The classic image at New Year’s where old Father Time represents the year just ended while the bannered New Year’s baby emerges onstage, heralds the iconic star of a conference I attended in San Diego recently. Sponsored by the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) the international congress addressed the scientific and psycho-social discoveries centered on “the conscious baby.”
Founded in 1983 by Canadian psychiatrist Thomas R. Verny MD, and David Chamberlain PhD, the APPPAH started as a small group of people who shared an interest in the sensitivity and consciousness of babies.
Membership chair and parental educator Barbara Decker explains, “Their premise is that babies are having experiences in the womb-welcoming or not being welcomed, experiencing fear or love which are imprinting the baby in the womb.”
Members agree that prenatal experiences in utero as well as labor, delivery and breastfeeding are formative for babies and parents while establishing patterns of sociability that extend throughout life.
True to their mission of educating people, researchers present scientific discoveries to prove that babies are conscious and sentient beings. The evidence shows that what a baby experiences during its conception, pregnancy and birth creates lifelong consequences.
Dr. Verny’s keynote ushered in the event detailing the advances in neuroscience and its relevance to pre- and perinatal psychology. As Decker explained, “Neuroscience is proving that chronic stress hormones flowing through the mother are effecting architectural changes in the baby’s brains preparing the baby for a life of fear and protection rather than love and compassion. Conception and the next nine months through birth, give the basis for a healthy emotional intelligence and self-esteem or a life of fear and need to protect.”
Developmental researcher Katharine Monk, PhD, from Columbia University presented important discoveries on what she calls “the mother-baby dyad during pregnancy.” Because of their brain development, the fetus perceives their mother’s life and is affected by it. Monk details how, by mid-pregnancy most of the 80-90 billion neurons we adults possess are already produced. Neuronal migration (when neurons are shifting into their locations) peaks in mid-pregnancy, and 40,000 new synapses are formed every second in the late 3rd trimester.
By the 3rd trimester the fetus’ motor, visual, auditory, frontal and temporal networks are operational. After birth, babies prefer their mother’s breastmilk to another mother’s because the smell of the amniotic fluid is similar to their mother’s milk. Babies prefer their mother’s voice to another women’s since after nine months together the baby has grown used to their own mother’s prosodic tones.
Monk highlights that, though the fetus is hidden, it is yet receptive to maternal transmissions and that this time represents a prime opportunity for intervention. Neuroplasticity refers to how influences shape the brain throughout development. Monk cites research showing that brains are shaped differently based on the mother’s anxiety during pregnancy. The mother communicates to her fetus, through cortisol crossing the placenta, to be prepared for a dangerous world. The match between the baby and its environment considers whether the parents and the child are a good fit. If a reactive baby has a reactive mother they will both be uncomfortable.
An intervention Monk has developed starts in pregnancy and targets three areas. These include, optimizing the baby’s regulation which considers that a mother wants what’s best for her baby, so she learns tools that will help her baby sleep. Mindfulness is another focal point. This salubrious practice is introduced to teach the mother skills to regulate her own subjective and physiological state. And finally, psychological and developmental education is included so the new mom learns what to expect from her baby.
Monk’s intervention which she calls PREPP (Practical Resources for Effective Postpartum Parenting) begins with visits during pregnancy, after birth and during the postpartum period. Participating mom’s have zero attrition and staying the course reduces the incidence of postpartum depression by 50%. This robust protocol should be implemented everywhere. Its success lies in the fact that it removes the stigma of seeking mental health treatment for postpartum depression and instead recognizes the mother and child as a dyad: the intervention is for both of them.
The importance of the developing brain was highlighted by another speaker who is an expert in moral development.
Psychologist Darcia Narvaez, PhD from Notre Dame University presented her research “The Evolved Nest: What Children Need to Thrive.” Narvaez considers the first 18 months of life as a crucial time for brain development denoting the need for an enriched protective environment which she calls the evolved developmental niche aka “the nest.”
Benefits of the nest include self-regulation, like how the child deals with unexpected events and adjusts to stress. The child evolving from the protective nest evokes an agile intelligence about getting along in the world and with the world.
Components of the nest include a soothing birth experience; breastfeeding; responsiveness to baby’s needs; affection; outdoor play – to develop the implicit right brain; and adult caregivers providing respite and training for new parents. According to Narvaez, the context is (based on our brain development at birth) that we should be in the womb for another 18 months. When the nest is not provided the baby suffers.
A soothing birth experience includes connecting mom and baby with skin to skin contact immediately after birth to encourage breastfeeding (milk defines us as mammals i.e., possessing mammary glands). Human milk is thin which means babies are meant to digest it frequently. Mother’s milk is live food and can sense through the baby’s saliva whether the baby has a virus and the milk makes the antibody for the virus. If baby weighs too little mothers milk detects it and makes more fat.
Summing up, Narvaez advises us to restore tenderness to all relationships with young children and adolescents. The nest provides that tenderness and includes: the soothing birth, breastfeeding on request for infants, responsiveness (don’t let babies cry themselves to sleep as it creates cortisol that melts their neurons), affection (no spanking or coercion), free play outside, and friendly adult caregivers fostering a positive climate so the child feels like they are loved. When the niche is provided optimal development will result.
Drs. Verny’s, Chamberlain’s, Monk’s, and Narvaez’ work does justice to the APPPAH and represents the caliber of scholar contributing to the conversation. The association offers many educational opportunities including an online pre and perinatal psychology educator course as well as regional and international congresses. A visit to their website at www.birthpsychology.com will introduce you to their archival multi-media resources.
Here’s a link to of my recent articles published on Ezine
Online article database, Ezine, recently published two of my articles with links here:
The Mind & Life Institute recently held their International Symposium for Contemplative Studies (ISCS) in San Diego from November 10-13, 2016. The intention for these gatherings is to provide a venue where scientists, contemplative practitioners and scholars can bridge the divide between objective science and introspective practices to help promote behavioral change and human well-being.
Over the next several days of the symposium participants explored this interdisciplinary field where scientists and scholars collaborate with contemplative practitioners, philosophers and thought-leaders to share their latest research on mindfulness and other related practices. Stimulating conversations arise easily in this venue as people network with each other to encourage and foster the mission of the Mind & Life Institute which is to reduce suffering and enhance well being by integrating science with contemplative practice and wisdom traditions.
Organizers describe the intention for their event:
ISCS brings together scientists, scholars, artists and contemplatives to explore distinct though overlapping fields of research and scholarship using a multidisciplinary integrative approach to advance our understanding of the human mind. Together we examine how training the mind through contemplative practices may lead to insights that promote enhanced health and cognitive emotional functioning, increased social harmony and reduced suffering. ISCS encourages and shapes the cohesive interdisciplinary field of contemplative sciences to collaboratively explore the significant potential that lies within the human mind to create more just, tolerant and flourishing societies.
It seemed like a perfect synchronicity to hold this conference just after the recent election. Peaceful, loving spirits gathered together in harmony and awareness exploring the potential for a future to be possible.
