The brain, pain and happiness crowds Castlemaine library

Great turn out last night at the Castlemaine library for my talk with seventy odd people. Well the people weren’t odd. At least I don’t think so they all seemed very nice and even smiled when I tried to make a joke. I mean there were approximately seventy people.

I stood up front and told them what I know about brain change. I felt like I was talking over their heads as I stood at the podium and explained i-brainmap, the approach I developed to free the brain from stuck patterns.

After a bit of talk we enacted some pain and struggle. I wanted them to understand how we can get entangled in old pathways and webs of experience as we struggle against our pain. (By pain I mean physical and emotional pain).

You had to be there to understand how you enact pain, but in short the message is this; when you struggle or react to an experience such as pain, anxiety, or distress you perpetuate the loop, and get more entangled.

When you struggle or tense against the experience the brain gets the message that something is wrong. It does its job to try to protect you from threat so it keeps the experience running – a threat-fear-alarm-loop.

So there is the experience and then your reaction to the experience.

We can’t stop the pain. Life is painful at times. But how we react to the pain as it arises will determine whether the brain gets stuck on the loop or whether it can begin to change and free itself from old pathways.

But the challenge in doing this is that the part of the brain that gets stuck in distress is like a little kid having a nightmare. Just telling it to stop getting upset or slapping it because it’s crying wont help. But that is exactly what we are doing to ourselves when we get angry, frustrated or distressed and struggle against our pain.

The part of the brain that keeps us trapped is there to help us survive and it is much older than our big, smart brain that flourished at school. This lower part of the brain doesn’t use words so often we can’t talk ourselves out of feeling scared. Instead we need to use the language of the survival brain, like talking to a small, frightened child.

Their language is sensory. It’s gentle, sometimes firm, but always kind. When a small child is frightened we hold and rock them, give them a dummy, or a teddy. We talk softly to them and tell them everything is ok. And that is exactly how we need to respond to our own distressed lower brain. Unless of course there is some current threat to our survival, then we do need to run!

But mostly that survival brain is running on empty. It is activated by everyday stress as if there is a tiger chasing you but you don’t need to react with that level of gas – adrenalin and cortisol – in your body-brain.

If a child is having a nightmare we need to gently and persistently get their attention into the present, here and now, and show them there is nothing frightening in their room. They are at home in their bedroom. This is like switching on a light in the brain.

Mindfulness is a key technique in bringing the attention back to the present.

The other important aspect of soothing a distressed child (lower brain) is being gentle. Yell at the child to stop it and the child will get more distressed. Firm and gently is the best approach, until the child has calmed down.

These elements are part of the AIR(s) technique that I outline in my book, i-brainmap, freeing your brain for happiness, to help you move through pain and distress to free your brain from old emotional entanglements.


Thanks to Jess and Patsy for your support at the talk last night and to the fabulous Castlemaine crowd who attended.


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