Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Body and Mind

First published in 2007

There might be - no, I'm sure there will be - a lot of you disagreeing with what I'm about to say, and if I were face to face to you, you might be shouting by now. I'll say it anyway: I do not think that there are spiritual or esoteric things going on. It is all down to chemistry!

This doesn't make our bodies less magnificent: A single bad word from someone you don't even know can throw you into utter dismay while a stranger smiling at you in the street can make your day. Tiny signals we read from other people or our environment using our eyes, ears and noses indulge our bodies in a vast stream of chemical substances giving us feedback in form of feelings instantly, and some of it will happen on a subconscious level, so we might not even know why all of a sudden the mood is swinging.

The legacy of the ancestors ...
This is the legacy of our ancestors, who had to develop a refined feedback system in order to survive. Emotions created due to the release of chemicals are transformed into movement of the muscles at a speed which is actually rather mind-boggling. Robert Winston who is a very well known scientist once described the way we have evolved from our ancestors in a marvellous BBC TV-series called 'Human Instinct - how our primeval impulses shape our modern lives'. It is available as book as well, and also describes why some of the things we inherited are backfiring now.

A good example of how thinking the right thoughts can release the right chemicals for fulfilling a task, is playing golf. Since my husband started to play golf and I gave it a try for one summer as well, we noticed that our bodies respond to thoughts very instantaneously. It is something that  golfer all over the world will confirm:

Imagine a lake in front of you with some shrubs behind it. The task is to play the ball over the lake. There are three ways of thinking about it:

1. 'Oh great! Please not into the water' - The ball will quite definitely hit the water, because that is the image your brain is focused on: The water!

2. 'OK, let's do this, play over the water' - Better already, but there still is this image of water existent.

3. 'I want to hit that shrub with the purple flowers' - That is the one to go for. Use a phrase that takes the Angst-item out of the equation.

Adrenalin levels will go down, the eyes will measure the distance and send the respective chemicals to adjust the muscle power, and all will be well. OK, your ball might be stuck in the rough now.

That's how our ancestors survived and evolved. The ones who had the best internal drug adjustment achieved certain goals faster and more consistently, had more successful offspring, and got better through tough times; the others went down.

... and the civilised lifestyle
Pity just is, that our world has changed too quickly for our bodies to adapt to the modern civilisation. Our ancestors had fewer resources, and whenever they found carbos they had to stuff themselves, and that's why we recognise carbohydrate rich food instantly and like it so much. Carbos had to taste good so one would enjoy overeating on the randomly found resource and the fat depot would help bringing them through the next famine. Only that carbos are not random anymore, and we never have a famine.

We have lost the intuition and the naive approach on how to live our lives because we got overwhelmed by the enchantments of the modern world. If we could re-discover the rules by which the body plays it's game we could come a bit closer to understand what some call 'Spirit' or 'Mind', and what I like to call 'My Chemicals'. And it would allow us to decide more easily when wallowing in vice is OK, and when austerity is the motto of the day.

Get in control
Another reason why I like this 'Chemicals' approach is because they are part of the one big game. We might not have understood all the reactions that are going on, but whatever happens: It implies that the body consists of intertwined parts which all have their role to play. The 'Body & Spirit', 'Body & Mind' approach implies that there are two entirely different sides of  the same thing, one heavy and routed on the ground, and the other rather light and not easily to be located. It implies that those parts can be treated separately, and that they have to be put into some state of balance, as if they could be kept on different sides of a scale.

Already the language which I intuitively chose, implies that the body and the mind are handled... treated from the outside, to MAKE them behave a certain way, whereas the chemicals DO their bits and we might want to take measures to enable them to do better. To find my spirits - how do I do that? Calm down my mind - again, how am I supposed to do that when my hormones are playing havoc? But thinking in chemicals: They are mine, I am in a feedback loop with them, we are one.

If I feel sad I look sad, and if I feel happy I smile.

However: If I make a sad face I will become sad, and if I make a funny face I will feel happier. Again: This confirms the feedback loop I mentioned before. Visible signs of  emotions are created either by sensors like noses, eyes, ears and skin creating chemicals making muscles move a certain way, or moving the muscles a certain way can create the emotion without the trigger of an external sensor. And that means that WE are in charge of our own bodies, by feeding it a certain way, by keeping a particular posture  and by moving it, we have direct influence. No other person, guide, or instrument can take away emotional pain, but you yourself. You can put yourself in charge, and by supporting your body's chemistry you have direct influence on taming your demons.

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