The thoughts bring an instant change though, as the locus of metabolized energy shifts in a rush of blood to my head and the pleasant calm sensation is gone. Hum! The default program kicks in, I think, sighing as I try to bring awareness back to my body. I push myself up to a sitting position, wanting to practice my deep breathing routine before a still sleeping Sasi wakes.
I start by forcefully exhaling as much air as I can from my lungs, feeling the constriction of chest muscles as air is forced out. I sense how that constriction is associated with habitual shallow breathing and then I breath in until I can’t possibly fill my lungs anymore, holding the breath for a five count, and then exhale normally making sure to expel as much air as possible again. Increased oxygen in my blood stream brings an expanded awareness of my body and I feel a tingling in my toes and fingers, along with the sensation of muscles relaxing in my shoulders, chest and legs. Stopping the deliberate routine after twenty deep breaths I attend to a normal breathing rhythm, trying to sense a balanced autonomic nervous system lower activity. Thoughts come in of coarse and I find it increasingly hard to dislodge what feels like a pressure to think, and within seconds I’m in a full blown fantasy about the upcoming interaction with Sasi.
"Sugar!" I say to myself, as I realize this drift in my autonomic nervous system state, aware again of the knot in my stomach, with tight chest muscles and associated shallow breathing, this is my autonomic vigilance regime. I remember an exercise from a Reiki workshop, and fix my eyes on the light fitting at the center of the ceiling, then deliberately expand my lateral vision out to the sides. Immediately I feel an involuntary relaxing of the stomach knot, like a clenched fist suddenly released. Wow! How does that work, I think remembering people telling me about my intense look, which is more evidence of my hyper-vigilance state, and fits in with this stomach knotting by an autonomic nervous system shutting down digestive function to re-direct metabolic energy.
I curse myself for taking so many years to start to undo this default nervous system program, realizing it’s been there since childhood, perhaps since birth and I’ve simply adapted a persona around it.
I realize I’ve used simulated affect to build a false self, with my cool and confident posture a mimicked façade adapted by observing other self secure people, yet I’ve always lacked the easy attachment and interaction with others, which is the hallmark of a secure personality. Like an actor on stage I’ve used self stimulated affects to pose emotive postures that I don’t innately feel. Its like the swagger of an adolescent posing a cool personality that is not innately felt, we put on a show for the world. Just like the soccer player who dives to win a free kick, simulating movement and pain to gain advantage. Imaginative pretense is one of our treasured gifts that unfortunately causes confusion and pain when used unconsciously to compensate for life inhibiting wounds. Easing myself down onto my stomach again, I want to feel the rhythm of my breathing and the sensation of my internal organs, to a feel solid contact with my skin. I sink down into the mattress, feeling as much skin contact as I can, bringing my attention to my chest, allowing the muscles there to relax and trying not to think. I should do this every morning after the night’s deep breathing - Stop thinking, I say to myself.
Sasi groans, one of those childlike yet sexy noises she tends to make as she’s waking, causing me to wonder if I’m dreaming or just sailing on the edge of sleep as the unlocking of habitual muscle tensions, unleash gentle waves of fatigue. I say a silent prayer for Sasi’s morning greeting, hoping that time and sleep have brought a shift in her affective state, her mood. She rolls over to face me before opening her eyes, and I wonder how conscious that movement is as she blinks before giving me an intent look, while I force down concern giving her the warmest smile I can muster.
‘Hi!’ I say, and Sasi looks at me for milliseconds longer as if she’s trying to remember who I am.
‘I hate you!’ She says before breaking out in her usual beaming smile, and my relief is audible as air escapes my lungs in a deep sigh.
‘How do you feel?’ I ask, gazing lovingly into her big brown eyes, aware that I’m searching for information there in the dilation of her pupils, the movement of her eyes and eyelids. I think about what must be happening inside both our brains right now, as we gaze intently at each other. Is there an exchange of neural information here I wonder? Something like computer digital wifi, are we sharing a neural eye-fi connection perhaps? Eyes looking and somehow speaking beyond words, beyond thoughts, an electro-chemical language of digitized neural information.
