The nervous system is a kind of heart: a central command center radiating through our bodies and responding to both our internal and external world.
There are many layers of the nervous system including central, peripheral, sensory-motor and autonomic. These layers are named either for location or function.
Think of the Nervous System as living time, keeping a record of everything you have been through. The nervous system is like a river always running through past, present and future simultaneously.
Through the autonomic branches of the nervous system (ANS), your body is wired to respond instinctively and without thought. This is a successful survival mechanism honed over centuries. It helps our bodies continue to do the things we need to do for survival like breathing and the beating of our heart. Thank goodness we don’t have to tell our heart to beat or our body to inhale and exhale. We wouldn’t live long if we did!
Our bodies are also hard-wired to recognize both safety and threat in a similar way. It is essential to our survival that we perceive correctly. We are hard wired to do this and we are all effective at it. Just think about how quickly we pull our hand away from a hot stove or react to someone we sense is unsafe. However, past threatening or perpetually unsafe experiences that are unresolved can color our ability to perceive correctly, because our nervous system is also still managing its experience of these threats as happening now. In order for nervous system time to orient to now, it has to be able to perceive safety now.
When something happens in the present moment that reminds us of something unresolved in the past or makes us worry about the future because of previous unresolved experiences, our bodies respond differently than they would if they knew the threat was gone.
Anyone living in civilized society is no longer living in a world where who is safe and who is not is reliably easy to discern. For this reason and others, the pathways that respond to threat in most of us are faster and deeper than those that perceive safety. To strengthen the parts of our ANS that can perceive safety, we learn and practice turning our attention towards safety. This enables the unconscious autonomic fixations on past dangers in our nervous system to downshift. This is one of the skills we teach in our Dynamics of Coherence class, coming up in early February.
In this class we also explore the three branches of the Autonomic Nervous System and widen our perceptions of each branch. Students learn how to begin to recognize which branch is active under threat, and which one may be inhibiting a return to safety. Even students who have studied this material before report learning new skills because of the particular orientation to the nervous system taught in this course.
Students also learn skills to help their bodies, and thereby their clients bodies, recognize when concern, confusion or reaction is coming from another time or perhaps multiple other times which collide in the present. One way to describe what someone experiences when triggered is this collision. This can also occur for reasons we are not consciously aware of when something reminds our bodies of something else, especially when something surprises or challenges us.
Our response to the moment is always crafted from a mix of previous memories and decisions as well as future expectations that relate to the event.
Such moments can feel as jumbled as the above picture, but they are also magical doorways, places where time has knotted and repeats itself in ways not always clearly discernable but always completely valid.
For example, a song could come on the radio that you have a specific memory associated with, like sitting in a particular restaurant listening to the same song while traveling in your twenties, and you will also be in that memory as you listen to the song in 2021. Your body is remembering now, now is transporting then, you are in both places at the same time, even though the two moments may be decades apart.
To really embrace time and the nervous system this way, it is helpful to be open to time moving in other configurations than the linear time we are accustomed to.
Simultaneous time is another kind of time, still recognized and lived in many indigenous communities across the globe. In our Dynamics of Coherence classes, we negotiate a group agreement on the first day about walking through the door to other perceptions of time, including and most importantly for the class, nervous system time. What has unfolded on the other side of this door in the world of expanded perceptions of time has been astounding.
To learn more about the upcoming class or to register go to:
Also published on Medium.