Epigenetics and a healing path forward

The following article is written by Dr. Michael Allen. Dr. Allen serves as a Postsecondary Leadership Coach for OneGoal, facilitating learning experiences and providing one-on-one coaching for school and district leaders. He has spent 14 years serving as Principal at various schools in the Chicago area and was named 2020 Elementary Principal of the Year. Michael coaches countless school and district leaders on effectively implementing comprehensive mindfulness practices in their schools. He is a mentor, coach, and skilled researcher for various leaders and organizations specializing in emotional intelligence, equity, and school improvement. Michael and his brother co-authored the best-selling children’s book, Brotherly Love. He advocates tirelessly for ending policies that hold down students of color. He was the only contributing school leader on the Inclusive Education Act, mandating the teaching of pre-enslavement Black history to all students in Illinois, signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker in March 2021. Michael holds an Ed.D. in Education Administration and Supervision from Loyola University Chicago, an M. Ed. in Education and a B.A. in Sociology from Valparaiso University.

For virtually my entire life I’ve received countless messages that have implied things like you are what you eat, you are who you hang around, you are what you think and the list goes on. As I grow on my journey of emotional awareness, intellectual insight, and energetic flow I am learning that in fact, it is my perception of my environment that ultimately regulates my responses to my experience.

I have believed and told a story about my life for nearly thirty years that was only rooted in some of the facts. Whenever I asked, “What was I like as a kid?” everyone in my family always used words like focused, smart, athletic, shy, gifted, and countless others to describe me. But one day I stumbled into my own holistic truth about an inconvenient part of my childhood through an interaction with a mentee who shared a traumatic story with me.

As he explained each layer of his pain and the specific experiences that made him feel unprotected, I sat on the edge of my chair digesting every word. Suddenly, as he described an account of an experience in preschool, I was flooded with raw deep emotions rooted in debilitating fear, abandonment, isolation, and mistrust of virtually every adult that wasn’t my mother. The emotions led me down a rollercoaster of images where I could see my mother attempting to leave me in my preschool classroom day after day, but to no avail. As you can imagine, this was a lot to process in a conversation where I was supposed to be entrenched in providing support to my mentee.

After we wrapped up the discussion, I took the long scenic route home and I leaned into that experience. I realized, for the first time, that my seemingly picture-perfect educational journey was in fact imperfect, as I accepted that I repeated preschool as a direct result of my inability to cope with my childhood trauma. For at least a year, my amygdala (the fear center of the brain) was activated each time I attempted to come to school. Everyone in the outside world was perceived as a threat to me including my teacher, and rather than fight each day I needed to take flight. While inconvenient, there was a sense of peace that came over me in that moment of recognition and clarity as I made headway down Lakeshore Drive. I looked up at the skyline in the distance; I was relieved to find another raw layer of me through the acceptance of my truth.

Dr. Bruce Lipton wrote a compelling book titled The Biology of Belief. He defined “epigenetics” as the study of the human mind’s ability to communicate with the cells in our bodies through environmental factors that turn our genes on and off. Simply put, “perception controls behavior…life isn’t controlled by genes. It’s controlled by the signals in the environment.”

In other words, you can literally change yourself not through trying to alter your genes or your physical self, but by shifting your perception of your environment. How you see the world aids in your ability to alter the readout of your genes.

It is important to note that misperceptions have the ability to “mis-run” our genes. These, in essence, are our interpretations of the world that are inaccurate. Whether they are true or not doesn’t change the impact on our biology.

Your background can prohibit you from seeing certain things because your perception has direct implications on how you will interact with your environment. In essence, whoever and whatever controls the mind also controls the body.

If you really want to control your biology, specifically your interior health as well as your exterior reality, you have to recognize the power of your perceptions in shaping both your physiology and your life experiences.

Practice Understanding the Two Parts of Your Mind

In order to prepare for the mental fight that you will encounter each day as you seek to live your best life, you must understand how two important parts of your mind work.

1. Subconscious Mind — This portion of the mind stores thoughts that are often directly connected to experiences that we have been exposed to in life. These specific experiences and thoughts are stored in the subconscious mind like a tape player. These perceptions are recorded. The subconscious mind literally interprets a past behavior and replicates it in future new situations.

2. Conscious Mind — Despite what you may naturally suspect, the conscious mind is often the spiritual, creative, or free will inside of you. It is important to understand that it is a limited processor, and it is not as powerful as the subconscious mind. Whatever the conscious mind is not focusing on will be managed by the subconscious mind.

The point to drive home here is that with consciousness, you can override nature and nurture.

Are you ready to actively fight and establish a balance between your subconscious and conscious mind?

Round One — Read

I lovingly urge you to strategically increase the positive energy that you need in your conscious mind through reading self-help books, articles, lectures, or other motivational resources.

Round Two — Upgrade your circle

To address the first layer of the subconscious mind, you have to surround yourself with or increase the time you spend around positive people who will help push you to your highest level.

Round Three — Focus on the background noise

To reset the “tape player” in your subconscious mind; I encourage you to listen to affirmations with positive words. This can be positive music, recordings, or even videos that you have playing as the background noise when you are relaxing, walking, cleaning, or driving to work.

As I started to emotionally heal, I realized that lashing out at other people was rooted in a lack of love, dignity, and respect for myself. The moment that I accepted that I am lovable I began to see, hold space for and protect all parts of humanity.

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Dialogue with Pedagogues

Dialogue with Pedagogues

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