Connection—"A Thousand Points of Light”
Charon states, “ So called diseases of despair (cirrhosis of the liver, suicide, and drug overdose) have hit record rates nationwide,” and because of that life expectancy is declining. She cites “chronic loneliness” or feelings of isolation as one of the culprits.
Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston states, “We are neuro-biologically wired to desire a sense of belonging—to be connected,” and feelings of “unworthiness” may block our ability to reach out. So, what is the solution to this ‘loneliness problem,’ which may be rooted in shame? How can we outsmart the quagmire of self-talk (“I’m not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, pretty/handsome enough,” etc.) that may be dampening our spirits and limiting our relationships?
Based on my research in both neuro-science and spirituality, I believe we can start by strengthening the neural-platforms that will fortify the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the region of the brain designed to diminish the effects of an over-active limbic system, which often reinforces negative self-talk. The ACC, sometimes called the “neurological heart,” processes empathy and compassion. When bolstered, it can moderate the influence of the limbic-system’s ‘antagonist,’ programmed with survival strategies wired to provoke panic—or anticipate a catastrophe. This ancient region of the brain is like a maximum-security-prison, locking you into narrow parameters of your own conditioning—replete with mal-adaptive habits and outdated belief systems.
(with spiritual practices), that there is a unique neuron in the ACC (the von Economo Neuron) found only in humans, apes, and great whales. According to Newberg, this neuron is the source of the ‘master-mind’ that can mitigate and balance out the negative effects of the limbic system. Apparently, it can be stimulated by simply being aware of your breath for a few minutes (How God Changes the Brain Dr. Andrew Newberg, professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, states in his book, breathe in, breathe out). By exercising mental focus, you will physically increase the supply of those little magic neurons, changing how your brain operates (a process known as neuroplasticity). Newberg’s findings also show that Eastern meditation and Christian contemplative practice can serve to strengthen the ACC’s influence.
Whether or not you are politically aligned with the late George H. W. Bush, it would be difficult to argue the significance of his remark at the 1988 Republican convention when he accepted the nomination for President. “Volunteer organizations are like a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky—working hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led.” Carl Menninger, a psychiatrist who founded the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, stated, “If you are depressed and lonely, go help someone else. Love cures people, both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” Love, then, according to Menninger, is the magic catalyst for healing. And, of course, in order to really love others, don’t we have to start by loving ourselves?
How about becoming a “point of light” by cutting yourself some slack, breathing, mustering up a little compassion (both for yourself and others), and considering your personal flavor of how to connect—“hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led?”
Believing in you,