Sunday, 5 August 2007

Limbic Resonance

Standing in the mud at WOMAD with my Sweetheart last week, my heart was captured by a couple who started dancing at the side of the stage. While almost everyone was moving in time to the music in some way, these two were twirling and swaying as one. I don’t know if they had just met and fallen madly in love, or had been together for twenty years and were still madly in love.

That sweet madness is the subject of Hexagram 31. This hexagram opens the second half of the I Ching, the half dealing with humanity, and specifically with personal and social relationships.

It is formed of Mountain over Lake: a pairing of opposites in harmonious conjunction. Mountain is stable and rises upward; Lake is on top and sinks downward, so they are coming together. Mountain is the youngest son, Lake is the youngest daughter; it is a picture of courtship. It’s also a great Taoist image: Stillness (Mountain) inside, and Joy (Lake) outside – a perfect marriage of Yin and Yang.

Although the name of the hexagram is XIAN, Huang says that according to Confucius’ Commentary on the Decision, it should be GAN. Gan means influence; it has the connotation of moving the heart, being emotionally excited or stimulated. But there are also resonances with xian, which has two meanings: (a) to bite or be bitten – what we might call ‘smitten’, and (b) entirely or completely. All of these meanings are aspects of being in love.

It’s a hexagram of feeling, of being moved or touched by someone. Wilhelm translates it as Influence (Wooing); Blofeld as Attraction, Sensation. Huang calls it Mutual Influence. Wu calls it To Influence, To Move. LiSe calls it Affect and Affection.

Brad Hatcher calls it Reciprocity, and relates it to Eros. He says:

“Beyond simple union, beyond putting our fractured, fragmented selves back together as viable, functioning wholes, there might be no other purpose or plan. Every human being alive has myriad generations of human and near-human ancestors to thank for bringing them here, not to mention the primates and far longer lines of descent. Each of these beings in turn had something to give in exchange for something they wanted. Each self struck a bargain with other, to negotiate a new pairing while acting in what they hoped was their own best interest. Each had to take a lover. Life learned long ago that the self by itself is extinguished. It learned to want and desire, and that it would need to merit its rewards and fulfilments. This is what brings out our best.”

We can also consider this quality in terms of ‘limbic resonance’. In A General Theory of Love, authors Lewis, Amini, and Lannon explain the concept of "limbic resonance" as the special ability of mammals (including humans) to become attuned to the inner states of others, influencing them and in turn being influenced by them. Mammals, unlike reptiles, regulate each other's internal states – not only their emotional states, but physiological function. An example of this is the way a group of women who spend time together will often find their menstrual periods coming into spontaneous alignment; close friends will achieve synchrony more readily than women who merely share a living space, even though the latter may spend more time together.

When two people are in deep limbic resonance, they are in love. They are in touch, they are ‘touched by’ each other; and being the responsive, malleable beings that we are, they are influenced by each other.

The authors conclude that humans, like all mammals, have "open-loop" physiologies, and require the sympathetic presence of others to maintain systemic balance.
“That open-loop design means that in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own – not should or shouldn’t be, but can’t be. This prospect is disconcerting to many, especially in a society that prizes individuality as ours does. Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near them.”

Since the heart has its reasons (that the Reason knows not), this would imply getting our own Minds and Hearts (our cognitive and limbic selves) on the same team, or to reprise Brad Hatcher’s commentary, “putting our fractured, fragmented selves back together as viable, functioning wholes”. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, in his book True Love, in order to truly love, we must practice oneness of body and mind, to be 'entire', to be 'complete', to be xian.

I don’t know the real story behind that beautiful dancing couple, but they sure looked like – at least at that moment – they had it sussed.

No comments: