Let's talk about the brains
Last Summer, I had an interesting conversation with a very educated, pleasant, and open-minded young psychologist.
At that time, I was spending contemplative and reflective time at the house of a very close friend in a tiny village in the French countryside of Touraine where food and wines are delectable. He was a friend of my friend as well. The conversation turned to a gentle argument at the end of a succulent dinner
with exquisite wines. Despite our alcohol infused blurry minds at that point – a few empty bottles were standing on the table - honoring our common friend, we kept in mind to remain well-mannered, avoiding to jump into a classic French firery conversation where one speaks on top of the other, pumping up our voice with a few decibels higher every second.
Anyways. I was telling him a bit about what I do and my passion for embodiment, the intelligence of the body, the response it can give us without necessarily articulating a reason through the head. The emotions that we can tap into by putting our body in motion, the times of contemplation and how experiences land in the body. I also expressed that, with all my respect for the advancement that psychology and psychoanalysis have brought for mental health and its esteem researchers, to me, these practices are lacking a big piece of the puzzle by keeping the solution only in the head brain.
Psychology is asking the part of us that has hosted a problem to solve that very problem and the result may be an endless loop around that problem, while if using other centers and practices (mainly around the body, sensations, silence and contemplation), we can open up a new range of possibilities, we can trust another language that offers new responses and with a well guided process, deep understanding can happen, keys can be found to unlock doors.
Of course, as a very educated man, his knowledge and vocabulary, his ability to articulate answers were outstanding. I would not even try to start reporting what he explained, especially because he said it in an impeccable French which I have myself lost quite a bit after all these years speaking English only.
But in short, he argued that everything in us is being translated through and by the head brain no matter what. What we feel, our emotions, our sensations only exist because the head brain translates signals into articulated feedback. Without the brain to give an understanding they wouldn’t exist. The head brain is the ultimate transmitter and filter, and this is the center we need to address primarily.
Our conversation got interrupted by other friends arriving at the table and more wine got poured into our glasses, dessert got served and soon our bodies were clearly too alcoholized to keep track of the argumentation. So, we put music on, and everyone started to dance around the table. We all had a really good time and laughed a lot. I had a long and deep night sleep and woke up with a slight headache but thanks to good French Wine, I felt as fresh as a rose a couple of hours later.
Our argument came back to me a few days later with new perspectives The young psychologist had already left the house: unfortunately we couldn’t continue our interesting sharing. To be honest, it’s not the first time I hear this argument from people who are not familiar with the work of embodiment.
His argument is undoubtedly pertinent, and I can’t deny the fact that the head brain is the transmitter of information throughout the whole body. I can’t deny that a central nervous system transmits information from body parts to our head brain that sends messages back through a peripheral nervous network.
But I was not talking about that. In fact, I realized we were both talking about 2 different things, 2 different perspectives, and even if we were using comprehensive words to exchange about the subject, we were actually on 2 parallel monologs instead of a dialog. I was talking about a mysterious and vast realm that exist beyond the pure mechanic of signals translation by the head brain. My invitation to him was to look at the body through the lens of cells' intelligence, the memory of our life experience nested in our nervous system, a body intelligence that transcends the brain's mechanic, the fact that our heart has its own brain allowing it to beat with other hearts as one in a context of trust or love, the fact that our guts have their own brain that sends clear messages when we are attentive.
The work of embodiment, mindfulness, contemplation, by principle, pre-requires that one believes that a different language exists; the language of intelligence beyond the head-brain, beyond the mechanic of information’s transmission. One must believe that other centers than our head brains use different ways than talking, yet do have a profound impact on our general wellbeing and most importantly that they don’t need a reasonable head brain articulation to give responses to emotional questions, to blocs, to behaviors disruption, to stress or physiological problems among others.
But if one doesn’t believe that this language actually exists, then discussions are not off to a good start.
Science (in our case: neuroscience, psychology) won’t move an inch forward in accepting any new finding, unless it has been proven. Now, I question the ''proven'' factor for science is in constant evolution. Scientifically proven ''facts'' in the past may be contradicted today, due to new research and findings, especially regarding the brain. I remember the time when we would say: ''it has been proven'' that the left brain is more prominent for rigorous and well organized people while the right side is mainly used by creators and artists. And we would all look super knowledgeable. I remember the time when people would be lobotomized or electroshocked because ''scientists'' would have ''proven'' that it is the right thing to do. Well, let me tell you something: these scientific ''truths'' are now not true anymore. And whoever opposed at that time was regarded with contempt.
The work of embodiment, although studied and developed by numerous very serious researchers for decades, speaks on an empirical level: based on personal experience. It gives people tools to explore and to verify this language for themselves, to trust their body and their process. It empowers people’s self-observation and adjustment.
Yet, it often meets resistance because it is not ''scientifically proven''. It is interesting to observe that science has become so dominant in our lives, that most of us will accept and trust the existence of different realities without ever experiencing them or seeing any proof, just because a science seal has given its approval. But when invited to be scientists of our own existence, to experience for ourselves the mysterious yet accessible language of our body in movement, lots of us are in total disbelief.
I absolutely don't want to deny the tremendous progresses of science / neuroscience. I simply believe it is too constraint, too limited, too linear and is lacking to look at the vast and rich land that is our body intelligence. I see unbalanced societies, blinded in fear of their own expertise, leaving their entire lives in the hands of "science".
Another interesting observation, I find is that embodiment practitioners find themselves in a rather funny paradox: the core of the practice is to let go of the mind and trust the body. However, on the way there, we still need to use words and concepts, use clear vocabulary to communicate the guidance towards embodiment so that people can reach this very place where words are not needed any longer. I love Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s guidance that moves back and forth between head brain’s concepts and invitation to explore and find out for ourselves in the body.
Here is a metaphor to shine light on the difference between embodiment vs mentalization: try to explain the beauty of Mozart’s music; you simply can’t. It is a personal
experience. It is a ressenti (feeling, sensation, experience) and it is real. You can explain the context around his music, a bit of technicality behind symphony composition that the head brain will understand but that’s pretty much it. To "understand" the beauty of Mozart’s music one must intimately experience it: where it lands in the body, the rising of emotions, the vibration in the body, the harmony that gives goosebumps, a memory that may be triggered. Sure: it’s being translated in the head brain as a gateway but not as an interpreter. The body interprets the experience.
So how about observing, letting things sit and transform, beyond head brain, beyond rationalization and conceptualization? How about trusting that we are the scientists of our own lives, that there is an unspoken yet profoundly impactful language of our body that speaks to us when we pause, when we move, when we listen from inside out? How about exploring with curiosity and openness, like scientists, what our organism has already known for thousands of years and can reveal if we learn to deeply listen?
Is a strong emotional experience without word after a release through our body in motion less healing or valuable than an articulated and comprehensive spoken discussion around this emotion? Can both coexist?
I believe they can; even complete each other but to do so, both must be seen and acknowledged.
On a Summer evening, a conversation got interrupted. The interruption helped me realize a bunch of things. Not only by thinking about them, but by letting time go, by reflecting and contemplating, by forgetting and remembering how that evening felt: good food and wine in my body, Summer, dance. The holistic experience landed in my body. I listened with attention. My head processed as well. A combination of words and experience.
And one thing is for sure, this mysterious language cannot be forced, cannot be taught, cannot be explained, cannot be talked about. It is understood when experienced.