How it Really Works
All people pay some attention to the feelings and sensations created continually by the emotional system and the ad hoc activation programs. It does not have to be an unbearable headache or internal intestinal agony which draw our attention to the feelings and sensations of the moment. But, most people are not consciously aware of the fact that they have bodily felt sensations and feelings all the time, and that they attend to them within the margin of their awareness.
Most of them increase and decrease their level of awareness to this stream of inputs instinctively or as a reflex, with only a vague notion of the fact (except when the feelings are very intense). Usually, they hardly remember afterwards that they paid so much attention to those targets.
Only people who are in extraordinary circumstances, or those who are extremely exceptional themselves, remember in detail their paying attention to a target. Only a very few people who are not specifically trained to do so are wise enough to activate this behavior deliberately and voluntarily.
The general sensate focusing technique, and many other effective measures, which succeed in improving supra-programs of individuals significantly, activate the same system in basically the same manner - even when the persons involved are not aware of this fact.
Those who use these approaches do so by systematically influencing the way the people they work with allocate attentional resources. Intentionally or as a by-product, the reallocated attention is focused on felt sensations which result from the control components of ad hoc programs. (Sometimes, when people are unaware of the real way the emotional system works, it is done only "by accident" as the treatment involves activities which create hard to ignore sensations).
The following are a few pages intended to make the focusing of attention and other tactics of the technique more meaningful.
During my first year of formal studies in the field of psychology, I enrolled in a course of laboratory workshops. One of the sessions involved the demonstration of the ever-changing electrical conductivity (and resistance to it) of the skin. Each of us experimented with an instrument which measures the changes that occur in the resistance of the skin to a weak electrical current (called by the name of "Galvanic-Skin-Resistance" or G.S.R.). The changes in the measured resistance are mainly due to changes in the sweating intensities.
The slow changes in the secretion of the sweat glands are mainly due to general changes in the body temperature, fast ones are the result of the minute changes that occur in the activity of the "autonomic nervous system". A fast rise in the activity of this system and an increase in the secretion of sweat are physiological expressions of high arousal and fear.
Thus, in spite of its innocent name, this instrument is intended to measure emotional changes and not those of electrical conductivity. For this reason, it is included in the police polygraph (called by some "the lie-detector").
During the exercise, I had one of the instruments attached to my fingers and I started to play with it: first I only followed the minute changes in the position of the needle of the watch-like monitor; then I found that these changes were related to the content of my thoughts; after a short while I even succeeded in controlling the movement of the needle by systematically changing the contents of my thoughts, sexy thoughts moved it to the right and boring ones to the left.
A bit later I found that one need not use thoughts in order to influence the needle, as the intention alone, accompanied with concentration of attention, achieved the same results. Not much later I learned that I was not the first to discover this phenomenon, and that this physiological function is the easiest to measure and influence. The sensations of the body which are related to these functions are hard to discern in normal circumstances and a few of them are never noticed by untrained individuals.
A whole branch of research is dedicated to the task of training people to take partial control of functions of the body with the aid of measuring devices. This activity is usually called "Biofeedback Training". This name sums up the processes behind this phenomenon which consists of:
- A sub-system of the brain and mind system which supervises a physiological function and supplies (feed) it with an input, thus influences its intensity.
- Faint feedback from a part or a region or a site of the body (or brain) about the activation of that function (influenced by the input of the sub-system), supplied (back or in return) to the sub-system of the brain and mind supervising it, via natural channels.
- Substantial feedback about the activation of the same function, supplied to the same sub-system of the brain and mind, from the same site of the body or brain, via the visual or the auditory channel, by the instrument that measures this function.
The initial "Bio" is added to "Feedback" to create the term "Biofeedback" in order to distinguish it from the feedback processes of a purely technological environment.
Many processes of our body are evolving under the supervision of other processes of the organism. Processes are initiated, curtailed or change their level according to the input they get from their supervising processes, which in their turn do it according to inputs from other processes, including feedback from the supervised ones.
For instance, whenever the temperature of the body rises too much, the process which supervises the secretion of the sweat glands get an elevated "signal" from the heat receptors of the skin, and rises the level of secretion. Afterwards, as the temperature subsides, the suitable feedback supplied by the receptors causes the supervising process to reduce the sweat secretion.
Huge quantities of input and feedback are transferred in the body and the brain via the nervous system. Part of it is the new information about the world, most of it is internal - from one subsystem to all the other relevant ones. Sometimes the distances are very small, sometimes they are greater, but very few are easy to measure by instruments.
Though the study of the feedback processes by means of "biofeedback" training has existed for more than thirty years, there is still no detailed explanation in the public pool of knowledge. The usual explanations are an elegant evasion of the problem, embedded in the vague terms of "learning processes".
It is still a common habit to divide the various activities and processes of our body and mind into voluntary and involuntary processes, as a residual of past ignorance:
Included in the first are such activities as talking, moving, swallowing, thinking - and others we can activate as we wish.
In the second kind, are included those we are not clearly aware of and all these we cannot influence by sheer will-power - previously thought to be immune to voluntary influences. As for instance, the level of sugar in the blood, "brain waves", blood-pressure, the temperature of specific regions of the body, etc. We know now that we can influence all of them, but only using indirect means, and by attending to the various sensations of the body.
However, as it was found that man can influence via biofeedback training even the most subtle processes, the dichotomy and all the conceptualization around it were found to be not valid. The wonder, now, at the way one succeeds in changing one's brain waves through biofeedback training is neither more nor less than that aroused by the act of learning to ride a bicycle.
In spite of the philosophical and psychological difficulties, the dream-like experience of biofeedback training is worth while. Only the one who has experienced the change induced in measuring instrument by the intense concentration of one's attention and will - observed in the monitor of the instrument or in the auditory or visual signal it emits - can appreciate this in full. Only the experience of deliberately causing an unpleasant feeling to dissolve, solely by means of focusing the attention on it, can surpass that experience.
The incomplete story of the emotions and their management comes here to an end. The "theoretical" chapters were introduced in order to help you get a meaningful picture of the self-maintenance system of the operating programs of the mind. This picture may help you recruit your resources in order to treat your emotional system more wisely.
Doing it as recommended in the self training chapter 5, will improve your whole life so much that not only those around will find it hard to comprehend, but you yourself will be amazed. It is a pity no one can yet supply, the final piece of the puzzle which is the mechanism of the brain that writes new information on the new protein chains in the brain cells, and its complementary one - that reads the information already there.
next: Selected Bibliography
Last Updated: 22 July 2014
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD