We are living in difficult times. There are signs of recovery and the resumption of some activities as we ever so slowly begin to gain the upper hand on the pandemic. Though there are no guarantees as to what the future may hold, there is hope for optimism. There is also the assurance of lingering after effects, particularly in the area of mental health. Depression and anxiety have escalated. There will be a need for something that can restore our sense of balance again. Where do we look for it? I fear that many will look outside themselves, relying on prescription medications (which have their valid uses) or, sadly, on drugs of a more potent nature. My great hope is that we can learn to look inward for the strength we already possess, but may not yet fully know how to access.
Our minds are astonishingly powerful. In fact, I have come to believe that the statement “mind over matter” can, in the proper context, be seen as absolutely true. I am not talking about levitating objects through telekinesis or using the Force. I am talking about how we choose to interpret the events that take place around us, and what manner of thoughts we allow to take root in our subconscious minds that then begin to serve as our “operating systems,” setting the tone for our lives.
The ancient Stoics already knew how powerful our thoughts and minds could be. Here is a sampling of Stoic maxims that refer to the power our minds can exert over our lives, assembled by the team at RedFrost Motivation and available as a You Tube video:
–“The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”
–“You don’t have to turn this into something; it doesn’t have to upset you.”
–“Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.”
–“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.”
–“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
— “True happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence upon the future.”
— “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
— “People are affected not by events but by the view we take of them.”
— “We suffer more than is necessary if we suffer before it is necessary.”
from BE UNSHAKEABLE—Ultimate Stoic Quotes Compilation RedFrost Motivation
There are, of course, many more. The ancients understood what was to be genuinely valued and sometimes we have lost sight of that. I have studied the Stoic philosophers for many years. My intellectual and analytical mind sees the truth in these sayings. When we face adversity, can we not just watch something like the RedFrost video here mentioned, grab a copy of The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius or Letters From a Stoic by Seneca, and let the words serve as a bulwark to defend our minds from anxiety and stress? Could it be that simple?
No. No it’s not. One of the reasons why that may not be possible is that many of us can read the words and actually agree with them, but our subconscious minds, which have been conditioned for decades, are not that easy to reprogram. I have recently been reviewing the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza, D.C., author of Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, Evolve Your Brain, and You are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. A great starting point for what Dr. Dispenza has to say would be with a video called “How to Unlock the Full Potential of Your Mind—Dr. Joe Dispenza on Impact Theory,” featured on Tom Bilyeu’s “Impact Theory” series. This is about a 33 minute video. If, after watching it, you are as intrigued as I was, Dr. Dispenza’s books would be the next place to go to see if what he says continues to make an impression, as it has done for me.
The essence of Dr. Dispenza’s work boils down to this concept: our minds have the ability to actually make us sick. We are the only animal capable of activating a fight/flight/freeze response by thought alone. Imagine a deer, innocently grazing in the woods, who is suddenly charged by a mountain lion. The deer’s flight response kicks in, and it flees the predator. Then, imagine that the mountain lion just gives up the chase, the deer just getting away. Within a few minutes, the deer, now safe, will go back to its grazing—crisis over.
Our human neocortex, however, is capable of activating this response in our minds and bodies when no real threat yet exists; just the fear that a threat may come in the future is enough to release the hormones and adrenaline that put us into fight or flight anxiety mode. This system, built into our brains, serves to protect us from threats such as those faced by the deer. However, notice that when the authentic danger withdrew, the deer achieved homeostasis—balance—once again. We, however, can manifest that threat through our imaginations, and in many cases, it never goes away.
No organism in nature is equipped to remain in fight or flight mode for hours, days, weeks, months, or years at a time. This unrelenting torrent of stress-induced chemicals keeping us constantly on point from imagined dangers can begin to deregulate our genes and activate others that can trigger diseases as they weaken our immune systems. Our thoughts alone, absent genuine in the moment dangers, can cause us physical harm. We all know what it is like when our minds go into “What if?” mode. We catastrophize, our imaginations beginning to anticipate worst case scenarios, triggering our brains to release the chemicals necessary to flee the impending threat that must be imminent. Our bodies just can’t tell the difference between what we are actually experiencing and what we are imagining. That is not to say that people are not experiencing some very real and present difficulties in our present times—they aren’t imagining their challenges. But as the future is going to come for all of us, it may as well be the one we want as opposed to one we fear.
