The Mindful Officer: The Mind-Body

Body sensations we often ignore can be clues realizing you emotional climate & stress level

By Shawn Perron  |   Apr 17, 2017
Image Courtesy Proceedings of the National Academies of Science

We have been taught from the earliest to make every effort to avoid, deny, and even escape any feelings or emotions that we label as unpleasant. Modern conveniences make this easier—smartphones, intoxicants, food and drink, earbuds, entertainment, etc.—and some of us get very good at ignoring or avoiding feelings such as pain, guilt, sadness, anger, anxiety, and fear. I mean, who wants to feel any of those things? Hell, it’s why they’re called “unpleasant feelings”!

But here’s the thing: Unpleasant feelings are inevitable in life. Attempting to avoid them, in the long run, really doesn’t work. What avoidance does is cause our mind and our body to disconnect. In this effort we often create confusion for ourselves, and ultimately prolong the suffering we are trying to avoid.

The Mind-Body

Emotions constantly create sensations in the body. Have you ever been angry but not sure why you’re angry? Or have you felt irritable but been unable to solve the mystery of why? As much as we try, we just can’t shut off the mysterious communication between mind and body. So it helps when we practice our skills in learning what our body is telling us. There are many such phrases: feeling “hot headed,” “broken hearted,” or “blue,” or being “so angry I saw red.” By understanding the body and the mind together, we can hopefully discover the root causes of our suffering and then address them openly and honestly.

Emotions are often associated with and experience in certain parts of the body. Mindfulness practice can help you become reacquainted with those body parts and their sensations and predict or identify the emotional climate that causes them. This can really be helpful to us as first responders. Recent scientific discoveries can point the way.

Scientists are making huge breakthroughs in mapping and understanding the brain and its functions. As we go through life, certain parts of the brain that light up or “fire,” depending on the circumstances. Even such things as spiritual experience can be shown to occur in the brain. What’s less clear are the connections between the mind and the body. But that may be changing.

The Atlantic recently reported on a very interesting experiment conducted by researchers in Finland. 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan were asked to consider one of 14 predetermined emotions. Then each would indicate on a blank silhouette of the body the areas or parts of the body were stimulated or effected by that particular emotion. The participants were able to view a video or read a short story to assist in generating the appropriate emotion.

Using an additional silhouette (blank) they were asked to paint the areas that felt most “deactivated” during the particular emotion. It should be noted that the recorded body sensations were not based on blood flow, temperature, pulse rates, or anything could be measured objectively. They were most well described as an indication of perceptions (subjective) regarding mental states or climates felt or sensed via the body. These are likely due to muscular and visceral reactions, along with nervous system responses, that are unable to easily differentiate.

The impressive part of the experiment was that it determined that emotions are experienced in our bodies. All the results were generally consistent from one person to the next, irrespective of age, sex, and even nationality. The feature image above is the body map showing areas were volunteers reported feeling various emotions.

Learning the body’s response to certain emotions could serve LEO well. This would also be very useful for identification of emotional states of others you may come into contact. We know how important recognizing these indicators prior to or during a possible violent encounter can be. Such information can keep us safer, and perhaps help us in determining de-escalation techniques. By understanding and recognizing these emotional states, we would be better able to comfort and calm the people we are dealing with.

Conclusion

For best results, spend some time each day reinforcing the mind-body connection (even if only 5 mins at a time). The amount of time that you practice matters less than doing it regularly. So make a practice of keeping tabs on your body throughout the day: connecting with your breath, assessing your state, being present in the moment …

For a deeper practice, there’s a plethora of information and video instruction online to get you started with a basic body-scan mindfulness.

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Shawn Perron

Shawn Perron

Sgt. Shawn Perron has worked as a police officer in Texas for 22 years. He regularly attends mindfulness retreats and has studied meditation and eastern philosophy at many Zen Centers throughout the U.S. Sgt. Perron writes in his spare time and voluntarily teaches basic mindfulness techniques.