Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age ~ A Talk with authors Michael J. Gelb and Kelly Howell

Who are your role models for aging? What are your expectations and attitudes about the progress of your mind as you get older? Do you expect your memory to be better or worse in ten or twenty years? How about your sex life? What are your fears, concerns, and worries about getting older? Are you hoping that someone will develop the mental equivalent of Viagra?

In the last thirty years, the scientific evidence supporting the notion that your mind can improve through the years has become overwhelming. Clearly, the question is no longer whether your mind can improve with age but, rather, how you can optimize your mental powers as you get older.

This book presents practical, evidence-based wisdom to help you answer this question. You’ll learn new skills to increase memory, intelligence, creativity, and concentration. And you’ll cultivate greater confidence and healthy optimism as you discover how to improve your mind as you age.

Michael Gelb


Is it really possible to improve your mind as you age? Doesn’t memory deteriorate as we grow older?

Yes, it’s possible to improve your mind as you age. Memory can, of course, deteriorate as we grow older, if we neglect it. The good news is that there are simple practices that the average person can do to prevent deterioration and actually improve with age. Brain Power is a guide to these simple practices.

You share that the paradigm has shifted in relation to age and the mind. Please explain.

Most of us were raised with faulty ideas about our mental capacity — such as the notion that IQ is fixed at age five, that brain cells degrade yearly after age thirty, and that memory and learning ability inevitably decline with age. These notions, based on the scientific understanding that was prevalent in the 1950s, are myths — dangerous myths that can stifle our ability to flourish in the second half of life.

Just as Copernicus overturned the myth that the earth was at the center of the universe, so contemporary neuroscience has revolutionized our understanding of the potential to improve mental functioning as we age. We now know that mental abilities, including memory, are designed to improve throughout life. Neuroscientists call this neuroplasticity.

The brain is not, as was once thought, a compartmentalized, hardwired, static machine whose parts eventually wear out. Instead, it is a highly adaptable and dynamic organ, capable of generating new neurons and improving as we get older. People of average intelligence can, with appropriate training, raise their IQ, enhance their memory, and sharpen their intelligence throughout life.

What role does optimism play in longevity? Do cultural and environmental stimuli influence brain function?

According to a long-term study by Dr. Becca Levy people with an optimistic attitude toward aging outlive those with a pessimistic attitude by an average of more than 7 years. It’s easier to be an optimist when you know that the brain is designed to improve with use!

Our brain function is influenced by cultural, environmental and, of course, genetic factors. And, we can, by cultivating a positive, intelligent attitude toward aging, make the most of our genetic, cultural and environmental circumstances.

What are the most powerful techniques to improve memory as we age?

Maintaining a positive attitude about your memory
is the first step. When people believe that their memory is fading, they don’t bother trying to concentrate on registering new information, thus fulfilling their negative expectation. All memory techniques (aka mnemonics) are based on strengthening associations, so focus on connecting new information to something you already know. I also strongly recommend “Mind Mapping” (developed by Tony Buzan, author of the foreword to Brain Power) a technique for strengthening memory and creativity simultaneously.

What are the worst mental habits to eliminate immediately?

The worst mental habits are those that create and reinforce patterns of anxiety, fear and stress. That’s why, in addition to the chapter on how to cultivate freedom from stress, this book comes with a free download of the remarkable Brain Sync audio program that effortlessly guides you to experience brain wave states associated with deep rest and relaxation.

What are the most detrimental phrases to eliminate from internal and external conversations?

The way you speak can reinforce or transform negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging. Be wary of conversations that focus on commiseration (literally “to be miserable together”). If you find yourself indulging in discussions that focus on how “things ain’t what they used to be,” shift to an emphasis on gratitude and appreciation.

Here are ten phrases to eliminate:
• I’m having a senior moment.
• I’m not what I used to be.
• I’m too old.
• I can’t remember anything anymore.
• My memory is going.
• Getting older stinks.
• Everything was easier when I was younger.
• I’m over the hill.
• My best days are behind me.
• Things keep getting worse as I get older.

