Do you always look the same? 

I see far fewer people on my day to day errands here in the countryside than I did when I lived in London. But funnily enough, whenever I get back from a day or two working in the city my partner remarks that my face looks different, a new shape or ‘look’; as though my face is reflecting the many different faces and scenes I’d been looking at on my trip. 

It was funny to think that my look could change to reflect what I’d been looking at. I noticed it myself too on other occasions. For example, recently a good friend dropped by on her visit from out of town. I knew before she even told me that she’d been to see her ex-husband before popping round, because I could see his face in her face – if that makes sense. I knew my friend and her ex-husbands faces well you see, and perhaps that’s why I could recognise a very ‘John’ look in her face. 

Another common example of this that you might be familiar with is the phenomena of owners who begin to look like their beloved pets and couples who start to look alike. I also notice that people who work outside with trees or woodlands all day, get a certain look about them too.

When we’re watching someone we pick up on how they talk, use their face, move or walk and we often then become entrained (in sync) with them and consciously or unconsciously begin to mimic them in our faces and movements. 

I see a similar shape shifting phenomena in other parts of life too. For example, when I have my photo taken with my mother I always looks so young! I don’t mean in comparison to her because she looks very young for her age. Rather,  that being in her presence and sensing the way she sees me (as her child) coupled with the way I feel with her, draws a more youthful me to the surface, and that’s why I see a ‘youthing’ effect in the photos. 

The reason I’m sharing this funny observation is because I think it’s fascinating and worthwhile to point out that we aren’t concrete separate beings whose appearance persists unchangingly all the time. Our appearance emerges from the unique perceptions held by each person in each moment. There is no outer world which operates separately and independently from us. Life is one holistic thing.

(I recently  interviewed National Portrait Prize winner Liz Looker, and we spoke about the way this comes up in her work too. Have you found similar?) 

This shape shifting becomes even more fascinating when we consider an experiment done by Harvard Psychologist Ellen Langer more than 30 years ago. In the study, 8 men in their 70s went on a time warp retreat at a monastery in New Hampshire. Everything was set up in the style of the late 50’s. A vintage radio playing music from 1959, and there were books and tv shows from that era too. The men reminisced and told tales about sporting events that happened in the 50s, fully emerging themselves in their 1959 time warp retreat. 

On entrance researchers measured the mens various age biomarkers (grip strength, flexibility, memory, eyesight, condition, hearing)  At the end of the retreat they outperformed the control group, who’d been on retreat but not in a 50’s time warp; improving their eyesight, flexibility, posture, hearing, dexterity and independent observers thought they looked younger!

“On the experiment, Langer said  ‘the men had put their minds in an earlier time’ and their bodies went along for the ride”

Bruce Lipton, 2010 ‘The Biology Of Belief’ 

Some years after this study, the BBC (A British Broadcaster)  did a similar thing but with celebrities, on a documentary called The Young Ones (HERE

The power of our minds and the dynamic relationship between our minds and the expression of our physical body and genes is super interesting and really beginning to gain traction in modern day scientific research. The implications of this kind of research on our health and wellness is incredible and well worth further investigation if you feel enthusiastic to learn more.

The body and its fluid form is fascinating to meditate on so do let me know what you find and what you think. This Wednesday we meditated on the body at our livestream, if you’d like to join us for our next session you can learn more and sign up here.

If you enjoyed this topic, you might also enjoy tuning into the weekly mindfulness livestream with Emma over in The Garden

Live Meditation sessions and on demand library classes in The Garden at Emma Mills London
Live Meditation sessions and on demand library classes in The Garden at Emma Mills London