We all have significant adults in our lives, when those adults treat us with the love, attention, respect and consistent clear boundaries that as children we need, then most of us grow up and function well in the world. 

But some of us get less love, devotion and attention, some of us get neglected, some abused. What happens to us when this occurs? 

Our brains and bodies do not grow as well, we cultivate patterns of relationship that are complicated, in terms of both connecting and of being avoidant of connection. 

This plagues many such unfortunate beings for their whole lives. Many folk who grow in such a soup of unkindness and un-love spend disproportionate amounts of time involved with social services, the criminal justice system and with the mental health services. 

Why? Because we grow out of relationship. Relationship teaches us who we are, worthy or unworthy, capable or not, lovable or not. 

Relationship teaches us how to behave in response to others, both in anticipating someone else’s behaviour to us and also in terms of how we react to their behaviour. We are relationally programmed by our significant others and the world around us. 

Relationship teaches us the language of being heard or not, of being met by others and in what way, in what to listen to and what to ask for. Some learn the language of violence, others the language of emotional clarity, emotional intelligence and rationality and most, somewhere in the middle. 

The brain and nervous system grows in Mamas womb at around a quarter of a million neurons (nerve cells) per day. We are born with approx 100 billion neurons. 

Over the next two years these brain cells are whittled down to about half this amount, yet the average number of connections between neurons goes up from around 2500 to 15,000 during this same time period. 

It is not simply the size of the brain or the number of neurons that count, it is the connections and the ways these neurons are connected that matters. In the first eight years of life plus the time in the womb, it is relationship and environment that guides the brain’s development.  

Mental ill-health can have a genetic predisposition, passed on down the family line. Yet relationship, experience and environment bring out this predisposition. It is always the saga of nature and nurture, played out in the dance of relationship. 

Our brain is a balance of neuro-stable and neuroplastic. Neuro-stable is the tendency to remain the same. Neuro-plastic is the way the brain changes from learned experience. Brains can change. Brains can change in negative and dysfunctional ways, and also  in positive and optimal ways. 

Stress and trauma are key elements in the production of mental ill-health and the development of sub-optimal brain function. 

Conversely, sometimes these kinds of challenges push people to rise above their circumstances and find greater wellbeing as a result of the challenges they experience. 

Consider these questions, if you will… 

  1. What is your balance of needing support and rising to the challenges of your life? 
  2. Does this change? 
  3. Have there been times when you have felt more or less vulnerable? (We all have felt this, this is normal). 
  4. Was this influenced or informed by key relational events happening in your world? It has been in mine. 

So, mental wellbeing and mental ill-health are relational events. If we live in a society that rewards and elevates self-obsessive and sociopathic behaviour then that becomes the normal. Fitting in with that does not make one mentally well, it makes one self-obsessive and sociopathic. 

If we live in a society that elevates self-obsessive and sociopathic behaviour yet insists that it doesn’t, that lets some people thrive with such behaviour and yet punishes others, the society is doubly sick, the individual simply manifests the symptoms of a sick and highly imbalanced society. 

The space between how we feel internally and how we generate our persona externally is important. If we feel sad, unhappy and troubled in our own company, yet put up a show on the outside of being jolly, doing just fine and there being nothing wrong, then we have a big gap between our internal reality and our external image. 

The bigger the gap, the more likely we are to exhibit symptoms of mental ill-health over time. The greater the congruence we have, the more likely we will be well and more likely we will recover and feel well. 

People with good systems of social support also do better in terms of mental wellbeing than those without. 

What is your social support web like? 

So what is mental ill-health? 

mentalhealth.gov says…

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behaviour could be affected”

What are the signs?

Again from mentalhealth.gov 

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

When we look at mitochondrial medicine we find that many brain disorders are connected to how the brain manages energy production and usage. Whilst if we look at the constructionist theory on emotions, they too are connected to how our system is responding to the energy demands of our lives. 

In relational ease our energy systems can relax and be off guard. In relational stress our energy systems are hyper vigilant, always on guard, and it is exhausting. 

Then there is the balance of our needs for support and our capacity to meet a challenge. We may rise to a challenge, or we may shrink back and collapse. This does not make us good or bad, no value judgement at all, it is simply recognising what is happening.

What are your energy levels like?
Can you rise to the challenge? 
No, you can’t rise? Then get support and or rest. Rebuild energy, sleep, rest and relax and come back to the challenge another day, if you can.
What if you can’t? Then do your level best to get good help and support.

When we are in the relational soup of mental ill-health we need as much support as we can get. We have to reach out. Many times of course people can’t reach out. They simply don’t have the energy, resources or right connections. 

This is where we need a well resourced social web of care and help that does not allow people to fall through the holes in the fabric of society. People do fall through though. Many people in the criminal justice system, many people living on the streets are struggling with ongoing mental ill-health.

A kind society would offer substantial support. A selfish society would not. 

What’s breath got to do with it? 

I’ve worked in mental health care and seen the value of the application of conscious breathwork for people in difficulty. I’ve seen its value with students struggling with stress. I’ve seen its value with young single mothers trying to manage their lives and raise young children alone, when as the African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child”.

Evolutionary breathwork is what I call the Magic Key. 

First, we can use it to bring awareness to what is happening, to how things actually are and land in this present moment. 

Second, we can use it to calm our nervous system and begin to relax. 

Third, we can use it to explore, resolve and integrate old pain, trauma and stories around who or what we are and heal our past. 

Fourth, we can use it to actualise our potential and begin to find a life of deeper presence, greater purpose and touch into what might be possible. 

Fifth, we can find our place and recognise the systemic, seamless, interdependent  nature of life and reality. 

Sixth we can touch into what some call the sacred or divine order, the geometric perfection of life in its dance of chaos and order. 

Evolutionary Breathwork brings us home to the basic sanity of our life and its preciousness, its basic goodness.

Evolutionary breathwork is supported by intelligent embodiment practices that ground us, earth us and bring us back to the body in a good way, even if our history is that the body is not a safe place to be. We can heal all of this, with help, the right help at the right time. Healing is also largely relational.  

Evolutionary breathwork is supported by meditative depth that takes us through the construction of thought and belief, through the fabrication of meaning and narrative, into the place deep inside of ourselves that knows only peace, the perfection of things just as they are, that they cannot be any other way than what is happening right now, as this universe (multiverse) is a seamless whole. 

Evolutionary breathwork brings us home to the systemic reality of seamless and interdependent wellbeing. 

  • I breathe in your out breath. 
  • You breathe in mine. 
  • We breathe in the same air that dinosaurs breathed, that flows over mountains and through forests. 
  • We breathe in oxygen made by plants. Plants breathe in our exhaled carbon dioxide. 
  • We move courtesy of glucose made in plants. 
  • Our hearts beat because of glucose and oxygen from plants. 

This is the truth. 

It doesn’t need a narrative or a meaning, it just is. Everything is nature, we are all nature. 

Cities are great mounds, like termite mounds but full of humans. They are nature doing its thing. 

We are nature, there is no such thing as us and then nature. We are one. 

We’ve explored mental wellbeing being relational, let’s look at mental wellbeing and wild nature in part two next week. 

Until then, breathe well, be well.