There are so many brain boosting supplements on the market, if you were only to take a few, which ones are the most essential?

A high quality multivitamin/mineral supplement is the most important daily brain-booster along with fish oil and Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC).

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Awakening From The Illusion Of Our Separateness ~ David Loy

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
–Thich Nhat Hanh

I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.
–Dogen

Do Buddhist teachings offer a different way of understanding the ecological crisis? Although the Buddha lived a long time ago, there seem to be profound parallels between what he taught about our individual predicament and our collective ecological predicament today. If those parallels are valid, the eco-crisis is not only a technological and economic challenge but also a spiritual one.

In both cases the basic problem is duality: the delusive sense of a separation between myself and other people, between ourselves and the rest of the biosphere.

In contemporary terms, our sense of being separate from others is a psychosocial construct, composed of habitual ways of thinking, feeling and acting. The construction of a “me” inside is also the construction of an external, objective world experienced as outside. This duality is at the root of my suffering, because the supposedly separate self is always insecure. It can never secure itself because there’s nothing substantial that could be secured. But we nonetheless keep trying to secure ourselves, usually by identifying with things “outside” us that (we think) can provide the grounding we crave: money, possessions, reputation, etc. Tragically, such attempts to solve the problem often reinforce the sense that there’s a “me” separate from others.

The Buddhist solution to this predicament is not to get rid of the self, because there is no substantial self to get rid of. I simply need to “wake up” and see through the illusion of separation: I am not inside, peering out at an external world. Rather, “I” am what the whole world is doing, right here and now. This realization frees me to live as I choose, but that will naturally be in a way that contributes to the well-being of the whole, because I don’t feel apart from that whole.

This Buddhist account of our individual predicament corresponds precisely to our collective ecological predicament today:

1. Like the self, human civilization is also a construct that involves separation and suffering. That civilization is our collective construct, which we can and do reconstruct, is obvious to us but was not obvious to most premodern societies, which assumed that their own social structure was just as natural (and therefore inevitable) as their local ecosystems. The distinctions we now make between the natural world, the social order, and religion did not exist for such cultures. Often they believed they served an important function in keeping the cosmos going: for the Aztecs, mass human sacrifice kept the sun-god on his correct course through the heavens.

The important point is that such peoples shared a collective sense of meaning we have lost today. That meaning was built into the cosmos and revealed by their religion, both taken for granted. In contrast, the meaning of our lives and our societies has become something that we have to determine for ourselves in a universe whose meaningfulness (if any) is no longer obvious. The price of the freedoms we cherish today is losing their kind of “social security”: the basic comfort that comes from “knowing” one’s place and role. What sort of world, what kind of society, do we want? If we cannot depend on God or godlike rulers to tell us, we are thrown back upon ourselves, and the lack of any grounding greater than ourselves is a profound source of suffering, collective as well as individual.

2. Our collective response to that alienation and anxiety is making things worse. Just as I try to secure my anxious sense of self “inside” by compulsively identifying with things in the “outside” world, the collective equivalent is our institutionalized obsession with never-ending “progress.” What motivates our attitude towards economic and technological “growthism”? Why do we always need more? Why is more always better if it can never be enough?

Technology and economic growth in themselves may be a good means to accomplish something but they are not good as ends-in-themselves. Since we are not sure what else to value and seek, however, they have become a collective substitute: a kind of secular salvation that we pursue but never quite attain. Lacking the security that comes from “knowing” our role in the cosmos, we have become demonically obsessed with ever-increasing power and control, trying to remold the earth until everything becomes a “resource” to use. Ironically, if predictably, this has not been providing the sense of security and meaning that we seek. Culturally as well as individually, we have become more anxious and confused.

3. Just as there is no need to get rid of the separate self, because it is a delusion, so there is no need to return to nature, because we have never left it. The Earth is not only our home, it is our mother. In fact, our relationship is even more intimate, because we can never cut the umbilical cord. The air, water, and food that pass through us have always been part of a greater holistic system that circulates through us.