Seeds of Change
The Mind & Life Institute was formed in 1987 as a collaboration between neuroscientist philosopher Francisco J. Verala, the Dalai Lama and lawyer Adam Engle. These humanitarians wished to explore the possibility that contemplative practice presents modern science with valid methods for studying human experience. Recognizing and applying these valuable resources advances scientific theories about consciousness, emotion and cognitive processes.
The Institute lists the Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual leader of Tibet, on its Board of Directors and neuroscientist Richie J. Davidson as well. Ritchie visited the Himalayas with a team of researchers at the turn of the new millenium to measure the effects of meditation on experienced monks. Eventually a few of the monks trusted him enough to visit his lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison for further state-of-the-art brain imaging data.
Davidson’s collaboration with the seasoned meditators led to brilliant discoveries into neuroplasticity and how the monks can reroute neural ruts just by thinking of compassion or mindfully breathing in a spacious awareness of the present moment. Davidson’s work is presented in the book, Train your Mind, Change your Brain by Sharon Begley.
French monk Mathieu Ricard was one of Davidson’s first monks to be studied with FMRI (functional magnetic resonant imaging) machines that show pictures of different areas firing in the brain in response to mental states of mind. Correlating the activated brain regions with subjective feelings shows that when one side of the brain is active we enjoy well-being and happiness versus activating the opposite side which correlates with depression.
I was introduced to Ritchie’s work in 2002 at a yoga workshop on yoga for depression. In 2005 I attended a Mind Life sponsored Dialogue between neuroscience and Buddhism at Stanford University. In 2007 I attended the American Academy of Religion’s conference in San Diego and first learned of the field of “contemplative studies” at universities like Rice.
At Stanford I learned of B. Alan Wallace and followed up by attending meditation retreats with him in Santa Barbara. He led me to Susan Kaiser who teaches mindfulness to kids and I brought my daughter to her workshop at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) in 2008. In 2012 Rinpoche Anam Thubten visited Bakersfield and his luminous nature inspired attending silent summer retreats with him in beautiful natural areas.
All of this effort to learn mindfulness really stems from Ritchie’s research on neuroplasticity and rerouting negative mental states through meditation. Negative thoughts can literally kill us as suicide sadly illustrates. “Why do you have to die because of one emotion?” asks Thich Nhat Hanh a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who advises us to center our attention at our “navel,” to stabilize ourselves during emotional storms.
A Communication Device
My introduction to the first day of the event started Thursday night where I listened to the yoga of sound with tabla and sitar players on the stage at the Harbor Sheraton Hotel’s Grand Ballroom following a lovely hosted wine and dinner reception underneath the pine trees on the Bay View lawn in view of the harbor. I had arrived too late for the opening ceremonies but just in time for the festive reception and musical interlude.
Ritchie Davidson and Mathieu Ricard kicked off the gathering in a keynote conversation where they discussed their perspectives on the collaboration between neuroscientists and contemplatives over their fifteen-year history together. Investigating the science of well-being from both philosophical and scientific paradigms allows researchers to examine the elements of well-being from Buddhist and scientific perspectives. Reinforced by these major traditions, the presenters recommend developing secular programs to cultivate well-being.
After the long drive from my home in central California and sated with the beautiful food (which included ample vegan fare to my happy surprise) and spirits while soaking up sound, I settled in to drive south to my friend’s house in Imperial Beach who was hosting me during the symposium.
Child of the Morning Rosy-Fingered Dawn
Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor’s yoga class in the ballroom was packed at 6am Friday morning. They were teaching an Ashtanga yoga class which is a type of yoga lineage emphasizing vinyasa’s or “sequences of postures linked to breath,” such as sun salutations.
After saluting the sun we did several different poses from standing to sitting while applying elements including focusing our gaze and working with breath to unify mind and body in an experiential awareness. It felt great to energize with yoga that morning and left me refreshed for the day ahead.
A broad range of scholars were at this conference including scientists, philosophers, educators, activists, practitioners, and business professionals. Mindfulness research, as it was demonstrated through an ubiquitous graph that showed up frequently in presentations, has exploded in popularity and is being applied across multiple venues.
Many young people attended and it was very refreshing to see such avid and brilliant scholars embracing academia with their heuristic and phenomenological – as well as distinctly quantitative and data-backed scientific – evidence to establish the veracity of down-regulating reactive habits patterns of the “default mode network” in our brain.
Friday’s keynote speaker was Zindel Segal, PhD, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at a research institute for Addiction and Mental Health. Dr Segal described applying mindfulness meditation to promote wellness to depressed patients in recovery and is the author of several books including The Mindful Way Through Depression.
Segal described his work with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for treating depression and other mood disorders and noted the shift in public perception of mindfulness which was “risky” to mention in the field of mental health 13 years ago. Training people in mindful techniques encourages them to become their own therapist and is considered the maintenance version of cognitive therapy which is useful when mental afflictions are latent or quiescent.
Segal said small amounts of negative moods can trigger depressive views. This ruminative, cognitive approach elaborates sad moods into memory.
Citing a poem on insomnia by Billy Collins, Segal illustrated the phrases in the poem that serve as antidotes to a negative view. These elements include:
- Relationship or to recognize the familiarity of insomnia, “my oldest friend.”
- Tolerate exhaustion, “sack of exhaustion.”
- Curiosity which conveys a stance that’s different from reactivity, catastrophizing and judging.
Another protective technique in MBCT is called de-centering, as in dis-identifying from our thoughts to defuse our mood. Segal believes MBCT supports people by teaching them skills that help them recognize their automatic slip into negative thoughts and teaches them to rethink their thoughts as mental habits. Curiousity replaces identification which helps people think about their experiences from a different perspective.
Segal stated that a home practice in meditation is critical to learn decentering skills as training in mindfulness helps people calm their executive center and activate experiential centers. According to Segal’s research, not only will 8 weeks of meditating 40 minutes a day, 20 minutes morning and evening, lead to increased resilience in the present term, it also extends for up to 24 months of protective influence emerging from the 8 week sessions.
In summary, Segal emphasized the importance of the ability to de-center as a critical protective factor in mindfulness therapy. Learning mindfulness helps people be agents of their own change. They recognize their vulnerability and commit to a formal mindfulness practice to strengthen their capacity to decenter from their thoughts.
Irish Scientist Studies Robotics for Parkinsons
While interviewing attendees, I met Denise McGrath, an Irish researcher from University College Dublin who flew in from Ireland for the conference and was staying in a nearby Air BnB.
Denise studies the area of health and human movement mechanics and focuses her research on Parkinson’s disease. Her work includes analyzing people to assesses their propensity for falls or test them for Parkinson’s while also educating community groups about the disease.
Denise was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard during the summer of 2015 where she studied at the robotics lab to research the possibility of developing a device that could be worn on the leg to mobilize the frozen limbs of a Parkinson’s patient.
Over the days of the conference, I kept running into Denise who became my friend and by the final day we were planning a research project together between our two universities. Networking with like minded scholars and scientists is a happy benefit of the symposium.
Calming the Fluctuations of the Mind
For this biennial symposium, scientists, researchers and scholars gathered together from a multicultural and inter-generational arena, across a myriad of academic disciplines and from several noteworthy universities. I sat next to a group of young people speaking French during lunch outside on the grass and sat next to a young man from Korea attending the University of Virginia at one of the keynote speeches.
