Thursday, November 3, 2016

Returned Home

It has been four nights since I arrived back in Seattle after being away in India for two weeks. My sleep schedule is still not back on track and I feel very tired by 8 pm and wake up at about 2 am.   So far, I have not seen the sun because it has been rainy and cloudy all day.  I miss the crisp, cool mornings and the clear, sunny afternoons at the Sherabling monastery...and all of the monks and nuns there too.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

And Eventful Trip Home

It has been more about 24 hours since I left Bir and I have had about 4 hours of sleep during this time.   First it was a two hour car ride from Bir to Dharamsala through the mountain roads of northern India.  The car ride was fine and the flight to Delhi arrived on time.   I had booked a room at the in-airport hotel and was looking forward to a relaxing 12 hour layover before my next flight to Tokyo.


At the Delhi airport, I quickly found a shuttle bus from the domestic terminal to the international terminal in Delhi to check into a room I had reserved (and paid for).  This was a big mistake!   When I got to the international terminal, I was told that the hotel was actually in the domestic wing and that they would not allow me into the international wing because I was too early.  The problem was that I could not go back to the domestic terminal because they would not let me in there either. 


What to do?  A kind airport worker called a local hotel and reserved a room for me. The hotel even sent a car to pick me up. The hotel was fine and it allowed me to sleep a little. Then it was back to the airport, a dinner of a paneer pizza, and then an 8 hour flight to Tokyo. 


The flight into Tokyo was also was also on time.  But when I landed in Tokyo, I tried to get to my new gate in the international transfer area. I was carrying a scroll that the monks had given to me as a gift. The security agents at the transfer area said that I could not carry on the scroll because it was too long. I explained that I had carried the scroll with me from Delhi to Tokyo, but they said that Tokyo has its own rules.  They even brought out a measuring tape to show me how long it was.  So, I had to enter Japan through customs and immigration, make my way to the ticket counter and check the scroll as an oversized, luggage item.  Then it was back through Japanese security and immigration to where I am now: at the gate waiting for the last flight home. 


Although this experience has been tiring, it has allow me to practice patience and to adapt to problems.  And I have been able to practice my rusty Japanese language skills that have been good enough to communicate.


One more flight to go:  Tokyo to Seattle -- departure in about 2 hours.  Let's hope for an uneventful last leg of the trip.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Journey Home Begins


At 6:30 am on my last day at the Sherabling Monastery, I heard a faint knock on my door at the guesthouse.  There standing outside my door was one of the monks who attended my classes.  He wanted to express his appreciation for the time I spent with him and the other monastics.  He said he did not have much to offer me, but he pulled out a white scarf from his robe and presented it to me as a gift.

I thanked him for his generous gift and wished him the best of luck.  We spoke for a few more minutes and then said our goodbyes. 

This gesture of kindness from this man is just one of the many examples of the caring and compassionate nature of the Tibetan Buddhist monastic community.

Last Day of Class



My last day of teaching was on Friday we discussed memory/learning and consciousness.  For memory and learning, I talked about the different types of memory, how people learn, and the neural mechanisms of learning and memory.  I used the case studies of patients such as “HM” to illustrate how different neural circuits are involved with different types of memory.  We also played several games to show how memory can be fooled (false memories) and how memory can be improved (mnemonics).  For consciousness, we discussed sleep, drugs of abuse, and hypnosis.  The monks were also very interested in the neural mechanisms of meditation and I briefly mentioned that this is a new area of research that is of interest to several research groups in the west. 

After the first class, I asked the abbot of the monastery if he would give me a tour of temple.  We decided that the best time would be at 12:30 pm, after lunch.   We all took off our shoes at the steps to the temple and walked into the large building.  Several statues were placed to each side of a large statue of Buddha.  Both the abbot and a younger monk who spoke English explained the meaning of the statues and the other items in the temple.  It was great to have such a personal tour.

At the end of the day, Bryce Johnson, the director of the Science for Monks program, asked the monastics to write down a few things that they had learned during the past two weeks.  After a few minutes of work, one monk from each table read their statements. 

Listening to the monks was quite overwhelming.  They mentioned how much they enjoyed learning about the brain and expressed how much they like how I explained difficult concepts with activities so they can see and observe for themselves.  After they were finished, I said a few words to thank them and the Science for Monks program for the opportunity to come to India.  I told the monks that I learned so much from them and that I considered them my teachers.

When the speeches concluded, they draped a few scarves over my neck and presented me with a bag of gifts.  It’s a good thing that I have room in my suitcase for these presents.

With the formalities over, it was time for photos.  We gathered at the steps of the Sherabling Temple to pose for a group photo.  Of course, all of the monks wanted photos with their own cameras and they wanted individual photos with me as well.

Smell and Taste



We have finally made it to the last of the senses:  smell and taste.  We went through the receptor mechanisms of each and their pathways to the brain.  One monk said that he had read that only the front part of the tongue, a crescent-shaped area, provided information about taste.  He asked if that was true.  I said let’s go into the other room and do an experiment to find out.

Small, wrapped, hard, fruit-flavored candies were placed on the tables.  The monks were told to break the candy into small pieces and to taste these on different parts of the tongue.  The monks also tried to taste the candy when it was “dry” and compare it to when it was dissolved in their mouths. As a final experiment, the monks pinched their noses closed, and tried to identify the flavor of the candy.

The monks observed that it was necessary to dissolve the candy for it to be tasted.  Also, it was obvious to them all that smell was important to the perception of taste.  I also went back to the monk who had asked about the crescent-shaped area at the front of the tongue.  I asked him if he tried to taste the candy with other parts of his tongue.  He said he could taste the candy with other parts of the tongue, but the taste was not as strong.