Friday, February 14, 2014

From Cesar Millan to Stephen Porges

Let's start with a quote that has many useful points condensed in just a few lines:
I didn't need to not be angry. I just needed to stay with my anger long enough to see what it actually was and how it arose (or co-arose with my chicken heart). …. Spiritual work is not the same thing as self-help. It is not meant to ``everlastingly improve'' or fix you. It's a means to help you see clearly what's been there all along, beneath the surface, both in the larger sense and within yourself. You don't have to change things. Just see them properly, bear witness and they fall into place. Attention, not intervention, leads to true healing. If you spend all your time and energy trying to become a better person or ``change the world,'' you miss a profound opportunity to see how all the imperfect, muddled, fucked-up things in our world come together, find their place among each other, and then form something far greater. ---p. 199, Zen Confidential
Now the main point of this post: You can ridicule me as much as you want for quoting Cesar Millan, but first, fuck you all!, and second, I am proud of myself because not only has my study of Cesar Millan work with dogs been very fulfilling but it has also guided me to other interesting places. One of the most exciting things I found, or in fact rediscovered, is the ``polyvagal theory'' of Stephen Porges. Here is a link with good introductory information:
Stephen Porges info site:
Let's look at a part of the transcript of his interview with Serge Prengel from

I like to say that a goal of society is to be able to immobilize without fear. This statement might initially sound strange. However, when you think about it, isn’t immobilization without fear really a goal of therapy? You don’t want your clients to remain “tightly wrapped,” anxious and defensive. You want your clients to be able to sit quietly, to be embraced without fear, and to be hugged and to hug others, to conform physically when embraced, and to be reciprocal in their relationships. If a client is tightly wrapped with a tense muscles and a highly activated sympathetic nervous system state, the client is conveying this state of defensiveness to others. A state characterized by tense muscles and sympathetic excitation is an adaptive state that prepares an individual to move or fight. This state unambiguously conveys to others that it is not “safe” to be in close proximity with this person. ---pp.4-5
This is exactly what Cesar does with the dogs, when he tries to bring them into a calm-submissive state.  So, let's go back to Shozan Jack Haubner for another quote, on the importance of tension in spiritual growth:
… the proper relationship between an individual and a tradition is one of tension---healthy, creative tension. This is what produces spiritual growth, both in the individual and in the tradition itself: not the individual's solo efforts nor the traditions overarching forms but the two locked into a single struggle/dance, from which a new kind of person---and practice---emerges. ---p. 211, Zen Confidential
There is an amazingly simple and yet important relationship between balance and alert calmness. We know in our bodies that keeping our balance requires a calm and alert state. Extremes such as certainty and perfection are out of balance. To remain open, and work with, imperfections and uncertainties we need to stay calm and alert. This sort of openness is best evidenced in the eyes. I can look at your face and tell you how calm, open, compassionate you are, lol.

The feeling of safety seems to be at the root of openness and a lot more. Here is a quote from Stephen Porges interview by Ruth Buczynski of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of behavioral Medicine (NICABM) about the Polyvagal Theory's use in treating trauma. (Link:
Safety is a powerful metaphor. And it is a metaphor that carries with it a physiological state. So if we feel safe, we have access to the neural regulation of the facial muscles, we have access to a myelinated vagal circuit that is capable of down regulating more traditional fight/flight and stress responses, and we have an opportunity to play.
I actually wanted to bring into this discussion the concept of play. An inability to play is a frequent characteristic of many individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis.
And what I mean by play, is not playing with a Game Boy or computer. Instead it requires social interaction. Play requires an ability to mobilize with the sympathetic nervous system and then to down-regulate the sympathetic excitation with face-to-face social interaction and the social engagement system.---pp. 17-18