I’m certain that if she is still hurting I will see it now, here in the fine tuning of our eye contact, she would not hold my gaze if she felt pain, anger or shame, or if she’s fearful of any negative sensations I might trigger again. One of the great pleasures of intimacy is the freedom from fear of miss-attuning eye contact from others, our great social weapon is shame, and we trigger it in each other with a simple look, the cold stare with simultaneously upturned nose, from a superior other who judges us with contempt by using innate disgust. Sasi senses the hope in my eyes though, the concern for her welfare and my plea for forgiveness.
‘I’m ok,’ she says, smiling while squeezing my arm.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I reply, lowering my eyes in spontaneous shame reaction.
‘I can’t believe I threw a plate at you,’ she tells me, laughing and touching my hair.
‘Believe me I deserved it, I lost it the other night when I shamed you like that.’
Sasi’s hand reaches for my check and she looks into my eyes while whispering, ‘Darling!’
The affect is palpable as our eyes gaze more intently and my forgiveness is secured with Sasi’s glorious smile transforming my inner sensation. The heightened concern that had dogged me since she slammed the bedroom door, is now drowned out by a flood of elation as we close the gap between us, both needing to seal this sense of repair.
‘You’re so beautiful,’ I whisper.
* * *
I wish I had the writing skills to describe this scene well, to convey to you the foundational nature of the dyadic, two person relationship, the conduit through which we learn how to be in the world, how to adapt to life. The essence of biological-neurological affective states, of feedback triggered innate affects and their stimulated nervous system activity, can best be understood in the intimate interaction between lovers, and particularly the interactions of a mother and her baby. Innate affects like joy, interest and excitement are first experienced early in the relationship with our mothers. Long before we become verbally expressive, before we become a suppressed intellectual like me, whole body innate affect reactions and their emotive energies are the stuff of life, the platform on which our conditioned, and adapted sense of self rests. We never knew how potent, how important innate affects were in the early months of our lives, all too soon we are pressured to suppress innate affects for the sake of social cohesion. Yet the need of them resurfaces in the most intimate adult relationships, upon meeting that special someone we are often transformed, re-fueled and re-vitalized by the potent positive affects they trigger within us.
I think it was Margaret Mahler who coined the term emotional refueling, observing how a toddler will make periodic returns from curious exploration and is emotionally refueled by eye contact with their smiling mother. Many child developmental experts have described this innate affect inter-regulation between mother and child, noting the mother is equally affected to elation by the sight of her baby. The thoughts remind me of my lover and how I’m always emotionally refueled by the sight of her glorious smile, the triggered affect is innate, instinctual and beyond any conscious control.
Thank God it’s Sunday and we get to spend a couple more hours in bed, why is it that make up sex is always so good? Afterwards there is time and space to talk. Sasi expresses her disappointment at my behavior in the last few weeks, she feels my total absorption in the book project has taken me away from her.
‘It’s on your face every day and I’m getting sick of it,’ she tells me. Innate distress expressed as concern is the look she speaks of and how it affects her, she tells me she feels like I’m dragging her down.
‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all,’ I say.
‘What! - God you love this cryptic crap,’ she says, and I explain that she wants me to reflect her beaming smile back to her, which is the unconscious meaning of the old nursery rhyme.
‘You don’t want to respond to my furrowed brow, my look of concern, my innate distress because it triggers the same unconscious reaction in you.’
‘I get it, your back to the animal nervous thingy,’ she tells me, doing her best furrowed brow simulation, although it’s mingled with to much innate joy, to be affective in Sasi.
‘Must be those mirror neurons, huh?’ She quips.
‘You know that photo of Einstein I have on my desk, have a look at his furrowed brow,’ I tell Sasi, explaining how Silvan Tomkins used the photo to show how the density of innate affect can become a permanent feature on the human face. In Einstein we see a fixed look of interest, excitement and surprise, along with a deeply furrowed brow that reflects his constant grappling with such huge intellectual challenges by triggering the innate affect of distress, the biological spark for what we think of as concern.
* * *
We talk a little about unconscious projections, like the mirror in the nursery rhyme, and did the writer somehow sense that we’d eventually discover mirror neurons in the brain. We talk about art and creativity, and how we can know things without them being conscious, how unconscious projection is thought of in psychology as a denial of our own unwanted negative traits.
‘Perhaps that’s true of positive traits too, the ones we’re not ready to admit to,’ I say.
