Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Mario Martinez. Mario is a clinical neuropsychologist who lectures worldwide on how cultural beliefs affect health and longevity. He is the founder of bio-cognitive science, a new paradigm that identifies complex discoveries of how our cultural beliefs affect our immune, nervous and endocrine systems. With Sounds True, Mario Dr. Martinez has created a six-session audio learning program called The Mind-Body Code: How the Mind Wounds and Heals the Body where he invites the listener to discover the dynamic interplay between thoughts, the body, and cultural history in order to master the creation of wellness and fulfillment. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Mario and I spoke about bio-cognition, the mind-body connection in a cultural context. We also talked about how according to Mario, culture creates biology. We also talked about three archetypal wounds that Mario has identified [that] appear in cultures throughout the world: the wounds of abandonment, betrayal, and shame, and what their antidotes might be and how to access those antidotes through what Mario calls “healing fields” in the body. And finally we talked about the concept of “The Drift” and how to navigate chaos with uncertainty as our guide. Here’s my intriguing conversation with Mario Martinez.
Mario, your work with the mind-body code covers many different topics, but today in our conversation, I’d like to focus on this notion of empowerment and how people can feel more empowered in their lives. I want to begin by reading a quote from you and having you comment on it. So here’s the quote: “Change cannot be sustained, unless the individual has the self- worthiness to accept the potential benefits gained from the change.”
Mario Martinez: Yes, that’s a complex statement, but what I mean there is that the word “empowerment” is used all over and people have different meanings, but I look at it from what the actual meaning does to a biology, especially to an immune system based on the research that’s been done. And I simply try to take very complex discoveries in science and complex theories in practice, and make them very simple, very applicable—because nature is very simple, although it unfolds in a very complex way.
To define “empowerment,” I look at empowerment as a challenge that you have on a road to something, a road to an objective. In that challenge, first you need the resources to be able to achieve that challenge, and you need the sense of worthiness that the energy that you’re putting into it is going to be validated. One of the things that I see especially in the work world, especially in the organizational businesses that I see, is that it’s not stress. That’s not what makes people sick—that disempowerment is what makes them sick.
So for example, if you have a responsibility for something—whether it’s in a relationship or in working for a big corporation—and you have responsibility but you don’t have authority to actually apply whatever it is that you need to do, people begin to get sick. They are disempowered. I’ll explain that—how the immune system works with that—but basically not having the resources, and number two, not having meaning in what you’re doing, whether it’s a relationship or a job. Not knowing what the meaning is, not knowing that there’s connection with something. So if you take those two things and you say, no resources to overcome a challenge, and no meaning in what I’m doing, right there you have defined disempowerment. The opposite would [also] be true, which is having the resources and having the meaning of what you’re doing.
TS: Let’s dig in a little bit more to this concept of having the self-worthiness to accept the potential benefits that might be gained from the change. How does one develop that self-worthiness?
MM: Well, the first part is to see how we don’t have it and how to fix it. What happens is, first we have to look at our biology is different way. We separate mind and body and we think that words are some symbols and the physical is something of substance—but it doesn’t work that way. From day one, we first hear words, and they don’t mean anything. They begin to have meaning, they begin to connect at the breast of the mother, and the hunger and those things, but those symbols are embodied. Those symbols become biology. That’s why when you say to somebody, “you’re not very smart,” and you shame that person, the immune system responds as if you have a wound. You get inflammation, what’s called pro-inflammatory products, so they have meaning.
Then you have what I call the “cultural editors:” people important in your culture with a context, which are your parents at home, teachers at school. Those people begin to give you an image of you that may not be actually who you are. They may say to you—either good or bad—they may say, “You’re very good in math, you’re bad at following directions, you’re bad in relationships,” and those words are incorporated and a person develops a concept of self. For example, you can’t shame a child until they can see themselves in the mirror and say that “That’s me!” When they have an identity you can shame them but before that you can’t, so therefore, you have a self that has been gradually developed.
That self validates the things that they’re told. You validate the goodness or the badness. You’re bad with direction, then you validate that and anytime that you do something bad with directions, you go, “Oh there we go, I’m bad with directions.” Or if you’re good with math. So that’s a shaping that is a bio-symbolic shaping that we have and then gradually it begins to build a self that has a sense of worthiness or self that doesn’t have a sense of worthiness because of the self-image that that person learned is not very valuable.
Then what happens is that if good happens to them, their nervous system, the endocrine system responds as if they are seeing a lion, because of tremendous [feelings that this] is not compatible with the state of being, of what you would consider normal. And that’s why you see people who achieve their life dreams and they get sick or they die or they retire and they go to that wonderful home and six weeks later, cancer. Too much for that sense of worthiness or lack of worthiness.
So it’s a building of what I call “consciousness.” It’s an operating consciousness that defines who you are and then unfortunately—or fortunately—we confirm that inner world. So we have a very selective perception based on our neuromaps of who we are. So we say we’re good, then we look for things that confirm that we’re good and we constantly get evidence, but it’s very biased evidence. But if you’re bad, then you find evidence that says, “there we go, I’m bad and there we go, I’m bad.” Then you create horizons that only tell you for bad people only bad things can happen.
If something good happens, it’s a complete turbulence. And that’s when people begin to respond with running away from the goodness to get back to what I call “known misery”—better to be in known misery than in unknown joy. So before you can accept those good things, you have to have that worthiness, that sense of worthiness that says to you, “Yes! I am worthy!” Not intellectually, but at a very embodied way. “I’m worth these good things happening to me”—and you don’t get sick.
TS: So Mario, let’s just take this slow for a moment, because when I think of myself, and when I think of most of the people I know, there’s some sense of unworthiness inside of us, some sense that even when wonderful things are happening, it’s hard to take it in. So how do you help that person who has that and says, “Yes, I admit it. If I were really to tell the truth, some part of me doesn’t feel worthy of the empowerment that I talk about wanting”?
