You will understand the basics of your mind, feelings and the brain
You will be able to use simple, mindfulness practices to stay in the present moment and make friends with your own inner experience
One of the foundations of being friends with our own mind is to be able to work effectively with our thoughts, with our responses to our thoughts, and with the energy and sensations in our body that are stimulated by our thoughts. Thoughts can be positive when we think of someone we love or a beautiful sunset we've seen, we will often find a little bit of relaxation in our body. We enjoy that kind of thought. Negative thoughts tend to be the ones with the most power. They really attract attention. Our survival system is set up to notice danger so that we can protect ourselves. One of the issues with thoughts, is that when we've had a traumatic experience we've been hurt we've been scared, there's been some kind of a threat to our life to our happiness, then that becomes a traumatic memory that triggers an energetic response in our body. Our shoulders tighten up. We might gasp! We hold our breath. There are many different systems that come into play in that split second when we realize that we're in danger. Memories of a traumatic experience can stimulate that same kind of reflex no longer appropriate in the situation now, and yet we are still experiencing that in our body, our breath, our mind ,our thoughts. That's a problem. Whether it's the intrusive flashbacks of PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder or whether it's the images that come to mind, the compelling catastrophic images, we need to find a way to work with them so that we're not at their mercy. When we're working with words or images, it's a bit easier to step back and have a look. See that we're actually looking at images. If we're looking at the images of words, we can see that some of the letters are curved, there's space in some of them, some of them are straight lines. There's a certain arrangement of letters and they mean something to us. It's a bit easier to step back with words and images if there's no corresponding energy or sensation in our body. If there is, it makes it feel a lot more true. But either way we can work with just the words or just the images to start. And then we'll come back to the energy in the body. Scott Kiloby's Living Inquiries are a brilliant way to work with words and images and with sensation. There are three elements in the Living Inquiries that we look at. One is thought which are words and pictures. Some of the pictures are like a still photograph either of them are video clips with words we hear it in our mind. Memory can reproduce sound in an amazingly complex way. We might hear words in the same tone of voice or from the same person's voice that we heard them originally. This is just in our mind. With pictures we see of them in our mind's eye. Sometimes when we're working with traumatic events or pictures of something that reminds us of being hurt. We'll work with the eyes closed. Other times we work with the eyes open. Put the picture on a wall across the room. Put some words on a window and see what's behind the window see the blue sky behind the window. There are many ways that we can remind ourselves that we're looking at or hearing something. We're not actually back in that situation anymore. The ones that feel more true as I said are the ones that have sensation or energy in the body. Scott Kiloby calls this the velcro effect. When thoughts are Velcroed to energy or sensation in the body. And then we have ways to look at them to release the velcro. And they don't mean what they used to mean they're not as threatening. So we start with words sensations and images. In the Living Inquiries we might ask one of three questions in the compulsion inquiry we have a look at is there something about the words the images or the energy in our body that's driving us to take action. It could be that is driving us to have a beer. We often will try to get away from something that feels threatening. And that's again part of our human survival system. We need to work more skillfully with it so that we're not automatically just responding to our programming. The tighter the velcro, the less freedom we have. We look to see if it's an identity. Is that word or image or feeling is that me? Often it does feel like me. There's no right or wrong way to do them. We just relax. We feel the sensation in our body and we ask the question. If we get a response, either of thoughts or else out of sensation in our body, then we know that there's some kind of Velcro there and then we can have another look. We can go in deeper. The question that I work with most often is around threat. Can that word or image or sensation actually hurt me? This is where healing trauma comes in. When we have a memory of someone saying something mean or hurtful to us. That's not going to be a neutral experience for us. We'll hear the words. We might see their face. There might be a little video clip of it and we'll experience that in our body. We'll have some kind of a defensive reaction in our body. We might use the words. Is that a threat. We might also look to see does that make me uncomfortable. Do I really wish it wasn't here? There are different questions that we could ask but the general idea is to look to see if there's something about the words or the images that feel threatening to you. And again there are no right or wrong answers. If it feels uncomfortable or scary to have that word here or to have that image here then there's definitely ways that we can work with that. So we start with the words or images which are thoughts or sensations and we ask one of the three questions we are always staying present in the energy in our body. We're not trying to figure it out with our mind. Most of us have it all figured out with our mind. Most of us know that when we're scared of something it's not actually a threat right now. The conscious level of our mind knows that but we still have something is being held in our body right now. And that's what we can work with and free through this method. The way that the brain works is that it's a stimulus response mechanism. It's the nature of the mind to generate thought. We have several layers in the mind actually there's a lot of complexity to the mind and even in the brain. There's the primitive brain mid-brain the prefrontal cortex. As we've developed as a human species, our brains have become more complex. In our culture today our primitive brain our