Move your mind, Move your body, Move your soul.
Is there a dark side to meditation? Can there be such a thing as too much meditating?!?
I had a curiosity the other day about conspiracy theories and meditators. I will admit, I am a little bit of both. I meditate regularly (although not as much as I used to) and I have a *healthy* dose of skepticism about life in general. Is one at all correlated with the other?
There have been spotlights shone on the fact that many in the (white) wellness industry have been "infiltrated" by Q Anon. There are platforms that were once dedicated to a better understanding of vaccines (what is in them, choice to receive) and now have leapt to the consitutionality of being asked/told to wear a mask.
When I was deep in my meditation practice, I went down a number of rabbit holes, seeking perspectives beyond my own thinking, seeking purpose, finding connections where connections may or may not exist. Why was this?
I noticed friends and celebs (or people with larger platforms/audiences than my own) starting to use my preferred language (around "light", "energy", "discernment", "living your truth") almost against me. The language was becoming radicalized, in my opinion. One prominent white woman in wellness even referred to her online community as the "radical light" instead of "radical right" - and one day she freudian slipped in saying the wrong phrase. I listened to a few more episodes. I felt off kilter and was told I must be experiencing cognitive dissonance (another big term in the trauma-wellness-conspiracy world).
Then I turned to the Brain.
I'm taking a neurobiology course for fun right now through Coursera. I love the brain. I am fascinated by how it works and impacts our perceptions, behaviors and reality. And so I wondered if there could be a biological connection between we women in wellness and our penchant for conspiracy theories. Now, I am at best an armchair dabbler. I am not an expert at all. This is totally just me trying to figure out a reason for this reality I find myself in. OK, caveats complete...
Studies demonstrate that meditation increases dopamine levels in the brain. Now, dopamine is awesome. One of it's jobs - is as the "reward" neurotransmitter. It's the feel good sensation we get after we do something with success, eat a cookie, or get a certain number of likes on our IG post. This article is a great discussion of how dopamine works in terms of rewards and also highlights the connection with dopamine and the identification of patterns. So it stands the reason that with the influx of dopamine, our brains might be hunting for more connections and patterns - potentially seeing patterns where they may not exist.
Once we think we see patterns, our confirmation bias continues to find data that supports that claim. Social media's algorithms work exactly this way. Giving us the information that we think we already know - fueling our beliefs (and keeping us online, and hopefully buying their stuff longer). In fact, in writing this piece at this very moment, I AM WORKING THIS WAY. I am reviewing articles to support my view. Damn.
As mentioned in all of these articles cited (and more), we are in the midst of a very uncertain time. "Uncertain times" breed more cults, disinformation, and conspiracy theories as we all try to make sense of our world. The more we are awash in this fear zone (even if we are actively working to be brave), the more our brain works to create patterns to make sense of our lives.
And here I am - doing the same - trying to make sense of it all.
I heard something the other day that made me bristle. It was a white woman in wellness talking about how we can use our bodies & our intuition as a "barometer of truth."
There is a lot of talk about this in the wellness space. That we "know" the truth for ourselves. When it comes to filtering through stories, information and perspectives, people are called to "use their discernment".
On the surface, I buy in to this.
Like many with trauma histories, it has taken me a long time to feel that I could trust myself - my decisions, my body, my intuition. My body does house my history, and I have used talk therapy, yoga, writing & creative tools to regulate my nervous system and to move outside of the fight/flight/freeze/fawn trauma response.
Under the surface though, I question it the whole "your body is a barometer of truth". Especially in the world today where violence against black people being filmed and disseminated.
Police officers "seeing" guns in people's hands when it was really candy/a phone/nothing. Women putting keys through their knuckle-creases as they walk in a parking lot, sensing that something was "off" - but no one is there. A young child sees monster in the corner of the room, which turns out to be a pile of clothes.
These feelings, no doubt, felt very real to the feeler. And yet, here are instances of your intuition leading you astray. None of these situations were truly threatening, but the person sensed a threat none the less.
And what of the bias that is steeped in our culture regarding the "threat" of black people? Of course we use language to demonize and de-humanize black and people of color. We also have built in biases FELT in the body when we see black bodies. Crossing the street, averting eyes, assuming wrong-doing. It is highly prevalent.
So how do I reconcile these two things? Does your "body as barometer" hold true? Or is it just upholding our fears, biases, and past traumas?
I've come to the conclusion that our intuition *might not be* magic. I don't want to say it isn't magic, because there are still elements I can't quite explain. But the brain is magic, after all, and intuition is a brain function.
Our brains are constantly predicting what is about to happen in order to keep us physically safe. So in this sense, the brain is total magic. These predictions are based on previous experiences (inclusive of thoughts, feelings, and actions). The predictions help us navigate through our lives so that every occurrence isn't a complete shock to the system.
Intuition is knowing something "without evident rational thought and inference." Intuition is still our brain trying to predict the future - just without our conscious involvement.
But what about the tingling in the stomach? The feeling of a cold shadow? What about The Body Keeps the Score? Yes. We feel memories in the body. We have these sensations and we have attached stories to them, patterned it in to our bodies, and we feel it. It is a programmed pattern.