I attended a lecture by a Swiss researcher and interviewed an immuologist named Mathias from Germany working at Scripps institute on a vaccine. I met Walter, a Silicone Valley based inventor of an app called “Inward” that encourages mindful moments of focus throughout your day.
I ventured to thank the panel of a group of scholars who were supposed to be presenting with their mentor Dr. Catherine Kerr who passed away that morning after a long fight with cancer. Beginning their panel with the sad notice of their mentor’s untimely passing they proceeded to share their papers knowing that Catherine would want them to do that.
Their panel was on embodied mindfulness and included a presentation on yoga. Another presenter shared his research on modern day floatation tanks to facilitate serenity and cultivate meditative quiescence. Neuroscientist Dav Clark from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine shared his research teaching Chi Gong to children 8-12 years old suffering from Attention deficit disorder.
I learned about operative conditioning and how to triangulate on behavioral change through breath awareness, loving kindness and open monitoring from psychiatrist Judson Brewer, MD, PhD who talked about the “neurobiological underpinnings of contemplative practices” during his presentation. This helps decrease the default mode network which is usually lost in internal narratives.
Brewer encouraged people to avoid the idea that it is “me” doing something and explore the effort of “no self” which is linked to deactivating the default mode network. He advises us to ponder the question Who is it here who gets full of self? He cautions that a sense of self is helpful to inform a time stamp necessary to function, but not if we get too caught up in self. We then get addicted to a me-society which perpetuates self-grasping.
Buddhist scholar John Dunne, PhD talked about investigating the phenomenology of mindfulness-related practices from a cognitive perspective in his lecture on the challenges and opportunities of this transdisciplinary study.
Describing the mechanics to doing this kind of work he said there needs to be something that brings together a community of researchers working on some problem. There must be a critical element they want to solve within a guild structure, which Dunne calls this long-term training apprenticeship and social integration.
A purpose of the long-term training, he suggests, is to locate researchers within the social identity of the “guild.” We’re in a kind of apprenticeship. What we’re learning are distinctive techniques and skills for the production of knowledge, including:
- recognizable rhetoric: “lingo”
- authority structures and epistomology to regulate individuals
- spatio-temporal places like conferences
- places where we display our products which are primarily printed publications
Within this transdisciplinary organization, Dunne believes an energetic conversation space arises whose components are the voices of disciplined persons bringing emergent developments from individual components together.
Exhorting us to look deeply Dunne ponders the question that drives the conversation. What are the varieties of mindfulness? The necessary parameters? The outcome of the conversation will be expressed in a formal way in a journal.
To make things happen Dunne advises us to start talking and listening perhaps in a “pidgin” language in order to discover or be given a really compelling problem and reliable context for frequent interaction. Conversations need to be facilitated which can be remote via zoom or video and he exhorts us to write something together as great practice. Academic institutions help by giving resources to facilitate remote conferences.
Dunne suggests the interdisplinary team should be composed of no less than three people, preferably more. The team composition includes the teacher of meditation, a scientist, a contemplative scholar looking at theoretical underpinnings, someone from art or literacy and the “reflexivant” to keep track of the cherished illusions and assumptions an individual displays.
Summing up, Dunne identifies the hubris of thinking that one person has the final account and they can do it alone as a significant challenge. Scholars can’t learn enough neuroscience. All the disciplines are rigorous. Do not assume we can do it all. Contemplative experience is critical.
Applying the Mindful Model
One researcher presented on teaching mindfulness to doctors and nurses in medical schools to help them address burnout in their education. Cultivating attention and awareness leads to empathy during the traumas they will face as they start their careers.
Over the course of the next couple of days I attended myriad lectures showing these charts of data captured from FMRI images of brains on meditation. A basic theme of all this is that mindfulness meditation is psychotherapy.
Many researchers presented during poster sessions on applying mindfulness skills to people with insomnia, to help suffers of rheumatoid arthritis, to help opiate addicted mothers, to help displaced military families, to help encourage emotional intelligence and so on.
Jeremy Hunter, PhD and associate Professor at Claremont Graduate University’s Peter Drucker School of Management talked about leadership and how captivating awareness in action was an important link in leadership development.
Hunter created a series of executive education courses to address the Drucker statement that one cannot manage others until they can manage themselves. The executive program he designed includes seven weeks of attention training and mastering emotional leadership skills including practice in self-management. Classes are action-oriented and results-focused.
Hunter identified four “rigors” people should develop as a result of participating in his classes:
- conceptual rigor: examine their belief systems, judgements and rationalizations
- perceptual rigor: see what’s going on in front of them through beginners mind – visit their house and see it for the first time
- somatic rigor: what’s happening in their body and how does that influence them
- emotional rigor: visit an art museum or botanical garden or take a walk to find aesthetic experience
Hunter said learning to create choices is an outcome of the training. Habits don’t give people choices. Investigating life as a series of choices arises from experiencing the present moment and deciding how that helps people make different choices right now. If one keeps making that choice it will lead to a different future.
Stating that the quality of attention is the foundation for quality of life, Hunter acknowledged that cultivating this quality is a healthy response to the rise of authoritarianism in society. He advises us to fight ignorance and create a society that works by giving people community where they can express their values, exercise their strengths and hone their skills.
Hunter acknowledged that the “output” in our Brave New Society is knowledge work which leads to anxiety as we fear we may be missing out on something important. Productivity stems from getting along in our teams so encourage each person to be nice to each other. He cites the need to study the polyvagal hierarchy to escape aggression and recognize our zone of resilience.
Hunter “bends the future” by transforming his perception. He advises executives to imagine a difficult client not as an adversary but as a friend by changing the story they usually tell themselves about the client due to their “default mode network” replaying a familiar narrative.
Instead, learn to manage our reactivity by practicing healing somatic practices such as yoga. They soften people and help them recognize the good and develop appreciation. Hunter says to always find something going well and then apply that to ourselves.
There is uncertainty ahead, Hunter concludes, as he urges people to create the world they want to live in. Training perception enables a person to see changing realities more clearly. This skill enables people to better manage themselves and makes them more qualified to manage others.
By the end of the day I had picked up some new words including, “interoception” which means attending to my internal states such as how my body is processing my present experience as I attend to my heartbeat or breath.
I learned about scaffolding which means you might practice mindfulness within an overall yoga practice offered by the kinesiology department at a university where you are earning a degree to fulfill your life and reach your goals.
Another term was dereification which is the same thing as decentering described above.
The Extended Mind Hypothesis
Philosopher Joy Laine of Macalister College Saint Paul in the UK presented about postural yoga and extended mind.
In the postural yoga tradition the emotional landscape of the individual can be managed through an intelligent practice involving a careful choice and sequencing of poses. According to Laine, one way of viewing such a practice is that of a mind reaching outside of itself in order to transform itself.
Citing the work of scholars on the extended mind hypothesis, Laine pointed out their development of the idea of extended mind in the form of extended cognition. Others advanced the notion that the human mind is fundamentally extended in nature. Specifically, the ways in which habitual actions allow us to use and change our environment is a way of shaping our mental lives.
