So I'm in the middle of a project right now with my writing coach, Cindy Barrilleaux. It's a book proposal on the theme of "Asking Two Questions." You're probably familiar with this idea if you've been to one of my ADHD workshops. I also blogged about it at PsychologyToday and then the guys at LifeHacker picked up on it as well. In a recent skype conversation, Cindy and I were hashing out what it might mean to take the body seriously as a source of authority - using our bodiily reactions to guide our decisions and choices. And the conversation was interesting enough that I'm sharing it here....
David: I’m committed to the idea that we are in a real sense neurologically “wired” to responding positively when we are living in a way which is consistent with our purpose.
Cindy: What do you base that on?
David: On the basis of what we know about the brain and its capacity to experience reward in the context of altruism. That, combined with my observation of the real variability—people’s appetites are variable; peoples humor, people’s orientation for mystery and spirituality, the variable to answer those questions. Variable capacity to enjoy adventure/excitement on the one hand or predictability/comfort on the other.
Cindy: My question is different. No question that there’s variability; but where do you get the idea that our purpose is wired? It’s a bigger question.
David: I’m convinced that our brain, our body’s “wiring” determines what it means to be happy and satisfied. Literally in our bodies.
And when I’m feeling good in my body it affects me and those around me. So when I say “purpose,” I’m convinced that we have a mechanism like an internal gyroscope that says, “Oh, this is the right thing.” The way we know that is because we respond to it with our neurology, our body.
Now I’m making an assumption here. When I say that I believe my clients are “here to do and be and have something in particular” - that’s basic assumption that I can’t prove. It’s the assumption that I start with and I combine that with what I know about the brain.
Cindy: When you talk about “feelings,” I wonder whether most people recognize these bodily feelings. Athletes might, but I think many of us do not.
David: Yeah, many of us are simply disconnected from our physical body. It's like we are living our lives "in our heads." For many of us, what we do for "work" doesn't require much movement of our major muscle groups. Much of what we call entertainment and recreation doesn't involve actual physical activity. We get really good at crafting language, responding to text messages, and solving delivery-on-demand problems, all the while drifting further and further away from sensory information, the authority of our bodies.
And we receive strong cultural messages to disconnect from our body. "That feeling that you want to cry right now? You don't. You're a boy, and boys don't cry." "The feeling at 3:45 PM that you're hungry? You're not hungry. In our culture, we eat three times a day, and we don't eat at 3:45 PM, so you're not hungry. If you were British, you might be hungry for tea, but you're not British, so you're not hungry. Your body's wrong." "That feeling that you want to go into Marine science? Your mother and I disapprove of that choice; you don't want to do that. Trust us."
It's crazy making!
And on the other hand, there is a set of entirely different cultural messages suggesting that the body is the source of every good thing and must be obeyed! We have 24 hour access to the sex and candy show which is cable television. Pick up a fitness magazine - every page is an advertisement for fake food, using words like “decadent,” or “100-calorie gooey delight;” encouraging readers to trick our bodies – engaging in self-indulgence while withholding real food from ourselves. Incredibly unhelpful.
What I want to do, my mission here, is to take the body seriously, which is not to say you have to do everything the body wants. The purpose of the pre-frontal cortex is to ask whether, or when, I want to answer the body’s demands for attention. Sometimes my body wants to eat the whole cake, or sleep in 'til noon. And although those choices would feel "good" at one level, they feel "bad" for me in other ways. If I got mad at you my body might tell me that “I’m angry at Cindy and I want to punch her in the nose." And in some sense it would feel good. But in another sense, it would feel so bad. I’d lose the relationship and you'd probably stop working with me on the book.
David: So I don’t have to do everything it asks of me, right now, but I do want to be in communication with my body’s wisdom and bear witness to its murmurings and requests. To take it seriously as a source of authority.
I'm interested in gathering reactions from readers and workshop attendees on how to - wisely - take our bodies seriously as we manage our time and commitments and relationships. Do you have ways of doing that?