‘Oh God, your not going to write about Greek God’s and Goddesses are you?’ Sasi asks me. She’s remembering the news item about the Australian medical team who successfully separated Siamese twins joined at the head. As we watched the team of men and women being congratulated on their miracle operation, I’d asked Sasi how they would appear to a three thousand year old Greek writer.
‘What do notions of God have to do with a practical self help book in this day and age?’ She asks me.
‘I don’t know maybe expanding perceptual awareness? Trying to show there’s more to life than an essentially unconscious and reactive here and now - more to life than our object obsessed mind can perceive,’ I plead. Eventually Sasi gets bored with philosophy and decides breakfast is a mighty idea.
* * *
After a hearty breakfast we decide to spend some time in a local park, Sasi wants fresh air and a chill out day with absolutely no gobbledygook talk, she tells me. Finding a good spot near the lake we settle down on a rug with our picnic basket, Sasi brings out a red Frisbee from under the plastic plates.
‘Oh my! How did that get there?’ She exclaims, running of towards the lake, ‘Come on Grumpy,’ she shout’s after me. We play catch for a little while, with Sasi avoiding the temptation to put the Frisbee in the lake and daring me to go fetch. After a while I catch it and bring the red disk up to my face, covering all below my eyes.
‘My! What big eyes you have - Mister man,’ Sasi says.
‘I have x-ray vision little Miss riding hood.’
‘Really! Let me guess, all the better to undress me with? - Well you’ll have to catch me first.’ She takes of towards the woods, laughter mixed with girlish screams of delight as I begin to gain ground, roaring noises like some kind of cross between a wolf and a bear. I’m banned from talking gobbledygook, but you don’t have to be Einstein to understand the re-energizing, re-vitalizing affects of such play states.
We wonder back from the woods arm in arm, just in time to watch a newly arrived family, a little girl is chasing her puppy around and squealing with delight at the puppy’s playful behavior. Sasi and I share a smiling gaze, both affected by such innate joy as we retreat to our comfortable rug to laze around and watch the world go by; gentle touches a tactile comment on our mutual affective state.
‘So! The wolf noises were simulated affect, yes?’ Sasi suddenly tells me.
‘I thought gobbledygook speak was banned?’ I reply.
‘I know, but I’m trying to get this idea that up to eighty percent of your personality comes from simulated affect - to me you’re the most calm, cool and together person I know.’ I explain how I’m coming to understand my unconscious fears, which I’ve somehow managed to mask with posture of pretence, with adapted and simulated innate affects.
‘I act cool darling, I use the primitive defense of dissociation to appear cool, calm and collected, when deep inside I’m scared witless.’
‘And you think there was birth trauma followed by neglect when you were very young?’
‘Yes, I’m becoming more certain that birth experience and the early transactions of innate affect between adults and a young child, sets up the biological platform of our essentially reactive nature, the unconscious animal nervous system responses to any environmental challenge, which for some of us includes just being around other people.’
‘Which is why you give these intellectual answers when I ask you a very personal question, so that you can avoid triggering negative affects and their sensations - yes?’ Sasi asks me.
‘Well, I’m hoping your spontaneously positive innate affects will rub off darling.’
‘So that’s why you love me - my innate smiley nature, you old devil you,’ Sasi teases me to lighten the mood, reminding me of the age gap and squashing any sense of inferiority she may feel towards my intellectual capacity.
‘I need you baby, and you were made in the land of smiles.’
‘What’s Thailand got to with it,’ Sasi asks with a beaming smile at the compliment to her homeland. I explain how I think Thai people acknowledge the powerful affect of smiling much more than western people do. They seem to understand the positive affect of smiling is a commodity worth trading between people. Bangkok always reminds me of Manchester in the fifties, where I grew up and that weird contradiction of the less you have the more you smile, I guess it‘s the greater sense of community amongst poor people. Although unfortunately we didn’t smile too much in my house, were the most emotionally traded affect was a form of innate distress in the form of constant worrisome concern. By contrast Sasi was lucky; she was surrounded by positive and infectious innate affect from day one, born in a poor village where her family and the people were more invested in each other than in acquiring wealth and objects.
‘Don’t worry, Thai people like objects too,’ Sasi tells me.
‘Using simulated innate affect darling, like everyone else.’
‘Now I don’t understand that one,’ my darling tells me, shaking her head. I hold up her hand and nod towards her diamond ring and ask how she feels about it. She beams of course, telling me she loves it and I ask her to imagine that she’s never seen a diamond before, never heard of one and therefore has no emotional associations or attachment to it.
