Whole lotta whispering goin’ on

“And the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo” (T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

It strikes me as ironic that we’ve had a slew of stage-whisperers in recent years.  We’ve had horse whisperers, dog whisperers, kid whisperers and even breast whisperers… but isn’t whispering about using a quiet voice?  How can so many whisperers be so culturally loud?  (Quiet, don’t tell anyone, says Thich Nhat Hahn or Eckhart Tolle, “I’m going to be on Oprah, teaching you about how to be present to the moment,” but next week we’re going to learn how to organize our closets.)

There was even some recent ink about people using Cesar Milan’s techniques with dogs as a parenting strategy.  Besides being ludicrous, a sorry attempt to attract yet more attention by the deliberate use and stirring of controversy, it obliterates the essential difference between dogs and children:  children are meant to one day leave the pack while dogs are supposed to stay with us until we mournfully put them down.

I suppose that if you have a toddler who’s a biter it might be alright to put them gently on their backs and rub their bellies and see if they no longer want to bite (probably, because you’d be giving them what they were hungry for—love, affection and attention, as well as the clear message that you’re the alpha one), but I’d think dog training would have decreasing relevancy to parenting as children surpass our dogs’ levels of language development.

Overall, however, these whisperers foster an essential dependency on the whisperer him or herself—in order to make more money, media, magazines, merchandise and endorsements.  Please.

For better or for worse, in my obscure corner of the blogosphere, I do not seek to be the next Dr. Phil, Cesar Milan or Dr. Laura.  I admit that part of my foray into blogging was to see if I could build a “profile” so that my book could be published (after learning that good book are no longer published on account of simply being good books, one must have a big profile.  Please.), but I have found myself transformed and increasingly radicalized through the process of blogging.

I’m not against extroverts having big profiles, but just I’m a bit sorry that there’s no room on the shelf for books by quiet introverts like myself who only think of Albert Brooks sweating like mad in “Broadcast News” when I think of “raising my profile.”  But out of this realization I have been coming to the conclusion that not having a profile might, at least for me, be a more authentic way of sharing what I want to share—which is that we don’t need experts to tell us how to parent, and we don’t need to be famous, rich or powerful to have a legitimate voice that means something to our fellow humans.

So, while I do not wish to become The Brain Whisperer, I thought I’d suggest that today we consider becoming our own Brain Whisperers.

What Cesar Milan suggests about dogs responding to calm confidence is also useful for engaging our brains.  We have two brains really, a primitive one that governs fight-flight reactions as well as breathing, sleep, and things we don’t need to think about, like keeping our hearts beating; then we have the higher brain that can do things like dream, communicate, appreciate music, make music, etc.

We spend entirely too much of our time in fight-flight mode, our dog-like brains hyper-alert for danger and barking incessantly at every passing thing (while we just want to be calm and help our dog-brain know that the door is safely shut and there’s no big bad wolf, bill collector or robber trying to force the lock).

In addition to our two brains, we have two different nervous systems:  one that excites us and makes us ready to fight or run away; the other that calms us down and sets about digesting our food and activating our immune systems to keep us healthy.  Obviously, if we spend life in fight-flight mode (which stress has a way of making us do), then we hardly ever truly digest our food (leaving us malnourished, always hungry and fat, because the cortisol which becomes a toxin in our blood after the adrenaline released by stress is followed by neither fight nor flight, which in turn leads to both heart disease and thickness around our middles) and we hardly ever activate our immune systems (leading to more colds and ultimately, over time, to serious illnesses).

The Big Whisper:  imagine putting your brain on its back and rubbing its belly.  The practical equivalent of this is those good old fashioned (and completely free) deep breaths I’m always reminding us to consider.  Breathe in love, breathe out fear and desire.  Breathe in whatever you feel like, because the brain knows that you would not be taking a very deep breath if you were running from a tiger or fighting a cave bear, and when the brain registers that those deep breaths are happening, it activates the calming nervous system to kick in.

There is nothing you can say to your dog brain that will calm it down if it is in the red zone of anxiety; but by breathing deeply, all the way in and all the way out, you put that old brain on its back and you rub its belly and it sighs and lets go, just like Agnes, my boxer-bulldog.  I don’t need to whisper to Agnes, she whispers to me, and she’s taught me how to calm down in a way no human ever really has.

So, let’s dedicate today to actually taking those deep breaths, to having some calm and mellow time to digest and stay healthy, and to discover our calm confident happiness along the way—in the service of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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5 Responses to “Whole lotta whispering goin’ on”

  1. Lindsey Says:

    This is marvelous. And just so hard to remember, when that primal brain is racing … sigh.
    Also, by the way, I totally agree with your point re: what books get published and the Albert Brooks image – I adore that scene and totally, utterly relate.

  2. Alana Says:

    “we don’t need experts to tell us how to parent, and we don’t need to be famous, rich or powerful to have a legitimate voice that means something to our fellow humans.”
    Yes! Although I think, unfortunately, that there are a lot of “expert” voices that need to be banished from our culture’s brain before many can return to parenting instinctively. The breathing helps. A lot. My 2.5 year old will already turn to me and say, “Take a deep breath Mama”. She’s very advanced – maybe she’ll be a “Mommy Whisperer” one day. 😉

  3. Beth K Says:

    I identify with the wish you have had for books to be published based solely on their merit and not the “profile” of the author. Many times I have wanted to have my work evaluated solely on its merit, and not on my social skills. I also see now (most of the time) that things are working out as they should. I am forging my own path, and it’s okay that it’s different from “typical” career paths.
    The breathing helps me.
    By the way, I also like the position you described with legs sticking up the wall. My friend and work-out partner, Lynn, who works out for longer than I do, often finds me in that position when she finishes her work-out.

  4. Lindsey M Nelson Says:

    I was wondering if you were going to write a book! May that goal be realized for you in a way that feels authentic to you. You can count me among your future customers 🙂

  5. Maybe old age IS the New Age « Privilegeofparenting’s Blog Says:

    […] So, my clarion call to all you parents north of thirty-five is that the trail doesn’t look so bad up here at fifty—do the yoga, breathe… in this way you speed the plow on your insula development.  Don’t despair, even without Paxil and Prozac, those worry brains may calm down eventually.  Appreciate the worry brain for keep you alive, and get ready to be calmly and confidently Caesar Milan it into relaxing with your higher brain (Whole lotta whisperin’ goin’ on). […]

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