Provision #764: Your Brain On Wonder

Laser Provision

There is, of course, a play on words in Candace Pert’s 2006 book title, Everything you Need to Feel Go(o)d. Feeling good and feeling the presence of God are inextricably connected. The physiology, psychology, and spirituality of goodness and God are one and the same. There is a simple reason for that as everyone learned as a child: God is good. If you want to see how that works then join me for a Provision on wonder. It really is good to feel good.

LifeTrek Provision

My wife, Megan, and I spent Friday in Boston facilitating an evocative coaching training workshop along with Center for School Transformation faculty member Susan MacDonald. She was brilliant, as always, and we happily enrolled many new people in upcoming training cohorts, including one for early childhood educators through the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children as well as several for our May Training Cohort and even one for our September Training Cohort. We were thrilled, to say the least, not only by the enrollments but also by the full engagement of the 65 people in attendance.

Susan started out the day by showing everyone a picture of a mother holding and looking intently at her infant daughter. “What words come to mind,” Susan asked, “when you look at this picture?” After a brief pause, the words started to pour forth. Love. Tenderness. Caring. Connection. Attentiveness. Happiness. Joy. Pleasure. Awe. Wonder. With words like that, it wasn’t hard for Susan to make the connection between the engagement and qualities of the picture and the attributes that make for great coaching and leadership. If we want to have a positive effect on people, then our presence should embody these life-giving energies. They certainly don’t stop being important after infancy.

But in young children, these energies lie close to the surface. And those who work with young children are particularly sensitive to how they play out, not only in their relationships with the children but also in their relationships with each other. That was part of what made people so receptive to and interested in the evocative coaching training program. We emphasize the importance of getting the relationship right before we start focusing on results. People before projects is a clear message that we take to heart and seek to embody.

That piece of the puzzle is so important to our coaching leadership model that we have been conducting research into the effect of the evocative coaching training program on emotional intelligence or EQ. Although the results are still preliminary, we see statistically significant evidence that the training program strengthens several key EQ factors, including empathy, social intelligence, and motivation. That’s great news because EQ has a lot to do with all those words that people were coming up with in response to the picture. Those words are important to coaching success as much as they are to parenting. Without wonder we have no willingness to work.

We saw that for ourselves, after we got home from Boston, while bike riding around the neighborhood. The day was beautiful and sunny, with trees and bushes budding out several weeks ahead of schedule due to our unusually warm winter. The colors of the forsythias and redbuds were in full glory while the azaleas and even the dogwoods were starting to come on. After our ride, while walking more slowly around our property, we saw all kinds of other bushes and trees starting to green up and show signs of life. It would be hard for anyone to not be inspired by the world coming back to life!

That is the same feeling we seek while coaching. Coaching is not a matter of troubleshooting problems with analysis and expert advice; coaching is a matter of discovering strengths with story and evocative conversation. When that happens, the whole of a person begins to vibrate with a sense of possibility and wonder. Could it be that we might truly be able to turn our dreams into destiny? The sense of resonance with our best self is exactly what we seek because of the ways in which it shifts both our consciousness and our reality.

If that sounds a little farfetched, then you have not been keeping up on the new science of consciousness. Our brain on wonder is indeed able to move mountains. I would defer to the psychoneuroimmunologist, Candace Pert, to describe how this works. Although the passage from her book, Everything you Need to Feel Go(o)d, is a bit complex, I think you will appreciate the new understanding it gives us as to what is happening on a cellular level when we feel inspired and full of wonder:

“The nuts and bolts of how body and mind are one involves some simple biochemistry. To begin with, virtually every cell in the body is studded with thousands of tiny structures called receptors. Like the sense organs — the eyes, nose, and ears — the job of the receptors is to pick up signals coming at them from the surrounding space. They’re so important that a full 40 percent of our DNA is devoted to making sure that they’re perfectly reproduced from generation to generation.”

“Once the receptors receive a signal, the information is transferred to deep within the cell’s interior, where tiny engines roar into action and initiate key processes. Data coming in this way directs cell division and growth, cell migration for attacking enemies and making repairs, and cell metabolism to conserve or spend energy — to name just a few of the receptor-activated activities.”

