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Portland Therapist Stephen Shostek Counseling Services
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These Things: 437

They’re Back!

The drab look of winter around here is starting to explode into color. Enjoy the changeup! Go for a walk, eh? Some thoughts about the power of awe on this spring day – Awe in the Time of Dr. Suess Trees,

3 Photos - View album

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These Things: 435

Love and the Politics of Care

Last week I posed the question of how far are we willing to extend our love? I had in mind extending love (or at least care) to a group of people who may seem unlikely – frustrated formerly democrat voters who sided with Trump.

I was intrigued by James Livingston’s 2016 book “No More Work” because it explores the intangible necessities that we get from our work. And it got me thinking differently about a collection of displaced workers who were desperate enough to vote for Trump in the hope that he could make good on his promise to give them meaningful work again. It’s clear that it’s not just a living wage that they need, but the intangibles as well – meaning, identity, belonging, fulfillment… those personal things that we derive from our work.

So, if progressives are to extend care toward “those other guys” too, we’ll have to come to grips with their real needs. Helping them to get what they actually need will be as Livingston wrote, “a practical economic necessity.” There’s no other choice if we’re to share an economy and a nation, and thrive. The alternative, leaving those needs unmet, will leave us all exposed to further hopeless attempts and acts of desperation.

Find my review and critique of “No More Work”, along with some personal observations in my blog at

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These Things: 434

Love and the Politics of Care

It’s great seeing these signs popping up all over my neighborhood. I’m psyched about the solidarity of love and the politics of care.

Here’s a question for us to ponder - how far are we willing to take this love?

In his 2016 book, “No More Work”, James Livingston writes, “Can we love our neighbors as ourselves in the absence of work that supplies a living wage?” Livingston answers his own question after a review of economics and labor history, “But if we want to survive, we have to love each other, as ourselves – we have to be our brother’s keeper… this is a practical economic necessity. There’s not enough work to go around.”

I wrote a review and a critique of “No More Work”, along with some personal observations at Check it out, leave me your comments.


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These Things: 433

A Paradigm for Understanding

Yesterday I traveled to Salem in the afternoon to testify about a bill – HB2361. When I arrived at the capitol building, a protest rally was underway, filling the steps and sidewalk in front of the doors. I wondered how I was even going to get to the doors? Would I miss the hearing in spite of my best efforts? The crowd was big and loud - a little worrisome to me as I approached. But they were peaceful even if loud, and the cause was immigrant rights, which I support. I passed through and into the building.

The experience reminded me that caring people are stirred up and some of them are worried or scared. I can understand why as I follow the news. But being scared and worried for too long without relief takes a terrible toll on our bodies and minds. A means of refuge and comfort for the long haul is a good idea for wellbeing. It’s clear that we’re in this for the long haul.

Sometimes understanding what’s going on can be orienting and calming. I mentioned cognitive neuroscientist George Lakoff a few days ago in relation to the politics of care. In a November blog post, Lakoff offers a way to understand our currently inflamed social/political situation in terms of conflicting worldviews. Lakoff’s neuroscience paradigm even offers caring people a way to make progress through the conflict and mayhem. You can check it out at -

Back to Salem - what from a distance appeared like an unruly mob (Is it dangerous? Scary?) became familiar as I understood what was going on. I could get oriented once I understood what was happening and find common ground within my worldview. Ultimately, I felt safety amidst the crowd. This was something I could make sense of. The politics of care will benefit from understanding what’s going on in the minds of both sides of the debate.

“The mind is physical, constituted by the neural circuitry of our brains and bodies…. If facts don’t fit the worldviews in our brains, the facts may not even be noticed — or they may be puzzling, or ignored, or rejected outright, or if threatening, attacked.” --George Lakoff

These Things: 432

The Politics of Care

“Communicate care. Teach care.” –George Lakoff

The afterglow from Saturday’s march seems to be alive in a lot of progressives this week. I hear people asking, “What’s next?” The organizers of the march have started an initiative – “10 actions / 100 days” that will certainly be productive.

