“It is an apparent paradox, but it is not therefore the less true, that those ideas, or phenomena, that are most familiar to us, should frequently be the most difficult to explain. This is particularly the case with the subject of the present Essay.” An essay towards a definition of animal vitality: read at the theatre, Guy’s Hospital, January 26, 1793; in which several of the opinions of the celebrated John Hunter are examined and controverted.–Thelwall, John, 1764-1834
The phrase “animal vitality” has been running through my head lately quite a bit. I was on my way to a meeting yesterday morning and I experienced this incredible surge of something (power? energy? kunda-freakin-lini?) that seemed to start in my pelvis and blew straight through the top of my head…while I was driving. Driving, drinking coffee and listening to the Eagles of Death Metal. Surely this sort of thing cannot be safe! Help! This has been happening on and off at various times and I of course have no control over it. It especially seems to like to happen while I am driving. Sometimes I feel so full of energy and–well–“animal vitality” that my skin does not feel big enough to contain me. Part of my does not like this at all, surprise surprise. After spending decades feeling nothing due to being numbed out on one substance or another, this feeling is rather alarming. I am not just used to feeling much of anything, never mind feeling ecstatically good.
Of course, the science geek in me wants to get to the bottom of this. And, it being Sunday, I started thinking about Church. My mother is a fundamentalist Christian and as a child, I was terrified by people speaking in tongues. I was dragged to all sorts of prayer meetings where people were “slain in the spirit”, and let me tell you I did not like that shit one single bit. I found an article from the New York Times called “A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues” (which, by the way, is more properly referred to as “Glossolalia”):
“In the study, the researchers used imaging techniques to track changes in blood flow in each woman’s brain in two conditions, once as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues. By comparing the patterns created by these two emotional, devotional activities, the researchers could pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.
Ms. Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.
The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.”
Clearly, I need more meditation time and less driving time.