Anxiety, Stress and Limbic Exercise
The Cortical Monkey
There is a particular species of monkey native to Karnal, my birthplace. During my childhood, these monkeys lived in our town by the hundreds. They were a nuisance for the grown-ups, but for us children they were a lot of fun. I remember my father telling me how these monkeys had a peculiar habit. They did not let their wounds heal. If one of them ever lacerated his skin, he would pick at his wound continuously. He would peel off whatever little scab did form. These wounds festered for long periods of time.
Putting Something Between the Monkey and His Wound
It has occurred to me that the first man to invent a bandage probably got his idea from watching a monkey (or some other animal) constantly pick at his wound. It might have occurred to him that the way to let the wound heal would be to put something between the monkey and his wound. When he got hurt himself, the lesson learned from the monkey might have taken a practical turn. A bunch of leaves, perhaps of some herbal plant, might have served this purpose. This, or something similar, is likely to have been the forerunner of our modern Band-Aid.
There is something relevant in the story of Karnal monkeys to our ideas of self-regulation and healing. Time and again, I see patients who understand how their cortical condition throws roadblocks in the way of limbic healing. In our autoregulation laboratory, I demonstrate to them how their biologic profiles are composed of a host of electromagnetic or molecular events. I show them how their whole biology is sustained in an even state when they go limbic, and how it is thrown into turbulence when they go cortical. I explain to them the impact on their internal organs of talking for control and listening for healing. At intellectual and analytical levels, they seem to understand these phenomena. Yet, left to their own devices, they slide back into the calculating and competitive cortical state. They are unable to keep their analytical mind (“the cortical monkey”) out of the way of the healing limbic state.
Indeed, patient and persistent work is required to break long-established cortical habits and put the cortical monkey to sleep.
Thinking Is an Intellectual Function; Healing Is Not
In autoregulation, I do not ask my patients to think positively. In autoregulation, I strive to teach them how not to think. Thinking about how not to think is a catch 22. The harder we try not to think, the deeper we slide into thinking. This is where the concept of energy in autoregulation comes into play.
The theory of the value of positive thinking is well understood by most people. The obvious benefits of positive thinking notwithstanding, such thoughts by themselves, in my experience, are rarely sufficient to allow most people to reverse chronic disorders and regain health. Indeed, patients debilitated by chronic diseases and exhausted by unrelenting suffering often find the advice of positive thinking as salt on their wounds. For these reasons I do not make a practice of recommending positive thinking to very ill patients.
The concept of physical healing energy in autoregulation is often misunderstood in a society that is oriented to the chemical resolution of all health problems. Many of my patients equate the principles and practice of autoregulation to some variant of Eastern philosophy or mysticism. Fortunately, most people are able to perceive the healing energy of autoregulation in some fashion during the very first training session in my laboratory. This initial experience helps them dissipate any misgivings they might have about the true nature of the healing process involved in autoregulation. From then on, it is simply a matter of increasing the intensity of such energy and enhancing its clinical benefits.
Autoregulation Is About This Energy
The critical issue is how to become aware of this energy, how to increase its intensity and, finally, how to use it to regulate one’s biology and allow the injured molecules and cells to heal. In the initial stages, it is necessary to understand clearly what autoregulation is and what it is not.
* Autoregulation is healing by listening to tissues and perceiving their energy.
* Autoregulation is not healing by talking to tissues and thinking positively.
The principles of self-regulation are valid for all patients and all diseases. The applications of such principles, however, require careful evaluation of the nature and extent of each patient’s disease (that is, the weight and duration of the specific burdens on his biology). Different diseases cause different levels of suffering and require different degrees of effort with different time frames.
In my early clinical work with environmental medicine, I saw patients who responded poorly or not at all to the standard drug therapies. Many of them were actually made worse by drugs. Understandably, those patients were highly stressed. I set out to relieve some of their suffering by what I then thought was going to be termed “stress management.” I started teaching them how to slow their hearts, open their arteries and dissolve their muscle tension. In medical terminology, such activities are referred to as autonomic functions. It seemed logical to use the term autonomic regulation for it. My patients abbreviated this to autoregulation and eventually to “autoreg.”
I soon realized my patients both needed and wanted me to teach them methods for self-regulation and healing. I also recognized that self-regulation goes far beyond any ideas of autonomic regulation. I started a search for a simple term that, in practical terms, would declare my purpose.
Again, my patients solved my problem. They stayed with the term autoregulation as I experimented with different words. In the end I decided to follow their lead. Looking back, my work with autoregulation evolved in the following sequence:
1. Stress management
2. Autonomic regulation
3. Self-regulation and healing
4. States of consciousness
One of the essential lessons my patients taught me is this: Slowing the heart rate, keeping the arteries open and slow, even breathing profoundly affect our state of mind. These basic methods of autoregulation are very effective in dissipating anger and anxiety even when that is not our intended purpose. But that is just a beginning. Autoregulation reveals the path of self-regulation and healing. A passage through the realms of self-regulation inevitably ushers a person to higher states of awareness and consciousness.
Autoregulation Is Self-Regulation and Healing with Energy
Autoregulation is self-regulation and healing with energy — energy derived from tissues, cells and molecules. It is self-regulation with full benefits of the science and technology of modern medicine. It is self-regulation with changes that can be measured with electromagnetic, molecular and cellular techniques. When an individual practices self-regulation, he becomes the true judge of its efficacy, not some pseudoscientist with silly notions of double-blind cross-over methods of medical research.
Autoregulation Is Not Healing with Hypnosis, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Regression, Progression or Biofeedback
Hypnosis is a valuable treatment option. Unlike drugs, hypnosis has never had a toxic effect on anyone. At once, the hypnotist puts the patient into a trance and puts him out of his misery. The patient obtains immediate relief, though he has no understanding of how he obtained it. It is my personal observation that the good effects of hypnosis almost always wear out with time. Continued hypnosis fails to sustain the initial benefits.
Autoregulation, by contrast, is a slow process. It generally does not offer immediate relief. Most people learn autoregulation methods over days and weeks. However, once learned, the methods of autoregulation never lose their clinical efficacy. Indeed, the longer a person practices autoregulation, the more profound its benefits. No one ever unlearns autoregulation. Autoregulation works even when an individual is in the throes of an acute life-threatening illness, though the benefits may be rather limited under such circumstances.
The critical difference between autoregulation and hypnosis is this: Autoregulation is a path of independence. Hypnosis and the placebo effect are the paths of dependence.
THE CORTICAL AND LIMBIC STATES
In my working model of self-regulation (and healing) in clinical medicine, I use the term “cortical state” to refer to a state of the human condition that calculates, computes, competes, cautions, creates stress, causes immune dysfunctions, and culminates in disease. I use the term “limbic state” to refer to a state of the human condition that cares and comforts, creates images of health, and allows the injured molecules, cells and tissues to heal by their own innate healing abilities.
In order to unleash the limbic condition’s ability to heal, it must first be freed from the relentless censor of the cortical mind. Switching off the thinking cortical mode is simple to understand at an intellectual level, but it requires considerable practical experience. The harder one tries not to think, the more difficult it becomes. Only very intuitive people turn out to experience exceptions to this.
An Energy-Over-Mind Approach to Healing
We often hear about the concept of healing with a mind-over-body approach. In my own work with self-regulation, I do not find this to be sufficient for reversing chronic indolent diseases. Instead, I see superior clinical results when my patients adopt an “energy-over-mind” approach, i.e., when they learn how to listen and attend to their tissues and shut out their thinking minds.
We take pride in our minds, but healing is not an intellectual function. Healing cannot be forced upon injured cells and tissues by a demanding mind. Rather, healing occurs when the tissues are set free from the ceaseless censor of the mind. My patients were unable to control their asthma and migraine attacks, lower their raised blood pressure, or reverse other chronic illnesses with a mind-over-body approach.
THE BITE OF THE NECK MUSCLES
Sheila, a 48-year-old woman, consulted me for sinusitis, chronic headache and fatigue. Following a clinical evaluation and allergy tests, I started some nutritional and allergy therapies. I advised her to get some training in autoregulation methods as I do for all my other patients. She had done some biofeedback previously and was not very eager to consider any other form of self-regulation. Within weeks, her allergy symptoms and headaches improved. After attending my autoregulation workshop, she returned for autoregulation training in our laboratory. I applied the electrodes and other sensors for monitoring her various body functions during autoregulation. After some introductory remarks about what we were going to do, I asked her to sit comfortably on her chair, close her eyes and follow my words.
