Developing a Photographic Memory

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.


  My grandpa was a character.  By the time I knew him he had retired from a university professorship and moved to a farm in southern Illinois.  He chain-smoked generic cigarettes and drank cheap beer in front of a small television set in his basement.  He was indeed from a different era.  He was also an exceptional card player.  I remember countless games of Gin Rummy in that smoky basement.  Even though my siblings and I were his grandkids, he never let us win.  Grandpa was nearly impossible to beat because he had a photographic memory.

Needless to say, I grew up intrigued with the idea of having a photographic memory.  I loved the idea of being able to remember everything that I read.  Fast-forward thirty years:  it seems that a different sort of “photographic memory” is becoming more common.  This sort of memory is influenced by the widespread use of digital cameras and smart phones.  Research conducted by Linda Henkel of Fairfield University has demonstrated what she refers to as “photo-taking impairment effect.”  This term describes how taking more pictures is related to a decrease in people’s ability to remember an event.  It seems that the brain doesn’t work as hard at remembering something if you can count on a picture to remind you of details.  Like our muscles, the brain benefits from being challenged with tasks.  It’s like the saying goes: “use it or lose it.”  When we rely on something to do a task for us, we risk an increased likelihood of atrophy.  It’s like if a healthy person refused to walk and chose instead to use a wheelchair to get around, it wouldn’t be too long before the person actually needed the wheelchair because their body would lose the ability to walk.  So when we use a tool to remember things, we gradually lose our ability to recall things in an optimal way.  Henkel also pointed out that when we document everything with photographs, we compromise the elastic nature of memory.  A photograph is a “snap-shot” of a specific moment in time, but the shot is fixed in that it is only one perspective.  When we look back at a photo of an event, we tend to see it through that limited, one-dimensional view.  This can compromise the wholeness of a memory, confining it to an overly streamlined view.  In addition to these things, relying on photos to remember things means that our memory of an event doesn’t have room to evolve.  We think of our memories are being fixed in stone, but research has shown that our memories of events actually change over time.  As we grow and our understanding and wisdom continue to develop, our relationship with the past changes with it.  This allows us to mine new information from our past that helps us evolve into more complete human beings.

   Of course, there are other potential issues with the overuse of digital photography.  Most of us know of the overwhelm that happens when we begin to unpack all of the photos that we have taken.  The process of sorting through and deleting photos and videos can take hours.  We can be so intimidated by the process that we avoid it altogether, until we have thousands of photos that we never look at.  Then we simply collect photos without them meaning much.  Another issue is that rather than being present in the moment, too often people experience a place through the lens of a camera.  This myopic view limits the fullness of the moment.  I recently witnessed this on a trip to the Grand Canyon:  everyone was looking at this amazing vista through a small screen.  It seemed to me to be a missed opportunity to take in the real magic of this special place.

     To be honest, I take pictures with my phone.  I’m sure that there are times that I overdo it.  As I think about maintaining balance in my life, I have been increasingly leaving the camera in my pocket, or at home.  If I do use it I am practicing taking one or two photos and realizing that this is enough.  I am more frequently focusing on being in the moment, rather than photographing the moment and trying to experience it later.  If I ever were to develop a photographic memory, I would want it to be like the one my grandfather had, not the diminished capacity that is more typical of modern times.

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Perfect is the Enemy of Good

by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

Years ago my wife and I spent a month in Tibet.  We traveled to a sacred mountain called Mt. Kailash in the far western part of the country.   It was remarkable being in the thin air and the barren landscape of the high Tibetan plateau.  The natural beauty of the Himalayan mountains was breathtaking: bright colors adorned the temples, the people, and even the yaks as they plowed the fields.  It was all so foreign that it was almost as if we had been transported to an entirely different world.  With all of these unusual sights and experiences, the thing that stood out the most to us was the grace and apparent comfort of the Tibetan people.  When I say comfort I don’t mean that they lived comfortable lives–rather, they were comfortable in who they were.  With no mirrors or Facebook accounts, people didn’t fixate on how they looked.  The lack of dentistry meant most people past a certain age were noticeably missing teeth, and people were wrinkled and weathered by the elements.  With the constant wind and yak dung fires that provided warmth, along with the lack of showers, most people were covered with dust and smelled of smoke.  Despite all of this, the people were so kind and welcoming.  They really were comfortable in their own skin. 


