by Bruce Lipton
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After watching Dr. Bruce Lipton’s Conscious Parenting video we knew we needed to make this information available. The issue of nature or nurture is important to understand in order to bring about change in our world. As long as we hold onto the nature/deterministic point of view we are saying our destiny is predetermined by our past, not to mention it keeps us in survival mode and competition. Nurture, on the other hand, implies that our survival depends on cooperation with ourselves and our environment.
LG: What do you mean by conscious parenting? You say, “How we parent our children is how our children will parent their children,, so how do we grab hold and get away from those old belief systems?
BL: Before discussing conscious parenting, I would like to clarify an important point regarding the two different stories that describe how life works. One understanding is expressed in the dialogue among leading-edge research biologists, and the other notion is the one held by the public. The difference between the two points of view is very profound. The average individual has been programmed with the idea that genes (DNA) represent some kind of self-actualizing molecule that controls biology, for example people talk about a gene turning itself on or off, or that a gene causes cancer. This is a simplification based upon the concept of genetic determinism , the belief that our biological and behavioral traits are programmed in our genes. This idea encourages the attitude that we have no control over our lives and that we are merely “victims” of heredity.
In contrast, biomedical research scientists have known for over fifteen years that gene activity is actually controlled by environmental stimuli. It is now recognized that genes in all organisms, from a cell to a human, are controlled by the organism’s perception of its environment. The mechanisms by which environmental signals (information) control genes represent a new area of research defined as epigenetics , which literally means, “control above the genes.” Epigenetic mechanisms provide a new, “second” genetic code, in which the environment, or more c orrectly, the organism’s perception of the environment, shapes the character of life. While the public is infused with the idea that genes control their lives, science reveals a profoundly different reality, one in which an individual can change their genes when they change their environment.
Based upon our current, conventional medical system, when a woman becomes pregnant, she visits her ob-gyn. The doctor generally asks his pregnant patient three fundamental questions: First, are you eating well? Second, are you taking vitamins and minerals? And third, are you exercising? Since the conventional belief about human embryology is that genes control the development of the fetus, the mother’s role in her child’s gestation is deemed to be not much more than providing nutrition, i.e., feeding her child. However, we now know that the character of a cell, an animal, a human, is not controlled by its genes, but is in fact determined by the environment in which they live.
Whether an organism is a single cell, a community of a thousand cells, a trillion cells, or even 50 trillion cells as is found in a human, organisms respond to and are reflective of their environment. A human fetus is in reality a community of trillions of cells collectively forming a singular organism. As with any of its constituent cells, a fetus is an organism that responds and adapts to its environment. The environment controlling fetal development is the one provided through the mother’s blood.
Allopathic medicine focuses upon the nutritional contribution offered the fetus via the mother’s blood, hence their concern over the mother’s diet, including her supplemental vitamins and minerals, and her exercise regimen. But here is where an important question comes into play, ” Is nutrition the only environmental information that is carried in the mother’s blood? ” And the answer is, of course, no! The mother’s blood also carries her emotional chemistry, as well as a blend of hormones and regulatory factors that control her own physiology in response to her perception of the environment.
Consider the possibility that the mother perceives that she’s threatened, or that her survival is in question. Her adrenal hormones will be elevated in her blood as she physiologically prepares to engage in a stress response – the proverbial fight or flight reaction. The stress hormones carried in the mother’s blood chemistry crosses through the placenta and simultaneously provokes a similar fight-or-flight physiology in the fetus. Organisms are continuously adapting their genetics and behavior to stay alive in whatever environment they are experiencing. Rather than being genetically “pre-programmed,” a fetus or a neonate is designed to dynamically adjust its biology to conform to the existing environment.
For example, if a war breaks out after a child is conceived, the mother’s hormones and emotional chemistry released in response to her perception of the threatening environment cross the placenta and adjust the fetus’s genetics to enhance its body’s protection mechanisms (e.g., causing it to have larger arms and legs and a bigger reflexive hindbrain). An organism in protection allocates its nutrition and energy into preparing for self-defense and survival. In contrast, an organism that develops in a supportive environment doesn’t have to worry about enhancing its defense mechanisms. Instead, it puts its energy into strengthening its growth and maintenance systems and enhancing its cerebral (intelligence) development.
It is important to acknowledge that the genetic expression of a developing baby is also directly connected to the behavior of the father as well as the mother. While the mother directly provides information about the environment (external world) to her unborn child, she’s also emotionally and intimately connected to the father. For example, if the father disappears for some reason, it will affect how the mother sees her chances for her and her child’s survival. Her concerns over the father’s actions are reflected in the blood-borne chemistry that crosses the placenta and impacts the development of the baby. Consequently, the perceptions and behaviors of both the mother and father directly affect the genetic expression of their child.
