Since neuroscience is one eye through which we look on this blog, and the brain is in the head, I am glad to be reminded of how important the rest of the body is to conflict resolution. The mind and the brain are important but so are the foot and the ankle and the shin . . .
The latest reminder was in an article from The New Mexican: "Mapping the mind." The reporter Jennifer Strand tells us the story behind the soon-to-be-published book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better written by science writers Sandra Blakeslee and her son Matthew Blakeslee, and gives an overview of the book . . .
The book explores the concept of “body maps” in the brain that trace their routes throughout the body and beyond. According to the book, your body is actually mapped onto your brain (homunculus). All these maps together create your sense of your body (body schema) and you create your own map with your attitude toward your body (body image).
“Research now shows that your brain is teeming with body maps — maps of your body’s surface, its musculature, its intentions, its potential for action, even a map that automatically tracks and emulates the actions and intentions of other people around you,” the Blakeslees write. “These body-centered maps are profoundly plastic — capable of significant reorganization in response to damage, experience, or practice.”
An excerpt from the book was published in Scientific American in an article entitled "Where Mind and Body Meet." In the article, the
Blakeslees describe research looking at the relationship between emotional intelligence and interoception, "your ability to read and interpret sensations arising from within your own body." Yes, there is a relationship. From the article . . .
- Research finds that the insula and anterior cingulate cortex are crucial centers of emotional cognition. These brain regions are also necessary for attending to feelings that arise from your body and for experiencing pain.
- Studies involving the right frontal insula, in particular, show that the more viscerally aware you are, the more emotionally attuned you are.
- This phenomenon of interoception—your ability to read and interpret sensations arising from within your own body—is essential to fundamental features of being human: sentiment, sentience and emotional awareness.
Emotional awareness, an important component of emotional intelligence, is a key factor in conflict resolution. The ability to stay aware of one's body and mind, to pay attention to our body and mind, is extremely helpful for both parties and professionals.
You can improve your ability to be self-aware by many methods and practices; we discussed mental notes before. The ability to step back and observe ourselves serves us not only in times of conflict but in everyday life. From our article "Law Students: Create a Well-Rounded Life" . . .
Attention is such a critical capability of human beings that philosophers have reminded us that we are our attention. What I pay attention to is who I am. If I pay attention to the stress and the strain of law school, I will be creating a mind that gives birth to a stressed and strained person. If I pay attention to my advancement and growth in legal expertise, and to the goal of being a lawyer, I can become a satisfied lawyer.
Paying attention is not easy and most people don't do it very often. In order to pay attention, a person has to have thoughts instead of the thoughts having him or her. As most of us drift through each day, our thoughts are automatic and impulsive.
Paying attention is a learned skill, one that takes practice. It requires a necessary ability to step back mentally and observe what your mind is doing, to observe as an "impartial spectator" your thoughts and feelings and preferences and moods.
Many of the clues to feelings and preferences and moods are available from within the body.
Another way to increase self-awareness of mind and body is by learning and practicing improv. Because doing improv well requires being acutely aware of yourself and others at the same time (just as does conflict resolution), I have used improv structures for years when teaching communication. Get a copy of one of Viola Spolin's books, maybe Improvisation for the Theater, gather up some colleagues, and practice. An extra benefit: It's great fun.
All of us working in conflict resolution know that awareness of our bodies and that of others in the dispute is important for reasons such as reading and projecting body language. Now we are learning even more reasons why that awareness is important.
Self-awareness is a professional obligation, don't you think? I will end with just one reason I think so: When the person facilitating the resolution of the dispute is self-aware, that awareness affects the parties, perhaps through emotional contagion or empathic resonance. (More about that in another post.) Please let me know your thoughts on how your self-awareness affects others in the process of conflict resolution.
After The Body Has a Mind of Its Own is published on September 11, I would like to hear from any of you who read it. What were your thoughts? What did your learn about the body and its role in dispute resolution? Did you do any of the Blakeslees' exercises?
Note (added September 11, 2007, 10:50 AM Mountain): Post at Deric Bownds' MindBlog reviewing The Body Has a Mind of Its Own.
Note (added September 27, 2007, 11:37 AM Mountain): Another review at Living the Scientific Life.
Note (added November 13, 2007, 8:46 AM Mountain): An interview of Sandra Blakeslee by Dr. Lara Honos-Webb.
Note (added May 11, 2008, 12:59 PM Mountain): An article on improv in the workplace: "Can Executives Learn to Ignore the Script?" by Janet Rae-Dupree (New York Times). The article features Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up; and On Your Feet, an improv company. Interview with Madson.
Note (added October 14, 2008, 7:40 PM Mountain): Post at First Mediation Improvisational Negotiation Blog: Lessons on Improvisation from Paul Newman (1925 - 2008).