Monthly Archives: August 2009

of schizophrenic mice and men

here is some exciting new research on schizophrenia, which i found through changeseeker. the full text is at psycport; i’ve added a few links and comments.

new research from the northwestern university feinberg school of medicine has revealed how schizophrenia works in the brain and provided a fresh opportunity for treatment. in a new, genetically engineered mouse model [which was pioneered by the good people at johns hopkins], scientists have discovered the disease symptoms are triggered by a low level of a brain protein necessary for neurons to talk to one another.

in human and mouse brains, kalirin [named after the multiple-handed hindu goddess kali for its ability to interact with numerous other proteins] is the brain protein needed to build the dense network of highways, called dendritic spines, which allow information to flow from one neuron to another. northwestern scientists have found that without adequate kalirin, the frontal cortex of the brain of a person with schizophrenia only has a few narrow roads. the information from neurons gets jammed up like rush hour traffic on an interstate highway squeezed to a single lane.

“without enough pathways, the information takes much longer to travel between neurons and much of it will never arrive,” said peter penzes, assistant professor of physiology at the feinberg school. he is senior author of a paper reporting the findings published in a recent issue of the proceedings of the national academy of science. michael cahill, a feinberg doctoral student in neuroscience, is the lead author.

“this discovery opens a new direction for treating the devastating cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia,” penzes said. “there is currently no treatment for that. it suggests that if you can stimulate and amplify the activity of the protein kalirin that remains in the brain, perhaps we can help the symptoms.”

currently the only drug treatment for schizophrenia is an antipsychotic. “the drugs address the hallucinations and calm down the patient, but they don’t improve their working memory (the ability of the brain to temporarily store and manage information required for complex mental tasks such as learning and reasoning) or their ability to think or their social behavior,” penzes said. “so you end up with patients who still can’t integrate into society. many attempt suicide.”

here is a study on the effect of the use of antipsychotics, particularly clozapine, by people with schizophrenia.

the following is an excerpt from an article which reviews the literature on suicide and suicide prevention of people with schizophrenia, where the suicide rate is anywhere from 5% to 29%:

mann et al. [250] reviewed the literature and identified a number of strategies that are effective in the prevention of suicide such as education and awareness programs for the general public, primary care providers and other gatekeepers, screening for individuals at high risk, and providing treatment using pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. in particular, the prevention of suicide in schizophrenia should include providing proper information for the family members of the patient in the hope of reducing their hostility toward the patient. in addition, continuity of care after suicide attempts, restricting access to lethal methods and media reporting guidelines are important strategies to prevent suicide. since it is such a strong predictor of future suicide, preventing and reducing attempted suicide in schizophrenia may have a positive long-term impact.

august 2009 buddhist carnival

here’s the buddhist carnival again! last month my blog was still sick and the carnival didn’t happen. glad to be back for august. the buddhist carnival is a romp / surf / drive / ride through the buddhist blogosphere (blugghasphere?) and today’s menu brings you posts on music, fashion, family, war, wishy-washy buddhism, persisting through the agony of sesshin, homelessness and creativity.

buddhist rap
we always start with a poem. this is from a paper entitled buddhism in music – a bit longer than your typical blog post but well worth the read. he includes the lyrics by british rapper maxi jazz, a follower of the nichiren (SGI) path.

my story stops here. let’s be clear,
this scenario is happening everywhere.
and you ain’t going to nirvana or “far-vana”,
you’re coming right back here to live out your karma
with even more drama
than previously. seriously.

buddhists on the catwalk
from chaplain danny:

the associated press has a story today about buddhist monks in japan “[hitting] the catwalk in tokyo…in a bid to spread buddhism among younger people in this rapidly aging society.”

reaching out to family
the ex-bipolar buddhist, a fellow canadian, reprints a moving letter to his family. it’s such an old story: more often than not, we tend to take our families for granted, or even shy away from them. when that family is truly toxic, that may be a good idea. but many families are just – well, normal. garden-variety dysfunctional. busy. a bit indifferent. not quite who we’d have for close friends. in that case, reaching out to them, reminding ourselves of our bonds, is a beautiful and in a way heroic thing. here’s a bit from the letter:

the only way to feel loved is in the present moment, and we are only able to act with mindfulness in the present moment.

i won’t be able to tell you i love you after i’m gone. and i won’t be able to give you the answers or the love you need and deserve. i can only do that now.

emasculated by buddhism?
the new heretic vents on what some might call wishy-washy buddhism. there is an interesting conversation in the comment section where, among others, c4chaos takes me to task on my use of the concept of the middle road.

