Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Good Life

I’m a closet neuroscientist. I’m fascinated by the revelations of how the brain works from a scientific point of view. I’m also a big fan of intuitive mystics, poets, Hindu and Buddhist cosmologists, indigenous culture wisdom and grandparent common sense. Often they arrive at similar places, though with different language and different ideas about what all this information means and where to go with it.

Many years back, an Orff colleague told me her daughter was working in the field of neuroscience and I was so curious to know what her daily work and research was like. “Oh, mostly she sits around in a laboratory all day chopping up bits of brains.” Hmm. I think that’s when I decided to remain a closet neuroscientist rather than an actual one.

But the conversation between the scientific and the intuitive, between the scientist and the humanist and the spiritual seeker, between the raw data of what goes on in our gray mass and how to apply it to education and culture, is a worthy one, especially in our modern world.

I just finished Dee Coulter’s excellent book Original Mind: Uncovering Your Natural Brilliance and was please to get the perspective of a scientific humanist and humane neuroscientist. Dee is an educator by training, temperament and experience, but also received a Doctorate in neuroscience and as such, is well equipped to bring these disparate worlds together. And in this book she does. (She also is a friend to music education and particularly to Orff Schulwerk, having spoken several times at Orff Conferences.)

Generally, I feel that that there are few scientific discoveries about the brain that have not already been intuited or experienced through these other lenses. Mostly they help affirm what we know— or should know—and give a scientific stamp of approval, something the modern world generally values. Sometimes they do reveal a new detail worth knowing, but still it takes some translation from the folks working in the field of human culture. The folks chopping up bits of brains in the laboratories can’t help us much apply these things to child-raising or schools.

At the end of the book, Dee summarizes some of the practices that will keep us alive, alert and well in old age and indeed, at any age. Not surprisingly, her advice for “the good life” is precisely what the folks I know attend to in their classes, music classes and otherwise— and in their lives as well. In short:

BODY                                         HEART                                            MIND
• Exercise                                • Engage in the arts                              • Sleep
• Good diet                              • Attention, mindfulness                      • Think
• Drink water                           • Create beauty                                    • Read and write
• Hug, hold, touch                    • Humor                                              • Play games, do puzzles

Sounds good to me. Sign me up.

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