In autoregulation training, for the first minute or so, I usually observe the subject and his moving graphs on the computer screen and note how cortical or limbic his state of biology is (sharp fluctuations in graph lines with tall peaks and deep valleys indicate cortical turbulence, and smooth and even lines with gentle wave effects reflect a limbic calmness). Sheila visibly stiffened her neck as she closed her eyes, and the computer screen displayed wild fluctuations in her graphs of skin conductance energy, muscle potentials, heart rate and the pulse pressure. This is not unusual for many people and represents apprehension at not knowing what will follow. Generally, such electromagnetic fluctuations subside and I begin to see objective evidence of a transition from a stressful, turbulent cortical state to an even, restorative limbic profile. This was not to be the case with Sheila.
Within several moments, Sheila’s neck began to turn and twist. She frowned with closed eyes. Her lips quivered and her jaw muscles tensed up. A few moments later, she broke into clonic, almost convulsive spasms of her twisted neck. To witness sudden, unexpected convulsive activity in a patient who appeared in good health, of course, is not an unusual experience for physicians. I had extensive clinical experience in emergency medicine and surgical trauma cases during my years in surgery and had seen people break out into sudden convulsive activities on many occasions. I am rarely unnerved in clinical settings. This turned out to be an exception. I found Sheila’s sudden near-convulsive activity in her twisted neck and her distorted facial features frightening. I suppose because it was the first time I had started out with a patient in a private office setting, very much like someone’s living room only to end up abruptly in an emergency. I touched Sheila’s hand and asked her to open her eyes. Her chronic neck contractions stopped as suddenly as they had appeared once she’d opened her eyes.
I forced a smile. A faint smile appeared on Sheila’s face. We were quiet for a few moments.
“What was that?” I asked, in as natural a tone as I could muster.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” Sheila replied evenly.
“Nothing?” I asked, surprised at her composure.
“It’s nothing. It happens all the time.”
“Happens all the time?”
“Yes! I am used to it.”
“What is it? How often do you get it? I mean, why didn’t you tell me about it?”
“Happens all the time.” Sheila forced another smile. “I didn’t tell you because I thought there was no point to it.”
“No point to it?” I was incredulous.
“No other doctor ever believed me. So I didn’t see any point in bothering you with this. I guess the doctors thought it was hysteria or something.”
“Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Why don’t you tell me about it?” I coaxed her.
“Oh! Dr. Ali, there is nothing anyone can do about it. You know it happens every night.” Sheila’s voice quivered. “Every night, it happens.”
I looked at her in silence for a few moments. She looked back at me impassively.
“Tell me more about it.” I broke the silence.
“There is nothing more to tell.” She shrugged.
“What happens afterward?”
“Every night it happens as I put my head on my pillow and close my eyes. My neck turns and twists and cramps. It hurts me awful.” Sheila suddenly broke down and sobbed. I offered her some tissue paper.
“Do you want to stop here?” I said without meaning to say so.
“Not really. When my neck hurts, I open my eyes and the spasms go away. Sometimes I sit up and think. Sometimes I try to read. Then I get exhausted and try again, and again it happens. This goes on all night. Every night.”
“When do you sleep?”
“When I am totally exhausted with pain and sleeplessness. Sometimes in the early hours of the morning, maybe four or five, I finally dose off for a few minutes.” Sheila sobbed again.
I sat frozen as I listened to her. Tolstoy thought happy people were all alike but each unhappy person was unhappy in his own way. How many Sheilas did he listen to? I wondered. How many Sheilas are there in this world anyway? Living out their lives in silos of sadness.
“Sheila, would you do me a favor?” I asked her, recovering from my personal thoughts. “Would you mind if we did this again?”
“What would that do?” she asked indifferently.
“We might learn something,” I encouraged her.
“Learn something?” Sheila smiled again, in earnest, I thought, this time around. “Go ahead, if you think it will help you.”
I didn’t miss her intonation. I hesitated for a minute. Scientific curiosity taking wings at someone else’s expense? Now that I write about Sheila I wonder if I knew why I made this request. I knew it was going to distress her again. What did I hope to find? Did I know what might happen? If I did, how did I? It’s odd that these questions never arose until now, a few years after that event.
