OUR MINDS BELIEVE OUR STORIES, AND OUR BODIES REACT ACCORDINGLY
Our stories and thoughts are more than images, words and concepts. We make meaning out of the world with these stories, and we structure these meanings in the psychoneural nets of our brain. It is these structures that form the foundation of our experiences, and influence our identities, our ability to heal, and our ability to thrive in the human world. For those of us who love science, there’s ample proof that, as human beings, we’re neurochemically wired to master the process of creative self-transformation to help us evolve and grow.
Recent research suggests that even experiencing fictional worlds through books and movies can be profoundly transformational. It’s easy to imagine how the stories that we tell ourselves, over and over, would be even more powerful. Neuroscientists have identified three key processes that are activated as our body reacts to the imaginary experiences stimulated by stories, beliefs, myths, fantasies and favorite fictions:
1. We feel stories as reality, even though they may only exist in our imagination. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) studies indicate that stories activate areas associated with all our senses and feelings. Areas of the brain that interpret taste, smell, touch, hearing and emotional reactions are stimulated by experiencing fiction, with neurons vibrating throughout the body creating imperceptible micro-movements to mirror the brain’s perceptions. Stories are registered as experiences, and every time we repeat them, we integrate them more deeply into our neurochemistry. In this imaginary world, we learn and grow in the world of our inner self, feeling emotions that become our own, even though the experiences we are imagining are not “real” like our everyday physical interactions with the world. (Djikik & Oatley, 2014).
2. Stories resonate through our bodies because or brain function changes our physiology. Thinking creates neuropeptides that send messages to our muscles, glands and organs, which react in feelings, moderated through chemical messages that become physical and emotional habits connected to those thoughts. Every part of our body is being trained by the mind. The stories we tell ourselves have a physical and emotional reality. “Our minds and bodies are one, aligned to a destiny predetermined by our unconscious programs,” and our feelings and thoughts eventually become one psychochemical physical experience, a habit of being, knowing and living. (Dispenza, 2014, p. 71).
3. This story experience is a space to experiment, an activation of our ability to change and grow, to take control of our inner and outer lives. There is a biological and emotional reward for suspending our disbelief, that is, exploring creative, playful realms of the imagination and treating the imaginary experiences as believable. Creative storytelling opens up neural pathways and stimulates physiological experiences associated with “aesthetic delight,” a feeling that is pleasurable because we feel it as if it is real, but are simultaneously awake to the fact that we can interpret and influence that experience.
This is also the Storyweaving state, in essence, except that we are telling ourselves our own stories, not letting someone else guide us in fiction or in the clichés of cultural and family stories. We have the liberating experience of appreciating and guiding our own experience. New, highly technical research suggests that stories activate both cognitive (thinking) and emotional (feeling) parts of the brain, engaging the imagination and the intellect in tandem, challenging our habits of thought and creating a unique, active, internal experience that teaches us how to live, for better or worse. (Mukhopadhyay, 2015).
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Dispenza, Joe. (2014). You are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. San Francisco: Hay House.
Djikic, M., & Oatley, K. (2014). The art in fiction: From indirect communication to changes of the self. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, & the Arts, 8(4), 498-505.
Mukhopadhyay, S. (2014). Understanding the neuropsychology of aesthetic paradox: The dual phase oscillation. Review of General Psychology,18(3), 237-248.