This article was written by Candace Pert, PhD, neuroscientist, pharmacologist, and discoverer of the opiate receptor in the brain. It is taken from a talk she gave in 2003 and was copied below directly from her website: www.CandacePert.com.
For me, it explains why so much of our time, energy, and effort goes into moving toward those things which make us feel good, or at least offer the promise of making us feel good, and try to avoid or distance ourselves from things that make us feel bad. I think deep down - way deep down - we know we're meant to feel good.
It's just that somewhere along the way, we got confused about where our good feelings come from. We started thinking that something, someone, or some condition outside of us held the key.
"Is it possible that we are all biologically programmed for happiness? I believe so. In fact, my research over the last 30 years has led me to this conclusion: we’re actually “hardwired” for bliss—both physical and divine. By hardwired I mean that we have major endorphin pathways that lead from the back of the brain to the frontal cortex, where we have the most opiate receptors—the cellular binding sites for endorphins.
Endorphins are naturally occurring opiates that dull pain and produce euphoria when they bind with opiate receptors. Thus they literally alter our mood on the cellular level. It sounds amazing, but my work has shown me that we are physically hardwired to pay attention to, and plan for, pleasure. That’s just how we’re designed. The pathways of many neurosubstances throughout the body have been mapped by other researchers, but none of those maps explicitly convey that the human brain has evolved to appreciate, pay attention to, and be guided by pleasure.
It’s unnatural for people to live without pleasure. I believe that at other times and places in history people probably experienced much more pleasure than we do in our modern era. The root of the problem today may be that we’re always looking for the bliss that’s going to come “When I…”, “When I graduate,” “When I finish this,” “When I do that.”
Another obstacle to experiencing pleasure today may be the thought that we are separate from each other and from the rest of creation. We really all are one. When you start to get this, maybe even only on a subconscious level, I think you will start to experience more bliss."
Candace Pert was an American neuroscientist and pharmacologist who discovered the opiate receptor, the cellular binding site for endorphins in the brain. She wrote The Molecules Of Emotion and Everything You Need To Know To Feel Go(o)d. The following paragraphs were taken from CandacePert.com and an article entitled Where Do You Store Your Emotions.
“A feeling sparked in our mind or body will translate as a peptide being released somewhere. [Organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands], they all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information. This means the emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain. You can access emotional memory anywhere in the peptide/receptor network, in any number of ways. I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in the body. The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed."
“Let the emotions bubble up. Let the chips fall where they may…the process of catharsis is not complete without saying things as the first step to experiencing things…To feel and understand means you have worked it all the way through. It has bubbled all the way to the surface. You’re integrating at higher and higher levels in the body, bringing emotions into consciousness. Once integrated, the natural wisdom of the receptors will release interrupted healing and restorative and regenerative processes can take over.”
“By simply acknowledging emotions, they are expressed. In being expressed, emotions can be released, even old emotions stored in body memory. Allowing my emotions to surface into awareness and to be able to name my emotions is the beginning of emotional exploration. I am moving forward, trying to find my position within the family, within the community, and in life.”
When it comes to our emotions, we normally do one of two things - suppress them or express them. Sometimes we try to transcend them, but that's really just a dressed-up way of suppressing them.
Beyond suppression or even expression is a third way - releasing.
People often think they've released their feelings about something and they'll say, "Oh, I let that go." But often what they're describing is a function of the intellect or the will - a mental decision to dismiss a thought or a feeling, push it away, or somehow distance themselves from it.
This kind of "from-the-neck-up" releasing often doesn't last. It will tend to reveal itself later as a physical symptom or a general feeling of stress or tension. It is unsuccessful because feelings, and the deeper feelings that are driving them, live below conscious awareness. So unless you connect with them where they live, you're just sort of scratching at the surface.
The kind of releasing that I'm referring to - real releasing - is not merely a function of the thinking brain. Instead, it employs the thinking brain to access the bodymind. The bodymind is the unconscious mind and is home to the feelings just beneath the surface - the ones we're often trying to avoid - either consciously or not.
Accessing the bodymind provides us with a felt experience of our emotions, allowing us to connect with them on their own turf. Then we can learn how to speak with them in a language that they understand and invites them to release.
Letting go in this way is a physical, palpable experience, which is sometimes subtle, sometimes not. It's sort of like taking a deep involuntary sigh inside. Afterwards, you'll feel lighter and more spacious inside.
This happens organically, without effort or willpower, You feel lighter and freer, not by trying to impose your will onto your feelings, but by releasing them from the inside-out.
When it comes right down to it, there are only two kinds of feelings: the love kind and the non-love kind. Love feelings, those like compassion, peace, wellbeing, and freedom, feel good. While non-love feelings, like anger, depression, grief, and jealousy feel bad.
Feelings are just energy. And only love energy can convert non-love energy. Every spiritual tradition says so. Quantum physics says so too.
So how do we love that which we don't find lovable - that which we typically try to suppress, deny, or analyze our way out of? By trying to force ourselves to be loving? By trying to convince ourselves that we love that which we do not? No. Anything forced speaks of effort and control. Effort and control are not love.
Sometimes the closest we can come to loving our negative feelings, is simply allowing them to be there, acknowledging their presence. And if we find that too difficult, if self-judgement is in the way, we can simply notice it and make a space for that to be there too.
Perhaps, this won't fix our negative feelings right away. But, with practice, we can learn how to make a big enough, safe enough space to accommodate all the parts of ourselves. Doing so creates the optimum environment for their healing and deepens our capacity for self-love and compassion in the process.
When animals are faced with a threat, one that is life-threatening, their bodies experience a flood of chemicals, like cortisol and adrenaline, that throw their bodies temporarily out of whack. Once the threat has passed, their bodies discharge the survival stress energy, in the form of shaking or stretching, allowing them to move on with their lives as if nothing ever happened.
For us humans, it's not so simple. After stressful events, whether it's a single event or cumulative "mini traumas", whether it's actual or perceived, whether it's remembered or repressed, our bodies often do not have ways to effectively clear the arousal chemicals produced. This residual energy tends to store in our bodies resulting in PTSD, depression, anxiety, muscle aches and pains, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues, insomnia, and autoimmune disorders.
In his revolutionary book, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, trauma therapist and researcher, draws on 30 years of experience to argue powerfully that trauma is one of the West's most urgent public health issues. He explains how its stressful impact can predispose us to everything from diabetes to heart disease, maybe even cancer.
Van Der Kolk and other innovative researchers say that while traditional "talk therapy" may be helpful to a degree, working with the body to locate the source of the trauma and having a way release it safely, is the key to lasting resolution of the psychological and physiological effects of trauma.
While popular as a concept, positive thinking has its limitations. It is based on the idea that our thinking controls how we feel. But in my experience, the reverse is also true. Our feelings control our thinking.
You may have noticed that when you are in love or in a new relationship, you tend to think how wonderful life is. You may have also noticed that when you're sad or depressed, you tend to think how awful it is.
Thinking happens in the frontal cortex of the brain. Feelings happen in the body. We say that we have a lump in our throats or butterflies in our stomachs. We say that we feel weak in the knees, or feel something in our guts, or feel heartbroken. You are able to distinguish one feeling from another because it is a felt, in-your-body experience.
We have inherited a cultural bias that our thinking is superior and more evolved than our feelings and that we can and should use our thinking brains to tame, subdue, or control our emotions. And while self-control is something all children must learn, we tend to grow up with a habit of analyzing, pushing down on, pushing away, and judging our emotions. It becomes so second nature that we don't even realize we're doing it. It's this unconscious resistance to our feelings, not the feelings themselves, that's negatively impacting our health and driving our behavior behind-the-scenes. And it is this negative attitude toward our emotions that we must undo.
Not only is this habit of trying to suppress our emotions unhealthy, it requires a lot of effort and is ultimately ineffective. Take an Iraqi war vet for example. Intellectually he knows full- well that he is safe at home, but whenever he hears a car backfire he hits the ground. All the positive self-talk in the world will not convince the feelings, beliefs and memories in his bodymind, to react any differently. (Read more about trauma and the body here).
While not all of us have experienced trauma to this degree, we've all had traumatic experiences. Things that happened to us when we were little may seem inconsequential as seen through our adult eyes, but your child-self might have perceived that her/his very life was at stake. These memories are stored as energy in the body and can be activated by current events and experienced as "over reactions."
