We say as Christians that the Spirit of Christ dwells within us. But how do we gain greater access to the Spirit? Here’s one possibility.
These body maps were designed by researchers in Finland who asked 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan to think about 1 of 14 predetermined emotions, and then paint the areas of a blank silhouette that felt stimulated by that particular emotion. They were then asked to paint the areas that felt “deactivated” while experiencing the emotion.
I particularly want to draw your attention to the stark contrast of happiness and neutral. As you can see, happiness is marked by much greater and widespread bodily sensation, while neutral is felt as something of a body-wide numbness, or you might just say unawareness. Someone who says they experience no emotion is simply disconnected from emotion. It is not that they are not experiencing emotion, but there is some kind of blockage that makes a person unaware of what is going on inside.
I am not a scientist, so the conclusions I am drawing are just my own mere wondering. I hope you will wonder with me.
One of the main goals of mindfulness is bodily awareness. One of the techniques for developing bodily awareness is through a meditative body scan. One begins by relaxing, breathing, and closing one’s eyes. Then you start with the top of your head and work your way down or start with your toes and move up. The goal is simply to become aware of what you are feeling in each part of your body.
Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel uses this technique with his patients not only to teach them a relaxation technique, but to assists them to look into their bodies for the buried emotions. These emotions are connected to either conscience or unconscious memories. Numbness can point to a detachment between emotion and consciousness, which could be a sign of forgotten trauma (for more check out his book Mindsight)
Another psychiatrist Curt Thompson took things into the spiritual realm by claiming that this emotional disconnect is also an indication of a spiritual disconnect. The body’s circuitry (primarily in the brain but also through the body, particularly in the gut and the heart where neurons are also found) is not hooked up properly. This happens as a result of a lack of loving and affirming parental connection while very young. This interferes with our own bodily, emotional, and spiritual awareness as well as our ability to build relationship with other including God. (for more check out his book The Anatomy of the Soul). These connections can be restored as we are loved and affirmed by others in our life, regardless of age.
If Siegel and Thompson are right then the body scan above that corresponds to the emotion “happiness” would show a person who is both emotionally and spiritually healthy. It’s not that we will not and should not experience other emotions, but the greater our ability to experience and be aware of sensation in our bodies and therefore emotions, the great our ability to connect with ourselves, others, and God. We might call this happiness: the ability to connect with others. Certainly alienation from ourselves, others, and God would be the opposite of happiness.
My reasoning for this is that in a state of happiness our bodies and their senses are in a better position to receive information from its environment and from within. Whereas in an unaware or depressed state we are relatively closed off to both the world around us and the world within us. Siegel and Thompson go so far as to say that the better attuned to our own inner world the better we can perceive and actually feel the emotions of others.
When Siegel meets with a patient he feels inside himself for an emotion that was not there before the person entered the room. He then check’s his own emotional state against the new emotion to determine what is his own emotion versus the emotion of the other person. It’s really a very remarkable thing. Ultimately we call this empathy.
My main claim throughout my blog is that through the perceivable presence of the Holy Spirit we are able to tap into the mind and emotion of Christ. So when we are able to tap into our own emotional state, which begins with bodily awareness, we then we might find in addition to our own emotion the very emotion and mind of Christ (and therefore God) placed within us. This is what I would call a personal relationship with Christ.
I don’t believe this relationship, that has been championed by many evangelists over the years, is simply a proposition to be considered, but it is one that must be learned over time. We learn by practicing. And how can we have a relationship with a Spirit that is dwelling inside our minds, emotions, and even our bodies?
By seeking to become as fully aware as possible about what is happening within us and around us.