I hope you’re having a good Monday! I spent last week at Kripalu assisting at the second annual narrative medicine conference, which was wonderful!
At the heart of the conference was the insight that the stories we tell have the power to heal—and also to harm—us.
This was so exciting to me, because the whole week helped me flesh out many of the ideas that I’ve been coming to these past years, but that are rarely articulated.
The stories that we tell and our imaginative life are not disconnected from our bodies. Quite the opposite! The stories that we tell and the way we see and imagine ourselves and our world, directly affect how we feel—both individually and socially.
I’ll give you two snippets of research that I loved learning about:
- Traditionally neuroscience was conducted on static individual brains, but recently scientists have realized that it would be helpful to study brains in the conditions that we actually live in. So scientists (among them, Uri Hasson at Princeton) have been studying brain interaction, and what they found is that our physical brains are interactive—with other people and with the stories we are told. Here is an example: a certain part of a brain lights up if we bring food to our mouth to eat. That same part of the brain lights up if we see another person bring food to his mouth. AND the same part of the brain lights up if we hear someone tell us about bringing food to the mouth eating. In other words, we can study the neurological effects of story telling—and also of compassion— and the ways in which the stories we tell have a literal effect on our physical being.
- The placebo effect is not just a mysterious trick of the mind, but works as effectively as it does—in 60-90 % of many diseases and often almost as well as many top pharmaceuticals–because of the power of stories, relationship and the mind-body connection. In fact three specific conditions that make the placebo effect work: (a) positive beliefs and (b) positive beliefs and expectations on the part of the physician or health care professional; and (c) trust between the patient and caregiver. In other words, what we believe, the stories we tell, and our relationships have a direct effect on our wellbeing.
This effect is so powerful—and in fact potentially transformative–that Herbert Benson, the founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard, wants to rename the placebo effect (which has a negative connotation) “remembered wellness.” The power of suggestion works so well because minds—and our relationships—have power to bring the body into a state of healing. And if we change what we call this effect, we will be more likely to harness this power.
My take away from these two pieces of research is that when we take control of our own stories and the language we use, we have more control over our own—and other people’s—wellbeing. Because none of our stories exist in isolation.
This week we were also lucky to hear from a truly dynamic, inspirational Minister, Dr Jacqui Lewis, who reminded us that racism is itself a story—or rather, a lie. And yet, that social “story” affects the health of millions of Americans (almost all health indices are lower for blacks in America than for whites). And so, through the power of the stories we tell, we can literally affect the health and wellbeing of individuals and of society.
Similarly, the stories we tell about, for example, plastic or non organic fertilizers or about our past or our future also affect our health.
Our stories matter, and they are all interconnected.
I’d love to connect with you and hear how the stories you tell—or don’t tell—affect your body and your world.
And I’d love to work with you.
Because a number of people asked me to join my online course Align Your Story this summer, I have a new policy in which you get immediate access to the whole course when you sign up, and then we will have weekly conference calls starting in the early fall.
The course walks you through lessons to get comfortable with and trust your own voice, learn from great writers, and connect mind and body through yoga and meditation—which are taught through video and audio recordings.
You can see more here (I’ve updated and redesigned the page—check it out!).
If you sign up now, there is a 20% early bird special. And if you sign up with a friend you each get an extra 15 % discount.
Reach out with any questions. And see more ways to connect with me and my offerings below.