‘If you could wipe your memory clean and see this crystal for the very first time, what would it mean to you then? - Would you get just as excited as the little girl playing with her puppy? - And would she swap her puppy for your diamond ring?’ I ask her.
‘But the little girl doesn’t know the value or the meaning of the ring,’ Sasi exclaims.
‘She would reject the object because it’s inanimate, it has no instinctual innate affects to infect her with, it can’t make her squeal with delight as her living breathing puppy does,’ I tell Sasi explaining further how I see her delight with her ring as the innate affect stimulated sensations she remembers from childhood, projected onto an object through associated expectation. How all she had ever heard about the value and meaning of a diamond ring, allows her to simulate the kind of innate joy we saw in the little girl, the real value of objects are the sensations we associate it with them, our desire is for the experience of positive sensations not the object.
‘You think I simulate pleasure with my ring?’ Sasi tells me accusingly, while protectively caressing her precious object.
‘You smile at your ring but its not the same kind of all over sensation I see when your mother looks fondly at you,’ I tell her. Sasi squeezes her mouth and eyes up in rejection of my devaluation of her diamond ring.
‘Maybe I should have used my car as the analogy,’ I say, realizing I’ve picked the wrong object to get metaphysical about.
‘How about a movie, darling?’ I ask, hoping to break the tense silence between us.
‘Avatar?’ Sasi suggests, and as we pack up our picnic things we hear screams from the direction of the young family. Something has upset the little girl and she is inconsolable, I wince as Sasi gives me an enquiring look about the nature of divine three year olds, while the little girl continues to scream as if the end of the world is upon us. Here is a very audible example of why innate affect expression is only tolerated in baby’s and small children, in adults this would affect a contagious panicky chaos, which is why we suppress, adapt, simulate and constrict our innate affect/emotion expressions, rarely giving them full vent in voice or physical movement. Yet as Silvan Tomkins noted, at what cost? Certainly confusion about the reality of our nature is one of them, with a whole host of anxieties and even emotional disorders a probable result.
* * *
We drive into the city heading for our favorite movie complex, remembering how we have talked about seeing this movie for weeks now, both interested and excited by all the media hype and other people’s positive comments.
‘Jenny Baxter’s seen it three times already,’ Sasi tells me.
As we watch the opening scenes I hear Sasi mumble ‘Jerks’ at the two army dogs talking about fresh meat, I chuckle, thinking it’s a perfect example of our reactive animal nervous system. A self soothing sense of superiority at the perception of a lesser creature, the impulse is as unconsciously reactive as an animals territorial threat display seen a few scenes later. We share a laugh as ‘Selfridge’ shows Grace the precious object ‘unobtainium’ and Sasi wrinkles her nose at me while caressing her diamond ring. Sasi loves the growing tension between Jake and Neytiri, the growing bond with support and protection the implicit promise to each other, and the obvious affects of their intense eye contact. I glance across to see tears streaming down her face during the powerful scenes of grief as hometree is destroyed, and I can’t help thinking about pure innate affect.
‘Wow! What a good movie, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again,’ I tell Sasi as we walk towards the car.
‘Yes the 3d was fantastic and it certainly makes you think,’ she tells me.
‘I wonder if people will understand it’s not really about a small moon called Pandora?’ I say. Explaining that I saw it as a metaphor for earth and human nature.
‘James Cameron’s a real mythologist, the messages are sublime’ I tell Sasi.
‘Rubbish! - You just think Neytiri’s hot.’
‘She reminded me of you darling - I loved her emotionally pure expression, the earthlings looked dull and flat, compared to the emotional responses of the so called savages,’ I say, explaining that I thought the blue monkeys understood that life is an affective experience, that affect triggered sensations are what we really crave, that’s what we project onto objects in our false economy of light beer and blue jeans.
‘You really think that objects can’t trigger innate affect?’ Sasi asks.
‘Only if their a threat, I do think the emotions we attach to objects are adapted and simulated responses, an imaginative pretense we generate from memories of innate affects and their stimulated sensations,’ I reply, ‘a car speeding towards you will trigger an innate affect, an instinctual response, but what we feel when looking at a BMW or a Lamborghini is a simulation by comparison.’
