What are you doing with your mind?

image of brain made up of words like story, belief, judgment, habit

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” ~John Milton

The mind is a powerful thing, and too often allow its running programs to take over and create our reality unchecked. How much better it is to learn to work with our minds to create a reality that works well for us.

What are you doing with your mind?

The real difficulty

girl sitting on bench looking down with dark clouds all around her

“The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself.” ~Maya Angelou

Whether the challenge is in healing, in pursuing your dreams, or in transforming your life, the real difficulty we face over and over again is changing how we think about ourselves. We must recognize our inherent worth and beauty to be able to move forward into the life we long for.

Where do you need to change how you think of yourself?

Your habits matter

walking on the beach at sunset

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” ~Charles C. Noble

The things we do and think repeatedly day in and day out shape us. They wear grooves in our brains that keep us heading down the same tracks over and over again.

That’s why the habits we choose and cultivate matter. What we repeatedly think and do become who we are.

When was the last time considered the habits you have chosen for your life? Who are they making you? Is that who you want to be?

Are there any habits that need changing to better serve the person you want to become?


Posts from other divisions of Chrysalis Wellness for this week

person walking in the woods
10 practices that have changed my life
from the A Kintsugi Life blog
Fresh breeze hot process soap bar
Fresh breeze hot process soap bar from Autumn Leaf Botanicals featured products
Labradorite cabochon pendant in a solid sterling silver bezel on sterling silver chain
Labradorite cabochon pendant in a solid sterling silver bezel on sterling silver chain from the Earthwear Collection portfolio

We are not our minds

In Western culture, we tend to not only view the mind, the body, and the spirit as separate parts of our being, but we also tend to place the highest value on the mind. I think this is slowly beginning to shift, but the priority we place on the value of our minds is something that is still an often unconscious assumption that underlies our choices, our behavior, and where we place our attention. Our body is often seen as just a housing for our minds. Likewise, western religion has shown a tendency to see the body as just the vessel that holds our spirit, with the spirit being given the greater value than the lowly vessel.

While most of us do acknowledge the obvious effects our bodies can have on our minds—like the fact that we may have a harder time concentrating when we are tired or have a harder time controlling our emotional responses when stressed—research continues to show us that these interconnections are more pervasive and more subtle than we often assume.

I read a fascinating post today in Scientific American online called A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain by Samuel McNerney that shares some history of the field of embodied cognition as well as some of the latest research findings. The entire article is absolutely fascinating! What they are finding is that our thoughts are much more strongly influenced by our physical experiences than we have previously realized.  Many of the metaphorical expressions we use every day are indicators of this connection.

For example, one study found that in a brief interaction with a stranger, a study participant who was holding warm cups of coffee was more likely to find the stranger trustworthy than a study participant holding cold cups of coffee. This impact of warmth on our perception of another person fits well with our expression of “warming up” to someone as we get to know them and develop a positive perception of them. This influence also works the other way. Another study showed that study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were socially accepted judged the temperature of the room to be about five degrees warmer than study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were snubbed.

These sorts of unconscious interplays between mind, body, and spirit are occurring every moment of every day of our lives. When we attempt to place our priority and our focus only on our “rational” minds, we lose sight of the fact that the mind is interconnected with our bodies and our spirits in a way that cannot be cleanly divided into separate areas.

For me, yoga has been one powerful way for me to become more aware of my full state of being. The development of a witness, or observer, consciousness through asana practice and meditation has allowed me to live with greater awareness of my body, my spirit, and my mind in any given moment so I can evaluate my thoughts and feelings with a more complete data set. It brings a greater mindfulness to all that I do.

In one of my coaching classes last night, we discussed how often we react to situations based on past experiences that have pre-conditioned us rather than responding in the present moment to the situation that is actually at hand. The most powerful way to break these pre-conditioned reactions (or what yoga calls samskara) is to take a moment to become aware of the information that our emotions and our body itself is giving us before we respond.

Not only has taking that time to notice helped me begin to change long-standing habits and make better decisions, it’s also helping me place a higher value on taking care of my body. I still have LOTS of room to grow in this area, but I am finding myself paying more attention to how much I sleep, what I eat, how much water I drink, my physical posture, and how much activity I am getting. I’m starting to make better decisions about my self-care, and I am learning to take the state of my body into account when I consider the messages my thoughts and feelings are telling me. It has truly broadened and enhanced my world.

How do you make these connections between your mind, your body, and your spirit? Do you give an equal priority to all of who you are? If not, can you think of one thing you can do today to start bringing better balance?

Meditation’s unexpected gift

The ancient yogis used meditation as a route to samadhi, the state of oneness with all things which is the yogic version of enlightenment. In fact, of the eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali, four of them are steps along this route: pratyahara (withdrawing the senses from distractions around us), dharana (concentration on one object), dhyana (steadfast meditation), and samadhi (a state of oneness).

As I embarked on my own journey with meditation, I naturally set my goal as achieving samadhi. I did realize that this was a long, slow process that would require much practice, but that was my goal—that blissful state of oneness beyond thought, a place where I could just BE free of the chatter of my mind.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that meditation had an entirely different gift in store for me.

As I sit on my mat and focus on my breath, my monkey mind goes chattering off in a hundred different directions at once. I breathe and just watch this noisy parade of thoughts march by—not trying to stop the flow or change the nature of the thoughts—just observing them from a neutral, curious place. I’m slowly learning to not follow any of the thoughts, not grab them, not fight them, not judge them. This process produced two amazing discoveries for me.

First, I am not my thoughts. There is something that is ME that is observing those thoughts. This something—yoga calls it parusa, others may call it the higher self or the soul or the witness consciousness, I call it my curious observer-self—is unswayed by my thoughts. It simply IS.

Second, my thoughts are a jumble of chattering nonsense stemming from a whole crowd of personas that I commonly confuse as being my “self.” This stuff isn’t even coming from something real! And it’s definitely not objective truth that I need to listen to or believe. Who knew? (So much for Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”!)

As someone who has spent so much of her life living in her head, this discovery that my thoughts are not only not ME, but they’re not even “real” is mindblowing. In fact, it’s been amazingly freeing…completely transformative even.

Someday I may reach samadhi if I keep coming back to my mat long enough. Then again, I may not. And, you know, that’s really ok with me. The joyful, amazing freedom I’ve found in discovering my curious observer-self and letting go of my slavery to my thoughts is worth every moment I ever have and ever will spend in meditation.

What a valuable gift!