“The body renews itself through its own dissolution, similar to the gel-sol phase transition of the cell. Paralysis can be seen as an uninterrupted manifestation of gel until the wind of breath, moving across and into the sequestered bound fluid, frees it into its vibrant potency.” - Emilie Conrad, Life on Land
photo from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADAPIMitoTrackerRedAlexaFluor488BPAE.jpg
Humans, unlike lizards, are known to be unable to regenerate limbs. What we are capable of in terms of healing and renewal is nonetheless remarkable.
I have had a few situations in my own life when I witnessed my own nervous system rewiring, as well as the honour of seeing this process in my clients and students.
My most dramatic event occurred immediately following a fall where I sustained a concussion. Lying dazed on the floor at the folk dance workshop where the accident occurred, I struggled to respond to the question being posed to me. There was doctor at the workshop, a friend of mine. Being employed at the time as an Occupational Therapist working with patients with neurological issues, I understood why the doctor was asking me the question. I also knew the answer. Responding, however, was another matter.
I have no idea how long I lay there trying to get my mouth and vocal cords to speak my name. It was as if every nerve in my body and brain had been singed by the shock of the concussion and they could not respond. It was possibly the hardest work of my entire life finding those pathways I had known so well for so many years. I could almost feel the electric wave traveling down my nerves, igniting each muscle, as if for the first time. When my name finally emerged from my mouth, I began to laugh. The whole room joined me. It was such a relief. I seemed to be re-connected.
I didn't know then how profoundly those moments would affect me and my life, and how many more subtler re-connections would happen over the years. The dissolution of my form experienced through the concussion, provided an remarkable opportunity to re-design my nervous system. My life changed accordingly.
My first, much less dramatic but equally educational experience with rewiring occurred the first time I tried to watch a movie with glasses on. I normally wore the glasses for driving, but being a young university student without a car, I rarely drove. For some reason, I decided to try my glasses on this movie. I was amazed by my experience. The colours and shapes flashing before my eyes were brilliant and fascinating, but they didn't make any sense! I didn't recognise them. Gradually, with great effort, I began to make out familiar objects. Faces came into focus and suddenly the whole scene fell into place.
I realised I had for a few minutes been learning to see again. I was reminded of stories of blind people gaining sight and having to learn to make sense of the visual stimuli coming in. That is exactly what I was doing. My brain was rewiring. It was learning to sort and organise the new sensory stimuli it was receiving into perceptions. Ah! Those lines and colours are a face. That shape is the branch of a tree. Once the connection was made, familiar neural pathways were again accessible and I could go back to just enjoying the movie.
My usual way of perceiving had been interrupted, facilitating a dissolution of patterning enabling renewed visual perception. While it is rare to have such clear experiences of rewiring, this kind of reconnection happens all the time. Being aware of the process is a great gift, which I believe also supports the connecting.
Interestingly, the day I woke up with this blog writing itself I my head, I later listened to an interview with one of my favourite speakers, cell biologist Bruce Lipton. He spoke of how bringing mindfulness to our everyday thoughts can interrupt early programming, supporting the change we desire.
Mindfulness has recently gained popularity and reputation as a valuable adjunct to psychotherapy. Research shows how it changes our neurobiology, assisting us in shifting from habitual defensive stances to more creative, present time oriented presence.
Lipton spoke in his interview of how cells can be either in protection mode or growth mode. One walls off the outside world. The other expands out it not it. We can make choices moment by moment as to which way to orient, but our cells cannot be in both modes simultaneously.
Mindfulness practices teach us to attend to the sensory input available to us, prior to the interpretations made by our minds based on history. Returning to this first order of experience enables us to be responsive to what is actually presenting in the moment, rather than being limited by our perception of it based on past experience. While remembring past experience can be useful, we are freest when it becomes part of the mix, rather than our overpowering master.
While I don’t recommend a concussion to anyone, those moments of re-finding my words gave me a remarkable opportunity to slow down and return to the basics of neural functioning. I remain forever grateful for that and other ways that concussion changed my life, interfering with my ability to operate on automatic.
The paralysis I experienced gave me a taste of the potential of dissolution. As Emile Conrad, founder of Continuum Movement notes in the quote above, allowing our form (gel) to dissolve into a more fluid sol state, enables us to access renewed vibrancy. Conrad often referred to how most of us are in a state of paralysis, solidly ensconced in our habitual ways of being. Dissolution and its associated renewal is a major intention of the slow micro-movements, breaths and sounds of Continuum. Personally, I prefer these gentle, mindful, fluid movement inquiries or the similarly subtle work of Craniosacral Biodynamics to having to heal from a concussion, but we all have our own ways of returning to and discovering our origins!