Tag Archives: thoughts

Inside Out

What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? 

What if you woke up tomorrow and you saw the world in a completely different way? For example, what if you learned that reality is in your imagination, that you generate your world. It is not some objective truth “out there” but rather constructed by your inner world, and projected outward.

Kind of a radical idea, no?

And yet, what cognitive scientists and linguists like George Lakoff tell us, human beings use mental frames to explain their reality. We can observe facts or circumstances in the world, and when they do not fit our frameworks, our way of explaining the world, we simply dismiss them as exceptions. We cling very strongly to our beliefs about how the world works, and this helps us to live and make decisions.

Sometimes our beliefs are actually wrong. Beliefs are really just thoughts we keep thinking over and over again. They may come from what we were taught growing up. They may be reinforced by societal programming. They begin to seem like reality because maybe everyone around us holds the same beliefs.

It can feel very threatening when we begin to question our beliefs. There is a biological reason for this. Our brains like to be efficient and avoid pain. So we develop neural pathways that serve as “shortcuts” that help us make choices and decisions about the world. This way we don’t have to evaluate all of our more automated activities, like driving to work, or walking down the hallway. These are automatic skills we develop and practice all the time.

It is a healthy to question our beliefs now and then, and it has radically changed my own life. When I realized that beliefs are a choice, and I can consciously choose new beliefs, my head kind of exploded.

First you have to be conscious of your beliefs. I will use food as an example, because it is easy to understand. I spent most of my adult life, until about 3 years ago in fact, believing that consuming fat in my diet would make me fat or keep me fat. It is easy to understand how I would form such a belief: nearly all the dietary guidelines recommend a low fat diet. The food industry has perpetuated the idea that sugar is fine for us, but we should consume “x” as part of a low-fat heart-healthy diet.

Imagine my amazement when instead of battling my body and brain’s natural inclination to consume fat, I began to add much more of it to my diet. I switched from skim milk to whole milk (gradually of course, going to 1%, 2% and then whole). I started using butter and olive oil liberally in my cooking. I went bananas for avocados (which I have always loved, but thought I should limit because of fat content).

As it turns out, over the past 18 months, I have lost 20 pounds on a high-fat diet. The loss has been sustainable and easy to maintain. At the same time, I cut way back on sugar and flour, because those powdered substances did not make my body feel good, when I started paying close attention. I defied all the conventional wisdom on eating three meals and several snacks a day to avoid low blood sugar.

Snacks really are an emotional event, they are not required for survival. They are not necessary for people in places where food is abundant and obesity runs rampant. Our bodies are well-adapted to periods without food, and our ancestors fasted regularly. Once we add back natural fats to our diet and ditch the foods that give us unnatural insulin spikes (flour, sugar and processed foods) we actually start becoming fat-adapted. Our bodies use ketosis to burn fat stores for energy, rather than just blood sugars.

Imagine my amazement, and my anger, when I realized there is a belief perpetuated that keeps so many people struggling with their weight. Sadly, there are public policies that perpetuate this incorrect belief and help perpetuate obesity and illness in our population. It is not about calories in and out, it is about insulin resistance.

But back to beliefs: what if I had not questioned this conventional wisdom, and had just accepted it as truth? The belief did not serve me. It actually was causing harm to my body and brain health. When I listened to my body, and paid attention to what made me feel more vital and energetic, I began to understand.

So lately I have been exploring other beliefs: what if money is not hard to earn? What if I am capable of certain things I never imagined? What if the ideas I learned by example in my culture were just plain misguided? Do these beliefs serve me? What if I adopted a new belief on that particular front?

Wow. It nearly makes my head explode, to consider about the possibilities. I am working right now on questioning my beliefs about money. I am sure to share what I learn in future posts.

But I challenge you also: What do you accept as true in your life that may not be serving you? Are there some beliefs that need cleaning out in your life? Consider the possibilities. I dare you.

 

 

 

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Responding vs reacting

One of the benefits of practicing meditation and yoga consistently is that it teaches you the difference between response versus reaction.

To me, I define the difference in these as temporal, relating to time, and emotional, relating to reactivity. When we slow things down, in our breathing, our movement and our thinking, we can often realize when our reaction to a stimulus may be out of proportion.

