As a Gemini-Libra-rising who grew up among the rolling hills and farmlands of Lancaster County, my mental landscape usually has a natural spacious quality to it, like a sunny, open meadow over which a brisk breeze plays. But ever since childhood, there have been times when I would get what I have come to think of as “lima bean brain.”
The brain is a funny organ. Unlike most of our other body parts, we don’t naturally have a sense of its internal physicality, its sensorial existence within our bodies. When I am too hungry or too full or merely digesting my latest meal, my stomach makes itself known to me by all sorts of internal sloshings, grumbles and gurgles. My lungs expand and contract and expand, working my ribcage and diaphragm like well-worn gym equipment. My heart beats in a steady rhythm, responding to rising tides of anger or excitement. I can feel my muscles stretch and tense as I move, the tiny hairs on my skin shifting with drafts in the air. Even my eyes and ears, sensory organs located so near the brain, and the thin muscles just beneath my scalp can feel sore or strained from overuse. But the brain itself… Lacking any pain receptors of its own, the brain is, to a certain extent, a mystery even to itself.
For the most part, my mundane way of functioning feels as if I’ve completely forgotten that the brain isn’t just the seat of “me,” the sense of individuality that I steer through the world in a stumbling, three-dimensional body. In other words, most of the time my brain just feels like my mind. I take every opportunity I can to expand this sense of “me,” to remind myself that it is both physical and porous, to include the whole of my bodily sensations in my experience of mindedness. (That is to say, I practice at re-minding my sense of self as an embodied self.) Many of my spiritual practices — hillwalking, dance, chanting and even the silent stillness of contemplative prayer — are designed to bring my wandering attention steadily back to the realities of this vital and sacred embodiment.
But then there’s lima bean brain.
The best I can describe it is this: the inescapable, palpable sensation that my brain is a small, undercooked lima bean that is both suspended in a dark, claustrophobic emptiness while also somehow being tightly wrapped (maybe “constricted” or “smothered” would be a better word) within a three-inch thick slab of meat. It feels for all the world like what the pineal gland must feel like. As if my mind has been temporarily siphoned off and reduced down into merely being a brain. The sensation can last for days, or only a few hours, but in either case it’s decidedly unpleasant (though not painful) and makes it hard to think straight — although perhaps only because it’s as difficult to think while physically feeling yourself thinking as it is to deliberately cross your eyes to look at the tip of your nose for any length of time.
In any case, here I am: awake at 3 AM with lima bean brain, bemused over how strange it is that evolution ever thought it was a good idea to try to teach meat to think.
Photo Credit: “a bunch of ghosts,” by Jim Hickcox (CC) [source]