MM: Yes, well, first going to the culture, because the culture is so subtle—that’s what shapes you. One of the things that I do—and this is really experiential—so to get to the point, I ask people—if I’m doing a workshop or something for an organization, “Let me show you what culture is all about.” So I’ll ask them: “Are you a fair person with your friends?” And they raise their hands. “Are you a good parent?” And they raise their hands. But I ask them, “Are you beautiful?” Nobody raises their hands. I ask them, “Are you brilliant?” Nobody raises their hand. Why? Because the culture tells you what you can and cannot accept.
What they teach you is that pseudo-humbleness. If I say, “I love your hair!” Then, “Oh well, I haven’t done anything with it.” Or “I love you car.” “Yes, I needed a car because”—I see this here in Uruguay quite a bit—people buy a car and they give you a 1- minute explanation of why they bought it. That shaping that you get will then determine whether you can accept something or not without the excuses or without the explanations about the goodness that happens to you. Fortunately, there’s some people who get that kind of validation, and when good things happen to them, they say, “Oh great. This is it. I deserve this. This is me.”
But just like some people can’t—in the example that I gave you—can’t accept that they’re brilliant or can’t accept that they’re attractive or beautiful inside or whatever, then if you can’t accept it, then it’s not going to be a reality. So how do you help people like that?
Well first, identify what kind of wounds they have, what kind of things that they were taught that wounded them. We’ve talked [about this] before: the three wounds that I’ve identified in all cultures [that] are archetypal because I see them in all cultures—in Africa, in the Philippines, all over. And you can only be wounded those three ways: abandonment, betrayal, or shame. And each of those wounds is so interesting. Each of them has a different physiological response. So what happens is that those wounds become your executioner. They become your inquisitor, constantly beating you up.
You’re having a good day and all the sudden something happens and this downer and you don’t realize what happened and it’s that wound coming up that says to you, “You were abandoned, therefore you’re not worthy.” Or “You were shamed, therefore you’re not worthy. You were betrayed, therefore, you were not worthy.” Then what happens is that you learn that intimate language and you paradoxically you speak fluently with your co-authors. So if you’ve been abandoned, you either abandon, or you look for abandonment because that’s the fluency that you know. That’s a language that you know, even though it may not serve you well.
So we do methods with deep relaxation in contemplative kinds of ways. We get people to the wound, we have them identify where it manifested in the body, but then to fix that, each of the wounds has what I call a “healing field.” So let’s say that you have an abandonment wound; the healing field, the antidote to that is commitment, a commitment consciousness. I’ll explain it in a minute. Then if it’s betrayal, loyalty. And shame, honor.
It’s so interesting that we’re beginning to do some research so you can see how powerful it is. We know now that shame, which has been studied in psychoneuroimmunology, causes inflammation. When you’re shamed, you’ll notice that people turn red. If you measure their interleukins, and other kinds of pro-inflammatory products, you’ll see that they’re high. But now, an anti-inflammatory, and this is where we’re testing, is honor. If you enter in an honor consciousness, you actually create a psychoneuroimmunological change by entering that state.
How do you do it? Let’s say an example, just very simple example. You walk into a place, let’s say a conference or a meeting, and your boss speaks shame fluently. And you walk in, and [says to] you, “Tami, there you go again. I can always count on you on being late,” or something like that. And all of the sudden you feel this incredible emotion overcoming you. And you can’t figure out why such a little word, a little thing that happened has had an effect on you. The reason is, is that you’re living out your whole history of shame into the moment.
What do you do [then is] very simple: you stop, you realize that you’re being shamed or you’re seeing it as shaming. And you see where you manifest it in your body and the five portals of health that I talk about. Anyway, you identify it and you simply breathe into it, to accept that this is what you are feeling. Immediately, after you’ve done the exercise of learning the healing field, then you go to the conscious of honor.
How do you do that? By going to a memory, unrelated to what happened, to a memory of something that you did that was honorable, because you see we store information physiologically in every way. We just don’t store the thought, we store the immunology that was happening at the time, the nervous process that was happening at the time. So when you bring out the memory, you bring the cluster of good and bad things.
I had a patient who had an inflammation, arthritic inflammation, and his proud moment, or his honor moment was when one day a bully was going to beat up this other kid and he stood up and protected that kid from being hurt. And that had an honorable affect on him.
Then you bring that out and you allow that to overwhelm your body, the honor, and immediately it shifts you from this disempowerment to empowerment. And then what would be the honorable thing to do? Maybe to say to a person privately, “What do I need to do to correct the situation? I wish that you would speak to me privately.” Anything that you think that you need to correct the situation in an honorable way. It changes the biology and it changes the potential for you to get sick.
TS: Now Mario, you have said quite a lot so far in our short conversation, so I’m going to try to slow it down a little bit and make sure I’m following all the things you’re saying.
MM: Of course yes.
TS: So first of all, we were talking about why some people feel worthy, and how you need to feel worthy to really make big changes in your life, and we were talking about how most people don’t have that worthiness. You brought up these three, you called them “archetypal wounds,” that you’ve noticed in cultures across the world. And I’m curious: only three? All different things that could have happened to us in our early childhood, you put in these three buckets? How did you come up with this?
MM: Because as I was—and that’s a great question—as I was looking for specific ways of people being wounded, I was able to subsume everything under those three. Abandonment, for example, is the most primitive. You can abandon a child physically and they die. You can shame them, they don’t die. Or you can betray them and they don’t die. Betrayal is the most—and it happens with animals. Animals are very self-sufficient, but if an animal is abandoned, even when they are adults, they are abandoned from the tribe, they start getting sick. And in many cases they die.
So these are implicit, biological or bio-cognitive processes that we have. Why is it that the immune system responded to them in such a powerful way? So I haven’t been able to find any other wound that cannot be subsumed in those three, which is good news because at least it’s only three that we have to work with.