If this is an accurate description of our collective situation, the ecological crisis requires more than a technological response. We must recognize that we are an integral part of the natural world and embrace our responsibility for its welfare, for the well-being of the biosphere ultimately cannot be distinguished from our own well-being.

But how does realizing our nonduality with the Earth resolve the basic anxiety that haunts us now, because we must create our own meaning in a world where God has died? Like it or not, today we are called upon to serve a vital function: the long-term task of repairing the rupture between us and Mother Earth. That healing will transform us as much as the biosphere.


David Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism.

He is a prolific author, whose essays and books have been translated into many languages. His articles appear regularly in the pages of major journals such as Tikkun and Buddhist magazines including Tricycle, Turning Wheel, Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma, as well as in a variety of scholarly journals. Many of his writings, as well as audio and video talks and interviews, are available on the web. He is on the editorial or advisory boards of the journals Cultural Dynamics, Worldviews, Contemporary Buddhism, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and World Fellowship of Buddhists Review. He is also on the advisory boards of Buddhist Global Relief, the Clear View Project, Zen Peacemakers, and the Ernest Becker Foundation.

David lectures nationally and internationally on various topics, focusing primarily on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity: what each can learn from the other. He is especially concerned about social and ecological issues. A popular recent lecture is “Healing Ecology: A Buddhist Perspective on the Eco-crisis”, which argues that there is an important parallel between what Buddhism says about our personal predicament and our collective predicament today in relation to the rest of the biosphere. Presently he is offering workshops on “Transforming Self, Transforming Society” and on his most recent book, The World Is Made of Stories. He also leads meditation retreats. (To find out about forthcoming lectures, workshops and retreats, see on the Schedule page.)

Loy is a professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy. His BA is from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and he studied analytic philosophy at King’s College, University of London. His MA is from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and his PhD is from the National University of Singapore. His dissertation was published by Yale University Press as Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy. He was senior tutor in the Philosophy Department of Singapore University (later the National University of Singapore) from 1978 to 1984. From 1990 until 2005 he was professor in the Faculty of International Studies, Bunkyo University, Chigasaki, Japan. In January 2006 he became the Besl Family Chair Professor of Ethics/Religion and Society with Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, a visiting position that ended in September 2010. In April 2007 David Loy was visiting scholar at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. From January to August 2009 he was a research scholar with the Institute for Advanced Study, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. From September through December 2012 he was in residence at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, with a Lenz Fellowship.

David is married to Linda Goodhew, a professor of English literature and language (and co-author of The Dharma of Dragons and Daemons). They have a son, Mark Loy Goodhew.

A Buddhist Perspective on the Eco-crisis – David Loy

Healing Ecology: A Buddhist Perspective on the Eco-crisis, part 1
David Loy, Zen teacher

Clip from David Loy’s talk at Science and Nonduality Conference 2011.

Do Buddhist teachings imply a different way of understanding our relationship to the biosphere, which can really help us at this critical time when we are doing so much to destroy it? There are reasons to doubt it: Buddha lived in a very different time and place, Iron Age India. But the Buddha did know about dukkha, the term usually translated as ‘suffering’‚ yet to be understood in the broadest sense: dissatisfaction, discontent, anxiety‚ basically, our manifest inability to be happy, which does not mean that life is always miserable but that even those who are wealthy and healthy experience a dis-ease that keeps gnawing. That we find life frustrating, one damn problem after another, is not accidental, because it is the nature of an unawakened mind to be bothered about something. What, if anything, does that imply about the ecological crisis?

This presentation will point out the precise and profound parallels between our usual individual predicament, according to Buddhism, and the present situation of human civilization. This suggests that the eco-crisis is as much a spiritual challenge as a technological and economic one. Does this mean that the Buddhist response to our personal predicament also points the way to resolving our collective one?

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