Monday, March 28, 2011

When Sasiprapha Smiles

This was a fumbling first draft attempt to describe what I have learned about the term neurologists call 'affective states,' how our brain/nervous system matures and functions through interpersonal relations. It is written as a dyadic, 2 person relationship to describe how we affect each other, and reflects my need to understand my own bipolar affective disorder, writing continues to help me integrate my reading & experience.

‘Why do you read this book so much?’ Sasi asks me.
‘Because it’s very good - fantastic food for thought.'

‘I like the smiling mother and baby on the cover,’ She tells me, ‘but the title, “Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self - The Neurobiology of Emotional Development,” by Allan N Schore,’ she adds, shaking her head and wrinkling her nose.

‘It’s about how you maintain your organism, darling.’
‘Really!’ Raised eyebrows and a twinkle in her eye, underline her very playful nature and why I am so besotted with her.

‘No sweetheart, your organism, not your orgasm,’ I say laughing.
‘Perhaps those smiling faces remind me of you darling’ I tell her.

Sasi beams now, one of those effortless and orgasmic smiles that affects into me sensations of joy. Not without hooking you up to some sophisticated virtual machine could I really convey the wonder of Sasi’s smile and how it affects others, how do I give you a sense of its essence, the pure innate joy that is so often free from adult simulation or muscular constriction. She smiles with all the innocence of a happy and delighted three year old, and it feels like a whole body reaction from deep within her, not just the passing comment of facial expression that many adult smiles often are. Sasi is a force of nature as some have commented, her effervescent vitality is contagious, infecting all who come within sensory range.

‘How do they remind you of me?’ She asks, fishing for compliments now.
‘Because a smile is like magic darling, just like you; the smile of innate joy is a vitality affect for both the giver and receiver,’ I tell her and Sasi indicates confusion with a shake of her head and squinting of her eyes, as if to say ‘What?’

‘Well, when you smile, facial muscle actions send signals to neurons in your brain simultaneously changing the flow and temperature of blood through your head, and your nervous system gets an active chemical surge with all sorts of hormones released making you feel good - it’s what’s called a vitality affect and that’s why smiling is orgasmic.’

‘Because it’s magic, sounded better,’ Sasi tells me with a mimicked yawn, causing me to hold the book up and explain that the smiling gaze of a loving mother is vital to the positive maturation of her young baby’s brain, which goes through its most important postnatal growth and maturing process in the first three years of life. Positive affective states, such as the affect/emotion of elation, which a mothers smile evokes are vital to the growth of neural networks in the brain and the autonomic nervous system reactivity that will unconsciously guide her offspring through the experience of life.

‘It’s about the feedback fired neurons in your brain, darling’
‘Feedback fired neurons! - Sounds like a Chinese noodle dish,’ Sasi exclaims, hands held up to her face as she makes slant eyes at me.
‘Oor you wan feedback fired neurons wid you sweet an sour pork?’
‘Its as good as chicken soup for the soul,’ I tell her with a shrug of the shoulders.
As the new field of ‘affective neuroscience’ explains, early affect experiences, such as the triggering of innate joy, which is the initial neuronal spark to the emotion we call elation, become imprinted in neural networks and nerves, setting up patterns of sensation expectation that will generally last a lifetime. Science now understands that postnatal brain growth and maturation is experience dependant, setting up patterns of unconsciously expected sensation experiences which become autonomic self fulfillment.

‘Huh!’ Says Sasi.
‘Darling, your early life experience was so full of innate joy and excitement, so full of happy smiling faces and predominately positive affect experiences, that the innate affects of joy and excitement burst from you at the slightest provocation, such is your unconscious expectation of sensation response to any perceived positive experience.’
‘Huh! Huh!’ Sasi mumbles shaking and nodding her head alternately.
‘You know how they say that up to 95% of our motivation is unconscious - well science is coming to understand the unconscious as an affective state triggered by feedback to the brain - just like the confusion my poor explanations affect in you’ ‘See! Its always your fault,’ she says beaming again, and I try to expand my explanation.
‘The innate affect of joy, as a sense of fun is triggered in you with any kind of positive feedback.
‘I see!’ Says Sasi, raising her eyebrows at my continued intellectualizing, before adding. ‘So you want to write a self help book based on what this book has taught you?’
‘Yes, and Stephen Porges “Polyvagal Theory”, amongst others.’

Two weeks after that conversation I sit down to write and meet a familiar response, something inside me resists my conscious intent and I feel held back, even though I think I know what I want to say having rehearsed these ideas in my head while walking, driving or doing anything else that is not actually writing. Now that I’m here though, needing to perform the writing action I inexplicably hold back, I seem to freeze as the words just won’t come with my mind feeling like it’s stuffed with cotton wool. I just can’t think what this state is, it’s like some alien force inside me and when I’m over emotional it even feels like I’m possessed, it’s so frustrating how I can‘t control this reaction.

I begin to ponder if this hesitant state can really be my instinctual nature, inner biological processes which defy my conscious intention, my rationalized wants?. Do you ever have the feeling that something holds you back; something beyond the power of your mind prevents you from getting what you want? Do you sometimes acknowledge a cycle of self defeating behaviours, annoying bad habits that you sort of understand but can’t quite find a why for? Try to picture my situation here, I’m sitting at my desk holding a pen, thinking that I want to write the opening paragraphs of a book, yet for some unknown reason I can‘t or won’t begin. In rational and objective terms it’s simple enough, I’ve read and re-read dozens and dozens of books and have been bringing myself to this point for half my life.

I’ve given myself the time and the space to concentrate on writing, yet each time I try to start, something deep inside defeats me. I get stuck in the very processes that I want to write about, such as how my evolutionary layered brain and nervous system stimulates this unconscious response. The autonomic nervous system could easily be described as the mind below the mind, the hidden motivator of all those bad habits and patterns of behaviour we find so hard to change. Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for the famous fight/flight response that we’re all aware of, although less well known are the freeze/fright instinctual reactions to threat. In evolutionary terms, our human freeze/fright responses such as surprise and embarrassment, shock and fainting are inherited from our mammalian ancestors who can automatically feign death as a last resort when faced with inescapable mortal threat. Ancient survival patterns of behavior in freeze/fight/flight/fright are controlled by small groups of neurons firing deep within the ancient reptilian layer of our triune brain, stimulating these innate survival reflexes through our autonomic nervous system.

After such conceptual musings I make a start again, writing a few paragraphs before reaching a point where I’m facing inner sensations and how to write about them. In this instant I become mindlessly numb putting down my pen and standing up, I feel an urge to walk, a sense that movement will allow me to think the moment through, and why I’ve torn up so many pages with angry disgust, dismissing them as over rationalized dribble. "At least disgust is a innate reaction," I say to myself, suddenly drawing in a deep breath as a realization dawns.

