Friday, May 18, 2012

Fighting Fire with Fire (great, now we have 2 fires)

      Here's the thing: Our brains are hardwired to attack anything it perceives as a threat.  It's an ancient mechanism in our brainstem, from whence the famed "fight or flight" reflex comes.  And it doesn't matter whether the threat is real or perceived or whether its a physical threat or an emotional one.  The amygdala doesn't decipher those nuances.  Evolutionarily, "fight or flight" has been a huge advantage in terms of keeping us alive.  It has also been tremendously effective in weeding out those who either don't "fight" strong enough, or who don't "fly away" fast enough.  The result, after millennia of doing this and passing it down one generation to the next, is a highly honed sense of attacking perceived threats or fleeing from them.  Is it any wonder that most of us are either fierce attackers in battle or superb evaders of conflict?
     This reptilian part of our limbic system hasn't changed in eons.  In 2012, this patterning in the brain seems about as meaningful as our appendix.  It's a vestige from our past, and unlike the appendix which is either negligible most of the time or explosive only once prior to being removed, our brainstem is often governing our interactions and exploding constantly.  It may seem a tad reductive, but many of our current problems can be traced back to this reflexive anger that gets triggered in us when we perceive a threat.
     I see it most clearly in the couples I work with.  When couples fight, typically, everyone is just doing what they know to do.  If they knew something different, they'd likely do something different.  In fact, as we work in therapy to build up the newer parts of the brain, and not simply respond from our ancient defenses, that is exactly what happens.  Generally speaking, most of us were not taught how to be happily married.  We especially were not taught how to resolve conflict in such a way that it bolsters mutual happiness.  No, most of us were taught to win.  However, happily married people will tell you, there is no winning when we're at war with the ones we love.
     Winning, evolutionarily, means survival.  So, it seems like a decent value to hold.  Here's the tricky part: Let's say a couple is embroiled in conflict.  There is so much pain, it's like a fire burning up the house.  And let's say their only tool, innately given, evolutionarily honed, is to fight fire with fire.  So, in their best effort to "win," they take the already heated battle and pour gasoline on it.  Then wonder why they got burned and why their home is destroyed.  The tools we have are insufficient. When we get that insight, we realize we're gonna have to grow.  When this happens, we put down our anger, our defensiveness, our "gasoline," and we say instead something like, "We are allies.  And i feel really hurt and sad and scared and betrayed that..."  And that is when we stop adding gasoline to the fire.  This is when we start to heal.

Post Script-- The process of rewiring our brains takes Time, just like it took Time to wire them in the first place.   The hard-wiring takes place over anywhere between 5 and millions of years, depending on who ya ask.   In all likelihood it will take less Time to rewire than to wire.  Good news is that the brain is incredibly elastic, and is designed to constantly be forming new neural connections.  Even people with devastating brain damage show an ability to grow new neural pathways.  Just read anything by Oliver Sacks, Dan Siegel or Louis Cozolino.  So, you see, never lose hope, never give up.  We'll all have relapses with our anger and defensiveness, but stay with it.  Not only are we innately gifted our "fight or flight" response, we're also hard-wired for growth.   Choice is ours.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Investment and Alignment part 1

Thanks to my guys from yesterday who really helped bring this out.  Hopefully our experience will be of some use to others who may also be searching.

As an Integrationist, I'm naturally curious about how multiple disciplines can illuminate The Path to Happy.  No single entity seems to have THE answer.  So, I've become a professional curator of sorts, selecting important ideas, bits of Wisdom, and all kinds of fun stuff from all over the human experience.

Two of my favorite concepts are Investment, and Alignment.  Investment is a powerful concept from the Money Realm.  It refers to what we get back in by putting something out.  It's actually very similar to our breath work in that way, and our sense of Flow.  Alignment comes from an ancient notion of our healing, and is explained best by the Chiropractic Wizards.  Simply put, Alignment refers to our ability to align ourselves with our purpose.  A healthy spine is an aligned spine.  If a disc is out of place, we will experience a world of hurt physically, emotionally, and sometimes even spiritually.  The same is true in our bodies as in our lives; if something is out of place, misaligned, we're probably gonna hurt.  The Path to Happy requires us, whenever possible to align ourselves in the strongest possible fashion.  Namely, we want to align our behaviors with our values, our time with our energy, and even align our money with our values, our time, our behaviors, and our full energetic output.  When these "discs" are stacked up nicely, and in alignment with one another, we tend to feel much better than when any one or perhaps all of those "discs" are out of whack.  

This brings us to the concept of Money.  In Eastern Medicine, they say that there are two things in life: Money and Love.  Money is everything in the material world: money, job, carreer, finance, possession, etc.  Love is all our relationships: family, friends, romance, partnership, etc.  (I usually add a third Realm, the Realm of Self, but thats for another blog)  For pretty much 100% of all the people I've met ever, "Money"  is never about money.  Money is usually misunderstood by the elders, and passed down accordingly.  What we "inherit" from our family life is not their money, but rather their money issues.  The most pervasive money issue seems to be the problem of vagueness.   

Whatever we may have learned from our families about the value of money, how to be moral, responsible, good people, is likely to be passed down non-verbally.  We just watch our parents interact and do their adult business, and we surmise vaguely how to do it ourselves.  In many cases, the lessons we learned from our parents cause us to react or rebel in such a way that we end up doing whatever the opposite of their way was.  This is about as far as many of our individuation/differentiation processes go.  We just do either as we're shown, or we rebel and do the opposite of what we were shown.  It's very rare that I talk with people who have spent a serious amount of energy, effort, time, and money healing this rift.  As such, our Money Realm stays largely in the Shadows, and is often the source of our psychic pain, as it represents a substantial 'disc' thats out of alignment with ourselves.  

This seems to be especially relevant in the work I do these days.  Certainly, I am not the first to notice the intersection of the horrible economy with a newfound need for re-evaluating our Money Realm.  Millions of people are finding out what is really important to them through this Depression.  Notice how the word 'depression' refers to both the Emotional Realm and the Money Realm.  Sufficed to say, Money is never just about money. The emotional components are essential to our sense of Wellness.  Stay tuned for more to come on Investment and Alignment. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Emotional Literacy

       I'm often struck by the many avenues we find to (not) talk about our feelings.  And by feelings, I of course mean our experiences, our inner truth, what's happening inside of us, as well as how we feel about what is going on around us and inside of us. As a basic map to help navigate this tricky terrain, I use our 4 core emotions: Mad, Sad, Glad, and Scared.
     Here's an example excerpted from a phone conversations with my father:
          "Hey, Dad, how are you?"
          "Well, we got a new computer at the office...the pharmaceutical company... thinks
       it will replace all the previous technology... and we'll see.  I won't just abandon a system
       that's worked all these years in favor of a fancy new toy, but I am enjoying playing with the
       new toy, and soon I'll be retired anyway so it won't matter."
     Yup, heavy undercurrent, but never actually discussed directly.  His core experience is diverted away from the emotional realm , and is instead intellectualized as he begins listing "things".  How does he actually feel about becoming closer to retirement?  How does he feel about Medicine changing?  How is he feeling outside of his work life? I have no idea. And neither does he.
     What we do know about his "feelings" is that every now and then, he gets diagnosed with either some coronary blockages, a little cancer, etc etc.  His doctors say, "Watch your stress."  Very helpful to a man who does not even know he is carrying emotional stress.  He is just one, in an entire generation, in a series of generations, who was never taught the value of Emotional Literacy.
     What is the value of speaking a language of our inner experience?  Let's take a different example: a friend of mine has been dealing with a child custody case since his divorce more than a decade ago. For over 10 years, this couple has been battling it out, spending fortunes on lawyers, using the court system to act as an intermediary between the parents.  Not only are they spending time, money, energy and effort toward this conflict, but we as taxpayers, are investing our money into this court system that deals in "facts" not feelings.  How is it working?  Well, the couple is still embroiled in debate, lawyers are still making money, taxpayers are still supporting the judges who reside over the prolonged case, and actually nothing has been resolved.
     My hypothesis is that the court battle is used the same way my dad's business gripes are used-- to divert away from the core emotional reality about which we are illiterate.  When we don't deal with the complex emotional realm of divorce, and instead misuse the court system as a surrogate for our pain, the wounds remain unhealed, even after a decade has passed, and fortunes have been paid out.
     So here's the question: how different would it look if we could learn a simple language as a way to communicate directly, rather than indirectly, about the stuff that means the most to us?  How different would our relationships look? How different would our lives look? And, how different would our world look?  The question of Emotional Literacy not only affects us, but has massive implications about our planet.  Karma tells us, the sooner we can get this, the sooner we can move on to the next lesson.  Until then, we keep getting this same lesson over and over and over again.
     So, next time someone you care about asks how you're feeling, think about it for a second, tune into that inner Self, and see: are you feeling mad, sad, glad, or scared?  Maybe some of each?  Try it! It'll do your heart good.