TS: Now you just introduced a term, and you’re the only person that I’ve heard use this term, “bio-cognitive.” Can you tell us what you mean by that?
MM: Yes, because science has separated biology from cognition. They talk about mind-body and I had to invent the word to describe—bio-cognitive means mind-body in a cultural context. We cannot run from our culture, and nothing happens without a cultural context. So there’s an inseparability of mind, which is all our cognitions, our memories, our biology, emotions, immunology. And then cultural is that embracing that we do of a reality. No reality is void of culture. Medicine is culture. Religion is cultural. They have culture components.
What is a culture? A culture has three identifying codes—any culture, the culture of a B-cell, a T-cell, an American, a Hispanic, anything—and the three identifying codes are number one, what are the codes of acceptance? Okay, I know this is a T-cell, you’re in. You’re a B-cell, you’re out. You’re a Catholic, you’re in. You’re not Catholic, you’re out—at a very basic level.
The second code is rejection. What do I reject? What do I not let in? And what are the ways that I don’t let in? And even after I let them in, what are the ways that I can get them out? They do that in science: when you say the wrong thing, the Inquisition comes out, just like they did with Galileo when he said that the earth is not the center of the universe. The Inquisition is still alive.
The third is the language: what language to you speak? We’re speaking English now, but if somebody speaks Chinese, we’re excluded. We don’t have a communication system. Interestingly, the cells also have culture of how they communicate, what they reject and what they accept. That’s the most basic definition of a culture. And it’s bio-cognitive in that sense that it’s mind-body and culture.
TS: OK. So I’m going to keep going here with this unfolding of these three …
MM: Unfolding, yes!
TS: … archetypal wounds. So we’ve briefly touched on shame, abandonment, and betrayal. Let’s pick abandonment. As you said, this is very, very core, and I think many, many people have a sense that something happened at some point in their childhood where they felt deeply left alone and/or suffering in some sense, that sense of being isolated—and you could say, abandoned.
You propose that there is a “healing field”—you use this term, and I want you to explain that more, of something called “commitment” as the antidote here that we could shift into if we find ourselves triggered and feeling abandoned in some situation. So help, talk me through how that might work for somebody.
MM: I call it a healing field because one thing that I emphasize in bio-cognition is that we have co-authors. We didn’t learn things on our own. We have co-authors: people [who] are parents, people that go along in the journey that actually co-authored our reality. And we have co-authors of abandonment, and we have co-authors of commitment.
So the field is one that as you bring back—again, the good news is that we archive information that we can bring out, and especially if it’s good information, it almost has a cleansing, re-contextualizing effect when you bring it up. Abandonment is usually felt as cold. It even has temperature. When you feel abandoned, you feel cold. Actually you’re cold because you’re blood is receding. You’re constricting your vascular system and it’s receding. It’s almost like preparing yourself for a loss.
When that happens, you have a tremendous amount of information of commitment consciousness, things that you have done for commitment. You could go back to when you were 12 and you committed yourself to getting a good grade in math and you worked hard and you did. That’s a commitment. That has physio—that’s why it’s bio-cognitive, it has bio-cognitive consequences, not just a memory. We actually teach people to tune in, to embody the information so that it doesn’t stay up in the head.
You could say, “Oh yes, I was really committed,” but you don’t go to the body, and [then] it’s lost. But if you embody it and you see—just like when you see what’s negative, when you see what’s positive—what’s happening is you’re changing physiology there, but you’re also bio-cognitively because it’s not just physiology, it’s bio-cognition and biology, you’re changing it. So what happens if you continue to do that? Every time that you go into an abandonment consciousness, you go in and you re-contextualize it with commitment consciousness. Gradually what happens is that self-worthiness that we were talking about begins to change, because the good news is that we can change everything including the expression of genes. What we were taught is totally wrong.
In neuropsychology I was taught that after a year, you don’t make any more improvements when you have brain damage. It’s not true. None of those things are true because they were based on very reductionist biology that it’s no longer applicable, although they still use it in conventional.
So that shifting of consciousness requires an investment in going back to your memories and expressing some of those negativities, but also then seeing who are they actually co-authors that are still responding to that? Who is still speaking shame fluently with me? You could go to a relative and all of a sudden—or not all of a sudden but gradually—you have become more honorable and you honor consciousness and then you go to the co-author and you say, “You know, I’m really feeling good about myself.” And [they say,] “Well, you shouldn’t feel so good. Look how you failed in 1944,” or whatever, and they bring you down because that’s all they can speak.
The key here is that just because you’re making changes, your co-authors may not be ready for that change, so you have to be aware that then you give those co-authors the amount of honor that they can handle, and don’t go beyond that, or the amount of love that they can handle and don’t go beyond that, because you’ll toxify them. Good things can toxify people who have very small areas of goodness within them or worthiness within them.
TS: OK. I want to make sure I understand what you mean by “embodying the healing field.” So let’s just for the moment, stick with this abandonment example, this abandonment archetypal wound. Say somebody’s through a process in their life where they’re going through a breakup of some kind, a relationship breakup and they feel quite abandoned. How do they make sure that when they call on this healing field of commitment, that they are doing so in an embodied way, not just as an idea?
MM: Yes, that’s a great question. And if it’s not done right, it doesn’t work. You first identify where you manifest, which is a way of saying embody. Let’s use a specific example so that it will be clear because I think that’s a very important question that you’re asking.
You’re in a relationship and that person, “abandons you.” So you begin to feel the abandonment, “This person left me after all these years” and then how do you embody, “where am I manifesting this thought, this emotion, this bio-cognition?” And you realize that your chest is tense. And your stomach is beginning to make very unusual sounds. Well, that’s how you are embodying the abandonment. And rather than trying to get rid of it and saying, “I don’t want to feel this, I’m happy, I’m fine,”—that’s superficial, positive psychology that doesn’t work. It’s naïve.
