Friday, July 5, 2013

Dis-Eased Minds, The Body & Mental Illness Pt 2

Is neuroscience raising the Titanic? An embodied sense of Self?
In "metaphoric" terms is the "Lost City of Atlantis,"  The Body?
From around about age two, we are all taught to suppress the spontaneous flow of the vitalizing internal energies, we call emotion.

Expressing raw emotion in the way young children do, suddenly becomes frowned upon, just as it is in the unacceptable behaviors of the apparently, mentally ill.

We are all encouraged to shy away from awareness of our own body. "No, no, no," begins the socialization phase of acceptable human behavior, as we learn to suppress our vital nature.

"Raising the Titanic, The Lost City of Atlantis, as metaphors about the body and its role in creating the human mind?" "What have you been smoking Batesy?" "Have you taken too many happy pills today?" You may be thinking? Yet recall from Dis-Eased Minds, The Body & Mental Illness Pt 1;

“Body and mind function in mutual feedback loops. 
The state of the body reflects the mind, and the state of the mind reflects the body."

In our “mainstream” understanding of mental illness, we assume that sufferers are affected by a disease of the brain, its common knowledge after all, affirming our simplistic commonsense? Yet do we normally shy away from internal awareness, to the extent that we’re in denial about the body’s role in mental illness? As many eminent authors point out, there are some interesting discoveries in neurobiological research, routinely ignored by a culture of “intellectualism,” which is not yet ready to explore the foundational nature of our thoughts, and the body’s role in the creation of the human mind. As the images in these posts suggest, we look very different on the inside, to our everyday, (surface image) sense of ourselves. Let me ask you a question. "How much do you know yourself on the inside, where all your mind's perceptions of experience are created?"

Our ability to appropriately suppress such raw metabolic energies as pure "elation," becomes a sign of our mature adulthood. Metabolic energies which build the neural connectivity of the brain and nervous systems, begin to be suppressed for the sake of social equilibrium. Normal development produces a "socially-adapted," need of survival in human beings, while thwarted development leads to what scientists like to call "pathology." Yet what exactly is "pathology" when it comes to the human mind, and just how self-aware, are our well educated scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists, in relation to their own sub-conscious "ego-function?" Please consider;

In a wider sense of the word, the ego itself is pathological, no matter what form it takes. When we look at the ancient Greek root of the word pathological, we discover just how appropriate that term is when applied to the ego. Although the word is normally used to describe a condition of disease, it is derived from pathos, which means suffering. This is, of course, exactly what the Buddha already discovered 2,600 years ago as a characteristic of the human condition.

For example, anger or resentment strengthen the ego enormously by increasing the sense of separateness, emphasizing the otherness of others and creating a seemingly unassailable fortress like mental position of “rightness.”

If you were able to observe the physiological changes that take place inside your body when possessed by such negative states, how they adversely affect the functioning of the heart, the digestive and immune systems, and countless other bodily functions, it would become abundantly clear that such states are indeed pathological, are forms of suffering and not pleasure.”
Exerts from “A NEW EARTH” by Eckhart Tolle.

This is another post that I started months ago and have set aside until now. As I wrote (here), I've learned to wait on nature's wisdom, and the unfolding of life's journey. Learned, over the last six years, how the cycles of my body/mind work, in digesting new knowledge, with an ongoing experiential integration. For example; I've been puzzled by the need to deny the body's role in mental illness, within a community which sees itself as being anti-psychiatry, or biological-psychiatry, to use its most common catch-phrase. Since Febuary 2011, I've been suggesting (from an "intuitive" position) at first, that Stephen Porges "The Polyvagal Theory," is a paradigm shift, in the science of human development, and that such perspectives, allow us to understand the human condition, from a non-pathologizing perception, including so-called mental illnesses.

Perception, is an important word here, with the main psychological issue in my six year journey, being a need to "percieve," rather than "judge," the reality of my own, dis-eased mind states. My subjective expereince of euphoric psychosis, or Bipolarity's, mania, to use another simplistic, commonsense term. Having, by now, learned the implicit, subconscious functioning, of Porges profound discovery of our face--heart connection, I still experience flights of euphoric intuition, about life, and my own nature, yet I now know how to ground those seemingly manic thoughts, within their creator, my body. I now understand the rush of intuitive excitement, labeled mania, by those in need of a pathological judgement, as the heightened states of natural awareness, created by my nervous systems, in their mobilization of my metabolic energies, and its "affect" on the thresholds and clarity, of my subjective awareness.

The Face--Heart Connection & The Body as Creator of our Mind?

My inproved self-regulation, comes with a felt-realiztion, of my face-heart connection.