“Yes, Sheila, I think it will help me,” I admitted as much.
“Let’s do it then,” Sheila shrugged her shoulders.
“Can you take the pain if I continue for a few minutes this time?” I asked.
“Take the pain?” She laughed this time. “What else do I do every night.”
“Sheila, this time I am going to close my eyes, too. We will do autoreg together.”
We started again. Sheila closed her eyes and the neck contractions returned just as they had the first time. I braced myself, led her into autoregulation again and closed my own eyes. Long hours of autoregulation had given me the ability to turn off my own cortical monkey on rather short notice. I opened my eyes after what seemed to me were five to seven minutes. Sheila’s neck still quivered a little, but the intense clonic contractions were gone. Her face appeared calm, her hands resting limp and loose on her thighs. I asked her to open her eyes. We talked for some minutes and then did some more autoregulation. Sheila returned for some more training.
Several months later during a follow-up visit, Sheila told me how her neck problem had mostly cleared except for some nights when she had been extremely stressed after long, demanding hours of work.
Why did Sheila’s neck muscles rebel when she closed her eyes? Why did the neck contractions stop when she opened her eyes? And why did the neck muscles finally respond when Sheila and I persisted in listening to them? The purpose of autoregulation, of course, is to comfort the hurt tissues. Why did Sheila’s tissues bite back? What possible good, I wondered, did her neck muscles think could come from the games they played? Was it anger turned in as my friends in psychiatry propose? Was it spite? Sheer hostility of the tissues? Did these tissues act so viciously on their own or did they take their cues from somewhere else? Did Sheila’s brain send them confusing messages? Was this all mischief perpetrated by the cortical monkey?
THE BITE OF THE CONFUSED BRAIN CHEMISTRY
Edward ran a profitable engineering company before he was hospitalized for suicidal depression. He suffered from multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities. Prior to and after his hospitalization, Edward consulted a succession of psychiatrists who prescribed almost every single antidepressant described in the Physician Desk Reference. He reacted to all of them except Klonopin, which he took but tolerated poorly. His depression fluctuated widely, and he often became suicidal. His wife, Susan, brought him to me one winter evening. She had learned of my work with nondrug therapies. Susan was hoping, she told me, that diagnosis and management of allergies and chemical sensitivities and nutrient therapies might alleviate some of his depression. All through the first visit, he remained distant and doubtful.
In those early years of my work with environmental medicine and autoregulation, I had the opportunity to care for a large number of patients with allergies and chemical sensitivities who also suffered from depression. Depression in such patients, even when there is a family history of depression, responds well to nondrug management therapies of molecular medicine. None of these patients, however, had been so afflicted with deep, unrelenting depression. I felt inadequate and unsure of my ability to manage such an advanced case. Still, I knew that optimal care of allergies and chemical sensitivities, proper nutritional support and autoregulation could be expected to relieve some of his suffering. My main task, it seemed to me then, was to make sure Edward and his wife understood that. They seemed to understand all this and told me to go ahead. Tentative and uncertain of myself, I proceeded with the examination and micro-elisa allergy tests. In the next visit I reviewed the test results, initiated immunotherapy, prescribed nutrient therapies and gave him training in basic autoregulation. As Susan looked on with evident hope, Edward remained distant and doubtful.
During the next follow-up visit, Edward looked distraught and annoyed. I asked him how he felt.
“You want the truth, Doc?” he asked with unmasked hostility.
“Yes!” I answered.
“I think this whole thing is a hoax,” Edward said flatly.
“A hoax?” I was taken aback.
“Yes, a hoax. A hoax to make money,” Edward frowned.
Edward’s words caught me off guard. This was the first time anyone had accused me in this way. I looked at Susan and fumbled for words. Susan looked embarrassed. I looked out the window for a few brief moments. The sky always has a comforting quality for me.
“Shall we stop here?” I asked Edward as I recovered.
“I don’t care. You do what you want to do,” he answered indifferently.
I looked at Susan. She told me they had driven for more than an hour to come to Bloomfield, and asked me if I would continue. Edward simply shrugged his shoulders. Unsure of myself, I proceeded.
