We can almost all relate to the experience of knowing that a thought we have isn’t true, but knowing that doesn’t seem to matter because it still feels true. It lives in our bodies as truth, even if our rational mind knows that it’s probably not the whole picture, or not quite accurate. And don’t we all just want to actually feel good enough: to feel satisfied, to feel connected, to feel safe…and not just have thoughts that tell us we are?
Intensely emotional experiences, or repeated experiences that give us the same feeling (whether pleasant or unpleasant and even traumatic) are imprinted in a part of our brain that language doesn’t access. They are stored as implicit memory. When something in current experience reminds some part of our whole body-mind system of this past experience, these implicit memories get triggered or activated. We experience them as happening now. This could be smelling a spice in a kitchen that a family member always used to cook with and suddenly feeling comforted and held. It could be a certain facial expression or tone of voice that then brings up painful feelings of rejection and inadequacy and a knot in your stomach.
Why Unintegreated Implicit Memory Can Be Paralyzing
We experience implicit memory as happening now, not as having happened in the past. And these implicit memories get activated before we even have time to think. An evolutionarily older part of our brain is constantly scanning everything that is coming in through our senses, and comparing it to our past experiences. If a certain song was playing during a panic attack you had before, hearing that song again may trigger feelings of panic. It doesn’t matter that you know rationally that that song isn’t a threat. And since you can’t think your way out of something that is happening before you even have time to think, you need to go into your body to heal from the ones that keep you from really being alive. We can’t do it just through our thinking mind, because our thinking mind doesn’t have a lot of pathways going down to the limbic system where all of this is happening. We need to help turn implicit memory into explicit memory by paying attention to the experience in our body. (Explicit memory is the kind of memory we experience as having happened in the past, and it has a narrative to it. )
The Healing Process
Brainspotting, mindfulness, and yoga all incorporate the felt experience of the body in the healing process. It is extremely valuable for all the problems that you can’t think your way out of, and it is scientifically consistent with what we actually know about how experiences are encoded into our nervous system and ‘live’ in our body, not just in our thoughts. Basically, our whole body is our brain, and listening to all of it can be powerful and transformative.
Integrating Implicit Memory
Doing this can open you up to a sense of inner spaciousness and peace, and it allows you to heal much more fully than when exclusively focusing on the content of your thoughts or your emotional experience, and you find yourself gradually more at home in your body and in your life.