As the ides of April drag on – with a blizzard yesterday morning and endless puddles of thawing mud – I am experiencing the highs and lows assigned by my consciousness. I am uncomfortably aware of the connection between my ears and the stress centre in my brain. And thankful to experience the waves of peace and joy when that linkage is overridden as I make choices in how I spend my time and energy.
Given that my ears and brain sit close together in my body, I can easily imagine a chunky red plastic-coated cable transiting the words entering my ears directly to the portion of my brain that interprets and responds to danger – called the amygdala. If I awaken to flames and smoke in my bedroom, it is a life saving cluster of neurons. It triggers a rush of cortisol and adrenalin – my heart speeds up, blood rushes to my muscles, and the rest of my brain shuts down so that I am completely focused on getting away from the flames. The amygdala does not discern levels of risk for me. When I hear words that I perceive as unkind, unjust, or threatening it signals to me that the house is on fire. Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence refers to this involuntary messaging as an amygdala hijack. When it happens, I lose the logic and reasoning capabilities that sit in the front section of my brain. This short circuit to panic is only interrupted when I practice taking a pause, slowing down my breathing and doing a reality check with my rational brain. Sometimes it works, other times my imperfection is glaring. Always it is exhausting.
I know that I need a brain/body balance when I am a servant to these episodes. I must quiet the chatter, abandon my ego and detach from time. I require a mind vacation. I had one early last week as I sat in a theatre, immersed in the music of a live orchestra and the dancing of glittering showgirls and tuxedoed men. I delight in four hours each week volunteering – we dance spontaneously, without inhibition in the middle of the morning, paint, chat, learn sign language, and laugh often. Spending four hours being of service to others, for a purpose and benefit that has nothing to do with me is a magical cure for self absorption. It is a compass for measuring my values and priorities, a lens on the peacefulness of simplicity and human connection.
Pastimes that take me away from media feeds, my cell phone alerts, my insatiable tendencies to measure, compare and evaluate, and chronic searches for the perfect . . . whatever, are respite for my mind and body. A good book, a quiet walk in nature, and yoga shift my focus and calm the synapses of my psyche.
The treasure of time off from the busy brain wiring is a visit with the essence of who I am. I remember that I am a person with deep connections to animals and all things in the natural world. I am a person who appreciates the sense of calm in the current neutral palette trends while starving for colour and novelty. I am a person comfortable with solitude while cherishing singular close ties. When I forget these critical pieces of my character, I lose what tethers me to my needs and values.
I have evidence of the discrepancies. The beige bedspread I saw in the decorating magazine now laden with an animal print blanket, the black chunky zippered vest that looked like the one in the spring fashion edition sits in the give away bag, the grey twill rug repackaged and sent back. Defaulting to yes and having too many commitments. On sensory overload I default outside of myself.
I know that I must make time to rest and refuel my grey matter. Brain vacations remind me of what really matters. They provide me with clarity and choices that are right for me. Most importantly, they shine a light on what is true for me.
At least, that is my experience.