As a yoga teacher who uses postural-based Iyengar yoga as her meditation, not to prepare her for meditation, Laine spoke from experience as she introduced the extended mind hypothesis currently motivating the work of social psychologists who show how we can effect changes in our emotional landscape on the basis of adopting specific body postures. Laine’s presentation argued that the paradigm of the extended mind is better equipped to theorize about the efficacy of postural yoga than a dualism of mind (brain) and body.
Laine began her talk by citing the ubiquity of neuroscience in the mindfulness revolution sweeping society. But she cautions that a juggler needs more than brain science to hone their skills. They need hand eye coordination. Systematic mental activity results in changes in the structure of your brain. Mind is different than the brain, Laine asserted. It is other than the brain. The cardinal assumption of neuroscience is that mental responses stem from brain activity.
With her background in analytic philosophy, Laine questions where mind stops and begin. Is it within the boundary of the body? Laine references “Ottos notebook.” Otto has Alzheimers and writes down everything to remind him where he wants to go and where it is. Citing the “parity principle,” Laine says that Otto’s notebook plays a cognitive role to function as part of his extended mind network.
To demonstrate how a postural based practice like Iyengar yoga serves as her meditation, Laine asked a volunteer to assume a yoga pose on the stage. Guiding the student into a standing lunge, Laine called our attention to how the posture embodies action in the world. Being effective comes from inner stability. The boundaries between body and mind are more fluid as we interact with the environment through a careful body landscape that is “minded.”
Laine reminds us that social psychologists cite the importance of posture in mental states while Iyengar emphasizes detail in the asana and practicing focuses the body and mind naturally to concentration and meditation. Body awareness and self-cognition invite an attitude of non-judgement and acceptance and lead naturally into a quiet mind which is the substrate of mindfulness.
Neuroscience and Embodied Cognition
The final keynote on Sunday was philosopher Evan Thompson, PhD, from the University of British Columbia who proposed that mindfulness include cultural practices and is not fully understood by only studying patterns of brain activity.
He decried the monetization of mindfulness and advocated a different type of mindfulness through altruistic practices. Frustrated with the internalist view of brain that extracts brain from the rest of the body he encourages a different approach which is:
Mindfulness is everywhere. In Silicone Valley mindfulness makes your career. But, as Thompson pointed out, a practice for increasing wholeness and concern for others is incompatible with greed and includes the modern fetishizing of yoga which fits with the global capitalist zeitgeist.
The neuroscience of meditation focuses attention on breath, mindful open awareness and loving kindness, Thompson notes, but cognition is the whole person and not just brain areas. Attention is a cognitive emotion. Meditation is posture with an object of attention such as breath.
Thompson cited the “Four E’s” approach of cognitive science:
- embodied – depends on body to be here
How we move ourselves, our perceptions and gestures, are integral components of thought in action. Thompson suggests scaffolding as a useful heuristic structure to build and support our practice by locating the nervous system inside of a body and within an environment. Extended cognition is coupled with the environment.
Dereification helps us view mental processes as mental processes. Thompson advises people to deconstruct and reconstruct their “self” by paying attention, which is constructive and helps them deconstruct by dismantling negative self-schema. Awareness illuminates itself into self-luminous awareness.
In light of this being my first ever contemplative studies symposium I leave feeling very inspired. As soon as I got home I looked up the Summer research institute they sponsor at the Garrison Institute in New York. Since I was drawn to Catherine Kerr’s talk and panel and found out the sad news of her demise I am inclined to dig into her research further. Studying leadership inspires me to learn more about Peter Drucker; and as a yoga teacher I will follow up on Evan Thompson’s book about embodied mindfulness.
I returned home to my university to participate in a scholarly writing class to teach us how to write proposals for grant funding institutions to fuel our research projects. And made friends with a researcher interested in collaborating with me on a project.
This was not my first introduction to Mind and Life Institute and will not be my last. I support their vision and mission and to this end write my story to share their valuable work with readers interested in learning how to train themselves in well being.
Starting with the vegan conference last month I’ve been going pretty steady in search of professional development. Seek andyou shall find.
Recently, I attended the cranial nerves workshop in Los Angeles taught by Karen Axelrod who also developed this class for the Upledger Institute. Our class launched this new addition to the Craniosacral protocol through the Upledger Institute which is named after its founder John Upledger, a renowned osteopath who pioneered research in craniosacral therapy and established the field as a holistic bodywork practice wrestling it out of the proprietary hands of the medical community and into the hands of laypeople and bodyworkers.
I attended this class in the cranial nerves because as a craniosacral therapist I can affect these nerves since our therapy emphasizes spreading head bones apart to allow free circulation of the fluids and nerve passages within these structures. My mom lost her sense of smell which compels me to learn about the cranial nerves so I can try and help her regain that sense.
Plus, Karen is my first serious craniosacral teacher and I respect her as a guru and she developed this class and I was with her since she was germinating it so I feel drawn to support her and attend and plus it would just be great to know more about the nerves to help everyone that I work with.
So that’s why I came and I am thankful to my mom who helped me go and Karen who offered the early registration tuition discount so I could go. And also grateful to my friend and massage client Kitt Heilborn who let me stay at her fun place in Canoga Park.
Karen was not my first craniosacral teacher as I started out training by attending an Introduction to Craniosacral Therapy class in Thousand Oaks for a couple of days before deciding to invest the considerable sum of money into taking one of the usual four-day workshops which are the standard training platform.
However, Karen was my Craniosacral 1 teacher and shortly after that she was a teacher’s aide in my Craniosacral 2 workshop. This was eight years ago and I remember then that she was studying the cranial nerves and offering day-long workshops on them which I wanted to take as I had read about them but needed much more practical training and reinforcement.
The workshop was held at the Garland Hotel in North Hollywood at the junction where the Hollywood and Ventura freeways connect near Universal Studios. It was a beautiful environment in a convenient location right off the freeway. We received a special rate on parking which would have been $22 a day for self-parking at the hotel, otherwise.
Several participants traveled from their homes nearby from Playa Del Rey to Glendale and Orange County. Those who’d traveled far were encouraged to stay at the venue with a discounted room rate offered to attendees. Some people used Air BnB in neighboring areas while others stayed with friends or camped in beach areas further north.
Our class included 22 students with 4 teachers aides to assist us while we practiced on each other. There were only two men attending, one of whom was a rolfer which is a pretty deep tissue style of massage. Craniosacral is extremely soft touch the whole opposite spectrum as rolfing. Some attendees had come from as far away as Colorado and Arizona while others of us gathered from nearby areas.
Karen began our class by describing why she had developed this class which was due to a gap she saw in our core training which really didn’t emphasize much understanding of the individual nerves and locations and effects. Instead our training emphasized an understanding of the membrane system which are the meninges and these contain all those nerves and structures like the brain and endocrine glands, etc.
During early craniosacral training the neuroanatomy of the system was enough which was why I didn’t learn the cranial nerves so good, as it was overload. So we take this umbrella approach to the craniosacral system in our early training. But eventually one seeks deeper understanding especially in light of what we do with our techniques. Karen described how her effectiveness increased when she started applying her understanding of the cranial nerves to her therapy work with others.
