My daughter took this picture of me and my husband with her i-phone 4, which she will tell you does not have a great camera, but look at what it captured: This stream of light between us. Now, we do not have one of those “lovey-dovey” cloud nine relationships – Just ask my friend Kelly, who gets an earful of the day to day complaints that can be a part of marriage. Okay, maybe just my marriage. But this isn’t a picture of marriage. It’s a picture of what Dan Siegel calls our “Interpersonal Neurobiology.” Which just means there is no such thing as a “self.” In fact, Daniel Siegel Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, goes so far to say that the idea we have a “self” is a delusion – Like, in the mental illness sense of “delusion.” And it is this delusion that accounts for most – if not all – the world’s problems, including climate change, hunger, poverty, and war.
Our brains, which means really, we, exist as they do only because of our connections with others. It is those connections that shaped our brains as we grew up, and shape our brains each day of our lives. From the very first breath we take, our brains are specifically wired to pay attention to, then mimic, then respond to the eyes, faces, and facial expressions of those around us. Very quickly, infants learn they can get others to interact with them as they make eye contact and change their facial expressions. Who hasn’t smiled at a baby in Target, and been thrilled to see them smile back?
Twenty-five years ago I left the PhD Clinical Psychology path for a call to ministry, because I was told there was no way to study what I knew deep in my being was real, but at that time, invisible and unmeasurable (and therefore, not real) according to the scientific field of psychology. Now, neuroscientific research is catching up to what we who are committed to a religious, or spiritual life, already know: We are all one. We can’t understand an individual neuron. We can’t understand what’s going on with an individual cell. We can’t understand our “selves” because they do not exist apart from our connections with others. This is how our brains were and are wired: To respond to one another.
So, that smile you give the person in the check-out line? Even though you are tired and crabby yourself? Not only does it change your brain chemicals to make you feel better, it literally lights up their brain, and makes them feel better too. You are reshaping their brain, and yours, and in the process, reshaping reality. Think all those small acts of kindness don’t make a difference? Think again. Each time we remember and practice we are all one, we wake up from the delusion of individuality that threatens our survival.
The science proves it. And all major world religions teach it.
A quote from world religions: “We are interdependent. Each of us depends on the well-being of the whole, and so we have respect for the community of living beings.” –from Towards a Global Ethic – An Initial Declaration, signed by 300 representatives of the world’s religions at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago
A quote from Naturalist, John Muir, 1911: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
A quote from Louis Cozolino: “Our brains rely on other brains to remain healthy, especially under stress.”
For an easy read on the science, check out the book “Born for Love: Why empathy is essential and endangered, by Perry & Szalavitz: http://www.amazon.com/Born-Love-Empathy-Essential—Endangered/dp/0061656798/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384355149&sr=8-1&keywords=born+for+love
For more in-depth study, try “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships,” by Cozolino: http://www.amazon.com/The-Neuroscience-Human-Relationships-Interpersonal/dp/0393704548/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1384355288&sr=8-1&keywords=neuroscience+of+human+relationships
For a life-time of study, the Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology, edited by Dan Siegel, will keep you busy. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_13?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=norton%20series%20on%20interpersonal%20neurobiology&sprefix=Norton+Series%2Caps%2C129&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Anorton%20series%20on%20interpersonal%20neurobiology