Expectation! Is what I fear, I fear being seen, being judged, even by readers I will never meet and my rationalizations are the way I deal with this unconscious fear, so that I avoid it, avoid feeling it. "It’s a shame reaction," I say to myself, visualizing the numbness of mind and the vacant stare at the blank page as an unconscious protective urge. I see it as my mind below the mind, and picture it as the deeper reptilian layer of my triune brain implementing a passive reaction, an avoidance of the slightest possibility of those dreaded shame sensations that had cut me to the core as a child. I tell myself I hold an unconscious expectation towards engaging with people, a deep fear that they will always shame me. I laugh, thinking, "here I am in the 21st century and an evolutionary ancient part of me is acting like I’m stuck in the primal forest." For me the innate survival fears of ancient rain forests have been replaced by a forest of human faces.

‘I have nothing to fear,’ I shout out loud, angry that I should struggle so much to get over this lifelong fear of people. All my plans, all my preparations, the study, the training, the endless reading, all the self development work and I’m still getting bogged down in the same old mire. Only a few weeks ago I was speaking in front of eighty odd people and now I’m left wondering if that was all pretense, like the postured pretense of an actor on stage, "it was simulation - simulated affect," I say to myself. I think about the theories and concepts I’ve read, how the autonomic nervous system matures along with the developing brain in the first three years of life. How early experience affects the neural development of the brain and sets up the habitual level of autonomic nervous system reactivity, determining our unconscious approach or avoidance responses to both the internal and external environments.

I accept that early experience becomes unconscious reactive expectation to both environments and how an organism will habitually respond. My own childhood Asthma illustrates such unconscious responses to internal environment as I habitually constrict chest muscles and the depth of my breath as a defense against an expectation of coughing spasms. I walk on feeling lost and defeated, telling myself that at my age it’s utterly hard wired in my brain and nervous system and I feel like abandoning the whole project. ‘You don’t have the talent to write a book anyway.’ I shout towards a cloudy sky.

I continue walking trying to get a feel for this unconscious protective urge inside me, remembering a weekend workshop on Hakomi Therapy, how the therapist acknowledged the protective power of a persons resistance to talking about his feelings. He asked the man to find the area inside that he sensed his resistance was coming from and to try to visualize it, then encouraged him to accept this as his protector. The man continued his mindful state trying to sense an image of this force within and came up with a picture of an old fashioned ogre. After a period of respectful acknowledgement of his protective ogre there was a very visible shift in the man’s posture and attitude, we all watched as his defences dropped away allowing him to approach his inner sensations. That was two years ago now and of coarse I saw the process and acknowledged it at that time, I’m aware of the possibility yet perhaps I hadn’t really felt it back then, only paying lip service to awareness.

‘Its is your protector,’ I say out loud, ‘your autonomic protector, your survival instinct.
‘Come on David,’ I hear myself say, ‘don’t stay in your head - feel it!’ Suddenly I drop to my knees as the old familiar shudder sends waves of unpleasant sensation down my spine.
‘My God!’ I shout out, feeling like I’m shrinking, like I’m dissolving into a pool of dirty water. I try to stay with the feelings, I want to know what this is once and for all, and an awful freeze sensation seizes my shoulders running down my spine.
‘How can this be protective,’ I shout out with this image of dirty water flooding my mind. I had thought I was over this stuff, it hasn’t happened for years now. A scene from my childhood came to mind, a scene of physical and emotional abuse that I could not escape. I’m not sure about the affect of the physical abuse, but the emotional abuse, the rage in his voice and the hate in his eyes; somehow they threatened me with annihilation more than his blows did. My innate animal instinct would have been to run back then or to show my own anger and rage, yet that would have enraged him even more, no flight, no fight and no escape so hence the first of my lifelong shudder reactions. What do you do when your nurturing protector is a predator?
‘Is this the seat of my defensive over reactivity towards people?’ I say out loud.This thought has come to mind before, although perhaps I have never allowed myself to feel the depth of sensation before, and right now I can’t believe how strong this shudder reaction is and the awful sensation of dissolving to water is quite frightening.

"Feigning death," I whisper to myself, remembering the evolution of the autonomic nervous system. This urge, this pulse of electrochemical energy, as neurons fire in my brain should follow it’s evolutionary path, as my nervous impulse is stimulated to produce freezing to the point of fainting. A vestige of millions of years old mammalian survival reflex, when faced with overwhelming mortal threat as mammals feign sudden death as the last resort to survival. We humans inherited the same nervous system capacities in the dual sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of our autonomic nervous system, also known as the stress response system. Human responses like fainting are vestiges of the earlier mammalian response of feigning death through a sudden and massive surge in the parasympathetic branch, acting as a brake on the heart after high sympathetic activity. The parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is known as the rest/digest or conservation/withdrawal branch compared to the sympathetic fight/flight aggression branch, and in situations of threat it plays a part in a freeze/fight/flight/fright sequence of possible survival reactions. Being scared stiff is actually an unconscious parasympathetic mediated “fright” response, probably designed by evolution to present your body as a non threat or as dead meat. There is footage on the internet of a guy who has fallen into a large hole in the ground, a hole he helped dig to trap a bear. We see him flailing away with a bamboo stick trying to fend of a curious bear and of coarse the bear just bats the stick away with effortless ease. Suddenly the guy drops to the bottom of the pit and lies there motionless, leaving the bear with no active object to attract innate interest and in a short while the bear turns and walks away. How did the guy know what to do to save himself? Perhaps his conscious mind didn’t but his body certainly did and as Jake Sully tells us in the movie Avatar “you have to trust your body to know what to do.”

Perhaps I should have fainted that day, at the height of my fathers predatory behavior, I should have allowed the impulse to conclude it’s biological intent? Instead my response was the first of a lifetime of shameful freeze sensations. Musing about that day I suddenly think of the movie “Sliding Doors” and wonder what affect my fainting would have had on my father back then, and would I have been spared this freeze reaction that has haunted my life. Was that really the foundation stone of my prey like responses to other people, unconsciously sensing them as larger more powerful animals? I sit back on my heels in a prayer like posture, closing my eyes to feel the shudder with all it’s emotional associations to the sensation of shame. As it inevitably returns I shrug my shoulders violently to the left, impulsively shaking it off as I rise to my knees saying a silent thank you to this protective urge. For several minutes I sit there muttering silent tributes to this freezing animal instinct, with it’s clear intention to save me from a sense of overwhelming threat. I accept the unwanted freeze reaction as biology, an unconscious instinctual reaction to an unconsciously perceived threat, while looking around at the same time, physically showing my senses there is no threat now. I feel a calm start to return as my hyperactive nervous system slows, and I begin a deep breathing routine by deliberately tilting of my head upwards to overcome the wind pipe constriction of a head unconsciously lowered in shame.

