| Family Reflections |

From Head to Heart

It’s one thing to know all is well. How do we feel it?

T

hey say that the longest and hardest road to travel is the one that goes from our head (where we know things) to our heart (where we feel things).

“I know that turbulence is normal on an airplane and that nothing terrible is likely to happen, but my body doesn’t seem to register that fact. As soon as the flight gets a bit choppy, my heart starts beating furiously, and I grip onto my seat.

“No matter how much I tell myself that everything is okay, I can’t turn any of those reactions off.”

Yes, our body seems to have a mind of its own! And in fact, it does. The cortex and our higher faculties are located in a separate compartment from our survival instincts, and each can run independently.

We can know, using our intellect, that Hashem is with us and can save us during difficult circumstances, while our emotions run the gamut from terror to despair to rage to grief.

“Last year I started studying the concept of emunah. I read books, listened to shiurim, and attended workshops. At first, it seemed like everything was paying off. Everything in my life was working out. But then, my dad got a sudden diagnosis. I couldn’t sleep. I felt terrified. I kept repeating mantras of emunah that I’d learned, but nothing penetrated. I was a failure when it came to a real test of faith.”


It’s a Process

It’s normal to intellectually embrace concepts of emunah and bitachon while still living in a body that feels fear. It’s one thing to study emunah and another to embed it into our nervous system. Doing the latter means that when our spouse loses the job that feeds the family, we sleep peacefully at night. It means that our child’s serious disabilities, our upcoming legal proceedings, our teenager’s struggle to see the beauty in our way of life, and all of our other life challenges fail to disturb our tranquility and serenity.

The more successfully we’ve woven emunah into our subconscious mind and absorbed it into our bodily organs, the greater the confidence we have that all is well and will continue to be well.

However, getting to this point is a process. We don’t just read a book and arrive there overnight. In fact, we may have to read tens of books and then reread them. And even then, the effect of knowledge alone is limited: It’s the language of the left brain, the conscious mind.

When our body is reactive, we actually have to convince it in its own language, the language of the heart. But how?


Speaking to the Heart

If we want to change the body’s natural panicky reactions, we need to open the door between the conscious and subconscious minds, providing a channel from our brain to our emotional heart and from there to our physical heart. When the door is opened, our knowledge that Hashem will see us through slides into the emotional heart where it creates a calmness of spirit, and from there, it slides into the physical heart where it creates a regular, soothing heartbeat instead of the desperate pattern generated by the fight-or-flight response.

One of the many available ways to open the door that connects the left, conscious, word-based brain to the right, subconscious, emotion-based brain is bilateral (left/right) tapping. Putting the right hand on the left shoulder and the left hand on the right shoulder, and alternately tapping each shoulder (left, right, left, right, etc.), we focus our attention on the situation that is causing us alarm, continuing to tap for a minute or so. We rest for a few moments and then repeat the exercise.

At the end of each minute-long round of tapping, we take note of how we are thinking and feeling about the tension-producing situation, and, as long as physical distress is decreasing, we can continue doing rounds of tapping until it has completely dissipated (we should not continue using this strategy on our own if anxiety is increasing).

Many people will find that after a few rounds, their body is no longer registering anxiety and is, in fact, now calmly aligned with their belief that Hashem can be relied upon. The left and right brain are finally in agreement; we know that all is well, and we feel it too.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 676)

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