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Even if you hear a story from someone you trust, that person may have heard it from someone who isn't trustworthy. Also, a story's immediacy is usually enhanced to make it more entertaining and believable--an event that happened to someone in your friend's office is often relayed as happening to your friend. As a result, mere hearsay begins to take on a factual air. Go to a popular social spot and sit in a corner, watching other people interact. See who is successful and what they do that is different from those that fail. Keep a log of the changes you make to your body language and how many people you talk to each night. Record your voice and play it back once a day. You could read the newspaper, talk about your day, or use a phone message. The goal is to become familiar with the tones and inflections of your voice and how they sound to other people. Ask someone how they see you when you meet them. This could be in a bar, at a club, or at work. In addition to ingesting toxins in and on our food, you and I are exposed to toxins every day in our homes and environments. Inhaling or absorbing chemicals from household cleaning products, glues, carpets, and smog can expose us to neurotoxins too, as can microwaving food in plastic containers, eating food cooked in aluminum foil, or cooking in nonstick pans that are allowed to get too hot. Sometimes people are exposed to harmful toxins when they abuse drugs and illicit substances, especially ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, and marijuana. Alcohol is also neurotoxic, and studies have long associated heavy drinking with brain damage, including harm to cells responsible for our thoughts, emotions, and movements, along with harm to the supporting glial cells.[1] How much alcohol does it take to damage the brain? Research studies have suggested differing quantities, especially since individuals respond differently to alcohol consumption. One study analyzed the impact of alcohol on the brains of 550 men over a thirty-year period and concluded that individuals who had roughly one drink a day--an average of four to six beers or five to seven glasses of wine per week--were three times more likely to experience brain atrophy than those who didn't drink. Celiac disease, inflammation from gluten, and inflammation from other foods such as dairy products and sugar are all major contributors to depression. Lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption, other dietary intolerances, are also big offenders, as they contribute to deficiencies of the essential amino acid L-tryptophan. These deficiencies have been linked to clinical depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

In recent years, it seems the word gluten shows up every time we turn around. Gluten-free products line the aisles of our grocery stores. Gluten-free menu items are now available at our favorite restaurants. Why is it that so many people these days need to free themselves from gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Chances are, you have heard of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. These are two different responses the body can have to the gluten protein. While both conditions have similar symptoms, they represent different reactions occurring in the body. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine. While gluten on its own isn't damaging the body of someone with celiac disease, it is the catalyst that causes the body to attack itself. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, on the other hand, occurs when the body views gluten as an invader and uses inflammation in and around the digestive tract to fight back. The first symptoms of gluten sensitivity are often related to the digestive tract and include gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. All of that sounds unpleasant enough, but there are even more associated difficulties. People with gluten sensitivities often experience brain fog, mental or physical fatigue, and dizziness. Sometimes they are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto's thyroiditis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis. Here is another common symptom of gluten sensitivity: depression. In fact, one placebo-controlled study compared participants' depression scores while on diets designed to isolate sensitivities to gluten and whey.[3] The findings showed that 90 percent of participants who ate gluten reported feeling more depressed than those who were given the placebo.[4] It's also interesting that the study identified feelings of depression that had been induced by short-term exposure to gluten. In other words, if you are sensitive to gluten, it doesn't take a lifetime of eating the wrong things to make you feel depressed--it can happen right away. In addition, we don't relay a message or a story verbatim--we relay the gist. The gist of a story gets the basic idea across, but the details are often lost, changed, and in many cases, made more extreme.

Why? Extreme information is listened to more. My friend Dick was recently having some health problems. One morning, a mutual friend of ours told me that Dick was planning to see a specialist later in the day. One hour later, my friend Nelson informed me that Dick was in the hospital. I was amazed--was Dick so sick that he had to be rushed to the hospital in the last hour? No. It turned out that within the hour, the story had been passed around and significantly embellished. The gist of the story was correct--Dick was not feeling well--but the details got blown out of proportion. A story changes significantly as it's passed from one person to the next. Just put a few people around a table, whisper a story into one person's ear, and tell them to whisper it to the next person. What do you get? The last person tells a very different tale. Our desire to be entertaining can lead to grossly distorted messages. Even national news organizations walk a fine line between objectivity and a desire to entertain. As Tom Brokaw said, "It's tricky, trying to generate understanding and insight while not ignoring the entertainment factor."19 Cable TV and the national networks repeatedly cross that line when they air shows on UFOs, ESP, Bigfoot, and other pseudoscientific phenomenon. Just recently, ABC aired a primetime show called Talking with the Dead, where a psychic supposedly communicated with the dead relatives of celebrities, including the murdered wife of actor Robert Blake. The psychic communicator was interviewed, while a skeptic was not. It's increasingly difficult to make appropriate decisions when we're exposed to a barrage of faulty information. The risk of AIDS for heterosexuals in the United States is a good example.

What's your risk of contracting AIDS if you are a non-IV-drug-using heterosexual? In the 1980s we were told by the media: "Research studies now project that one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That's by 1990. One in five. It is no longer just a gay disease"; "By 1991 one in ten babies may be AIDS victims"; and "The AIDS epidemic is the greatest threat to society, as we know it, ever faced by civilization--more serious than the plagues of past centuries."20 If we believed these sensational accounts we'd stop having sex altogether. What happened? News sources played up the accounts of heterosexual transmission, emphasizing that it's a heterosexual disease in Africa and Haiti. They typically failed to note that most heterosexual transmissions involve one partner from a high-risk group (e.g., gay, bisexual, intravenous drug user, hemophiliacs), and that public health practices in Africa and Haiti are so different from in the United States that they don't tell us much about the risk in the United States. But sensational stories get the ratings. So how can we know whether to trust someone's information? Here are some hints.21 Consider the source. With the AIDS issue, we have to look for the views of epidemiologists who try to understand and predict the spread of infectious diseases--not the views of sex therapists, actors, or talk show hosts. And, keep in mind that reporters can distort the views of the experts. Place more emphasis on past statistics instead of future projections. Even the experts have a hard time predicting future events, as we've seen. Be wary of anecdotal information. News magazines are notorious for reporting the problems of a single person, and since we are storytellers, we pay particular attention to that information. But as noted, personal accounts just don't provide good evidence to base our beliefs upon. Notice the way these apparently smooth motions are composed of a complex series of tiny jerks. Try to miss nothing.

In order to heighten your sensitivity, you can break the movement down into distinct components. Each foot goes through a lift, a swing, and then a down tread. Each of these components has a beginning, middle, and end. In order to tune yourself in to this series of motions, you can start by making explicit mental notes of each stage. Make a mental note of "lifting, swinging, coming down, touching floor, pressing," and so on. This is a training procedure to familiarize you with the sequence of motions and to make sure that you don't miss any. As you become more aware of the myriad subtle events going on, you won't have time for words. You will find yourself immersed in a fluid, unbroken awareness of motion. The feet will become your whole universe. If your mind wanders, note the distraction in the usual way, then return your attention to walking. Don't look at your feet while you are doing all of this, and don't walk back and forth watching a mental picture of your feet and legs. Don't think, just feel. You don't need the concept of feet, and you don't need pictures. Just register the sensations as they flow. In the beginning, you will probably have some difficulties with balance. You are using the leg muscles in a new way, and a learning period is natural. If frustration arises, just note that and let it go. The vipassana walking technique is designed to flood your consciousness with simple sensations, and to do it so thoroughly that all else is pushed aside. There is no room for thought and therefore no room for emotion. There is no time for grasping and none for freezing the activity into a series of concepts.