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Greased Lightning!


Winter, 2022


ULTRAMATIC? We don’t know what that means, but it sure sounds good!

It turns out these are evolving types of automatic transmission systems, i.e. transmission of the force of the engine into torque/wheel rotation-again, cycles :) When we want to travel faster, a higher gear is needed to transmit the force into the ground. Most of us take this for granted when driving.

Before automatic transmission technology, the driver had to “feel” the need to shift gears. There is a strain in the vehicle which is rather palpable when attuned to it. You can use the RPM meter to gauge the time to shift before you really feel it in your bones. Most of us can also feel it when the automatic transmission in our modern cars starts to “slip.” There just isn’t the same responsiveness that was available when it was new.

What does this have to do with pain and trauma resolution?

There is a similar feel of non-responsiveness in the body when the cycles of the body systems are “out of sync.” Whereas we used to feel ready to “get into gear” whenever it was required, somehow that ability has “slipped” away.

In the Autonomic (Automatic) Nervous System, the transfer of energy/force into the gears/mobilization network takes place in the Sympathetic branch. There is a sophisticated cascade of events with positive feedback loops to start and finish a bout of mobilization. This involves the Endocrine System’s network of hormonal glands to either reinforce or close the feedback loop. The vagus nerve, along with input from the other cranial nerves, could be thought of as the sensor (sensory part of the nerve) which along with the limbic system (reflexive emotional reaction) trips the switch to move into a higher gear when needed. Based on the environment, the body might be at rest, strolling/cruising, or running/fighting/racing. It might shut down if overloaded. The syndromal patterns of the body such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and auto-immune disorders signify an exhausted and/or faulty out-of-sync “sensor” or vagus/limbic interface. Often, the signal received and reflexively interpreted by the safety switch board is overstimulated/strained and/or old and out of sync with present day information.

Untangling the myriad of over-used, faulty, and past due connections in the safety response system is slow and deliberate work. However, it need not be dull. Learning to move into higher gear or rev up without slipping and/or moving out of high gear into a gentle cruise is a function of not only safety but motivation. Fear and excitement are the same neurological state but with different interpretations.

In the 1978 movie rendition of the Broadway Musical “Grease,” members of the T-Birds greaser gang feel defeated as they see a pile of junk in the late model car owned by Kenickie. How are they to survive the “Thunder Road” drag race? But head greaser Danny Zuko sees something spectacular.

His gut feeling is that by working together they can prevail as the winner and earn the praise and admiration of their peers. The gang engage in a group fantasy which inspires them to get going on the systematic work of rebuilding the car, dubbed “Greased Lightning.” This scene illustrates the capacity for the vagus nerve to not only assess gut instincts but also the social support network for signs of safety through cooperation. Danny’s enthusiasm for the possibilities turns the boys into a happy, cooperative, confident, and secure herd of greasers. The vagus nerve can convey to its Autonomic dance partner, the Sympathetic System, “Let’s go to work!” This well known musical/movie allows a wide interpretation of the Poly-Vagal Theory put forth by Steven Porges PhD. Feel free to research the theory for yourself if you enjoy the scientific particulars.

Fear is a valid emotion which keeps the organic vehicle of the body alive. However, when overused and habituated, it becomes a problem of its own. Instead of finding our mind-bodies hopeless and defunct, we can pull together and get to work finding enthusiasm in maximizing the automated processes to meet our personal needs for safety, stability, and joy.

Here’s the scene from “Grease Live”:

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