Working with one’s ancestors is essential to achieving a healthy and meaningful life. My grandparents were craftsmen and intellectuals from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. My parents, siblings, and close relatives are artists involved in graphics, painting, sculpture, writing, photography, education, and architecture. My cousin Elizabeth and I are the only scientists.
I began to define myself at age 13 with my rejection of institutional learning and the planning of my own high school curriculum. I started rock climbing at age 14, attended the International School of Mountaineering in Switzerland at 15, and was offered a job as an alpine guide at 16. At 17 I climbed my first Big Wall in Yosemite Valley: 6,000 overhanging feet that took five days to climb. I began soloing major alpine peaks, and my friends and I put up new routes everywhere from Mexico’s Sierra Madre to Northern Alaska’s Brooks Range.
It took four weeks to find a new route from the sea to the summit of Mt. Fairweather, an isolated, 16,000′ peak in the Yukon, and six weeks to blaze a new route up Alaska’s Denali, North America’s highest peak. By the time I was 20 I had visited many of Europe and North America’s major mountain ranges, been buried in an avalanche, lost alone in the Alps, knocked to the ground by an earthquake, fallen 1,000′ from the summit of Canada’s highest peak, and self-rescued myself by swimming a half-mile across the Beaufort Sea. Long periods of stress, risk, and struggle gave me first-hand experience of altered states and chthonic earth energies. My own introspection, both in contemplation and in panic, and experiences with unusual climbing partners, many of whom have since perished, began to clarify the illumination and pathology that can result from altered states of consciousness. This is not taught in school.
In 1973 I entered the self-structured Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. I brought with me a machine I’d designed for testing nylon fabrics which I then studied at the Materials Testing Lab of the University of Massachusetts. Focusing on science, my interests expanded to include history, philosophy, literature, travel and classical guitar. There I began study of Eastern and indigenous spiritual practices with the Chilean-based Arica 40-Day Training, Quaker community, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, Ouspenskii’s Sufism, and Crowley’s Thelemic magic. This asceticism fit well with the risk and struggle familiar from mountaineering. At that time I began my practice of “The Desert,” a 3-day sensory deprivation meditation that I continue to perform when useful.
In 1974 I made my first connection with non-Western culture in the Caribbean state of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, where I spent 4 weeks as the only outsider in the active whaling village of Paget Farm. I remain deeply connected to the people of this culture for whom “family” means forever.
In 1976 I transferred to the University of California in Berkeley to take graduate physics courses, learn computer programming, and work with the astrophysics group of Nobel Laureate Charles Townes. There I was first given the authority to become a scientist, and to wander through the silently moving, inverted midnight catwalks of the largest deep-space telescopes. Our group’s observations of Jupiter, compared with my calculations of the radiance of its ammonia atmosphere, resulted in the 1977 publication of our work in Recent Results in Infrared Astrophysics.
In 1978 I moved to Texas, lulled by an illusory sense of opportunity in the physics department of the University of Texas. Bored with the uninspired course work, I learned to sailboard on the undeveloped lakes around Austin, took my mountain bike into the Sierra Madre, and studied the neurology of vision. Stephanie Kane and I performed experiments to map the change in the words used to describe the mixing of primary colors and compared these to the changes in perception predicted by various neural theories of vision. This culminated in our 1987 publication titled Unification of Language and Neural Structure in Color Vision.
My subsequent work in physics included discovering that Bell’s Theorem does not imply that quantum mechanics is nonlocal, a misunderstanding that now pervades the field and popular culture. I worked with Bryce DeWitt, co-author of the Everett-DeWitt Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and with Steven Weinberg to apply his formulation of the thermal properties of quantum systems to the study of relativistic thermodynamics.
In 1985 I accompanied Stephanie Kane to a remote village in the Darien Jungle of Panama to study the Emberá and their technologically primitive culture – they still wore loin clothes and hunted with spears – where I developed a warm relationship with a village elder who allowed me to document the culturally important construction of a dugout canoe. This story was published in Wooden Boat Magazine and the proceeds established a fund for the Emberá through the organization Cultural Survival. Before I left this elder asked me to join his search for gold in the jungle’s Heart of Darkness. I turned him down to return to physics, one of my great regrets.
In 1982 I began work on quantum ferromagnetism, long-abandoned due to the perception that theoretical effects could not be calculated. I developed the first computer algorithms to apply Monte Carlo algorithms in momentum space, invented a mathematical technique for quantum magnetic systems, and used it to present the first quantum description of the onset of ferromagnetism; work that I published in three monographs in the International Journal of Physics in 1987. I was awarded a doctorate in physics and a post doctoral position in quantum chemistry.
Research success in physics was balanced by professional failure. Lacking an advocate – I always worked alone – and being untrained in the projects for which people were being hired, I took my computer programming skills into the business world heading to New York with my then partner Jennifer Fox, a Brazilian anthropologist and Priestess of Ifá.
After a frightening interview on Wall Street in 1988, where I was told that what counted most was one’s skill in deceiving clients, I partnered with a student programmer in founding the database software company Braided Matrix, Inc. My interest in finance led to the 1998 U.S. Patent #5,740,427 for a “Modular Automated Account Maintenance System,” and on this basis I developed 4th Quarter Accounting, a middle-sized business application. For nearly 25 years I developed, marketed, sold, and supported this software product. I presented at trade shows, trained my affiliates, and managed the development of dozens of business software systems. 4th Quarter Accounting software continued to be used by multi-million dollar companies through 2015.
