Reverse Therapy is part of a movement, bringing together neurology, the psychology of emotion, information science and therapy, in which are revising the very idea of what it means to be intelligent. We are showing that intelligence doesn’t show up very much in the head – but much more so in the body.
In a way we are only redressing a wrong turn that was taken with Descartes and other seventeenth century writers who argued that only Headmind, or ‘Reason’, can think. Intelligence, for most philosophers and scientists, means thinking logically, scientifically and rationally. A disembodied mind that deduces the cause of something and predicts what will happen next – and can decide on the right or wrong way to do something. Even funnier than this, some writers think that only Reason can decide between good and evil, right and wrong. Try asking a computer if it is better to risk your own life for the sake of a child!
Our new take on intelligence is something like this: An intelligent response occurs when a) one piece of information is translated into something else b) the information is evaluated c) a response is emitted d) the results are evaluated e) information about the result is stored f) learning takes place.
A single-cell organism like an amoeba can do a), b) and c) when it changes the direction it swims in according to the amount of protein that is available to it. But it can’t do d), e) and f) because it doesn’t have a body (more than one cell) or a brain. But a dolphin, for example, can do all of these. Plus – like most human beings it can also do g) communicate what it has learnt to other people.
The evaluation bit takes place because mammals are capable of having emotions, unlike computers. It is Bodymind that does the evaluation – deciding whether something is important/not-important, good/bad or right/wrong. And this is why, in many respects, Bodymind is more intelligent than Headmind.
Bodymind translates what it senses into energy, into emotion, into passion and into alarm signals of various kinds. Here are some examples of the way in which Bodymind ‘thinks’.
• The body can ‘read’ other people and simulate an emotion that person is having so that you or I can empathize with them. In that way a mother can quickly tell what mood her child is in. This is also the basis for the human quality of compassion for others, even animals. Our intuitions about other people work in a similar way. Using sensory information, the brain picks up signals from the other person’s body language and – using a process that works in less than a tenth of a second – pattern-matches those signals against information stored from past experiences. That is why we can have a gut feeling that someone is not trustworthy within two minutes of meeting her without knowing why. The body is using coded signals to alert us to a potential problem.
• In collaboration with the thinking centers the brain can decide what is important or not important. If something is important to us we might get an adrenalin rush. If it is not we will feel nothing at all. Research into people with damage to the frontal areas of the brain (which decode emotion) show that they are unable to make decisions because they don’t have a good or bad feeling that tells them the right decision to make. Knowing what is important also helps Bodymind conserve energy. We can go without sleep if we are trying to achieve something really important. Conversely, if there is little for us to do, Bodymind can send us to sleep early. Or it could turn on the emotion of boredom to signal that it’s time to do something more interesting.
• The body can strengthen a relationship by creating emotions connected to love. Sometimes this is automatic, as when a a child is born. Sometimes it comes with time as we learn more about the other person. The emotions of love are, as almost all of us know, powerful and sometimes overwhelming.
• The brain uses sleep time to organize memories from the day just gone. It stores what is important and deletes the rest. It also creates dreaming states in order to work through the emotions that come with different experiences. This is one reason why insomniacs have poor concentration – they are overloaded with undigested experiences.
• Bodymind grounds us to life. It does this firstly through our moods. At any given moment the body is monitoring where we are, who we are with and what we are doing, and providing us with a running commentary on our relationship with the environment. Moods aren’t emotions but they are feeling states which work closely with our thoughts. The most well-known mood is the depressed state, which goes with discouragement and sadness. But others include exhilaration, calm, determination, discontent and the feeling of being ‘under pressure’. Most often, moods are hardly noticeable and form a kind of background hum which is constantly shifting as we go through the flow of the day.
• Another way the body grounds us to life is through the sense of awe: we are connected to nature, to the divine, and to life itself by the unspeakable sense that we are serving a purpose higher than ourselves. In that way Bodymind intelligently motivates us to make the best we can of our abilities and to serve others.
I actually found it hard to write something about this topic….nothing I ever wrote seemed quite right so I had to keep re-working what I wrote until it sounded ok…again and again…and it still isn’t right…..Seriously, the real reason I found it hard to write about this subject was that it takes me into an area in which it becomes hard to distinguish between Bodymind-generated emotions and Headmind-generated obsessions. So, thanks to one of my readers for suggesting this subject, you have stimulated me to work harder at making these distinctions clearer. And the result will be that I am going to write a series of blogs about pseudo-emotions like:
The first thing to get clear about is the difference between an emotion and an obssession.An emotion is a signal sent by Bodymind to let us know that it is time for action, in the moment, on something that is bothering us. So, for example, fear signals come up when we are in danger or are vulnerable in some way. Typically, fear is a powerful, visceral emotion that prompts us for immediate action.An obsession is not an emotion although like a lot of other states (resentment, despair, worry) it can feel like one. Partly this is because obsessions are mixed up with emotions created by Bodymind, partly also because they tend to come with the state of anxiety.An obsession comes about because Headmind is worried about something. In the case of perfectionism the worry is that the person can never get it right and will therefore be criticised, rejected and hurt. The basis for this problem is conditioning. Somewhere along the way the child’s Headmind picked up the script ‘No matter how hard you try you will never be good enough’. A lot of people blame the Parents for scripts like these although, in my experience, Teachers and Priests are often the real culprits.The pity of it all is that there is absolutely no need for anyone to worry about having to get it all right. If you are out of your depth on something then Bodymind will trigger the fear signal to tell you to go and ask a few questions or get some help. But this is precisely what is disallowed by Headmind – the Perfectionist cannot ask for help because that would be to admit failure – imperfection. So he has to do it all by himself.In later life Headmind keeps playing these scripts every time a new challenge comes up. So each time the person settles down to do some work Headmind triggers the worry first, and then the obsession with ‘getting it all perfect’. With the sub-script – ‘work harder, you miserable failure’. That can get very scary. But each time Fear is created to remind us to get some help that is interpreted by Headmind as fresh evidence that the person is ‘imperfect’ triggering the script all over again.Now, if you spend too long doing the same thing over and over again then Bodymind is going to create the emotion known as frustration. That will be prompting you to give yourself a break. But when Headmind notices frustration coming up, it misinterprets that as fresh evidence of failure. So the script gets triggered again, and again and again.I will write more about the solution to perfectionism and other obsessional states in a later blog. But the first step towards breaking free of the trap is to disobey the script, own up to being ‘a failure’ and go and have some fun instead.