* * *
As we drive away from the cinema complex Sasi suggests it’s still early enough to go dancing, we had been learning Ceroc dancing for some weeks before I started writing and haven’t been for a lesson in three weeks now. We drive to a local hall in time to have a quick dance before the second hour long lesson begins. As we join the rotation, practicing moves with new partners every few minutes Sasi is in her element; her easy charm and infectious laughter are a huge hit with the male dancers. I’m reminded of advising the older clients I counsel, to take up partner dancing. Which is now seen as a great way to ward of brain issues like dementia, with new learning in a musical and social context causing high neuronal activity across important areas of the brain. This new understanding combines well with the brilliant Oliver Sacks legendry work on the affect of music on the human brain. His descriptions of comatose patients sparked to animated life by the humming of a few bars of music are astonishing. After the lesson ends I wait patiently for a dance with my wife, who is in high demand as usual.
‘Do you have to flirt so much?’ I ask as she graces me with a turn around the dance floor.
‘Not keen on the affect, darling,’ she says winking at me. I must admit the affect makes me try harder at dancing, and I’m pleasantly surprised how I’m pushed to feel my body move to the beat of the music. It’s been a good day for taking me away from the pervasive concerns I have about writing, away from the growing isolation the past month has brought me, and I ponder having slipped into a predominately negative, concerned mood-state. As we say goodnight to friends with me steering Sasi away from beaming single males, I suggest home waits after such a big day.
‘Fancy a midnight snack?’ Sasi asks, with a smile she knows I can‘t say no to.
‘You don’t want this day to end, do you?’
The snack turns into a full blown dinner at our favorite restaurant, with Sasi growing increasingly amorous as the bottle of wine empties.
‘Nothing like alcohol for spontaneous innate affect,’ she tells me, giggling hysterically at her jibe. I resist the temptation to tell her it lowers the socialized suppression barriers we put on our innate affects, she’d only tell me I’m an intellectual old fart. Needless to say the day does come to an end, but not before Sasi affects me to uncontrollable fits of laughter with her impression of the Goddess Neytiri.
‘Sa’Helu! Make the bond Jake - make the bond!’ She cries out, in-between hilarious fits of laughter.
* * *
One month has passed since that wonderful day in the park, and writing progress is still painfully slow. I’ve re-read so many books again and scoured the internet for further information, trying to crystallize my understanding and find new insights. I haven’t told Sasi but there have been days when I’ve felt like I’m going backwards, all my gains in personal growth feel stripped away by a pervasive state of worrisome self doubt. I have severe concerns about my ability to write and worry that this desire to write a book is just an old unconscious pattern of seeking isolation. Sasi and I have been together for two years now, after I had spent five years on self improvement, becoming increasingly social and climbing the career ladder. It had been a concerted effort to overcome a lifelong fear of people and unconscious shame reactions towards others and myself, with a constant stream of self criticism. The culmination of that growth period came through increased social activity, leading to the fateful meeting with Sasi whose innate joy is the perfect foil to my predominantly negative affect experiences. Now this being alone at home for two months has taken me away from a daily work routine, from ongoing interactions with other people so vital to our emotional balance. There have been to many days when I’m lost in thoughts about this book, I’ve walked past people I know well without even acknowledging them, and some nights have passed with no more than a handful of words to Sasi.
Today I’m thinking about the people at work, daydreaming about those little interactions, the jokes, the gossip, the discussions and the expressions on people’s faces. Thinking about the times I complained to Sasi about this or that person at work, part of our daily ritual had been the sharing of each others working day, particularly the gossip with periodic juicy scandals a breathless treat. I think about how immersed in that supportive environment I was only two months ago, and how much I took it for granted, how simple daily interactions supported my unconscious affect/emotion needs. I wonder if that’s what Allan Schore means by affect regulation and the self. I pick up the print out of “Polyvagal Theory” and start reading it again asking myself questions about innate affects and Polyvagal Theory, like how do I write such concepts into a coherent, practical self help book? How do I convey the idea of electrochemical activity in the brain where neurons fire as feedback triggered innate affects? "How do I show that all our responses are affect stimulated and mediated through a triune layered brain and nervous system?"