You go there and you go in. That’s what the Buddhists say, you enter the turbulence. You don’t try to change it. You don’t try to make it better. You just go in to embody, to enact, to live what your body is doing. And you do it and you breathe. You always remember that you have breath from your stomach, slowly. And you embody it, and you’ll see that it doesn’t last more than a few minutes because you’re paying attention to it.
Once you do that, then you take a deep breath and you say, “let me bring the antidote here.” Just like you’re having memories of what that person did to you, say an hour ago, you can have memories of what happened 10 years ago and you bring back the memory of commitment. It’s usually a commitment to yourself or a commitment to something that is worthy. And you bring that consciousness and how do you embody it?
All the sudden you begin to feel like your chest is expanding, like you’re feeling a sense of serenity, like your legs are feeling more sensitivity, a manifestation in the body—that’s embodying. And then you breathe into that. As you breathe into that, what you are doing is shifting biology at every level. You can actually see it with functional MRIs. That’s actually the brain function and you can see changes like that when you do contemplative kinds of processes.
TS: So is it fair to say that if somebody focused on the healing fields of honor, commitment and loyalty, they would radically increase their self-worthiness and then they would be a candidate for the kind of empowerment that you are talking about?
MM: Yes, I would say so. It doesn’t happen over night because we have neuromaps. One of the things that happens with the brain is that as you repeat something, it creates more pathways, more neural pathways, and they are called neuromaps. Let’s say you’re a very negative person and you have a lot of neuromaps that can focus on negativity in the world. So that doesn’t change overnight, but the good thing is that as you change, and you begin to find incompatible neuromaps, with the negativity, the body and the mind and the spirit and everything that you want to call human, has a tendency to relentlessly look for health, rather than look for sickness.
The body is constantly looking for health. Genetics is only 5-10 percent. The rest is looking for health. So as you begin to modify it and re-contextualize—not just change one thing for [another], but re-contextualize—by doing it, then you create new neuromaps, and I’m going just to the neuroscience that you can see that it’s very related to the biology. Gradually, you begin to reinterpret things. You begin to give different meaning, but then again—I can’t over emphasize this—you have to be aware of the co-authors that are maintaining that for you.
What do you do with co-authors? You set limits. You set benign limits. Another way of empowering yourself is by setting benign limits which says, “This is as far as I go.” And then you get permission. And in assertiveness, we usually talk about setting limits. There’s another part of assertiveness: one is setting the limit, and the other is getting permission to the other person to not like and to work through that.
TS: What do you mean by “benign limits”? The use of that word, benign.
MM: Benign limits means that you’re not hurting yourself, and you’re not hurting somebody. For example, if you set a limit that you’re going to hurt somebody physically, then that’s not really benign, but at the same time, benign for you means that if someone is hurting you, then you have to stop that hurting and you have to stop that person. So benign being that it’s good for you, that it has value for you in a healing way.
What the Buddhists call benign indifference. You set up a boundary. I see this in centenarians and the work that I do with centenarians. [For] centenarians, 30 percent is genetics, 70 percent is bio-culture, because culture creates biology. They know how to set limits. The first thing they say is, “How can I help?” But they don’t say “How can I help” in a caretaker way. They say it with limiTS: how can I help?
In fact, I ask them, “I’d like to interview you.” “Oh yeah, sure.” I say, “I’d like to talk to you, I’d like to learn from you.” They’re 102 years old. “When can I see you?” They say, “Well, you know, almost anytime.” And then they say, “When would you like?” And I said, “Saturday at 2:00.” And he looked at me and he said, “No.” Without even thinking “No, Saturday at 2:00, I can’t do it. I have dance lessons.” That’s benign. That’s benign boundary.
If you say, “OK. I’m giving up my joy and I’m going to go ahead and talk to you.” No, I made a commitment. Here’s the commitment. See, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to my dance lessons. I’m not going to change that. Now, if it’s an emergency, of course. But we don’t do that. We say, “Well, OK. I’ll do [my dance lessons] later,” which is a way of devaluing ourselves.
If you notice when you walk into a restaurant by yourself, and they say, “Only you? Only one?” As if, you know, you’re expecting somebody else to come with you. Once a month, I take myself out to dinner. I dress very nicely and I take myself out to dinner. It doesn’t matter what country I go. They’ll say, “Just one?” So right there, the culture is saying, “what’s wrong? There’s something missing.” So we’re being shaped constantly without knowing it.
TS: Now you made a very strong statement, Mario—you said culture creates biology. I understand in your work how important cultural ideas are in terms influencing our biology, but you stated this very definitively.
MM: Yes. Yes. And I’ll give you an example. The Peruvian culture, for women, when they have menopause, they call the hot flashes, borchorno, which is another word for shame. “The shame” they call it. We know now that shame causes inflammation. You test Peruvian women for their level of interleukins and other inflammatory products and they’re high.
Now you go to Japan. Same, women, human beings, but the cultural interpretation of menopause and the hot flashes is “a second spring,” an opportunity for wisdom. You check their inflammatory products and they’re normal. That’s how culture can create biology.
TS: OK. So I’ve been focusing on this question of empowerment and how we make changes in our life and the importance of self-worthiness and making changes. Part of the reason I really wanted to focus on this theme, Mario, is because I think there’s a lot of confusion right now—speaking of culture—in the culture, related to the whole idea of how we can manifest changes in our life.
I think post-The Secret many people have been experiencing the last several years, the reality it’s not enough to simply want something to change, and visualize a change, that there’s something missing, that there’s more to the process of empowerment than that. I’m curious, and we’ve talked about it, but if you could help summarize our discussion and really pinpoint for people what’s missing when we just visualize a change and want something to be different, but yet it doesn’t change. What do we need to make these kinds of changes in our life that we all want to make?
MM: One of the things you do in science, is you go back to how things break, and then how to go back and see how to fix them. So how do things break? We don’t get shamed, or we don’t get abandoned intellectually. We don’t get abandoned intellectually, we don’t say, “I’m being abandoned.” There’s a biology that goes with it.