As always with this deep breath work I feel an unfamiliar calm and increased sensation in my limbs, in my fingers and toes, my skin tingles as I sense an expanded awareness of the surrounding environment. I’m surprised to the point of mild shock at how tense my muscles have been, I let out a deep sigh realising anew that I need to constantly remind myself to relax this autonomic state. With my equilibrium returning I walk back home contemplating the experience and hopefully a deeper acceptance of my shame freeze as a biologically protective urge, one I should stop beating myself up about. Back at my desk though the blank look at the blank page resumes with my head lost in a reverie about mammals feigning death and innate affects.

‘Hello,’ says a honey sweet voice from behind me. I start to turn as warm sensations mingle with rising excitement and there she is, Sasi with the million dollar smile. I’ve never seen any adult smile with the whole body, pour popping sense of joy Sasi does. It rises up through the very fiber of her being and the affect on others is wonderful, transformative, utterly irresistible and contagious to the point of infecting all in her presence, she is such a joy to be around.
‘Hello beautiful,’ I say, gazing up at her, instantly transformed from a state of concerned thinking into an overall state of warm delight. Sally blushes at the intensity of my loving gaze and giggles.
‘Stop it!’ She says, changing the mood by frowning at the blank piece of paper.
‘Going well I see,’ she quips.
‘I can’t get started darling, can’t seem to bring it out of my head onto the paper the way I talk about it.’
‘Your avoiding,’ Sasi reminds me, ‘When I complain that your not here with me, you rattle of dissociation theory and in the process become present.’
‘Sure! I can tell you why I’m not present, because you remind me I‘m in that state.’ I plead to her.
‘Your nervous system activity is too high and your stuck in an unconscious and simultaneous active and passive avoidance trying to flee when you can‘t, which is why you spend half your life in your head.’ She was looking at me with a sweet yet demanding, ‘just get over it - will you!’
‘You forgot the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts,’ I tell her.
‘No darling! That’s why I gave you a pathetic look.’
‘Why don’t you dialogue it?’ She tells me, ‘Write it up as a conversation, like the ones you bore me with.’

Elation exploded inside me and I rushed to give her a big heart felt hug. Sally did a heel spin scolding me to write as she moved away, although the wiggle in her hips signaled delight with her intervention. Suddenly I was energized by this short interaction, like a little toddler’s re-union with their mother, face shining with delight as emotional energy is re-fueled. As Sasi’s footsteps fade I return to write without hesitation, I’m mobilized now, secure in my purpose, my thoughts flowing as my hand moves across the page.

So was it the friendly banter or the brilliance of her smile that transformed me, or was it the communication between our eyes that activated innate excitement and spurred me to action. When two people look into each others eyes, two brains communicate directly, there is a deeper level here, well below the level of our rather shallow externally oriented object perception. Pre-verbal regions of the brain signal each other directly when we share well attuned, unashamed eye contact. As we look into a persons eyes we connect to their brain state, and they to ours, well below thought, below the level of mind we communicate biologically, neurologically, electrochemically, a kind of brain neuronal eye-fi connection is established here.
Consequently, prolonged gazing into each others eyes evokes the most intimate and intense emotional states known to human beings and underlies the magical, fused feeling known to lovers. Eye to eye contact transmit’s a preverbal communication at speeds one hundred times faster than thought, a thousand times faster than speech. More importantly for humans the eyes and the facial smile are vital for our health and well being, vital metabolism and immune system functions are aided by the positive emotional states triggered in such organic, systemic interactions, as positive affective states feed of positive affective states in feedback stimulation loops, those feedback fired neurons in your brain.

When the two hundred muscles of the face form a smile and eyes make direct contact a state of mutual enjoyment is aroused within, the temperature and flow of blood to each brain increases, allowing the vital metabolism of oxygenated blood and nutrients to supply our brains with energy. Chemical hormones are released in states of mutual enjoyment when humans smile at each other, and individual immune systems are enhanced by the simple receipt of a smile. Even more vital, the human face forms a third branch of the autonomic nervous system, the deeper layered mind below the mind. Without well attuned facial contact with other people, without proximity and touch we automatically fall back onto the more primitive responses of our tri-layered brain and autonomic nervous system. Without good social contact we fall back on our freeze/fight/flight/fright survival reflex responses, like the shame freeze my objective mind had only managed to prolong until I accepted the reflex action as innate instinctual response. Whether angry or irritable, sullen or withdrawn, we are operating largely through the mind below the mind and our older freeze/fight/flight/fright, innate responses.

This is predator/prey, autonomic animal logic; this is the autonomic nervous system which acts independently of our conscious awareness, well below the level of conscious control. The postnatal maturation of the brain is affected by and dependant on environmental experience, particularly our experience with adult human brains. Early experience sets the base line activity of our autonomic nervous system, establishing a sensitivity to threat which can be hyperactive in some. In the human animal, early experience establishes a level of survival reactivity, ranging from individual patterns of negative sensation avoidance, up to healthy group inclusion and positive sensation seeking. The range of sensations excited within a young child’s nervous system become the unconscious expectation of its responses to most of life’s events. These basic survival behaviors directly influence health and happiness and are little influenced by wealth or IQ.

‘Finished yet?’ says a familiar voice.
I deliberately ignore the sound and wait for a second helping of it’s wondrous texture, while privately bathing in the arousal of delicious warm sensation suddenly affected within me.
‘Darling!’ Sasi says, increasing her volume yet retaining an innate sweetness. Even before I turn to greet her I feel my sensations rise higher, a lightness fills me, a warm glow invades me with such positive sensations that words are inadequate as a true description.
How can I describe how she sets light to this chain reaction of electrochemical activity, the neurons and nerves that now fire this changed state within my brain/body?
‘Sorry darling, I was thinking about innate affect.’
‘And who is she!!!’ Sasi exclaims.
‘You are darling, you are,’ I say, catching her perplexed look.
‘Your smile is one of pure innate joy darling, and the innate affect of joy is the instinct of your being that always triggers an instinctual, innate joy in me,’ Sasi blushes before asking me to explain further.
‘There are nine innate affects you see, instincts if you like, and innate joy is one of them, they are hard wired instinctive reactions to life, they are the biological flints that spark the whole range of complex human emotions.

‘What do you mean - flints?’ Asks Sasi, squinting her eyes and wrinkling her nose.
‘You know how anger feels hot like fire, well a small number of neurons are triggered to fire inside your brain, which stimulates the emotion you feel as anger and then the history of your life and the current circumstances will determine how intense and how long that particular sensation of anger lasts.’
‘What happened to the flints?’ Asks my smiling lady, just a little sarcastically.
‘That small number of neurons are the flint, they fire for perhaps a second or two, then fire again depending on the external circumstances and your internal sensations, they are the innate affect that spark the emotion we call anger.’ ‘An innate affect lasts for only two seconds? - Believe me when I do get angry its for a lot longer than two seconds,’ Sasi tells me.
‘I know darling, I’ve felt it and what I love about you is how pure your emotions are, they’re closer to innate, instinctual responses than any adult I’ve ever known.’
‘That better be a compliment or your in trouble,’ She jokes.