There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves and they create our sensory systems such as sense of smell, sight, taste, hearing, balance. These nerves also regulate breathing, heartbeat, digestion and other autonomic processes that keep us alive.
The first nerve is the olfactory which is an extension from the base of the frontal cortex so it is actually part of the brain. The sense of smell is our oldest sense. It is the first one to develop. I’ve heard the sense of smell described as a mainline to the limbic system, the emotional brain.
The olfactory bulbs sit on the cribiform plate which is on the ethmoid bone between the eyes. Nerve fibers come up from the nasal concha or cavity at the top of the nostrils through tiny foramina or holes in the cribiform plate. There are mucous membranes to translate the chemical sensations of a smell molecule being inhaled into a solution the nerve fibers can pass on to the olfactory bulb. Hence, a common cause for the loss of smell is dry nose.
Our practice to release a restricted olfactory nerve was to learn its anatomy and that it is a sensory nerve bringing information into the body instead of a motor nerve directing some activity to happen. We examine its nucleus in the brain, its trajectory to the target organ such as the ciliary fibers in the nasal concha and the anatomy of the structures supporting it like the ethmoid bone and the cribiform plate.
Principles of Engagement
Some guidelines to working with nerves were to float them distally since nerves branch out toward the periphery. A tenet of CST therapy is to follow the tissues in the direction of ease and not direct the body.
We also determine facilitated versus inhibited nerves to deem whether nerves are either excessively firing, which can irritate the end organ and send sensory messages back to create a feedback loop perpetuating a debilitating condition. Or whether a nerve is inhibited; such as being restricted in firing to the end organs which, in the case of the vagal nerve, the inhibition of the heart can lead to sudden death.
After a general overview of the cranial nerves and their loci in the brain and brain stem we learn which nerves provide sensory and motor innervation or both.
We review the general properties and structural location of these nerves within the floor of the cranium and brain and learn the intracranial membranes through which nerves pass on their way to the cranial foramina or holes in the skull allowing nerves to innervate all target organs like face and neck.
When working the nerves we maintain a neutral intention to not try and work on a particular issue or toward an outcome but rather trust what the body wants to show us while we assess with a general overview within a rubric of principles like:
- blend and meld
- follow the tissue
- trust what we feel
- treat what we find
- use the least amount of exertion to facilitate release.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
We learned about contraindications to craniosacral work such as any condition adversely affected by a change in intracranial pressure including aneurysm, strokes or concussions to name a few.
We also learned that nerves become dysfunctional due to a variety of reasons including:
- osseous restriction within the cranium or cervical region
- injury, disease or traum
- demyleination as in fibromyalgia
- poor intracranial cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) pressure or intercranial vascular pressure
- poor vascularization and blood flow to the nerve which get oxygen from arterial blood
Over the days of the training we follow the tract of each particular nerve, for instance the olfactory:
Sensory receptors run from nasal mucosa in the nose up through the ethmoid bone and back to the olfactory bulbs of the cerebrum. Here the fibers synapse with the olfactory tracts of the frontal lobes . THe tracts then travel posteriorly through the brain to the subcallosal and hippocampal gyri. There is another synaptic juncture here with fibers going to the pyriform and hypocampal areas of the brain. Then associated fibers connect these areas with the tegmentum, the pons and the thalamus. Reflex connections are also present that provide communication between the olfactory system and the nuclei of several cranial nerves.
After the theoretical overview we began learning the individual nerves and applying practical techniques to help them.
Summing up her review of the principles we would be applying over the course of the workshop, Karen reminded us that the mission of craniosacral therapy (CST), according to Dr. John Upledger, is to “contribute toward helping people soften and become more humane.”
Meet the Tissue
To work with cranial nerves we applied skills we already use in our craniosacral techniques but just perceive our palpation at a deeper level. We evaluate and treat these nerves with a variety of techniques, including:
- measuring the inherent movement of the craniosacral system
- treating fascial restrictions by following tissue movement along the direction of comfort
- directing energy through the conductive body
- encouraging cessation of the craniosacral pulse for a moment of release of nerve compression at the cranial base
- spreading bones to release compressed foramins where nerves exit bones
- mouthwork, since so many nerves are impacted by the maxillae and other bones of the hard palate
- positional release which presents an opportunity for restricted nerves to unwind
- temporal decompression at the mandibular joint since this region affects the reticular alarm system and the trigeminal nerve
- and finally, utilizing the significance detector such as when the cranial rhythm stops abruptly when we are on a particular region which is a signal to sit with the sensation
I’ll leave it at that and if you are interested in learning more about this contact Karen Axelrod through her own website or the International Alliance of Healthcare Educators IAHE website. Suffice it to say, I learned alot that I am still assimilating.
One of the best parts was actually getting lots of craniosacral therapy for myself as it had been a few years since my last workshop and I was happy to return to the community of practitioners. I recommend this class “Craniosacral Therapy for Cranial Nerves 1,” as an excellent overview of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves and for teaching us skills to apply our techniques toward benefiting people suffering from troubling conditions related to these nerves.
If you are interested in receiving craniosacral therapy or inviting me to attend your therapy workshop or retreat please contact me on this website and I will respond promptly.
Do you want to look radiant and slim? Or would you rather feel radiant and alive? The solution to both of your concerns lies in the food you eat. One group of enlightened doctors are raising the clarion cry about what they consider to be the perfect food for humans which is a whole foods diet based on plants.
At my first Healthy Living Festival in Valencia, I sat down with a group of strangers during the vegan buffet offered on the opening night of the conference. The colorful and wholesome food on my plate was made without animal products or oil.
As I took my seat and settled in, I turned to the man next to me and inquired, “Are you vegan?” Somewhat put off by my remark he said, “I’m more than that.” Surprised I said, “Then you’re raw?” He stated that he wasn’t a raw foodist so I asked, “What’s more vegan than raw?” and he said, “I’m whole foods, plant-based,” to which I replied, “Isn’t that vegan?” His answer was that vegans could eat Oreos and junk food but people into the whole foods plant-based diet didn’t eat processed food.
The Healthy Living Expo is held at the stately Hyatt Regency in Valencia for three days every October. Hosted by Veg Source founders Jeff and Sabrina Nelson, the conference features alternative health doctors like John McDougal, Caldwell Essylstein, Neal Barnard, Michael Gregor and T. Colin Campbell to name just a few luminaries who have presented at the Expo in the past.
All these doctors present research on food including how food can be addictive and why we want to be careful about what we put into our body.
The conference began Sunday morning with a cooking class by Chef AJ who taught particpants how to make a lovely quinoa pilaf using herbs, currants, and lime juice. She also demonstrated a recipe for raw brownies that she pressed into a silicon brownie pan from which they popped out shaped like brownies.
The first speaker was Dr. Craig McDougal who is Dr. McDougal’s son. Craig lives in Portland and practices at his own healing center called Zoom. As a testament to the type of doctor he is and what he focuses on, he informed us that his office is a kitchen.
