Limbic resonance, defined in A General Theory of Love as a “miraculous intermediary” that creates critical connections between others and ourselves, has me fascinated. Limbic regulation is the process by which we’re emotionally, physically, neurologically shaped by those who surround us. From our earliest moments of life, we are getting our first tastes of our emotional landscape secondhand, by watching our caretakers respond to events, then using their response as a way to know our own. Think of how a kid falls, then looks to his parent for information on how he should react. Via this “harmonizing activity of nearby limbic brains,” we’re calmer within ourselves when we’re in calm company, more frenetic internally in the presence of someone rushing, and more loving in the company of folks who prioritize love. Along those lines, we’ve learned to create either protective shields or open invitations based on what we thought we needed to get by when we were small. And as we continue our journeys of self-understanding now, as adults, in some respects we still have pretty sturdy walls standing between us and our healing. Even decades later, we hesitate to let those walls down, and enter into relationships just like the ones that shaped us early on, simply because they’re familiar, no matter how quietly or overtly destructive. May we all realize that we chose our coping mechanisms—and can choose so differently now.
Red Hawk, one of my go-to authors, suggests that those walls are simply accumulated habitual moods that have historically served us. In his book, Self Observation, he says that these moods, when they’re successful, get us what we need, and become hardwired into our systems as effective default settings, “…so that, under moments of duress, the central nervous system will immediately default to these habitual moods.”
He then notes the example of depression. “Depression is one such mood, for example. It is the favorite of many people. Why? Because it gets the attention of others who may then be induced to rescue me and take care of me = survival.” I recognize that this is a deeper conversation as to the question of chemical imbalance in cases of depression, but if Red Hawk is correct, any imbalance in chemistry actually evolved out of a habitual repetition of moods. We repeat moods, habits, until we learn to remap our brains. Myself, I’ve felt whispers of depression in my body, traceable to the child in me who got the most thorough attention when I was not at my best, home sick or suffering in some way. Having learned early what would get me attention, anytime I felt uncomfortable in my skin and unable to face my day growing up, I’d say I was sick and try to stay home, and that really felt comforting to me. Being seen for being sick (or now as an adult, sad) was one of my “walls” that still sometimes stops me from just being great.
Yoga helps us see these walls (moods) that prevent us from experiencing and exchanging healing resonance; on the mat we feel the blocks in our bodies, and there is where we begin to invite awareness. Breathing opens up those places both structurally and internally, but I wasn’t really learning how to shift my behavior in real time via my yoga practice.
How did I learn how to break down those walls, in actual interactions? Coaching. Working with the Handel Group, we learn about how our minds work, see the contexts in which we’ve built those walls, and begin the process of dismantling them. This work helps us create new paradigms in which we welcome healing relationships instead of the ones in which we perpetuate destruction as wound meets wound.
Is coaching as spiritual as yoga? Perhaps surprisingly, coaching is a highly spiritual undertaking. The work of seeing clearly, dissolving blame, and telling my truth keeps me reconnecting: to mySELF, my friends and my family in new ways all the time, which makes me proud, which opens me more to my connection to spirit, to Source, whatever you’d like to call it. I feel it. I wasn’t feeling it with yoga alone.
How does coaching work, exactly? Specifically, the work begins with designing my life—crafting specific, profound dreams for all areas of my life, and determining why they’re not true yet. Within the reasons why they’re not true is where I learn exactly how my mind (walls and all) works to keep me my dreams far away. I’m building trust in myself. Designing my life means that I’m actively remapping my own mind in the direction of courage and freedom, through actively practicing both yoga and integrity. This inspires me—both consciously and unconsciously—to surround myself with family, colleagues, and friends who resonate with my evolving design for myself. This magnetizes others who trust themselves. We lift each other up.
Are we becoming dangerously codependent or do we actually help each other? According to the authors of A General Theory of Love, “limbic regulation and a balanced level of dependence are actually curative.” Our relatedness to each other helps us evolve, grow, prosper, and believe in our missions, together. When I am in my heart and focused on healing, I find myself surrounded by people who point me even more surely in that direction. Even when I falter and allow anger into my body, I find my way back to my heart, apologize, and remap the moment. Learning how to listen with more love is my only practice now.
So does my coach, or my man, or my kid’s ability to tell the truth impact mine? Yes. Does mine impact theirs? Yes. Is limbic regulation that obvious? Yes and no. It’s not as clear-cut as we might think. “Knowledge leaps the gap from one mind to the other, but the learner does not experience the transferred information as an explicit strategy. Instead, a spontaneous capacity germinates and becomes a natural part of the self, like knowing how to ride a bike or tie one’s shoes.” May I place an order for the spontaneous capacity to own my prevailing bullshit, anger and disdain, please? And can I “listen” by consciously leaping the gap from my mind to another? When I’m feeling afraid, can I actually tune into a fearless friend’s resonance so I can feel my own bravery “germinate and become a natural part” of myself? Can I do this across time, across space, across generations? YES.
We all exchange so much; we trade fear as fast as great ideas, we share sensations of lack as readily as we share abundance. We can lend each other doubt as often as we offer encouragement. As Diane Ackerman says, “We are defined by how we place our attention.” Share yours well.
Elena Brower, founder of Virayoga and Art of Attention, loves to be a mama, teach yoga, write, and coach. Her yoga workbook, Art of Attention, is almost complete. She’s producing a series of videos called On Meditation, and has created an irresistible essential oil blend called GIVE which benefits Women for Women International.
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