We’re living in an exciting time where many of the major tenets of a spiritual and meditative practice, neuroscience and the art of becoming present seem to be on an amazing synergistic parallel course leading to the same place: living a more creative, abundant, fully expressed and joyful life.
But in order to make changes at a causal level (and ultimately change who we are) we have to understand the currency through which we express ourselves and create in the world with others. (No, not money!) It’s primarily done through thought and feeling.
Most of us live in an anesthetized world where we numb ourselves from what we feel and are numbed by the repetitive habits of thinking the same (unhealthy) thoughts.
But we all have the power to change. We can all do it!
Let’s break it down via science to understand what’s happening to us emotionally first before we move on to how to apply the change.
Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist, talks about the vagus nerve in Frank Partnoy’s wonderful book, Wait. The vagal nerve consists of two fibers that connect our brain to the rest of our bodies. One track is reptilian and in times of stress controls our guts – our “flight” or “freeze” response – and the other is mammalian and tries to mobilize us and prepare us to “fight.”
But both are connected to the heart.
A recent New York Times article mentioned the vagal nerve’s connection to our heart rate variability – how our heart accelerates and decelerates – and that the strength of our heart-brain connection – and our capacity for emotional connection and empathy and feeling – is affected partly by our vagal nerve’s “tone” or flexibility in times of stimulation.
What this all means to the artist is that in times of real or perceived stress – going into an audition room, having to perform, giving a lecture in front of hundreds of people, doing scene work that brings up huge amounts of feeling, getting rejected by an agent, finding out your girlfriend is pregnant – you know, normal day-to-day life stressors (!) – our body has a physiological response that can often shut us down or basically over-stimulate our system.
In non-scientific terms it’s called Freaking Out!!!
But we have a natural, neutralizing and stabilizing instrument within each of us that can normalize and reduce the amount of stress we perceive and react to (whether real or fictionalized by our thinking) if we just become a little bit more conscious of it.
That’s right. We do it naturally – or rather the mechanism does itself automatically (Thank Gawd! One less thing to worry about!) – but a lot of our emotional breakthroughs occur when we learn how to become more mindful about the breath and let it work for us even more powerfully than it already does. (I mean, it keeps us alive and that’s pretty powerful, but when we forget about its function completely, stress can really wreak havoc on us, turning us into crazy reptiles! Sort of.)
More on all of that next week.
Until then. Breathe. Mindfully.