primitive survival system is triggered a lot meaning that we feel under threat a lot. It could be from the chronic stress, time stress,, economic stress that many of us feel. It could be from something that happened. It could be from all the violence around us. Many people have a lot of images of violence in their mind from watching the news or watching movies or television programs. All of these are very alarming to our system and it puts us on yellow alert and perhaps even Red Alert a lot of the time. We need to do something to take that vigilance level down to something that more closely matches the reality of our situation right now. I've been teaching meditation for about 25 years and at the beginning the mind just seems so mysterious. I had a lot of unhealed trauma at that time and I had a lot of things that were going on in my mind a lot of compulsion, a lot of catastrophic thinking. I was really under a lot of stress. My body reflected it. My shoulders were up around my ears and I was really never at peace from the thoughts. It's encouraging to know that we can actually understand the mind our nervous system our brains. It's very simple actually. It's a complex system but it's easy to get the basics. Mindfulness is such an important part of many people's practice and day right now. It's becoming so well known that we can watch our mind we can watch our system we can watch our reactions and as we do and we learn more about ourselves, we're able to heal a lot of the dysfunction that's currently making us suffer. So to sum it up. Thought comes in as words that we hear or see and images that we see. Colors and shapes The content of our thoughts arises from our pool of associations and memories and experiences. We don't preplan our thoughts. Thoughts just come in. Sometimes we get very attracted to and we pay a lot of attention to the thoughts, really to the point where we're not all that aware of what's going on in the moment in our actual lives. We're really absorbed in thought. This happens especially if it's a negative thought or if it has a hook on it. There's some kind of danger in it. And so we're very much compelled to pay attention to it. Many people have a high level of distress around their nervous system and their brain and their thoughts. Understanding that we have a survival system that reacts in response to our present moment experience based on the evidence from the past, has been very helpful for me to really understand and let go of the idea that I should have a different system, my mind should be different than it is. Many people shame themselves for having a body, a survival system, a nervous system, brains that act in a certain way. Really that's just the human condition. And if we can accept it, start to see it, then we can start to work with it. And that's the way we get freedom from this compulsion, from the primitive brain running the show. Neutral thoughts come and go. We don't have a lot of feeling or sensation to neutral thoughts. They tend not to create a storm in the mind. They tend to just come, they are there for a bit then they dissolve. They just go .Thoughts that are positive or negative generate a certain response in her body other thoughts and other sensations energies thoughts with negative energy have more urgency. And this is because of our survival system. If our ancestors hadn't noticed danger they would not have survived to reproduce. So our system has a very strong bias towards noticing danger because that's how people survive. In our current life it's not always working very well, this system. But that's the one we're stuck with. We have ways that we can work directly with it so that we can help to reduce our individual stress and work with the thoughts and the energy that are creating this environment of danger and hyper vigilance and "I'm just not ok". Something that many people have observed is how thoughts and fears are really affected by those around us. We really pick up on the energy of someone who's anxious or afraid. Again that's something that's beneficial for us to know. What happens is that when the whole culture or the whole community is afraid or stressed or overworked, which happens so much now in our modern life, we are very sensitive to other people's energy. And that's again part of the way that we have survived. One person who's afraid or anxious can set the whole group on edge. Watching the news is an experiment in contagion of fear and anxiety. We're not meant to be seeing visual representations of danger that much. It's very damaging on our brain when we're watching the news because we want to stay informed. It's like it's a vortex that sucks us in gets us all stirred up gets us feeling really angry and scared and hopeless and such a variety of intense emotions that we also feel in our bodies and then we take that to bed. We don't have a good rest. We take it out into our day. Shared fears and shared experiences like that can be very compelling and make everything seem like we're just doomed. Really the only effective way to work with that is to minimize the information that comes in through our senses. Reduce the amount. you watch the news. Read about it instead of watching it. It's less alarming for the brain. And really do your own work so that you can calm your system down. We're not living in an easy time right now. We need to do this work in order to heal, in order to have a realistic view of what the situation is right now for us. We need to do our own work to calm ourselves down. And there are many many ways to do that. Breathing, relaxation, limiting images, limiting violent movies, that kind of thing. Those are all really really helpful for us in this way. Our responses are based on our experience and on our associations. If we have an association that going to the beach is relaxing, we're going to have very different associations than if we almost drowned in the ocean. We can't do anything about that. We can't change that part of our system. That's just how our system works. We are always scanning in the world to see what's dangerous or potentially dangerous. And as we're doing that we're bringing in the information that's dangerous first. We're not really paying that much attention to the positive things. And we're checking to see: what do I need to do to keep myself alive? That's our main priority as an organism. And as a human being who wants to enjoy life we have to bring our higher level brain functioning into the experience of our daily life. Next please watch. Tools to work with thoughts.