So basically, you have a cluster of emotions and physiological changes and the cognition and the thought, so why then do we think that we can, just by going to the thought, we can change something that requires more than just a thought? It’s like trying to change something, and taking only one of the ingredients. It doesn’t work. So if you say, “I’m a wonderful person. I’m a wonderful person.” Your biology is not going to go with it because you were shamed not only with words, but with what the words did your biology. It created neuromaps, it created a response to the situation similar to that.
So by you saying, “I’m worthy, I’m honorable.” It’s only an intellectual component of many of the things that are going on. So you have to then go to the other components and see how you change those neuromaps and see how you change that response—that’s why I call it bio-cognitive, not just cognitive. Cognition alone doesn’t work. It doesn’t access the total picture.
TS: And so let’s say that somebody wants to make a specific change in their life. Let’s just pick something, which is something that a lot of people want. They want to make more money. I’m going to go back this original quote that I used from you: “Change can’t be sustained unless the individual has the self-worthiness to accept the potential benefits gained from the change.” How does somebody work with being able to accept the benefits of making more money? How do they do this?
MM: That’s a very simple experiment that you can see the bounty, the horizons that we create. You can have someone sit, and do any sort of contemplative relaxation, or anything just to quiet the mind and you ask them, “OK. Imagine now (let’s say they make $40,000 a year), imagine you make $40,000 a year, and now what I want you to do is look at what you’re doing with that money, how you’re paying bills.” You’re creating a context—but as you’re creating the context, there’s bio-cognition, not just cognition. And then what you tell them is, “What I want you to do is multiply that ten times. Now you’re making $400,000. Now what are you going to do with that money?”
You let them do that for a few minutes and then you have them stop. And then say, “OK. What are you feeling in your body?” They’re gonna feel tension. They’re gonna feel disruptions because their horizons are being shaken. They’re so used to the reality is around what you can do with $40,000, what you can buy, what you cannot buy, where you can go. And all the sudden you expand the horizons, and you would think, “Oh this is great!” But your biology has to follow. Your biology is not ready just because you say this is great. So you actually feel the stress, the tension. And there are two things—even with illnesses, you can see that the worthiness has to do with illness too.
An illness has many components, of course. It has genetic pre-disposition—not sentencing, but pre-disposition. It has environmental [factors], what you eat. In addition to that, an illness is learned. You learn an illness; one of the functions of the illness in addition to the things I talked about, is that the illness can allow you to not act on something that you need to act, and something that requires—again, you see how boundaries always come up—something that you don’t want to do anymore but your culture is so powerfully inducing you to do it, that an illness gives you a pass. That’s one way.
The other is that something’s coming up that is so good that you don’t feel worthy of it, and you sabotage it to go back to the horizons of your misery. So it has two functions. And I argue that unless you work on those two functions, people will not heal. They may be cured, but they won’t be healed.
TS: And those two functions again, one is that it allows me to draw a boundary that I’m uncomfortable drawing, and what was the second?
MM: The second one that something good happens that you don’t feel worthy of and it’s so turbulent that without you knowing it, you bring it back. People who win the lottery in the U.S. And in other countries, I’ve been able to verify it in other countries too, they keep it on an average of 18 months. They can’t handle it. They either sabotage it with illness or they find an accountant that steals their money or they find somebody, a relationship that takes their money, to bring them back to that level of unworthiness, or the level of worthiness that they had before because they couldn’t handle the other.
One of the things that I do, is I work with executives and people. I have a lot of people and people don’t have money. It’s the same thing. They have the same problems. Teaching them that anytime that something good happens, you have to deal with it. You have to work with it as if it were a bad thing. Why? Because the brain doesn’t know whether it’s good or bad. It knows that it’s turbulent and it’s different, that you went beyond your field. You went beyond your boundaries, and therefore turbulence happens in order for you to make a decision to move forward or to go back.
For me, anytime any good thing happens, especially good things, I stop, I do a meditation, and I do an expansion—what I call “expanding the feelings of abundance,” because if I don’t, then it’s going to be turbulent.
TS: Now let’s actually step into that and try that. So it could be any good thing that’s happening. It could be someone coming up and saying, “You look beautiful today.” Or “Wow, that was so brilliant.” How can you help somebody right here in this moment, work with that turbulence that they might feel in that experience?
MM: First to stop, and let that information go to that cortex because the cortex is the most sophisticated part of our brain and we learn these things at a primitive level of the brain, the limbic system and things like that. So the first thing is just wait. It’s like if you get angry with somebody; don’t respond with your email right away. Let it get to the cortex, so you give it reason and process it.
Well, if somebody says you’re beautiful, and instead of saying “Oh no,” or “Thank you very much”, stop. Breathe. Process whatever you’re feeling. And then, “thank you very much I appreciate that.”
TS: Now hold on Mario, when you say, “let it go to your cortex.” I’m not sure I know how to do that. What do you mean? How do I know when I’m doing that?
MM: Well, neuro-physiologically you can see it with MRIs, but how do you do it? By allowing yourself time for that body to process the information without responding reflexively. Reflexively, when you respond reflexively, you’re responding from the limbic system, from the very primitive brain. When you wait and you allow the cortex, which is the reasoning, the planning, the extracting, when you allow that to mix, then you’re giving a bio-cognitive rather than a bio reflex. Interestingly, so you can see an example, when you are depressed—biologically depressed, your immune system is depressed, not anthropomorphically, but it’s actually under-responding.
And when you start doing a meditation, you’ll see that from when a person is depressed, their right frontal lobe, which is right around the forehead—the right side is more active than the left side. When you start meditating, and you start doing contemplative practices, it goes to the left side. So what it’s doing is that information is going to the left side to get meaning, to get contextual language meaning, and it comes together and it becomes a positive emotion—but that has to happen in the cortex. We tend to respond reflexively because we’ve done it so much that it’s like a knee jerk. “No thank you,” or “Thank you very much.” Without letting the embodiment or the physiological manifestation to happen.
