Updated: Jun 4
Ever needed to hit that big pause button on life? Ever wanted to hide, run away or just have some me-time but can't get away or it feels impossible to even know where to start? Need to work out how to shut out the noise of life? Want some quiet time to listen to your heart? Need some space to just sit and cry, let out a whole bunch of emotions? Then Key Spaces might well be for you.
I'm not ashamed to say I loved watching the sitcom, Desperate Housewives. And, in the first season, there was a scene that really struck me. One of the mothers, Lynette Scavo, is having a nightmare time looking after her kids, (who she loves dearly), and reaches her breaking point. She takes the children out of the house and bumps into her neighbour Bree Van de Kamp. She dumps her children on Bree explaining she has to escape, right now.
We later find Lynette sitting by herself in a football field, totally alone. It is here she breaks down into tears. Her friends find her and she opens up to them about her fears and failures, crying about her struggles and releasing her emotions. It is here she feels safe, safe enough to let go, to connect with herself, allowing the barriers and walls she put so much energy into keeping up, down, finally. The result? A release. Tears. Perspective. Freedom.
This was her safe space. This was her big pause button on life. This is what I call, a Key Space.
And here is your blog key:
Your safe space is your Key Space and your Key Space is your space.
It is where you give yourself permission to just be, to let go.
Have you ever got so stressed, overwhelmed, panicked, scared, angered, worried of losing control that you wish you could escape somewhere? Lynette did. And she knew the signs and knew she had to get to hers ASAP or risk doing or saying things she'd only regret.
Well, this is what your Key Space is all about. But not only for when your need is immediate, your Key Space, as one of your controlled environment places, is also a place you can go to regularly just to do your mindful breathing. In fact, the more you go there, the easier it will become to transport yourself there when you go to your controlled environment.
But before we go into explaining Key Spaces, there is one, mind-bending truth you need to get your head around because it bridges the gap between visualisation and making neurological and physiological changes. Your brain, cannot tell the difference between your deep inner thoughts and your outer reality.
Let me say that again.
Your brain, cannot tell the difference between your deep inner thought and your outer reality.
Now when I first heard this and later, understood it, my mind was blown away! Why? Because it was a total game-changer. Do we really poses the ability to make our minds believe something that isn’t actually happening? Maybe hypnotists are on to something.
Well, according to recent discoveries in neuroscience, yes we do. Isn’t that awesome? Isn’t that totally mind-bindingly crazy? I really do hope you think so because it has dramatic implications for our mindfulness and meditation sessions and potentially life-changing results for you and me.
Let’s look at this briefly. And I mean briefly! Before I tell you a story of my own.
The Placebo Effect Through many, many studies on the placebo effect, we know that the brain believes the thoughts of its owner, to the point where people under observation, who take a placebo without knowing, show the same or even better clinical results than those who received the real medication/treatment. The question is why and how is it possible?
The fact that the placebo effect is real, is not in doubt. Unless of course you are a pharmaceutical company and risk losing billions in revenue and therefore keep the test results of placebo trials out of the public domain!
So what about the why? I don’t have time here to go into too much detail and I’ll drop in a couple of book recommendations below which you’ll also find in the Key Books section. But let’s start with the why first.
The why, is possible because of the beliefs/thoughts of the individual. Beliefs are thoughts we have that marry a past knowledge with a future desire or possibility. The former is rooted in fact and the latter in hope. Those in placebo trials, who take a placebo but don’t know it, have a past amount of knowledge that tells them this drug/treatment works, (whether or not it worked for them or other people, doesn’t matter as this is about knowledge, so it does not need to be of their own experience), and a future hope that the present situation, will be different in the future, after taking the drug/treatment.
We know this belief is required, as when adding another control group to placebo studies, of those who know they are taking a placebo, it simply does not work. Or does it?
(Quick left turn).
Well, in cases where people are told they are taking a placebo, the results are actually the same as for those who didn’t know. Why? It appears to be because, at the time of being told, they also understand that there is every possibility the placebo could work, as studies have shown this to be the case. So it appears that the belief required is still there and attached to the hope.
(And back on the road).
So what is going on when we believe something? It’s all about the thoughts we have and the chemicals we produce in our brains with these thoughts. Thoughts, release chemicals, which in turn through interactions with neurons that produce proteins, which then produce physical changes in our brains and bodies.