A week later, Susan told me Edward was now very intrigued by my basic concept of energy-over-mind — energy of body tissues as the medium of self-regulation. He listened to my tapes, read and re-read The Cortical Monkey and Healing and some of my other writings on this subject. His initial doubts appeared to have been replaced with curiosity. He had some problems with alcohol abuse and had attended some meetings of AA and other support groups. He stopped going to those meetings because he had not found them to be very helpful.
The promise of autoregulation, Edward told Susan, was totally different. What appealed to him most was the central idea of autoregulation — of seeking healing with energy, a no-thinking rather than a clever-thinking approach. During one of the early autoregulation training sessions, he had felt pulses in his fingertips and gotten very excited about it, but then it didn’t happen again. Still, he persisted with autoregulation.
Days passed and then weeks. Pulses didn’t return to his fingertips, nor did any other part of his body respond during autoregulation. Edward read the books again and listened to tapes endlessly. Nothing happened.
The patches of snow on the north side of the woods around our office in Blairstown melted away and bulbs began to sprout. Ground squirrels seemed happy in their spring celebration dance. On many visits, Susan brought along her teenage sons. Strikingly good-looking boys, they made a handsome family, close, loving and full of life — at least that’s the way they looked to people who didn’t know the deep river of anguish that flowed within them. The boys understood the enormous inner pain of their father and the unending misery of their mom.
Some more weeks passed and Edward continued to suffer, often intensely. He practiced autoregulation regularly, he told me, but there had been no response from any of his tissues. After a few months of persisting, he felt some pulses in his fingertips for a few brief moments in the shower, and then, in his own words, his fingers went dead. I could think of no clear approach. I began to consider the futility of this tack for him. Still, I advised him to persist. His allergy symptoms abated somewhat, but overall there was no appreciable improvement. Hope was fading from Susan’s face. Such times are hard on physicians. Would it ever work for Edward? Am I chasing a delusional plausibility? I asked myself.
In late August that year, I conducted a weekend autoregulation workshop for physicians in my office. It seems so improbable now, but I asked Edward if he would attend the workshop. I didn’t expect him to understand the highly technical language of my discussion of the energy and molecular basis of the efficacy of autoregulation with my colleagues, but I thought he might have some breakthrough during extended periods of autoregulation practicum during the workshop. Or perhaps, at some deeper, visceral level I was seeking vindication of my therapies that were clearly unproven and could have been easily misconstrued. Edward agreed to come.
Before I began the workshop, I took Edward aside and told him to sit by the back door so he could quietly leave the room if he became uncomfortable at any time during the extended autoregulation exercises. Edward attentively listened to the introductory lectures, though he couldn’t hide his frustration at not being able to comprehend the medical jargon. Then we all went into autoregulation and closed our eyes. Within minutes, I sensed some turmoil in the back of the room and opened my eyes to see Edward’s back as he hurried out. This is what he told me later when we walked out for lunch:
“Dr. Ali, it was awful! God awful! I closed my eyes and I felt this huge, powerful hand reach down from the darkness above, sharply twist my neck, and try to yank my head through the ceiling. I just had to get out. I’m sorry, Dr. Ali. I am very sorry. I know what you are trying to do. But it’s no use.”
FIELDS OF CANDLES
Depression is a problem of confused brain chemistry, I tried to explain to Edward when I saw him after the fiasco at the physician meeting. I told him to imagine that there was a field of candles. Below the surface all of the candles were wired. When the winds blew, many of those candles were put out. The circuitry connecting the candles beneath the surface came to life and lit the extinguished candles. It all happened in moments. No one realized that one candle had gone out. No one, of course, who had intact circuitry.
When cells are hit hard by injurious elements, be they chemical injuries to nerve cells or sad thoughts that deplete the energy neurotransmitters at the cell membranes, the cells recover, largely because they network. Cells knew about networking long before the yuppie generation did when it got laid off after the stock market crash. The candles in the cells are lit up by electromagnetic matchsticks sent to them by their friendly neighbor cells.
It is different with people who suffer from depression. Their cells crave for the day (adrenergic) and night (serotinergic) neurotransmitters, but the neurotransmitters are nowhere to be found. Their network connections are weak, sometimes moribund, near death. When the winds blow, they put out the candles. The cells in the neighborhood watch helplessly. Then there are yet more winds and yet more candles go out. And it goes on and on till, as one patient who suffers from depression and who listened to me talk about the fields of candles put it, there are no more lit candles. There is darkness of deep depression. Deep holes that sink deeper and deeper. And then there are no walls around the holes. Only a free fall into abysmal darkness.
