Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Lisa Wimberger. Lisa is the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute and a member of the National Center for Crisis Management and other care associations. She has a private practice of Neurosculpting in Denver, Colorado, specializing in helping clients with stress disorders. With Sounds True, Lisa has created a new six-session audio learning course, Neurosculpting: A Step-by-Step Program to Change Your Brain and Transform Your Life. She’s also created an audio program on Neurosculpting for Stress Relief, and is the author of a forthcoming book from Sounds True on Neurosculpting.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Lisa and I talked about Neurosculpting and how it’s a whole-brained approach to changing ingrained beliefs. We talked about how to quiet the limbic brain, the fight, flight, and freeze response in us, and activat[ing] the prefrontal cortex as a method for creating conditions that support brain change. Lisa also took us through a guided experience of Neurosculpting so we could experience for ourselves how to react differently in a stressful situation. Here’s my conversation with the developer of this new method, Neurosculpting, Lisa Wimberger.
Lisa, here at the beginning of our conversation, I’d love our listeners to know a little bit about your background and how your background informed the development of this method that you call “Neurosculpting.”
Lisa Wimberger: Well, the background is pretty eclectic. I started formal meditation when I was 12, and I’ve had a meditation practice, a steeped meditation practice, my whole life—self-hypnosis, and then self-directed reading and research when I was a teenager. I wouldn’t really call that formal, but then I did about four years of study with Ishaya monks, and that was more transcendental meditation. And then another four years with the Berkeley Psychic [Institute] curriculum, which was a lot of creative visualization meditational tools for the purpose of developing a heightened sense of awareness. I found very different purposes for those tools.
So the meditation background was there, informing a lot, but missing huge pieces—missing a way to help me apply more navigation capabilities in my own nervous system to the world. I was having some nervous system problems, and the meditation was helping me cope but not helping me heal. So then I decided, “Well, I better learn what’s going on in my body and my brain— ”
TS: So tell us what you mean, you were having nervous system problems?
LW: So when I was 15, I was hit by lightning on my birthday. Happy birthday! And I started having blackouts that summer, thinking they were fainting spells, and really only one or two happened in front of other people, so I was keeping it quiet. I was fainting in the bathroom and not knowing what it was, so I wouldn’t say anything.
But quickly, as the years went on, they got worse and worse, meaning I was waking up disoriented, I was waking up in a puddle, drenched. Did I urinate myself? I don’t know. I’m laying here, I can’t figure out why I’m here, or now I can’t get up because I have no strength or I have pins and needles, that feeling you have when your leg falls asleep. I had that all throughout my body, nauseous.
TS: Now, did you attribute these “nervous system problems” to having been struck by lightning?
LW: No, not for a long time.
TS: OK. Do you now attribute them?
LW: Yes. I do. I have not have that verified, but I have had some doctors say, “That makes sense.” So it turns out that as these [attacks] got worse and worse, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t really recuperate fast, so I’d have to lay in bed for hours and hours, sometimes a day. I was fortunate to have one in a doctor’s office in my early 30s, and I say “fortunate” because he gave me a diagnosis which then caused me to go study the brain. So this was how the thread was seeded.
So I had an episode in his office, it was a routine exam and I said, “Oh, I feel faint. I’m just going to faint like I normally do.” And I went out and I woke up to this frantic doctor telling me to breathe, and I’m disoriented and he’s got the loaded needle in atropine right at my heart [like] that scene out of Pulp Fiction. And it’s right there and he’s freaking out, and I’m in shock saying, “What are you doing?” And he told me, “You had a seizure and you flatlined.” And I was completely clueless and I said, “Well, I’m drenched, what happened?” He said, “Those are from the seizures.”
And that’s when it clicked. I said, “This has been happening since I was 15. I’ve been waking up drenched.” I’d been having tonic seizures, where your body goes into this paralysis and you’re almost frozen and you kind of curl inward. That’s a vagus response, the vagus nerve is responsible. In moments of heightened fear or stress, its job is to shut the heart down, to drop your metabolic output. It’s reptilian. So if a reptile is trying to evade a predator, it’s going to drop its metabolic output, so its heat drops so it cannot be detected.
So this is the same response. It’s a paralysis response with this vagus nerve. I had such a heighted vagus response—possibly from that lightning strike, which happened in the base of my spine, just frying my nervous system—that I’ve been having these episodes my whole life, a couple times a year, having seizures and flatlining on multiple occasions, three occasions that were witnessed where I had to be prompted to breathe and get the heart started again. But [there were] probably a lot more, by my memory.
So this diagnosis that was kind of sprung on me was a gift because I said, “Wait a minute. If something’s going wrong with my nervous system, I better go figure out how to manage this. Nobody’s told me how to manage it.” And the doctor’s response was, “Oh, well, there’s nothing you can do about a vagus condition. Stay hydrated, don’t squat in the garden—”
TS: There was no medication they could suggest—
LW: No, no medication, because it’s not epilepsy. So I didn’t have restrictions, but there was no medication, and these would hit out of the blue. Once in a food court in front of my daughter when she was three, and that was just really traumatic for her. One in my living room, the last time—that was the real meat of the worst of it. My husband had to get me breathing three separate times, which had never happened before. Normally the recuperation, once it kicked in, I didn’t have energy but I could still breathe.