So, Dr. Dispenza’s work has centered on this premise: if our minds are capable of making us sick via negative or stressful thoughts, would they, if properly trained and conditioned, not also be able to make us well—and happy—by thought alone? He believes, as a result of his ongoing scientific research documented in his books, that the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.” He chronicles dozens of case studies where, employing a version of the placebo effect, people have actually managed to reprogram their subconscious minds and actually change their personalities—they have become totally new people, healing physical health afflictions as well as mental health obstacles. The key is not to read more and hope the analytical mind can think us out of our conditions. This is more than “positive thinking.” We have to access our subconscious programming and actually change the program. The key to doing so is meditation.
Once we enter the more suggestive brain wave states accessible when meditating, we can then begin to imagine the future we want to be living, rather than fearing the worst-case scenario future we anticipate might come. If we are sure that bad things will happen, we can at a minimum be certain that good things won’t. If we believe, actually believe, that the future we want is just on the horizon for us, will our bodies not come to believe it too? Can we not will ourselves to happiness and health once we access the program? If our thoughts can trigger hormones that sicken us, why can’t they trigger ones that make us well?
We all have subconscious habits that are so programmed into us that we don’t even have to think about them to make them happen. I remember when I actually realized that when I got out of the shower, the pattern I used to dry myself off with a towel was actually exactly the same every time. It was a programmed action that I didn’t have to think my body into doing–it just did it. Think about your daily routine, and ask yourself how similar the actions of your days are, one day after another. You get up on the same side of the bed every day, check your phone, have the same breakfast, brush your teeth the same way, drive to work following the same route, feel the same about the same people you work with all day, drive home the same way, and then follow the same evening routine just in time to go to bed so you can get up the next morning and do it all over again. Your subconscious mind has you locked into that program. Trying to change it is difficult. It will feel uncomfortable. Your body, which has actually become addicted to the stress chemicals your brain puts out, will begin to make your mind question this new path: “You’ll never change. You aren’t good enough. Why not start tomorrow. You’re no good at this. You’ve always been this way.” And on it goes.
We have spent decades becoming who we are. To expect us to be able to change that conditioning overnight is unrealistic, and it won’t be easy. However, nothing worth doing ever is. Dr. Dispenza has online guided meditations, workshops—a host of resources to help support those who wish to engage with his work and change the patterns of their lives forever. Such work is not for those who lack resilience and resolve. Expecting some sort of instantaneous result will leave you disappointed. I myself have just begun the journey, having read his work, working to comprehend the science behind it. I have been meditating on and off for years, but admit that I was expecting some “epiphany” or to reach some finish line when everything would be fixed. It just doesn’t work like that.
Slowly, as I continue to work to access my subconscious mind and affirm the future that I want to see come to fruition, should I not be able to convince my body that that future has already arrived? If I can make it go into fight or flight mode, can I not send it into fun and fulfillment mode once I truly believe that such a thing is possible, and that desired future is imminent? It remains to be seen if I will be successful in my efforts. All I know is that I already feel better just trying. Even if we only feel better while meditating, that is better than facing a relentless, never-ending onslaught of anxiety each day, in many cases brought on only by our imaginations.
So many of us are facing genuine challenges as a result of the pandemic. Even when the more acute aspects of those challenges pass, their resultant stresses and anxieties are going to be with us for a long time. We are going to need the tools to cope with them. It just may be that those tools are inside of us already. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the power to get home just might have been with us all along.
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS ESSAY:
Bilyeu, Tom and Joe Dispenza. “How to unlock the Full Potential of your Mind; Dr. Joe Dispenza on Impact Theory.” YouTube, m.youtube.com/watch?v=La9oLLol5Rc#RedFrost Motivation. “BE UNSHAKEABLE: Ultimate Stoic Quotes Compilation. YouTube, m.youtube.com/watch?v=2bguEiUgDA4