For example, when someone make a remark I may perceive as offensive, my first reaction may be to get angry. However, if I give the words a moment to sit there, without immediately responding, I may consider the perspective of the speaker. I may pause and realize that they words they have said are not about me (or someone I love) but they are about them.

In fact, this practice has been so powerful for me, because I know my tendency has been to react, to say something back, or to at least indulge in anger or negativity. But as I have started to consider what I can do to act with more love and less fear in every situation, I realize I have a choice about how I respond.

This is true in meditation and yoga. When we realize there is a little discomfort in the body, maybe in the lower back or neck, we have a choice about how to respond. We can observe and watch the feeling. Sometimes it intensifies momentarily, and then dissipates. We can move and adjust if needed or try to breathe into that area.

This is contrary to the speed of our culture right now. We want more, we want faster, we do not wait to wait for things. Everything is available on demand, and we get frustrated when we have to wait for more than a few moments for a download. So we become conditioned to react, not to wait a moment and respond. Hey, I get it! I am the same way.

But what if we tried to move a little counter to what the culture tells us and we move more slowly and deliberately? We say no to having too many options open, and we take more time to respond mindfully instead of reacting. We improve our relationships, because we may ask clarifying questions instead of getting upset over a remark someone made.

It is worth trying, just taking a breath or two when something seems to “trigger” a response in you. Notice where the emotion lands in your body. Decide if you want to respond or let it go. I am far from perfect at this but I am playing with it more, and forgiving myself for the times when I did not have this skill.

It may have a radical impact on how you interact with the world. Let me know how it goes!

 

Sweeping mental clutter

I am amazed sometimes when I go quiet and meditate at the thoughts and mental chatter that run through my head. It reminds me that while I aim to clear physical clutter in my life to help me with less external distractions, the mental clutter is also worth sweeping out.

We all have thoughts and beliefs that run though our minds like old tapes, playing the stories we learned over time. They are a product of what we learned as young people, explicitly or implicitly by what we observed around us. Many of us do not question these thoughts and beliefs. They become part of us, and influence how we live our lives.

But I have been questioning my thoughts and beliefs much more regularly these days. Why is it we believe “there is never enough time” to do the things we love to do? Is that really true? What if that is a convenient excuse for not taking the risks in our lives that would allow us to live more fully in our joy?

What if we turned those thoughts around or tried on different thoughts than the worn-out ideas that make us feel tired and defeated? One of the amazing things about meditation practice is to realize that we have much more choice over our thoughts than I had realized was possible.

Our thoughts drive our feelings, and our feelings influence our actions and therefore determine our results. When we realize we are not our thoughts, but can decide consciously whether to think certain thoughts, we take back control of our lives. We realize our circumstances do not determine our reality. It is our thoughts about those circumstances that have substantially more power.

Human beings are wired for story, as Brene Brown tells us. We strive to make sense of the world so our minds develop stories to explain and interpret circumstances. We all do this, and it is an adaptive phenomenon for human evolution. But sometimes these stories do not give us a complete picture, and need revision. The challenge is that we have told ourselves these stories for so long, they seem like truth.

It is worthwhile to examine personal narratives and long-held beliefs that no longer serve us. I write a daily journal in which I often do a “thought download” when I feel agitated about something, since I realize that is usually an indicator that I am “spinning” thoughts that do not serve me. That is often enough for me to become conscious of some thought causing pain and to question that thought.

Byron Katie teaches a practice of inquiry, in which you question a thought or belief and ask yourself 4 questions:

Is it true? 

Can I absolutely know that it is true? 

How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?

Who would I be without the thought? 

Then she encourages one to try some “turnarounds” of the thought if we realize we cannot absolutely know that thought it true, or we realize it causes us suffering. This is worth practicing if you suspect some of your thoughts may need sweeping out or cleaning up.

What is beautiful about this practice and these realizations is that we begin to understand that changing our thoughts is easier than changing our circumstances. We do not have to find happiness and contentment “out there” somewhere. It is within our grasp, and can be realized inside of ourselves.

Also, when we change our thoughts, and therefore our feelings, we act and behave differently. We act with more love and generosity, and we begin to attract these qualities around us as well. We begin to see that grasping onto things makes us close down, while opening and sharing allow us to tap a well of resilience within us.

As you consider sweeping out the clutter of your physical life, take some time also to sweep the clutter that may be residing in your mind. See how much benefit this can have in your relationships and in living a more joyful life. I know you will not be disappointed.