I told Edward I had seen people learn how to banish those winds of the thinking mind when they first feel them rising. I had seen what the limbic tissue energy can do. I had seen all that through the eyes of my patients who had been there. There, deep in those dark recesses. I also wondered where the true hope ended and deception began. I wondered if the experience of these other people had any relevance to Edward.
I don’t know why and how Edward persisted with autoregulation. Some months later, disillusioned with the results, I suggested to Edward and Susan that they consult some other physicians who might have better luck than I did. “Doc, you want to throw me out, do it. I am not going to see any more doctors. I have seen enough for one lifetime,” Edward answered emphatically.
It took Edward several months before he began to sense the response from his tissues with autoregulation. He told me he was able to do things at home and sometimes at work, and didn’t much think about the relief that death might bring anymore. My notes written on Edward’s chart next summer include the following quotation from Susan, “After nineteen years, Edwards has lived this summer.” I was deeply moved by her words. Edward followed it by telling me how successfully he was coping with heavy, ongoing losses at his business and how he was dealing with the possibility of declaring bankruptcy.
“Doc, it is hard to believe I am doing all this and still continue to think of the future of my family,” he told me one day.
How much can a person take? No one knows enough to be a pessimist, Cousins’ words came to me. There is a limit, an absolute limit to how much anyone can suffer, came the response from within me. What can he do to absorb these new shocks? I wondered. I advised Edward to consider joining the local Recovery chapter in his area and attend their group meetings. Now that his body was beginning to respond, I told Edward, it might be of great value for him to attend Recovery meetings. Edward and Susan listened to me intently.
“Doc, you are a very funny man,” Edward’s face broke into a broad grin.
“What did I say that’s so funny?” I asked, somewhat overwhelmed by his sudden outburst of energy.
“You are funny! Doc, very funny,” he went on as his wife looked at him with obvious confusion.
“Yes! I am funny, Edward. But I still do not know what you found so funny?” I spoke plaintively.
“Doc! How could you tell me to go to Recovery group meetings?”
“Because I think folks at Recovery are very good at what they do,” I answered matter-of-factly.
“Doc, you forget what I told you when I first saw you. Remember I told you I had been to AA and several church groups. I told you the talking therapies had not worked for me. You are the one who first told me to try the tissue energy approach. You are the one who first talked to me about listening to tissues. Perceiving their energy as you call it. Enhancing it. And when the tissues wouldn’t talk back to me, you told me to hang on. So I hung on. Boy, did I hang on! I bought all that. And now that things are beginning to shape up, you tell me to return to those group meetings. You are funny! Doc, you are a very funny man.” Edward stopped talking and looked at me as if he had just swallowed a canary.
Why did Edward’s abnormal brain chemistry bite him so hard as he closed his eyes? The cortical monkey again? Or was there something more to that? Was it an ugly prank of the monkey, or a painful bite of the dog?
Why did the gray dog bite his master anyway? Was he angry? Vengeful? What did he want? Revenge for all the years of neglect, of hurt, of absence of love? How could he have known what had passed before his master’s eyes in the hospital intensive care unit? How could he have known what his master felt that day? How could he have known he was going to be hugged that day? Had he been scheming silently for years for that day to arrive? So he could bite him and get even for years of suffering? How could he have figured all that in that one brief moment when the man brushed aside his beloved white dog and ran to him? Or was the gray dog simply confused? Did the man’s hug stun the limbic dog in him? Did the limbic dog suddenly get disoriented by an unexpected burst of love? Love coming from someone he thought incapable of loving him? Why then? Why not on some earlier day?
DO MOLECULES, CELLS AND TISSUES HAVE CONSCIOUSNESS?
Do tissues have consciousness? I am told what separates man from the beast is consciousness. Man, such reasoning goes, is capable of rational thought; hence, he is rational. Where do human tissues fit in? With man, the rational being, or with the beast, the living thing without any consciousness? Are human tissues mere globs of protoplasm? Without consciousness? Ugly clumps of cells, blood and tissue fluid? Heaps of shining insignificance? So what are human tissues? Confused dogs, ready to bite? They cannot be trusted anytime, anywhere without the constant censor of the thinking head. The cortical monkeys look away for a passing moment and the limbic dogs bite!
