During the time that some people work with me, they discover that the source of their symptoms or health problem wasn’t just physical. They realize that certain habits play into their body’s eventual breakdown.
When we say “habits”, often we think of certain actions like eating too many carbs, not exercising enough, not having a good self-care routine etc.
But “habits” can also be the ways in which we think. Some of our patterns of thought can be enriching and some can deplete us of energy. One of the reasons meditation can be so powerful is that it can help us see behind the curtain of our thoughts through an altered state of consciousness. This altered state of consciousness allows us to observe our thoughts so what was unconscious or “behind the curtain” is now in plain sight. This in turn gives us more agency over our thoughts and our lives.
If we look at our thoughts as being the source of discomfort, tension and illness, then why not just apply the power of positive thinking? Mainly because positive thinking doesn’t lead us to anywhere new. Trying to fight our thoughts with “positive thoughts” is like trying to fight fire with fire. All you get is more fire:).
Another way we try to change our thoughts is through new positive habits that we refer to as “positive self-care” or “Self-love”; the idea being that we can see how our habits have not been good to us and if we adopt new and healthier habits, that we’ll shift our experience of life to a more healthy one.
Doing this alone might work, for a while. In my experience over the years, it’s rarely sustainable. Unless you bundle it with a change in perspective.
What really does work is learning to see ourselves and our circumstances from a different vantage point. Being able to do this though requires a temporary change in your state of consciousness.
That song you can’t get out of your head
If you’ve never had this happen to you then you are truly blessed:). It seems like once the song or tune is in there, it just keeps playing over and over again. This is what patterned brain activity is like.
The human brain can be likened to a cell phone, constantly managing information, receiving signals and sending out signals. Each one of us has something called the “Default Mode Network” which is a habitual, repeating pattern of brain activity. When the brain is in “default mode”, it’s like it’s on autopilot and the signals coming in and going out are predictable (Same $h!t, different day). And most people associate who they are with their default mode (who I am is how I think).
There are ways to break or interrupt this brain activity. By interrupting, the brain can momentarily receive new signals and can broadcast new signals as well. This is the proverbial light bulb moment – when we get a bright idea:).
When this habitual patterned brain activity stops even for a moment, the brain can experience novelty and can learn something new. This allows for old neuronal connections to start dissolving and for new ones to form and strengthen.
So how do we achieve an altered state of consciousness?
It can happen organically although that happens infrequently. There are some temporary ways that we all create an altered state of consciousness. We may self-medicate, we may drink alcohol, we may binge eat or bing watch or we may consume hallucinogenic drugs. And while all of these may be necessary at points in our lives to give us some respite from thinking, they don’t lead to sustainable change. They just give us reprieve and help us carry on.
A more effective way to create an altered state of consciousness is by changing how we focus and what we focus on. This is the essence of meditation and it is one of the underlying principles of Neuro-Structural care. Often when meditating, you focus on your breathing. Or you focus on watching the thoughts come into and out of your mind like a slide show presentation. When you’re on the table in the office, you can also watch your thoughts, observe your breathing and feel the tension in your body. This in and of itself can change your brain activity and interrupt your default mode network.
Changing how we focus and what we focus on is a higher form of self-love because it leads to sustainable change and empowers us to lift ourselves out of a less inspiring existence.