All Calories Are Not Equal
In Zoom’s teaching kitchen patients see an array of same-sized jars featuring what 400 calories looks like in different foods. For instance, 400 calories of potato almost fills the jar, but 400 calories from cheese covers a thin section at the bottom of the jar.
This means that when you eat 400 calories of potatoes you are filling your belly to feel sated. But when you eat the cheese, since its such a little bit, you aren’t satisfied and have to add other foods to the cheese and pretty soon you are expanding out of your jeans.
After Craig’s presentation we heard from Dr. Alan Goldhamer from True North Health center in Santa Rosa who spoke about the benefits of water fasting to wean people off unhealthy diets of processed junk food, helping them lose weight and feel great.
All My Relations
Presenter Dr Neal Barnard talked about cheese and how dairy fat contributes to problems for people such as plaque deposits in the arteries and obesity. He also noted the suffering that goes into taking a baby calf away from the mother and how the mournful lowing of the moms and babies back and forth across the feedlot haunts the neighboring community.
Dr. McDougal presented about colonoscopies and said they should be avoided due to more harm than good being done through the screenings. He suggested easier alternatives such as sigmoidoscopy which is not an operating room procedure.
On the last day the speakers who presented over the fact-filled weekend then reconvened on stage at the end for a final Q & A session fielding questions from the audience.
One women asked about how diet could help her bi-polar disorder and Dr. Barnard answered it saying lithium is a brain salt and he didn’t know if there were any naturally occurring dietary sources for it. He suggested she take her medicines.
Vegans need to supplement vitamin B12 which comes from animal foods. Vitamin B12 deficiency is characterized by nervous system disorders. Upon considering that question and pondering some recent states of anxiety, I promptly returned home from the conference and bought a big jar of sublingual B12 to start supplementing my diet.
The conference is a great resource for people interested in the notion that food is the most powerful medicine we have. Making food from scratch and eating mostly plant based while avoiding processed food and simple carbohydrates like white flour and sugar will help you feel better.
We are advised to eliminate all trans fats such as anything with the word hydrogenated in it and also avoid common bottled vegetable oils such as soybean oil and replace those bad oils with cold-pressed oil or extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
Avoid dairy fats but supplement healthy plant based fats as important sources of Omega 3 oils which include avocado, olives, walnuts, cold pressed hemp and flax oil as well as hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds. These oils are also important for healthy brain function.
I am grateful for the opportunity to revive my commitment to a whole foods plant-based diet and will be following up again next year so stay tuned. If you have any comments about this please post them and I will do my best to answer your questions.
Located on the banks of the Columbia River in northern Oregon, Portland (also known as Glassland) is the home of art glass manufacturing businesses including Bullseye and Uroboros. Just like Silicone Valley is known for its high tech internet enterprises, Portland is something of a shrine to glass artists nationwide.
As a glass artist, spending time with my cousins, Cheryl and Dennis McGaffey, in Portland seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my birthday. I hoped to do art glass with Cheryl in her home-based art glass studio.
Upon arrival in Portland, Cheryl picked me up at the airport where the temperature was a chilly 28 degrees with wind chill making it even colder. I was prepared with down coat, fleece scarf and hat along with another coat that my cousin provided when she arrived.
Back at the house, my cousin DC (AKA Dennis McGaffey) was preparing a vegetarian spanakopita which is a savory Greek spinach and cheese dish. He couldn’t have picked a more glamorous dish for my birthday feast especially since I hadn’t eaten in the airports that day while negotiating layovers and flight schedules to get from Bakersfield to Portland.
The last time I stayed with my cousins was two summers ago while attending vegan chef school at a local venue called Tabor Space in the Mount Tabor neighborhood. That is also when I became an avid fan of fusing glass thanks to Cheryl granting me open access to her studio and expert instruction.
It was sweet of my cousins to make vegetarian food for me which reflects their overall benevolent indulgence toward me and my capricious food whims.
Cousin Cheryl set me up for my week-long stay in the upstairs apartment adjacent to her room in a comfy queen size bed with ample blankets. I slept great that night and awoke early the next morning to wander into the glass studio and get inspired for my glass projects that week.
Merry Mavens of Art Glass
Cheryl’s studio is called Design Lite Studio and is devoted to both fused and stained glass art. Cheryl started the studio downstairs in the basement of this house which then belonged to her mom.
Selling her own house to move in with her mom gave Cheryl the resources she needed to build an entire new wing on the house completely devoted to the glass studio and art glass business.
Cheryl’s beloved mother, Pat McGaffey, co-managed the business with Cheryl. Their successful collaboration yielded high retention rates as students returned every term, year after year. Some students have been attending classes here for over 15 years.
After laboring on oxygen for several months, Aunt Pat died at home in her sleep of natural causes in September 2013. Grieving the loss of her treasured mother, Cheryl invited her brother to help her run the glass business.
Today, the business is a family affair. Cheryl creates glass art, teaches classes, operates the kilns, manages glass and product stocks and calculates the totals on everyone’s glass purchases. Cheryl and Dennis’ big sister Marilyn, who lives just south of Portland in Oregon City, manages the accounts for the studio.
Cheryl’s brother, Dennis, whose job performing stand-up comedy and fronting his own band leaves him free time during the day to work with glass art, recently created glass tiles fused with illustrations printed off the internet to adorn the top of a series of boxes.
Design Lite Studio – The Art of Glass
Located at 6218 Oberlin, Design Lite studio is situated in the University Park neighborhood of North Portland not far from the iconic St. John’s bridge.
It is an easy walk to the bus stop at Lombard and Wall where you can catch a bus to get nearly anywhere in the city. A robust public transportation system of buses and high speed rail links the city and provides commuter relief from the rush hour gridlock on the freeways.
Students can take either fused or stained glass classes at the studio. Cheryl offers eight and four-week terms throughout the year. She teaches classes most days of the week except Sunday and offers open studio on Saturdays during the term.
“We all just Want to be Loved.”
My first full day in Portland started bright and early in the studio with cousin Cheryl when her student Dora breezed in and gave Cheryl a hug and said “I appreciate you so much.” I marveled at the thoughtful gesture.
Pretty soon Dora started alluding to a troubling event she wished to discuss with Cheryl. After beating around the bush for a few minutes she finally gave in and told her story.
As Dora told her story she asked us what we thought. After some discussion, Dora decided that everyone really just wants to be loved. She called Cheryl later that night to tell us everything was fine. She thanked us both for the chance to let off steam and resolve the situation.
After Dora left the studio, another glass student, Portland resident Julie Duong, arrived. She carried in her arms satchels loaded with art glass supplies like texture rollers, stencils, fusible paper, stickers, and other assorted necessities for a new project we were going to try that afternoon.
Meet the Boss
Julie enjoys a special relationship at Design Lite Studio as Cheryl’s business coach. With her career background in website design, Julie manages Cheryl’s publicity and marketing efforts to leave Cheryl free to create. Julie motivates Cheryl in a gentle way stating, “She needs to be the creative artist.”
After noting that she’d been Cheryl’s student for at least 10 years, Julie responded to queries about what inspires her by saying, “I love the medium. It’s playing on light and it’s so beautiful. It’s all about the play of light for me.”