George Lakoff (Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society) offers some advice about next steps that I find wise. Lakoff advises us to focus less on what we’re against and more on what we are for. He proposes from a brain science perspective that arguing against anti-social ideas has the effect of showcasing those ideas, thus keeping them in the limelight, rather than highlighting the majority’s positive moral view and positive worldview. Lakoff advises us that, “To effectively fight for what is right, you have to first say what is right and why.”

We have a pro-social message and a message that’s about care. I look forward to showcasing care and pro-social messages in the coming months.

You can read more from George Lakoff on his blog and find his essay, “The Women’s Marches and the Politics of Care” here -

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These Things: 429


Our next circle ‘round the sun has begun. This year,
Cherish and enjoy your life’s unfolding,
Marvel at the beauty around you every day,
Enjoy the bounty and the gifts your life offers you.

“To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle. Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.”
--Walt Whitman “Leaves of Grass”


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These Things: 427

The film “Arrival” felt like a breath of fresh air after the smog of this election season.

The film deals with themes of relating and communicating, understanding the unknown instead of attacking, choosing to love even in the presence of loss and disappointment. Arrival presents violence and war as solutions of last resort, only deployed by desperate, frightened people who can’t imagine another way. The human capacities for compassion, win-win scenarios, and non-zero sum games provide the way forward in this film, which could stand as a reminder to all of us (yes, both sides of the debate) as we pick up the pieces after November 8.

Learning to communicate with an unearthly species seems like an appropriate metaphor and comparison to the difficulties encountered between progressives and regressives, pleuralists and ultranationalists, or populists and the powerful when they try for a meeting of the minds. But the film is about successful understanding rather than frustration. Arrival shows us a world turned disorientingly on its side and shows us characters utilizing the best of human nature toward setting things right – or as right as they can reasonably be. I hope that we will, too.

If you saw the film, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts about it, whatever they may be. Leave me a comment, eh?


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These Things: 425

Following up These Things: 424. You might be wondering what kinds of exercise are the most effective for triggering BDNF production and neurogenesis – the creation of new brain cells in an already mature brain. I know I was. What’s most effective? My running, bicycling, XC skiing, or the intense training that I do to support my climbing? Researchers were wondering too.

Researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland studied 3 different kinds of exercise – High Intensity Interval Training (HIT), anaerobic resistance training, and aerobic endurance training in rats. They were looking for the effect of that exercise on Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis (AHN). The study was done on 2 lineages of rats that had been selectively bred for their capacity for aerobic exercise on rat treadmills. One group was selectively bred to have a lower capacity for exercise – the low-response trainer (LRT) group, and the other was bred for a higher capacity for exercise – the high-response trainer (HRT) group. Interesting, eh? I have to wonder what exercise characteristics I may have inherited from my own family lineage.

I’ll cut to the chase with the researcher’s conclusions, extracted from the paper:

“Our results suggest that physical exercise promotes AHN most effectively if the exercise is aerobic and sustained, especially when accompanied by a heightened genetic predisposition for response to physical exercise. “

“…compared with a sedentary lifestyle, we report a very modest effect of HIT and no effect of resistance training on AHN in adult male rats.”

So, there we have it. My running and bicycling are forms of aerobic endurance training and are likely to have the strongest effect on neurogenesis and therefore on learning and mood. The HIT training that I do for climbing, not so much. You can find the full paper online in The Journal of Physiology here -


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These Things 424

One of the many benefits of aerobic exercise that Dr. John Ratey wrote about in his book “Spark” is the production of new nerve cells in our brains. (see ) At that time, it was understood that a protein called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor was involved in causing the hippocampus to produce more neurons, and it was shown that aerobic exercise caused increased production of BDNF which stimulated neurogenesis. But the body’s mechanism behind this production wasn’t understood at that time.

Researchers at New York University’s Langone Medical Center have unpacked another piece in that puzzle. Their study showed that ketones produced by the metabolism of fat during exercise are responsible for breaking up a blockade of molecules that typically surround the genes responsible for BDNF production. Breaking up this blockade freed those genes to get on with their business of making BDNF, which in turn initiated neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

The study was published in eLife and you can read a summary of that journal article in the NY Times wellness blog - The eLife article discusses the beneficial effects of neurogenesis on learning and memory and also on mood-related maladies.

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