Its July 5th 2013, and I woke this morning with an old familiar feeling of constriction in my chest, I’ve got a dose of the winter flu. Again, you may thinking about my smoking habits, and wondering what this could possibly have to do with the experience of so-called mental illness? It relates to our “core” implicit self, and our major organs of, heart, brain, lungs, and stomach. It relates to the profound shift now emerging within the research field of psycho-physiology, and new concepts of self-regulation involving a deeper appreciation of the metabolic needs, for our emotions. A new appreciation for the way we form, our variable states of “attention.”

This morning, I woke in an old habitual, mind-filled state of “concern,” with a negative physiological state, which colored my thoughts with a mild sense of dread, sapping my energy and my appreciation for this gift, that is my life. Yet thanks to my now, three years of constant practice, I understand how this old, habitual physiological state, is affecting my mind, and how this “energetic” state is energized by my heart. I understand how to let-go my old subconscious tendency to hyper-vigilance, with its variable degrees of organizing my “attention.” I feel it, these days, in my face. Hence the picture of Buddha above, to ask readers to notice how sublimely free of muscular tension, Buddha’s serene face is? This Prince of sense-ability, so gifted in his teaching, he left us, his most important lessons, in simple postural images. These days I simply let-go of “automatic” nervous system, states of awareness attention, by relaxing, with a felt-sense, all tensions, within my head, my face. Imediately, their is a shift towards relaxed, spontaneous breathing, and an unclenching of habitual knots in my tummy, a sure sign I'm in an "autonomic," vigilance mode.

I understand though, how difficult it is to take in this simple reality, when we are raised towards an awareness of ourselves, as the thoughts within our mind? It took me two years of living in a different culture, to even begin to “get it.” So immersed in our educated Western culture, I couldn’t even imagine this felt-sense-of-self, because, paradoxically, traumatic experience, reinforces a mind-filled sense-of-self. My mind was always my refuge, although a fearful one, until I began to understand the “autonomic” nature of my thinking. Negative thinking patterns I could not break, no matter how much cognitive behavior therapy, or any other cognitive approach, I tried. Stress, would always bring back self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, until I began to look inside myself. Learned, first, how my brain/nervous system should be working, and then began the slow process of reconditioning, unconscious processes, which become an “expectation,” of reality, rather than an “in the moment” perception. My fearful, nervous anxiety, subconsciously, expected bad things to happen, hence, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In 2011, when I first began to blog about my ongoing journey, a reading of Peter Levine’s method’s of trauma resolution, with his concept of “charge” and “discharge,” led to practice a daily, mind-less meditation, focused on my chest, my heart. A practice which is well known to people familiar with the HeartMath Institute, and their work on organism “coherence,” focused on an emerging new science of the heart. Please consider;

“HeartMath tools and techniques can be divided into two basic categories: (1) positive emotion refocusing techniques and (2) emotional restructuring techniques. Below we describe one example from each category: the Freeze-Frame and Heart Lock-In techniques. These tools are intentionally designed as simple, easy-to-use interventions that can be adapted to virtually any culture or age group. They are free of religious or cultural bias, and most people feel an enjoyable emotional shift and experience a broadened perception the first time that they use them.”

The Steps of Freeze-Frame:
1. Take a time-out so that you can temporarily disengage from your thoughts and feelings—especially stressful ones.

2. Shift your focus of attention to the area around your heart—now feel your breath coming in through your heart and out through your solar plexus. (Practice breathing this way a few times to ease into the technique).

3. Make a sincere effort to activate a positive feeling.
(This can be a genuine feeling of appreciation or care for someone, some place or something in your life.)

4. Ask yourself what would be an efficient, effective attitude or action that would balance and de-stress your system.

5. Quietly sense any change in perception or feeling and sustain it as long as you can.
(Heart perceptions are often subtle. They gently suggest effective solutions that would be best for you and all concerned.)

Please compare this HeartMath exercise with my advice about calming bipolar symptoms:

Lay down on your tummy like the lady here, sinking down into the bed or floor as much as you can. It is important you try to feel as much of the fabric beneath you as possible, Try to feel your internal organs dropping or pressing down against the fabric texture.
Now feel the area of your heart, feel the muscular tension there in your chest. As you make contact with body sensations notice any tingling in your toes & finger tips. Try to feel and not think, let go & sink deeper into your body, falling down, way down. As you let go of tensions in this area of your chest relax any tensions in your face.

Focus awareness on your chest, the area around your heart, let go and sink down, letting go any tension around your mouth, your jaw and in your tongue. If you can focus on sensing your heart and the muscles in your chest, you should notice an involuntary deepening of your breath. Notice the increased awareness of feedback sensations from your limbs, your fingers and toes.

