Reflections on the book, “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”.

When I was little, I was absolutely Daddy’s girl. He’s still one of the funniest guys I know. His silliness has no filter, knows no limits, and is completely devoid of any negative self-consciousness. It’s amazing. Besides his ability to make me spew milk at the dinner table with his antics, one of my favorite things to do with my dad growing up was to snuggle right up by his side and put my head on his chest. I would listen closely to the sound of his heartbeat, which I often thought of as a dense bouncy ball being bounced through water. I would try my hardest to breathe every breath with him….my tiny lungs trying to inhale as long as he did and exhale as long as he did.

It’s amazing to me how such a simple, everyday thing can connect people. It’s breathing. We do it all day, every day without even thinking about it. But then when we tune into it, we realize what all is going on…..maybe we’re angry, nervous, excited, shocked, surprised, happy, still. To be able to share that innate thing in that very moment is incredibly bonding.

Martin Casy passed a book he recently read and blogged about (read it here) to me called “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog”. I loved this book and quickly put it on my Amazon wish-list for Christmas. HIGHLY recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about overcoming childhood traumas, understanding more about cultivating healthy and supportive relationships, and discovering how to approach any kind of human endeavor (teaching, caregiving, parenting, etc) through the power of relationships.

The author, a child psychiatrist, writes in a wonderfully simple, easy to understand, engaging, and thoughtful way. I am still considering contacting him to go grab a coffee and discuss all that he has learned. Needless to say, I think this guy is amazing.

Anyway, my point….the author talks about mirror neurons. Since I find psychology fascinating and am familiar with what mirror neurons are, the things he talked about specifically relating to mirror neurons kept sticking out to me this week. The author told of his experience with a little boy who was being taken care of in a facility that caged him like a dog to prevent him from wreaking havoc around the place. This little boy’s fear and distrust was nearly palpable. In reflection, the author wrote, “because of the mirroring neurobiology of our brains, one of the best ways to help someone else become calm and centered is to calm and center ourselves first–and then just pay attention.”

Doesn’t this sound so similar to what we aim for in tango? In our current 5 week series, we have been talking about connection and embrace. Merely breathing in sync with a partner helps that connection and brings a sense of safety and comfort into the dance embrace. This in sync breathing is what these mirror neurons are doing in our brain. It’s why, as a little girl, I felt so connected, safe, loved, and cared for as I snuggled into my Dad’s chest.

Energy is infectious. Laughter is contagious. When someone is “on edge”, you somehow know to “walk on eggshells”. When someone is so joyful about something, you find yourself smiling even though it’s not particularly ‘your’ joy. These mirror neurons we have are powerful things. Whatever we are breathing in (living by), is what we are going to pass on to others. Some people call it ‘vibes’.

So these mirror neurons just may be extremely relevant for understanding the actions of others. After all, we learn a great deal of new skills through imitation. What kind of things are we sharing with others? What are we bonding through? Complaints? Celebrations? A sense of peace? A hurried need? A desire to take care of one another?

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