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dog Behavioral Therapy

The previous post is quite confusing. Can/should we influence our behaviors? I am not in favor of influencing behavior of a whole human being as it easily turns into mental and psychological abuse. I may choose to promote or discipline a state of mind by providing appropriate feedback. Is there a difference? As I write this, I am not sure anymore. I have learned the need to accept and work with inconsistencies and contradictions in the past few years.
So, here is a kind of related idea, that there are no good and bad behaviors, just adaptive responses. A quote from from Stephen Porges interview by Ruth Buczynski of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of behavioral Medicine (NICABM) about the Polyvagal Theory's use in treating trauma. (Link:
That is the other point I always make: there is no such thing as a bad response. There are only adaptive responses. The primary point is that our nervous system is trying to do the right thing and we need to respect what it has done. And when we respect its responses, then we move from this more evaluative state and we become more respectful, and we functionally do a lot of self-healing. ---p. 20
Anyway, here is the approach Cesar Millan suggests for training dogs (providing a balanced environment for them):
These are the basic skills everyone in the family needs to master in order to manage a puppy's behavior:
1. Have a picture in your mind of the behavior you desire.
2. Clearly and consistently communicate that desired behavior. In this communication, energy, intention, and body language are more important (and more easily comprehended by your puppy) than verbal command.
3. Ignore very mild misbehaviors using the no-touch, no-talk, no-eye-contact rule (they usually correct themselves when they aren't reinforced).
4. Immediately and consistently give corrections to more obvious misbehaviors.
5. Always apply corrections with calm-assertive energy---never take your puppy's misbehavior personally!
6. Always give your puppy an alternative acceptable behavior every time you correct an unwanted one.
7. Reward good behaviors---with affection, treats, praise---or simply your silent joy and approval, which your puppy immediately senses and understands.
--- pp. 134-135, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Next, let's address the issue of emotional openness specially in relation to surrender. Here is one approach:
What does it mean to be open? The outside comes in and the inside goes out, freely. Where before there was a gatekeeper---your self---between these two worlds of inside and outside, now there is an open door. Though it often feels more like an open wound. … the workaday world has its own rules, geared mostly toward the survival and success of its institutions and not personal or spiritual growth of its members. And so, staying truly open and soulful … can be downright agonizing … ---p. 182, Zen Confidential
I do not agree with everything in the above quote, but the basic message seems worth emphasizing, that openness is very much like an open wound!
The third quote is related to separation anxiety, in dogs that are very social animals, just like us humans.
Dogs are not programmed to live by themselves. In nature, the constant presence of the pack is what shapes their identities. The only time they have to learn to be alone is when they live among humans. We shouldn't be surprised that they are distressed by it. But even though we are asking them to do something unnatural, we can't feel bad about it or stress out about it, because this is the reality of how we live today.
… A dog, and specially a puppy, can adjust to this new style of life with very little difficulty, if we help her to do it in stages, and if we stay calm and unemotional about it. That's what we want to communicate to her---to relax. ---pp. 135-136, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
And finally, let's have another look at the problem of openness and how it works.
In crowded public spaces … I almost always unconsciously regulate my breathing. It's as if I don't want to fully take these places in. But if I remain open to all the filthy and aggravating details on my journey's way, if I breathe them in, make them part of me … I inoculate myself to their hellish aspects. Whatever you become one with cannot harm you. ---p. 188, Zen Confidential 

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Emotional Path

I cannot define  ``emotional opening'' or ``emotional truth''. There are other important things too that are hard to define and directly characterize. For example, the question of ``Who am I?'' Or, what does ``surrender (to something, a God, inside)'' mean? Sometimes, it is easier to think about the negation of the thing or concept: what it is not, rather than what it is.

For example, to operate in a society we conform; we create an acceptable image, an outer shell. We can ask ourselves: is this my outer shell, the image I hold up for others, or is this what I would really want if there was no pressure on me (from within and without)?
… the need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.
It is when competition is thus used as a means of creating a self-image relative to others that the worst in a person tends to come out; then the ordinary fears and frustrations become greatly exaggerated. ---p. 105, The Inner Game of Tennis  
Now back to the ``emotional path.'' We can ignore our emotions, not acknowledge them properly, and even misidentify them and be deceitful about them (with ourselves and others). ``Black magic'' can be a metaphor for the horrific experience of confronting our distorted, misshaped, and deformed emotions. It's one of the most frightening experiences I have had.

