A recently published book, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense, offers us a new way to think about the relationships among mind, body, emotions, illness, and health. It describes the way the natural flow of emotions, based on the energetic processes of the body, is related to immunity, stress reactions, and various health-related conditions. This book is particularly valuable for anyone who is especially sensitive to the environment (light, noise, smell, chemicals), since it puts those experiences in a new context and helps us understand the benefits and side effects of being unusually sensitive.
The author, Michael Jawer, came to this new understanding of emotions and they role they play in our lives through an unusual path. He has ten years of experience in the office building industry, plus seven additional years working for the US General Services Administration, developing indoor air quality guidance for office building owners and managers. In that role, he researched sick building syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity, conditions in which some people feel unwell inside certain buildings for no clear reason, while others experience allergic responses to small amounts of chemicals and other environmental factors. As Jawer talked with many people who were experiencing these reactions, he began to think they might be more environmentally sensitive than the average person.
He then developed a ten-page "Environmental Sensitivity Survey" and invited people to respond. More than 50 did. The survey findings suggest that people with "sensitive" personality traits are more likely to experience long-standing allergies, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, depression, migraine, and sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells, when compared with a control group. They are also more likely to report apparitional perceptions. These characteristics and experiences were also more common among their immediate family members than the immediate families of a group of 50 control respondents.
"This book presents a breakthrough in our understanding of the role of emotion in health, and also in terms of living a full life," says Marc Micozzi, MD, PhD, medical editor of The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion. "It's important to emphasize that environmental sensitivity is basically a positive thing. It's an ability we all have. In this modern era, many people are taught to ignore it, but actually it is a great gift, something to be cultivated. That's why we refer to it as the sixth sense." Micozzi is on the faculty of Georgetown University School of Medicine, and is well known to Townsend Letter readers as the editor of the first US textbook for physicians on complementary medicine, Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, now in its fourth edition.
As medical editor of The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion, Micozzi reviewed the entire text. "Jawer came to me because he wanted it to be sound medically, and he wanted a physician with an open mind. Because of my past work, I'm able to view these findings without blinders, and see what they're really telling us," Micozzi says.
Some People Are More Sensitive
The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion is based on survey responses, interviews with people who experience a high degree of environmental sensitivity, previously published research in disciplines ranging from biology to anthropology, and consultations with numerous scientific authorities. It presents three main theses, in great detail:
Look at the whole person. Contemporary science tends to view the brain as the most important aspect of the human being, the director and controller. This book follows the view of psychoneuroimmunology, which suggests that the brain receives significant input from the rest of the body as well as providing direction to it. "We are not the sum total of our brains," says Jawer. "The person, the self, the psyche, is rooted in the body. Emotions – and the energy behind them – are evident throughout, linking everything together in what we might call the bodymind."
Feelings are the most important aspect of who we are. As long as we're alive, we are feeling something. "Our feelings are what make us human, more than our thoughts and mental activity," Jawer says.
Some people are innately more sensitive than others. This is due to a combination of nature and nurture, Jawer says. People may be sensitive to their own feelings, to other people's feelings, and to variety of environmental stimuli. "All these forms of sensitivity we believe are linked by biology," Jawer says. "All these sensitivities and have a common basis in the way the bodymind works, and are influenced by the way that we process our feelings."
Emotional Sensitivity Linked to Health and Illness
Jawer and Micozzi are working on a second book that will review a dozen common illnesses and look more closely at what types of sensitivities may be associated with them. "These sensitivities are not necessarily linked to illness, but they can lead to illness in certain environments, for example, when people are under stress," Micozzi says. The book will probably explore conditions such as migraine, severe allergies, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, depression, phantom pain, synesthesia, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
"The working title is ‘Finding Your Mind-Body Type,'" Micozzi says. "This analysis will give us a better understanding of which types of mind-body therapies will be most effective for people with specific kinds of problems. That's a missing link in mind-body medicine, since not everything works equally well for different people and varying conditions."
Many readers of the Townsend Letter are complementary-medicine practitioners. What will they learn from this book?
"They'll gain a wider appreciation for what's going on in the bodymind of people who are coming to see them," says Jawer. As people come into the world, they have a wide range of temperaments and personalities. While these are not immutable, generally there is a consistent set of reactions from infancy throughout childhood and adolescence. "People haven't appreciated how much of personality is based on the way a person handles their feelings, and the energy behind those feelings," Jawer says. "There's a very definite neurobiological foundation for this. People with thin boundaries experience a more direct, rapid flow of feelings. Literally, for these people the boundary between themselves and their environment is more permeable."
These differences in the way we literally feel – and how we express our emotions – translates to differences in the way we interact with friends and family, with our work, and with the world as whole. "This book is a call to physicians and all health practitioners to look at the entire person," Jawer says. "Not to look only at symptoms, but to connect with the whole feeling person who underlies the presenting symptoms."
Jawer, Michael A., with Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD. The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense. Foreword by Larry Dossey, MD. Park Street Press; 2009. ISBN: 978-1594772887.
A website associated with the book offers a great deal of background material, including journal articles by Jawer, profiles of people who responded to the Environmental Sensitivity Survey, and a copy of the survey that individuals can fill out themselves. For more information, go to http://www.emotiongateway.com.
Elaine Zablocki has been a freelance health-care journalist for more than 20 years. She was the editor of Alternative Medicine Business News and CHRF News Files. She writes regularly for many health-care publications.