'Perhaps in the future they will find better language for this stuff, how innate affect works through our triune brain and nervous system, how it’s triggered by feedback through the senses like the innate joy I sense in your smile - darling!’ ‘The last bit‘s sexy, but the rest,’ Sasi says poking her tongue out in a simulated vomit.
‘I guess a feedback-stimulated-response or an innate affect, doesn’t sound very sexy, maybe I should invent sexier words.’
‘I think I understand a little,’ She tells me.
‘But what’s a triune brain and how are my nerves triune?’
‘Your brain has three evolutionary layers that stimulate three kinds of autonomic nervous system activity, passive, active and social’ I tell Sally. Explaining how neurons firing in our frontal cortex, the newest and highest layer of the brain, is currently stimulating our social nervous system, a third branch of the autonomic nervous system.
‘How do you feel right now?’ I ask Sasi. ‘Ok! - Why?’
‘Because the higher layer of your brain and the social branch of your nervous system are active right now and that’s why you feel good - I think.’
‘So?’ She responds.
‘Well if people can bring this knowledge into everyday awareness, they can develop better control over their behaviours, their actions and reactions.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Because you don’t feel the need to darling,’ I say. ‘When you were a baby, positive innate affects were triggered so often, that your nervous system is imprinted with an unconscious expectation of positive sensation, your whole body posture has a tone of joy about it which others unconsciously react to, your early life experience has become an unconsciously expectant reality, for you life just works.’
‘Wow! I’m not sure I get that!’ Sasi says.
‘Triggered innate affects and nervous system reactivity, unconsciously shape our reality, motivating everything we do like the innate affect of interest - excitement triggered in feedback loops between us now.'
‘We’re just talking to each other darling, where’s this innate affect thing, I don’t feel that at all,’ She says, looking confused.

‘God your stupid,’ I say in a contemptuous tone, glaring at her. Instantly I notice a flash of anger cross Sasi’s face and almost simultaneously her eyes lower, her head drops and her shoulders slump in response to this forceful rebuke. I smile as broadly as I can and reach for her thigh, squeezing gently to make a tactile comment. She gives me a hurt look, seeking my sympathetic response, and I purse my lips and lower my forehead to hers.
‘That’s innate affect darling,’ I whisper and Sasi takes a deep breath before speaking.
‘I felt so angry, and something awful inside,’ she tells me.
‘It was the innate affect of shame, your not used to experiencing it in such a deeply negative way.’ I explain how I think she felt a rapid shift from happy social engagement at the highest level of brain and nervous system response. Instantly shifting down to the middle limbic layer of the brain as innate anger mobilized the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Then dropping down further to the passive layer of the brain as innate shame was activated through the parasympathetic, immobilization branch of the ANS.

‘But why did I feel shame like that?’ Sasi asks.
‘Because I’m someone you can’t attack or run away from, you needed a different type of response,’ I tell her.
‘I felt like a dog with it’s tail between it’s legs,’ she tells me, pouting her lips in mock hurt and amazing me with her simple, yet spot on interpretation of this instinctive mammalian response.
‘How are you feeling now?’ I ask.
‘I hate you, but I sort of get it.’
‘You understand that you had no conscious control over those reactions at all?’ I ask her.
‘I think so, but that shame thing felt really awful, like something got inside me,’ she says with an involuntary shiver that saw my old shudder sensation respond in sympathy.
‘You probably haven’t experienced shame in that way before,’ I say, ‘I used it in an unhealthy way to dominate you, I’m sorry darling.’
‘You bastard! - Why did you do that?’
‘It was an intuitive reaction darling, I couldn’t think of a better way to give you a sense of innate affect, I’m sorry it was absolutely the wrong thing to do.’
‘That’s the way it was for with you, wasn’t it?’ Sasi tells me, seeming to understand the historical context of my outburst.
‘So shame is an innate affect too?’ She asks.
‘Yes, and just like it did for me as a child, it created a sub-dominant reflexive response in you to limit my attack.’

Shame is one of nine innate affects, which are; interest - excitement, enjoyment - joy, anger - rage, fear - terror, disgust, dissmell, distress - anguish, surprise - startle and shame - humiliation. This form of description shows their range of intensity, except for disgust and dissmell which are a different kinds of innate affect. Innate affects evolved through millions of years of reptilian and mammalian existence, all the way up to higher primates like us.
‘I’m part reptile!!!’ Sasi shrieks.
‘Especially when your being a lounge lizard darling,’ I say with a smile and a wink.
‘What do you mean?’ She demands, and I explain how the reptilian layer of our brain stimulates the parasympathetic branch of our ANS to help us rest and digest, help us to withdraw and heal and passively avoid harmful situations. All our avoidance behaviours are stimulated in this way, under a generalised heading of conservation/withdrawal or immobilization in aid of the organisms survival.
‘If this autonomic thingy evolved through reptile and mammal evolution, why don’t they just call it the animal nervous system, I can relate to that,’ Sasi tells me.
‘Well it’s a bit more complicated than that, darling.’
‘Then un-complicate it darling! All these gobbledegook words like sympathetic, parasympathetic, hyper and hypo, mobilization, immobilization and conservation/withdrawal, just write something people can relate to,’ she demands, eliciting a nonplused shrug of the shoulders from me.
‘Why don’t you teach me more about innate affects, only try to make it a little less boring and more affective,’ she tells me, nodding towards the bedroom with a wink and a laugh.

Sasi has been asleep for more than an hour now as I sit up in bed thinking about how to write this self help book. Where and how to start and how to make it interesting and helpful in a practical way, I can hear Sasi telling me to cut out the gobbledygook. The thought of her makes me smile and I gaze at her sleeping body, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing. It makes me self conscious about my habitual shallow breath and I wonder what part its playing in my tensed concern as I worry about writing. I marvel at how deeply relaxed Sally is with the old “slept like a baby” adage coming to mind as I notice her hands, how her fingers are almost straight where they touch the sheet, while mine are curled up half way to a fist as if I’m ready for a fight. My legs are crossed and held tight against each other as if to stop me from running away. As I ponder my state our cat come sauntering into the room and watch her deep rhythmic breathing, marveling at how relaxed she seems, yet knowing she will be instantly alert to anything unexpected. I remember Sasi’s comment about the animal nervous system, "good point darling, good point!" I can feel my childhood conditioned muscle tension, my braced readiness to unseen danger, reflecting the early experience affect on my autonomic nervous system, it feels like its fighting itself. There is a primitive pattern of overactive sympathetic nervous activity, till I’m exhausted enough for parasympathetic rest and digest. Yet the rest is always inefficient as sympathetic activity remains high, holding me tense even as I dream.