As we become more open to our emotions, by acknowledging them, they can become very strong and overpower us. [2014-03-17, PS] Here is a relevant quote from the article, Loewenstein GF, Weber EU, Hsee CK, Welch N (2001) ``Risk as feelings,'' Psychological bulletin, 127:2 Mar, pp. 267-86, that I am reading now:
From a neurophysiological perspective, the finding that emotions exert a powerful influence on judgments is not surprising. As LeDoux (1996) noted, “emotions can flood consciousness … because the wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional systems to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive systems to the emotional systems” (p. 19). ---p. 9
If we stay mindful of our capacity and follow a gradual process of opening the hidden, buried emotions, we can always trust that our emotions are transient and they pass. This basic trust in our power to get through is beautifully captured in the following passage:
Never comfort a whining puppy. … your puppy is going through some distress at this moment, but it's important to let her work through it. The only way possible for her to get past that anxiety permanently is to learn to solve the problem for herself. … If you turn to soothe her every time she cries, she will learn very quickly (a) that she controls you and can summon you by vocalizing, and (b) that you are agreeing with her whining because you are positively reinforcing it with comfort, attention, or a treat. … For now, buy some foam earplugs at the drugstore, have a glass of warm milk before bed, do a little meditation, and repeat to yourself, ``This, too, shall pass.'' … ---p. 110, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
The key point here: Do not reward undesirable emotions and states of mind, but do not traumatize the subject either! All emotions are natural and they are naturally transient. By feeding and rewarding an undesirable state of mind, we reinforce it and make it more permanent than it needs to be! Yet, be aware and mindful of your capacity. If you open all gates of a dam at the same time, you will flood the city and destroy it altogether. What are the internal signs of being flooded with emotions before it gets to a trauma stage? The feeling of certainty! This is one of my most amazing discoveries. Although, later I found out that I was not the first one to discover this. The famous saying that ``love blinds lovers'' is a good example:
He could only marvel once again at the dogged determination some women had when it came to wanting a particular man, at their ability to see life from a completely private viewpoint, as if love, or whatever the particular emotion was called, were a state of mind that could temporarily blind them to all reality and limit their outlook to a narrow, walled-in track, a scenic railway of their own invention that ran only in one direction they wanted it to go. --- p.121, Love Lies Bleeding
The state of certainty is a dangerous state, because most likely, it is associated with emotional flooding, being overpowered and blinded by emotions. It is important to differentiate between the two states, calmness (in the face of uncertainty, pain, and discomfort) and (blind) certainty. The first state is closely associated with my definition of ``faith'', as the acceptance of imperfection in knowledge, ability, and responsibility, whereas the second state is the popular, but misconceived, notion of faith as blind following! Once we see the difference between calmness and certainty, we want to reward the first and avoid the second. Here is an example for how:
To minimize this common first-night trauma, I recommend that people set up their puppy's crate or bed near or in their bedroom, for the first few nights after arrival. The first night of whining may still keep you awake---and, no, you still can't respond to it with cooing or comfort---but if the crate is near your bed, you can tap it once and make the sound you want your puppy to associate with a behavior you don't agree with. This will stop the escalation of the behavior, sometimes long enough for relaxation to set in. If your puppy quiets down for a significant period of time after that, you can reward with praise or even a treat. A bully stick is great for this because it engages the nose and distracts the mind. Only reward a calm state of mind. Then put in your earplugs and ignore. ---p. 110, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
But if emotions and states of mind are transitory, then why do we need to be open to them, acknowledge them, in the first place? Can't we live a logical life, following what's best for us, our society, our family … ? Emotions not only enrich our lives and make it more interesting, but ultimately, they give it meaning! As the philosopher, Giambattista Vico, has said (and neuroscience is beginning to document), ``Meaning is embodied in our total affective interest in the world.'' Moreover, when we ignore our emotions, thoughts, and states of mind, they continue to influence us in hidden ways and resurface as self-destructive tendencies and addictive behaviors. What we fear most, and escape from, directs us most strongly!
The most puzzling question, then, is that what/who should direct our life? If emotions are transient, and our ego self is an image that we construct to conform to social structure, then who is left to guide us, to make important decisions in life? The answer is surrender, to something inside, that is different from our logic, emotions, our ego. But what does this mean? It means not surrendering to emotions, logic, ego, …
``I have never listened to the crowd,'' he said. ``It has always been just like the bull to me, a thing you can work with, change: but only when you can control your principal enemy, your own self. … People think that fighting the bulls is a matter of passion, of inspiration, and valor. They speak of duende and death. But none of that is important. Because, first of all, a torero has to create emotion in the public. And just because you feel an emotion does not mean you can transmit it. Ultimately you must feel it, of course, but only once you have gained control of yourself. …
… the big fear every torero feels, every artist: the fear of not being able to perform, which is bigger than the fear of cornada. … afraid of being made to look ridiculous, which is the same thing you face when you try to write. That is when you can tell if a man has valor, when a man is able to face the responsibility of his profession, of his art, if you like. For you write with your cojones, too. With your mind, of course, and with passion when you are lucky. But mostly you write with your cojones, always, every day, even when you have to force yourself to do it, on the days when you write with duende, and on the days when you find you have left your duende behind you in bed when you got up. That is why it is easy to do a thing once, one book, or one afternoon with the bulls. But to do it for many years, day after day, that is what is difficult, that is the proving of a man.'' ---pp. 108-109, Love Lies Bleeding  
There is an intimate and deep connection between surrender and (emotional) truth, that is what I feel.  Only if it, the emotional truth, was as simple as expressing your deepest feelings or thoughts, or acting on them, then it would be no less frightening endeavor, but at least more straightforward. It is something more, I feel.
Zen practice can be a tricky thing, because, done right, sooner or later all the issues and energies you've been repressing your whole life will ooze, tickle, and burst to the surface through your tight little smile. … This is one of the greatest misconceptions about spiritual work: that if applied correctly, it will make us ``better people'' (whatever that means). Zen is not a psychiatric or therapeutic discipline it's a spiritual one. It's supposed to get energy moving on a deep, fundamental, life-changing level. Its purpose is to orient you toward the truth, toward reality, whatever this takes. It's not supposed to boss you around with behavioral or self-help dictates or to shoehorn you into the slipper of well-adjusted citizen hood.
In other words, spiritual work isn't always just ``instructive''---it's also transformative, and this kind of transformation can get messy. The Sanskrit term for this is clusterfuck. ---p. 165, Zen Confidential

