Note: I will not be defining the “I” in this post because it is beyond the scope of what I’m writing about. This is why I keep it in quotation marks throughout the post.
This month in my practice the discussion that’s been on the table is the brain. And the “I.” And their relationship.
Often “I” is in some state of consideration about itself or about its relationship with all things non-I. Often “I” is exploring questions about what to do next on its life path, how to express itself to the exterior world while in conflict or how to determine and maintain its sense of value or meaning. In other words, the “I” is a contemplator, finding understanding through consideration.
The brain, on the other hand, is a processor. In the majority of the brain, which is subconscious, information is coming in at high speeds from all the different systems of the body for interpretation. The brain organizes and processes this information and distributes instructions that allow for all the needs of all the body systems to be adequately met at any given moment. In other words, the brain is a problem solver.
When the “I” and the brain come together it’s often problematic. As long as the “I” is asking the brain questions such as “how do I get from my house to my office?” everything is fine. In fact, the brain can problem solve this question with incredible efficiency and efficacy. Getting something from point A to point B is the brain’s specialty. The problems start when the “I” asks the brain a question such as “what am I doing with my life?”
To that question, the brain does the same thing that it does with every problem posed to it: try to find a solution. But “what am I doing with my life?” is not a solvable question. It’s a consideration, something the “I” is contemplating. And yet the brain is built to be a problem solver so that all body needs are met efficiently and effectively at all times. So what happens? The brain tries to solve the problem by proposing one solution, and when that answer doesn’t satisfy the “I,” The brain comes up with another solution, and then another one, and yet another one waiting for the “I” to say something like “That’s it! Problem solved!”
If the “I” never says “That’s it!” then the brain just keeps going, trying to find the “right” answer, eventually looping, suggesting the same or similar solutions over and over again. It doesn’t take long for the “I” to become distressed by the brain’s frenetic problem solving, and then the “I” begins to feel trapped, stifled, confused, overwhelmed, depressed, etc. We all know this feeling. We have all experienced it.
So what is the “I” doing asking such questions to the brain? What I see in my practice is that a lot of people associate themselves with their brain in such a way that the “I” is located in the brain and not in any other part of the body. The logic is that the thoughts of the “I” are formed in the brain, and the “I” expresses itself primarily through the communication of these thoughts, therefore the “I” and the brain must be inseparable. Physiologically it’s more like the inclinations of the “I” are processed by the brain and interpreted into thoughts that allow for additional communication, which is beneficial for survival. And since all things beneficial for survival, according to the body, are preferable, the thoughts generated are given a certain level of priority.
It does not make sense, however, to loop endlessly over thoughts from a survival standpoint, which suggests that maybe these questions aren’t meant for the brain. The questions meant for the brain are the solvable ones: how to get from point A to point B. The contemplations of the “I” are exactly that, contemplations, not problems to be solved.
Differentiate between your thoughts and treat them accordingly. Wonder, be curious, and have some awe around the contemplations of the “I,” and only ask the brain to get involved when you are no longer wondering, but ready to take action. The brain, when engaged appropriately, will help you formulate the plan and organize the steps needed to manifest your life as you imagine it. If you engage the brain, on the other hand, as a problem solver to discover the meaning in your life, you will never live your life, you’ll just loop and loop endlessly in your head.
I suggest that when your brain starts looping thoughts, you get up, shift your attention, and engage with your body instead. Come back to the now and take space from the story repeating in your head. Use action to self-regulate so that you can live in the present and leave the past alone and the future unknown.
Here is an exercise to help manage looping thoughts.
Bargh J. A., Morsella E. (2008). The unconscious mind. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 3 73–79.10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00064.x [PMC free article]
Porth C. M., Matfin G. (2009). Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Sherwood J. (2008). Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible. http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3295.
Samantha Lotti is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, acupuncturist and herbalist in Chicago, Illinois. For more information: www.biodynamichealth.com.