Amazing Amygdala

I found a bottle of perfume the other day and when I opened it I was transported immediately to the south of France, with lavender fields listing in the breeze, a soft sun high in the sky and a distinct lack of stress. For that small moment I had travelled miles.

A perfect reminder of another tiny thing to focus on this month – the amygdala – a small, almond-shaped part of the brain responsible for unconscious functions including emotion and memory. It may be small but it’s very old, sitting within the temporal lobe and firing off fast signals around the body. If you hear a bang and jump from your seat, that’s your amygdala trying to keep you safe by initiating the flight or fight response. And since it’s an unconscious reaction and so quick, it can make mistakes. (That door banging in the middle of the night was simply the wind after all, and not a malevolent ghost). 

The perfume scent rushed immediately to that region of my brain and before I could process what was happening, I had already arrived in that beautiful village in France. Then the slower mechanisms kicked in and my memory clicked into place. Unconscious and conscious systems working together to deposit me on lavender fields, even for a moment. Delicious. Scent, emotion and memory intertwined.

Isn’t the brain an incredible thing? Aren’t we beautifully made? Looking closely at our grey matter brings a real sense of awe. Surely every time we think a thought or take a step or speak a word is miraculous. 

Next time you catch a scent of perfume (or food or flowers) say a quick thank you to the tiny region of your brain that is quietly doing its thing. And then enjoy your brief moments of time travel that ensue. For my part, I’m off to France again.

A Little Kindness

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Henry James

Of all the small things I’ve been poking around in the shed this month I keep coming back to this. It’s one of those things that seems small but as you look closer and start to unravel it, you realise just how big it is.

Small things make a difference, we know that (ask anyone who’s spent a night with a mosquito) but in this case it can change lives for the better. In the dentist’s waiting room some years ago a fellow patient was trying to book an appointment and the receptionist efficiently changed diary entries and answered phone calls, all the while with a cheery smile and understanding nods. When the appointment was finally made, the patient said, “You’re really good at your job, do you know that?” And the receptionist’s face quite honestly lit up. It was a lovely sight. I saw her later that day and she was walking on air, head high and wide smile. 

This is the power of a kind word, a thoughtful deed. Kindness can change the world. Think about it: if everyone tried to be just a little bit kinder – to each other and to ourselves – the earth would surely tilt on its axis.

It’s our superpower if only we knew it. 

If you fancy donning your cape and getting on with it pop onto this website (The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation) for some brilliant tips and inspiring words.

Sign me up!

July’s focus on small things took a special turn this morning. A pen mark on a piece of paper is the perfect reminder that small things can mean a lot.

Following so many years of dreaming that I would one day sign with a literary agent (I even practised it in primary school), it took place just now. I’m still smiling. Susan (good name) from The Feldstein Agency is the perfect champion for a couple of book ideas I’ve been working on and I’m excited about what the future holds as we work together.

So this little signature may be small but its reach is big. C’mere book world, let’s be having you.

PS speaking of little things – hop onto my audio page to hear my latest (two minutes, tops) BBC offerings for Thought for the Day.

Small is Beautiful

It’s the little things. I spent ages the other day staring at a spider as it slowly wrapped up an unfortunate fly. There’s so much going on in the world that we don’t notice. So throughout July here in the shed (incidentally, also small) I’ll be zooming in – on tiny living, small wonders and life through a microscopic lens. 

Maybe it’s because I’m small in stature (I’ve been 5’2” since I was sixteen and only recently gave up hope that I might grow some more) but I do love tiny things – houses, animals, doughnuts, cars – you name it, it’ll be better small (mini muffins, needless to say, are nicer than large ones, but only if you eat at least three at a time).

So this week here’s a wee photo collage to get us started. You’re welcome.

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realise they were the big things.