The art pictured in this post is used with permission from our new friend, Joshua Prushing. We are sharing his art, our experience of meeting him, and being introduced to his art, through this post so that others may be inspired by him, too.
Beth and I have been talking a lot about inspiration lately. As we tell more people about our book, many of the responses are some version of, “Wow! What you two have done is so inspiring!” It is a welcome and humbling compliment, yet still surprises us each time. So, this post is about being an inspiration and being inspired by others. It’s also about being inspired to think about things in new ways.
I recently heard the phrase “like attracts like” during a talk about light energy. I was participating in a discussion about how we exchange interpersonal energy with those around us. when we are around others, there is an exchange of energy, we share our interpersonal energy for better or worse. Spiritual minded people refer to this as our light energy and those of a neuroscience orientation refer to this as mirror neurons and emotional contagion. Once you are aware of the phenomenon, you’ll notice it happening frequently.
It happened in an unexpected way at an art exhibition, called the “Art of Kindness” at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas. The art was created by college students to explore the neuroscience of empathy as part of a collaboration with UT Dallas School of Arts, Humanities, and Technology. There was one artist and piece that Beth and I were particularly drawn to.
The artist, Joshua Prushing, created a piece that was truly thought-provoking. His art was a representation of mirror neurons but was presented in a way that I had never considered. I don’t know about anyone else who looks at art, but when I see something I like, I know right away.
Among neuroscientists, psychologists, animal behaviorists, and other scientists, there are wide ranging opinions and studies on mirror neurons in animals and humans. My simple understanding of mirror neurons is that they allow us to observe a behavior in others, interpret those behaviors, make decisions about those behaviors, and then take some action with our own behavior. After observing the behaviors of others, we might choose to model those behaviors in some way.
How does this connect to inspiration? For me, inspiration is that moment when I’m compelled to take action or emote what I'm feeling. The compelling action I felt when looking at the piece by Joshua titled Space Boy, and hearing his presentation, was to reconsider my previously held beliefs about mirror neurons.
Through his presentation of Space Boy, Josh expressed this concept in a new and exciting way for me. He provided us with the following overview of his inspiration and approach to creating Space Boy.
”I created a self-portrait of myself using the Synectic* process of ‘add’ to explore the concept of mirror neurons. To create the piece, I drew over a selfie using the Brush tool, to add to my existing self. The concept I decided to integrate into the piece was mirror neurons.**
I’ve always been fascinated with space and parrots, which is why I incorporated them into the image. Parrots use mirror neurons to mimic the sounds of other animals, especially human speech! This observational learning, one of two major things mirror neurons contribute to, is something that I aspire to become better at.
The other major part of emotions that mirror neurons control is our empathy. When I look at this piece, it’s almost as looking in a mirror. Obviously, it is not a picture-perfect image, but instead the piece represents my ‘perfect self.’ This version of me satisfies the expectations of family, school, work, friends, and life itself. He is better than me in every way possible. He succeeds where I fail.
At first, when I was making this piece, that was an unmotivating factor to finish. Why would I continue working on something that I couldn’t compare to? That’s when it hit me: the “Space Boy” in the mirror is not competition, but a future version of myself. I cannot be harsh on myself for not being who I am to be in the future; rather, I should encourage, show kindness and empathy to myself to become who I know I can be.
This concept of being able to use mirror neurons to view myself has truly transformed how I see myself and has effectively given me grace as I continue through life.” - Joshua Prushing
As I sat and listened to his presentation, I thought, “Wow! Can mirror neurons help increase self-compassion if we look in the mirror and express compassion for ourselves?” Can we use mirror neurons on ourselves?
This was a new way for me to think about mirror neurons. I had a limiting belief that mirror neurons were only activated by observing others. Joshua’s piece helped me to consider the possibility I can observe myself and mirror neurons might create self-compassion and self-empathy. But it also made me think about the times I look in the mirror with disgust or shame. The mirror neurons might be impacting our energy – for better or worse.
Thanks Josh, for sharing your amazing art, thoughtful approach, and for being an inspiration to us!
Josh is an electrical engineering student at UTD nearing graduation and would make an excellent addition to any firm looking for someone with superb critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but more importantly he has something most of us don’t learn until we are nearing retirement – kindness, compassion, empathy, and self-awareness.
Joshua can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Synectics are a problem-solving technique that seeks to promote creative thinking, typically among small groups of people of diverse experience and expertise.
** Mirror neurons are a special class of brain cells that fire not only when an individual performs an action, but also when the individual observes someone else make the same movement.
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