truth does set us free, but noted that all of their examples were warm and fuzzy, flowery, and that the truth is not always that way. truth is truth. sometimes it is not flowers and sunshine. the truth is that person who you are afraid of hurting you, may, in fact, hurt you. or, to take the opposite position, you may be deluding yourself into thinking that someone is good for you when the truth is that they are bad for you. the truth is that you may be overweight, maybe that other person is more attractive than you, and maybe your sister is going to always score just a little bit higher than you on that test in school. so what? really, so what? that truth is also liberating, and can set you free. isn’t the point to embrace reality? being trapped by irrational fears that are holding you back from enjoying real life is delusion. however, fooling yourself into thinking that life is a bed of roses all the time a delusion that holds you back as well. embrace the reality of the situation, and then you can effectively deal with your shit.

seriously, i think there has to be more “suck-it-up-ness” and “deal-with-it-ness” in the practice.

read here for the rest.

sarah palin and a vow
no need for comment here, i’d say:

i, lazybuddhist, vow to avoid any and all coverage of sarah palin. i shall refrain from participating in discussions about her, and in particular giving into my urge to rant about her. my hatred of her only diminishes me. the energy that would be expended in palin bashing can be much better channeled into something positive and worthwhile.

want to read more? here it is.

the agony of sesshin
genkaku’s blog is one of my favourite spots in the blogosphere. today he speaks of something that has been a huge challenge for me ever since i started meditating back in 1969: the discomfort of sitting in meditation. he compares it to the pain of childbirth:

without trying to compare levels of agony, anyone who has been to a sesshin or extended zen buddhist retreat has probably felt some of the same writhing wrath as the crossed legs burn like fire or the sorrow seems unbearable. who the fuck dreamed this up?!

and yet …

women have more than one child.
zen students go to another sesshin.

analysis (selective amnesia, virtue, greed, etc.) doesn’t interest me much in this realm. what interests me is what actually-factually happens. in the face of what happens now, ‘meaning’ and ‘explanation’ can piss up a rope. analysis can take a hike. whether agonizing or glorious … this is it.

and we do it again.

buddhism – maybe not as peaceful as we always thought
buddhism is all about awakening to reality, isn’t it? ok, so here’s a piece of reality:

buddhism has always been portrayed as the religion of peace. “there has never been a buddhist war,” i’ve heard many times over the years. when the sakya kingdom was threatened with invasion, the buddha sat in meditation in the path of the soldiers, stopping the attack. when the indian king asoka converted to buddhism, he curtailed his military escapades and erected peace pillars. when the dharma came to tibet, it is said that the barbaric tribes were pacified. during the vietnam war, buddhist monks set themselves on fire to protest the fighting.

and now a new study emerges that will radically shake up this view of buddhism. zen at war is a courageous and exhaustively researched book by brian victoria, a western soto zen priest and instructor at the university of auckland. victoria reveals the inside story of the japanese zen establishment’s dedicated support of the imperial war machine from the late 1800’s through world war ii. he chronicles in detail how prominent zen leaders perverted the buddhist teaching to encourage blind obedience, mindless killing, and total devotion to the emperor. the consequences were catastrophic and the impact can still be felt today.

here is the rest of this book review.

bearing witness to homelessness
over the weekend of july 17, 18, & 19 a poet, a zen priest, an industrial designer, a mental health professional and a manager of a soup kitchen took to the streets of boston to bear witness to its homeless.

we only took the clothes on our back, no money, no bedding, no tooth brush, no jewelry, no credit cards, & no desire to do anything but aimlessly meander for three days throughout the city of boston. what did we find there? parts of ourselves that we did not know existed.

buddhism, creativity and the arts
and we come back to the beginning. this event sounds very exciting; i hope we’ll have something like that here in vancouver one day. i signed up with the ning group right away.

the focus of this event was an exploration of the relationship between buddhist thought/practice and creativity with specific reference to the arts. does buddhist thought and practice help or hinder the creative process? the theme was explored through a series of academic lectures, discussion, exhibition of artworks and workshops. the event brought together around 80 people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds buddhist and non-buddhist, artist and non-artists all who share an interest in the theme. the exhibition of visual arts included sculpture, painting and film and represented 40 artists who each share some association with buddhism.

if you would like to make contact with other people interested in this field, go to – the site of the dharma arts network (dan) which was launched at the conference, or the london buddhist arts centre’s website where you can sign up to their database.

what are we going to have for the september buddhist carnival? i don’t know. but if all goes as planned, it’ll be on the 15th.

researching motivation

a beautiful body, a calm mind, health into old age, a job that makes you bounce out of the bed in the morning with excitement – aaah, we all want it. and for many of us, these dreams area attainable.

what often stands in the way is our sluggish attitude towards changing our ways to make those great things come true.

