August 30, 2012

The Chemistry of Joy: The Heart Pathways. ~ Henry Emmons, MD

“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.” ~ The Dalai Lama

Part four of the “Chemistry of Joy Series.”

No matter what you may be experiencing in life right now, you received enough attention and love to survive up to this point. But now, perhaps you’d like to do more than survive. Perhaps you’d like to belong, to thrive in a circle of connectedness with others.

No matter how frustrating or disappointing relationships may have been for you in the past, it is never too late to create a circle of belonging.

The final pathways we focus on in the resilience-training program outlined in The Chemistry of Joy are those of the heart; where there is much that happens beneath the surface of awareness.We have laid the groundwork for good physical health, attended to our wild monkey-minds, and expanded the capacity to be with a full-range of emotions. Now, we are prepared to dive into the world beyond our selves, to connect with others and thus with our deepest and most life-sustaining energies.

We are ready to practice connecting, belonging, and deepening, so that we can nourish resilience and create the conditions for lasting joy.

Humans develop a sense of individuality, and experience being a separate self, apart from others, gradually from the time of birth. Once we begin to feel like “ourselves,” we enjoy the blessing of being a unique individual, but this is also a limited experience of reality.

We may cognitively believe that we are separate, but spiritual traditions tell us that in our deepest essence we are connected to something larger, interconnected with one another and with the larger universe.

When we identify with our small, separate self, we feel alone, threatened, competitive, anxious and afraid. The consequences of identifying with the delusion of separateness are indeed widespread and many among us live their lives as if this stark division were reality.

In order to challenge the delusion and break free from it, you can create community, participate with others with care and generosity, acknowledge and appreciate interdependence, look for opportunities to cooperate and collaborate.

You can seek evidence that you are more alike than different and in doing so find points of connection.

Loneliness is the pain of feeling cut off from your relationships whether it be because there are too few or you because you are disappointed in their quality. If you are someone who regularly suffers from loneliness, you know well that the consequences of isolation from others dwell in both the body and mind.

What you may not know is that alternately, the healing qualities of connection are just as powerful in offsetting these damages.

In fact, studies have shown that of the four known factors which contirbute to healthy, well-connected neurons—diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and social connection—social connection has the most powerful benefits. A healthy sense of belonging supports the development of new brain cells, and provides an environment that fosters growth and connection with other brain cells, building resilience and minimizing depression.

Therefore, social connection is a very powerful means of creating the chemistry of joy.

Oxytocin is commonly referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” and it is like a wonder drug for connection. When it is released, people feel a sense of closeness and connection and it simultaneously works to increase trust, reduce fear, and deepen empathy.

Hugging, kissing, and sexual intimacy are some ways to get oxytocin flowing, but if you’re suffering from loneliness or feeling disconnected form others these may not always be possible. Still, you can trigger the oxytocin response by stroking the fur of a pet, remembering a time when you received a pleasant gift, participate in rooting for a team with others, or create music in a group setting like with a band or choir.

Thoughts and beliefs that sprout from a sense of separation set people up to think of others as potential threats rather than possible allies. To counter this, you can cultivate thoughts that encourage you to see more people as potential tribe-mates.

Challenge your automatic judgments and mindsets about others.

Imagine that every single person you encounter in aday has been specifically selected to offer you a gift—a lesson or insight, challenge or difficulty—and each of these gifts shares the purpose of reminding you that you are not alone. Hold fewer requirements for entry into your circles of connection.

Develop a greater variety and richness in the connections you have. Keep in mind that there are so many different ways to connect with others and levels of connection. For example friendships that go back to grade school are on one end of the spectrum, one-minute connections are on the other. All contribute to the experience of connection that is crucial to experiencing lasting joy.

All are opportunities to open your heart.

Throughout the pathways of joy we’ve explored over the last four posts, we’ve identified the obstacles that may be denying you access to your own experience of joy. Through the pathways of the body, mind and heart, we’ve learned that it requires awakening more fully to your life in the present moment.

But still, you may wonder what it is that you want to awaken into? What kind of life is the life worth awakening for? These questions, which can only be answered by the heart, are yours alone to investigate.

The chemistry of joy is dependent on one prerequisite; that you strive to be completely present.

We believe, through years of study, research, and application that if you be fully present to your life as it is, you will find that you have an all-access pass to the joy that is inherent within you when you’re in your natural, resilient state.

Read the previous articles here:

The Chemistry of Joy & the Nine Pathways to Resilience.

The Chemistry of Joy: The Body Pathways.

The Chemistry of Joy: The Mind Pathways.

Henry Emmons, MD, is an integrative psychiatrist and author of The Chemistry of Joy Workbook. He developed and runs the resilience training program, offered at one of the nation’s leading integrative health centers, the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis, MN. Resilience training has undergone extensive research and proven to help nearly everyone who follows the program. More than 60 percent of participants achieved full remission from depression, including some diagnosed with the severest form known as major depression. 







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Editor: Carolyn Gilligan

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