I wonder if I’ve ever slept as soundly as Sasi does, if I’ve ever slept like a baby and I picture the early hours of her life, securely cradled in the arms of a relaxed mother. I think about that foundational experience, the first cry of distress and how it was soothed, I see it right now in the depth of her breathing, her relaxed posture and I’ve always seen it in the innate joy of her glorious smile? I’m reminded of her comment on Allan Schore’s book about affect regulation, how she likes the picture of a mother and baby on the cover, "you have no idea how crucial those first three years are, darling," I think to myself. How important the innate affects of interest - excitement and enjoyment - joy are to the early postnatal development of the brain and autonomic nervous system. How those early affective states, largely evoked by interaction with mother become lifelong personality traits.
The book cover of “Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self”, shows a mother and baby sharing a smiling gaze, as the mother affects a state of elation in her child. Positive, affective states like elation help to promote good brain tissue growth, establishing neural networks in the brain and conditioning our autonomic nervous system, and the foundation of our essentially reactive personality.

I sit up straight and start my deep breathing routine, tilting my head back slightly, incredulous at how much difference this slight adjustment makes. It feels like the volume of oxygen intake is doubled as my habitually tight stomach muscles automatically release and my diaphragm extends. I laugh out loud at the thought of this conscious attention to what Sasi does without care or concern.I focus on relaxing my facial muscles, especially my jaw and the muscles around my eyes, I let my tongue go limp in my mouth and my lips automatically part as I relax more. All this reduces the internal feedback to my brain and my incessant thinking slows down in rhythmic tune with my breathing. After a few minutes I involuntarily stretch my limbs just like the cat and the feline next to me, yet there is simultaneous fear. Why does feeling relaxed disturb me, I wonder, why does it make the mammal in me feel expose and open to attack? I look around, physically showing my senses there is no danger here, then slowly I sink into the unfamiliar luxury of relaxation, a deep sigh invades me as I think of the years it’s taken me to find the clues to my autonomic nervous system state, to come back down into my body, no need to escape into my head anymore.

When Sasiprapha Smiles: Chapter Two

Despite the late night, I woke early the next morning pleased that I seem to wake more refreshed since I started these deep breathing exercises. I gazed at Sasi lying on her back, arms by her sides with her legs almost straight, and try to remember if I have ever seen her sleep in a foetal position.

According to the latest research, what I’m witnessing is her autonomic resting state, as a balanced nervous system allows for optimal metabolism with optimal organ and immune system function.

What I am gazing on is how safe she is feeling at a level deep within her brain and down into her nervous system. She feels secure with seemingly not the slightest sensory perception of threat from either her internal or the external environment. I sit up and automatically cross my legs, feeling a familiar tension as I press them together. I am sure there is less tension than a couple of months ago, when I first became religious about my deep breathing routine as part of a deliberate effort to re-condition my autonomic nervous system. I close my eyes to begin, tilting my head up slightly and smiling in realization of how this happens more spontaneously now, after a while I open my eyes noticing how relaxed and uncrossed my legs are. I feel the increased skin contact with the bed sheets where constricted muscles have eased their defensive tension, and higher oxidisation of circulating blood bringing increased sensory feedback from skin surface to brain.

I look around the room, eyes moving slowly from object to object, making sure to take in the shape, colour and dimension of each item, as if trying to sense the nature of their substance in relation to mine. I’m orienting my sensory perception towards the external world now, finding the right balance between brain neuron, internal and external feedback needs. Am I looking for a Sasi like relaxed yet alert autonomic nervous system activity, a feline calm resting state?

Like most people I had been oblivious to my own hidden autonomic nervous system activity, my unconscious reactions to the world and to myself. How I wish I was wired like Sasi and could remain blissfully unaware of this deeper self, for Sasi life flows with a healthy combination of thought and spontaneous reflexive action, with patterns of neuronal firing and autonomic nervous system activity established by her early experience in the first three years of life. Her early experiences of positive innate affects have become her nerve-based expectation of how the world works and how to be in the world. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy her happy unguarded disposition, begets a similar response from others and her positive vitality is like a force of nature, attracting others like a magnet. I laugh to myself thinking how she‘s living proof of how contagious innate affects are, she infects everyone around her with indescribable pleasure. Yet like everyone else she has forgotten how she was soothed to a calm resting state after her very first breath triggered the innate affect of distress known as the birth cry, forgotten how calm her mother was in her early life, and takes it completely for granted.

Forgotten too, what kind of care she received and what kind of neuronal/nerve-based sensations formed her early experience. I wonder was she constantly held close to her mothers chest and how much she felt skin contact, felt her mothers heartbeat and how often was she in rhythmic synch with her mothers breathing, soothing away any sensations of innate distress?. How often did she see smiling faces that roused sensations of elation within her, this metabolized energy state so vital for healthy brain tissue growth in the first years of life? What percentage of her early sensation experiences were positive, conditioning her nervous system with predominately positive expectation? Of coarse she can’t remember any of this for it was never ever conscious, the foundational experiences that now stimulate her impulsive movements, her thirst for positive sensations and her aversion to anything resembling the negative kind. For example when I want to explain complicated theory to Sasi, the primary innate affect of ‘distress’ is triggered in her brain, a small number of neurons fire for milliseconds stimulating a nervous reaction that demands urgent relief from this negative state of being, hence the instantaneous look of ‘what’s wrong with you,’ as a plea to resume a pleasant sensation experience.

Looking around the room in this early dawn, I’m reminded of Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now,” and his description of the night he first sensed such power, how his awareness of objects in the room changed as he became grounded in calm state. I can relate to his experience as I sit here enjoying a slow rhythmic breathing, mindful of keeping my facial muscles relaxed and relieved that I can’t think much while in this state. I wonder if I’m finding switches in the sensory feedback loops between my body and brain, and instantly these thoughts bring a certain tension to my checks as if I’m posturing a face of concern. The very idea that I can consciously affect my own internal feedback loops has been a revelation in the last few months and I try it in the other direction tensing my face like a Greek mask of tragedy, sure enough it brings on a surge of thinking with a concerned tone. Thoughts of Greek masks and muscular feedback loops between the body and the brain brings to mind an image of the Buddha, and I turn to look at Sasi’s large painting hanging above our bed. It’s a famous one of his serene looking face with eyes closed and presumably contemplating his breath. His supremely serene look reveals a conspicuous lack of muscular tension and it reminds me how the facial muscles are used as a signalling system to other animals.
The face gives unique feedback to others about our internal state, those two hundred muscles in the face can display an amazing variety and subtlety of emotional state. Yet the muscle spasms also work in the opposite direction, as sensory feedback signals to our own brain which also trigger innate affects. Hence my concerned thoughts when I contort my face, how I must have triggered the innate affect of distress, which stimulated the surge and tone of thinking. Looking at the Buddha I wonder how much he knew back then, how much he understood what he was actually doing in his meditative state. Its taken centuries for science and the magic of MRI scans to even begin to reveal the hidden networks of our brains neural stimulation of the autonomic nervous system, only now are we beginning to understand the secret of the Buddha’s repose. "He not only relaxes every muscle, he closes his eyes to further reduce sensory feedback," I say to myself.