The intuitive senses we receive are predictions based on past situations. They are shouts of "making sense" that our brain offers to us. AND, our intuitive senses can be wrong. They are delivering our past to us as present. Including all of those old thoughts, movies, songs we listened to, emails, past boyfriends and side-ways glances, past slights and digs and lost loves.
Just like our brains and our bodies, our intuition is also steeped in our culture, our education and experience, our families, etc.
Our intuition is just as racist as you are - maybe even more than your conscious awareness! Since intuition is often subconscious, it is mired in the implicit bias that might not be at your attention in any moment.
So what can be done?
Keep growing, keep opening up, keep finding new perspectives.
The more that we broaden our experiences and concepts (thank you, Lisa Feldman Barrett), the more you open your mind to new predictions. It is possible to continue shaping and honing your intuition.
We TRUST our intuition because we are NOTICING when we are right about it. The more you notice it, the more you see it. Our intuition is the "barometer" of truth because you are shaping your perception that it works.
The next time you sense there is danger ahead or feel like "the right next step is x, y, z", I'm not saying don't listen to it. I'm not saying DO listen to it.
I'm saying - get a little curious about it.
Could you intuit even more when you start to move outside the box?
Shame game is on over drive in FaceBook and Instagram worlds. Shocking.
Please remember, Self (and others) that being open to different perspectives encourages our growth and collective evolution. Being open doesn't mean agreeing or being complicit or being wrong or right. Being open means taking a little more into your lens of reality.
It could mean reading/following/listening to people who don't look like you, believe what you believe, of different political persuasion, older or younger, mask wearing or not.
For many years (most of my life), I championed "Being Right." I felt that if I was right, then I was good/accomplished/successful and worthy of love. At one particularly difficult marriage counseling session, our therapist looked at me and asked, "Would you rather be right or open yourself up to feel loved?"
I see the need to be right in members of my family, in my workplace, and on social media. If we let ourselves be wrong - or even simply open to the fact that we *might* be wrong - we could receive a whole new perspective.
Our brain is constantly predicting and sorting our experiences (whether out in the world or inside our bodies) in order to make meaning of our lives, keep us safe, and create order/normalcy. The more we open to wider possibilities, the more concepts we develop, the more our future (perspective) changes.
This is literally true.
It is also true that it's easier to be open (mind) when our internal landscape is working right (nutritious foods, moving the body, and sufficient rest all help in this regard).
And if you feel crappy? Or closed off? The fastest way to re-set that internal landscape is to move your body around. This changes your brains predictions. Second thing you can do? Change your location/environment.
I did this today. I was spiraling down the interweb pathways, reading articles, barraged by emails, feeling "meh." Nearly every day for the last two months, I have taken a walk around my 3 mile block. It's great to move my body, but I felt like today I needed a change of scenery. So I walked somewhere new.
A little thing. A little change-up of my routine. I nearly cried at the beauty I noticed around me. My "after" photo found me positively glowing. I felt giddy and excited.
We can do hard things, as we are often reminded. Sometimes we can do easy things. And it makes all the difference.
Some days I can't find the words to describe what I feel or what I need. The last few days, I have been angry.
Yesterday I wrote "I need wide open spaces." I suppose I could pick up and move to Montana, but that wasn't it. I need space I have in my day. A clear mind and an open heart. The ability to start again. Space to be me.
Today I wrote that I need to hear of the value of human life. When I responded with You are worthy. You are love. You are Source (God/Universe/Spirit/Divine)... The words didn't do it for me today.
I searched for a word that resonated. I ended up with a reminder that we are made up of stardust. We are 99% hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. Some of what is within us has existed for millions of millenia. And within all those atoms? 99.99999% wide open spaces.
The word Source originates from the Latin surgere which means to spring forth, to Rise.
I rise (source) from the sun and the stars. Literally.
I started this writing before I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. A black man who was shot when jogging. He was made of stardust, too. Today as I think about value and love, I feel outrage in my body. I feel pursed lips and hot hands. I feel jittery.
I am hit with rushes of remembrances that are small in comparison. A yoga business discussion when I was told that my community "had no value". A job interview I experienced two decades ago where I was chastised for asking about rehabilitation for sex offenders. The article written by me but posted as the words of my physician colleague.
All examples of people diminishing the value of others.
We all have value, goddammit. We need to be seen and heard. We all have something to offer to this broken world. I see more and more division online - more name calling, more rejection, more lumping people into categories, more "I am right; you are wrong."
When we de-humanize each other, we reject ourselves.
Self-rejection is an age old issue. This is what the healing community, the yoga community is all about. No need to reject your shadow side. Get to know yourself. Honor what comes up. Accept even the most challenging parts of who you are. Because you are human. Practice self-compassion for your humanness.
When we de-humanize others, we find ourselves in a world where a black man can be going for a jog and be chased and killed. All of the memes you share about how “the other side” is stupid, less than, or not worth your time? That is where it starts. It is that serious.
When we diminish the value of others, when we focus on "us vs. them", not only are we narrowing our perspective on the world, but we are also narrowing the perspective on who we are. Let's widen the lens.
I want to live in a world with a wide lens. Where perspectives are encouraged and shared without fear of condemnation. I want to live in a world where we remember our humanness, our value, our voices. Black people. Biracial people. LGBTQ community. Women. Let’s remember our value. It starts with you.
Let Rumi remind you that “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there."
Meet me in the field, Stardust.
You gotta feel it to heal it.