Module 1.2

Neuroception

Background

Neuroception is how our bodies interact with the environment, checking it for safety or danger without our conscious awareness. It allows for quick responses such as when you avoid a car accident by swerving away from the car making an unexpected left turn into your lane.

Our bodies move instinctively without having to have a discussion as to what is the right action to take. We just do it. The body constantly scans for cues of safety, danger, or life threat.

Neuroception not only helps us avoid danger, it also trigger signals where we find ourselves at ease and experience social support and social engagement leading to strengthened relationships. Neuroception is how our nervous system connects directly with the environment. It’s how the body listens to itself and the outside environment.

Everyone who meditates will experience residual trauma. It’s important to practice with care, kindness, and slowness in order not to deepen our suffering by re-traumatizing.

When neuroception is faulty, we may detect risk or danger where there is no risk or we might not see danger when, in fact, we should. If we are in a situation where our environment is not consistently safe, neuroception sets the body away from social engagement and drops us into flight or fight or a freeze response. If we are constantly exposed to danger, it is even more important to work more intently on observing ourselves and using the moments where we may be in relative safety to reset. Taking time during the day to do this is a simple and important practice.

Working toward a ventral vagal state (safety and connection) involves making what the body does through neuroception explicit. This means becoming aware of the way the nervous system detects the inward and outward world and adding context rather than judgment. Instead of judging ourselves for what we do out of an impulse related to a neuroceptive input, we look at our reaction and look for cues of safety or danger that the body was responding to at the moment. In order to do this we have to be able to look back.

This is what we call reflection and can only happen when we slow down enough to notice those moments of reaction. As writers, reflection is an integral part of what we do. The big challenge of writing is not grammar. It has to do with slowing down enough to notice. If we are on a hamster wheel of constant comparison and pushed to constantly be stimulated, it is not possible to go into this slower state.

Most of us are not shown how to do this. However, we can learn, not so much by reading about it as you are right now, but by practicing which is what we will be doing in the weeks to come. We can experience slowing down through basic breathing and meditation training and practice. Initially we may be shaky, but with practice, we can begin noticing more skillfully the workings of our neuroception and begin to shape ourselves and our responses.

*As before, write a response to this reading in your notebook. Curious? Look up neuroception and Stephen Borges.