Tag Archives: creativity

Creating Corn Chowder

http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2012/08/13/kobe-bryant-kevin-systrom-and-the-science-of-creativity/

love this one quote:

You can’t train to be creative. You can’t be coached. You must allow—allow your brain to make new connections by getting out of the office, attending conferences, traveling to new places, having lunch at a different restaurant, or taking a class in a topic unrelated to your job. By doing so your passions will be stirred, your brain’s neurons will fire, and your creativity will soar.

Chinese Youth Service Leadership Conference…

Yesterday Kara had me speak at her conference involving 20 high school students from GuangZhou, China who were interested in service and entrepreneurship.

My portion? I spoke to them (in butchered Chinese – alas, not speaking for a year!) about implicit perceptions of creativity in the East and West, based off of my research paper I did for my creativity class last semester on implicit views of creativity in the East and their connections to Confucian ideals. To introduce them to the major concepts (Westerners find that the creative process involves intrinsic motivation, love for aesthetic, and willingness to break the rules), I began with my own story – how I did something I really didn’t have a passion for all through primary until college, and how that reflected in my progress in swimming. The bigger thing I emphasized was that because I was unhappy, I wasn’t willing to look around at my environment and listen to other people’s stories and make their lives better. I remember chatting with my Dad once who told me: You have to help yourself first before you can help other people. Very true.

You can check out my powerpoint here… (potential recording of me later). Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear what I’m trying to get at through some of the slides (I’m a very picture heavy, minimal word type of presenter), so hopefully you can figure out what’s going on.

nihao

I felt really fortunate that Kara gave me the opportunity to talk to these kids about my past and these ideas because I feel that these are some of the biggest issues within the East Asian education system – the lack of encouragement to fail and make mistakes, the lack of “play time” and experimentation, the authoritative teacher-student relationship, lack of emphasis on learning to take in one’s surroundings and forming connections/metaphors, etc.

And for me, it’s pretty personal. I grew up with their mentality – the “fear of disappointing” and the fear of self-expression. I really wanted to let them know that they’re okay whatever they do and that they should be enjoying their experience in the world this very moment.

I’m hoping they liked my craziness? Kara said they were more engaged than ever. I was running around the room, speaking in Chinglish, making terrible jokes, and just generally hyper about what I was talking about. I wish I could’ve spoken for longer and gone through more exercises with them (like asking what sort of music chocolate tastes like, or what colors you would use to describe your meal, etc.) but I only had 30 minutes.

Daily Nutritional Facts

Had Basil Lemonade at Clover the other day. Oh-my-goodness I think it’s the best kind of lemonade out there. Better than rose, better than lavender, and…dare I say it? Better than my one and only ginger?

I love basil. It’s such a round herb that has a hint of spice and such complexity when fresh. It’s definitely one of the herbs you don’t really ever want dried.

On that note, got my beautiful share of basil from my friend’s farm share (as I’m covering for her over the next couple of weeks) and also got my hands on way. too. much. corn. 10 pieces to be exact! Solution?

CORN CHOWDER

I loved how it came out – light enough with thyme dancing away in the background, but the potatoes added a key element of thickness to the soup. Perfect for the summer. And great cold too!

Also – my first soup ever.

I never took the time to really appreciate how soup is made. I now realize it’s a pretty solid way to create delicious food. (I can hear people rolling their eyes)

The recipe itself was taken from “The Conscious Cook”, a vegan cookbook I hold dear to my heart as it was the first cookbook I was introduced to while I did my little stint at Sandrine’s. Granted, I didn’t have the cutlery to make my setup as beautiful as his, but it still tasted pretty damn good.

Ingredients: 

Sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
a cup of diced onion
a few cloves of garlic minced
one large carrot diced into 1/4 inch cubes (I LOVE DICING)
half a celery stalk 1/4 inch dice, half of a red bell pepper (I’d now go for more) in a 1/4 inch dice
2.5 cups veggie stalk
cayenne pepper (the recipe called for 1 dried chipotle pepper)
2 small-medium size potatoes peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice, thyme (I didn’t have fresh sprigs on me, even with my undercover deals with the Harvard Community garden)
3 ears of corn
3/4 cup cashew cream (1. soak cashews over night with a bit of salt and water fully covering 2. drain and rinse 3. place in a blender and pour an inch of water 4. food process away m’dear!)
freshly ground black pepper
minced chives
1/4 cup diced tomato

1. Place a large pot over medium heat. Sprinkle the bottom with salt and heat for a minute (creates a non-stick effect! Who knew?) Add oil and heat up for another 30 seconds – make sure it doesn’t smoke. Throw in the garlic for literally 10 seconds and give it a quick stir. 

2. Then quickly add the onions, carrots, celery, and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes, stirring a lot.

3. Then add the stock, potatoes, chile, and thyme. Bring pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (15-20 min).

4. Use the back of a spoon or a fork to mash up the potatoes. Add the raw corn (which should be stripped form the cob) and cashew cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. Garnish with chives and tomato! Done!

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Filed under Clover, creativity, creativity research, food, ingredients, recipes

An Ode to Arm Muscle Contractions

So a girl asked for an intensive arms/core workout, and I thought building up to a forearm stand was a perfect sequence. Check this article out for more advice on building up to a forearm stand.

On a separate note, I made an effort to really understand the different kinds of contractions, and what yoga poses/physio moves were great for building arm strength in particular. Check it:

For more explanations for the types of arm stretches (ekabuhjaswastiakasjdflkwhuuuuuut?), check the article page as well.

I attended the Clover All-Team Member meeting this past Sunday at the HUB. I thought it was such an awesome concept, as all employees got free beer (Allgash White, to be precise), samples of the new 3pm special – blueberries and whipped cream, and a delicious chocolate cupcake. Again, somehow the chefs nail it with the mild sweetness but fresh taste of the cupcakes, with a light frosting that wasn’t overpowering, meeting its match with freshly picked peppermint leaves. Something about fresh mint in anything kills me.

Ayr gave a brief download on the environmental impact and growth Clover was having. My favorite part was the “tasting” game (where 12 unknown ingredients were provided and we had to guess what they were) and a food education presentation given by Chef Rolando. Both were powerful and so interesting (for me, oh the food obsessed). Interesting things:

1) Their parsnip sandwich, a combination of parsnip, cheddar, spinach (in the earlier versions), and caramelized spring onions that were caramelized with cider vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, mustard seeds, and fresh horseradish. The idea of cooking things that weren’t sweet with cinnamon intrigued me and I did a brief search and came up with these ideas:

  • cauliflower
  • parsnips
  • garlic cloves
  • sweet potatoes
  • carrots
  • zucchini
  • BBQ Brisket
  • Squash
  • Pizza
  • Orzo salad
  • Curried red lentil soup
  • Grapefruit

2) Wheat gluten (things to make your tempeh with) looks and smells like flour (even whole wheat), but once you taste it your saliva gets everything super gooey.

3) Determining the difference between cilantro and parsley for me is….difficult. I went to the Harvard Community Garden yesterday and tried both. The cilantro tasted more ocean-y to me, while the Italian parsley taste more clovery, sprouty, and sunny to me. Let’s see if I can remember that at all…

4) Belgian Wheat Beer can be flavored with coriander, who knew?

RESEARCH MOVES FORWARD, ALBEIT SLOWLY!

Finally, finally, finally the brain data was successfully converted into a format we could use and I could start doing the reconstructing and skull stripping. Alas, I was letting the program run over night and it only got through…3/15 sessions. Derp. Oh well still letting it run.

Meanwhile, I take over the world. Or in other words, find myself amused/fascinated by some of the figural responses on the TTCT as I grade them.

 

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Daily Nutrition Facts

Made myself a salad with red cabbage, kale, cucumbers, smokey tofu, and a mix of vegannaise and BBQ spice.

Also tried green gooseberries for the first time! They are possibly one of the most interesting fruits I’ve had. Fuzzy on the outside, filled with a grape texture inside, but also with seeds that are not unlike chia seeds. Kind of an adventure in the mouth. Tart and sweet like a green grape, but with slightly more complexity and hollowness to the palette. Apparently a recipe suggestion: “Stew gooseberries with coconut milk, Indian spices and vegetables, then serve as a curry over rice.” Omnomnom. I had the pleasure of trying red currents for the first time as well. I don’t have the patience right now to try a pie, but they were deliciously fresh and tart.

I got to adopt a Patty Pan Squash and harvest rainbow chard + kale in return for teaching yoga at the Harvard Community Garden (every Tuesday from 6 – 7 pm). So. Much. Love.

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Filed under adventures, anatomy, Clover, creativity, creativity research, food, neuronerd adventuretime, science, yoga

Kiting Kale

Research Update: 

Totally killing it. Or not. So far we’re still having issues with downloading the data and using FreeSurfer to adjust the images, so for now I play with sticky notes and read the amusing answers our small sample size (8?) have written for the TTCT.

Brief explanation: TTCT (Torrance Test’s of Creative Thinking) was a test created about 30 years ago by Ellis P. Torrance. There are figural and verbal components, where the figural requires the subject to draw some sort of picture with a foundational doodle/pattern provided and the verbal requires the subject to practice divergent thinking, which is essentially a form of brainstorming. I’m administering these tests pre- and post- the Mindfulness Meditation program (MBSR) and checking out what neurological correlations there might be between meditation and creativity (a long shot, I know. It’s just silly and fun).

Check out this article from Newsweek for a more thorough explanation of the figural component of the TTCT and to see how it’s graded: “How Creative Are You?”

I had a few favorites from categorizing the verbal components of the tests today. My favorite responses to the question “Just suppose everyone had 6 fingers instead of 5, what would happen?” were: “A reassuring pat on the butt would feel that much larger” “People who used to be able to put their fist in their mouths might not be able to do it anymore”. One person wrote a passionate essay on environmental issues, a couple senators, and the destruction created by supporting small businesses (“That’s great guys. It’s fine. Really.”)

Ah, science.

To be a little more serious (wait, this wasn’t serious enough?), I came across a study published recently in Frontiers of Psychology called “Meditate to Create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking”.

The study addressed the idea that different types of meditation can lead to different brain states. This is an extremely good approach as everyone likes to ask 1) can you be good at meditation? 2) what is it? Well, there is no short answer to either, as there are hundreds of types of meditation. To quote Patanjali from the yoga sutras (aka sort of yoga bible?): “I.39 Or [the steadiness of the mind is attained] from meditation upon anything of one’s inclination”. He states this after listing about 10 types of possible meditations.

In the study, they predict that focused attention meditation (inhalation to a specific body part, exhalation from there) leads to higher abilities to perform tasks related to convergent thinking (one correct answer, i.e. remote association task – three words are given like time, hair, and stretch, and participants are asked to come up with one answer – long). For divergent thinking (they use the verbal part of the TTCT), the authors predicted that open monitoring meditation (breath is used to “set the mind free” and allow any thoughts or emotions to arise naturally and be nonjudgementally observed, very similar to mindfulness meditation).

The results (in short summary mode) by conducting the experiment on a group of 16 people with a lot of OM and FA experience:

1. There was no difference in performance on the RAT in either group.

2. OM meditators significantly outperformed FA meditators in the TTCT verbal tests.

3. Both types of meditation elevated mood

4. Potential self-selection and demand characteristics may have biased the results somewhat

5. Check out other types of meditation in other religions? Oooh fun future project?

Anyways, glad I came across this as it is a good article to go off of for my thesis. And there’s a great chunk of it that I really appreciate in the intro:

However, the methodological diversity across these studies with regard to sample characteristics and type of meditation is considerable, which renders it question- able whether they were actually assessing the same construct and processes. Moreover, there is still no mechanistic model explaining how creative processes operate and how different type of medita- tions might affect these operations, which in view of the lack of conceptual clarity may not be surprising. To address this issue, we tried to avoid addressing meditation and creativity as a whole but, rather, focused on particular, relatively well-defined meditation techniques and specific subcomponents of creative performance. 

Daily Nutritional Facts

During my first week at Clover I tried a couple of the coffees – Stumptown (Indo) and Terroir (Colombia). Ayr had us trial taste and see if we could match the hot coffees to the cold. I guessed correctly, but when I tried to explain the flavor differences, I ended up describing these shapes instead (doodle time!):

The way Ayr described it was that the George Howell Coffee was that it was more acidic and fruity, while the Stumptown (the local coffee) was more well-rounded, dirty, earthy and complex. The Terroir was easily identifiable when hot because it still had a fruity, stringy taste and texture, while the Stumptown transformed from a complex, leveled cold to a buttery, smooth hot.

Last Friday was my friend’s fundraiser for her non-profit in Guatemala, Unmarked Streets. They seek to create a network of women who go through an entrepreneurial program, as well as distribute technologies that increase public health, protect the environment, and further education. Asides from teaching a class with the theme “Gratitude” (I referred to Roy Horan’s speech on how the key to creativity is gratitude), I made a random assortment of desserts ranging from vegan, gluten-free peanut butter cookies to the raw cacao cookies and a terrible attempt at the brownie bites (that ended up being the flattest thing ever because I made such a small portion).

Also created the love of my life – raw kale salad with miso ginger dressing. For some reason I felt like calling this dish Kale Kites. I have no idea what it means, but I felt like going with it. I didn’t realize after up to 5 days of storing kale, it largely becomes inedible because it starts going really bitter. (also there was an interesting study done by the owner of Harvest Coop that when kale is shipped across the country, the 2 week shipment – though the kale looks fresh – makes kale lose up to 70% of it’s nutrients, especially the vitamin C)

So what you need…

  • kale of choice
  • cooked quinoa (preferably chilled, unless it’s a cold day) – for regular, cook 1 cup of quinoa with 11/4 cups of water
  • tempeh 
  • soy sauce
  • black sesame seeds
  • any additional veggies you want (in this salad I had tomatoes)
  • sauce: miso ginger dressing and vegannaise

1) Tear up the kale, leaving the stalks behind (munch on it like celery sticks!)

2) Meanwhile, you should be sauteeing the tempeh on medium heat with some olive/coconut oil and soy sauce on it. It depends how much you want to use. I like mind to be cooked fairly crisp and moderately soy sauced up.

3) When finished, cut tempeh into pieces and toss into the salad. Add a cup or two of cooked quinoa. Sprinkle lots of black sesame seeds onto it (be more risky and sprinkle poppy seeds if they’re around!)

4) Add any more veggies you’d like to the mix, then make the sauce – I like to have a ratio of one tablespoon of vegannaise to an equal amount of miso ginger. Alter the ratio to your preference. For kicks, I tend to throw in Frank’s Finest Spirulina Gomasio, a delicious spice blend of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts, Incan Spirulina, Himalayan Crystal Salt, and Onion Granules. It’s like sea in a basket. If this isn’t accessible to you, I’d go for something with umami/savory tastes like seaweed.

5) Mix, mix, mix by really massaging the kale with everything else to soften it and bring out more peppery flavors –> done!

Random last note – this isn’t so much a recipe as something I just randomly came up with. My mom introduced me to eating avocados with lemon and salt, which is absolutely delicious and I could probably consume for all three meals. Alas, I found myself the other night with no lemon in sight, but found a jar of poppyseeds instead (it took me a while to figure out that poppyseeds DO NOT equal lemon, they’re usually just paired)…so with a dollop of vegannaise, a generous handful of poppyseeds, and a sprinkle of salt, my avocado dinner was served.

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Filed under creativity, meditation, neuronerd adventuretime, science

raw sugar raw thought

A random thought splurge on meditation & chocolate…

RECENT CHOCOLATES TO RAVE AND RATE:

Ah, yes. The chocolatier has returned. Don’t worry, I’ve been doing the dirty deed undercover at Harvard.

Harvard also hosted a mindfulness meditation program called “Wake Up” last weekend. Unfortunately, I was too tired to participate in the entire day’s activities (deep relaxation meditation = invitation to sleep), but I enjoyed hearing about the five pillars of meditation at their initial lecture.

What they’re about (taken from their website):

Wake Up – Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society, is a world-wide network of young people practising the living art of mindfulness. We share a determination to live in an awakened way, taking a 21st Century version of the 5 Mindfulness Trainings as our path and guiding light.
The Wake Up network has grown out of Plum Village meditation centrein SW France, under the guidance of Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Plum Village has been offering retreats to young people for over two decades, and the Wake Up movement was formally launched in Summer 2008.

第一:Confidence

We know that our minds race all the time, worrying or regretting about the past, predicting or practicing the future. It’s hard to have the confidence to let go of thinking and to be fully in the present moment. What a weird thought, right?

One monk said the simplest thing to do was to begin with three breaths that you paid full attention to. The moment your mind wanders off about something else, start again. It helps to breathe in and out on focus words if it helps. My personal favorite is breathe in on trust, and breathe out on doubt (as if I was breathing out any emotions of doubt). It helps a lot when I’m worrying about the outcome of something, and I just do that simple 3-breath trick to remind myself to trust that at that moment, the right words/actions will come along with emotional calmness.

Confidence is awesome for promoting a product as well. Take the founders of Komforte Chockolates, who acknowledge in their about section  that “they debated the intelligence of starting a new small business in the midst of the worst recession of our lifetimes. It didn’t occur to us that we had a huge learning curve ahead of us. We took to the kitchen and began often times frightening rounds of experimentation mixing our favorite snacks with premium chocolate until we hit upon something undeniably good.” 

But hey, look how they didn’t obsess ahead to the potential “huge learning curve” they were to face. They were instead trusting their passion and desire to mix their favorite tastes to guide them forward in the competitive world of chocolates.

I tried their Tortilla Lime & Salt Chocolate Bar – I have to say, one of the best bars I’ve had since I’ve been back at school. Although I am not a huge milk chocolate fan, I was pleasantly delighted by the spin of the lime and the crunch of tortilla. And obviously the salt was bomb with chocolate – can’t resist that sweet and salty combo. Whenever I handed out samples of Sriracha Chili chocolate for Socola Chocolatier, I always promoted it as “an adventure in your mouth”. Well, I’d probably describe this bar as “a trip in your mouth”, what with the zangy crispy lime waiting to burst in an explosion of lucid green on your palette, followed by a soothing, curved sensation of the milk chocolate (great quality too, fyi).

第二:Right Diligence

Okay so I’ll admit the first thing I thought of when I heard this one was Asian Tiger mom. Obviously that wasn’t quite what they were going for.

In fact, this type of diligence is the opposite. It’s tender and gentle. The example given was cultivating a garden and showing love to the good seeds as well as the bad seeds. For the good seeds, you show love by cultivating them and focusing on them. For the bad seeds, instead of hating on them and trying to either ignore or destroy, you simply invite them to gently go to sleep.

I hope by now you’ve figured out seeds are your thoughts (surprise). The very foundation of mindfulness meditation is to sit, focus on your breath, and notice what thoughts arise. Rather than push any of them away, simply observe and stay detached. Almost as if you’re watching a television screen, or clouds, or a river.

The diligence required isn’t hardcore meditating 10 hours a day. It is simply being mindful of the thoughts that arise in your mind throughout the day – when you brush your teeth, eat, take a walk…cultivate the good thoughts and gently watch the bad ones rise and fall (a la Craig David).

第三:Awareness

This plays into the previous pillar – being aware of what sort of thoughts arise. My mind-body therapist (more on that later) helped me with this by asking me to notice that the thoughts that arise in my head belong to a “part of me”, and are not “all of me” nor are they not part of me at all. We’ve already distinguished things like the judger, the baby Kelly, the worrier, the hoper, the protector, the achiever.

It helps to distinguish the voices and also to use my right brain to visualize where in my body or presence they are (i.e. I always feel like the judger is to my left side and slightly behind me, while baby Kelly is nestled in my lower right ribcage). It’s kind of cool, because now I can distinguish how I become engulfed by different emotions via my thoughts in situations. Kind of like watching a bunch of TV screens.

Anyways, like I said before about bad/good seeds – you gotta show some love to all your parts. There’s a reason that these “thought voices” are neurologically built into your body. In order to alter set patterns, you have to be your own mother/father and embrace the inner child or whatever is going on in there. Smile to it, nourish it with positive thinking, focus on it. Also notice the relationships of the constitutive parts (baby Kelly is terrified right now and the judger is berating her for being so weak).

On the topic of parts, I have to bring up Vosges Chocolate. Her diversity in bars is overwhelmingly awesome, and her strength is bringing in distinct parts together to create a wholesome experience. Some of my personal faves (with her descriptions because I love them):

Black Pearl Exotic Candy Bar: “Inhale warming ginger as menthol-nuanced wasabi cools. Sense the evolution of flavors in the mouth. Commence with ginger, followed by earthy cacao notes, mellow wasabi reminiscent of coriander, finishing with black sesame seeds, rich in nutty texture.” 


Gingerbread Toffee Bar: “The scent of classic gingerbread spices will have you dreaming of snow dusted pine trees in no time. We begin with the same melt-in-your-mouth, burnt sugar and butter toffee and add a touch of ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, Grenadian nutmeg and Jamaican allspice to put you in a holiday frame of mind. A generous coating of dark chocolate completes the affair on your palate. “

第四:Right Concentration

This one is simple. The right concentration brings you happiness and joy by being aware of the present moment, while false concentration is focusing hard as well, but brings you dissatisfaction and false perceptions (i.e. looking at a magazine filled with photoshopped models and drowning oneself in it).

What else has the right concentration? Chuao Chocolatier Earl Grey Milk Chocolate Bar. Granted, another milk chocolate friend (not as high quality as Komforte Chockolates). I would have preferred dark, but for what it was I approve. The concentration of Earl Grey was just right – not too overpowering and allowed room for imagination (yes I am staring directly into an Englishman’s eyes sipping some tea and chewing on crumpets), but had enough swirl to make a profound statement.

第五:Insight

This last one was both surprising and interesting to me, since creativity is part of my neuroscience research (the hypothesis that meditation lends the mind to a brainset that allows for easier connections be made –> insight!!).

The monk who opened up about his thoughts on insight reviewed the garden concept. He talked about how once someone cultivates a good garden, he or she develops a vital skillset that leads to insight. In understanding our condition and how to transforming suffering into peace, calm, and happiness, one can create a space for insight to come about. Well hello senior thesis.

I love that New Tree operates their mailing list on the basis that we want to hear more about their chocolate innovations. That’s just too cute. Oh, stop it.

Two flavors that I nearly died when I tried them were ginger (#intriguing) and thyme (#ohmygodwhatisthisbecausethisisbrilliant). I’ve always loved ginger in stuff, but the fact that they combined thyme, a little bit of flax seeds, and dark chocolate = WIN WIN WIN. What a lush creation that I couldn’t stop eating.

Ginger is sexy, apparently.

Okay the meditating chocolatier is out.

“Buddhism needs to be recognized as a source of wisdom, a long tradition of practice of understanding and love and not just of devotion. The spirit of Dharma is very close to the spirit of Science; both help us cultivate an open an non-discriminating mind. You can join the Wake up Movement as a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, an agonist or an atheist. The practice of maitri, of loving kindness, the practice of sisterhood and brotherhood, is at the foundation of the Dharma.”

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Filed under chocolate, creativity, food, harvard, senses, spiritual

more chili and chocolate

part two:

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night tripper

“That was terrifying.”

When the teacher’s benign, charming eyes rested upon me after class, and he asked me how my first Kundalini Yoga class went, that was the first thing I could think of saying.

I mean, it was seriously terrifying.

Before I move on: Kundalini yoga is a more aesthetic form of yoga, attempting to awaken the Kundalini energy within the body (an energy that shoots up from your root chakra in the coccyx all the way to the crown chakra in the top of your head).

Think Hercules, or something of the sort, when all the planets align and the titans pop out of the ground. But this is in your own body. When this happens, you hit some unspeakable realm of creative energy and your life is transformed forever.

Kundalini Yoga 101:

During the 1960’s, Yogi Bhajan was in California at the pinnacle of the hippie movement and witnessed the whirlwind of drugs. He realized the youth of America was unknowingly trying to reach for something more holistic and beautiful, some connection with other people and humanity that had never been sought out before in American history.

His response? What the hell are you guys doing.

That was when Yogi Bhajan introduced Kundalini Yoga to the US. His intention was to introduce a much safer practice without side effects to the American youth. The website claims “busloads of people” joined his movement. I don’t know how legitimate that is. But what I do believe is the claim that yoga, or at least awakening Kundalini energy within the body, can achieve the exact same mental effect as drugs.

Why do I believe this? Well, 1) after marginally studying the brain, I am convinced on several levels (quantum physics, molecular biology, psychological, philosophical) of the power of intention and willpower to shape something more than we could have originally thought to conceive of 2) Richard Alpert (who’s yogi name is Ram Daas and is buddies with notorious LSD-experimenter and ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary) traveled to India, gave yogis LSD and watched with amazement at how they were totally unaffected by the drugs. He picked up on their skills and brought it back to the states. At the ripe old age of 32, he tried LSD again to compare how it felt to a deep meditative state. Alas, both felt the same. But he could control the meditative state, whereas he lost complete control with the drug.

If we truly have this potential to control the body and produce an experience (whether it be emulating the experience of LSD or the placebo effect), we can harness this skill and implement it into medical practice to help the effects of or maybe even partially substitute pharmaceutical drugs (sorry for the HUGE divergence here).

I’m taking a class on the comparison of Eastern and Western medicine in history. Professor Kuriyama proposed that modern Western medicine has alienated itself from its classical medicinal history and its remedies, and in fact is more closely linked to the preclassical ages (before the publication of the Hippocratic corpus, 450-350 BCE). The link? Modern Western doctors emphasize how microbes and bacteria are totally in charge of our susceptibility to illness (check out a hospital’s guide to avoiding the cold – it focuses only on avoiding crowded spaces and washing hands), and during the preclassical ages, Gods were completely in charge of a person’s susceptibility to illness.

Kuriyama asked of us: What ever happened to the Western classical age of treatment – listening to our own bodies? Why have we turned back to assigning total responsibility to something beyond our sensual perception? (obviously, viruses and microbes do cause the common cold, but that’s not the point). Classical remedies involved things like keeping your feet warm, or eating certain foods – basically, listening to your body. We can also alter the effect of these simple remedies via the power of belief and intuition. We have more control than we think we do, and that’s thanks to the power of the human mind. 

See why I’m obsessed with the brain?

Acupuncture: in the mind, in the experience of the body, or both?

So, back to the class.

Kundalini is totally different than anything I’ve experimented with. I came across an article in the midst of my neuro research on meditation that talked about creativity and Kundalini Yoga. I bought this book, Art and Yoga, and got a background debrief to the practice:

The author’s daughter actually teaches at this studio. Hunting her down, obvis.

It was a lot of breathing and repetitive movements, and was actually really hard. I really liked the chants, which were beautifully lead by the teacher, Ek Ong Kar, with overlapping, rippling syllables (the leading chant: “ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO”, as well as inwardly chanting “SAT NAM”).

After an hour of exhausting our bodies, we lay down in corpose pose (Savasana) and began to fully relax our minds. That was when the part that scared the hell out of me began.

He used a regular gong that looked like this…

…to produce the most intense experience I have ever had thus far in my life. It was so powerful, so mesmerizing, so disturbing. He described it to me after class: “Your body paradoxically hates it but also finds it irrisistable.” The sounds of it can’t be recorded to the same effect, because one’s body has to be in the room in order to feel the vibrations.


The sounds overlapped, creating arcs and waves of constructive and destructive interference that shook my body. My eyes were uncontrollably twitching under my closed eyelids, and there was a steady buildup of bright light. I think it would be a bit of an understatement that I was freaking out a little bit.

At the same time, I knew what this was. If I just let go, I would be in an ultimate state of relaxation. But I couldn’t let go.

I talked to myself, especially during the most intense parts of sound permeating my body, and found myself saying: “This too shall pass.” (Kind of like what people say when they can’t handle too big of a hit or too strong of a drug). I was so fearful of letting myself go and relaxing. I was scared of seeing what was ‘on the other side’ of myself and reality. Time distorted, my body was distorting…it was trippy, to say the least.

