Just been reading PNI:Mental Laxatives for a Constipated Mind – lovely title. Donald Perlmuter explains the neurological underpinnings for positive thinking. He also points out that our hearts and stomachs produce the same neuropeptides as the brain and that they essentially talk to each other.
So when my stomach churns under stress or your heart speeds up, they are not only responding to the stressor, but also in conversation with each other and our brains. It is not the Descartesian picture we grew up with. Our brains are not bosses in charge of recalcitrant organs, although we treat our bodies like rebellious children. No, it is one system, with receptors bodywide talking to each other.
This struck home with me: Bill’s atrial fibrillation which developed under acute work stress and my digestion which goes at the drop of a hat. Not only that, but because the brain is more highly developed than our gut, the two often argue. So I may be listening to the “shoulds” in my head, while my stomach is sinking, I can’t verbalized it, but I am not happy. My brain is a brilliant debater and can always find reasons why I should put myself out, ably arguing the case – while my stomach is clenched in knots.
Apparently even our immune systems think, while our white blood cells patrol suspiciously – which explains why our kids caught everything each time they changed schools.
But what I took from this article was the simple question: what are we telling our cells each moment. Are we supporting them or are we bathing them in a sea of pessimism? Studies show optimists live longer. They are less likely to develop heart disease (they are not mentally fighting off possible disasters), but on the other hand they are more likely to be sky diving).
So what am I telling my cells? Well, with a good Protestant upbringing, I was taught to be modest, downplay success, deprecate compliments – “what, this old rag?” How discouraging to my poor cells! So it was liberating to be given the all clear – by a pastor – to be kind to myself, to give myself credit for successes.
He posed a series of questions, which are well worth reading, along the lines of self-appreciation. I read them first with my Protestant hat on and a feeling of distaste – and got several “noes”. But I had been given permission by the church, which had vigorously cut me down in size all my childhood. We are, after all sinners! Then I reread them and tried to understand their message.
And every day since, I have reread them and found my responses increasingly positive. I am happier, less looking over my shoulder. To answer just the first question: Are my thoughts positive and affirming about myself?
They weren’t – I was applying “what, this old rag” to myself. It was what I was brought up to do – anything else is self-centred, narcissistic. “Don’t blow your ken trumpet!”
I was so humble I practically turned inside out. But when I really read the question, I realized how self-absorbed this self-laceration is. And also ungrateful, throwing life back in God’s face. If a cat can move sinuously through life, just being a cat, then why not we? if our life is a gift, shouldn’t we accept it gratefully, burnish it and use it to give back to the universe it came from?
I don’t mean greedily grabbing or rating myself higher than others. I mean recognizing what I can do well, the moments when I have been kind and using this surety both to reach higher and also to affirm your worth too. When I stop pulling myself down, then I feel generous and that abundance spills over – no need to pace myself against you, There’s plenty to go around. My stress levels sink and my cells glow.
Optimism and longevity – link
PNI:Mental Laxatives for a Constipated Mind by Donald Perlmuter. Kindle e-book. $1.25