years for many people, it means the little devil has won.   But it is a temporary victory because if the truth is that which never changes and our conscience is our indestructible source of true guidance then ultimate victory is assured.  We can avoid it, suppress it, even try to kill it, but we cannot escape our conscience.  We will eventually return to save and then be saved by the heart of our heart, which can never be destroyed.  At least that is the spiritual theory!  Which is good news when we remember that old French proverb "There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience".

© Mike George 2014

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