I spend hours shifting through degrees of inner sensation states, from interest and excitement as new ideas come to mind, then shifting to sensations triggered by innate distress, as I worry if I really understand this stuff. Was the book idea driven by a need to stimulate positive affects, or self esteem as part of my life long struggle to permanently dislodge those early forming negative experiences? As I force myself back to reading and digesting Polyvagal Theory, I realize I may have sensed the transition from a negative to positive affective state, when I switched from the excitement of a new idea to the concern of how to write about it. Thoughts about mindfulness mingle with the Hakomi idea of "how do you do - YOU,’ and the Oracles advice to ‘Know thy Self." Hours pass and I’m vaguely aware of the front door opening with footsteps in the hallway.
‘I didn’t know you could read and write at the same time!’
‘You’re the one who tells people how smart I am,’ I retort.
‘I’m beginning to wonder just how wrong I was about that!’
‘Ouch! Is that a dagger in your hand - Darling?’
‘Nobody likes a smart ass, Darling! - You should put that in your stupid book!’ Sasi tells me as she heads for the bedroom, making sure she has the all important final word. "Welcome home sweetheart," I say to myself before returning to my reading for a half hour or so. Concentration is poor though and I realize that this state of affairs cannot stand; I go into the bedroom and sit beside Sasi, who as expected feigns ignorance of my presence.
‘I made reservations at Carlo’s for tonight darling.’ Slowly she turns toward me wearing such a restrained smile; it brings the word simulation into my mind.
‘I want roses and a string quartet? - and if you say one gobbledygook word,’ she tells me, her innate smile returning as she skips into the bathroom, suddenly enlivened.
‘Yes dear!’ I whisper towards the closing door.
* * *
Dinner at Carlo’s is a great success even though the string quartet did not show up for some reason, I managed to surface from the depths of my heady concerns, swapping pleasantries, compliments and jokes with the restaurant staff.
‘My God, where have you been?’ Sally asks, as I stoke her hearty laughter with another joke. I shake my head with a silly smile while wondering if something inside me has shifted, like the wonderful meal that is about to begin the same process, perhaps knowledge has been digested to some kind of new awareness? An hour later Carlo’s lovely staff begin to make subtle suggestions about the lateness of the hour, to which Sasi and I have become oblivious. The sensations we call love have been firmly resurrected as we gaze into each others eyes, and I marvel at the extent of my shift in mood/state. Strains of Isaac Hayes “the look of love” ring in my ears, ‘the look of love is saying more than words can say,’ and I imagine brain neurons and eye-fi connections again. The daytime’s negative affects are silent now, as a discreet set of neurons fire within my brain stimulating innate joy and hundreds of thousands more neural connections associate these here and now sensations with implicit memories, stimulating more emotional sensations and magnifying them into an elative mood/state. Not a gobbledygook word of this do I mention to Sasi though.
The next day, as I sit down to write I get my first solid sense of what the marvelous Stephen Porges is on about, feeling the urge to withdraw I sense it as DVC activity. The Dorsal Vagal Complex is the oldest of our neuron-nervous system’s braking action on heart rate, it stimulates all our conservation needs. This evolutionary oldest part of our nervous system stimulates rest, digest and repair needs through the brains neural control of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic (animal) nervous system.
I stay with this mindful awareness, feeling the battle between my conscious want of writing and an innate desire for withdrawal, for rest, digest and repair. I note the heavy feeling in my gut from last night’s indulgence at the restaurant, linking it with the parasympathetic stimulated activity of digestion. Why do I want to withdraw completely though? I think, deciding to test the theory that DVC neural activity can be triggered by oxygen depletion. I note my habitual head inclination, with chin pulled in towards my chest constricting my wind pipe, then tilt my head up slightly with the immediate affect of an involuntary deeper breath.
"Sugar!" I say out loud, accepting the reality that this is part of the unconscious structure of my posture, my personality and my way of being in the world, this is how you do - YOU, a Hakomi therapist might suggest. I feel the downward urge, the spiral action that leads towards all the parasympathetic defense actions, like embarrassment, dissociation, fainting, shock and the ultimate mammalian survival trick of feigning death. How does this combine with innate affects though? I ask myself, immediately thinking of my birth experience and early development. Images of terror while struggling for three days in the birth canal and being dragged out by metal forceps, spring to mind. Being whisked away to intensive care, with no contact to mothers skin and heartbeat, now accepted as worst practice. I remember the amazing story of ‘the rescuing hug,’ where a nurse takes an intuitive leap and places a weak premature twin next to its sibling. Medical staff are dumbfounded as the stronger twin throws an arm across it’s sibling and the weaker ones heart rate stabilizes, a calm state stimulates normal vital signs and staff are at a loss to explain how that had worked. It reminds me of Porges belief that Autism maybe driven by unconscious terror, that feeling safe is as essential to well being as air, food and water. Unconscious terror fits with my own lifelong urge towards withdrawal and isolation, why I’ve always needed to challenge myself to simply engage life and move forward. Perhaps fear - terror was a foundational innate affect experience, my inner demon, one never soothed away by the vital close contact with my mother’s skin and heartbeat.