As long as we treat our emotions and emotional reactions like embarrassing relatives we don't want to own up to or as unruly children we need to quiet, they will continue to make trouble and "act out" as soon as we let down our guard.
But if we can learn instead to listen to our emotions, hear what they have to say, and learn how to work with them with compassion, they will release. Then, not only will we feel better, but we'll develop an empowering and collaborative relationship with an inescapable aspect of our humanness. We will grow in love for what we once deemed unlovable and will naturally become more understanding of the hurt feelings that drive the behaviors of others.
So instead of trying to think positively in an effort to control how we feel, we learn how to change how we feel so that our thinking improves. Then, instead of trying to think positive, we will simply be positive - naturally.
The following is a condensed excerpt from a session with a male client, who had been on high blood pressure medication for several years. He presented initially with feelings of depression. Our sessions generally focused on helping him "release" those feelings and the others that emerged during the process. I had been working with him for about 3 months, several times per month, when the following breakthrough occurred. (Please note: Releasing is not intended to treat or cure any illness and is not meant to be a substitute for medical treatment). Session took place at Heaven On Earth Farm, on the bridge, over the creek.
Me: So do your best to focus inside, and see if you can notice what's happening now.
CLIENT: Well, I notice a tight feeling in my upper back . . . now it feels more like a weight . . . like something heavy pressing down on me.
Me: Great noticing. See if you can allow it to be here . . . as best you can.
CLIENT: Yeah. I can do that.
Me; Now see if there's any sense of pushing back at it, wanting it to go away, or wanting to change or fix it.
Me: Of course. It's completely understandable. See if you can allow that to be here too. And see if you can offer yourself, and the feelings, a little compassion - as best you can - the sense of pressure and the not-wanting-it-to-be-here.
CLIENT: (Pause) Yes. (Client sighs and takes deep breath).
Me: What's happening now?
CLIENT: I feel a relief in my upper back. The heaviness is gone.
Me: OK. See if you can welcome that sense of relief?
CLIENT: Yes. (Long pause).
Me: What's happening now?
CLIENT: (Long pause. Breathing becomes shallow). There's something else now . . . I don't like it . . . I don't like it at all.
Me: Yeah. I bet not. But see if you can just allow yourself to notice it. Remember . . . it's just energy. If it's coming up, it wants to move, it's ready to be released. So see if you can just allow it as best you can.
CLIENT: (Long pause). Yeah. But I really don't like it. (Client shows signs of heightened arousal, discomfort, difficulty breathing).
Me: See if you can feel your feet . . . continue to breathe as best you can . . .
CLIENT: It's that dark place I've seen before. It's black . . . I don't like it . . . I really don't want to go there.
Me: That's totally understandable. And you don't have to . . . but check to see if you can breathe and feel your feet and continue to watch it.
CLIENT: (Long pause). Yeah. (Client continues to breathe quickly and shallowly with eyes closed). What the hell is this?
Me: I don't know. But see if you can feel your feet and notice - as best you can - that despite the feelings being stirred up . . . in this moment . . . you are safe.
CLIENT: Yeah. I can do that. (Client is quiet for a long time as he continues to breathe through the feelings coming up).
Me: What's happening now?
CLIENT: It's big . . . and black . . . and scary . . . Oh God. I feel sick.
Me: I know. But you're doing great. Can you feel your feet?
Me: Good. Keep breathing as best you can and tell me what's happening now.
CLIENT: It's like a burning now . . . and it's moving . . . it's . . . it's moving and . . . (Clients eyes open with surprise and looks at me). What the hell just happened?!
Me: I don't know. What's here now?
CLIENT: It's gone. Completely gone . . . the dark place . . . it felt terrible . . . I mean really dark, really scary . . . and now it's gone. It's like I could feel it moving through my chest, up to my throat, into my face, and then it was gone. What the hell was it? What just happened?
Me: I'm not sure. But close your eyes and check inside. What's here now?
CLIENT: (Pause). Peace. Total relief. Whatever that was . . I've been carrying it for a long time . . . and now it's gone . . . there's just . . . space.
Me: Congratulations. (Client opens his eyes). Whatever it was . . .and isn't it great that we don't have to know . . . you were willing to see it, face it, be with it with compassion, and allow it to release. Takes alot of courage.
CLIENT: (Client shakes his head). That was crazy . . . I feel like a demon has left me.