But this time I didn’t want to. I just kept hearing this voice saying, “[Sighs] It’s easier not to. It’s just easy. And now you have to come back in and you have to deal with these pins and needles, and you have to deal with the fact that you’re not going to hold your bowels and you can’t get upstairs to go to the bathroom.” And my husband had to crawl with me for an hour out of the living room and up the stairs. I couldn’t even stand up. And I didn’t want to deal with that, so I didn’t want to start breathing again.
But he got me going and I thought, “You know, this is a primitive fear response. I think I can figure this out.” So I started studying a lot about the brain, got myself somewhat of a self-education and then I got certified in NeuroLeadership, which is some basic neuroscience and how fear and behavior translates into neurology. And then I went on to study about brains and neurons and synapses through the University of Jerusalem and medical neuroscience online courses through Duke University. And a lot of my own pursuit [and] self-study to understand my condition.
TS: So what did you learn about the brain that you were able to apply to your situation? I’m taking it that you haven’t had seizures for a period of time now.
LW: I haven’t had them since I wrote a new story for my nervous system.
TS: OK, so that’s what I want to understand—what you learned about the brain that allowed you to “write a new story.”
LW: Not to be a bad punner here, but it’s mind-blowing what the brain is doing. What I learned is that the brain is mapping and creating a story in every single moment. Often that story is a rehash of an old one that’s already created a pattern. Those are usually subconscious moments of rewriting. I’m rewriting, in this moment, based on my past experience, and I’m doing this at a subconscious level. And I’m using a lot of my brain’s resources to reinforce stories that don’t work. And I learned, through our gifts of neuroplasticity, that you can just undo it by the very same process if you understand a little bit about what the brain wants as candy, so that it sparks all of its learning neurotransmitters so it’s ready to take this new moment and make it a memory so that it can retrieve it again and again and again and create a new pattern.
The brain wants some real specific things to spark that dynamic, and it also wants some real specific things to move out of contracted fear response. Because when you’re in a contracted fear response, unless it’s a real fear, a real imminent danger in the moment, it’s usually not something in present time. It’s usually an old memory you’re accessing or a worry. And in those moments, whatever your experience will be will map to a fear charge, will map to this danger story.
So the brain needs some key aspects in place—
TS: OK, so tell me what you meant when you said the brain needs some candy. Let’s start with candy.
LW: Yes, brain candy. The brain wants a supported and robust fuel source for the prefrontal cortex. This part here [points to prefrontal cortex], we now know through neuroscience, gets very excited when we’re in our higher thought processes—when we’re in compassion and empathy and problem-solving and insight. This part has dominant activity, so much so that it shunts resources away from the fight-or-flight center in order to do it. So when this is online, the fight-or-flight center gets quiet. And vice versa is true—when the fight-or-flight center gets activated, it does so at the expense of fuel for here. So it’s this relationship.
So if I could find candy, triggers to the brain to start activating my attention centers in a non-threatening way, I will by default shunt fuel away from [the] fight-or-flight center. I will calm my fight-or-flight response. The brain likes novelty to do that. So we’re here talking, [in a] nice, safe environment. If in the middle of this taping a tiny little purple elephant comes into the room, no one in human history has ever seen an elephant like this before, it’s this big, it’s purple, it’s soft, it’s adorable, and it climbs up on your chair and sits on your shoulder, that’s what we’re going to remember about this interview.
TS: I would certainly remember that, yes.
LW: Right. And we might remember it even though it didn’t happen.
TS: I’m going to remember the fact that we just visualized a little purple elephant.
LW: Exactly! That’s your prefrontal cortex having candy, saying, “What?” When you are pulled out of the moment and fully into another one by the idea of, “What?” Curiosity. That’s candy for the prefrontal cortex.
TS: OK. So let me just see if I’m following you. So I want to activate my prefrontal cortex because in activating my prefrontal cortex, the fight-or-flight response calms down, and there’s the opportunity for some new story to be written? That’s the part that I’m not quite clear on. How is it that suddenly I’m open to a new story?
LW: Well, you have a harmony of learning neurotransmitters at that moment synergizing in a sweet spot, the spot of learning and memory. So in those moments of hijacked attention to a non-threatening experience, you are stimulating dopamine and norepinephrine and acetylcholine in a beautiful harmony that does this: it turns down the static. That’s what dopamine is doing. It amps the relevant signal. That’s what norepinephrine is doing. And then it stamps that into memory. That’s what acetylcholine is doing.
So it’s like tuning into a radio station. In those moments, you have an opportunity to think a new thought that will become lasting. You have an opportunity to do something novel in your body or in your environment that will become a memory that can stick.