As you continue to feel your heart, letting go of muscular tensions, notice any slowing & deepening of your breath. Notice any further relaxing of regions of your body where contact has been outside your awareness. You should notice an increased awareness of your limbs and your posterior, with the sphincter muscle of your anus letting go of autonomic constriction there.

Notice the temptation to escape body sensations and return to a thought based energy discharge, while you're trying to feel your body. Practice for a few minutes the sensations of coming into relaxed body states, and the habitual flight into mind of an unconscious, autonomic response, your comfort zone. This gradual experiencing of unconscious defense, the tensions, the habitual thinking, will bring you into contact with your autonomic nervous system's response, caused by innate affect stimulating the vagal tone of your heart.

On first introduction to this approach, try for a few minutes each day to get a feel for the difference between your habitual autonomic nervous system tensions, and the more relaxed heart tones possible through thoughtless relaxation? As you go about your daily routine try to spend a few seconds now and then, relaxing every muscle you can feel within your face. Relax any tension in your jaw, around your eyes and let your tongue lie relaxed in your mouth, your lips allowed to part as you inhale with relaxed chest muscles. Feel the feedback signals from your muscles that have maintained this autonomic activity below your conscious awareness. (Read more here)

* * *

As this statement from heartmath indicates, the benefits of a self-realization, of our face-heart connection, are profoundly positive for our emotional wellness;

“As previously stated, the Freeze-Frame technique is designed to enable individuals to intercede in real time while stress is being experienced—rather than try to recuperate after the fact. The benefits of this cannot be overstated. Using Freeze-Frame in the “heat of the moment” saves tremendous amounts of energy that otherwise would have been drained and often prevents hours of emotionally-induced wear and tear on the body and psyche. It can also reduce the time and energy spent dealing with the consequences of impulsive decisions or emotionally charged reactions, such as regret, embarrassment, guilt, accidents, and damaged relationships.

One of the long-term benefits to be gained from the practice of emotion refocusing techniques is increased emotional awareness, a fundamental step in the process of improving emotional well-being. In addition to helping people modify their responses to stressful events in the external environment, such techniques also help individuals identify and modify more subtle “internal” stressors (i.e., persistent self-defeating and energy-depleting thought patterns and feelings, such as anxiety, fear, hurt, resentment, judgmentalism, perfectionism, and projections about the future).

As individuals practice “freezing the frame” when feeling inner turmoil, they gain increased awareness of the habitual mental and emotional processes that underlie their stress, and become more able to catch the onset of these feelings and patterns, thus diminishing their influence. Most individuals find the Freeze-Frame technique applicable to a variety of purposes beyond stress reduction. Additional applications include: facilitating decision making and problem solving, increasing mental focus and clarity, enhancing creativity, improving work and sports performance, improving communication effectiveness, and increasing team coherence. Since the technique takes only a minute or less to employ, many people report using it frequently throughout the day to clear their “mental screen” and consciously add a higher quality of emotional experience to their daily activities.” (read more here)

Your heart is so much more than a pump, it has its own intelligence.

Are my "metaphors" about raising the Titanic, about what's hidden within us?

* * *

So What is the Face -- Heart Connection?
The Facial Reactions of our Primary Emotions, which Cannot tell a Lie?

And What is the Connection to Mental Illness?

Safety! & "Autonomic-Unconscious" Nervous Reactions.

Safety, as an inner sensation, not a mind-based concept. Its that feeling of inner-security the late, great, John Bowlby and developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth called our "secure-base," and our fundamental need of attachment to others, for healthy physical and emotional/mental, functioning. Consider;

"Attachment theory describes the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans. Its most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Attachment theory explains how much the parents relationship with the child influences development.

Attachment theory is an interdisciplinary study encompassing the fields of psychological, evolutionary, and ethological theory. Immediately after World War II, homeless and orphaned children presented many difficulties, and psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby was asked by the UN to write a pamphlet on the issue which he entitled maternal deprivation. Attachment theory grew out of his subsequent work on the issues raised.

Research by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1960s and 70s reinforced the basic concepts, introduced the concept of the "secure base" and developed a theory of a number of attachment patterns in infants: secure attachment, avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. A fourth pattern, disorganized attachment, was identified later." See: Attachment theory

Feeling safe within, having a secure-base, is now increasingly understood, as being as vital to our physical, emotional and mental health, as oxygen is for our ongoing survival. All the research and fearless thinking of the 1950's, has been recently updated by a surge in high tech neuroscience research from the 1990's on. Feeling unsafe within, not having a secure-base, "autonomically" triggers our ancient freeze/flight/fight defenses, through a process professor Stephen Porges calls "neuroception?"