As I sit with this mindful state, I sense the nervous system battle between the evolutionary older reptilian DVC activity and the sympathetic nervous system’s (SNS) adrenal activity from the later mammalian era. This speaks to my all or nothing action tendencies, my impulsive and compulsive urges, which I control through parasympathetic conservation/withdrawal. According to Polyvagal Theory I operate predominately through my two oldest survival responses, the reptilian and mammalian, with to little activation of the newest survival strategy that is my ‘social engagement system,’ the third branch of my ANS. Ah ha! I say out loud, suddenly understanding how the isolation of the last two months has thrown me back onto unconscious self stimulation of my autonomic nervous system. Is that why I was daydreaming about people at work yesterday, I muse, smiling as my unconscious quips with Sasi’s voice, ‘you never listen to me!’
Ideas from “Affect Regulation and the Origins of the Self” are merging with Silvan Tomkins innate affects and “Polyvagal Theory.” Now I start to draw schematic diagrams of the triune brain and nervous system, placing the nine innate affects into areas of brain and nervous system control, while wondering if this is true insight or just the brains synaptic connections/associations from all that I’ve read. Am I rationalizing to sooth, to regulate my internal state by replacing concerned (innate distress) toned thoughts, with elative (innate joy) toned thoughts. And if I was three years old, would I be shouting and jumping for joy right now and really expressing my innate affects.
I begin to see the limits of my early experience on the neural control of my nervous system and the unconscious expectation of a negative toned bias to the sensations I will experience. Innate distress, rationalized into worrisome concern or at best a sense of responsibility, has been the tone to most of my metabolized energy, making the best of predominately negative affect states. I was always the more mature one, fourth oldest son in a long generational line on my father’s side, the real reason why Sasi, who is the youngest of five siblings is attracted to me. And the birth trauma with it’s foundational terror drives my fear of sensations, my limited physicality and why even cold water in the shower evokes a strong averse reaction.
I start thinking about swimming and my inability to float or tread water, how Sasi teases me by lying on her back and floating around the pool for long minutes at a time. As I imagine the sensation of floating, my old shudder reaction returns and I get a strong image and sensation of falling, dreams of which plagued me as a child. Dreams of being bound at the bottom of the sea and heroic escape were my sleeping companions in those days and I now wonder if the sea was a symbolic representation of the negative affects/emotions I was drowning in.
Sasi’s early experience comes to my mind, how she was literally saturated in positive innate affect experience, which is now the unconscious expectation of her sensation experiences in the world. It becomes a self fulfilling reality, as her autonomic nervous system guides her feedback seeking perception of life, something the rationalizing mind refuses to acknowledge, ‘No!’ Not an animal foundation as the source of our instinctual energies. Yet if Allan Schore is correct then perhaps thought itself is about innate affect regulation, and innate affects are the colored lenses so to speak that shade our minds eye. How to regulate the innate affects is the mother’s role in those first three years of life, unconsciously, intuitively she entrains her baby’s autonomic nervous system, its sensation expectations and its capacity to cope with them.
I’m reminded of Murry Bowen too, one of the fathers of Family Therapy and his ideas of generational emotional transmission, the family affects so to speak as mothers and fathers pass on their unconscious modes of innate affect regulation. Carl Jung’s notion of an emotional complex and Freud’s “id” of libidinal energies, how these great observers of the human condition would have loved access to the new technologies of brain imaging and the new field of affective neuroscience. The innate affects of fear and distress, combined with the nervous systems defensive shame/fright reactions, are predominant in my own emotional complex, my boiling “id”, my generational emotionality. All unconscious, all below the threshold of a mind that is instinctively urged not to inquire of itself, as the Nike fanatic below constantly whispers "just do it."
Chp 4 >>