So in those moments of mind candy, when the fight-or-flight center is quiet and you’re distracted, if you were to take three seconds to think something better—“Wow. I’m getting healthier every day”—or to think a story—“Today I feel good”—whatever little story you want to plug into those moments now becomes content loaded into a rich learning environment that then, over time [and] repeated enough, becomes a groove and a default. Now you wake up in the morning and you default to, “I feel good today,” instead of defaulting to, “Oh, I didn’t pay those bills last night.”
TS: So let’s take an example that perhaps you’ve worked with quite a bit, which is some example of trauma of some kind, because I know you’ve applied Neurosculpting to trauma. That’s an instance when someone has had some kind of physical or emotional trauma [and] they have the same fear-based response whenever they’re in a situation that triggers it. How would you work with somebody who has some type of trauma history to Neurosculpt out of that?
LW: That makes up a large part of my private practice. And for those, we do the Neurosculpting meditations. So I’ll give you an example. Someone comes in [and] they’ve been traumatized in relationships and now they have a fear of—
TS: That one works, probably for most of us. For most of us that works. “Someone left me, someone betrayed me, broke my heart. Something terrible happened.” It’s never going to happen again, incidentally.
LW: Right. So, they come in and I run them through a meditation. And in this meditation, I give them a few [guided] minutes to breathe and focus on nice, autonomic, predictable mechanisms in their body. Breathing in and out—very predictable, very consistent. The rise and fall of the belly—very consistent.
Why is it important to spend some time focusing on autonomic, consistent responses? Because the brain likes to predict things. And if reality can meet the prediction, [the] brain calms down. So if I let the person focus for a few minutes on, “Everything is exactly as it should be,” then their fight-or-flight comes down a little bit. When that happens, now I know their prefrontal is ready to get involved because there are resources available to do that.
So then I’ll guide them to notice—I’ll have them sometimes put their hands in this odd interlaced position so it feels unique and I’ll have them focus on the unique feeling of this novelty. I’ll have them focus on random parts of their body that they don’t normally—more novelty. So I’m kind of throwing candy at their prefrontal.
And that’s all in the first five minutes. Then we tell the story. Because now I know they’re here, they’re calm, they’ve got a sparked attention center with ripe learning neurotransmitters ready to take the story we’re about to create and file it as memorable. So in that story I will have them identify the emotion or the feeling or the experience that was triggering them. I’ll have them label it. I may even spell it for them. I may even define it very concretely, because I want their left hemisphere—analysis, logic, reasoning—to be invited into this process.
So now they’ve got some stimulation in the left hemisphere and they’ve got a concrete idea. But now I want their right hemisphere to get involved, too. I want bilateral stimulation the whole time—a whole-brain approach to creating a new story. So what I do is I have them imagine that word, that label, that feeling. Now, what color would it be? Would it be a texture or a vibration? Create an abstract association for that. Now the right hemisphere gets involved.
So now, remember, we’ve quieted the fight-or-flight center, we’ve activated attention centers, ripe learning neurotransmitters. Now we’re taking an old story and we’re enabling bilateral participation. And so once they get the color or the texture of that concept, I have them imagine, like you’re looking through your transparent body, where might that be hiding? They imagine, they find it, and I give them some cues that they can let it go or encapsulate it and get rid of it.
And while they’re imaging that, they’re creating a story that renegotiates their old relationship with that emotion. But they’re creating that story with full-brain participation. Well, when I say “full-brain” I don’t mean every part of the brain, I mean bilateral participation. And then I give them somatic cues. If they imagine that they’re holding this somewhere in their body, they’ll get a somatic cue. Tap that area with your non-dominant hand.
OK, so if they go to use their non-dominant hand, their prefrontal may get activated again. “Oh, that’s novel, I don’t usually use this hand for that.” And we now know that adding in a somatic experience to a story enhances the plasticity, the sticking power of that story. So now they’re getting associative hand motions and gestures that are part of this story of, “I’m allowed to get rid of this,” or, “I’m allowed to renegotiate this relationship.”
So again, just to back up: quieted fight-or-flight, activated prefrontal, asked left and right hemisphere in an alternating manner to be part of this story creation. And then at the end, they get to label in their mind this meditation. And then they can reference that, day to day, in a very application-based way. So I just wrote a new story about, “All right, I’m not going to be betrayed in relationships anymore. It’s not so bad. I let some of that betrayal go. I’ve made some room. OK, I feel good for five minutes. Now what?”
OK, well I labeled it, and I also tapped. So tomorrow, when I’m triggered—and I don’t have time to meditate, because I have a real life and real things to do, like work and cook for my daughter. So what do I do with this? Oh, I can throw some candy at the prefrontal to get it active. All right, how do I do that? Maybe I’ll brush my teeth with my non-dominant hand. In that moment, I already know I’ve got activity happening here. It’s novel, it’s unique, I have to slow down and pay attention. It’s not threatening, so I’m not in fight-or-flight. And in that moment, I know I’ve got these learning neurotransmitters ready to strengthen whatever thought I pull up in this moment.