Julie creates intricate pendants layered throughout a series of five firings to create colorful landscape-style backgrounds that she chooses then cuts out with a saw. She then affixes decals like trees and fairies on her pieces preferring to use natural images since people seem to resonate with them.
As Julie describes the elemental spirituality of using natural images on her pendants she notes, “There’s a perception that glass is expensive but it‘s made out of sand and I’m inspired by nature. ”
By the end of the show Julie generously endowed both Cheryl and I with our choice of one of her exquisitely layered pendants to take home.
Fusible Paper and Ink Blots
For our project that day, we were painting fusible paper with glass paints that we just poured in a random fashion over half the paper then folded the paper and rolled a textured brayer over the surface.
After rolling the paper we opened up the fold and discovered our inkblot glass paintings.
Once we dried our paper with a blowdryer we cut it into 4 X 4 inch squares and sandwiched selected pieces between opal glass on the bottom topped by clear glass before fusing the plates in the kiln.
Following that project we commenced a similar one this time using heavier fusible paper and watercolor glass paint. We washed the paper with background colors, then applied stencils using the glass paint over the stencils to create interesting designer paper.
Yield and Rebound
That was a pretty full day and that night cousin DC (Dennis’ stage name is D.C. Malone so his friends call him DC) made a spaghetti dinner for all of us including his sister and her husband, cousins Marilyn and Glenn, who drove up from their home in Oregon City to visit.
Surrounded by family and full of delicious vegetarian spaghetti , garlic bread, red wine and salad with fresh blue cheese dressing, I stretched out on the floor to watch a movie at the end of an eventful first day in Portland.
The next morning, I entered the studio early and perused the displayed glass art to decide on a couple of pieces that I absolutely had to make. When Cheryl opened up the studio for the day, I pointed out my requests and she helped me create my work.
A Green Business
I wanted to make a leaf first. Cheryl had sculpted a leaf mold in her ceramic class last year to slump unique and delicate glass leaf plates. I immediately cut two leaf shapes out of clear iridiscent glass to make one leaf plate for me and one for someone else.
Creating the leaf included brushing frit into the delicate veins on the mold which was somewhat tedious. On the next leaf I went a little faster and it wasn’t as good as the one where I was more careful so it needs the extra time. But I made up for it on the second leaf by using silver foil inclusions which fired into a gold color adding interest and luster to my leaf after all.
The big project for me, on this trip, was making my interpretation of Cheryl’s baguette platter. This piece utilizes a chemical reaction between two different types of glass, one a sulphur-bearing french vanilla and the other a copper-bearing aquamarine frit (frit is crushed glass used to add color to our pieces).
While I was working on my leaf, Cheryl filled a terracotta flower pot with green glass scraps and placed it in her compact vitrigraph kiln which sat on a stainless steel shelf about five feet off the ground
Vitrigraph Kiln & Twisted Stringers
The vitrigraph kiln is a small programmable glass kiln with a removable bottom and a replacement shelf for the bottom with a hole in the middle where you place a flower pot full of glass over the hole while aligning the hole in the bottom of the pot with the hole in the bottom of the kiln.
The kiln was donated to the studio by Cheryl’s student and assistant teacher, Angie Eamons, who sold a large stained glass window at last year’s show and turned the money back into the studio by buying the vitrigraph kiln for the studio.
After “charging” the kiln (with the loaded flower pot) Cheryl turned on the kiln which had to heat up to 1700 degrees (this took most of the day).
Eventually, we noticed a bulge of molten glass coming out of the hole in the bottom of the kiln. Cheryl donned giant welding gloves and glass pliers to pull the blob of hot glass out of the hole. Stretching it down toward the floor pulled the molten glass into a long skinny string which I would cut off with wire cutters at its thinnest part.
I tried my hand at pulling the hot glass and twirling the molten stringers into random swirls and squiggly lines. These would be cut at the skinniest part, then further cut up and chosen as accent pieces such as on the reactive baguette plate above where the green loops in the design were formed with stringers made from the vitrigraph kiln.
Cheryl was firing both of her main studio kilns every day and was also working on her own projects, such as her signature cat ornaments for the annual Christmas art show held at her studio that weekend.
Christmas Show and Sale
By the end of the week, Cheryl was finishing up her cat ornaments and I was making some of them too. I was also making an assortment of Christmas tree ornaments to give out to my yoga students and massage clients as Christmas gifts back home.
The day before the art show, Cheryl’s Thursday night students were scheduled to help her decorate for the art show which was starting the next morning.
Cheryl wanted to feed her helpers dinner so I volunteered to make veggie wrap sandwiches out of flour tortillas, cream and cheddar cheese, sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, marinated artichoke hearts and olives. They were delicious and we had some left over for lunch the next day.
It was a flurry of activity while the students transformed their studio into an art glass boutique. We assembled three Christmas trees to display the fused glass ornaments which included gnomes, Christmas trees, cats, dogs, doves, toad stools, elves, lollipops and more.
After the students left that night, the studio was ready to open up to the public by 10am the next day. Along with both my cousins, I retired to the living room.
Students and Customers
Cheryl waited until just before opening time on opening day to set up her sandwich-board signs around the neighborhood. She explained that she didn’t want the signs out too early as customers might come by when the signs are up rather than when the show is open
With Cheryl still out putting up signs around the neighborhood, I was handling the early birds who were walking into the studio at least ten minutes early. Having met Cheryl at a recent art exhibit, two women fans were interested in getting the first chance to buy more of her pieces.
One of the first items that sold was a whimsical fused glass fish made by glass artist Angie Eamons who teaches the Tuesday night classes at the studio.
After buying a fish for her husband, the patron left two more fishes behind on the wall; one of which sold, within the hour, to an appreciative fisherman. By the end of the weekend all the fishes had found new homes.
The Calm before the Storm
Open from 10am-9pm on Friday then 10-5 on Saturday and Sunday, there were times when the art show had a lull in customers and I could slip into the house to give massages to my cousins on the massage table DC borrowed from his friend.
I gave a couple Swedish style massages to both DC and Cheryl and then craniosacral therapy to a few people including a student with migraines and both Cheryl and Marilyn. Hopefully everyone slept better and felt looser after the sessions on the table.
Into the Night
The first day of the art show coincides with Aunt Pat’s birthday which is Dec 4th. Open til 9pm on Friday, the evening hours were expected to draw a rollicking crowd of family and friends used to celebrating the birthday of their venerable patron.
Neighbors and friends stopped by throughout the evening while student volunteers staffed the art show, checking out guests and keeping the snack larders full.
Every day of the show, Cheryl would heat a vat of mulled cider served in the morning with cookies. In the afternoon she’d bring out crackers and cheese or chips and salsa. By late afternoon two types of wine would appear along with her signature dish called drunken puppies, which are miniature hotdogs cooked in bourbon and ketchup.
I snacked on pretzels and nuts and imbibed hot cider liberally.
We watched movies in the living room at night including one called The Way starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez, Sheen’s son.
The movie was about a trek, or pilgrimage, starting in France and crossing over the Pyrenees into Spain, spanning 800 miles for pilgrims walking the entire route.
Portland is 913 miles from my home in California and a pilgrimage I have made many times by car, but more recently, I’ve been flying the friendly skies with United.
