I can remember my very first heartbreak as if it were March 15, 1965. The Ides of March. Barbara Schaul and I had been dating for seven months; she was my “first time” – we took my virgin trip to Disneyland together. Shortly after that trip I was forced to stay home with a bad flu. I didn’t hear from her the whole week I was sick. On my last bedridden day, Barbara showed up at the house and broke the news: she’d discovered she was madly in love with Josh Randall (not the Steve McQueen character in the TV program, Wanted: Dead or Alive, who carried the famous “Mare’s Laig” rifle-pistol). This Josh Randall was her high school dweeb chem lab partner. Talk about kicking a guy with a mare’s leg when he was down.
I failed to take away a number of important lessons from that experience with Barbara, and so I would have to repeat them several more times until I FINALLY got the teachings. The first lesson is that the feelings of excitement, love, joy and delight that I initially experienced in response to Barbara’s “liking” me, were mostly the products of my own neurophysiology. They were mostly the results of the thoughts that emerged from my neural network in response to the things Barbara might say or do (much as similar thoughts emerge in response to things our kids and partners say and do). When those thoughts made me feel good, that was great and it was easy to mis-attribute them to Barbara, to make her the causal muse (Admittedly, this is a very tough separation for most of us to make, the brain being the powerful association-making organ that it is).
When Barbara broke up with me, the thoughts that emerged were now just the opposite, though still products of the collection of 52 endocrine glands that live inside my cranial cavity and make up my brain. Those thoughts caused me to feel like poo. And it was obviously Barbara’s fault. If she hadn’t dumped me, would I be thinking such poopy thoughts? (A deeper reality might be: if she hadn’t dumped me, would I have then spent miserable year after year trying desperately to get someone completely incapable of it (like her) to answer The Big Brain Question “Yes” for me? Based on subsequent relationships, very likely).
Mindsight Makes It Happen
One thing missing from my neural reserves at that time in my young life was essentially what UCLA brain shrink, Dan Siegel calls Mindsight. It’s closely associated with Executive Function and seems to be the natural developmental outgrowth of numerous neurons coming together, by any variety of means, and collecting just behind the center of our foreheads. This central command center (the orbito-prefrontal cortex), the result of billions of connections by neurons staging their own Occupy Movement in this location, is responsible for allowing us to be able to think about thinking, our own and other people’s. In my experience, a minority of the world’s population currently possesses such capacity. If it did, we would be having fewer interpersonal disagreements, and we would act on the insane belief that peace can be achieved by going to war a LOT less often (To help develop such capacity is one reason I’ve written all these books! And if you practice the simple exercises in them, they actually do work!!).
Duped by the Neuro-Magi
One challenge with such cortical mis-attribution is made more complex by the fact that our brains are VERY good at duping us into believing things that aren’t true. They’re like master neural magicians – they easily misdirect us and use their magic “Associative Powers” to convince us to see what we think we see, hear what we think we hear (the famous McGurk Effect), feel what we think we feel, and believe what we think we believe. Because I felt such great love in Barbara’s presence, my brain’s Associative Powers made the connection: Barbara = Love. Until, of course, she didn’t. The problem is that if I’ve bought into the first premise, that is, I’ve failed to realize that it is my own neurophysiology apprehending the feelings of love, and that Barbara is mostly a willing catalyst temporarily helping to remove blocks to the awareness of Love’s Ever-presence – to recall and underscore Rumi – then I am also saddled with believing the second premise – when Barbara dumps me, love is no longer available to me. How distressing a predicament is that?
The primary requirement that will enable many of us to grow out of this dilemmic distortion might be for us to begin doing things that expand our cognitive and non-cognitive awareness (grow the numbers and connections within and between both hemispheres of the brain and in the ACC) and develop sustained daily practices that support neuro-somatic intelligence. We might learn to honor and make sense of how the world feels to our body. If we begin with those few steps, we can be prepared for the universe to unfold real enchanting spells in our lives – for love minus zero to truly hold no limit! What better time to begin than … now. 🙂