The Elephant, the Vagus Nerve, and the Cheapest Room In The House

A note from Carl


Doesn’t Bonzey look comfortable receiving the support of the ground? How do you experience the support from the earth in this moment?
I always appreciate when topics are alive in the field. In the last weeks, I have had 4 or 5 different enlivening conversations where the vagus nerve has come up. (Pretty standard conversation topic, right?:) I wanted to share a talk given by Dr Stephen Porges on “The Science of Compassion” Dr. Porges has done extensive research on the role of the vagus nerve in human health and well being. The talk is a bit technical, but well worth watching. Porges hits on many interesting topics in his talk, but one that is alive in me is a term he coined  “the neuroception of safety.” Basically, he describes how our higher, cortical functions like compassion, creativity, learning, insight, empathy, are dependent upon the lower, older aspects of our brain feeling safe. This is another angle on what Erin wrote about a couple weeks ago with “Petting the Lizard.” It is so common for us, as busy modern people, to be functioning in a state of mild, to not-so mild, sympathetic nervous system arousal. Do you ever have days where things feel overly serious, real, important, and kind of stressful? I do. In his work, Dr Porges has explored the effect of that baseline stress and lack of safety on our ability to learn and unfold, our capacity to connect with others, as well as the resilience of our immune system.

Which brings me to the elephant…

For those of you who have taken our classes, or worked with us in the last couple years, you know how much we have loved and valued the image of  “the elephant.” The elephant was actually one of the first teachings we received from Russell Delman, and for me, it has been one of the most valuable teachings I have ever come across.

If you are willing to explore for a moment (and the value  only really comes from exploring rather than thinking about it) Imagine that you had a friend that was an enormous elephant….1000 times larger than a normal elephant…and that your connection with this elephant was the distillation of all of the goodness of connection that you have experienced with spouses, children, pets, nature…you just love this elephant, and s/he loves you. ..and imagine that right now, you are sitting, or lying, or standing on that elephant. Does anything change? How would it feel to experience the contact with the ground as being supported by a living being?  One who cares for you. Welcomes you. It can be offer pretty direct route to the neuroception of safety, among many other qualities.

this is me, lying on the elephant, being the elephant for Mesa outside of Boulder

And of course, a poem on the theme. A gem from Hafiz. The first line is enough..
“Fear is the cheapest room in the house, I would like to see you living in better conditions”
Wishing you well,

PS There is still room for “Your Ribs Are Not a Cage: Opening Your Treasure Chest” on Sat Aug 17. It will be awesome.

 Your Mother and My Mother

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.

I would like to see you living
In better conditions,

For your mother and my mother
Were friends.

I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse again tomorrow.
We’ll go speak to the Friend together.

I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Somewhere in this world –
Something good will happen.

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.

Your soul and my soul
Once sat together in the Beloved’s womb
Playing footsie.

Your heart and my heart
Are very, very old

transl. by Daniel Ladinsky

Talk by Stephen Porges

The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures, and Interventions - Stephen Porges, Ph.D.
The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures, and Interventions – Stephen Porges, Ph.D.
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