I get up before Sasi wakes, needing to make amends for my stunt with shame affect last night. I make a breakfast and bring it to her, placing the tray on her bedside table I lean over and kiss her check.
‘Darling,’ she rolls over to face me and starts to stretch her silky limbs, making some delicious waking noises, delicious because Sasi has the purest, untainted innate affect expressions I’ve ever experienced. We share breakfast together with the usual pleasant banter, although there’s some sense of distance this morning, a slightly gnawing tension, the feeling that something is off with our banter more formulaic than spontaneous, more like a series of well rehearsed one liners. A little later after dressing and preparing for work, Sasi comes to bid me farewell.
‘Have a good day darling, don’t work too hard,’ she tells me with a slight tone of sarcasm in her voice.
‘You too darling,’ I say with a genuinely warm smile.
‘Perhaps you can manage half a dozen paragraphs today,’ Sasi says as she turns to walk away, our customary kiss no where in sight.

‘Ouch!’ I say, knowing how much I deserve it and wondering if this will be enough to disperse the negative affect that is now unconsciously motivating her. Sasi is angry with me, but can’t give the affect/emotion its full innate expression, angry outbursts, screaming, hitting are not normally part of her emotional repertoire. I wonder if she will unwittingly take it out on some poor soul at work and my head drops knowing that trying to talk to her now will probably make it worse. Her anger is largely unconscious and it’s expression is consciously unacceptable to the good socially responsible person Sasi was raised to be. Her conscious sense of self is fighting her unconscious self, fighting her innate instinctual affects by denying instinct as part of her personality, even though her repressed anger is a perfectly natural and legitimate response. Like any animal attacked, as she was last night, her freeze/fight/flight/fright defense system is active and she also feels anger as frustration with her unconscious shame response. She is trying hard to model good social behavior, being what she should be, yet her usual flowing persona is submerged now, replaced by simulated positive affects in the postured pretense of good manners.

What should I do? Should I do something stupid and admit it to her, thereby giving her the chance to chastise me and gain the upper hand, the dominant position while I assume a sub-dominant subservient posture. Or should I find an antidote for her negative state, an anti-affect that will drown the bad feelings that now energize her unconscious reactions. I reach for the telephone book and look up the adverts for singing telegrams, finding a guy who sings and tells jokes, a dozen red roses and bottle of Champaign should warm the office proceedings as well. As I put down the phone I pray that it goes down well, fantasizing that contagious laughter from the other girls, will infect Sasi too. An hour later and alone in the house I anxiously wait for a phone call, wishing there was someone here to affect me to a joyous state. I put on my favourite music instead and notice the steady reduction in anxiety as my senses are affected by the rhythmic sounds.

I’m reminded of affect regulation theory again, of inter-regulation and intra-regulation and my fantasy images of Sasi at the office with singing telegram man making everybody laugh. Such internal fantasy is intra-regulation as I try to alleviate my fears and guilt by using my imagination to stimulate a positive affective state within myself, neurologists call this auto-stimulation. Hopefully if all goes well Sasi will have her negative state changed by the inter-regulating affect of those around her, their infectious laughter will trigger the innate affect of joy in Sasi. Just as this music is triggering innate joy in me, with the negative affect of distress swamped by a surge of electrochemical activity, a joyous and positive affective state.

Time to write I decide and sit down at my desk gazing at an intimidating blank sheet of paper, "will the writing flow today" I wonder. I make a start and find that ideas and writing come without constraint, with continuing energy fueled by relief that I’m not held back like yesterday. I can feel nervous excitation in my body as my legs pulse with rhythmic movements and the idea of taking a notepad to a cafĂ© springs to mind. I remind myself to stay calm and try to sense what’s happening here, the Buddha comes into mind again as I remember the Buddhist concept of sensing the gap between the spark and the flame.

An involuntary nod of the head overcomes me as I see the parallel to innate affects as the flints that light our emotions, stimulating our energy and movement. I think about the nine innate affects and wonder what neurons and their electrochemical activity is stimulating my nervous system right now. Of the three evolutionary layers in my brain, which layer is having the most affect on my autonomic (animal) nervous system? It feels like the higher layer of my brain is functioning ok, at least in the thinking department its responsible for, yet the lower layers seem to be stimulating fight/flight adrenalin with a nervous sensation in my legs and the irresistible urge to move.

"Where did that analysis come from," I wonder, I doubt the Buddha would have had such thoughts, he’d never heard of Darwin or Allan Schore or Stephen Porges, and could it be true that newly acquired knowledge can rewire the brain? Have some new neural connections formed in my brain, finding synaptic associations in all the written words that my eyes have scanned lately, and somehow been deemed worthy of memory? How much of my minds current associative ideas, my brains synaptic connectivity is taking place in the hot limbic (mammalian) emotional region of my brain and how much neuronal activity is happening in the so called, cooler and logical frontal cortex region?

Autonomic nervous system urge wins out and I decide to walk to my favourite coffee shop, rationalising my decision with thoughts of giving my hyperactive vigilance something to do, allowing space for some creative thinking. While walking along I try to visualise what’s going on inside my brain, over one trillion cells, one hundred billion neurons, with each neuron capable of five thousand synaptic connections. "There’s a whole galaxy of activity going on in there," I think, imaging electrochemical storms as bursts of energy which coalesce to form new ideas, just like a star filled nebula. "Now there’s limbic region activity for you."

While walking, I pass by the path into the woods that I had trod yesterday, it sparks an implicit memory of that experience and my shudder of shame. A storm of thoughts is released and I wonder if I’m brave enough to trigger the shudder here on this very public footpath. Of coarse the thoughts trigger memories triggering the dreaded sensation and I close my eyes while pausing to fight off the feeling of collapse, "this is a body memory," I say to myself.

Where is it from and what is it for though? Are these objective questions about an instinctual reaction that has nothing to do with object oriented logic or higher brain function. In Sasi’s animal nervous system view, it’s an instinctual reaction to the memory of a perceived threat. I guess those neurons in my brain don’t know the difference between an actual and self stimulated threat, blindly responding to internal feedback. I cast my mind back to the shudder’s first appearance as I faced my fathers rage, I think I was about six or seven years old then and the memory is fuzzy, making it more vivid threatens to completely undo me. Dad wasn’t being particularly violent that day, there were no blows from his clenched fists, yet the emotional rage had felt like such utter contempt and disgust for his own child. Perhaps that particular outburst was the straw that broke the camels back so to speak, the cumulative effect/affect of his almost daily unpredictable rage filled rants.

