The willful practice of staying with a feeling “is the central and crucial mechanism in all feeling-oriented regressive psychotherapy”. Paul Vereshack
Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz makes a distinction between our brain and our mind. Our brain is a sensory processing machine. Whereas, we experience mind as a self-directed observational force. In his book Mind and Brain, he explores how our mind might exert influence over the brain. When we use our minds, he says, it generates a "mental force" which acts at the quantum level of the brain to make changes in it. He uses this idea to help his OCD patients consciously develop new behaviors via the growth and strengthening of new neural pathways. With effort, these new pathways strengthen and support the new behaviors, which eventually overcome the unwanted behaviors.
Quantum physics involves itself with the examination of our world at it's atomic/sub-atomic level. At this level, the brain is an electro-chemical machine whose neurons use atoms of electrically charged chemicals (ions) to create voltage. Voltage, which is an electrical force, can then be used to distribute information throughout the brain.
How and why neurons transmit information is a fairly complicated matter (especially at the 'why' end!) But, simplified, this is what happens: nerve cells can manipulate the ions that are outside of and inside of their cell membranes. Some of these ions have positive charges. Some have negative charges. Whenever a neuron has more negatively charged atoms within itself than outside of itself, it can't transmit information.
However, when the brain sends an impulse to do something, that “thought” opens channels in the neuron’s cell membrane. This allows positive ions to rush into the neuron. When that neuron has more positive ions inside of itself than outside of itself, it can transmit information.
I put 'thought' in quotation marks, since no one knows what that is, beyond stating that it is a brain impulse. Schwartz would argue that a thought and a brain impulse are different things...since "we are not our brain".
Now, it is a counterintuitive, yet, repeatedly verified hypothesis of quantum physics that reality exists in a potential or indeterminate state until it is observed. Somehow, looking at an indeterminate state manifests a particular result.
Schwartz says that the mind generates a “mental force”, which can effect the neuron’s membrane permeability, thereby manipulating its ability to transmit information. While both the brain and the mind can do this, the difference between mental force and brain impulse seems to be that mental force can be intentionally directed.
This information generates some questions for us: do automatic, repressive brain impulses keep an imprinted neuron’s interior negatively charged so that it cannot transmit traumatic information to the cortex? Is this how Janov's pain gating is accomplished? And, does participation in productive primal therapy…intentionally directing our minds toward our distressful feelings…generate a mental force that can (just as a brain impulse does) open neural membrane channels, flood the interior with positive ions, and switch the neuron on... thereby enabling trapped imprinted information to reach the cortex?
We know that the human brain is a dual processor. Information must freely flow through both low and high-road circuits in order for our behavior to correctly map onto environmental cues. The accuracy of our responses to environmental cues determine our emotional health.
Whenever a split occurs, low road information gets blocked from the high road and, thereafter, can be said to exist in a potential or indeterminate state, in relation to high road sensory processing. After a split, imprinted information exists in a state that can remain unconscious or it can become conscious. It remains unconscious due to the mechanical brain activity of repression. It can become conscious, only when it is being observed.
We've already experienced how noticing and attending to the movement of traumatic information can result in connection. This is why, whenever a client’s traumatic survival reaction presents itself in a session, we say: “that’s your feeling…stay with it”.
We’ve also experienced the effort and determination it takes to stay with a traumatic feeling. We do constant battle with our ego, as it tries to make us daydream, fall asleep, mindlessly chatter, etc...anything to get away from the distressing feeling.
Dr. Schwartz describes mental force this way: The willful act of staying with whatever begins to show itself … “allow[s] mental effort to keep in focus a stream of consciousness that would otherwise become quickly defocused ……. and keep it focused in a way that tends to actualize potentialities that are in accord with consciously selected ends.”
Are we exerting mental force when we intentionally “stay with” our feeling? If so, does this force open membrane channels along imprinted neurons, thereby allowing previously trapped information passage to the cortex. Can mind, through intention, defeat the brain’s mechanistic repressive actions? The fact that the primal process DOES result in connection would suggest that the answer is yes.
We know that the axon from one neuron may branch and terminate in as many as 200,000 synapses, and that a single neuron may receive synaptic contacts from 200,000 other neurons. This knowledge gives us an appreciation of how complex an imprint is and how disruptive blocked information can be to holistic brain processing. We can also appreciate how the reversal of this blockage enables a firestorm of high-level processing of the heretofore blocked traumatic information.
Contemplating these things, we can better understand the significance of connection and its subsequent clarifying/balancing effect on the brain.