So I go remember the name of the meditation I did yesterday or I tap. I reference the story I created with structure. I reference it the next day, when my prefrontal cortex is ready to map anyway to a non-threatening stimulus. And then I do that all day long. So I have these programmable moments all day long. When you reach for the cup and the handle is here, turn the cup so you’re forced to stop and renegotiate and slow down and pay attention to what you’re doing.
TS: So is it fair to say that Neurosculpting is working with affirmations, if you will, to a completely different level? Because you’re making sure that the brain and the body are actually going to be receptive. You know, people have been talking, for several decades now, [about,] “Put a little Post-It up on your mirror. Put a Post-It up on your computer screen, on your refrigerator. Remind yourself of all of these things.” And I think some of the feedback is some people have had success with that, but a lot of people haven’t had success with affirmations.
LW: Those Post-Its make me so angry. There’s a lot of be said about mantras and those affirmations. They work, absolutely. But they absolutely do not work if you are not primed to buy that story.
TS: So is that why the little Post-Its make you mad?
LW: Yes! They make me mad because—here’s how I grew up with my formal meditation practice: an aggressive, cynical, judgmental New Yorker—me—going into this meditation workshop. And I’m stressed and I’m jaded, and I walk in and I’m told, “[Breathes in and out] Just breathe in love!” Are you kidding me? I’m so far from understanding even how to get there, now I’m more mad because I can’t do it. And I’ve got failure all over—“I can’t do this.”
That’s what the Post-It notes do for me. When I wake up in the morning and I have a note on my mirror that says, “I am fabulous,” but I woke up broke, tired, exhausted, hungry, looking for a job because I’m unemployed, I’m not going to believe that note. So how does it work? It works if you come to that belief mantra or affirmation when your resistance is down, when your fight-or-flight center is quiet, when your default mechanisms have stopped yelling at you.
So in order for that Post-It note to deliver its powerful message, you have to first be in a prefrontal disposition or you will not believe it. So yes, they work for those who are lucky enough to intuitively know how to be in a prefrontal disposition—a learning moment that’s one of open receptivity. But most of us default to fight-or-flight or resistance, and so those Post-Its are empty words. But they’re really powerful if we calm the fight-or-flight center first.
TS: Now, is it as simple as brushing my teeth with my non-dominate hand, that my prefrontal cortex will get activated just by that very simple act? And—and this is important—if I do this every day, won’t it become not novel anymore?
LW: Well, no, it’s not as simple as that, and yes, it becomes routine. But it’s a mechanism in a larger process.
TS: So what am I going to do? Aren’t I going to become a crazy eccentric? Not only am I [brushing with the other hand], I’m walking backward down the halls. “What’s Tami doing? She’s walking backwards to the bathroom!”
LW: I have done that! [Laughs] I have walked backwards upstairs. So yes, that will also become a new default and pattern, and then you have to do something new. It’s not as simple as that. It’s multiple pieces coming together. It’s 1) knowing more about how your brain will default to stress and fear if you are not aware of those signals, so it’s some informational knowledge, some awareness, some brain knowledge; 2) it’s creating a new story in a Neurosculpting meditation that you can then reference during those novel moments; 3) it’s remembering to create those novel moments over and over again; and 4) it is regular exercise so that you have the endorphins and growth hormones stimulated in your brain that enable all of this; and 5) it is diet. And if you are predominantly starving you brain of its key structural building blocks, you won’t have the raw materials for this.
What does that mean? It means neurotransmitters are built off proteins and amino acids. If you’re not eating a diet where you get your essential amino acids, you’re not going to have to building blocks for these learning neurotransmitters to function the way they’re supposed to. Your brain is 60 percent fat. If you’re not consuming high-quality fat—olive oil, fish oil, avocado, those kinds of fats, coconut oil—then you’re starving your brain of the mechanisms it needs to send these signals efficiently.
And if you’re fueling mostly on sugar, then you are in support of a fight-or-flight disposition to the world because you’re in support of these spikes and dips of your blood sugar, which then release and elicit stress hormones, which then feed back into a stress cycle. So it’s not as simple as brushing your teeth, but that’s a piece of it.
TS: Now, one of the things I’m curious about, in your own story, your own biography, is since you started working with Neurosculpting, have you found yourself potentially starting to enter that state where you might have one of these seizures? [When] you feel it coming on, [are] you able now to interrupt it with everything you know? And can you tell me how you do that?
LW: Yes, I’ve interrupted three. So what I did after the last worst time was I spent a couple days initially in bed going into a Neurosculpting meditation where I rehearsed over and over again with graphic detail what I would do in that fraction-of-a-second moment when the next episode came at me. I rehearsed not passing out. I rehearsed fighting and yelling and battling this.
And then I rehearsed that over and over and over again. Even when I was feeling fine, I would go into a meditation and rehearse my script for what I would do if this came again. Because typically there was a fraction of a second warning, just enough time for me to realize, “Oh no!” and that’s it.
Well, with enough rehearsal of this story, while I was calm and not triggered, it was about a year after the worst episode. I was very stressed. I was having an argument and I got in the car, in the passenger side of the car, and the wave was coming. This was, “I’m not even going to have time to put my head down. I’m going to either throw up or I’m going to pass out. And it’s coming.”