once in a while this really bugs me and i sit there frowning, pondering the mysteries of motivation. today i went on a hunt to see what other equally puzzled people have found. here are five researchers who are working on interesting angles:

jeff stone: how hypocrisy motivates change
in their article, stone and fernandez wrote:

“the dissonance and the need to restore consistency are induced by subsequently making people aware of the fact that they themselves have failed to practice the target behavior in the past. mindfulness for past failures is accomplished by having people examine or generate a list of their reasons for not performing the behavior when they had the opportunity.”

when a person has the realization, the co-authors wrote, they begin to feel discomfort which then leads them to feel motivated to make a change.

one study in particular asked students to help develop an aids prevention and education program. during the process, students talked publically about important safe sex acts and half of them were later asked to write down their own personal behaviors. others were also asked to video tape messages about safe sex.

“it’s really most effective when people publically advocate to people and allow people to discover on their own – or lead them to discover on their own – that they don’t perform the behaviors that they tell others to do,” stone said.

the researchers found that those students who were realized that their words did not necessarily follow their actions were most likely to report that they would change.

this is tied to a person’s perceptions of self-integrity and also to honesty and sincerity. “following a hypocritical act,” the co-authors wrote, “maintaining or restoring these perceptions of self-integrity requires that people act in a more honest and sincere manner than in the past. thus, when they behave like a hypocrite, people become motivated to be honest and sincere about the norms for behavior, which is most directly accomplished by bringing their behavior into line with the proposed course for action.”

what motivates older people?
an excerpt from the online book when i’m 64 by the committee on aging frontiers in social psychology, personality and adult developmental psychology:

older people might have unique motives for change: for example, they might be especially and uniquely family oriented, and thus, wish to be less of a burden to their families, or they might be motivated to maintain an exercise program in order to retain physical functioning. or they might be uniquely motivated by a behavior change that would promote global good. for instance, older adults might be willing to make a contribution to the needs of one generation in hopes that their contribution might flow through to other generations.

stephen intille – cell phone health
dr. stephen intille from MIT is

developing and evaluating software for a common mobile phone that uses context-aware, tailored, just-in-time presentation of information and operant conditioning, a training technique, to encourage brisk walking. the system uses subtle audio cues as positive reinforcement. the prototype is an example of a ubiquitous computing health intervention that presents behavior-specific prompts and encourages incremental behavior change using successive approximation. to evaluate the effectiveness of the system, it is being deployed in a population of finnish mobile phone users. the impact of the technology on physical activity and feelings about fitness and readiness to engage in physical activity will be measured.

fear, romance and motivation
vladas griskevicius (university of minnesota) suggests that the effectiveness of persuasion tactics can be dramatically changed by two primal emotions – fear and romantic desire.

in the forthcoming paper “fear and loving in las vegas: evolution, emotion, and persuasion,” griskevicius and his co-authors find that the emotion we are currently feeling has a strong effect on whether we decide to conform or to go against the grain “being afraid especially leads people to go along with the crowd, activating a ‘safety-in-numbers’ psychology,” says griskevicius. “a feeling of lust, however, motivates people to go it alone, activating a desire to be seen as unique. feeling scared or amorous can greatly change the way people make decisions.”

power motivates
the thought of acquiring power motivates people to act.  in the wake of barack obama’s “yes we can” victory, a study has emerged from stanford about what motivates people to take action. the prime mover, say researchers, is acquiring a position of power.

specifically, it is people’s new, more elevated perception of themselves after assuming a position with more power that inspires them to take more risks and pursue goals more confidently. taking on a formal position of power”be it managerial, political, or cultural”gives people the illusion they have more control over their organization and their world, which, in turn, can propel them to go for the gusto. in the best-case scenarios, this can lead to achieving unimaginable accomplishments. in the worst, it can lead to poor decision making and devastating losses.

out of bounds! what’s possible?

joanna at confident writing has a neat new group writing project: the theme is possibility.

the challenge, should you accept it, is this:

1. break out of your current blogging comfort zone and

2. post something that’s written in a form you haven’t used before, or that’s created using a different medium.

a new form might be an imagined tale, mythical fable, short story, poem, haiku, fairy tale, tv drama… you choose it could be two lines if you always write 200, 200 if you always write two.

a different medium might be something you’ve not experimented with before, like a podcast or video, or sharing a photograph, or creating something that blends words and a photo or painting, or hand written words, street art you create, capture and post or… well the world is your oyster really.

what do you think? what would you suggest i do?

now what – who are you really?

