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the gold ring

Friday, April 23, 2010


“What we wish and expect for ourselves
governs the response we get.”
–Deepak Chopra Ageless Body, Timeless Mind
– the New York Times #1 best-seller

“The new paradigm tells us that we are constantly making and unmaking our bodies at the quantum level, which means that we are constantly unfolding hidden potential. Some of this potential is negative, some positive.

The field [Deepak Chopra speaks of the quantum “field of infinite possibilities”] takes a neutral attitude; “...what we wish and expect for ourselves governs the response we get.”

If we consider how to improve physical and mental function every day for the rest of our lives, three values emerge that must be part of everyone's intention:
  1. longevity itself, since life is a primary good
  2. creative experience, which keeps life interesting and makes us want more of it
  3. wisdom, which is the collective reward of long life.

It's impossible to set limits on what can be achieved in each area. Creativity and wisdom inspired Picasso, Shaw, Michelangelo, Tolstoy, and other long-lived geniuses to the day they died. Verdi wrote one of his greatest operas, Falstaff, at the age of 80, and the German Alexander von Humboldt completed his greatest work, Cosmos, at 89. There is immense beauty and dignity in these autumnal achievements; the dome of St. Peter's seems even more masterful for the fact that Michelangelo designed it in his ninth decade.

Psychologists who study creativity say that artists and writers often can produce more new ideas in their sixties or seventies than in their twenties. One interesting variable is that the later you take up any creative pursuit, the more likely you are to pursue it into old age. Eliot Porter, on of America's premier landscape photographers, did not publish his first picture until he was past 50; Julia Child came to television when she was past midlife. In both cases, success steadily increased through the next three decades.

Creative experience may enhance the structure of the brain itself. Chinese studies of old people in Shanghai indicate that less educated people have higher rates of dementia and Alzheimer's disease; the implication is that educated people, having been trained to use their minds, stimulate healthy brain activity. PET scans show increased blood flow to the brain during periods of creative thought; a distinctive EEG of coherent rhythms across all bands of brainwave activity is associated with the “Aha!” or “Eureka!” experience that characterizes art and creativity in general. Also, it's a myth to think that it harms the brain to get too wrapped up in mental work. As long as it is enjoyable, concentrated mental activity gives rise to alpha-wave patterns typical of “restful alertness,” the relaxed but aware state also found in meditation.

Certain desirable neurotransmitters such as serotonin also increase during pleasurable creative activities (again, the same change is associated with the restful alertness found in meditation). The neurological picture is still debatable, but the real-life results–more years of fulfilling existence–are not. It would appear, then, that to want as much life, creativity, and wisdom as possible is very desirable. If your expectations in these areas are low, you are not likely to exceed them, while setting very high standards makes every decade worth looking forward to. I am fond of Robert Browning's line, drilled into my head as a child in India:

“A manʼs reach should exceed his grasp,
or whatʼs a heaven for?”

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