Prince Siddhartha - The Buddha
When we don't feel safe within, when we have no secure-sense-of self, the resulting muscular tension, is written all over our face, as the examples of primary affect/emotions above, clearly show. Hence my reference to the Buddha's serene face in my previous post, and its remarkable absence of muscular tension.

Did this Prince of Sense-Ability understand an inner reality, for which modern science is only now unveiling "empirical evidence?" Does Stephen Porges "The Polyvagal Theory" provide us with the scientific proof of ancient wisdom's about the mind-body connection? See Mental Illness - Psychological & Physiological? and Discovering a Paradigm Shift in Mental Health?

Test muscle tension feedback signals yourself?

Relax the muscular tensions of your head and face, your jaw, around your eyes and your tongue. Be mindful of spontaneous shifts in your breathe as your thoughts slow down? Feel this action, don't try to focus thoughts on it and you will feel the spontaneous actions of your auto nervous system. The mind gets in the way of our instinctive nature and interrupts our auto nervous system in its job of maintaining balance. Feel how feedback signals from muscle tensions fire your thoughts? Let go of your minds need to know and your auto nervous system takes over, doing the job millions of years of evolution designed it for?

Head Muscles Send Feedback our Autonomic Nervous System:

Over two hundred muscles in the head & face supply feedback signals for this newly discovered 3rd branch of our auto nervous system. This highest level of nervous system function fine tunes the activity in the older levels, allowing for easy self calming. It is this easy, unconscious self calming which is missing in the bipolar experience, with social interaction far less spontaneous.

Example: In my own experience of excessive emotional abuse (shame-humiliation), I habitually (unconsciously) held my chin tucked in. After raising my awareness of auto nervous system reactions, I've managed to correct this unconscious habit. A slight change in posture makes an enormous difference to automatic body responses. Automatically deeper breathes, spontaneous relaxation of stomach muscles, more vital feedback throughout my nervous system. Previously I had been trapped in automatic (unconscious) Freeze/Flight/Fight reactions.

Once you understand the importance of head muscle tensions in sending signals back to your brain, as well as signaling others you can access an easy automatic self calming.

FELT Awareness Exercise:
Relax the muscular tensions of your head and face, your jaw, around your eyes and your tongue. Be mindful of spontaneous shifts in your breathe as your thoughts slow down? Be mindful of sensations in your toes and fingers as your senses come into balance? Feel this action, don't try to focus thoughts on it and you will feel the spontaneous reactions of your autonomic nervous system?

Practicing a mindful observation of automatic nervous system activity in this way will bring you back into a natural body/brain/mind balance. Over time a new awareness of your inner self can reduce a reliance on medications alone and bring you a more holistic sense of wellness. (read more here)

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A Buddhist Perspective on Mental Suffering:
Most people in the Western world, love the mind and the power of its creations, and rightly so, yet true presence in reality does not negate the power of the mind, it simply offers a way out of suffering. Suffering generated by our own mind, due to confusion about the distinct difference between objects of reality and the mental objects of the mind, as NOT real?

Buddhism has one essential purpose: liberation from suffering.
All it is saying is, you cannot defeat the fantasies of your mind, by staying within your mind.
You need to come out of your mind and enter reality.

This is why “attenuating” thought allows us , quite naturally and without effort - in other words, spontaneously - to implement the second power of Buddha-ness (truly awake): presence in reality.

In true reality, there is no suffering!

This is a simple truth, which is difficult for us to accept.
Again, using an extreme example:
You have just lost a loved one.
You think that reality is the cause of your suffering, because in reality the person you have lost is no longer there for you.

But this is precisely the Buddha’s point?
In reality that person is no longer there, but that’s ALL.
In acceptance of true reality, there is no suffering.

The sun continues to rise, the clouds continue to sail across the sky and the birds continue to sing.
Your suffering, is only “inside” you.
Yet you think that reality is the cause of your suffering, and you mistakenly, unknowingly, attribute your suffering to “reality” itself.

But “suffering” is not an object which can be found anywhere in true reality.
Suffering, is a “mental state.”
In other words, suffering is “inside” your mind, not in reality.
A famous Zen koan says:

“Show me the hand which is holding your suffering.”

You can’t do it, because “mental suffering” belongs to the world of the mind and not the world of reality.

Excerpts from “HOW TO BECOME A BUDDHA IN 5 WEEKS: The Simple way to SELF-REALIZATION” by Giulio Cesare Giacobbe.

Whatever your belief about the nature of mental illness, this kind of focus on the heart, and the exercises above, does help to self-regulate symptoms, and provide better emotional wellness. This is not a theory or a conceptual point of view, and can it be proven by your own experience.