"now what" by by laura berman fortgangonce in a while, the good people from FSB associates send me a book for review. usually, i read the book from front to cover and then write about it.

this time, i’ve decided to do it differently and put the book to a test. the chapters test.

you know when you go to chapters (or whatever your big book store is, barnes & noble, or indigo, or if you’re in my home town, munich in germany, hugendubel) and you go for a troll? cruisin’ for a few books? you’re exposed to 50 gazillion books, quite a few of them actually good, and you don’t want to spend more than, say, $100?

will this book withstand the test?

the title is now what? – 90 days to a new life direction, by laura berman fortgang, author of living your best life and take yourself to the top.

first the book has to catch my attention. “now what?” – the title sounds good; i want to know more.

do i like the looks of it? yes, i’m very superficial. did i tell you the first ever university research project i did was entitled: “i do judge a book by its cover”? it turned out the best predictor for whether i had fully read or perhaps even re-read a book in my over-stocked personal library was how visually pleasing the cover was.

the cover of this book doesn’t bowl me over but it’s nice. lots of white space, and then mostly red and black – i’ll almost always go for those colours.

aaah! the topic! does the topic interest me? to be honest, not me personally.  it’s my stock-in-trade and for now i think i’ve read all i want on the subject – but i’m always on the lookout for something to recommend to my clients.

three classics come to mind on the matter of life direction or life changes: barbara sher’s wishcraft, which i’ve discussed here before), richard bolles the three boxes of life, and teri e. belf’s simply live it up. that’s the competition, in my mind. only they’re old. barbara sher’s updated wishcraft from 2003 is the most recent of the three. i might want to have something more recent to recommend – but it still has to be high quality.

next step in the test – open at a random page. that’s the first page of chapter six, “your purpose needs a vehicle”. that speaks to me – the purpose in a vehicle, i can see that in my mind’s eye. it’s followed by a quote by mary wollstonecraft, an early british feminist, for whom i have a soft spot. the paragraph starts with “it’s time.” i like that. a light beginning, and a call for action. the layout also speaks to me – the page is not too crammed with words.

now i leaf through the book and find more things i like – more of the nice layout, and really well written chapter and paragraph headings: “cement it”, about fortifying positive beliefs with relevant actions; or “but i’m not qualified”, which focuses on working on skills rather than theoretical knowledge.

since i’ve gotten this far (and often i don’t, so this is a good sign), i’ll look at the table of content. each chapter corresponds to a week – so she carries the “90 days” theme through. follow-through is something that scores high in my books (it pleases me when things harmonize).

one last leafing-through – although i’m sure by now that i would recommend the book to my clients. oh, look at that! there’s a test in the beginning of the book. yes, i’m one of those people who loves writing in books and finds tests irrisistible. “use this list to help you find where the program will help you most.” okay . turns out i have little to no problems in all areas except for the last one:

following your life blueprint

implementation and execution are just as important as innovation. putting one foot in front of the other and monitoring all your opportunities are keys to moving on.

aaah, yes, i can see that. let’s see what that chapter has to offer. one sentence there is

if you leave this process with only one thing, i want you to leave it understanding that who you are is more important than what you do. getting to be truly yourself will make you happier than any dream job, dream mate or dream house that requires you being someone other than your true self … it is the key to your future self.

interestingly, the chapter section previous to that was “one thing a day”.

what would it be like for 90 days to journal every evening on “what did i do today that showed who i really want to be?”

reaching out with a poem

a while ago, my lovely online friend and fellow therapist sarah luczaj sent me a copy of her little book of poetry, an urgent request.

such a small and unassuming book.

so much yummy poetry in there.


if your silence should fall
from balance, from form,
from branches to water
with a sliding sound
from the green leaves
left behind,
I would catch it
with my mouth
and ask you to touch
with your tongue the snow inside.

yes, yummy is the right word – her poems are sensoria. look here: we have sound (“silence”), proprioception (“balance”), touch and vision (“form”) and taste (“mouth”).

and then there is the sense of knowing that wafts through all good poetry. the poem makes such eminent sense – a word-picture of thawing silence – because sarah, full of wisdom, connects her inner feeling of the experience to the reader’s inner feeling. yes, yes, feelings are always “inner” but the feeling that comes with the cold hurt of silence, does it not often seem to be deeper inside – not just “in” but deeper “in”: “inner” – than milder experiences, say, the slight annoyance of a missed bus?

sarah reaches deep inside, and through that act of stoutheartedness and exploration, she reaches across, into the heart of the reader.

an urgent request is published by fortunate daughter, an imprint of tebot bach.

PS. come to think of it, sarah’s reaching into and across relates nicely to two of last week’s posts, this one, and reminds me particularly of philosopher claudia card, here. sarah herself has a thing or two to say about voice, in her guest post the lyric self, for example.