What will happen is that, let’s say that a person is not used to being told that they’re beautiful. It could be beautiful inside, outside, it doesn’t matter. And somebody says, and they’re gonna practice the technique. They say, “I think you’re beautiful. You have beautiful eyes.” Well what do you first? You’re gonna feel some tension. You breathe and that will take just a few seconds. You don’t even have to detach from the person. You breathe. You realize that there’s a little tension, you allow it to happen, and then you bring gratitude in.
And the gratitude is something that’s an exalted emotion. It goes up to the cortex very quickly. And then when you say, “thank you very much, I appreciate that,”—but since you’re not used to even saying that, you go back and you pay attention to your body again. “Oh, how does that feel for me to say ‘thank you’ instead of me saying, ‘Oh I’m not that beautiful?’” Then what you’re doing is you’re re-shaping, you’re re-contextualizing, not only the input, but also the output.
Let me give you a personal example in the culture. I was a kid and my grandmother taught me that you don’t receive money from friends or from people that you love. If you work for them, you have to do it for free. So I was 12 years old and the gentleman next door would ask me to cut the grass, a very powerful admonition. I would cut the grass, and of course I wanted him to pay me. He would pay me $5.00 and it was a lot of money. And I would say, “Oh no, no thank you. No thank you.”
But inside I was saying, “Please put it in my pocket.” So he would put it in my pocket and I’d say “Ok, well, you know I can’t do anything about it.” It was an anguishing moment. It was a difficult moment for me to say “Yes.” And then what happened when I went into private practice, I had a real hard time charging people. My fees wouldn’t go up. All of that from the culture admonition that you don’t accept money for what you do.
So I had to learn this process that I’m telling you. Sometimes people would say, “You charge too much.” [I’d say] “Yeah, you’re probably right, and I probably do, and you know we can work something out or I can refer you to someone else, but these are my fees.” And then you stand for what you are worth, or what you believe you’re worth. Not just money, but you know, anything, love.
TS: Now you mentioned this interesting phrase: exalted emotions. What are exalted emotions?
MM: The exalted emotions—and I’m glad you asked me that because that’s a new, contemplative neuroscience, Richard Davidson and people like that are doing that—the exalted emotions, I don’t want to call them evolved emotions because we don’t evolve, we develop, we co-author, we co-create.
Exalted emotions are empathy, love, compassion, magnanimous emotions; all of those are the exalted emotions. Those are emotions that we feel at levels of high compassion, high love, and high empathy, and in order to be able to feel that, you have to get out of yourself. It’s an un-selfing and bringing somebody into your field of whatever it is.
In order for you to feel empathy, you have to get out of yourself and see what that person is experiencing. And if you have pre-frontal lobe damage, you can’t go out. And that’s what sociopaths [experience]—they are incapable or unwilling to experience empathy. You’ll ask them, “How do you feel about, you just cut that person?” “Well, it’s their problem.” That’s primitive. The exalted emotions are [when] you get out of yourself and you bring that person into your field of love. And by the way, the immune system responds real well to that, and has nothing to do with fight or flight. And the contemplative neuroscience that I was going to start talking to you about is that we have learned for many, many years from the damaged brain. People who have a stroke, and if that part [of the brain] doesn’t work, then it’s no good. And that’s what we’ve learned but lately in the last few years: there’s some neuroscientists that are beginning to study the healthy brain, especially with the exalted emotions. What happens when a person experiences love? What does the brain do? What does the immune system do? What happens when a person feels—for example, you look at somebody that you like, like a friend, and you smile? What happens to your immune system?
What we’re finding is that from the pathology—the pathological mode of learning about the brain gave us very little information about the complexity of the brain, the plasticity of the brain, and the ability that it has for the resilience and the things that we can do. An example: it was thought that there’s a part of the brain that can identify faces. It’s called fusiform gyrus. It can identify faces.
When you have damage to that, you can’t identify faces. You see your mother’s face, [and you think] “Who is that? I don’t know.” So from a sick brain, from a damaged brain, the conclusion was that part of the brain identifies familiar faces period. But then Richie Davidson and others began to look—“Ok, let’s look at the healthy brain,” especially the healthy brain of people that meditate for many, many years.
And they find that that part of the brain not only identifies faces, but it identifies anything that you like and that you do well. So if for example, you’re a painter and you specialize in painting roses, when they show you that, that part of the brain lights up like a Christmas tree. So it’s not just for faces, it’s for familiar objects that have meaning to you. But you couldn’t get that if you just studied a sick brain. It’s an example.
TS: Now, we’ve been talking a lot about the immune system and how the immune system responds in different situations, and I’m curious—from your work, what are the cultural beliefs that are damaging or difficult for the immune system? And then, also, what are the cultural beliefs in our time that have a positive impact on the immune system?
MM: OK. Well, first, I’ve proposed a new model of the immune system because the old model doesn’t explain these things. It looks at stress and it looks at cortisol and looks at adrenalin and that’s it and it stops there. I’m not exaggerating. I mean, it really looks at the negative emotions and the flight or flight is still alive and well. But then when you start studying, just like when you start studying the healthy brain, you start looking into the healthy immune system, with the exalted emotions, you find that these emotions have nothing to do with fight or flight. I mean, love has nothing to do with fight or flight, and yet what happens when you feel love? Your IgAs go up, your T-cells go up, all the things that have nothing to do with fight or flight.
So therefore, you have an immune system that actually confirms: it’s bio-symbolic, symbols becoming biological, it confirms the consciousness that you live rather than a fight or flight battle. The reason that it became a fight or flight [is that] science brings in the projections of the person who developed the science. And one of the founders of discovering the immune system, Elie Metchnikoff, back in the early 1900s, discovered—it was Christmas and he was with his son and the Christmas tree, he pulled out a little pin, and he pinched a larvae of an animal, and the next day he saw it, and he saw that it had moving things around it, he saw it on the microscope.
