A woman dressed in a white lab coat with a stethoscope hung around her neck, hands you a single white pill. Teal, boxy scrubs are visible through her open coat. You feel her fingers brush against your palm, and they are cold: she is holding a damp, balled up paper towel in the other hand. You adjust your posture on the black cushion stool, setting your feet firmly on the ground in preparation. You insert the pill into your mouth with your right hand and with your left hand, drink from a ridged plastic cup. A hint of sweetness brushes past your palate, and your brain’s neural pathways are already lighting up in response. The heavy, unpleasant throbbing at the base of your head, where your neck begins, begins to expand and disperse the slightest amount. You can feel the thin, transparent walls of the empty cup begin to warm up in your hands.
It doesn’t matter that it’s just a sugar pill. It doesn’t matter that you know that it’s just a sugar pill, that it doesn’t contain any active medical ingredients that will reduce inflammation, or trigger hormones, or numb your nerves. It doesn’t matter. Your lizard brain can’t tell the difference.
In fact, your lizard brain is so active and alert that just upon reading the above description, upon being immersed in a fictional world where “you” are told your state of being; upon imagining the sensory descriptions of image, color, dampness, temperature; you have suspended disbelief for a quiet moment – the disbelief that tells you that, actually, you aren’t in a doctor’s office: you are in the real world, sitting at your office chair or reclining on your couch or lying in your bed. Your body physiologically reacts to the idea of tension, pain, and pressure being gradually relieved. Your shoulders relax. Your eyes dilate. Your breathing slows down.
This is because logic, reason, and structure are human constructs by which to create order in the world, a sorted catalog of category buckets, but emotions – flashes of color and emotion that take place in your lizard brain – are innate.
In modern times, we have worked for centuries on end to suppress this emotion, to side-step it, to rise above it, to ridicule it. We associate emotions with the primal, with childishness, with a lack of control or discipline. We sneer at people who feel sappy during the holidays, or cry at movies. They seem weak, or silly. They don’t seem to understand that those constructs are entirely fictional, the ultimate product of a capitalist society tapping into the subconscious consumerist zombie brain. But us — we know better.
But whether it’s religious prayer chants or hateful Nazi propaganda or annoying podcast adverts, IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT YOU THINK YOU’RE ABOVE IT. Because we all have this stupid emotional brain, and whether we admit it or not, it reacts to those same devices, those same marketing or political ploys, and absorbs its effects by sheer exposure.
And that’s okay. Because once we acknowledge and accept this chink in our armor, this most singular and unavoidable vulnerability, we can strengthen our emotions. We can control what we take in, what we are exposed to. We can determine what we want to see and hear, until we come to believe it: the possibilities are endless.
We can be anything we want to be: “I am compassionate,” and “I am charismatic,” and “I am confident”;”I am important,” and “I am strong,” and “I am creative.” Because our lizard brain doesn’t know any better but to believe. And our critical minds may sneer and shrink away from these cliches – self help? Please. But our stupid, lovable lizard brain will override it, so long as you can silence that logical, fearful, critic inside you that points out that you aren’t the best, you’ll never be the best, you’re nothing but a number, a metric.
Yes, that’s probably true. But why is that important? Why is anything other than our immediate, present moment, of who we are right now, of who we’re trying to be, striving to be – why obsess so much about who we aren’t, or can’t ever be?
Becoming your best you. Via Placebo.
Placebos in religious or political contexts have historically taken up negative connotations: encouraging the masses to put their trust into a single body, whether the clergy, the deity, or the President. Giving up control and obeying authority and succumbing to the certainty of their proclaimed truths.
But if they can do it to us – and so strategically, and so adamantly, and ceaselessly, and occasionally against our will – what stops us from doing the same to ourselves? For ourselves?
If Tinkerbell can be brought back by applause – why not applaud? Because fairy tales are for babies? Because you’re afraid of disappointment, if Tinkerbell doesn’t show up no matter how hard you clap?
It was never about Tinkerbell. It was always about the clapping. And on the one hand, it may have been a clever device to trick the audience into perceiving a better experience than the show actually provided; but at the same time, isn’t the applause part of the experience? And if you are clapping and feeling the emotional swell side by side with your brothers and sisters – then hasn’t it accomplished just what it set out to achieve?
Stage yourself to feel the emotions you want to feel. Stage yourself to have fun at parties, to enjoy reading or exercising, to feel compassion for others.
Simply by virtue of shutting up that cringing, sarcastic, eye-rolling teenage cynicism and opening your heart to feeling.