“The signal comes from other cells and is carried by a juice that we call an informational substance. These juices from the brain, sexual organs, gut, and heart — literally everywhere — communicate cell to cell, providing an infrastructure for the ‘conversation’ going on throughout the bodymind. You know these juices as hormones, neurotransmitters, and peptides, and we scientists refer to all three with one word:ligand. This term is from ligare, a Latin word meaning ‘to bind,’ and is used because of the way that the substances latch on so tightly to the cell’s surface receptors.”

“Information-carrying ligands are responsible for 98 percent of all data transfer in body and brain. The remaining 2 percent of communication takes place at the synapse, between brain cells firing and releasing neurotransmitters across a gap to hit receptors on the other side. In the movie What the Bleep Do We Know!?, audiences saw an animated electrical storm taking place in the brain to show what this synaptic activity looks like. But what they didn’t see is that there are neurons with this same electrical-sparking activity firing throughout the body, not just in the brain.”

“My personal favorites among the ligands are the peptides, which consist of a string of amino acids, joined together like beads in a necklace; larger strings of amino acids are called proteins. There are over 200 peptides mapped in the brain and body, each one sounding a complex emotional chord — such as bliss, hunger, anger, relaxation, or satiety — when their signal is received by the cell. I’ve devoted my 30-plus year career to studying peptides such as endorphins and other substances.”

“Receptors and ligands are what I have called the ‘molecules of emotion.’ But how do the two find each other across the vast reaches of intercellular space, hook up — or bind — and then transfer vital information to affect cellular, body-wide activity? Scientists used to explain the attraction by a quality called receptor specificity, which is that each receptor is specifically shaped to fit one and only one ligand. A lock-and-key model helped with visualizing this method of connecting, or binding. The ‘key’ (a peptide) floats by until it finds its perfect ‘keyhole’ (the receptor). The key inserts into the keyhole, opening the ‘lock’ of the cell, and cellular activities begin.”

“While this is partially accurate, we now understand a more dynamic relationship between ligand and receptor, involving something called ‘vibratory attraction.’ Sitting on the surface of the cell, the receptor wiggles and shimmies, changing from one configuration to another in a constant state of flux. This dance creates a vibration that resonates with a ligand vibrating at the same frequency, and they begin to resonate together.”

“Cellular resonance — it’s like when you pluck one string on two different guitars in the same room — one will resonate with the other, both striking the same note. This creates a force of attraction, the way that peptides resonate with their receptors and come together to strike that emotional chord as they bind. And that’s when the music begins!”

“Emotions are the link between the physical body and nonphysical states of consciousness, and the receptors on every cell are where this happens. The attracting vibration is the emotion, and the actual connection — peptide to receptor — is the manifestation of the feeling in the physical world. That’s why I call peptides and their receptors the ‘molecules of emotion.'”

“What’s the result of all this activity? On a body-wide scale, the receptors are dynamic molecular targets, modulating our physiology in response to our experience. Emotions influence the molecules, which in turn affect how we feel. One example is that receptors wax and wane in number and sensitivity, depending on how often they’re occupied by peptides or other informational substances. In other words, our physical body can be changed by the emotions we experience.”

“And one last thing: We used to think that the peptides latched onto a single receptor, but we now know that receptors are often clumped together in tight, multiple complexes. Together, they form the walls of deep channels leading into the interior of the cell; and they open and close with a rhythmic, pumping action. As they move, these channels let substances in and out of the cell, setting up an ionic flux, or electrical current, which can course throughout the bodymind.”

“One of the things that this current does is influence the firing ‘set point’ of neurons in the brain, determining the path of brain-cell activation. So you can see that the molecules of emotion are directly affecting how you think! If we were to show a cartoon version of this whole process — peptides binding, receptors pumping, electric current moving out — we’d see bright, colorful clouds of vibrating, singing energy surrounding each cell; and we’d hear a chorus of resonating voices soaring in the background.”