And then it ended, and it was silent. My heart was racing at God knows what rate.

Chatting with the teacher afterwards helped me a lot. He told me my reaction was natural, and that he had given us beginners a rather intense class. Talking to him kept me sane.

Seeing him dressed in his white turban and robes, I wondered to myself what it must be like to almost always be in touch with infinity. That unfathomable number and concept beyond any known paradigm, any known assumption. It is the hardest concept for the prefrontal cortex to comprehend, so much so that when connected with an EEG, a brain trying to solve a problem involving infinity goes berserk.

It also reminded me of something Professor Roy Horan said: “Einstein transcended assumptions. Creativity transcends paradigms. Yoga transcends these as well.”

One thing I took away today from my Hindu Gods class (that I’m illegally auditing) is that there’s no one right way to approach divinity. Everyone can be a Hindu – it’s a philosophy of reaching the Supreme – and can go to it in their own way. In fact, the word “yoga” simply means to unite. There is no reference to the physical workout at the Harvard Mac Gym.

The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu traditional and philosophical text, brings up three possible ways of moving closer to the One:

Bhakti Yoga: the yoga of devotion (worshipping the transcendent meanings of symbols and shrines)

Jnana Yoga: the yoga of knowledge and retreat (think people who disappear off somewhere)

Karma Yoga: the yoga of action (serving society and helping humanity)

I took that message to heart and realized Kundalini Yoga might not be it for me. Roy told me that in the Yoga Sutras, over 180 classes of meditation are mentioned. Although yoga nowadays is Americanized, it is still yoga, and simply provides a different path for culturally different people. The destination is still the same. Who knows, studying science or social studies at college can even be a form of yoga, as long as it isn’t self-serving the ego.

I’ll go back and try it again, for sure. I just don’t think day tripping is a regular thing for me. 

Daily Nutritional Facts: being back at Harvard makes it hard to actually explore food, thanks to our lovely unlimited supply dining hall food. Although I will be a strong advocate for my new obsession: ginger chocolate. I especially love the one from New Tree.

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everything is made out of water

Warning: long and reflective. Beware of slippery surface.

“Dad, don’t fight the water. Stretch your body as long as you can and really feel the water. Go with it.”

That was me a week ago in Macau, attempting to coach my Dad freestyle. He wasn’t half-bad. Afterwards, he proudly proclaimed that I may have inherited my swim genes from him. Alas – unless my mom actually decides to get her butt into a pool one of these days, we will never know.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the water, mainly due to competitive swimming. My mom likes to remind me that after two days of being born, she threw me into a bathtub. After wailing for a good minute, I suddenly did a 180 and thoroughly enjoyed my first swimming experience. I like to call myself a water baby on a regular basis. As Steph (my coach at Harvard) insisted before I retired: You like the water, Kelly.

Good thing too, since global warming might make a statement soon.

Thales of Miletus (624-546 BCE), one of the first recognized metaphysicists of our time, declared that everything is made out of water. So says the first page in my “Big Book of Philosophy” (aka toilet reading) which I picked up as a substitute for clothes at Urban Outfitters. Who knew I’d actually read the thing.

It’s not a bad start for recorded philosophy, seeing that water is a pretty important thing in earth’s history.

What is it – our bodies are 60% water? The brain = 70%, so MRI’s can read our brain through hydrogen atoms and their spinback mechanisms thanks to that high percentage? (shortcut to neuronerd.com to your left) There’s about 326 million trillion gallons of water in our earth? We can survive for two weeks without food, but only a couple of days without that beautiful liquid?

Water is the abundant source of life. From it we also developed energy, discipline through sports, cute analogies, and spa treatments. So what about water’s link to creativity?

Life originated in the sea, and about eighty percent of it is still there. — Isaac Asimov

In chakra philosophy (I’m not actually sure where it stems from – there are many different versions), the second chakra, termed svadisthana, is located within the sacral area and considered the abode of creativity. It is also, conveniently, linked to the element of water.

That got me thinking. If people way back when already considered the link between water and creativity, what implication does that have for us now in modern society?

There is a reason why scientists define intelligence as either crystallized or liquid. FYI, crystallized intelligence involves knowledge already known, vs. liquid intelligence which is the ability to think logically in novel situations. Liquids have an element of flexibility: they can take any new shape, can curve around obstacles, yet keep their fundamental properties. Gases are too chaotic (think early cavemen that traveled around in small groups, barely making contact with each other), while solids allow no room for change. Hence liquid intelligence.

Also, in Flow (referring to the Stream Brainset),  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi uses the concept of liquid to describe creativity:

not the single intensity of “focusing a laser”, but the feeling of drifting along a stream, being carried in a clear direction, but still tossed in surprising ways by the eddies and whirls of moving water”

But out of all liquids, why water?

