Prose

Noughties Pop and Neuroscience

Today has been deeply healing in a most unexpected way.

Struggling for a soundtrack to my day, I hit a little cynically on a “00’s pop” (say noughties, it feels good) playlist and let it roll.

My God.

I wept, I danced, I travelled through time to the most tender and terrible places of my teens and twenties. Songs I didn’t even like at the time hit me straight in the heartsy-chords and vibrated through my being. Justing Timberlake? Really? Celine Dion??? Mortifying.

I was pretty taken aback but the waves were strong and I was soon taken under again – free diving through forgotten emotional backwaters. After each big release my heart felt warm and alive – pumping love and feeling so much more connected to – me.

It felt as if there were corners of my heart with dusted over debris waiting to be cleared, and this slightly cringey pop playlist was blasting through them like a jet wash.

I reckon most of you reading have been there, or somewhere quite like it. Maybe for you it was 80s glam rock or early 90s skate punk (reckon I’ve got some work to do there to) that hit the spot.

The reason I am sharing this is not that it is a unique or totally remarkable experience but as an excuse to tell you something I’ve learned about neuroscience.

You weren’t expecting that at all from the title right… Just bear with.

So those bubbles of random emotion, thoughts, images that surface when you hear a song – these are what is known as implicit memories. They are sensory and perceptual experiences in the moment that appear as if out of nowhere. These feel like live, here and now sensations – with no sense of coming from a specific past event.

As we stay with the feeling, following the crumb trail of thoughts, images and associations that unfolds as we do, we will come eventually to an explicit memory.

This is a tangible past event recollection which we can pinpoint to a time and place. An encounter, a holiday, an argument, a bereavement, a surprise.

As this explicit memory comes into focus, we are able to make conscious links with the implicit memories – the emotions, felt sensations, thought and images that were arising at random -and neurologically staple them together.

This is referred to in psychology and neuroscience as ‘integration’.

Integration means, in short, that next time you hear Eminem playing and your palms get sweaty etc you will be able to access that explicit memory of falling over at the high school disco while pulling your best moves. You will know that the rising shame and anxiety you are feeling in the moment, belongs to some moment in the past. Realising this you are able to pause, reflect, calm yourself in whatever way you need to and not be swept along in this unattributable emotion and ruin your day.

This is an actual physical process in your brain where new neuronal connections are being formed and coated in Myelin which is like super lube for brain activity and makes everything slicker and quicker. Your brain is building new bits that help you to be more balanced and chill.

So if you feel like doing some neurological fitness activities to get yo’ mind right – bouncing round your room to cheesy tunes and bawler ballads from your youth (or death metal or happy hardcore or whatever it was) comes recommended from me.

You’re welcome.

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Boundaries, empathy, connection and seeing clearly

A friend recently sent me this poem that he found on a wall…

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To see each other clearly, allow space to be, listen allow and smile, unearthing internal lies….

This for me captures the alchemy of relating, of presence one to another. What do we need to support this clear vision, this ability to let the other be and to bear witness to the internal beliefs that cloud our vision of them?

There is a paradox at the heart of it all which the image in the poem captures beautifully – we are separate branches in the same tree. How to hold the apparent paradox of interbeing and healthy boundaries was a question raised today in one of my communities, and it is one which has been present for me in several different conversations and contexts over the last couple of weeks.

As a highly empathic person, It can happen that I become so attuned to the experience of another that I enter into it energetically and almost exit my own. For me boundaries are the tools of time and space physicality which I use to meet the needs which support my energy levels, emotional and psychological clarity and connection to myself.

When these things are taken care of and my boundaries are clearly asserted and held, I can be open and fully empathically present to others without needing to guard my energy or personal space. My boundaries allow me to be more open. If my energy is depleted, or my mind and emotions are chaotic and I don’t take the space I need to restore balance and to process my experience, then my capacity to stay in my own centre is less and I will shut down compassion and empathy to others around me until I am able to reconnect with myself.

This for me highlights the difference between boundaries and disconnection. I can hold a boundary without disconnecting from you. I am more likely to disconnect if I have no boundary in place to meet the needs which support me to stay in connection.

Exploring the role of boundaries in relationship I have noticed that they also create greater intimacy. The presence of boundaries creates a safety which supports vulnerability, depth and risk taking within the held structure that we provide for each other.

Boundaries also provoke challenge and testing, and how we respond to that can be a real area of growth between two people also. Boundaries which are very rigid may suggest the presence of fear, whereas boundaries which are open for revision as the needs of individuals evolve can signify the presence of a growing mutual trust and respect, with enough safety to be allow some fluidity.

I enjoyed this insightful blog by a friend on the topic which relates particularly to children but holds universal wisdom. Also this video which was shared today in my community. This is a live inquiry for me and my experience of boundaries is an active growth area which feels very rich right now.