A 1996 Botanical Preservation Corps conference on psychoactive plants reminded me of the necessity of being involved with music so, through the cultural wealth of New York City, I developed connections with Battuvshin Baldantseren, an artist from Inner Asia. Battuvshin taught me the horse head fiddle and hosted my young family to the mountains, healing springs, and dust storms of Mongolian. I brought Battuvshin and his throat singing teacher to teach workshops in US on a grant from the Asian Cultural Council. I also instigated a collaboration between his group Badma Khanda and American jazz great Roswell Rudd that resulted in the album Blue Mongol and two joint cultural world tours.
This incorporation of a holistic approach naturally led me to expand my interests to include cultural, ecological, and indigenous perspectives on healing and medicine. The replacement of austere mountains with forests, steppe and jungle, and a shift from confronting nature’s impersonal side to resolving dissonant aspects of my own personality heralded becoming a healer myself.
In 1998 Jenny gave birth to our son Kiran, an event which later brought the epiphany that compulsory state schooling is a false promise of education wrapped around a socially engineered program to create organic machines. Did you ever wonder why your own school experience seemed like nightmare in a madhouse? From this grew my involvement in education.
An instructive experience in founding our own school in 2004 led to our joining a locally organized Sudbury school that believes children are the best judge of what’s relevant to their own growth. In 2006 I began to explore learning more deeply by interviewing young people about their own learning experience. This led me to begin “The Learning Project,” a compilation of first-hand accounts of authentic learning at all ages. This 6-year project took me across the continent to collect over 50 interviews with exceptionally good and exceptionally bad students, young people of all backgrounds, and many of my own teachers whom I had not spoken with for decades. I organized these interviews into a hypertext book that the reader can rearrange according to the age of the person speaking or a dozen topics of interest. The Learning Project is viewable using any browser and is free online at the MindStrengthBalance.com website.
Through the Learning Project I realized the importance of mentoring. It was not my intention to answer the question of “what is learning” but to allow the reader to glean an answer that fit him or herself. It was only long after the project was finished that it became evident that the best answer, given most succinctly by Michelle Murain, is that learning requires loving yourself. Because of the direction I recevied from the many people I interviewed I began to arrange for the support and inspiration of young people through my Spiritual Mentoring Project.
Around 2007 I began designing board games that allowed me to mix art, community, and system theory. Games are a dialog in which the story is manifest in the relationships that develop, reflecting both one’s attitude and behavior. Since that time changes in social attitudes, social media, and the advent of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG’s) have brought gaming into education both as a teaching format and as learning tools. As of 2016 the study and design of games as a vehicle to express ideas and relationships is growing rapidly, which is my goal and my intent. Games are in their infancy as tools for story telling and exploring social behavior.
A 2006 Peruvian conference on Science, Shamanism and Healing connected shamanism with psychology and upon my return I began my own neurofeedback therapy and study with Stephen Larsen at the Stone Mountain Counseling Center. From this community of scientists and healers I trained in various modes of neurofeedback therapy aimed at healing dysfunction, enhancing skills, and exploring states of mind.
Neurofeedback is a training predicated on the idea that your brain naturally establishes its own rhythms. Dysregulation results from trauma and the long-term adoption of protective habits useful in the short-term. By enabling your brain to become aware of itself, it naturally restores itself. Brain-related aptitudes improve with guidance and practice. Focusing on performance enhancement I have been offering neurofeedback training and therapy to clients since 2008.
Applying my scientific background I published peer reviewed articles on the neuroscience behind neurofeedback therapy, educated doctors on the use of neurofeedback for addiction, and lectured widely to the public. I developed a portable neurofeedback system that I use in my role as a volunteer practitioner at the free Rondout Valley Holistic Healthcare Community clinic. A description of this system will appear in the 2016 Encylopdia of Quantitative EEG and Neurofeedback.
The emerging field of neuroscience-based psychotherapy develops according to what is useful. Clinical standards are legacy-based and success is relative. There is little theory or incorporation of insights from other cultures. My technical background provides me fundamental insight into the design of these systems and their clinical application. My computer background enables me to reverse engineer most of them in order to discern which use good science and intuition, and which are badly designed or consumer driven. Few practitioners have this discrimination; many institutions and vendors would like to keep it that way.
I view struggle as an aspect of personal growth. I advocate meditation, sacred medicine work, finding purpose, and developing skill. Where neurofeedback therapy develops aptitudes without confronting trauma, some opportunity is lost by avoiding the issues. To make up for this I found Past Life Regression therapy to be the perfect complement to neurofeedback. Past Life Regression therapy is a framework for manifesting stories from your subconscious that provide guidance in the present. It is a form of hypnotherapy similar to the trance work that I have become familiar with over the last 45 years. By combining neurofeedback with regression therapy I train clients to be more able, purposeful, and spiritual.
Neurofeedback and regression therapy are constantly changing. There is no one “school,” and there is no one authority for either discipline. By combining neurofeedback and regression, by following developments in these fields, and by staying connected to our deeper selves, my clients and I are able to take the best, leave the worst, and experience meaningful changes in life and outlook. Through this process we change ourselves, our families, our communities, and our culture. We are part of this evolution, and it is part of us. The result is fairly miraculous.
In 2008 I serendipitously encountered Liz Dieleman who was rearranging her life after a challenging herbal apprenticeship. A year later this young musician from Michigan came to New York to develop her professions as a musician and as a doula. Our son Pythagoras was born in 2010. In 2015 Liz, my two sons and I received Canadian permanent resident visas. This has given us the opportunity to explore life and transformation in the city of Victoria, British Columbia.