This new information emphasizes the role of parents as genetic engineers in the development of their children. Since the environmental cues controlling fetal genes are based upon the parent’s perceptions and attitudes of how they respond the environment, then parents have a dynamic role in selecting the genetic character of their babies. With that awareness, parents must be “conscious” of their thoughts and actions during the gestation of their child and the post-natal “programming” of the neonate. It is also now recognized that parental genetic influences are not only passed onto the next generation, but they are also influential in the genetic expression of their grand children and great grandchildren. Parental influences are multigenerational, therefore parents influence society long after they themselves have passed on.
LG: So much depends upon influences that we’ve paid very little attention to.
BL: Absolutely, the fetus is experiencing every little twitch and emotion that the mother experiences. But there is a major difference between how the parents and their unborn child personally experience the environment. While the parents are conscious of the details and events of what’s going on in their world, their child is only aware of the sensory experience derived from the regulatory and emotional chemicals that crossed the placenta.
LG: You’re getting the feeling, then the chemistry, and the fetus is getting the chemistry, then the feeling.
BL: Yes, and there is an important neurological consequence of that fact. Conventional science used to think a child’s intelligence was all determined by genetics. New insights now reveal that 52 percent of a child’s intelligence potential is a variable that is based upon parental interpretations of the environment during the prenatal period. Two genetically identical fetuses can be created and one can be implanted in one mother, and the other embryo into another mother. If one mother is placed in a stressful environment, and the other in a fully supportive environment, the children will express profoundly different IQs. The child developing in the stressful environment may have up to 52 percent less intelligence than its genetically identical sibling raised in a supportive, nurturing environment.
LG: Do you think meditation is a viable way to create better chemistry?
BL: Yes, basically meditation allows us to disconnect from the day-to-day distortions of life generated by the fear and anxieties associated with the news media, as well as less than supportive professional and personal associations. When we buy into other people’s perceptions about life we can easily take on their beliefs, and in so doing, change the genetic expression of our own children. Meditation can enable parents to get beyond their daily stressors and provide a healthier, more balanced blood chemistry to their unborn child. If expecting parents would meditate, their reduced stress would directly enhance the neurological and IQ development of their children. It is interesting to note that the latest generation of children, those born within the year after 9-11, have markedly lower intelligence and health parameters than those kids that were born before the attack on New York ‘s twin towers.
LG: Maybe that brings us to the next question. Once the child is born, what can we do? I don’t want to call it damage, but for a better choice of words – now that the damage is done, what can we do with ourselves, with the child, and with our relationship with the child to help correct this?
BL: Under our old belief in genetic determinism , an individual’s behavior and body type, once established, is then set for life. The new understanding concerning epigenetics specifically emphasizes that genes aren’t selected for life; gene activity is continuously and dynamically adjusted throughout life to balance the demands of the environment. Your body structure and its functions are not concrete; change your perceptions and convictions about life and you will change your genetic activity, which in turn, changes your life.
This reality is frequently observed in very good actors. As they take on the role of a new character, they profoundly change their behavior and their biology. Some actors readily gain and lose 20 to 40 pounds when getting into character. Others may actually become sick when portraying dysfunctional characters. Similar observations are made in MPD (multiple personality disorder), as the individual changes from one personality to another; the changes are frequently associated with profound and reversible physiologic and behavioral alterations as well. In one personality a patient may have specific scars or allergies that are completely modified when they express one of their alternate personalities. As soon as they re-express their original personality, their reversed traits will immediately reappear.
We all could acquire the skills of a good actor, and then we could “take-on” the role of a super character or hero that manifests good physical and behavioral traits. If we were really engaged in a convincing performance, we would manifest changes in our biology that actually conform to the character we were playing. However, we can just as easily acquire the mannerisms of a “bad” character, and thus express the negative physical and physiologic traits associated with that role. It’s your choice. When you become a “character,” you express the biology that conforms to that character.
During development a child acquires an identity and biologically becomes that “character.” A child may be born with one set of traits, but if its environment is changed, the new environment may engage a different set of biological traits Changing one’s “character,” is brought about by changing one’s perception of their environment. Reprogramming of acquired limiting or self-sabotaging perceptions may be accomplished through practices similar to Buddhist mindfulness, clinical hypnotherapy or a variety of modalities collectively referred to as energy psychology .
The first perceptions we acquired in our lives were those we experienced through the chemistry of the mother’s blood while we were gestating in utero . However, once a child is born, its brain is designed to read environmental stimuli directly. Through these personal experiences the child acquires a memory of environmental stimuli and learns how to respond to the environment by engaging appropriate, life sustaining behaviors. However, a neonate does not have the experience to distinguish among all of the novel environmental stimuli they will encounter. For example, does a neonate know the difference between strychnine and M&Ms? This is another way in which parents program the genetics and behavior of their offspring. The neonate is instinctively programmed to “download” information about the environment from their teachers . Nature designed newborns to rapidly acquire perceptions of the world simply by observing the behavior of their primary “teachers,” their parents.
