I’m a counselor and a teacher and every once in a while I get really interested in weird things like how our brains work. A few weeks ago I was teaching a class on this topic and in the process of doing a little research I came across some pretty fascinating stuff. [Disclaimer: I am NOT an expert in brain function, so if you happen to know more than me and I say something silly, please forgive me.]In the area of feelings and thoughts we usually imagine that things work this way: 1) a situation “out there” messes with me 2) I think some thoughts about it and 3) I express feelings about it. But the truth is that most of the time we feel emotion and express it BEFORE we think thoughts about it. (Our higher thinking areas are kind of slow on the uptake.) As a matter of fact, sometimes the emotions we feel and the way we express them in our bodies CAUSE particular kinds of thoughts. It’s as though our bodies begin the process of telling our stories and our brains try to make sense of these signals with appropriate thoughts. That means that our bodies are telling our brains what to think!
That’s part one of the interesting stuff. Part two is that we have neurons in our brains that are dedicated to reading the body language of other people and mirroring it so that we feel what they feel. (mirror neurons) In other words, we’re built for empathy. We are designed to feel the feelings of others. And everything I’ve just been telling you about how our brains work happens on a mostly unconscious level. We do it automatically.Now the reason I’m telling you this is because it relates to the last thing I was talking about…the whole Scheherazade thing. It’s true that the stories we tell are powerful and able to create the world around us. But mostly our stories are not told with words. Words are not unimportant, but think about this…if there’s a contradiction between what someone says with words and what that person is saying with their body, what do you believe?
Last week I said something about only recently realizing I have a body. That’s more true than you can imagine. I remember moving through the world believing that I was just a pair of eyes (I think I was eight years old when this started). No speech, no substance, no sound. Looking back, I think this might have been one of the more brilliant adaptations in a world of broken glass. If you haven’t got a body, it can’t be touched in ways that are hurtful or confusing. I was everyone’s optical illusion.My adaptation did have its problems though. I have very few memories of my childhood. And the ones I have are of the events that shocked me out of my silent hiding place. Even now my memory is fairly thready. The other unfortunate “side effect” is that it’s very difficult even now to be present. I’ve developed a habit of non-existence. I’ve tried really hard to figure out and honor the little smoke signals my body sends me, but mostly I don’t notice them until they reach a fever pitch.
But what if it’s true that my body is telling my mind what to think and remember? The curve of my back, the timbre and tone and inflection of my voice, the subtle gestures that mostly escape me, the expressions that play across my face, the way I position myself in a crowd of people…all of these things are whispering a tale and the people around me are listening in. They are believing my story and repeating it. They’re feeling my pain.So today I’m choosing the audacity of new body choices. I’m inviting the beginning of a smile on my face. I’m risking the straightening of my back and the opening of my heart. I’m letting go of the diving bell that has pulled me in to the deep waters of depression and despair, tangling the people around me in the cords of its downward spiral. I’m challenging my history with the tone of my voice and the movement of my body. Who knows where this tale will take us all?