In her 2009 interview with Larry King, Oprah stated,” I am embarrassed. I can’t believe I am still talking about weight. I can’t believe, of all the other things that I know how to do and all the other things I am so great at and all of the other accomplishments, I can’t believe I’m still talking about weight.”
In 1976, the formerly unsuccessful Motown singer, Charlene, seemed to strike a chord with her international chart topper with the lyric “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.”
Perhaps the soundest advice comes from the ancient mystics: “Go within or go without.”
Somatic Experiencing’s founder, Dr. Peter A. Levine, believes that trauma occurs in the body and not in the event. The body is also the common denominator of all of our experiences, perceived and real. Specifically, the autonomic nervous system and lower brain react to thoughts and external stimuli with myopic focus to determine the welfare of the organism, as if to say, “Am I safe or am I unsafe?”
The lower brain (A.K.A. primal brain, primitive brain and reptilian brain) is the early detection warning system and I would take it even further to say that it is our Guardian Angel.
But imagine if your Guardian Angel was bound and gagged. In essence, when the autonomic nervous system (ANS) becomes dis-regulated (or has short circuits), then the normal functioning of the lower brain and ANS is compromised. It only stands to reason that a healthy and resilient autonomic nervous system can only have a global effect on how one feels.
Mindful pursuits like reasoning and psychological introspection can help to put the details and circumstances of our lives into perspective and sometimes help us to find emotional closure. However, trauma can remain dormant for years or held at bay through self-regulating with bingeing on food, alcohol, sex, drugs, rock and roll or with prayer, meditation, exercise, and thrill seeking. So, until the physiology is addressed, the long-term effect of such mental gymnastics is short-lived. (See my 07/06/13 blog When Is Prayer, Meditation And Yoga No Different Than Sex, Drugs And Rock and Roll?)
In over-simplistic terms, the brain is divided into three parts. The higher brain rules thought, perspective, and rationale; the middle brain houses emotion, image and memory; the lower brain governs survival strategies and instincts. More accurately, there is the neo-cortex, left, right and lower brain. The higher and middle brains are seemingly infinite in content and in imagination and to a large extent create perceived reality. The lower brain is finite and concerned entirely with reality and behavior.
At this juncture it would be prudent to take a look at the brain and body’s reactions to threat, whether perceived or real.
When the human animal (yes, we are animals) faces threat of any kind, the body moves into a state of hyper-vigilance, a brief moment of reckoning, called the Freeze Response, followed by what is known as the Flight/Fight Response. This is almost entirely a lower-brain instinctual function, which mobilizes the autonomic nervous system to insure the safety of the organism.
When facing impending doom (perceived or real), a predator reacts the same way as prey does. First comes the assessment (Freeze Response) to establish if the threat will pass on its own, or, if it will be necessary to flee or fight. Once the threat passes on its own or after the battle has resolved, the mobilized survival energies need to settle and discharge from the body effectively. In the animal kingdom, we can see this as shaking, trembling and even what might appear to be a ‘victory dance’ of sorts.
Typically, when our hands shake, we attempt to hold them still and when our breath is short and shallow, we take long deep breaths in an effort to regulate it. Shaking, trembling, changes in breath, emotional release, changes in body temperature are all signs that the nervous system is regulating itself. But, often times, as the body initiates its innate healing mechanism to return the organism to homeostasis, the human’s higher brain has a tendency to override this ‘energetic’ discharge process. (For more, see The Oprah Syndrome Pt. 4 coming soon)