The Needle, the Thread, and the Brain
I kept waking up last night, and I blame Shannon Peck. I was imagining my brain, and what she could do with it using her needle and thread. I was imagining her stitching the lines of neurons firing, one to another in pathways that covered my brain, firings that ultimately lead me to emotions and thoughts. I imagined the jelly mass of my brain before me in the dark bedroom, and I saw Shannon wildly working to chase and pin down the road of each neuron hook-up. Hello, old friend, river of mind, so few new thoughts because the pathways have been so well traveled, why struggle over new territory when old rhythms are so familiar?
I have been reading The Last Best Cure by Donna Jackson Nakazawa and I am highlighting nearly every paragraph. (I don’t want to get into it much here because this post will end up running for pages, and it’s hot where I am and, to be really honest, I just want to get to the main point and be done so I can go inside and stare at the vodka bottle in the freezer. I am so sober these days that even staring at a bottle and thinking about tossing down a nice cold one gets me a little high.) The book is a confirmation of everything I’ve been learning and sensing this year about the mind/body connection and how it is affected by the trauma of adoption (or any significant childhood trauma.
What it has me thinking is that I have to work on my brain. My thoughts are so flipping powerful. So are yours! Our thoughts can kill us. I watched it happen to my mother. I know I live in Santa Cruz and I know I’m a massage therapist and a Reiki Master and that I believe in energy, and so you can just shrug and walk away now if you aren’t a believer in a felt life, but if you’re still here, I want to tell you this: I think that if my mother regularly patted herself on the back and said, Margery, you are the bee’s knees, instead of hitting herself on the side of the head and calling herself Stupid there is a chance she might still be around.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the issue linked to disease in the pancreas/spleen is lack of emotional sweetness in life. How can life be emotionally sweet when you are so hard on yourself you still have pictures of models cut out and taped to the freezer to keep you from reaching for ice cream as a forty-year-old housewife. How can life be emotionally sweet when you can’t bear to look at your reflection in a mirror because your appearance does not pass your own approval? Why wouldn’t you get pancreatic cancer with all the chemicals of anxiety and fear and anger coursing through your system because your brain is at the controls of all those bodily functions, and you have trained your brain to hate the ship it is steering?
Models don’t eat ice cream because they are paid to be hungry. When you are a working mother, moments of sweet decadence are well-earned. I wish my mother had eaten more ice cream. When she was dead, no one was weighing her, giving a final value to her worth as a human. Why do we even bother to look for reflections for ourselves in the media? We know we are comparing ourselves to airbrushed, starving fakes, but we still believe that we could look like that if only we were good enough, if only we tried harder.
The grooves in our brain get so well worn we don’t even have to consciously think the thought to have it. Our emotions and reactions trigger the brain and there we are thinking about how dumb, fat, inconsequential, abandoned, unimportant, goofy, and/or boring we are without even knowingly generating the thought!
We have to catch ourselves in the act, and this is where meditation and mindfulness come in, and this is why I could not sleep last night. I was paying close attention to my brain, like a woman standing by a mouse hole, excitedly waiting for the little creature to pop out its head so I could freak out. I waited and waited, listening to what seemed to be silence, and then I heard a rustle, a low undertone of noise, and I realized that the negative messages were a constant hum in my head: not enough, not good, in trouble, going to die, and on and on and on. The tap of negative thinking was leaking in my brain and it was causing a big mess, and I didn’t even know it was on! I thought I was in control.
This was crazy. My brain was telling me terrible stuff I didn’t even tell it to tell me.
Well, my brain is going to boot camp. Here’s what I’m doing. I’m paying attention and I’m listing all the ways my brain hates me, and I’m writing that stuff down and I’m turning it around. If my brain thinks I’m a failure, I’m telling it I’m a success. And I’m telling it all day long even though my brain acts like a spoiled teenager and tries to ignore me. I’m competitive and I’m determined, and I’m not going to let some mouth adolescent make me feel bad about me.
To see Shannon Peck’s work, go to http://www.specksurfacedesign.com/about.html. I want her to stitch a picture of my brain with the neurons firing in a negative way, and then I want a second picture where I can see what my brain looks like when the neurons that fire together spell health and joy. I want to see the difference. I want my brain to see the difference so that it can know what the new normal is, and what country we have just left for good.
Anything is possible. I can think my way to any life, any reality I want. I can focus on loss or I can focus on gain. My brain may want to lead me to darkness out of habit, but I have trained a puppy before, and I know how to get her to behave.
I chose joy, and the irony is that choosing joy is work. It's easier to hump along with the roller coaster status quo, but I am fifty-two, and I hear the big clock ticking, I want to go out with the most noise possible, not a whimper of hungry defeat. I know being myself may be a full time job, it may be like protecting a cake from a swarm of flies, but I'm all in.
I know this may be the hardest thing I've ever done. My brain is wired to think the world is dangerous. It gets rewarded for keeping me safe, but it's keeping me safe from things like openness and vulnerability and risk and love.
The truth is, I have never trained a puppy. I hated choke collars and was too impatient to use treats and repetition to teach my dogs to behave the way I wanted. Part of me rebelled along with the dog. Why should it sit or stay just because I wanted it to? Why couldn't it just be a dog.
And so I had dogs that jumped on people, that peed on the carpet, that ate the couch. And so I have a brain that floods my body with adrenaline and cortisol, a brain that shrivels my organs and makes me moody and unpredictable.
I don't want that. I want a brain that supports me, and so I have to be willing to do the work, and it is not a 9-5 job. It's a forever and ever, every second job. It sounds exhausting, frankly, and not all that fun. Being happy sounds like a lot of work.
But I'm going to check it out. I'm going to stitch myself a new brain, a new life, just because I want to see what's on the other side. I want to give my body and mind the respect they deserve so I can better serve myself and the world. But mostly because I want, just as I did when I first got a sporty Lexus, to take it out on the open road to see what it could do. I want to let it fly.
One thought at a time.