Have you ever sneezed so thoroughly you nearly passed out?
Most of the time, as we feel the urge, we either try to stifle it because we don't want to be disruptive or we don't want to look like an exploding vacuum bag. Rare is the opportunity where you can not only let it go, you can amplify its power so that the letting go is completely and utterly exhaustive. Including surround sound effects.
As my consciousness cleared to normal, I took stock of my condition. First, I checked if I had blown any seals. High compression in an old six cylinder can be catastrophic. OK, the head gasket was still intact. No mixing of water and oil.
I checked joints and internal organs. All dashboard instruments showed a narrow escape from damage.
Then I ran a diagnostic on my CPU and found, explicably, that the relays were now bug-free. The moths, beetles, spiders and ants that had moved into my cranial circuitry had been swept out.
With a clear head and fully functioning neural pathways again, I recognized just how occluded my thoughts had become. This then, must be the real purpose of the sneeze. It is not, as some theorists propose, that the sneeze is intended to eject suspicious particles that enter the respiratory pathways through the nose and mouth. I believe that sneezing is a psychological adaptation to remedy the life-limiting nature of neuroses.
A neurosis is a condition of behavior that is fear-based. Anxiety, depression, obsession and compulsion, paranoia and hypochondriasis are all forms of the same symptomology associated with fear for one's life. All threats, whether intellectual, professional, familial, catastrophic or physical cause the triggering of the fight-or-flight behavioral response. This is built into our genome.
Constant perceived threats create the chronic stress that results in diseases from the body attempting to adapt to the continually threatening stimuli. The threats are not necessarily evident to others, mind you, but that doesn't matter to the person feeling threatened.
For example, children who had grown up in a home of security, with loving parents and no material hardships, might be threatened when they are finally off on their own. They may be afraid they can't take care of themselves, because they have had no experience with that challenge until relatively late in life, as compared to kids in Bangladesh or Libya, for example. On the contrary, the kids in the truly rough neighborhoods, like Cairo currently, learn very early how to take care of themselves in seriously dangerous conditions.
This is why some believe that the study of neurosis, first proposed as a diagnosis by Sigmund Freud, could not have occurred to him if he had not set up psychiatric practice in upper-middle-class Austria at the end of the 19th century. Material wealth creates insecurity. Isn't that nicely ironic?
As we gather the blankets of material goods and monetary savings around our cold shoulders, we have a difficult time simply relaxing into the comfort we have created for ourselves. We tell ourselves, “Things are going OK right now. Must be the calm before the storm.”
We admonish each other not to say things like, “Hey, I haven't had an accident on the highway in 10 years now!” because then we are sure it will now happen. We think that if we go ahead and relax into the moment, we'll be letting down our guard and that's exactly when the Fates will rise up and smack us.
So we move through our day, stiffened up against insecurity and premonitions, muscles taut and a sweeping gaze on the horizon.
Until a sneeze comes upon us.
If we are lucky to be alone at the time, then by all means, we let it rip. And it feels just so, so good. If we are in a group or out in public, the release we yearn for is stuffed back down the chute, where it will join other repressed expressions, the calcified lumps of wasted joy.
Let us now resolve to allow ourselves to give in to the healing explosion of an uninhibited sneeze, no matter when or where it may occur. And I mean anywhere, at any time. As my wonderful goddess Cheri reminds me often, “Why apologize for the natural?”
If you find yourself in church, at a symphony, a high school play or a business meeting, and you feel that delicious tickle of impending pulmonary rocketry, coax it carefully to its most feverish power. Then hold it there a fraction of a second before you throw open the gate and smartly rap the sneeze's rump.
While shock and dismay on many faces will greet your blast, all will be secretly envious as they see the translucent, flowing peace that your face has become.
Sewitch is an entrepreneur and business psychologist. He serves as the vice president of global organization development for WD-40 Company. Sewitch can be reached at email@example.com