I stand completely still for a moment now, evoking the scene again and daring myself to feel the absolute depth of this sensation. In this moment of deep reflection I realise that the shudder is not about shame but inescapable terror and a biological urge to escape by feigning death, a vestige of mammalian heritage in my autonomic nervous system. I’m now fifty seven years old and this is the first time I’ve used the word terror in connection with that event or my fathers daily behavior. Events I’ve described many times in group and individual therapy sessions, not knowing until today, or perhaps not being able to admit to myself until now the reality of my father terrorising his own child.

It is to simple to suggest that this one event is the sum cause of my lifelong nervous hyperactivity, although it adds to the explanation of my irrational fear of people. Unconsciously, what I fear is that people will trigger that same dreaded reaction, it’s the expectation of such negative sensation I fear, not the reality of any current situation and I can now see how my conscious mind was confused by the numbness this biological reaction evokes. I take a few minutes to breath deeply and calm myself, reclaiming my equilibrium and soothing my nervous system to lower activity before proceeding to the cafe. Fortunately my favourite coffee place is quiet and I settle into a comfortable armchair by the upstairs window, slowly beginning to sketch out ideas for the opening chapters. A triune layered brain and nervous system, the very first sensations of life triggers the innate affect distress, an innate affect is a whole body physiological reaction encompassing an increase or decrease in metabolic rate to energise or de-energise the brain/body.

The human brain’s postnatal maturing in the first three years of life, is dependant on interaction with adult brains which trigger innate affects, energizing metabolic states vital for the further growth of the brains neural networks and systems. A mix of innate affects become the platform for our complex emotionality, based on the density of early positive or negative experiences. Each family has a generational mode of affect/emotion expression, which is generally either predominately positive or negative with a generally open or closed bias towards sensation experience. Our object orientated perceptual bias, is a coping mechanism unconsciously affected by our upright locomotion. The brain and the body function largely by systems of electrochemical activity, poorly described and deeply misunderstood using object metaphors as descriptors.

‘I told the guy he’s crazy if he thinks I’m working for less than double pay on a weekend.’
The volume of his voice had interrupted my train of thought, drawing my attention to the three men now sitting at a nearby table.
‘I tell you that son of a bitch would have us work for peanuts if he could get away with it.’
The voluminous voice belongs to a large man flanked by two others who are nodding in earnest agreement. I sit and watch for a while as the big man holds court, always interrupting any comments made by his friends, always topping any tale by the other two with a bigger yarn of his own. He must be at least six three in height, big barrel chest with his raised jaw pushed slightly forward, clearly proud of his dominance in this particular hierarchy. The other two have slightly lower head postures when sitting passively, chins pointing down and inwards, constricting the windpipe and triggering an instinctual sub-dominate posture, here is a situational response of appropriate shame. I wonder if this is the emotional echo of the life eats life law of survival which all animals are subject to? Of coarse we all deny that, we are certainly not animals after all, even though we can be the most creatively destructive creatures on the planet.

I shake my head at my cynical thoughts, wondering about my own character defining early innate affect experiences, fear, distress, anger, are these what Carl Jung would call my emotional complex? I muse about my birth experience too, wondering if the three days of struggle followed by an unceremonious forceps delivery could be described as birth trauma, and what does go on inside the brain/body prior to birth? I wonder what affect the pre-birth experience has, what goes on before the first breath which triggers the innate affect of distress as a signal for support? I wonder if generally speaking we are unconsciously immersed in defensively triggered innate affects and whether we grow out of it, certainly the sarcastic humor of my childhood was fueled by unconscious innate affect reactions.
‘Well, back to work guys, can’t keep the boss man waiting.’

I watch the men troupe out of the cafe, noting the ranking order in their procession with big man out front of coarse. None of this behaviour is consciously acknowledged by any of the men, they are just three buddies sharing a work break, and I wonder how much my own observations are biased by a ranking need to feel myself as superior, stronger. Would I have simply joined in with the rank and status game if I had been invited into the group, of coarse I would for there was more going on than just ranking behaviour. They shared jokes and received the vitality affects of smiles and laughter, the boosts to the immune system and so on, and what does it really matter if most of the jokes came from one man, there is now no doubt about the essential need of vitality affects from such social interactions.

Time for me to go too, I have an important candle light dinner to prepare for my darling. As I rise from the chair I notice how knotted my stomach muscles have become again, "so much for relaxation exercises," I say to myself.
While walking home I struggle to feel a solid sense of earth beneath my feet, aware that I have retreated inside again with to much concerned thinking triggering innate distress, the locus of my metabolic energy oriented to my head. It’s been a strange month, staying home alone to write, I feel like I’m loosing my accustomed sense of self, instead of being immersed in work activities and surrounded by people, I feel like I’m falling in on myself. The normal day to day inter-reactions with other people and the unconscious compass that provides is falling away as I channel all my energies into thoughts about this book.

Upon reaching home, I feel somewhat tired and drained, and decide to take a short nap before I prepare the meal. I lay face down on the bed, wanting to get a feel of stomach muscles against the mattress. I try to find a better felt sense of my internal state, I can feel a pressure in my head, a blood flow that I’ve somehow stimulated with my earnest concerned thinking. It feels like a flight from my body to a large degree, and I wonder how I am organizing it, what am I doing to stimulate this affective state? I sense the tightness in my chest and my habitual shallow breathing, the legacy of childhood asthma, I feel a hard knot in my stomach and a pinching of my anal sphincter muscle. The Hakomi phrase ‘How do you do’ comes into my mind, and how it translates to ‘how are you doing YOU?’

I wonder which innate affects are firing in my brain to spark this internal state, as if I’m trying to escape, but from what? I think about my realisation on the way to the coffee shop, and if I do have an unconscious sense of terror, then this escape sensation I’m feeling makes sense in terms of an animal nervous system response. I think about the four part autonomic nervous system response to threat, freeze/fight/flight/fright, and wonder if I use the fright end of that spectrum to channel much of my body’s metabolic energy into my head? Perhaps this helps generate my constant thinking, and is my lifelong preference for the intellect an adaptation of an unresolved terror reaction?

I remember that arousal and metabolic energy is largely to do with heart rate and stress response. Still lying face down, I bring my focus of attention to my chest area, with immediate affect to internal feedback signals. I feel a relaxing of muscles in my stomach and I suddenly sense my legs, I feel a fight between thought filled awareness and felt awareness. As I try to shift awareness of sensation away from my head and into my body, I’m a bit dismayed at the strong resistance to orienting awareness away from constant thinking, away from my head. I concentrate on feeling my chest muscles, sensing what tensions I can and trying not to think, "why do I find it so hard to let go of thinking."