An extreme example of this is seen in a 2002 study of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis patients*. In brief, 180 people took part in the study, with a third being the blind placebo group. All 180 patients went into surgery, had incisions made in the knee, and were in theatre for the full length of time, but only the non-placebo group received any surgical treatment. No arthroscope was put into the placebo group at all.
On following the whole group for two years at various intervals, no difference was shown between the test groups with regards to the pain felt or advances made in mobility. The brains of the placebo group, who believed the body had undergone the surgery, produced what was necessary for the body to change and be in line with the thoughts and beliefs of the host. See reference below for full study.
Now I could go on but I’ll reference a couple more books below for further reading should you want more evidence in the power of the placebo and how belief is key to helping the brain change our physiology.
What about the how?
So that’s the why - the belief. What about the how and what this has to do with Lynette Scavo and Key Spaces?
Once again, I can only oversimplify this as we’re entering the realm of epigenetics and neuroplasticity and there isn’t time to go into such huge areas of science. In short, our thoughts, (beliefs), produce chemicals in our brains, which in turn react with cells, (neurons), which go off to make neurological or physiological changes. Yes, our brains and bodies can literally change just through our thoughts! Isn’t that incredible? By doing this repetitively, so doing the same thing over and over or thinking the same things over and over, our brains prune and sprout neural pathways and connections. This is what we know as neuroplasticity.
When neural pathways and connections are not used anymore, (you decide to stop playing the piano), brain scans have revealed that the brain prunes them over time. Should you start learning a foreign language in that newfound spare time, neuroscientists can see that your brain sprouts new pathways and connections to allow this to happen. What’s also amazing, is that even just thinking about or watching videos of others practising the piano or swimming, causes the same neurons used when actually doing those things, to fire up as if you were physically doing it yourself! Neurons that fire together really do wire together. Another example of the power of your thoughts. And so our brains grow and shrink, prune and sprout, according to what we require of it. Your brain, just like your muscles when you don't use them for a period, atrophies.
Now that we understand a tiny bit more about how our brains can make changes due to an environment that doesn’t exist but it believes does, we can begin to understand how, when in our controlled environment of mindful breathing, using visualisation, that we can produce thoughts, to cause the brain to produce chemicals that create neurological and physiological changes.
Lynette's physiology changed in her Key Space. She relaxed. She cried. She felt relieved. She calmed and soothed herself. She unloaded her mind. Changes don't have to be big body-healing ones, they can also be big heart-healing ones. But, big body-healing ones can happen to.
My Personal Experience
Due to a series of sports injuries, I fully ruptured my ACL, (anterior cruciate ligament). This resulted in two knee operations, scans, photos and consultants providing me with options to have it fully rebuilt. But I decided that after a year of physiotherapy and crutches, I didn't want to go through it again and that I would work hard on stabilising my knee by building up the strength of the muscles and tendons so that I could live without an ACL. It just meant no more ice-skating at Christmas!
It was at this time I first started learning about the world of mind over body healing and neuroplasticity. I consumed a lot of books and medical papers and decided that I had nothing to lose by giving it a try, as I firmly believed it was possible. So, I set out for my body to self-heal my ACL!
A quick study of ACLs reattaching by themselves from a complete rupture will tell you this is impossible, so I really wasn't picking an easy first trial! But, what did I have to lose, right? The only problem was that I had no way of knowing if what I was about to attempt, had worked or not. I didn't have an MRI machine hanging around my house to test the results!
But, I spent the best part of 2-3 years, on and off, using my knowledge of body healing, through my controlled environment, during my times of meditation, using visualisation, convincing my brain that my ACL was fully attached and healed.
For years after, I had no real problems with my knee until 10 years later, after ending up on crutches again because I was struggling to walk, when I was diagnosed with early-onset osteoarthritis. Not what a young guy wants to hear.
But then something rather miraculous happened. After a year of x-rays, ultrasound and MRI scans, I had a consultation with my surgeon who sat with me and went through the MRI scan of my knee. Yes, that MRI scan I couldn't do at home. Looking at the scan together, she got to the middle of the knee and said, quite matter of factly, and there is your ACL. No, I said, that's not possible. Why she asked. Because I fully ruptured it ten years ago, that's why. No, that's impossible, she said. Yes I know, I said. We stared at each other and then at the scan. Well, she said, all I can tell you is that we are looking at a fully attached ACL. And I'm telling you, I said, that ten years ago, that was fully ruptured, I have all my hospital paperwork to prove it. Her final words? I don't know what to say.
