top of page
  • Writer's pictureFede

The Foundation for Happiness is Safety - From regulation to revelation

Updated: Jan 14


This article is an attempt to elucidate, in a simplified form the intricate workings of the human nervous system and its profound impact on inner peace. Delving into four core dimensions of human experience—Aperception, Interoception, Exteroception, and Behavior—this exploration draws upon fundamental physiology concepts that we cannot ignore if we are interested in enjoying our lives.


 

This article is a brief exploration into the topic, if you wish to attend our course that explores everything in great detail, please follow this link. The course starts on September 30, 2023

You can attempt the neurocognitive experiment upon which this article is based by following this link.



 

The foundation for human well-being is a regulated nervous system. We use a simple approach to regulate the nervous system, which plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. If our nervous system is under the process of a threat response cycle absent a physical danger outside the body, or an immediately perceptible illness within the body, then we can say that nervous system dysregulation is the primary cause.

The perceived threat and attempts at escaping the threat become one and the same: anxious thoughts generate bodily sensations that are interpreted as threats that again generate anxious thoughts...

We exit the vicious cycle by intentionally rendering our experiences into one of four dimensions:

  • Aperception: Aperception (In this usage a-perception means literally in the absence of perception) is described as the realm of thoughts, memories, feelings, and insights. It's the space where we often get lost in thought about past or future events. Aperception is also underlain by consciousness or intelligence. Consciousness or intelligence is the silent and formless space where these words are typed, read and interpreted right now.

  • Interoception: This dimension involves our internal sensations that are often generated by bodily processes, such as breathing, swallowing, and digestion.

  • Exteroception: Exteroception encompasses the sensory perceptions we receive from the external world through sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. There are also other more subtle perceptual dimensions as well.

  • Behavior: Behavior connects the inner and outer worlds, involving both voluntary and involuntary motor expressions like speaking, breathing, and heartbeats. Behaviors ALWAYS involve a relationship between the outside of the body and the inside of the body. In this view, most dysregulation in the form of anxiety, worry, fear and other common forms of unhappiness is the result of an incomplete motor expression (Behavior). This expression has already been initiated in the motor cortex (at some moment before now) and is trying to reach the limbs or face to be executed or organized into a coordinated series of movements and facial gestures accompanied by aperceptions, interoceptions and exteroceptions.

Space is what permits the body to live and carry on behaviors, most of which are autonomic and can NEVER be made voluntary (such as beating your own heart). Others, such as hearing (autonomic/involuntary) can be made voluntary and conscious, when it becomes listening.

All of these dimensions can be implicit (involuntary) or explicit (voluntary). When we are lost in aperceptions of a time that is not right now, this is usually an involuntary process. That is the difference betwenn cognition (implicit) and metacognition (explicit). Our theory is that these flights of aperception are being generated by the autonomic nervous system as a novel yet maladaptive attempt to complete a threat response cycle. It is maladaptive because:

Our biology requires motor expressions (behaviors) to successfully complete these cycles, and aperceptions in the form of associative thoughts cannot do that.

What follows is a hierarchical approach to completing any pre-existing threat cycles by locating our experience right here, right now.

  • Defensive Orienting: When the nervous system perceives a potential threat, it triggers defensive orienting, leading to physiological changes like increased heart rate and muscle tension. This is a survival response. We engage in this evolutionary behavior voluntarily by engaging in orienting behaviors that consist of:

    • Voluntarily making sure that there are no threats that that I can hear, see, smell, taste or detect with my skin. All of these signals are in the range of safety and I can only ever know this by engaging directly, explicitly, consciously, intentionally with the external environment. I look at it. I listen to it, I smell it, I taste it, I sense it with my skin and joints. To do this I must move my head in all directions - slowly and evenly while the present-moment sensors receive the signals into my nervous system.

  • The threat response cycle (TRC) is present in most humans, most of the time, because we are lost in what we call "thought" which is actually a non-existent realm. It's not now, it's not in the future, it's not in the past. Who knows where it is. We kick start our experience right out of that, into right here and right now where I am safe. I observe it. If I allow myself to receive this, the threat response cycle is automatically minimized, down-regulated, and I allow myself to bring that information into my face where it is known. I am knowing that I exist. If before this point there was a threat response cycle (in other words I felt anxious or afraid for whatever reason) that can be down-regulated so that I can become more attentive to the fact that right now I am safe.

  • Rest and Digest: When the external environment is perceived as safe, the nervous system enters the rest and digest phase, where the parasympathetic nervous system allows the body to relax, promoting calmness and efficient bodily functions.

    • Voluntarily noticing what it is like as we orient in this way to the space, we detect spaces and objects and we observe what happens inside our body. The exteroceptive signals coming from the outside are meeting the inside of the body, where these signals are being received. Because we are paying attention to them explicitly, intentionally, they actually stimulate our nervous system way more, a lot more. Oh yes, this place here is safe and when it is received through interoception what this does is the key. It slows down or down-regulates a different genetic program that might have been running until now, using up a lot of energy. It's called the threat response cycle.

  • Exploratory Orienting: This mode encourages curiosity and engagement with the external environment. It promotes learning and growth and is associated with the release of hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.