Slowly I feel a drifting down, the sensation of relaxing muscles and tensions, and a slowing of thoughts in tune with my deeper breathing. Keep it up, I say to myself, sensing that this is different to the sitting position, of deep breathing exercises. I try to bring more felt attention to my chest muscles, feeling an increasing depth to my breathing, as well as a definite undoing of those knots in my stomach. Involuntary deep breaths overtake me, and I become aware of more internal feedback, more sensory awareness of my body as I continue this re-orienting of metabolized energy away from my head. As I stay with this focus on my chest area feeling an expanded rhythmic rise and fall, and slowly becoming aware of muscle tensions in my face, particularly my jaw.

A deep sigh overtakes me now as I remember that tension in the jaw is seen as a sign of repressed anger, although it’s no surprise that anger could be one of the innate affects that stimulate my normal energy state. As I re-orient to this feeling of just being here without thinking, I become aware of tensions in my checks and around my eyes, finding that the more I let go of these tensions, the less pressure of thought there is. Awareness of pressure at the top of my head, reminds me how affect/emotion is used to generate metabolic energy states in the form of increased blood flow through the brain. Is that blood pressure I can feel? I wonder, and thoughts about this sensation at the top of my head shifts orientation and energy up there again. I continue to practice this felt awareness of my chest muscles, with thoughts about heart rate and metabolic energy alternating with sensations of muscle relaxation, particularly in my stomach, anus and legs, and thoughts like, why does sensing my body like this feel so weird?

Bang! I’m jolted awake by the sound of our bedroom door being slammed shut, opening my eyes to see the bedside clock showing 6.30pm, "oh no!" I rise and wonder out to the kitchen where Sasi is busy unloading food from the fridge, about to start cooking the meal I promised myself I’d make.
‘Hi darling’ I say, feeling sheepish and more than a little guilty. Sasi continues her search of the fridge contents, ignoring my lame greeting.
‘Did you have a good day?’ I ask, bracing myself for the look when she turns around. Sasi straightens herself and turns slowly indicating just how bad this going to be. She fixes me with a look that is somehow beyond contempt, making me feel I’m even not worthy of that and I smile meekly like a five year old who’s been caught red handed doing something naughty.
‘How was the Champaign?’ I ask, in a vain attempt to defrost the atmosphere. She turns away in silence, moving to a bench top area to start the food preparation. This is going to be a long night and I wonder how close I should get while she has a weapon in her hand?

I decide to give the tension time to dissipate and head for the bathroom to freshen up. While showering I notice unusual sensations, with a newer felt awareness of where I am and what I’m doing, I feel the pleasant sensation of the water splashing against my skin much more than usual, with slower more deliberate movements than I would normally use. Usually I rush through this exercise, busy thinking about something or other and almost totally lost to this feeling of being in the now as Eckhart Tolle might say. "So this is what re-balancing my autonomic, animal nervous system feels like," I think. I have thoughts about attempts to use computer metaphor to describe affect/emotion and the brains functioning, telling myself I must be re-configuring my operating system. "Stop thinking!" I think, "just feel it," I say out loud.

I finish showering and slowly shave, brush my teeth and get dressed, wondering if I’m savoring this ‘now’ sensation or avoiding the time to face the music, before wondering back into the kitchen with the sensual delights of cooking filling my nostrils.
‘Can I help?’ I ask.
‘Set the table,’ Sasi barks, without turning to look.
‘You could always throw something, as long as it’s not hot or sharp,’ I suggest.
‘Don’t be stupid - Oh! Sorry you can’t help it can you,’ she fires back.
‘Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Your so pathetic,’ Sasi tells me, still refusing to look at me.
‘If your angry then be angry, don’t give me this childish cold shoulder crap’ I tell her.
‘Childish! Childish! You’re the one who’s freaking childish, pretending you can write a book, when all you do is hang around the house and sleep!’
‘It’s hard work darling.’
Sasi freezes with carving knife in mid air trying to comprehend my incredulous comment.
‘Don’t darling me! - I agreed to let you spend a year writing while I support both of us, if you can’t write grow up and go back to work,’ she demands.
‘It will come darling, I just need time to deepen my insight.’
‘It’s been a month already and all you’ve done is read more books and write two lousy pages,’ Sasi shouts at me.
‘And?’ I say.
‘Your so pathetic, you really are!’ She says jamming the point of the knife hard into the wooden craving block.
‘That’s better darling.’
‘Fuck you! You arrogant prick’ Sasi shouts, picking up a dinner plate and hurling it towards me. I duck, twisting to watch the plate whistle over my head and carry on through the open door to the hallway, where it lands on the shag pile carpet without breaking.
‘Amazing! - Anymore?’ I say.
‘I fucking hate you!’ Sasi screams as she hurls another plate to the tiled floor, smashing it to pieces. With tears rolling down her cheeks now, she pushes me to the floor as she passes by on her way to the bedroom. I feel the words, ‘What about dinner?’ Rise in my throat, but resist the temptation, acknowledging it as a pure dominance urge, then my head drops down as guilt and shame consume me and I pray she’s vented her anger now.

Anger is an innate affect that can be suppressed, modulated or simulated and Sasi suppresses hers like most people do in accordance with the social rules of good behaviour and their ability to cope with the stimulated internal sensations. Since my stunt with shame affect, Sasi has been suppressing her anger through denial, which is stimulated by innate distress as an aversion to experiencing negative sensations. Denial also as a resistance to expressing anger towards her life partner, risking the threat of separation, and with little experience of anger as an nervous sensation such feelings threaten her from within. Like the old saying, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”, it is the innate affect and its stimulated sensations that we fear, not the object that has triggered our innate affects. Innate affects are biological - physiological, whole body, instinctual responses, evolved to enhance our prospects of survival.

We confuse this animal foundation to our being with our higher faculty of mind, rationalising and seeing pathology in little understood and mostly denied, innate affect responses. Sasi’s unacknowledged fears of losing our relationship and her aversion to the sensations innate anger stimulates within her, manifest in distress stimulated denial which has blocked her giving full expression to her justified anger. With a different life experience, Sasi may have defended herself forthrightly at the first instance of my attack on her, when I’d triggered an innate shame response. Having had little experience of such negative affects, like anger or distress and certainly not the unhealthy side of shame known as humiliation, Sasi has struggled with sensations her life experience has not prepared her for, emotions her social nature finds threatening. She struggled to keep this emotional energy cool, even though it is generated through the reptilian and mammalian layers of the brain and is not cool in its instinctual nature, evolved over millions of years to compel us to physical movement.

To be continued:

copyright©2010 David Bates