Because Zen makes sense

Archive for the month “September, 2015”

Mindfulness, arousel, adrenaline and diuresis

HPA_Axis_Diagram_(Brian_M_Sweis_2012)Last night I got an upsetting message (sms). But I did not feel upset when I read it. I just noticed it and started thinking about it. Although there was no need to answer it, I must admit that I had the message in mind for quite a long time. But I did not feel upset, anxious or restless, as far as I manage to know myself. I had gone to bed for the night, and sort of reflected upon the message.

The something strange happened. For the next three hours I had to visit the toilet six or seven times to urinate. And it was not something like a nervous bladder. I produced impressive amounts of urine, and although I had eaten cabbage and consumed coffein earlier, that could not fully explain what was happening.

The only explanation seems to be that I was indeed stressed in some way. When my adrenaline levels goes up, so does the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), meaning that the re-absorption of water in my kidneys went down. That is a common effect of a rise in adrenlin, and also a common effect of stress. We all have experienced that, and while it is often attributed to a nervous bladder, the explanation above is always a part of it.

The interesting part of this is that while my trained brain, through meditation, handled this rationally, my visceral body acted emotionally. What we know is that the anterior cingulate cortex (dealing with arousal) actually fire in the same way when we experience something unpleasant and surprising whether we meditate or not. But while most people keep that level for a prolonged time, the activity in the cingulate cortex drops to a more basic level quite fast among meditators. At the same time the activity in the amygdala (one of the places where negative feelings arise), also drops, while the activity in the prefrontal cortex (our rational mind) increase. Those effects are among the most common effects of what we call “mindfulness”.

How ist it then, that I have had an elevated level of adrenaline, if my amygdala fires less? An important structure involved in a stress-reponse is the para-ventral nucleus (with projections ending in the piutary gland, secreting adrenaline). The PNV is influenced not only through tha amygdala (my highlightning):

If the PVN plays such an important role in the modulation of the stress response, how is this accomplished? The exact answer to this question is not known, but the afferent and efferent connections to the PVN provide some clues. The PVN receives an important input from the amygdala. The amygdala receives multimodal input from all sensory modalities; therefore the PVN receives indirect sensory input. Stress signals can also activate the PVN via the lateral hypothalamus, which receives input from secondary (higher) sensory cortical areas, and via inputs from the locus coeruleus, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus (memories of stressful things!). In addition to releasing CRH into the portal system and inducing ACTH release, the PVN has strong projections to brain stem autonomic ganglia – i.e. the preganglionic neurons in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (dorsal motor X) and sympathetic preganglionics in the lateral column of the spinal cord (T1-L2).


So it is possible that I have had a visceral stress response regardless of a possible “control” of my amygdala. The massage received ws definately coupled to memory (Hippocampus), and that may have been a pathway. The second explanation is, of course, that I actulla was more stressed than I was aware of, and that my stress-reaction was a result og a high activity in the amygdala. I prefer to think that this is not the explanation.

Anyhow, the interesting thing in this experience, was that although i did not feel stress, my body expressed s stress-reaction. Mindfulness may bolster negative feelings, but my visceral stress-reactions may still be present. But my mindfulness also implied another victory: I was aware of what was going on, so that I could avoid further distress and anxiety.

Illustration: Wikipedia



Life is unpredictable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd we have to live with that fact. We make plans, we try to foresee what’s gonna happen. Sometimes we succeed, but all to often the future becomes something quite different than we could imagine. And the reason is as simple as this: In all predictions in life there are to many variables we ny no means can control. And since everything is interconnected, every factor influence all other factors. After all, the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can spur the formation of a tornado in Texas. The cascade of events is unpredictable to a large degree.

My wife, active, and in good physical condition, slipped on some spilled cherries in a supermarket, with a a broken hip as result. After surgery she has has now returned home. 6 weeks without any weightbearing on the broken leg, and then a slow rehabilitation periode. To her this is a radical change in life, at least for some time.

But my practical life has also changed. I have to dedicate more of my time to her and her needs, and since we run a home together, call it a joint venture, more duties shall be added to those I ususally have to deal with. She is bound to stay home. Me not so much, but my usual freedom to spend hours in office or on travel (my job is a combination) has suddenly become restricted. Happily I can work from home, I can organize my own work, and I can cancel all appointments that do not have the highest priority. My team of good colleges cover up for me. Actually it is no big problem to me, but, of course, a bigger problem for my wife.

Point is: This sudden change in life could never have been foreseen. This is what life is about: Things happen, things change, and we are affected in ways we never would have imagined. Life is fundamentally only change. And Zen is to ride this wave of change. For what else could we possibly do? But to often we try to change what can’t be changed, to cling to what we know shall pass, to crave for what we shall never have, and to wish for another time, another situation, or another condition. Zen is the opposite. Zen is to accept whatever happens, with an open mind and curiosity. For whatever that arises, good or bad, shall ultimately also always pass away. To be part of that eternal change, and of those never ending transitions, is life itself. There is nothing we can do to change that fact.

So the consequences of this hip fracture is rather interesting; The way this accident influence us, how we shall manage the situation, how I manage to combine work with my new duties, how empathic I manage to be during this periode of unusual stress, how I find practical solutions, how I shall react over time to the fact that I down-prioritize my work, and to observe what I actually can learn from this.

Thanks to an unpredictable life, I may get more insight, and perhaps even end up wiser?

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