We encourage our students to not only acquire knowledge but to revisit and re-assess their ever-evolving understanding through daily journal reflections and a graduation requirement of writing a 75-page autobiography.
In support of our first soon-to-be graduates, who are now working diligently on their autobiography, I wanted to share an autobiographical piece about one aspect of my journey to develop a deeper understanding of purpose, joy, and clarity.
What is stress? Why do we need it? Do we have any control over whether we experience it, and if so, how much control do we have over it?
Today, we understand the inter-relationship and co-dependency between our thoughts, our inherited biology, and the influence of the environment on the chemistry in our mind and body.
For the first thirty years of my life, and with the education I received, I assumed that what really mattered exists from the neck up. This “truth” was challenged and eventually changed, thanks to to a very sincere student whom I worked with in Toronto. His needs to relate to the environment via movements and through his senses led me to a more expansive understanding of how we operate, what moves us, and what really matters. I would like to thank this student today for steering me in the right direction.
In my quest to understand how I/we can operate in a more fulfilling manner, I came to understand that whatever we have from the neck down has a tremendous impact on our lives. I participated in a graduate course called “The Body’s Way of Knowing,” where I was introduced to non-verbal noticing skills. This course challenged everything I thought I knew about what I considered to be true. I started paying attention to the fine messages I get from my thoughts, feelings, dreams, aches, pains, and environmental and social sensations. To this day, I am still learning how to notice and acknowledge without judgment. As a result, I find myself frequently asking “Why?” Why is a certain thought, feeling, sensation, sickness happening? What is the underlying cause? What is the behavior/appearance/thought a manifestation of? And more importantly: “Is this true?”
I now understand that what we consider as “stress” is actually gift, provided that we can view it as a warning flag calling attention to something that needs correction. Throughout our lives, we constantly struggle to feel a sense of peace and equilibrium. The more attuned we are to possible stressors, and the more effective we are at addressing them, the more integrated, peaceful, and congruent our whole system will become.
In her book, Awakening the Child Heart, my teacher, the biologist and educator, Carla Hannaford, defines this state of coherence as a “conscious pleasure state of being in alignment with our purpose, joy, happiness and connection to others.” What I found incredibly interesting was finding out from Dr. Hannaford that the coherence of the brain (our thoughts, feelings, belief system, etc.) is determined by the coherence of our hearts, and not the other way around (my previous “truth”). This is actually a measurable phenomenon: variation in intervals of heart rate patterns dynamically reflect our inner emotional state and stress levels, which are located in centers in the brain.
The vibrational fields coming from our hearts and brains interact constantly with the energy fields of those we are in social contact with. As long as these vibrations are congruent, working harmoniously, we have a sense of joy and satisfaction, which results in a sense of safety to explore, play, interact etc. But when there is an underlying fear due to perceived or real lack of safety, incoherence will inhibit our natural quest to pursue our interests, curiosity, and growth.
In other words, think of yourself learning something new. If you acquired in the past a sense of success in a similar situation and if we learned to enjoy the path towards mastery, you will be more likely to put yourself in a similar situation. Even when you fail, if you have a memory sense of growth and an appreciation of the process, you will have the ability to pursue your interests. Unfortunately, throughout life, many of us, for all kinds of reasons (cultural, limited social interactions, poverty, recreational choices, chemical imbalance etc.), develop unhealthy habits that inhibit learning new skills with joy.
What I learned from Dr. Hannaford was to consider exactly the opposite of what I believed to be true, which is the the opposite of waiting for stress to occur before I set out to find what is wrong. She taught me to explore the state of well-being (congruence, coherence, etc) through play, movement and laughter.
With this in mind, in every one of my roles (mother, friend, educator, etc.), I make a conscious effort to not only question my belief/opinion that something is true, but to also ask myself, “Does this give me joy?” These two questions help define my quest for a more fulfilling life. My attention has changed from dwelling on the stress, to acknowledging it, asking myself if my perception is true, and immediately searching for the correction and shift needed in my awareness to direct me towards joy and playfulness.
Since 2006, when I started teaching the Brain Gym modalities, which rely on movement as a “door to learning,” I have witnessed consistent evidence of this “truth.” By using certain movements and playfully role-playing situations, there has been a noticeable sense of “aha!” experience, brining relief and clarity to my students’ purpose and direction.
When debating on which actions I need to take, I attempt to maintain the mindset that often there is no single right answer and that various considerations have to be made. Having the intension to go through life with success and joy brings attention to my choices. For example, I will ask myself, “What will bring me more joy and coherence in my life: washing the dirty dishes in the sink or agreeing to play an active wii game with my daughter before we both attend to our chores? Which experience will enhance both our lives towards greater success, now and in our future?”
Through this process, I find the freedom to be present and achieve a sense of clarity. And that, for me, is empowering.