Meet the Artists
There was lots of time to hang out in the studio and admire the elegant pieces of art glass. With time on my hands one day, I started taking pictures, asking questions and writing notes to highlight some human interest stories about the studio.
Moments later, resident artist and studio owner, Cheryl, walked into the gallery and gathered us around her while she pondered a unique occurrence.
Dale Chihuly’s Dazzling Deed
When Cheryl walked into the studio during the art show around 2:30 on Saturday afternoon she was holding a book that had just arrived in the mail. She was wondering, incredulously, how it came to be that legendary glass blower Dale Chihuly would, out of the blue, send her an autographed copy of his latest book.
As it turns out, cousin DC recently reconnected with a woman he knew years ago in Florida who happens to also be the owner of an art museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, dedicated to Chihuly’s work.
When she found out about his sister being a glass artist DC’s friend, Beth Morean, arranged with Chihuly to send Cheryl the book. Talk about connections
It sure paved the way for a welcome reception into their Portland home when Beth flew in from Florida on Sunday night after the show to stay with DC and meet Cousin Cheryl for the first time.
As we were winding out the weekend, I interviewed a few artists who were selling their glass at the show.
Angie Eamons of Portland has been coming to Cheryl’s studio for 14 years after finding Cheryl’s classes through an ad in the local paper. Angie has been teaching the Tuesday night classes for nearly nine years as well as attending classes on Thursday night.
Noting the differences between stained and fused glass while teaching beginning and intermediate students in both disciplines during her classes, Angie explained that stained glass denotes more instruction and a longer stretch of time to complete the project.
Citing complexity as the defining difference, Angie listed the various steps involved in stained glass such as picking and making a pattern, cutting out the pattern, picking the glass, marking, cutting, grinding, wrapping, assembling, soldering, wiring, leading, applying patina & polishing the item, versus picking the glass, cutting, cleaning, assembling, firing and slumping, such as we do in fused glass.
Along with the popular fishes mentioned above, Angie was also selling turkey platters, Christmas ornaments, pendants, and this beautiful sunflower plate with pearl center that resonated with me so much I contemplated making my own version.
Much to my happy surprise, Angie presented me with the plate as a gift at the end of the show. It hangs in my yoga studio gracing the space with the auspicious energy of its creator.
Angie spoke fondly of Design Lite Studio’s late proprietor, Aunt Pat, stating that when she found the classes she had a young son at home and a career but needed a creative outlet. The studio and its supportive group led by merry mavens and majestic matriarchs offered spiritual nourishment and a safe environment for Angie to uncover and develop her artistic talent.
Glass artist Theresa Wilkerson attends classes here from her home in Vancouver. She has been coming here for two years after working with Cheryl at US Bank. Theresa said she had to wait for a new term and an opening before she could start attending as classes fill up fast.
Theresa brought several of her pieces to sell in the show including both fused and stained glass objects. One of her plates was a dancing girl whose intricate detail captured the hearts of many.
When asked to describe her process, Theresa noted, “I do what inspires me. I never hold back. I utilize scraps which makes me be creative such as in my gingerbread houses.”
Denoting the steps to make her dancer, Theresa first cuts and assembles pieces on a base piece of glass and full fuses the landscape elements. Then she tack fuses the dancer which she makes by working from a picture. “When I see things I like, I take a picture and say, ‘how can I do this’?”
Glass artist Cheryl, proprietor and owner of Design Lite Studio, made many of the pieces on display at the show that day including stained and fused glass items. Ranging from large architectural leaded glass windows to functional fused glass housewares like bowls, vases, plates, candleholders, coasters, and ornaments, Cheryl also creates pendants, earrings, barrettes and brooches for personal adornment.
Cheryl started teaching stained glass years ago through classes hosted by Parks and Recreation before starting her own studio in the present site. She has been the driving force behind the glass studio from the beginning and encouraged her mother to invest in the home based business.
Retired from her bank job, Cheryl runs the glass studio as her full time job. As a member of the Oregon Glass guild, Cheryl offers open studio tours and participates in guild activities such as art shows and exhibits.
Known for her laid back teaching style, Cheryl has never had a student get injured in her studio. Only she and her mom ever suffered cuts deep enough to need medical attention. But lots of us have found our way to her stash of bandaids to cover minor cuts sustained while working with glass.
Portland resident and glass artist, Greg Hamilton, has been studying glass art with Cheryl for at least 11 years after meeting her and Aunt Pat at a birthday party. Without knowing any one at the party, Greg and his friend sat down at Cheryl and Pat’s table and during the conversation both were invited to the glass art studio.
Starting out when the classes were still held in the basement, Greg is a prolific artist who prefers to work with stained glass because he doesn’t have to wait for the kiln to complete the piece.
The biggest piece Greg has made was a window 4 ½ feet tall by 2 feet wide. He puts his windows in old Portland windows and says he makes 9-15 smaller windows a year which he sells to help pay for materials for his next piece.
Greg acknowledges the camaraderie he enjoys with his Thursday night classmates. “I can probably do all this at home but it feels good to come here. The Thursday night group has been around as long as I have. It’s like a support group and this is therapy.”
The Golden Goose
By the end of the weekend Cheryl’s bank deposit from the art show sale was nearly $3000. She still had to divide the earnings up between the various artists who sold their wares and distribute those funds.
But it wasn’t time to rest yet. Cheryl was offering a class the following week on making ornaments. And for her regular students, whose term has closed for the season, she was offering a two day open studio to finish projects they may still be working on.
But for me, my trip to Portland was coming to a close and I had to start packing all the projects I had made in a box big enough to contain enough bubble wrap to protect the art so it would survive being checked at the airport.
By Monday morning I was packing and wrapping my fragile pieces in a large box weighing in, when fully loaded, at 40 pounds. Cheryl was also fortifying my home studio with extra sheet glass, colored frits, stringers and tools, hoping to assist my efforts to recreate the happy times spent doing glass with her.
The day dawned stormy and rained all day. Residents south of Portland were experiencing flooding and the weather even made the national news.
The phenomenon of the weather gives this story its final thought. When Mother Nature keeps you inside throughout the winter due to precarious weather, it’s no wonder that the interior environments like glass fusing studios get so much attention.
Staying warm in a glass fusing studio is easy due to the ongoing presence of large kilns cooking glass on a regular basis.
My time was at an end and Cousin Cheryl drove me through the rain down to Portland airport so I could return home. It was hard to say goodbye as I don’t see my beloved cousins enough.
Hopefully, I can return again this year and enjoy another week packed with creative art glass design as taught by my favorite glass artist, Cheryl McGaffey, at her well-stocked and opulent Design Lite Studio in North Portland.
I called my cousin after arriving home to tell her my art glass had survived the airline trip without breaking. While talking to her, I reflected on how happy I am while creating art through the beautiful medium of fused glass.
It is a privilege to present this jewel of a glass studio dwelling deep in the heart of the lotus bloom that is Portland. May you enjoy the immeasurable inspiration afforded by the medium and conjure your dreams within the supportive environmental milieu of both the community and glass classes at Design Lite Studio.