As winter mostly recedes and the warm weather brings our bodies into a world of near constant chatter – birds warbling around in their nests, wind shaking up budding leaves, insects returning, people moving about again – we want to think about the act of talking.
Being a counseling center much of our work is in telling and listening to stories, talking. Talk is a transport that carries the work of our brain across its various centers, converting the acts of feeling into chemical responses that can be conceived of and comprehended within the acts of receiving the world around us, participating in our various environments and thinking of our place in it all.
Think about it. Saying a word requires a great deal, and unites our body, mind and memory into a single act whose purpose is connecting and sharing. Try it now – say a single word and try to think about everything that was necessary for you to do that.
Language is powerful.
“In the kind of work we do, the relationship between talking, our bodies and our brains is key,” says Otha Brown, LMSW at the Fountain Hill Center, “Talking is very much connected to our bodies, and it’s about synthesis and symmetry. When we talk, we bring things into balance.”
Learning the balance between the chattering around us and the internal chatter we experience within ourselves is really at the heart of the kind of work we do. “When we work with someone who is struggling, that’s what it’s all about.” Says Otha, “Things like shame and guilt are all about experiencing something internally that throws us off with the rest of the world. Talk puts us right back into the world, where we need to be. It helps us synthesize a balance between what happened before and what we are going to do next.”
For Randy Flood, this is really important in the counseling work he does as Director of the Men’s Resource Center. “Talking, particularly in the work we do with men, is an important vehicle for naming feelings that often go unexplored. In fact, for some men, they suffer from alexithymia – not having language for various emotional states.” When we don’t have language for something – there is this strange undercurrent moving throughout the unity of our minds, bodies and social context. Kind of like dark matter and gravity – giving shape to the world around us without our being able to think, understand or develop connections with it. That’s where talking helps.
In conversation, we can discover the gaps in our emotional language and build bridges over those gaps, “When we discuss our emotionally laden experiences and stories we begin to create neuronal pathways from the emotional brain (limbic system) to our thinking brain (neo-cortex). The more pathways we create and develop upward from our emotions, to our thinking and back again, the more our emotional intelligence is increased.” Says Flood.
Talking has an interesting effect on our body, according to Kerry Huver, LLPC and Art Therapist at The Fountain Hill Center, “It’s a kind of release. From a mindfulness perspective, talking brings us closer to our breathing, helps us get centered with our bodies and the world around us.” How we speak – the tone, volume and pace of our voice – brings us into a physical and audible connection with our place. “If we speak in a whisper, we are drawing our senses and our thoughts more inward, and our words are quite a bit like breathing. In the same way that being mindful of our breath can help us feel more centered and connected, being mindful of the shape and sound of our words can give us a sense of the rhythm and emotions that our thoughts are directing us to recognize.”
Engaging in deliberate talk – talking and knowing that doing so is negotiating this process of our bodies, our thoughts and our place helps us work through moments of disconnect that have happened in our lives.
“What I know about “talking” says Tacia Knoper, LLPC at the Fountain Hill Center, “is that it is a reciprocal process between experiencing something (ourselves, an event, a particular stimuli) and then the story we tell ourselves about it.” When we talk both our internal conversation and our memory of a given event are changed by that process, “This is why verbal abuse can be so damaging, especially over time. Even if we have no rational reason to believe what is being said to us, it begins to creep into our subconscious and influence how we see ourselves. We can become so used to hearing these negative things that we begin to think them even when the other person isn’t there.”
But there can be draw backs to simply talking. Gail Johnson, LMSW and Trauma Specialist with the Fountain Hill Center, often negotiates a client’s frustration with the limits of talk, “Historically speaking, talk therapy meant “getting it off your chest.” But, what if it didn’t get off?” One of the key components of this process is to learn through the dynamic quality of talk (as a physical, psychological and social experience) how to reconnect with others in light of something that might still weighs on one’s chest.
One of the most powerful things about talking is this ability to give us an occasion to address our place in our communities. For Al Heystek, LPC, MDIV at The Fountain Hill Center, it’s really about learning talk’s capacity for a kind of mutual generosity, “Being connected with another requires I have someone with whom I can share.”
The act of talking is, fundamentally, about giving. We give ourselves the space to experience our thoughts with our breath, mouth and ears. We give others the ability to experience our unique understanding. And, we give each other the opportunity to share space and insight about the things that really matter, the things that will really connect us.
These sort of connections help us develop the perspectives that make us stronger, as individuals and communities. According to Al, “Sharing with others sets up the possibility of not only being heard and having connection that way but also to have the listener perhaps give us a different perspective. Having our perceptions shifted about the burdens we carry can be as important as getting them off our chest.”
Just as talk helps us connect centers of our brain, our emotions to our bodies and our bodies to the world around us, talk also gives connections to each other and our shared space. In that way, we all can bloom. Spring is a generous, boisterous time. In the midst of all its activity, give yourself the space to talk and discover pathways to connect to the growth and promise the season offers.