The emotions seem to be everywhere in the body, not just in the brain.
--Dr. Bernie Siegel
MindBody Messenger Molecules
By Dr. Bernie Siegel
published in Transformation, the journal of The American Meditation Institute, July-August 2010 as an excerpt from Peace, Love & Healing, © 1989 by Bernard S. Siegel. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
and here with gracious permission of Dr. Siegel
Body and mind are different expressions of the same information-information carried by chemical transmitters known as peptides. In humans, animals, plants, eggs, seeds and on down to one-celled organisms, peptides are the messenger molecules that carry information from state to state. In man they make possible the move from perception or thought or feeling in the mind, to messages transmitted by the brain, to hormonal secretions and on down to cellular action in the body-then back again to the mind and brain, in a never-ending feedback loop.
The key juncture in the loop, the place where body and mind meet and cross over through the action of the peptides, is in the limbic/hypothalamic area of the brain. It is here that scientists have found dense numbers of receptors clustered together in what they call "hotspots." Peptides fit into these receptors, key and lock fashion, to activate the inner workings of the cells on which the receptors are located.
However, it's not just the brain that contains peptide receptor hotspots. Examples of other peptide-rich areas are the linings of the gut and the stomach. You've heard of "gut reactions"-well, it now appears that there is literal, physiological truth to the expression. In fact, the emotions seem to be everywhere in the body, not just in the brain. "They are expressed in the body and are part of the body," biochemical researcher Candace Pert says. "I can no longer make a strong distinction between the brain and the body. It makes more and more sense to speak of a single, integrated entity, a 'bodymind.'"
For most of us, bodymind unity is of interest mainly because of what it suggests about possible routes to better health. As Candace Pert explains: "We know that the same neuropeptides secreted by the brain can also facilitate the movement of white blood cells of the immune system to a locus of injury. So why could you not direct it consciously? . . . It's a wild idea in that there is no experimental proof for it-yet there is nothing that excludes the possibility either."
Not only is there nothing to exclude the possibility, but there is plenty of evidence that many bodily processes we think of as automatic can be brought under conscious control. For example, yogis trained in Eastern meditative techniques can change their heart rate from thirty to three hundred beats per minute, as Swami Rama demonstrated to the satisfaction of a number of Western scientists at the Menninger Foundation.
Such feats are not confined to Indian mystics, or even to our species. Dolphins who do not want to have blood drawn for experimental purposes can redirect their blood flow so that it is inaccessible to the probing needles of researchers. Studies performed on rats and mice have shown that even the immune response can be "taught," or conditioned, to be either more or less active: When an immune suppressant or enhancer with a specific taste is administered to the animals, that same taste can later cause their immune systems to respond accordingly, even when the drug itself is absent. In fact, the whole principle of vaccination is based on the capacity of the immune system to learn. Think of what this may mean for the future. We have the ability to train our bodies to heal and eliminate illness.
But to me there is something even more interesting than the idea of gaining control of specific body processes. I think we can use meditative and life-style-altering techniques to gain access to the superintelligence I'm convinced resides within each of us. This superintelligence is the message carried by psyche and soma via the peptides-the printout of our DNA, the code to life itself. It makes us who we are and, if we listen to it, will keep us on our path.
The more I see of the workings of our universe, the more mystical I become. I'm not mystical in spite of being a surgeon; I'm mystical because I'm a surgeon. As a surgeon, I watch miracles daily. When I cut the body open I rely on it to heal. I don't yell into the wound or leave it instructions telling it how to heal. The body knows much more than I do. In fact, every time I perform surgery I rely on its wisdom, because I don't know why a wound heals or how anesthesia works (nor does anyone else-as I had to tell the medical student who made excuses for his failure to explain these phenomena by saying he must have missed that lecture!). Neither do I understand how a fertilized egg grows up to be a human being. But I do know that each cell, organ, system of organs, and person is directed by what I call the loving intelligence of energy.
So the peptides and neuropeptides within each one of us, coursing through our bodies to create an integrated healing network, informed by the superintelligence that is the key to life itself, will help us to achieve our greatest potential-if we heed our body's messages. That doesn't mean some of us won't die at two and others at a hundred and two, but it does mean that our system will function to its greatest capability and provide us with the healthiest, longest life of which we are inherently capable.