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, sheds some light on this. After analyzing centuries of “good ideas” (creative, original ideas that are beneficial to human society), he determined that creative ideas are most easily produced in networked, non-market based environments. One of the factors for this is a liquid network.

A liquid network needs two things to be a good environment for creativity: 1) The ability to allow as many random connections as possible 2) the ability to provide enough stability so that the innovative system gravitates towards “the edge of chaos” (termed by Christopher Langton: the quality where the system is chaotic enough that new ideas can be formed at the highest rate possible, while maintaing the ability to develop and apply these ideas, versus pure anarchy or pure order).

For those who hated high school honors chem, a friendly reminder about those special hydrogen bonds that form between water molecules: ten times stronger than intermolecular bonds of other liquids, but weak enough to allow for the fluidity and solubility of water.

A good analogy is the brain. The brain is plastic (flexible) enough to allow for new, spontaneous connections (insight, creativity), but stable enough to allow for the development of neuronal pathways (Professor Jeff W. Lichtman alluded neuronal pathways to water streaming down the same paths on a rock, slowly carving it out). Water is flexible enough to allow new connections between solutes, but stable enough to maintain the structural integrity of new compounds.

True, one could argue the brain is always spontaneously creating at every moment. But that dips into the Eastern philosophy and their love of the paradoxical mind embodying constant form and constant change (What is the sound of one hand clapping? You tell me.) It is also a friendly wave to quantum physics and infinity. So let’s not go there for now.

I had the priviledge of chatting with being utterly amazed for four hours while chatting with Roy Horan, a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic who is at the forefront of creativty and education research (also secretly an ex-kung fu actor and ex-Candian inuit tribe member). In order to examine the different stages of creativity, he came up with the Ocean Model in his paper that proposed a yogi-scientific review of Creativity and Intelligence. Aside from the quirky joke of OM that makes him smile inside, there seems to be some truth to his Ocean Model of creativity. Let me briefly explain.

Roy proposes that the three states of creativity is like the Ocean. The ocean is crystallized at the surface where the waves are, whereas the liquid movement is just below in the form of currents. The deepest part of the ocean, where ultimate stillness reigns, is vacuous.

He deems that crystallized creativity is the creative product itself: the idea, the performance, the hypothesis, the artpiece. This stems from liquid creativity, which embodies curiousity, imagination, connection, and incubation. Liquid creativity stems from vacuous creativity – the intention to transcend limits. At this level, the mind is absolutely still, connected with the infinite and one, and completely open to any expression of inspiration. For physics lovers out there, a useful analogy is the quatum vacuum. But again, I need to befriend a quantum physics lover at Harvard in order for me to accurately convey this theory.

Although these are only a few ideas about the connection between water and creativity, it is evident that there is some reasoning behind the concept of svadisthana, the water energy center in the body that resonates with creativity, sensuality, curiousity, and imagination. It is interesting to note that it is passive, and involves the human ability to let go. Food (or should I say water?) for thought.

You can never step into the same river, for new waters are always flowing on to you. — Heraclitus

So I was a water baby. Fast forward to the hours and days and weeks and months devoted to competitive swimming (I was already practicing 12 hours a week when I was in 5th grade, increased to about a day + more per week in high school).

It’s a pretty quiet sport. It’s just you and the water and the numbers. God, those numbers. Most of the time, I was trying to just make it thorugh the session, or secretly cursing the sport, or my mind tried to distract and numb myself from the pain.

My last season in swimming was interesting. Steph invited a rather intriguing guy to come teach us what he knew about the sport. He approached it with a neurological view, which I obviously loved. Before every practice, he demanded that we get in the pool and put our heads down and turn off our brains and just float. Lose complete control of your body and just let the water do it’s thing (this is pretty miserable when you first get in, because the water is so damn cold. Luckily, our coach tweaked his theory just a little bit and let us warm up for 10 minutes first).

It was…meditative.

He was also all about the physics – push your chest into the water, because the water will push up back into you. Sink your hips, because the water will respond. How is your body suspended in the water? What does the water tell you about yourself? It was as if water was a living thing I was exchanging banter with.

I remember what he said to me when he watched me swim: “You’ve been getting through the sport with your strength, not by naturally flowing with it. I think you’ve been going through life that way too.”

That really struck me.

And yes, I did quit at the end of that season. And thanks to my ankle sprain this summer, I’ve rediscovered my childhood love for the water. And met a lot of really interesting people thanks to it.

Like I said: I’m making amends.

Hopefully without the numbers, I can not only use the water as a place of healing, cleansing, and fun, but also to discover some creative inspiration between those microscopic hydrogen bonds holding that whole “thing” of constantly shifting water together. You never know.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

– Bruce Lee

(fun fact: Professor Horan was baller enough to be in a Bruce Lee film)


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