Of course, I was asked to bring said paperwork to another surgeon, who wouldn't believe it until he saw it. So I did and they all concluded that it was impossible and that there was absolutely no sign on the new scan of the ACL having ever been detached, but, that, with the evidence in front of them, they had to throw their hands up and say something rather miraculous had happened!
Naturally, my mission for the next year or two after that was to get my brain to deal with the osteoarthritis!
You can have a super power!
Lynette Scavo was doing what we have all done at one time or other in our lives. She found a safe space, a time out space, a space that was other than the one she was always in. A space that represented peace, calmness, de-stressing, freedom. A space where the pain or trauma or stress stops building up. Now Lynette found her space in a football pitch. You may find yours in the woods, by a lake, in the mountains, by the ocean, in your bedroom, walking through the city. Unfortunately, others find it in substance abuse, sex or other addictive behaviours. Obviously, the Key Space I'm talking about here is the former, space-changing places. I will never forget how free and releasing it felt to stand on a cliff edge at Lizards Point in south-west England, totally naked, arms out, screaming to the ocean as I released my emotions. That was one hell of a Key Space!
If you were anything like me when people asked, what super power would you like to have, you would have said teleportation. The film “Jumper” was all about my super power fantasies! I thought being able to instantly teleport myself to the top of a mountain, a quiet stream, or a beach in Barbados or woodland in Canada, would be amazing. No travelling, planes, customs, and it wouldn't cost me a penny.
Well, Key Spaces are all about taking your controlled environment one step further and doing a Lynette or having a super power and transporting yourself to a space that for you, represents calmness, peace, tranquillity, de-stressing, freedom. And it uses the understanding of how the brain believes thoughts, as looked at above in the placebo effect, through visualisation. So you don't physically go there, you mentally go there.
It means transporting yourself to a place, and through mindfulness and meditative practice, believing you are there. This, in turn, induces the feelings of calmness, tranquillity, and engages your PNS and vagus nerve, enabling you to escape and even heal, either your body or your heart.
Through conscious, deep breathing, in your controlled environment, you can enter your Key Space. Your Key Space will be specific for you but in general, it could be similar to others. Mine is either on top of a mountain or anywhere by water.
More to come
This blog is an introduction to the concept of Key Spaces. In future blogs I will unpack some Key Space options you can choose from, explaining how to create them using visualisation - refer to blog 5 for more on visualisation. While in future Keycasts, I’ll lead meditations into a couple of these Key Spaces, to show you how to do it.
Key Spaces are part of your controlled environment breathing times. They are there for you to go back to again and again. They will help you build a better relationship with your PNS and bring down your general levels of anxiety. They will help you in building better visualisation tools. They will also help you develop better skills in meditating and elongating your breathing sessions.
Whenever you need a time out and need to hit that big pause button on life, your Key Space is a safe space you can choose to go to.
One caveat here. I have spoken with many people about self-healing over the years and a caution needs to be mentioned. I am not advocating you stop any medication, or agreed on plans you have with your medical practitioner, doctor, GP, therapist or that you stop attending key support meetings. Regarding my knee, there was nothing else I could do apart from more surgery. Same for my osteoarthritis. However, I am also practising this with other aspects of my mental health with regards to sleeping, but I am not on any medication and am not in therapy or working with any medical practitioner. If you are thinking of using this technique for a clinical or mental condition where you are currently receiving support, please do not stop the support or advice you are being given without consulting your key support person first. Similarly, if you think you may have a condition that requires professional intervention, please seek that out. Yes, I have read stories of people healing in miraculous ways through self-healing, but I have also heard stories of people dying or getting worse because they stopped their therapy or medication against the wishes and advice of their key support.
Neuroscientists know that neuroplasticity exists, but it is still a black hole of knowledge and they don't even know what truly triggers it yet. And here, I have barely scratched the surface of what we do know. We are at the beginning of our understanding of this part of science. So, by all means, pursue this with passion, educate yourself about it and give it a go, but please, when using your Key Space to self-heal, be sensible and seek proper, appropriate, professional council. Thank you.
You are the placebo, by Dr Joe Dispenza
The brain that changes itself, by Norman Doidge
How your mind can heal your body, by David R Hamilton