The Body Knows

Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and think of a friend or loved one. Imagine a pleasant time or experience that you shared with this person. Take a minute to sense how it feels to recall this memory. Where does it manifest across your body – in your heart, in a tingling sensation, a glow of warmth?

Scientists are mapping the physical signatures of various human emotions – how love vs anger feels in the body.

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What manifests in the senses, often without our conscious awareness, can profoundly influence our actions. Anger is like a hot coal; when you pick it up, you are the first to get burned. We are the most immediate and direct recipients of our emotions, thoughts, and mental states.

Indeed thoughts and emotions give rise to action without intention, forming habitual aspects of our personalities that can become deeply ingrained. I’m reminded of a movie years ago called, What the Bleep Do We Know, perhaps the inspiration for a more recent animated film Inside Out presenting many of the same concepts: that chemical reactions in the body triggered by emotions are intensely powerful.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dutch psychiatrist and author of The Body Keeps the Score is well-known for his work in the area of post-traumatic stress. He gained acceptance for the diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) by demonstrating how trauma lives in the body and how it must be coaxed out in similarly tangible and physical ways in order for healing to begin.

Gavin de Becker, the author of the Gift of Fear and world expert on security and violence, tells listeners on the Waking Up podcast with Sam Harris, that intuition is your greatest strength in assessing danger. If you attend to your body, you’ll recognize how fear feels and be ready to take action. Go with your gut!

Stanford professor and MacArthur genius awardee, Robert Sapolsky changed the way we think about stress by comparing the health of animals in wild to that of humans in modern day life.

The flood of negative emotions we experience constantly degrade our immune systems and increase the risk of disease. We literally make ourselves sick with worry, anger, and fear.

It’s not all bad: Dacher Keltner, psychologist and founder of the Greater Good Science Center, describes a compassion instinct – how compassion evolved throughout our evolution promoting cooperation and social cohesion.

Compassion stimulates real physiological changes in the autonomic nervous system – a bundle of nerves, glands, and organs in the body – the same bundle that unconsciously regulates heart rate, digestion, and other bodily functions and controls our fight-or-flight response. Compassion releases oxytocin, a reward that motivates us to be even more compassionate. Recent research examined couples’ physiological states and found kindness to be the glue in marital relationships!

In Compassion Cultivation Training Week-2 we’re exploring the palpable sensations of kindness and compassion by noticing when kindness shows up in day-to-day life and how it feels. Also by noticing its opposites – like anger and disgust – and how they feel as well.

This week’s challenge is to cultivate an awareness of sensory experience, without judging. To be present with emotions as they come rejecting the belief that bad is wrong.

Denying the difficult is akin to abandoning life. In some cases, as Gavin de Becker shows, such denial may even increase the risk of threat and harm.

The skill of listening, feeling, sensing and fully recognizing ‘what is’ and ‘what isn’t’ opens a path to be fully present and engaged with all that life brings without being overwhelmed.

We can’t make ourselves BE compassionate, we need only to FEEL that we ARE and then get out of the way.

One thought on “The Body Knows

  1. Pingback: Taking It In – Running a #rakKat

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