You ever have one of those days? You know the ones. One of those infamous days where everything seems to be going wrong.
You’re late to all of your appointments, there are big rifts in your communications with others, and no matter what you try to accomplish there seems to be something blocking you. By the end of the day you feel like you worked all day long and got absolutely nothing accomplished. In fact, it seems your worse off then when you woke up.
I recently had one of those days.
I came home at the end of the day in a terrible mood. I did my best to breath through it and use my practice, but I was really “in it” and kept choosing to feel sorry for myself. As much as I thought I wanted to feel better there was a part of me staying in suffering. I kept playing my crappy day over and over and wanted someone to talk to so I could complain to them about what a terrible day I had. Maybe they would pity me and reflect back to me “wow, that certainly was an awful day.” Then I could have the “satisfaction” of whining about it and reenforce what a terrible day it was and so on and so forth.
I was standing in my kitchen brooding when Heather finally came home. I thought to myself, “Great, finally I have someone to vent to.” As she walked in I could tell immediately she was exhausted. I asked her how her day was (still thinking about mine). Heather reminded me that it was the anniversary of the day her father was killed in an automobile accident. She told me of how hard it was to go to work that day with the feelings around her father’s passing (She works as a massage therapist). Heather then explained that she was able to get through her day by nurturing others and treating them the way she would have treated and nurtured her own father. It had given her an opportunity to feel a deep loving connection to her father while creating a deep compassion for the client she was working with.
I embraced Heather. We cried. I spent the rest of my night nurturing and caring for her. Near the end of the night she asked me how my day was. I paused and suddenly realized how wonderful I felt in the last few hours of caring and listening to her… my mood had completely improved.
“My day was beautiful” I finally responded. “I’ve learned a lot.”
The healing science of nurturing and loving others:
Helping others through acts of generosity and nurturing can induce high levels of healing in ourselves. By giving to others we see in our lives where we are holding back. Through these acts of generosity we can create situations of self healing by letting go of our tendencies to withhold not just physical possessions but our tendency to withhold love. By hoarding love and affection we keep ourselves stuck and in suffering. By stepping outside of ourselves in order to help others we create many possibilities for mental, physical, and emotional healing.
There are many reasons we withhold love. We will cover this another time, but let’s quickly look at some interesting research around generosity, acts of loving kindness, and the brain.
Studies have shown that through feelings of loving others we release a chemical in our brain called Oxytocin. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the commitment neuromodulator because it reinforces bonding in mammals. (1) When a child is born, it’s mother is flooded with Oxytocin. This hormone creates a lasting, loving bond.
Biologist Glen Rein conducted a study of people who entered a state of heartfelt appreciation or unconditional love, what he referred to as “heart consciousness.” In this study he found that these people could actually alter the winding and unwinding of DNA (genetic material) in a test tube solution. It did not matter whether the participants were holding the DNA in a test tube or not. By allowing their hearts to be full of gratitude and loving emotions, the participants in this study were able to alter DNA in a test tube. (2)
Having someone else love you will not fill you up. Only your capacity to give love to others can ultimately fill that void. You must be generous and authentic. Give of yourself fully. We often talk of seratonin and dopamine release in the brain through certain activity. These are temporary highs. We are constantly seeking these quick forms of stimulation. However, Oxytocin can be built upon. The more oxytocin you stimulate the more you get. Therefore “the more you give the more you get.”(3)
Altruism can be cultivated through consistent action of giving love and nurturing. If your tendency is to be selfish and withholding you only need to desire to change this pattern. Through consistent action you can change your patterns and carve new pathways in your neurology.
As we learn we alter which genes in our neurons are “expressed” or turned on. Each cell of our body contains our genes, but not all those genes are turned on, or expressed. When a gene is turned on, it makes a new protein that alters the structure and function of the cell. When the gene is turned on, information about how to make these proteins is transcribed or read from the individual gene. This is influenced by what we do and what we think.
Most people think that our genes shape us- our behavior and our brain anatomy. However, recent studies show that when we learn our minds also affect which genes in our neurons are transcribed. Thus, we can shape our genes which in turn shape our brain’s microscopic anatomy. This implies that we can change the way we think and observe the world around us. (4)
Our choices effect our emotions day in and day out. Throughout our days and weeks many situations happen moment to moment to challenge our ability to cope with stress and keep a positive attitude. Our ability to keep our mental and emotional health have many contributing factors including our personal relationships, external environment, and even our diet. There are many tools in health and wellness counseling to support building your defenses and improve your abilities to cope with stressful situations. One of the easiest and most rewarding tools is to step outside of yourself for a while to assist, nurture and express love and compassion to another individual. It may eventually give you a new perspective on your own life and you might just improve the life of another in the meantime.
(1) The Brain That Changes Itself Norman Doidge , M.D.
(2)Gratitude Affects Heart and Genetics, Study Says posted by Michelle Schaffro Cook Aug 27, 2010 4:11 pm
(3) Dr. John Douillard
(4) The Brain That Changes Itself. Norman Doidge , M.D.