This client returned for his next session and reported that he had been to see his doctor and with his doctor's support, has discontinued his high blood pressure medication.
(A Therapist's Encounter with a Food Craving)
It often happens at night, when I'm home alone. It sometimes happens when I'm driving, like it did today. I wanted something in my mouth - badly. I was craving something, wanted something, needed something. Then I remembered the caramel chews that I had stashed in my glove box.
Caramel! There's something about the sultry salty sweetness that makes the back of my mouth water with barely a bite. Dare I say, it almost beats chocolate? These caramels were calling me - loudly. And I heard a voice say something like, "You shouldn't eat those. You know the sugar's not good for you." And another voice said, "Aw come on. It's just a couple of caramels. You deserve a treat."
In the past this internal dialogue might have gone on for awhile - the debate between the depriving self-loather and the well-intentioned, but less than completely honest indulger. But today I took my own advice, that which I normally give to my clients. I paused, breathed, felt my feet, got reconnected with my body, and checked in with myself to see what was really going on. I noticed a tinge of what felt a little like sadness. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, I opened up inside of myself and made a space for it. As I did, I noticed that the sadness felt more like longing. I could feel it in my chest - more specifically in my heart.
As I continued to breathe, staying connected with my body, and giving my judging brain a little vacation, I let myself feel the longing a little bit more. And with my thinking, judging brain out of the way, I heard the words,
I want love. I want reassurance. I want comfort. I want to be seen
and recognized for who I am. I want to feel appreciated.
As I heard the words - actually it was more like feeling the words - I cried. I cried with recognition – recognition of the truth in those words – a truth that, up until then, I had been completely unaware of.
I felt real compassion for myself at that point. And then, as it usually happens once genuine compassion enters the picture, the sadness and longing began to dissipate. It wasn't until I was several more miles down the road that I realized I'd completely forgotten about the caramels. My mind had pleasantly drifted off to something else.
I wish I could say it was always this easy - this process of releasing the real feelings behind a craving. But it's not. Like you, I struggle with many things. Firstly, I often forget to use my own tools - the ones I teach others. Secondly, it's sometimes hard for me to stay with the unpleasant feelings. It would for sure be more fun just to eat the damn caramels and be done with it. Thirdly, there are some feelings that aren't as easy for me to feel compassion for. The longing for love feels more OK to me than feeling helpless, for example.
My main purpose in sharing all of this with you, dear reader, is this:
A) If by chance your craving for food is really about something else, I want you to know that you're not alone - not by a long shot.
B) I also want you to know that your longing for love, reassurance, comfort, and to be seen and appreciated is perfectly normal, perfectly human, and perfectly understandable.
C) And lastly, I want to reassure you that with practice, patience, and maybe some help, you can learn how to respond to such longings consciously, so that you can get what you're really longing for, but get it from yourself.
Let me know if you need some help. We're in this together:)
If you feel depressed, anxious, sad, angry, helpless, overwhelmed, or any combination of the above, please know that you're not alone. You're not crazy. And despite how you might feel, there's probably nothing wrong with you.
I can say this with confidence because I've been working with people like you for over 20 years - people who feel bad and are secretly afraid that something's wrong with them, who are beating themselves up for it, and are wondering why they can't fix it.
As a psychotherapist turned Emotions Coach, I can tell you that I know what true mental illness looks like, and that I know the difference between real mental illness and what I've come to think of as a chronic or long-standing emotional state. When I say chronic, I just mean that it's an emotion that has been practiced for a really long time. Now maybe you didn't mean to "practice" it. In fact, you've probably tried hard not to, so don't go giving yourself a hard time - especially since you were probably too young to remember when it started.
Most experts agree that emotional states and patterns get set in prior to age six. And as a child, you would have "chosen" certain states in reaction to your childhood experiences. Whatever emotional reactions you had or choices you made, made perfect sense at the time - given the situation and the fact that you were, after all, just a child. And you would, of course, have chosen those emotions you had the easiest access to - like the ones you had a genetic predisposition to or saw modeled by your parents. You also, young genius that you were, would've figured out the ones you wouldn't get in trouble for and the ones that would get you love and attention.
So now you're all grown up, but like the rest of us, you're still carrying around these practiced emotional states. They're a habit now. And because you've had them for so long you've begun to think of them as who you are. But they're not who you are. They are what you feel. And there's a big difference.
