Something that's constantly on my mind lately is how the body stores and processes memories and emotions. Maybe it's sheltering in place, and maybe it's this relentless year, but lately I've been very aware of how differently my intellect and my body metabolize things. Often, I will think I've moved past something, but my body will continue to hold tension for days. Not infrequently, I have needed to cry, without knowing exactly why. I wake up having clenched my jaw all night, or I need way more sleep than usual. There's a sense of emotions having been stored up, unprocessed, and needing to be metabolized.
My sister, a massage therapist
, recommended I read a book called Molecules of Emotion,
written by Dr. Candace Pert, Ph.D., a molecular biologist who among other things, worked on the discovery of the endorphin molecule. It was published in 1997, practically an ancient text in the fast-moving and cutting-edge field of brain biochemistry, and it's a quirky read
, but there is much to learn from Dr. Pert's quest to better understand the body-mind connection. The bottom line as I understand it (caveat: I'm very much not
a scientist or science writer) is that the notion of body and mind being two separate things is entirely absurd. Even the brain is not an isolated organ; it is in deeply interconnected relationship with the rest of our bodies, especially the nervous and immune systems.
Those of us who were raised within European-colonial cultures have so much unlearning
to do around this. Our cultures are built on binary after binary, separations within separations, hierarchy on top of hierarchy. (That last one's a little joke. But also a truth.)
I have two siblings: a brother and a sister, both younger than me. My brother, the middle child with the temperament of a gentle, peacemaking artist, got along with everyone, while my sister and I, five years apart and with rather different temperaments, often clashed. The naturally occurring conflicts between kids sharing a home and vying for parents' attention were exacerbated by messages we received about our respective strengths, personalities, and roles.
I was labeled the serious, responsible one. (Where did that leave her, do you think?)
She was designated the beautiful, popular one. (How nice for me, huh?)
She was athletic; I was studious. I was this; she was that. Sometimes it felt like everything we did had to be in contrast to the other.
Eventually we grew up enough to realize what a scam the world was running by trying to limit our imaginations to binary thinking, comparison, and competition. We have spent the past couple of decades thick as thieves, conspiring to dismantle all the cultural nonsense that had us believing we had to be either amazing or terrible at things, that only one of us could succeed and glow in a given area, and to cultivate instead a rock-solid closeness.
Layered into this anecdote is necessary nuance: we have not become identical people. Moving beyond binary thinking does not lead to sameness, or to some perfect homeostasis where we no longer experience difference or separation.
Similarly, moving beyond the mind-body binary into a recognition of the interrelationship between body and mind doesn't require less scientific rigour and discernment; in fact it allows for more.
You know that thing people talk about, where something happens to a person's relative and they feel it in their body, despite being separated physically? I have never experienced that. My sister has.
I don't need to use words with her. If I need her, she's there before I know to reach out. But when she needs me, she has to tell me with words.
We can't all have all the skills, all the strengths. And none of us can go it alone. We need each other, and we need our whole selves.
Wishing you wholeness, nonbinary thinking, and the space and support your body-mind needs in order to metabolize whatever you're holding.