As Gordon Gekko once famously quoted Ayn Rand – in ‘Wall Street’ – ‘Greed is good‘.
Well, both Ayn and Gordon got it wrong. Greed isn’t good. Passion is good. And Greed is a Headmind distortion of passion.
What goes on here is that Headmind (or Ego, if you prefer) substitutes Being for Having, and Emotion for acquisitiveness.
Now some people have a passion for making money. It’s not one of my attractions but I can understand why some people get that way. And if they are living that passion then they may well be doing other people a favour by giving them something they want – or making jobs for them. But when passion is distorted by acquisitiveness then they get greedy – and obsessive – and lonely – and sad. They may even end up in the Penitentiary like Gordon did.
When you live in Bodymind (as I try to do) you realise that Passion is its own reward. Work, Love, Telling the truth and being Creative are exciting things to do. Its not a guarantee that you will be rich, famous, loved or powerful. That’s Headmind telling us that we are unworthy if we are not in one of those categories.
As it happens I recently made up a list of emotions (passions) which get distorted by Headmind’s need to have something rather than to be something.
Joy – Addictions (Headmind has to possess happiness rather than just being with it and then letting it go). The addiction can be to sex, drugs, love or even money.
Anger – Revenge (Headmind has to control the offender rather than just express and forgive)
Fear – Dependency (Headmind has to collect helpers rather than accept personal responsibility)
Awe – Religious mania (Headmind has to impose the truth on others rather than admit that Life is too tremendous to be understood completely)
Sadness - Grief (Headmind refuses to live without the lost friend, father, mother or child) and lives in the past, holding on to memories.
Love – it isn’t really an emotion but it is a passion based on joy. But its distortion by Headmind is interesting because when the Ego tries to control it, then it becomes jealousy or possessiveness.
“Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.”
Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007
A fantastic story appeared last week from Tom Hart Dyke – the Eccentric Gardener. Apparently he and a friend were plant-hunting in the South American jungle when they were kidnapped by the Indians. Trying to persuade them that they were not CIA agents but just two average joes who got lost in the jungle, they hit on the idea of singing and dancing to them.
They launched into the Pythons’ ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life‘ announcing it as the English National Anthem.
‘If Life seems jolly rotten – there’s something you’ve forgotten – Always look on the bright side of life’ one of them sang in a baritone, while the other leapt into the air with his knees up to his chin, waggling his hands.
Very soon the guerillas, sub-machine guns at their sides, were rolling around on the floor, crying with laughter.
Life of Brian could well be the funniest film ever made. Be that as it might, Tom Hart Dyke’s story tells us that extreme situations invite laughter or tears. Either are ok but I prefer laughter. The Life of Brian is full of characters – religious zealots, empire-builders, revolutionary conspirators, who just don’t get how funny they are when they are trying to be serious. In short, they are stuck in their heads. And the more pedantic they try to be, the funnier they are.
Now in the story Tom Hart Dyke tells it could have gone the other way. He and his friend could both have got very serious in a way that would have made things worse. The more worried they got the more those Indians would have gotten suspicious. But the crazy idea of doing that song broke through the barriers. Through laughter they avoided tragedy.
Which brings me to the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. This was a man who, as an American POW, survived the Dresden Fire Bombing in 1945 which wiped out 130,000 people. And who still managed to write SlaughterHouse 5, a book which is funny as well as grief-stricken for the men, women and children who died in the worst war in history.
God bless all those like the Pythons, Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Hart Dyke who give us the gift of laughter. Goodbye Blue Monday!
Last week, while I was doing some Reverse Therapy with a client, he asked: ‘Are emotions ever wrong?’ Meaning, is it possible to be angry, scared, sad, etc. over nothing all?
To answer this question we have to understand what an emotion is. Bodymind produces an emotion through cellular communication. Cells in the brain (mostly in the limbic system) pick up information from the environment and trigger other cells to send signals through to the nervous system. The resulting changes in the gut, skin, muscles, lungs and circulation are experienced as a feeling.
An emotion is not a thought (which can be wrong). But neither are emotions irrational – they are what Antonio Damasio calls ‘somatic markers’. That means they mark something out for your attention. In that way they serve the same function as the pain in your foot that tells you your shoes are too tight or the rumbling in your stomach that tells you it is time to eat.
So emotions are cues to action. Now this is where some people can misunderstand emotion – they mistake the inappropriate expression of the emotion (which comes out of wrong work of Headmind) for the emotion itself.
Contrary to common belief your Bodymind does not want you to shout or scream at someone when you notice anger. A quiet assertion of your rights is quite sufficient. Nor does your Body want you to run away (another Headmind cop-out) when you notice fear. Getting your facts straight about the situation you are in, talking to others about your options, and taking one small step to raise confidence is all that is required.
Too often – as with my client – we are conditioned into seeing emotions as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ because we have watched other people do destructive things when they get emotional. But emotions don’t encourage us to be destructive – just honest.
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