Feelings are just feelings. They are only one aspect of your total humanness. Who you are, the bigger you, is always constant. Emotions, on the other hand, are not - at least they're not meant to be. They are designed to change - like the weather - like a thunderstorm that rolls in and then rolls right on out.
Emotions = Energy in Motion
Emotions are made up of energy. You know this is true because certain feelings or emotions feel good, while others feel bad. If we could hook ourselves up to an EKG-type machine that could chart our emotions, we would see that sadness has one kind of wave pattern, anger has another, and fear has yet another. Each emotion has a certain tone or texture and that's how we know which ones we're feeling.
This is great news. Why? If emotions are just energy, this means that whether they're chronic or temporary, they can be transformed!
But who does the transforming and how? As for the how, we'll get to that later. As for the who? Why the bigger you of course – the you who you really are.
Here's where it gets tricky though. Most of us are confused about who we really are. We think that our intellects, our thinking brains, are the bigger us. We've bought a big fat culture-bound collective lie, which says that our intellects are in control. It makes us feel better to think so. As long as we can pretend that the rational mind is in control, we can try to use it to stay on top of, override, and control our feelings, control our behavior, control our lives, etc.
While I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, it's for your own good, so brace yourself. The latest brain research, and what people like me have known for a long time, is this: most of our decisions and behaviors are driven by our unconscious minds, not our rational minds. No matter how convinced we are that we are making logical decisions, most of our decisions are driven by many things that we're not even aware of - one of which is suppressed emotions.
I say that this is for your own good for two reasons. The first is this: as long as you're trying to control your emotions, they're actually controlling you. Your attempts to control them reveal that you don't like them, that you're afraid of them, and that you don't know what to do with them, which leaves you dear friend, in a disempowered position. Do not take this as a criticism. Very few people know how to work with their emotions. No one has taught us how.
The second reason is this: I'm worried about your health. Every day there's more and more research linking negative emotions with health problems of all kinds. But those on the leading edge agree that it's not the emotions themselves that make us sick, but our chronic suppression of them.
This has always made sense to me. Let me give you an example. Let's say you're called into your boss' office and he tells you that you're being laid off. On the inside you react as if you've been kicked in the gut. Inwardly you want to double over, cover your ears with your hands, and rock back and forth in your chair. Or maybe you want to scream or cuss him out - really let him have it. But on the outside, you sit still, nod your head, and try to stay calm as you listen and maybe ask some questions.
You've been taught to be "professional," keep a stiff upper lip, and suck it up. Now I'm not suggesting that we do away with social codes of behavior, but what do you think happened with all that energy you felt? Where did it go?
I'll tell you where it went. If you didn't consciously find a way to access that energy and release it, you stored it - in your body. And how much storing of highly charged energy like that do you think your body can take before it says, "Enough!"
So if you really want to feel empowered and become a true master of your emotions, and if you want to free your body of stored negative energies, then you're going to have to learn how to access emotional energy and convert it.
This is where Emotions Coaching comes in. Emotions Coaching is a term I made up to try to describe what I do, as a way to distinguish it from traditional counseling or psychotherapy.
In my experience, most people don't need psychotherapy. They simply need to learn tools and techniques that help them access their bigger selves and use it to access and release negative feelings. You actually came into the world wired with this God-given ability, but as a product of your culture and upbringing, it's been trained out of you.
Emotions Coaching, at least the way I do it, is designed to help you reclaim this innate ability. It involves learning and practicing some practical tools and having consistent support and encouragement along the way.
While you may feel depressed, sad, anxious, or bitter, while you might be carrying around some unresolved hurts from the past, this doesn't mean you're bad, screwed up, or defective in some way. It simply means that you're human - a human being having human feelings. And while these feelings, and your efforts to suppress them, tend to cloud your memory and your experience of who and what you really are, I'm here to remind you.
You are made in the image of God. Underneath all of the "stuff" - all of your unresolved emotions and your efforts to suppress them - is a deep well of calm, peace, love, compassion, and well-being. It's the bigger you - the truth of you. You will know it when you feel it. It feels like home. And I can help you get there.
Heaven On Earth Farm
Specific directions provided upon scheduling or registration.
P.O. Box 1233
Pickens, SC 29671