He saw that there were moving things. And he said, “Oh, those things are taking the infection away,”—which are macrophages—but in those days they thought that those little things actually promulgated the illness. They would take the infection and take it all over the body. I mean, look at the science of the day, not that long ago. And he said, “No, it’s really not that. These little cells are actually cleaning [things] out.” But what happened? Metchnikoff suffered from depression, just like Nietzsche. He and Nietzsche were born around the same time, one year apart. They both attempted suicide several times.
So Metchnikoff’s world was a battle, fighting death. So what does he do, anthropomorphically do with the immune system? [He turns it into] a battling system to fight the bad things that are going on out there, all the pathogens and all the bad things. And I wondered if a woman would have discovered it, if she would have given it an anthropomorphic interpretation. But you see, that’s the interpretation that was given, so if you give it that interpretation, you don’t look at anything other than fighting.
But what happens if you get the exalted emotions in there and they start showing that it’s actually working better than anything else you could do? Then you find that the immune system is not a fighter/warrior, the immune system is confirming bio-symbolic process of the life, or the experience, or the consciousness that you present it.
TS: OK so let’s just slow down for one second there, Mario. A confirming bio-symbolic process. I don’t understand that.
MM: Symbols are biological because they create biology. An example: George Solomon—he was my mentor and he was one of the pioneers in psychoneuroimmunology He found that men who are HIV positive, he was able to do psychological testing and see their level of assertiveness. Level of assertiveness that is a psychological process. And as you know, the HIV virus specifically attacks T-cells, more specifically, CD-4 cells; these are the helper cells. And he found a correlation between the level of assertiveness that those men had, and their T-cells. So the men who were more assertive, had more T-cells, and had a higher probability of living longer.
More research has been done now that men and women that actually forgive the person who infected them, have higher immunity than people who don’t. How do you explain that with a warrior model? It doesn’t work. It symbolic. It’s a bio-symbolic confirming system of whatever you put out.
TS: OK. So given this view of the immune system, coming back to my original question, what cultural beliefs do you think promote health with our confirming bio-symbolic process known as the immune system, and which cultural ideas are damaging to our health?
MM: That’s a great question. And I think it’s really be good for me to travel all over and to look at different cultures because we get very ethnocentric and we think that the immune system is only American, or whatever it is that you’re studying. How does the American culture help the immune system?
When you have the individualism that exists in this country, if you don’t exaggerate it, it’s very good for the immune system because the individual is allowed to be praised in a job or to [just] be praised—and it also depends on the way we accept it—but the US is a very individualistic country as opposed to Japan, which is a very collectivist country. So what happens in Japan? In Japan, you are working somewhere and you’re boss comes to you and says, “Tami, you’ve done a great job.” And you have to say, in essence, “I’m nothing without my group.” That’s not good for the immune system. You’re disowning the effort and the work and everything that you’ve done so you cannot acknowledge, you have to disown whatever action you took and give it to your group.
In fact, when shaming occurs in the US, you feel ashamed because of something you did. And you feel the inflammation because of something you did. In Japan or [other] Asian countries, you feel the shame for your group, not for yourself, and it’s even worse because you’re disowning the process. You’re not embodying it. It’s like, “I’m not feeling for myself, I’m feeling it for them.” That’s even worse. Now if you take individualism too far, then it becomes narcissistic. If you take collectivism too far, then it becomes totalitarian. So it’s kind of a range, but those are examples of how a culture can actually help or hurt an immune system.
TS: That’s good, that’s very clarifying. I just have one final question for you Mario—and you know I have to say, talking to you, you always present things from a very surprising perspective’ you always say things that catch me off guard and are new, and I really appreciate that about you. I have the sense that you are really presenting an original body of work, that you’re coming from your experience.
MM: Yes it is, because actually, bio-cognition is a convergence of fields that are not talking to each other with their discoveries: cultural anthropology, psychoneuroimmunology, and neuroscience. They’re not talking to each other with the discoveries that have a very powerful effect if you converge them. So bio-cognition is a convergence of fields that are not speaking to each other.
TS: Then I just have final question for you, knowing that you’ll say something here that I’m not expecting, which is, I know in some of your more recent work that you’re talking about how we can navigate chaos in our life. And you talk about how we can navigate chaos with uncertainty as our guide. And you introduce an idea that you call “The Drift.” And I wonder as a last conversational point if you can explain to us what you mean by “The Drift” and how we can possibly navigate the chaos of our lives with uncertainty as our guide.
MM: OK. That’s one of my favorite subjects. [Laughs] Actually you have to navigate, I think, uncertainty with chaos. Chaos and uncertainty are related. Why? Because we have linear ways of looking at the world. The world is not linear, we just impose linearity on the world because that’s how the brain works. If we didn’t have linearity, we couldn’t focus on anything—but it doesn’t mean that there’s no other complexity going on. Complexity theory can explain more things than Newtonian sequential linear processes, reductionist process.
So what happens? You want to do from A to B. That’s linear. Then, all of the sudden, turbulence comes in. And what do we do? We try to impose a linear system of confirming, confirming, confirming. Immediately, you stop there. Again you embody what this is doing to me, and you move from a mode of confirming, to a mode of observing. You observe with a premise that says that there’s implicit wisdom here that I need to extract from the moment. This implicit wisdom that I need to extract from the moment. Not only does it take you out of reducing cortisol because you’re all uptight, but it tells you there’s an implicit wisdom here that since everything is interconnected, if I find that wisdom, synchronicity all of the sudden comes in
I’ll give you a very specific example so you can see how, because I practice it. I’ll also give you a way that you can start doing it and it will come out more frequently in your life. I had to go to a lecture in St. Lucia, in the Caribbean a few years ago. I didn’t know anybody there. It was an interesting lecture because it was for bishops and cardinals about the psychoneuroimmunology of confessing for Catholic cardinals and bishops. So I get there, and one of the bishops is supposed to be picking me up. See, that’s a linear thing I’m expecting.
