Mca blog

Reflections

This beautiful photo was captured by a friend of mine whilst holidaying in Italy.

It made me think of this word “reflection”, in fact you might say it made me reflect on the word. The most common meanings are:

  • To think about or to deliberate on something, introspection, review in your mind
  • To mirror, cast back light or an image

In some ways, these 2 meanings are opposite to each other: one directs mental energy inwards whilst the other directs light energy outwards. What these meaning have in common, though, is that they both direct some form of energy.

As I view this image, I see crystal clear water, a bridge and the inverse of that same bridge, trees and the inverse of those trees. I see light and shadow and the inverse of both. I see clouds and their inverse. In some parts of the picture it’s difficult to tell where the image ends, and the reflection begins.

You might be thinking, so what? It’s just a nice picture. And you’re not wrong.

But my reflections led me to consider our Mirror Neurons, cells in the brain that cause you to mirror or cast back an emotional or physical gesture in response to seeing another’s emotional or physical gesture. We might say that we’re responding to and reflecting back another’s emotional or thought energy.

As humans, we are hardwired to perceive the mind of other humans. It’s not that we mimic each other, it’s not the same reflection as you see in this photo, a perfect mirror image. Instead, when we know the intention behind an action, a different system in our brain is activated causing us to mirror the emotional response.

For example, if you observe someone experiencing joy, anger, fear, love, the same neurons will light up in your brain as they would in the person experiencing those emotions.

In effect, what’s happening is that your observations of another’s mind creates a neural map in your head. Because of your mirror neurons, you see the intention beneath the other’s behaviours and may experience another’s plight as if you were experiencing it yourself.

You might call this empathy.

What’s interesting is that in spite of our negativity bias (the tendency to see worst case scenario as a means to protect ourselves from potential harm), studies of mirror neurons suggest that as humans, we’re not soft-wired for aggression, violence, utilitarianism and self-interest (as one may think), but for sociability, attachment, affection and companionship. These studies suggest that the first drive is an empathic drive to belong.

And this makes sense when you think about the pain that’s felt by a person ostracised by peers, colleagues, family. We are social animals, we function better, feel safer and enjoy better mental health in a supportive group.

We evolved in communities and yet modern living has isolated us, split communities and reduced the size of the family unit, impacting already marginalised portions of our society.

We can all do our bit. Use mindful awareness to notice your inner dialogue, replacing recrimination with openness, judgement with acceptance, anger with patience. There’s no need to force anything, as the act of noticing a negative attitude can often be enough to transform it.

Be generous with your smiles, your authentic praise and your love. They cost you nothing. And you’ll be doubly rewarded: firstly, from the great feeling of expressing positive emotions, and then from the reflection of the other’s joy in your mirror neurons.

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