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Of Dogs and Men: Cesar Millan

Through a series of interesting incidents, I have come to know about Cesar Millan and to appreciate his work with dogs. Here is an interesting paragraph from his book, ``How to Raise the Perfect Dog Through Puppyhood and Beyond.''
As humans we are very attached to the process of mourning, even if that means grieving a being we haven't met yet. … For dogs it's all about the greater good, the survival of the whole litter, and, in the bigger picture, the survival of the pack. A mother with a dead or sick puppy may make an attempt to revive it, but she will never linger to mourn. … Mother dogs do not ``coddle' their young. In fact, if one of the pups in her pack has trouble finding a place to feed, she will help him only up to a point. If he can't keep up with the rest of the litter, she may even let her die. When it comes to raising puppies, we humans have to remember that this calm-assertive pragmatism is the natural state of mind of their very first pack leader---their mother. … keep in mind that puppies naturally respond to this matter of fact way of being in their world. Their feelings will not be hurt when you set the kind of firm rules their mother will set. In fact, they are just waiting for those rules, so they can be assured of secure, balanced futures. --- pp. 73-74, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
I find Cesar's practical wisdom about dogs fascinating. Watching how this man works with dogs has a calming and balancing effect on me. But more than that, I have a strong intuition that a lot of his wisdom helps me in dealing with my emotional self (which might be a combination of a dog and an ox, lol).
Let's read another quote which applies to puppies between one and two months old, as they start exploring the world and are very curious:
Says Diana Foster of her German Shepherd pups,
At this point, they don't need the mother for survival anymore, but we like to keep them with her as long as possible, because of the natural way she disciplines them. For instance, she tells them not to touch her bone or stops them if they start getting too rough with her. Her correction is quick. The puppy may yelp and run away with his tail tucked. And what does the average person do? Pick them up. ``Oh, you poor thing. Come here!'' Everyone wants to rescue them and feel sorry for them when anything new happen. What they're doing is reinforcing the fact that something bad just happened. But in their world, what happened wasn't bad! It was just a learning experience. Their real mother couldn't care less. She allows the puppy to work out the situation on his own. … He may run away whimpering, but after just a couple of seconds he's back playing with his friends.  ...
--- pp. 86-87, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
I had already discovered part of the lesson from the above passage. We tend to assume, at a deep level, a weakness in ourselves and people around us when we overprotect them.
Finally, at around two months of age,
… a puppy usually hits a phase where he goes from being outgoing and recklessly curious to becoming extremely cautious again. … The best breeders take special care at this age not to overprotect their puppies but instead help them to develop real self-confidence on their own. …
This cautious period can sometimes coincide with the time a breeder releases a puppy yo his new home. New owners often interpret a puppy's understandable reticence as something that must instantly be comforted. When they don't permit him the honor of overcoming his own insecurities in his own way, they can actually undo some of the meticulous hard work that his natural mother and his breeder have put into his education up to this point. … To prevent a puppy from developing fear or anxiety issues, owner shouldn't interfere with the nature of the learning process which includes feeling uncomfortable and also making mistakes. --- pp. 87-88, How to Raise the Perfect Dog
Let's finish on a totally different note. A very dark passage from the bullfighting novel I am reading:
Who was it that said success wasn't enough, that finally a man requires the disasters of his closest friends in order to make himself feel truly happy? Some goddamn writer, he said, answering his own question. And did that apply even when a man being set upon from all sides? Even when he was fighting to survive? It probably did, for how else could a man join in the general inhumanity of the entire race. That's enough cheap philosophy, he warned himself, and straightened in his seat. ---p. 102, Love Lies Bleeding
PS-1. And … I found this today. The man tried to kill himself a year ago:
Bitten by tragedy, Cesar Millan returns wiser

PS-2. Cesar has his own fierce opponent, many of them disgruntled dog trainers/veterinarians and human right activists, lol

IT'S NOT ...

.. ``It's not your spread, and it's not how strong you are, and it's not how fast you are, because you have all those thing...