All the sudden, the bishop’s not there. I go, “I don’t know anybody here. I don’t even know where they’re having their conference.” Then chaos comes in. You begin to secrete cortisol. All kinds of things happen. So I stop and I say, “OK. Let me breathe. And let me look at things that are familiar to me.” So instead of confirming, you’re observing.
What’s familiar to me? OK, I’ve see palm trees and I’ve seen sand, and I’ve seen people of different race. And I start looking around, looking for the wisdom that’s there that I have to extract. All of the sudden, I see this taxi driver smiling. So I go up to him and I said, “Look, I’m having this and this happening,” and he said “Oh, my cousin is working at the tourism and information [desk] …”—synchronicity begins already—“… maybe she can tell you.” I’m already relaxing because I’m allowing myself to observe the wisdom within the moment and I go up to her and I tell her what’s going on.
And she said, “I don’t know, but let me call one of the nuns here. The nuns know everything that’s going on here.” So she calls and the nun tells her. And she says, “Oh my god that’s on the other side of the island.” Again, another linear turbulence. I get tense again but I stop, I breathe, I do the same thing again. And I ask myself what is the wisdom here. I said, “OK, which way can we go?”
And immediately she says to her cousin, “Don’t take him the long way and don’t rip him off! Take him through the rainforest so he can see the beautiful birds that we have.” Another synchronicity. He does that, he takes me to the place. I get there, and I find out the bishop couldn’t pick me up because he had to pick up the cardinal, and the cardinal is more important than a psychologist. So what happened? I didn’t bring my blood pressure up. I was able to connect with someone and I was able to go through the most beautiful rainforest. If I had gone through that sequential, imposing, confirmation on that, I would have been fighting out there and getting upset, and you see how it works.
It’s a process of observation. Now how can you create the synchronicity and getting into “The Drift?” Try it and you’ll see. Simply do what I call “Feedforward.” Feedback, gives information from the past. Feedforward is information from the future. That sounds almost like Star Trek, but you’ll see in second. Get yourself ready to go out to dinner. I always talk about dinner because that’s the most powerful ritual that you can do for the immune system.
You and your friend, or you by yourself, decide that you’re going to go to a restaurant, and you make reservations and you plan to go to that restaurant. You get to the restaurant and you go to the maitre‘d and you tell him, “I changed my mind, I’m not going to this restaurant.” Right there the Drift starts. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know where you’re going to go, and then that is non-linear because you created self-turbulence—but you’re trusting that something is going to happen.
It doesn’t have to be significant. A very small thing has wisdom. And it may come up today and it may come out tomorrow, because non-linearity is not immediate. It has in the long run effect. Every time I do that, I amaze myself with the things that I find. I amaze myself with again confirming that the world is non-linear, that there’s tremendous information and tremendous possible things that go on, that when they come together, we call it synchronicity. Synchronicity is always there, we just don’t know how to get into the portals. And that’s the Drift. That’s the simplest example but there are many, many …
TS: Now Mario one quick question, you said going out to dinner, or going to dinner by yourself or with somebody that you love, is one of the most powerful things you can do for the immune system. So I’m curious, why is that?
MM: Well, because it comes from [the days when we lived in] the cave. It has a very powerful point. In the caves you have to go and have your dinner there, not only to have your dinner, but to talk about where the tigers were and where the food is and where the other tribe is. So it had a very powerful effect not only of sharing the food, which is actually important and fundamental, but you were sharing information that had a survival and conservation component. So that’s built into your gene pool. Then gradually you build that, and you build that, and what happens?
We’ve lost that. We don’t have dinner with our friends anymore. We have dinner with our television and our iPads. It doesn’t work. That doesn’t work that way. In fact, I’ll give you an example, a real quick example, because I know we’re getting to the end.
A study was done to look at why it is that some people who have alcoholic parents, don’t develop alcoholism. The usual thing is that it’s five times as [likely] and all that. The factor that they found was that these people, although they had alcoholic parents, they still had dinner together. That alone was a factor.
TS: Well, very interesting and I’m happy to know something that I do often and that I like to do, which is to go to dinner, is good for my immune system.
TS: I’m finding that a positive note here. And just final question. I’m going to just try to wrap this all up, Mario, by commenting that it’s unusual to talk to somebody both about empowerment, setting goals, and having enough self-worthiness that change can come into our life and at the same time to talk about what you called “The Drift” where we allow ourselves to open to the unknown experience of the moment and where the future might be calling us.
I’m wondering how you put this together—how you put together the chaos of the moment, yet this desire that we have to be empowered in our lives and to set goals? How does that all come together for you?
MM: You always come up with great questions. That’s a very, very important question. By tuning into the variables of the two. What are the conditions for linear and the conditions for non-linear? The linear conditions are predictable. You go from A to B and you can predict, and you go here and you go there.
The moment something breaks, especially if you get upset, that’s an indication for potential wisdom, an indication for going into the Drift. But you have to trust it because I have always found that eventually it has wisdom. You can’t expect the wisdom in the moment. And you can’t look for it because if you’re looking for it, you get linear. You have to let it come into you and humble you with the discovery.
So the key is to find when something is out of order, that’s a potential for the portal of the Drift.
TS: I love it. I’ve been talking with Mario Martinez. He’s created a six-session audio learning course with Sounds True, which is a type of underground bestseller. Word is out about the popularity and the effectiveness and the depth of this program. It’s called The Mind-Body Code: How the Mind Wounds and Heals the Body. Always talking to Mario, as I said, I learn something new and unexpected. So thank you so much.
MM: My pleasure Tami.
TS: Mario Martinez at SoundsTrue.com. Many voices. One journey. Thanks for listening.