One of the beauties of human life is to consider how the core blueprint of our lives – our nature, purpose, and path – repeats and reappears in different strata of our being. We each are a uniquely-patterned tapestry, shot through with motifs, shapes, and colors, the combination of which is part of what makes us entirely our own.
Whatever we experience in our thought stream has a mirrored reflection in the body. What we relate to as emotion is created through sensations arising in our physiology, which we imbue with kaleidoscope-like filters of interpretation.
Emotion joins sensation with meaning, making stories out of the raw experience. These stories, in turn, dynamically impact our physiology. Everything arises together, co-creates, and sensitively responds.
The Chemistry Set Inside Us
Whether positive or negative, we feel how we do at any given moment courtesy of our body using minerals and chemicals to create a state within us.
States are generated through a complex process involving our brain, nervous system, and the circulation of microscopic units of electrically charged materials employed as messengers.
These chemical messengers, tiny molecules of neurotransmitters and hormones, tell muscles, organs, and our bloodstream which state of neuroception best suits the needs of the moment we are in.
Neuroception is a phrase used by the trauma researcher Steven Porges to describe how we experience distinct modes of being through the beautifully complex functioning of our neurobiology.
As Porges’ polyvagal theory explains, a fearful thought is accompanied by a sudden influx of neurotransmitters and hormones circulating in the body that tell the physical body to create readiness for action.
Physiological changes are then instigated that affect nearly every system of the body: our muscles constrict, our bloodstream is flooded with energizing chemicals, our breathing shallows, and our heart starts pounding.
These are the tell-tale signs of nervous system arousal. Nervous system arousal is felt to us as discomfort. It isn’t meant to feel good – the bad feeling is part of the motivation to act quickly to save our lives. The trick is understanding that the body has already created the state of unease long before the moment we consciously notice that we are thinking a fearful thought.
Positive experiences like happiness, inspiration, and love are also created in the body as physical sensations.
Our muscles relax, our breathing slows and deepens, and we notice that the body creates sensations of pleasure, relaxation, safety, and unrestricted energy flow. The body creates these positive-feeling experiences through the exact mechanism of circulating chemical messengers.
The trigger for whether the body should create feelings of well-being or discomfort lies deep in the brainstem, out of sight of our conscious awareness.
Lest we feel that we have no edge of influence, though, the good news is that over time, through yoga, artmaking, breathwork, mindfulness – any of the sundry practices that develop mind-body connection – we can learn to work with our bodies to gain a greater measure of self-authority.
A Core of Mystery
So much mystery lies at the heart of us. Researchers have argued that the body drives our experience, with our thoughts only coming up with invented explanations for a reality driven by biology after the fact. Nature decides how we will be, and our mind is told afterward.
Other lines of inquiry point to the supreme relevance of will, thought, and focus, highlighting how our thoughts create our feelings, driving behavior, and results in our lives. Here you might say that mind is the driver, directing experience through its lenses, filters, and shaping constrictions.
Then again, in certain states of the body, linked directly to neuroception, some thoughts cannot live and will fade away. Worry thoughts need a beta brain wave state to linger, and creative flow happens with alpha brain waves.
We cannot think practical thoughts while sleeping, only swim in symbol-laden dreams. Feeling terrible when up to our chins in a warm, lavender-scented salt bath is hard. These are restrictions.
The Cathedral We Build
All in all, the whole miracle of experience co-arises in mind, body, and emotion simultaneously. Far from being hapless and chaotic, our life is largely harmoniously organized, as self-coherent, beautiful, and graceful as a symphony.
This artistic integrity of design might cause us to wonder, what genuinely underlies our existence that gives us our patterns? Looking at the shape of our lives, we can get a hint of what the blueprint might be.
What instruction sets are we working with, have we been working with this the whole time? What palace for the soul are we building, breath by breath, thought by thought, move by the move? Getting a hint of it, might we more consciously align to what we’re really here to do?