I do not know much about the consciousness that the enthusiasts of artificial intelligence talk about. Those who profess to understand consciousness and seek to relate it to the artificial intelligence of computers, it seems to me, are simply putting on airs. Nor do I understand the basis of the claim of Crick and Koch that the “problem of consciousness” is on the verge of solution (Scientific American September 1992). But I do know this: The injured tissues do not lie. The only part of the human condition that lies to us is the thinking brain. The heart, the lungs, the kidneys, muscles, tendons and the skin never learned to lie. When we do choose to listen to the injured tissues, they do speak the truth. This is the truth about the language of injured tissues. This is the truth about the bite of the limbic dog. How do I know? Because I know the limbic dog is not into biting. The limbic dog is a loving dog. Sheila found out. So did Edward. I know of hundreds of Sheilas and Edwards who found this out.
If bad thoughts can cause cancer, I heard an expert pronounce on the radio some time ago, why can’t good thoughts make it go away? The expert then went on to congratulate himself for the clarity of his thoughts. I wondered if this expert had ever really cared for anyone with cancer. He is right about the first part of his discovery. Indeed, unrelenting bad thoughts can create relentless stress that can break our molecular and energy defenses, and so lead to production of tumors. How does this expert know that the tumor cells — or for that matter healthy cells — care about our infatuation with our thoughts, and the notions that our thoughts metamorphose into the physical reality of our choosing. My patients have taught me that tissues respond only when we attend to them in a no-thinking mode. Tissues do not seem to care much about our great intellectual prowess. They have little respect for our clever intellectual schemes.
I see many patients who tell me they can control their migraine headaches and asthma attacks with mind control. Someone once told me he even “killed” his cancer by turning off its blood supply. This always fascinates me. I do not for a single moment doubt that they are telling me the truth as they see it. So I ask them to explain how they use their minds to control their headaches or asthma attacks. This is how the conversations have gone many times.
“Tell me, how do you control your asthma attack?” I ask.
“By mind control,” the patient replies.
“Good! Now, tell me how do you do mind control?” I ask again.
“By mind-over-body,” the patient repeats.
“That’s good. How do you do your mind-over-body thing?” I repeat myself.
“You know how! By mind-over-body.”
“That’s really wonderful. Now tell me how do you do it?”
“By … By mind over …”
“Yes, I know it is by mind-over-body. But tell me how you do it,” I persist. “I write about this stuff. I can’t write mind-over-body over and over again, can I?”
There is usually a long pause. Then comes a hesitant answer:
“I guess I really don’t know. But honest, Doc, it has happened many times,” he speaks defensively.
“Of course, it has happened many times,” I reassure him.
I believe him. I have no valid reason to call his assertion a lie or consider it a delusional plausibility. I do, however, have a strong sense that the asthma attack subsides not because he has figured out a clever way to send some clever electromagnetic impulses from his thinking cortical brain to the tightened muscles in his bronchial tubes. Rather, by some great intuitive insight he has learned to keep his cortical monkey out of the way of his bronchial tubes. Delivered from the ceaseless chatter of the mind, the limbic muscles in the bronchi tube open up. They do so because that’s what they were designed to do. The bronchial muscles do not know how to write computer software. Neither do they know how to read poetry. They open up because that’s the only thing they know how to do. The thinking mind can shut them off, but it doesn’t know how to open them up. That they must do by themselves, by some limbic quality, without any help from the cortical monkey.
I ask the skeptic in medicine to consider nitric oxide. It is a simple gas made up of an atom of nitrogen and oxygen each. It is a triumph of nature in molecular design, a marvel of biology. One of the simplest compounds known to us, nitric oxide is elegance in simplicity. It opens up the arteries thrown into spasms by adrenaline and its companions in cortical conspiracies. Tight arteries are tired arteries. They scream for help. An enzyme, nitric oxide synthase, acts upon amino acid arginine and splits a molecule of nitric oxide, leaving behind molecules of another amino acid, citrulline. It is this simple molecule of nitric oxide that also serves as a messenger, whereby immune cells called phagocytes recognize and destroy foreign invaders like disease-causing bacteria and errant cells that cause cancer.
