The fourth and final installment of the Mirror series: Mirror Neurons
When I was a new mom, people would often say, “you must take care of yourself to be able to take care of your kids.” After hearing something like this, I would nod in agreement and channel some very proper and agreeable lady and say, “Oh yes, it is so important to take care of yourself. After all no one else will right? Ta-ha-ha.” Then I’d turn away and roll my eyes because how in the world do you take care of yourself when you spend all of your time with a tiny new person who is either too adorable and snuggly to stop holding and staring at and/or is sucking on you, pooing, crying and depriving you of sleep?
This self-care stuff isn’t only an issue for new moms. Women at many stages of life seem to struggle with this. I’m sure men struggle with this, too, but somehow, we women got the idea that our role in life requires us to sacrifice ourselves for our children, our jobs, our cause, or whatever it is. When we do take time for ourselves, there’s guilt –this idea that we can put our own needs, passions and everything but the most basic self-care aside in order to do something else that is more important. “The kids will be out of the house in 20 years and then I’ll pursue my passion for (fill in the blank)…” Now, there are plenty of times when our immediate needs do have to be delayed so that we can comfort a crying child, support a friend in need, or remove the walking hazard that a laundry-pile has become, but taking care of oneself and doing the things that nurture our mind, body and spirit is critical. Delay? Maybe. Postpone indefinitely? Not okay. Taking good care of our whole selves is necessary because we need to stay connected to our goodness and sense of self in order to live with joy, to know when to leave a job/relationship that isn’t working, to be present for our loved ones, to be integrated and fully functioning women. And here’s another thing: It is also the best thing we can do for those very people and causes that we often “sacrifice” ourselves for. How can I be so sure? You ask. Mirror neurons is my answer for you.
Fifteen years ago, Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma, was working with some primates and came across something amazing. He then found the amazing thing to be present in humans in a much more sophisticated way. That’s right… I’m talking about mirror neurons. When we see or hear someone doing something, mirror neurons are activated in the brain. They send a message to our body and stimulate a wave reaction of chemical, emotional, physical responses in our very body as if we had done that action ourselves. So when we see someone who is happy, we can feel their happiness as our own. When we see someone caring for themselves in a compassionate way, we can know what that is like. If we have experienced that way of moving or emotion in the past, the mirror neurons are even MORE active and we have a greater response to the action we are observing in someone else. When we, as mothers and women—often the primary caregivers and support for children and husbands aging parents or friends, take care of ourselves and give to ourselves the gift of self-love, we are spreading a little bit of that experience around.
We human animals are highly social beings. We are built to interact and influence one another and not just through speech. Dr. Rizzolatti says, “Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.” So we can tell our girls, “take care of yourself and listen to your needs and don’t sacrifice yourself for blah blah blah” but what we show them and what they feel as a result of our actions—how we live, is soooooo much more powerful. So when you take time to move your body in your yoga class, when you meet with a friend who fills you up and reminds you how great you are, when you eat delicious healthy foods that nourish you, when you make time to pursue your curiosities and ideas, you are probably enjoying yourself a lot AND you are contributing great things to the people around you. From us, our girls learn to love themselves and their bodies. The compassion and love and care we give to ourselves is the the very best chance we’ve got to pass that same stuff on to our children. Because we aim to maintain a deep awareness and sense of who we are and what we want, our girls can have a great shot at having that in themselves. By learning to care for ourselves and shedding this idea of “self-sacrifice” we do our part to nurture a generation of women who no longer have to carry that burden. ‘Cause we all know, if mama’s good, we all good.
Click here to link to a New York Times Article about Mirror Neurons.