When a child is born, the first hours of life are critical, for in this period a child is genetically designed to establish bonds with it parents. Within the first hours of its life, a child will “lock-on” and learn to identify the faces of its mother and father and distinguish them from the faces of other people. A child uses the facial expression of its parents in learning its fundamental perceptions of life. When you see a parent, be it the father or the mother, holding a newborn child, you can readily observe how the infant will be directly gazing into the face of its parent. In this behavior, the child learns to read the facial characteristicsof its teacher.
LG: I had a very personal experience with that with my godchild. I was there when she was born, and I was one of the first people – she looked into my eyes as they were rolling her out of the room, and we’re locked in. It doesn’t matter how much time goes between, when we talk it’s like there’s never any time between us.
BL: This is an indication of how powerful the first imprinted perceptions of an infant are in determining who are its parents and teachers. In the process of recognizing faces, the infant also learns the differences between a happy face and a frightened or angry face. These positive and negative expressions are linked to the appearance of the “teacher’s” eyes and the shape of their mouths. The reason why this facial analysis is programmed so early in life is that a neonate uses this information whenever it encounters something “new” (unexperienced stimuli) in its environment. When it encounters a novel stimulus, the baby expresses an instinctual response to look at the parent’s face. By reading the parent’s facial expression (i.e., a happy or shocked look) the neonate immediately learns whether the new stimulus is safe or threatening.
For example, if a neonate sees a snake for the first time, it will look to its parent’s face to see the response. If the parent looks scared, the infant will assess the snake to be threatening to its survival and anytime it encounters a snake after that it will avoid it. However, if the parent happens to be a herpatologist and the infant upon first seeing a snake looks back into its parent’s face, it would see a smiling or happy face, indicating that snakes are safe. Ever after that, if that child encounters a snake again, it will not be in fear.
Interestingly, autistic children are disconnected from this learning mechanism in that they do not look into, nor can they recognize, the faces of their parents. This dysfunctional behavior contributes to autistic child’s lack of responsiveness and their isolation from environmental stimuli.
LG: Hey, Bruce, I worked at a three-week recovery home as a drug counselor, and when the clients would come in I would take their Play Station away. Otherwise they would sit there transfixed for hours and would actually fight with other clients who did something they didn’t like, almost like the characters had become real. What do you think about the violent and sexually exploitive games that are out?
BL: Such action games are captivating and command a child’s attention. However, these games condition a child to learn the game’s stimuli (rote memorization) and make rapid, reflexive responses in pushing the appropriate buttons. However, such reflexive games do not enhance a child’s creative capability, a true measure of its intelligence. These games, and in fact, our conventional education system, do not offer a child an opportunity to be inquisitive or curious about the world in which they live. It is this curiosity that exercises the neurons to be more creative in learning how to deal with environmental experiences. Children need to exercise and develop the neurons and synapses that support the neurological mechanisms used in working out problems. If you feed the child all of its perceptions, then the neurons that are involved with the integration of information and complex thinking, and those used in working-out problems, essentially those providing for intelligence, just don’t develop.
In brain development there are windows of neurological opportunity: Take a neonate, like a kitten that was just born, and suture one eyelid so the eye won’t open, leaving the other eye as the “working” one. Within about a week to 10 days, if the sutured eye is opened, it will be nonfunctional, it would be blind. The reason is that there was a window of opportunity to express and develop the neurons that made the eye work. If you close the eye during that developmental window, so that the eye cannot see, then the neurons of the retina disassemble and are reabsorbed. The reason for the resulting blindness is that the neurons were not used. Similarly, if a child does not exercise its creativity, the neurons responsible for that activity will also be reabsorbed and the child will not readily be creative. So when you give children video games or you let them watch an inordinate amount of TV, then they are programmed to be responsive to, but not creative of, their environment. They may express greatly enhanced reactivity but they will not be very effective creating intelligent responses. Reactive responses do not use the same parts of the brain employed for thinking and intelligence.
Part of the issue here is parents aren’t encouraging interactive, creative playtime. The brain, like every other organ system, is based upon a use-it or lose-it exercise regimen. When a child fails to use its creative mechanisms, it will fail to exercise the neurons that are enhanced during creative playtime. This is a valuable window of opportunity to let pass for any child, because there’s a profound difference in creating the world or just responding to the world.
LG: As I look at the world now I can see that, for the most part, we’re responding, and responding badly at that. What you’re saying has profound implications and it seems it’s the same thing the masters have been telling us all along . . . we create our world. Thank you, Bruce . . .