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.
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. Justin 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.