And because I had rehearsed this new script so much the whole previous year, [snaps fingers] something clicked. It finally became a story that I could access very subconsciously in the moment. Something clicked and I yelled. For the first time, I yelled when an episode was coming instead of [just receiving] the episode. And in the yelling, a barrage of profanity came out of my mouth that I wasn’t even conscious of. A whole litany of—I don’t even know what, blaming, arguing, fighting against something, someone.
But I didn’t pass out. I was shaking, I was totally unstable in my body, but I didn’t pass out. And I viewed that as a huge victory. And so then I rehearsed that story even more [in] the months following that because I thought, “It worked! It worked!” And then two more times, the wave came, and it didn’t even get as far as me having to yell. The wave came and I just shook it off. I shook it off.
TS: So it sounds to me, as I’m listening to you, that you could apply Neurosculpting to almost anything that somebody has a challenge with. So let’s say somebody has some kind of challenge about public speaking. They’re afraid that they’re going to go onstage and freeze and nothing’s going to come out of their mouth when the audience looks to them to begin their presentation. You could rehearse this in the meditative state and write a new script of some kind.
LW: Yes. I believe so. I mean, I can’t prove that it would work for everything, but I use it for every realm of my life, and at the Institute and in the private practice, I have people of all walks of life coming in for different reasons. Some come in because they’re stressed and they want to just navigate those stress moments. Some come in with addictions, and I’m not a therapist so I’m clear to let them know it’s not therapy, but they come in for the meditations and for some of them, it works really well. I have people coming in with traumatic brain injury who want to exercise a new story around their possibilities, or even just stimulate their brain in a different way.
TS: So let’s talk about the addiction one for a moment, because that’s really interesting. So let’s say somebody’s trying to stop any addiction. There’s a way that they would start working with an interruption pattern when they felt the addictive behavior coming on? Can you explain how I would Neurosculpt out of an addiction?
LW: Yes. So I’ve had a woman come in recently to quit smoking. And I was clear to tell her, “I don’t know if this is going to help you quit smoking, but clearly you already have a story that every time you light up a cigarette, you’re self-deprecating, you’re upset at yourself for having failed at resisting. You have a whole bunch of stress-related stories that are negatively biased when you smoke, and you have a whole set of negative stories that lead you to light up the cigarette.” And she said, “Yes.”
And I said, “Well, we can work on those stories. Whether that affects your addiction or not, we’ll see. But clearly, if you’re pulling up a lot of the negative stories during the act, let’s go rewrite some of those stories so maybe the act itself doesn’t become the validation. It doesn’t hook into anything anymore.” And in her case, she had great success right away. I haven’t seen her back since.
And I’ve had other people addicted. I have less ability to help people with addiction [to] like, hard drugs. I’ve had meth addicts come in and I can’t work with them because I’m not in a role to sustain what kinds of reactions they can actually have. But in terms of the smoking, we go to, what stories are you engaging in and reinforcing when you act upon that? Let’s work at the story level. And then, if you renegotiate the layers that lead up to something, it’s possible to then have a brand new relationship with that something.
TS: Do you think it would be possible right here to give our listeners a taste of Neurosculpting? Just a brief taste of what it might be like?
LW: Yes. It’ll take—I don’t want to short-change the first couple minutes, so maybe like seven minutes?
TS: Let’s do it!
LW: All right, let’s do it! OK. So wherever you are, just get comfortable and gently close your eyes. Allow for your thoughts to come and go. You don’t have to stop your thoughts, but just spend a minute noticing your breath, your in-and-out breath, which, incidentally, was breathing itself all the while we were talking. Noticing that your lungs rise and fall consistently with your in-and-out breath. Noticing that your belly rises and falls and that this process happens with or without your attention—effortless, consistent, very predictable.
And with each breath in, you might allow yourself to get more and more comfortable as you realize gravity invites you to sink more deeply into your chair. Noticing that gravity, with or without your attention, invites your bones to get heavy and your muscles to relax as much as possible. Maybe you notice also that you are safe enough to be listening to this right now. That you are sheltered enough to be listening to this. And that your needs are met enough to be listening right now.
And from this space of effortless breathing and safety, you might notice that your attention can go anywhere you direct it to go and your breathing will continue. So maybe you just bring your awareness to the backs of your knees. Noticing them, maybe, for the first time today. Maybe noticing your right ear and then your left. And from this space, you can be assured that anything that happens in this story is for you to adapt or discard or manipulate as you see fit. This is your experience that you get to create.
If you could draw to mind from this space right now maybe one stress that might be on your mind today. Maybe it’s a pattern of stress. Maybe it’s financial, “I can’t pay my bills.” Maybe it’s, “I’ll never get ahead at work.” Maybe it’s simply the same argument you’ve had a hundred times with your spouse. And maybe you imagine that experience, maybe you see it vividly or maybe you just label the emotions that it brings up. Maybe that’s frustration or maybe that’s anger, A-N-G-E-R. Maybe that’s stress, S-T-R-E-S-S.
