Thursday, May 19, 2011


Day 288

It isn't a new idea that we become what we think about. I have always been so fascinated with the human brain and its capacity to literally make or break a person. If I can remember back to freshman psychology I believe it is the brain stem I have to thank for keeping my heart, lungs, and other automatic bodily functions running smoothly. The cerebellum is responsible for skilled coordination (I must have damaged that somewhere along the way), and the cerebrum, with its left and right hemispheres, explains the need for books like, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." It's all the different "lobes" that help us see, and hear, and interpret touch, and remember Granny's birthday. The hippocampus is usually the first to go in one who experiences the devastation of Alzheimer's. The hypothalamus makes sure we're not too cold, too fat, or too hungry. (My mnemonic device for this in college was 'hippo'thalamus. Get it? Without its appetite controlling functions, we'd be hippos? I know it's dumb.) But the part of our brain that personally gives me the most trouble has, ironically, always been hard for me to remember. Even tonight...I had to look up its name. A.M.Y.G.D.A.L.A. Would you believe the part of our brain that is responsible for our basic survival, fear and sex, is buried deep within the limbic emotional brain and is the size and shape of an almond? AN ALMOND!?!

It feels like a slap in the face that something so small has had the ability to torment me so greatly throughout my 28 years. I guess me, and my overactive Amydala, would have been just dandy back in the Neolithic age when danger was literally imminent all day and all night. But what do I do with all that fear now, when my danger level is relatively low? In the book, "What Happy Women Know," by Dan Baker, Ph.D., and Cathy Greenberg, Ph.D., Baker gives a simple analogy that cleverly restates something we've always known- you have to focus on the positive to move in a positive direction. He says, "It involves the same concept as glade skiing- skiing through a strand of closely spaced trees. The trick, as any experienced instructor will tell you, is to avoid looking at the trees, because you literally move toward what you focus on. If you look at a tree, you'll start heading for it. Likewise, if you start looking for the worst, you'll find it, pure and simple. Instead, why not focus on the glade- the space between the trees- and head for that. Yes, you're more naturally tuned in to threatening forces, but that doesn't mean you need to spend all your time focused on them. In fact, the more you can relegate those hardwired responses to background noise, the happier you will be. Just because we're stuck with certain unpleasant emotions- gifts from our ancestors neatly tied up with ribbons of fear- doesn't mean that we can't find a way of avoiding them on our journey toward a life full of contentment and joy." (Baker, pg. 18).

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