The nitric acid molecule fascinates me because it makes sense where nothing else does. It is produced by individual cells in times of their need — without any commands from the thinking mind. Nitric acid production is a local energy event. Each nitric acid molecules produced locally in response to a local need puts to a lie the common belief that clever thinking — mind-over-body approach — heals. This simple molecule gives me a rational, scientifically sound and believable chemical and energy mechanism to help me comprehend — partially at best — how autoregulation works in real life. It helps explain why autoregulation does not work for some people for long months, and how it does work when finally it does. This molecule is one of those that hold the key to understanding how exhausted tissues may — and do — finally escape the cortical tunnels and walk onto limbic openness. And, yes, it does open some windows to Sheila’s suffering. And the suffering of Edward. And of the suffering of all the other Sheilas and Edwards. Nitric oxide, of course, is not a lone warrior rising against adrenergic tyranny. There are others. Some of them we know. Some others, I am sure, will be recognized at some future time.
THE BITE OF ADRENERGIC HYPERVIGILENCE
A man gambles and his wife suffers from diarrhea. A man fears he will lose his job after 25 years of work with his company. A woman cares for her mother dying of cancer and suffering from unremitting pain. A salesman returns home without a sale and weary with fatigue. We say they live in stress.
A young man suffers a sudden panic attack. He cannot breathe, has heart palpitations and thinks he is dying of a heart attack. A woman dashes into the street to yank away her toddler who is walking toward a speeding car. A leopard chases a deer and the deer sprints to dodge the attacker. What are the molecular dynamics of these events? Chemistry of the stress reaction, the so-called fight or flight response. The role of adrenaline and its cousin molecules, catecholamines, in the cause of stress is well-known. In the stress reaction, arteries in limbs and abdominal organs tighten, muscles in the body tense up, pupils dilate, heart rate quickens, skin rises in goose pimples, and the cortical brain shifts to a higher gear. Nature gave us this reaction for a survival advantage, so we can escape faster to safety or dig our heels to fight out the aggressor for life. The problem is these cortical molecular devices do not know their limits. Once triggered, they initiate cascade events, forever feeding upon themselves.
The so-called chronic stress syndrome, of course, is nothing but adrenergic molecular hypervigilence. In this syndrome, the body organs are hit hard with a new stressor before they have a chance to recover from the previous insult. Relentless stress causes unrelenting demands on body organs; the tissues scramble, suffer and finally suffocate. The role of many other neurotransmitters in the cause of other chronic disorders has been expounded in recent studies. The common thread in the energy dynamics in all these states is cortical overdrive. The question that has preoccupied me for some years is this: How do tissues counter cortical molecular hypervigilence? How do they escape from cortical torrents? How do they return to a limbic state? Do they do so because the cortical brain sends electromagnetic messages to them to ease up? Or does it send some neurotransmitters to cancel out the effects of adrenaline and its companion molecules in cortical conspiracies? Or do individual cells in tightened arteries and spastic muscles have their own molecular devices to escape the tyranny of cortical tyrants?
How do adrenergic dogs bite? In the same way a teenager jolts his car on his first driving lesson. Letting go in comfort and peace does not come the way a meal comes at a fast food outlet. Molecules have their own rhythms, their own timing, their own sense of space.
I give autoregulation training to a group of four or five new patients. I hear the moans of a limbic dog in one or two patients in almost each group. Fortunately, the bite of the limbic dog is not as bad for most people as it was for Sheila and Edward. Most people experience spasms in their neck muscles, low back stiffness, mild chest discomfort, anxiety, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, and occasional episodes of watering or searing eyes. Such limbic bites are brief and of no consequence. All a person has to do to overcome them is to persist in autoregulation.
There is a cortical monkey in each one of us. Most of us see him clearly. There is a limbic dog in each one of us. Many of us are totally oblivious of his existence.
I end this chapter with a few sentences with which I ended The Cortical Monkey and Healing:
It seems improbable that man will ever fully understand the healing energy of love, or to be more precise, the healing energy of God. Medical technology, itself an expression of God’s energy, is beginning to allow us to measure some things about love, and then reproduce them. Measurements and reproducibility make up the language of science. One day, it seems to me, the men of medicine and men of spirits will meet at some summit of union. The energy of love will have brought them together.”
|Professor Majid Ali presents the physiology, pathology, and clinical features of responses to chronic stress.
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