“It’s not that peptides and receptors, the ‘molecules of emotion,’ produce emotions. It’s not a cause-and-effect relationship. Rather, it’s happening simultaneously, all at once. These molecules are the emotions, not their cause. What we experience as a ‘feeling’ is the actual vibrational dance that goes on when peptides bind to their receptors, whether it happens in our conscious awareness or not. Below what we notice happening, a huge amount of emotionally mediated information is being exchanged throughout the body and brain, much of which never rises up into our consciousness. From this vantage point then, our bodies are our subconscious minds.”

So that’s what was happening in Boston, during our workshop, and in Williamsburg, on our bike ride! Our receptors and ligands were doing the Snoopy dance of wonder. They were vibrating and resonating as feelings in our conscious and unconscious minds. Those feelings generated awareness and shifted reality in ways both subtle and dramatic. There were slowly-dawning glimmers and sudden surprises of recognition. It works the same way in all animals. One bird gets spooked and the whole flock flies away. No words. No explanations. Pure emotion driving motion at the speed of light.

Once we understand the power of emotion to move the world it behooves us to cultivate positive emotions as often and as deeply as possible. Perth makes this point by reflecting on an interaction she had with the Dalai Lama:

‘I was traveling in India,” the Dalai Lama said in response to a question Perth posed to him about illness and disease, “when I got very sick and was taken to a hospital. As I looked out from the window of the speeding ambulance, I saw the suffering, the poverty, and the starvation of so many people in the streets of the city. Eventually, my mind was no longer on my own discomfort, which was soon abated. By the time I got to the hospital, I no longer had the symptoms I’d started out with, and I no longer needed any treatment.”

Pert thanked the Dalai Lama for his answer and later realized that he was saying that health and wellness demand relationship, some kind of human interaction. As people, we’re no more individuals, no more autonomous agents, than the immune cells are on their own in the bodymind. To be healthy, well, and feel good, our biology insists that we be in relationship to others, and through our connections, we’re able to bring health to our bodymind.”

“I believe that this is what the Dalai Lama meant,” Perth concluded, “when he told us the story of how his compassion for people suffering had healed him. He was pointing to a path for us all, as individuals and collectively in our culture, the road to health and well-being. It’s as simple as it sounds: Love, compassion, and relationship — these are the human emotions that can heal us and lead to recovery from disease.”

Emotions matter. And the most profound emotions of all, emotions like love, tenderness, caring, connection, attentiveness, happiness, joy, pleasure, awe, and wonder matter the most of all. They not only heal the bodymind they also heal body politic as one human gets inspired and the whole of humanity begins to dance along.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of emotions do you inspire in life and work? What kind of emotions are you filled with right now? How could you become more aware of them? How could you become more emotionally intelligent? What practices might assist you to listen more deeply and align yourself more fully with positive emotions? What is one thing you could do right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed this Provision, Your Brain on Learning. Thank you. My ex-husband and I rehabbed an old house when we were in our 30s. I still have all the tools and books … and often wonder if I could do it all again. Your Provision says the skills are there. Now it’s just a question of desire … do I want to put this ole’ body thru that again 😉 …

On another note, you say in the opening paragraph, “I sometimes wonder if human beings were to disappear, how long would it take before the forces of nature would bring things back to a natural state?” If you’ve not seen it, check out the TV documentary series “Life After People” by James Lurie. According to Wikipedia, the 2-hr special was the most watched program ever on the History Channel.

This Provision hits home for me. Best of luck to your daughter and son-in law. The things you and your wife did last week remind me of my wife and I. My wife will often ask me how I know how to do something or state that I can do almost anything. It comes from learning and my self-driven challenge to always want to learn new things or how to do new things. This is, has always and will continue to be a goal in my life.

Even at 60 years old you can learn and grow. I have learned by asking questions, watching, trial and error (learn and improve from your mistakes), reading, and with the thought that there is no such work as can’t. My wife is the same way. She has been going to college since we have been married and I will soon be calling her “Dr.” She is moving upward in her career and she is also learning with me from remolding to putting a new roof on the house. We have fun learning together. 

I continue to enjoy reading your writings on the brain. I don’t have as much time as I would like to enjoy the rest of your website, but I look forward to the ding of my email each time a LifeTrek Provision lands in my inbox. Thanks!

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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