The darkness is more noticeable with the return to Standard time. One of us, my husband or myself, needs to be home by 4:30pm to put the goats and donkeys back in their shelter before dark. The frosts have put an end to the summer vegetable harvest, though the kale and collard remain unfazed by the cold, and my artichoke plants are already 2 feet tall and bright green after their mid-summer dormancy.
The early darkness gives me some extra reading time. I am still making my way through Lynn McTaggert’s The Bond and came across a very interesting section last night. She reports that when humans and animals feel curious we produce dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Feeling curious, being on the hunt for the new and unknown, is a reward in itself, and one study of people over seventy showed that a sense of curiosity – not diet or lifestyle – was the most significant factor in survival.
Neurobiologists have also discovered that the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that houses this “seeking mode”, this sense of active curiosity. The hypothalamus is a central hub for the brain synchronizing the autonomic system (all that stuff your body does without your thinking about it – like breathing), integrating feelings into a cohesive response, and connecting with the pineal gland and limbic system to transfer those “gut feelings” into our conscious minds.
It would seem that curiosity stimulates our ability to integrate information from all sources and all levels of perception. When I’m feeling curious, I’m more open, more capable of noticing what my 5 physical senses are registering, more capable of letting in the information flowing through my Jacobson’s organ and through the electromagnetic system of the heart. I am more capable of receiving the symbolic information feeding into my right brain and the messages coming from the neurons in my gut and kidneys. In curiosity mode my bodymind is supremely primed to integrate and utilize a much larger proportion of those 20-40 billion bits of information per second that it take in.
All of this stops – the dopamine production, the hypothalamus activity – when we decide we have found what was sought. Clearly, this is the philosopher’s stone, the secret to eternal life, we are talking about. Staying open and curious, always seeking the next deeper layer, turning every answer into the next question, this is the stance that creates Life.
Thinking about this reminded me of information in Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief. Cells have essentially two modes: growth and defense. A cell can grow or it can defend itself, but it can’t do both at the same time. Defensiveness is a stance that minimizes the flow of information and physical nutrients into a cell. Without a full flow, the cell ceases to grow. Maintained long enough, defensiveness itself leads to death. The antidote to this is curiosity, noticing the world with a mind that is willing to suspend judgement and ask questions instead.
A plethora of gray and orange bugs came to live in and eat my kale plants this past summer. I hadn’t met these particular bugs before, nor were they familiar to other gardeners in my area who were also finding them. The kale were all volunteers that came up in two patches in the pathways. I let them grow, stepping over and around them. When it became evident that the bugs were damaging the leaves, I thinned out one of the patches to just two large, well-spaced plants. The gray/orange bugs (GOBs) all moved to the dense kale patch and left the well-ventilated plants alone. An interesting method of “control”.
When the ‘Lebanese Green’ round zucchini plant flopped onto the dense kale patch, I lost track of the GOBs for a while. Eventually they showed up in the fine-leaved, “wild” arugula, another vigorous self-sower. I would love to have turned some chickens or ducks loose in the garden for a half hour to see if they found the GOBs to be a delicacy. I never got to it. By now it’s been several weeks since I’ve seen a GOB. How do they overwinter? Will they return next year? What prompted their arrival in the first place? Do they have natural predators in this area?
I have enjoyed the feeling of open-ended curiosity that the GOBs helped me bring to the garden, and now I know why: dopamine. I understand my reluctance to seek answers from a book or an “expert”, my preference to learn from my own experience with them. By prolonging the exploration as long as possible, I continue to produce dopamine, I keep my hypothalamus active and engaged, I create within myself a feeling of Aliveness. Reliving this as I write about it, I am once again suffused with a feeling of Well-Being. Curiosity truly is a wonderful thing.