And if you could imagine what color, what texture or vibration that experience would be, what would that be for you? Would it be black and oily or sharp or metallic? And if you could look right through your clear, transparent body as though it were made of glass, I wonder where you might imagine this color or texture hiding or taking up space in your body? Maybe you imagine it everywhere. Or maybe it’s just in your shoulders or your head or your chest.
And as your breathing breathes itself, and as gravity still supports you completely, I wonder if you could create or imagine a receptacle or container out in front of you that could collect all this up. What might that look like? Would it be a garbage pail? Would it be a bubble? And maybe you even notice what it would take to imagine some or all of this color, this vibration, being drawn out of your own body being collected up by this container.
Release, R-E-L-E-A-S-E. And as your breathing breathes itself and as much or as little as you are releasing, if your awareness goes to areas of your body, you are invited to tap those areas of perceived release with your non-dominant hand. And as your breathing still breathes itself, if you would like to take that container, when it’s full, and dispose of it, I wonder what that would look like. Would it be sent out to the center of the universe and blown up? Or would it be recycled? Or would you simply erase it?
And I wonder what part of you might even experience a little more space. And in as much as you might have created some space today, you can create even more every time you reference this story tomorrow and the next day, the next week, the next year. And if you could choose a name or a label for this experience, a word or a phrase that you could think of in your day-to-day that would remind you of some or all of this experience, I wonder what that would be or what that word would look like written in your own handwriting. Or what it would sound like if it were sung to you.
You can being to bring your awareness back to your breath, still breathing itself with or without your intention. Your body’s still supported by gravity. Inviting gentle movement into your fingers and toes, and when you feel ready, you can end your meditation.
TS: One question for you, Lisa: Why did you spell the words “release” and “stress” when we got to that point?
LW: My experience with meditation has been that it’s very encouraging of the right-brain experience, the letting go, the drifting, the no-space, no-time. And for me, that marginalizes my left hemisphere. It shuts down the part of my brain that wants to know cause and effect, logic, reasoning. So if I allow the left brain to participate at key points, it doesn’t try to hijack so much.
So I will spell words. I will ask you to imagine the words written out. I may use numbers. I may ask you to concretely imagine and label something. This is all left-brain engagement. And I don’t want to marginalize the left brain in a meditation because for me that’s been the stumbling block.
TS: This is very interesting. So some meditation techniques are only interested in the right brain, just letting all of our sense of tracking—letting all of that go. But what you’re doing with Neurosculpting is different. You’re really looking for a whole-brain experience, is that correct?
LW: Yes. I want the left brain and right brain to participate equally, back and forth. So a few different times I spelled a word or threw a word in there that I asked you to concretely think about or look at, because the more you create this cross-talk in this ripe environment, the more you’re enhancing your ability to create a new story. We don’t want to default to what we always default to.
TS: Now, tell me how you came up with the term “Neurosculpting.” That’s a term that you came up with for your work.
LW: Yes. Well, I have been teaching this for a long time. And I was teaching these workshops locally in Denver and advertising and marketing heavily for meditation workshops. And I would have meditators not come because, well, they already know how to meditate. And I would have non-meditator not come because, well, “I can’t go to a meditation workshop. I don’t know how to meditate.”
So I wasn’t reaching my target audience. And someone said, “Well, you need a better name than ‘meditation.’” So I thought, “Well, I don’t know what that is.” So I meditated. I said, “All right, what am I doing here? It’s something different. What am I doing? And I got the word “Neurosculpting” in the meditation and I said, “Oh! Neurosculpting! Let’s advertise my next workshop as that.” A whole bunch of people showed up and they said, “What is this?” And I’m thinking, “It’s what I’ve been doing for a long time, but now it has an encapsulated word.”
What the word means for me is it’s a left-brain, right-brain mash-up in the word itself. “Neuro-” is very left-brained. We think of that as a science term. And “sculpting” is art. And it just came so perfectly as the balance between left and right, and it just encapsulated what I was doing.
So I started using that word and I had several people that I love and respect [who] are in the meditation community [who] said, “That word is so good I’m going to use it if you don’t trademark it.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And they said, “You need to trademark it.” And I had no intention of doing that until enough people told me to do it and I said, “Oh, I should trademark it.”
TS: Now, I know you’re working on a new book with Sounds True on Neurosculpting, and in the first draft of the book that I read, there was a very interesting statement that you made that I really liked, which is, “We each have a queen card that we can play.” And I’d love for you to talk a little bit about what you mean by that, the queen card.
LW: That came out of one of my meditations. For me, that meditation was around finding my power. I had been in some lifelong relationships that were not healthy for me and I was disempowered in those relationships. And one of them was very old, and it wasn’t a current relationship I was in anymore, but it defined and encapsulated some patterns of disempowerment for me, patterns where I didn’t speak my truth, patterns where I wasn’t really myself in all moments, patterns where I was hiding pieces of me because I thought they would be invalidated.
