Jul 8, 2007

Now This is Just Dumb

Head of Hatshepsut or Tuthmosis II New Kingdom, circa 1479-1425 BC

As noted here the mummy of Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut was recently identified. It's an exciting discovery for archaeologists and Egyptophiles like myself. This morning I opened the Huffington Post to read this idiotic headline: "Mummy Reveals Legendary Egyptian Queen Was Obese, Balding And Bearded." Number 1: Who cares? Number 2: The beard was a false one, and was affected to represent her pharaonic authority. Number 3: Can no woman in history escape objectifying lookism?

Huffington Post is not primarily at fault, here. The headline derives from the source material; an article on Live Science. And it only gets worse from there.

Turns out, Hatshepsut was no Cleopatra. Instead, she was a 50-year-old fat lady; apparently she used her power over the Upper and Lower Nile to eat well and abundantly. Archaeologists also claim that she probably had diabetes, just like many obese women today.

Hatshepsut also suffered from what all women over 40 need—a stylist. She was balding in front but let the hair on the back of her head to grow really long, like an aging female Dead Head with alopecia.

This Queen of Egypt also sported black and red nail polish, a rather Goth look for someone past middle age.

Got it? Hatshepsut was a "Glamour don't." Why this matters roughly 3500 years after the fact is a mystery to me.

Letting alone that Cleopatra's legendary beauty is a subject of some dispute, this article is wrong-headed from the outset. I can't believe it was written by an academic, and female one at that. She does allow that Hatshepsut was extraordinarily successful, but implies that it was in spite of her homeliness. What it was in spite of was a culture that did not allow for female rulers. How ironic that all these years later her memory must still battle a sexist, objectifying standard.

Jul 2, 2007

Making the Darkness Conscious

Mukesh in a Yoga Position

Hat-tip to Unexplained Mysteries for noting this article on brain function and meditation. A recent study concludes that mindful observation of our darker emotions advances our healing process.

If you name your emotions, you can tame them, according to new research that suggests why meditation works.

Brain scans show that putting negative emotions into words calms the brain's emotion center. That could explain meditation’s purported emotional benefits, because people who meditate often label their negative emotions in an effort to “let them go.”

Psychologists have long believed that people who talk about their feelings have more control over them, but they don't know why it works.

I have written and spoken a good deal about the use of active denial as a spiritual practice. Most recently, in my review of the movie "The Secret," but also here. I have come down hard against "Secret" mania, not because it is the worst offender, but because of the viral nature of the message. It's cleverly packaged pop-spirituality, but the message is a retread of one many of us grew up with: "Don't dwell."

As I wrote in that review:

I nearly fell out my chair when I heard "The Secret's" Bob Proctor advise that when you're feeling bad you should simply put on some music, because it would change your mood, and to "block out everything but that [happy] thought." Try that if you're clinically depressed. Just try it. Or if you are recovering from childhood sexual abuse. Or if you are one of our returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even the joyous sounds of Steve Martin's banjo won't make you happy, and to suggest that it's that simple is insulting. And if you could block out all that pain, it would be anything but healthy.

In her appearance on "Oprah," Lisa Nichols explained how she addresses people who want to talk about their personal history or "story." Her response is "I don't want to know it, because you've used it to keep yourself where you are." So word to the wise, if you want someone to help you heal and come complete with your painful history, Lisa Nichols is probably not the appropriate facilitator for you.

Many years ago, as a communications student, I was taught that the most important communication tool is listening. When I started working professionally as a reader and healing facilitator, the importance of well-honed listening skill was really brought home for me. I found that there are readings in which I really say very little, but which facilitate enormous transformation in the client. I allow my guides to direct me in a process of transmitting the messages I receive; then listening, breathing, and experiencing what is happening in a client's body when they speak their truth. In this way I am able to help them process and clear. The longer I do this work, the less I run my suck. People need to be heard, and in most of our daily lives, we are not.

The message of this fascinating bit of brain research is that listening to ourselves -- to the streaming of our own thoughts -- is also crucial to our emotional health. More importantly, we need to acknowledge and name our feelings; even and especially the ones we don't like.

When the participants chose labels for the negative emotions, activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex region—an area associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences—became more active, whereas activity in the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotional processing, was calmed.

. . .

“In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses,” Lieberman said of his study, which is detailed in the current issue of Psychological Science.

This runs exactly counter to the ideas advanced in "The Secret" and other new age staples on positive thought. For years we all heard that focusing on our negative thoughts and feelings would exacerbate them and cause us to "magnetize" more negative experiences. The suggested remedy was to focus on the positive, thereby "manifesting" positive results. Never mind that our ideas of positive and negative are, not only subjective, but entrenched in a dualistic conception of life and the universe. In other words, this splitting function actually keeps us from experiencing wholeness, or "one-ness."

Suppressing and denying also keeps us from processing and healing our painful emotions, as this study graphically illustrates. Thinking only happy thoughts will not cause our unpleasant emotions to atrophy and disappear. It simply drives them underground. (It can also cause them to play out in our bodies, but that's a subject for another discussion.) It is actually acknowledging the darker feelings rattling around the subconscious, that reduces their effect on our overall emotional state.