I had a few hours spare in London this week so I visited the Bodyworlds exhibition. It really is extraordinary and I would strongly encourage everyone to see it.
For those who do not know about the exhibition, Bodyworlds comprises a minute examination and explanation of how every system of the body works, together with illustrative examples. However, what sets it apart is that the specimens are taken from actual human bodies, preserved by a process of plasticisation (that is, setting the body in a clear resin) whilst the exhibition is punctuated by a number complete human forms, opened up to illustrate the anatomy.
Of course, there is nothing new in this; consider the anatomical drawings of Da Vinci, or Rembrandt's famous painting 'The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp' (1632, the Mauritshuis, the Hague). Those works of art were not imagined; they were drawn very much from life (or death). Here I must declare an interest; I am the son of a pathologist and a midwife, so an objective discussion of the body was quite normal in the household I grew up in, but I must emphasise that the Bodyworlds exhibition treats its subjects with the greatest respect and dignity. The bodies on show were donated to science for the purpose of education, and there is, strangely, nothing creepy or gratuitous about their display. Instead, one comes to marvel at the infinite delicacy and beauty of the human form (look out for the exquisite webs of blood vessels within the skull) and at the same time both its staggering complexity and heartbreaking simplicity.
The miracle of your life is no more clearly appreciated than when you see an entire wall filled with grains of rice, hundreds of millions of grains of rice. They represent the sperm released at conception and just one of them will go to form you. Just one.
What particularly interested me, however, was the constant theme running through the exhibition of health and wellbeing and, in particular, emotional health, and this went straight to the heart of my practice as a solution-focused therapist.
The exhibition starts with your brain and nervous system, and photographs show the hundreds of billions of neural connections in your brain that are constantly reaching out to one another and renewing themselves. The exhibition puts beyond doubt that neural pathways are opened and strengthened by your habits of thinking. If you think positively, that pattern of thought is literally hard-wired into your brain, and those pathways used in negative thinking simply die away. (Unfortunately, the reverse is also true, although as a good therapist, I would point out that you always have a choice).
The section on the nervous systems vividly shows how stressful thoughts release chemicals and transmitters that put your physical being under stress, to the detriment of every aspect of health.
It is no exaggeration - the exhibition shows how it is literally true - that you can think yourself happy. Scientists offer that around 50% of your tendency to happiness is derived genetically, only 10% from your circumstances (financial, marital, occupational), whilst a staggering 40% of your happiness derives from your thoughts, actions and behaviours.
Think yourself happy. And if you are in or near London, do take the time to see the exhibition. It will certainly change the way you see yourself, and may very well change your life.