And I went to do a meditation to get rid of this, and in the meditation, I was shown this deck of cards and there was one missing. It was the queen card. And I had to, in the meditation, go on a search for that card. And when I found it, I filled up. I filled up all the pieces that I had been looking for in this unhealthy relationship.
For me, the queen card is the power card, your inherent power. Now, maybe it’s [the] king card, too. Maybe it’s even ace or whatever. But for me, it was—
TS: The joker, in some people’s power framework.
LW: Yes! For me, the card that I was hiding, the card that was eluding me, the piece of me that was pivotal to me showing up, happy with who I am—for me, that was the queen card.
TS: And how does the method of Neurosculpting relate for you in owning your queen card?
LW: When I feel limited—whether that’s insecure, self-doubt, questioning, not enough, whatever those stories are—I absolutely go to Neurosculpting to write a new story. First, I find where the old one is hijacking me. Where is it consuming space? Because that’s a lot of energy it’s taking up. That’s a lot of resources and contraction it is commanding. I will remove it similar to what we did just now.
Then, after I’ve made space, I’ll create a new story. And that story is either remembering times where I was showing up fully and revisiting those or creating a new one where I notice what attributes I might feel if I were feeling full. And I would label those and then equate those to colors and fill my space in with those, crafting the effect that I would like to have at my disposal when I go into limitation.
TS: Now, one of the things I’m really curious about, Lisa, is it seems that each of us can identify certain limiting beliefs in our life that we’re aware of. I’m aware that there’s a part of me that feels unlovable. I’m aware that there’s a part of me that thinks I might never be able to do this or that, even though I want to. So I can identify these limiting beliefs.
But it also seems that we have unconscious limiting beliefs. We don’t even know what they are, but they’re clearly obstructing us because we can look at our lives and say these things aren’t working. Something’s happening [but] I’m not even conscious of what these limiting beliefs are. How can we work with those unconscious beliefs? And can Neurosculpting help with that?
LW: Yes. So, for instance, if a client comes in and they have general apprehension or fear of, let’s say, public speaking, and they don’t know why, clearly there’s an unconscious story informing that experience. We don’t need to know why. We only need to know, what would you like to change? What effect would you like to experience as your default? And we work around creating that.
Sometimes in creating a new story about how we would like to relate to the world, sometimes the old story actually reveals itself to us, which is great. And if it doesn’t, sometimes it just goes away because we’re exercising a new story.
So unlike with therapy, which is what makes Neurosculpting different than therapy—sometimes, I think, in therapy, you need to know why. In Neurosculpting you don’t need to know why. I don’t need to know your back story. I don’t need for anyone to share, in a vulnerable way, that which they don’t want to share or they don’t even know how to voice. I just need for someone to say, “I’m limited here, I want something different.”
So we prime the brain to create a story that makes something different possible. And they develop that as a relationship in their mind and they exercise it. And eventually, that can show up as a counter to the old story. And if they choose it just once, then the old story weakens even more. And so it’s not so important that we understand or know the unconscious storyline.
TS: Why do you think sometimes some people seem incredibly invested in a painful story?
LW: [Sighs] Don’t we all, at times. My belief is that the unknown is far more threatening to the brain than the known, even if the known is painful and unhealthy. So, for instance, I said earlier the brain’s a prediction machine. Its job is to predict based on what we’ve previously experienced, what we should experience, and how to negotiate that before it happens so we are efficient. It’s how we learn motion. Our cerebellum is a prediction machine. Everything about us takes a moment, stamps it in time to reference it, to progress with grace and fluidity.
However, we get stuck in patterns in prediction. So if I have to entertain something new or different, my brain cannot predict how that’s going to go, and it’s very easy to go into fight-or-flight at the mere thought of change. Even if change is supposed to be positive. Even if someone has laid out before us all of these great things [that] are going to happen. We’re easily triggered into worse fight-or-flight at the unknown than sticking with the old, ugly pattern.
This is why corporations spend tons of money on change management experts to come in when they have to make one small change. You have the potential to trigger an entire organization—
TS: I’ve seen it! I’ve seen it in myself and in our organization here, yes.
LW: And this is because we now know the prefrontal cortex triggers highly at uncertainty. Uncertainty can be recognized or labeled in two ways: “Oh, that’s interesting!”—novelty, or more easily, “Error!” So we more easily default to uncertainty equaling, “Error: we’d better protect ourselves.” So I have a lot of people who say they want to change, but the fear and paralysis that comes with the change for them seems more painful than staying in a horrible situation.
TS: How can Neurosculpting help me flow easily with the changes in my life? Good changes, bad changes, the uncertainty of change?
LW: Recognizing that change will do this. And then taking extra time to nurture the dynamic—before, during, and after. So you’re going into an organizational change? Eat well, eat balanced, reduce your carbohydrates, make sure you’re getting great fats and proteins going into that change. Make sure you’re sleeping enough. Do some Neurosculpting activities around [that change] If change were to trigger fear, what could you do with that fear? How could you release it? So you get a relationship with being able to release the fear and then creating the story of what that change might bring, whatever that story is, and exercising that one.
