Bringing the Body to Life – August 2012
When I stumbled across Nonviolent Communication (NVC) 7 years ago, the interior of my body felt like cotton wool. I thought that the idea that there was a relationship between the outer world and our physical sensations was wishful thinking on the part of people who believed in etheric spirits and alien abductions.
The first time I received empathy guesses from a circle of voices, I felt like I was a tiny boat afloat in a flooding sea of my emotions, with the needs guesses orienting me like lighthouses in the distance toward resolution. Even then, in that experience of dawning comfort and self-understanding, my body did not have a voice. Even then, as I was receiving physical reassurance, while my heart rate and respiration were slowing, while my blood pressure was dropping, I could not have told you much about my body except that I could recognize the “ka-thunk” of relaxation when a needs guess really landed.
If we could have looked inside my brain with an MRI, we would have seen that a part of my right prefrontal cortex was dark – the insula, tucked up underneath the cortical folds, on the outside of the amygdala, the part that should have lit up to tell me what was happening in my body.
It was as if it took the nuclear detonation of extremely accurate empathy to make a huge enough shift in my body that I was able to feel it.
And was I unusually numb, or somehow brain-damaged? No. The accommodation of turning our insulas off (or perhaps never turning them on) is common among children who are raised by parents who themselves are not connected with their bodies, and who do not have a habit of asking their children about their emotions or of connecting emotions with physical sensation. This disconnection compromises us, as we are left without the link between our direct experience of the world and our ability to understand why we are making decisions. (This is the disconnection of avoidant attachment and left hemisphere dominance that runs from our childhoods, through our bodies, into our cultures, and affects our very planet.)
And it is just an accommodation, a habit of brain use, a pattern that can be changed as we open the door between the hemispheres, and begin to heal our old attachment wounds, moving toward brain integration and health.