I woke up one morning and thought:
OMG: I’m DYING!!!
Wait a minute! Didn’t I have fresh beets for dinner last night? And lots of them?
(If you don’t get the connection, see this description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beeturia)
I don’t normally eat beets. My whole life, in fact, I avoided them. I did not like beets. Then, we started having beets in the house, for dinner, in soups, with vinegar, in salads, all sorts of ways, because my husband LOVES beets. And he grows them. And I’ve started developing more of a taste for them. But that explains why the next morning I thought I was dying. I didn’t have much experience with beets’ digestive effects.
So, what exactly was going on inside my brain in between the “OMG – I’m DYING!!!!” To, “Wait a minute here….”
Well, if you guessed our dear ol’ friend the amygdala, DING DING DING! You’d be right! Well, half right. Yes, the amygdala is the ultimate helicopter parent, keeping an eye out for any teensy tiny thing that might threaten our survival, safety, and comfort. And the warning bells go off, in a millisecond. We each differ, due to genetics, and experience, and brain wiring, and a whole host of complexities of how our brains work, in just how sensitive we are to these (imaginary?) threats. Some of us (who are you? I want to be like YOU!) stay cool, calm, and collected, and carry an enviable resistance to over-reacting. (Okay, so do psychopaths, but that’s another topic.) Others of us manage to respond in ways that most people would deem appropriate, given the level of threat. And then there are the SFS-suffering folk. (Remember my post on “Sensitive-Flower Syndrome?) Yes, those of us in this category, we jump at the slightest provocation. So, no surprise, my brain spotted something unusual, and I jumped to the WORST CASE SCENARIO. (But I didn’t jump as high or as frantically as I might have in the past – I can tell the scientists and theologians are right! Meditation IS good for helping us stay calm!)
But there’s a Part 2 to what goes on inside our brains when we face something new: We are wired for story. There has been so much information we have needed to have at our beck and call, our brains devised a nifty trick of storing key survival tips in the form of narratives. So, while my amygdala is getting me all jumpy, another part of my brain is scanning the memories stored in my hypothalamus for any possible relevant bit of info that might help me make meaning of what I am seeing. Any book, movie, tv show, friend of a friend of a stranger’s experience, a bill board, a commercial – Anything at all.
As it happens, two folk in my congregation are being treated right now for bladder cancer. You can bet that information beat out all the other narratives to rise right to the top of my consciousness as I’m trying to make sense of what I am seeing. Then, right behind that comes the memory of my first dog, Amadeus, who peed straight dark red blood right before we had to put him to sleep, after 10 wonderful years together.
So, my amygdala hops to, followed by these two bits of narrative information, and THEN my prefrontal cortex has a chance to weigh in with the most logical answer for this disturbing phenomena. Beets. Ah. Breathing again. And all is well. Maybe I’ll stick with this meditation thing!