  When I contrast this with so many Americans that I know, it amazes me how different our cultures are.  Though our culture is so abundant, so many of us are preoccupied with a sort of perfection that was absent in Tibet.  As we have become wealthier as a nation, we are becoming increasingly fixated on image and appearance.  Social media feeds show us a never-ending procession of perfect bodies, meals, and vacations.  They encourage us to compare our insides with everyone else’s outsides.  So many people get caught up in how to craft and maintain an image that is bigger than life.  We pursue a certain look, a perfectly manicured lawn, or a shiny car, but it doesn’t bring us more happiness.  It doesn’t improve our quality of life.  In fact, rates of anxiety and depression are increasing at an alarming rate, as are the use of the medications that treat them.  People are also spending more money in an effort to “keep up with the Jones’s.”  We are chasing a state of perfection that doesn’t exist, and we are making ourselves sick doing it.  While adults are struggling, kids are having an even harder time.  Without the reference point of a childhood before the constant messages of social media, children and young adults have been taught to believe that image is the most important thing.  How you look, how appealing the package is what gets you the most “likes.”  It’s like those Hollywood facades that they used in the old western movies:  The front is put together, but there is nothing inside the saloon. 


  So what is the solution?  As a society we need to reevaluate our priorities.  This involves finding ways to encourage substance over packaging.  People who don’t know any better are fooled by the package and the bling.  Reality stars whose claims to fame are how good of a shopper they are or how they apply their makeup, need to be turned off.   People who teach of patience and presence need to reclaim a place in our daily lives.  This involves turning off the phone or the computer once in awhile, and tuning into things that teach peace of mind.  For some, this is a good church that preaches the real gospel of love and service.  Others find it in a yoga, meditation class or a good self help book.  Wherever you find it, peace comes with the realization that none of us are perfect.  We each get to acknowledge our human flaws:  each wrinkle, pimple or bad mood.  We get to see ourselves as a true reflection of the divine, living in an imperfect body and mind.  The work involves witnessing each of our imperfections and finding a way to embrace them and using them to catalyze growth.  When we remember that life never was and never will be perfect, we get to put our energy into acceptance and growth.  In Tibet crooked teeth aren’t crooked, they’re  just teeth.

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Stress Reduction

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

STRESS REDUCTION
Most of us can attest to the fact that stress is reaching epidemic proportions in modern society. Balancing work, family, health, money, etc. is a challenge that many of us feel ill equipped to face. Eighty percent of the doctor visits in our country are stress related. Our quality of life and health is largely determined by how we adapt and relate to daily stressors. Excessive stress not only takes its toll on our bodies, but strips the joy out of life and suppresses our creative instincts. Dissolving stress is certainly possible, but takes a commitment to making lifestyle choices that create balance throughout our lives. Here are a few ancient techniques for eliminating stress, increasing energy, and creating emotional balance. These are some of the most powerful tools we have for achieving optimal health and preventing future disease.

1) Meditation: Practiced for thousands of years in many Asian cultures, meditation has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have for cultivating peace of mind and balance. Numerous studies have proven the incredibly positive effect that meditation has on stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world. For beginners, the most helpful approach is to start with basic mindfulness techniques that develop both relaxation and alertness. Once a basic ground of awareness has been stabilized, then more advanced meditation practices can be undertaken. Meditation is a practice that helps us identify with stillness and silence. It cultivates intuition and surrender. It can deeply help just about anybody, but is truly a miraculous practice for reducing stress and anxiety.

2) Yoga: This ancient practice has also been utilized by millions of people throughout history. Yoga is typically considered a form of meditation that involves putting the body into a variety of poses in combination with deep breathing to induce mental clarity, increased energy, and physical strength and flexibility. The healing benefits of yoga have been repeatedly documented by a variety of clinical studies. There are many forms of yoga and it is best to experiment to determine which form feels the most suited for your needs. 

3) Acupuncture: One of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. Perhaps one of the last truly holistic forms of healthcare remaining on the planet, acupuncture works with the Qi (life force ) of the body in order to induce a variety of therapeutic effects. The safety and efficacy of this practice are well documented which accounts for its incredible surge in popularity in the Western world. Acupuncture is considered one of the most powerful treatment options for stress reduction. 

4) Herbal medicine: There are a variety of both Chinese and Western herbal formulas that have been clinically proven to reduce stress and create emotional balance. Herbs are much less concentrated than pharmaceuticals, which is why they have far less side effects (but can still be as effective). If you are interested in using herbal medicine we recommend consulting an herbalist.  It can be quite overwhelming trying to self diagnose accurately in the supplement aisle.

5) Nutrition: Eating a diet high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and low glycemic carbohydrates can go a long way toward healing stress. The standard American diet (high in processed foods, saturated fat, sugar, and trans-fats) has been linked to anxiety, depression, and increased stress in numerous studies. Change your diet to an organic, whole foods approach and both your body and mind will reward you beyond measure. Poor adaptability to stress is often a sign that our brains are starving for nutrients that we aren’t getting from our standard American diets.

Making these lifestyle changes may not be easy in the initial phases. It is often helpful to seek out the support of a health care practitioner to guide you through these transitions. Once you start feeling the enormous payoff of making such changes, there truly is no turning back. Your stress will dissolve, your weight will decrease, and your energy will skyrocket, not to mention the preventative measures you are taking for heart health. Isn’t that enough to warrant making a few changes?

 
 
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