TS: Now, we started our conversation, Lisa, and you talked about how you were struck by lightning on your 15th birthday. It kind of sounds like a movie, especially because from that event, these seizures occurred, and then this whole Neurosculpting methodology emerged from your own need to work with your health situation. How do you see the mythos, if you will, of your life? I mean, [about] how strange this is?
LW: You know, I perceive myself to be very grounded, super responsible, financially responsible, conservative in that I don’t take risks for my family, for myself and my daughter and my husband. I perceive myself to be a very grounded individual, but then when I look back at my life, I say, “How is that possible?” Because my life feels, to me, like a complete dream.
This lightning strike—I had to ask people if it really happened. There were 10 kids there, they all saw it. I still didn’t believe it happened. And over the years, I had to call my friend and say, “We really got hit, right?” And she would say, “Oh yes. You flew through the air, off the garage door, and you landed face-first in the dirt with Robby,” who was standing next to me. And I said, “OK.” And I emailed Robby years later and said, “This really happened, right?” And he said, “Oh yes.”
Even before I was writing that chapter in my first book, I said, “I know the mind makes up all sorts of stories. Let me call my best friend one last time. Clearly this has defined my life. I just need to make sure that I’m not BS-ing here. I called her and I said, “This is my recollection of that day. Please tell me where I’m off.” She said, “No. This is exactly what happened. You can stop asking me.” OK, this really happened.
A lot of these defining moments in my life feel very dreamlike and I never question the visions they give me. I think that’s the power of the mythos. When I have visions—and I don’t mean I’m struck in the middle of a conversation and I’m having a vision—when I meditate and I’m open to what the meditation brings me, when those are clear enough, I do not question them, even if they turn me in a different direction. This happened with my work with [police] officers. This is the power of the mythos.
So that strike, mythologically, I guess, charged me to recognize what I was supposed to do and do it, even though it wasn’t always conscious. So, quick example, I was working in the corporate world and knew I had to bring these tools to those in trauma. I’ve been working with my nephew, whose father was an officer, and helping him deal with that. And I was driving home from work— well-paid, good job, supporting my daughter as a single mother, should have no inclination to leave the job—but I’m driving home [and] two times in one week, this vision happened. I drove through this intersection and there was this flash of an officer putting a vagrant in the back of a patrol car, and he pulled his hands back and there was black just crawling up his arms and he was crying and it was moving towards his heart.
And that happened twice in one week and I didn’t question it. I knew there was a reason I had that [vision]. That’s when I created my package and I went to [the] Denver police department, and that was the final straw in pushing me to go work with officers. And I’ve been working with officers since 2007, and this vision gave me that extra push to go leave a comfortable situation to do what I was supposed to do. I think that might be the power of that mythos.
TS: So this was a waking vision. You had two different waking visions—
LW: That was a waking vision, yes.
TS: —about working with police officers. I’m just curious, as we end our conversation, I know that during these times of seizure, where they might have thought that you were clinically dead—we could call these near-death experiences—that you had some important visions that are informing your life and the method of Neurosculpting. I’m wondering here at the end if could just share one, something that happened to you when you were no longer in a wakeful state, a vision that’s really informing this work you’re doing.
LW: I talk about this one in the book. I had this vision where I was—now, I thought it was real because I’m not conscious, so it feels viscerally real—I was out in the universe floating around and this black wave, the mother of all things, defined herself as that to me. This black wave came and she said, “You’re more than this and I have to break you down to open you up to show you what you are.”
It was violent and visceral. It wasn’t blissful and beautiful. I had these visions of her just pulling my heart out. She was just violently tearing me apart. And when she did, I was suddenly the size of the universe with her. I was feeling everything. I was feeling the stars, I was feeling waves of all of humanity. I was feeling these overwhelming sensations. And she told me, “We’re all these neurons in this galaxy mind. We’re all interconnected and we’re all informing each other.”
And this was a very big, visceral vision, and when I came out of it, it was informing me to go study more of the brain. So I had to know, “OK, well, what is it that neurons are doing? What is it that we are doing in relation to others and connecting? And what’s happening in the gap between us where my words leave me and get to you? And you’re experiencing something from my words that may or may not be what I intend, but there’s a magic in this space.”
And I went and I applied it to my brain studies, or went into brain studies, and found that the magic happens in the synapse between the neurons, where all potential to either continue communication or stop it happens there. When we strengthen that gap, we strengthen this. So the visions were [always] very right-brained, but they always translated into me going back to science and studying what that might mean if I were to apply a left-brained translation of it.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Lisa Wimberger. She’s developed a method called “Neurosculpting,” and with Sounds True, has created a six-session audio series on Neurosculpting as well as a two-session audio course on Neurosculpting for Stress Relief. [She is] also the author of a forthcoming book from Sounds True on Neurosculpting. Lisa, I think your story should be a movie, and hey, maybe Sounds True can be involved.
LW: You just made it happen! You just put it out there.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for being with us.
LW: Thank you! It was awesome.