    • I can continue to exist, here now. Knowing that I am here, and this now is safe, we can continue to regulate our nervous system. Exploratory orienting is another biological program that allows us as humans to engage with interest in objects outside of the body, also inside in fact. Curiosity is to be open, to not know what there is... So, as we look again and sense, and hear, smell and taste the outside of the body, we can be open to discover something new. Because we didn't know it. Everything is always new. We can be regulated further by the external environment simply by looking at it, listening to it, smelling it, tasting it, feeling it. Notice the weight of the clothing on your body right now. Notice the different planes of objects in front of you. Notice the sounds from the left, and from the right, and the different distances that they imply from the objects that are emitting those sounds.

  • Making the Experience Explicit: We make our experiences explicit by actively engaging with the external and internal worlds, which can help regulate the nervous system. To be fully regulated actually means to be NOT apart from the flow of external circumstances, but to interact with them in a relational manner, without attitudinal resistance.

    • We intentionally make our experience EXPLICIT when we allow external sense perceptions, internal sense perceptions and our cognition reach our face, where we can know EXACTLY how we feel about ourselves right now.

    • Notice how your face is right now. We can become dedicated and interested in a particular experiential object that we can see or hear, taste or smell, or feel with our bodies. Sometimes we could call the experience of simply BEING PRESENT and one that is allowed to explicitly stimulate the interoceptive qualities that are in our nervous system, inside of the body.

Our nervous system has evolved into a self-actualizing, self-updating biological entity. Evolution has endowed us with this capacity, yet we must voluntarily, intentionally, explicitly make efforts towards this actualization, which does not take place in the realm of "thought" or aperception. It takes place HERE & NOW as my face tells me exactly how I feel about myself, right now.
 

Summary

1. Understanding the Nervous System: We the importance of understanding how our nervous system works to improve our overall well-being.

2. Being Present: Being in the present moment and actively engaging with our surroundings can help us regulate our nervous system and promote a sense of safety.

3. Safety and Threat Response: Recognizing safety in our environment allows us to down-regulate the threat response cycle, reducing anxiety and fear.

4. Rest and Digest: Creating a safe environment can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation, calmness, and efficient bodily functions.

5. Curiosity and Exploration: Embracing curiosity and exploratory orienting can lead to personal growth and a more fulfilling life. Curiosity is the polar opposite of a threat response and this has major implications for our well-being.

6. Making Experiences Explicit: Consciously acknowledging our sensory experiences, both external and internal, helps us better understand our emotions and how we feel about ourselves. Note that this has nothing to do with thinking in association with past or future.

 

Glossary of terms


Cognition: The capacity for the basic processing of information at the levels of attention, language, learning, memory, perception and thought.

Metacognition: The capacity for awareness or analysis of one's own cognitive processes.

Aperception: An abstract imaginal process whereby past experience is compared to itself or other experiences.

The brain generates apperceptions in short-term memory and if they remain useful are later committed to long-term memory.

Threat response cycle (TRC): The key word here is cycle. When faced with a threat or stress, the body responds by mobilizing energy to deal with that stress or threat. This is the activation phase. Then, when the event is over, a similar response occurs, but in reverse. This is the deactivation phase. Letting the energy generated to meet the stress/threat back out of the body and re-establishing a kind of equilibrium: a state of relaxed alertness.

Dorsal vagal complex (DVC): The dorsal branch of the vagus originates in the dorsal motor nucleus and is considered the phylogenetically older branch. This branch is unmyelinated and exists in most vertebrates. This branch is also known as the “vegetative vagus” because it is associated with primal survival strategies of primitive vertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians. Under great stress, these animals immobilize when threatened, conserving their metabolic resources. The DVC provides primary control of subdiaphragmatic visceral organs, such as the digestive tract. Under normal conditions, the DVC maintains regulation of these digestive processes. However, prolonged disinhibition can be

lethal for mammals, as it results in depressed breathing and very low heart rate and blood pressure.

Ventral vagal complex (VVC): With increased neural complexity seen in mammals (due to phylogenetic development) evolved a more sophisticated system to enrich behavioral and affective responses to an increasingly complex environment. The ventral branch of the vagus originates in the nucleus ambiguus and is myelinated to provide more control and speed in responding. This branch is also known as the “smart vagus” because it is associated with the regulation of sympathetic “fight or flight” behaviors in the service of pro-social behaviors. These behaviors include social communication and self-soothing and calming. In other words, this branch of the vagus can inhibit or disinhibit defensive limbic circuits, depending on the situation. The VVC provides primary control of supradiaphragmatic visceral organs, such as the esophagus, bronchi, pharynx, and larynx. The VVC also exerts

important influence on the heart. When vagal tone to the heart’s pacemaker is high, a baseline or resting heart rate is produced. In other words, the vagus acts as a restraint, or brake, limiting heart rate. However, when vagal tone is removed, there is little inhibition to the pacemaker, and so rapid mobilization (“fight/flight”) can be activated in times

of stress, but without having to engage the sympathetic-adrenal system, as activation comes at a severe biological cost.

Exteroception: Sensory detection by an organism of the environment outside the confines of its skin.

Interoception: Sensory detection by an organism of the environment inside the confines of its skin.

 

References


The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation - Stephen W. Porges

75 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

コメント


bottom of page