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Forged in the flames

“I will take friendship plus attraction any day over falling in love. For I am no fool for fickle: I search for a love that is built of friendship and can withstand the most merciless rains and flooding.”

~Waylon Lewis, Things I Would Like to Do with You. 

Maybe this is becoming true… And yet….the lover and the mystic in me adores the fire, the burning away, the raging, the purification, the vitality. In the end though, I look around and all is ashes.

Now that I am a little older. Now that I have held strong for so long in the heat of soul fire. Now that I am charcoal. I catch fire easily, I burn deep and hot. Still throbbing embers after the flames are gone.

If I can hold a little more heat, take a little more pressure, go a little deeper into the earth and closer to the molten core of it all. I’ll become a diamond. I’ll reflect back the dancing light of the flames and stand clear and shining in the heart of the hottest inferno.

What to do? Perhaps the friend, who can stand through all storms, is the diamond, forged in the fires of greatest intensity. Perhaps the way out is through. What to do?

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“Within every woman there lives a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. She is the Wild Woman, who represents the instinctual nature of women. But she is an endangered species.” ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves

She’s stretching in the fragile morning rays of the sun, her eyes blurry from 5000 years of sleeping. She turns to the blinding light of the business all around. Naked and perplexed, she sighs deeply and readies her soft and yielding heart for battle, gathers her pulsing strength…

The Divine Feminine, stepping up and out and firmly taking the hand of The Conscious Masculine. With love, and commitment to weather all storms. To yield and support, to empower and enrage, to drive forward and let be.

By loving our own divinity and consciousness, our creative potency – unique flavours and a perfect combination- we give birth to the elixir of life, to love. Just being every element of our unique microcosm of the wholeness, loving all that is in us, and by this most joyful and elemental means – loving all that is. Bringing all into balance.

“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.”

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest…” ~ Pema Chodron

Water and rock can coexist and cooperate beautifully, flexibility and commitment – one sheltering the penetrating flow of the other, one rounding and softening the sharp edges of the other. Bring volatile passions of temperature and they swap forms at the extremes, ice and lava – barely able to draw near without the one hissing off into spirals of steam, the other rapidly returning to dense, closed rigidity.

Extreme environments drive us to our poles, high pressure forces fundamental change – crystallisation, bursting forth new geysers, shifting landscapes. For life to be coaxed from the fertile new rock, the gentle interrelations need to emerge, negotiating balance and synchronicity, adapting to complexity, developing subtlety, and an integral commitment to life itself is the seed and the sap.

“If you want to be successful, be as pliable and yielding as water; so as to stay close to reality. If you want to be powerful, be as focused as water, it can penetrate a rock. This is Dao.” ~ Lao zi

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“This ache, this longing is the thread that guides me back through the labyrinth of compromises I have made, back to my soul’s desires… If we are never consumed by the transforming fire of our desires, we risk falling in love with the sweet ache of longing, the daydream of “what if…” or “someday…” — Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation Plus

Rising like a yell from deep in my belly and setting my whole body vibrating, a sudden eruption of desire consumes everything. To go, to stay, to be, to have, to do… Blacking out into satin soul chambers, gasping for breath and back into blinding light. Childish foot-stamping desire, fierce and violent burning desire, heart- achingly tender desire.

Calling me forward as I fight to look behind, the harder I resist the louder it calls. When I hold it in my belly it agitates and burns, leaves my back weak, my shoulders tense and my head aching from the strain. What else is stuck in there with it? Force to create, will to act, courage to be… When I say YES with my whole being, I spiral up and out like swifts on the wind.

Follow the tiniest of lights, the littlest spark of flame in the forest. Follow it into the darkness and into the morning. Hold it lightly in the palm of my hand and sit quietly with it. Find my way back through the trees to the thread, and follow it home.

“… desire was an entirely free sensation, loose in the air, vibrating, filling life with the will to have something – and that will was enough, that will carried all before it, moved mountains, made her wet…It is an emotion chosen by my soul, and it is so intense that it can infect everything and everyone around me.”

— Paulo Coehlo, Eleven Minutes.

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“Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together” — Pema Chodron

The much ridden and reported Rollercoaster, of life, of love, of evolution. The filthy U-bend and the glorious flow. As we climb higher, there’s further to drop, and the ride goes faster…

Beauty shines out of the integrity of being as we are, life being as it is. A warm dog by the fire sighing deep with satisfaction, a scared soul reaching out for comfort in their grief, the flaming warmth of dying leaves – radiating back to the sun, the deeply rooted sway of trees.

Everything can and does change in a moment. If I can be in this moment, I can change everything, every moment.

“As a warrior you take responsibility for holding the balance between light and dark within you and, by extension,  the world around you, and ultimately when you go deep enough,  the universe.”

— Barefoot Doctor