Changing Your Mind

May 23rd, 2011

May your mind transcend limitations.
May your consciousness expand in every direction.
May you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

These words are a translation from Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras around 200BC.

This is the essence of the spiritual journey; transcending limitations, expanding your consciousness and becoming the person you are destined to be. Sometimes this requires stepping out of your comfort zone to remind yourself that you are alive and on an evolving adventure of growth and learning. It doesn’t have to happen through extreme experiences, like sky diving or moving to an Ashram. It can happen in everyday experiences. Take it from me, Mr Everyday.

On Friday night Meg gave me an early Father’s Day surprise. We went to see an Aussie band perform; Sick Puppies, probably best known for their song in the viral Free Hugs video. Meg had been saying for weeks that I would never guess what we were doing, and she was right. I wouldn’t have guessed it in a million years. We lead busy lives that follow a fairly predictable pattern. So finding ourselves in a part of Michigan we have never been to, listening to an Aussie rock band, was outside of our comfort zone. Even listening to a band was outside of our comfort zone.

Before you think that this is a story about how courageous and liberated we are, you need to picture the scene. Meg and I sitting in our fold up lawn chairs, well back from the stage, with a crocheted rug over our knees, one occasionally turning to the other to say, “It’s very loud isn’t it?” and “I can’t understand a word they’re singing.” The funny thing was that when we set our chairs up it was still light. We didn’t realize that we had set up camp right in the path of the flood lights. So when the photographer from the local paper took our photo we shouldn’t have been surprised. He came over and asked for our names so he could include them with the photo. We looked at each other, laughed and declined. He seemed shocked. We’ve  been in the paper enough lately. We had a good laugh about it all.

Do you ever do things that surprise yourself? It’s important to be able to surprise yourself. When life starts to feel too predictable or routine, you can easily fall into auto pilot and miss some of the adventure of being alive. Do something today to remind yourself that life still has more surprises in store for you. There is more of you that is waiting to come out and play. You don’t have to sell all of your possessions and move to India. You can even do it from a folding chair. Mix it up a little. Do something that reminds you that you have more capacity, and greater genius than you will usually allow yourself to believe.

Internal Conflict

What stops you from truly manifesting your genius? Internal conflicts often prevent you from living as fully as you want to live. Sometimes the internal conflict is very obvious; for example I want to take up a new hobby, but I don’t want to make any time for it. I want to meet new people but I don’t want to take any risks. I want to lose weight but I don’t want to change my lifestyle. I want to feel healthier, but I don’t want to stop eating ice cream for breakfast.

In these cases, it’s a fairly straightforward scenario. You have different voices competing for your attention, and you make a choice. Sometimes you choose to play it safe. Sometimes you choose the most immediate benefits. Sometimes you surprise yourself and choose something outside your usual pattern.

There is a story about an old Cherokee chief who told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves. One is destructive–it is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is life affirming. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee chief simply replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

The story presents a partial truth. Sometimes it’s about choosing between negativity and positivity. It’s certainly better to think positively than negatively. There is even something to be said for faking it till you make it. Lots of small but repeated changes in your actions make a big difference over time. Noticing your language, spending time with positive people, using will power, and removing temptation are all healthy things to do.

But it’s not always black and white, positive and negative. When you consider that the majority of your decisions and responses come from your unconscious mind, and your unconscious mind is neither positive nor negative, you could say that the wolf who wins is the unconscious wolf.

No amount of yelling or screaming can change the unconscious mind. You can’t change lifelong habits with will power alone. Your conscious mind holds something like 5 or 7 pieces of information at one time. For me it’s even fewer. That is no match for the millions of memories, reactions, instincts and environmental cues filed in your unconscious mind. Your unconscious mind is a machine running on a finely tuned program. You can edit it, but you can’t change the program…easily.

In fact, if you try to change your unconscious mind by overriding its programs, you could end up harming yourself. Do you remember the 1990s film Shine? It was the true story of Australian concert pianist David Helfgott. Helfgott’s father was a holocaust survivor and programmed into his son’s unconscious mind from an early age that he couldn’t succeed in life because that would make him vulnerable as he would stand out. In his conscious mind, Helfgott knows that he is a world class pianist. In his unconscious mind, he has decided that he can’t stand out. Helfgott tries to feed his conscious belief and chooses one of the most difficult piano compositions, a piece by Rachmaninoff, to play in a recital. During the recital, a battle takes place between his conscious belief and his unconscious doubt, between his will to succeed and his instinct to fail. After successfully playing the last note of the recital, he passes out and suffers a breakdown. His conscious will had won the battle, but lost the war. In the end, the unconscious mind always wins.

Changing Your Unconscious Beliefs

If you want true and lasting change in your life, you have to get to the unconscious beliefs, trust the ones that are serving you and transform the ones that are not serving you. This is often not easy. There’s no point being logical. Logic can edit the unconscious script, such as when you rationalize a compromise. You decide to eat well half the week and not worry the other half, trying to convince yourself that this is a solution. You’re not dealing with a logical machine. The unconscious mind is more like a sensor that lights up when it resonates with a story, an emotion, an image or an intuition.

Thinking positively is an attempt to edit the script, but it won’t in itself change the nature of the script. Don’t you sometimes find yourself standing and staring inside an open refrigerator? Are you waiting to be seated, or for a waiter to take your order? It seems to be a universal habit. It’s as if we expect some blinding realization to leap out of the fridge into our minds. You’re standing there, not at all hungry, but scanning the contents as if your life depends on it. If you’re like me, you say to yourself, “I’m not hungry. I don’t need cheesecake. I won’t have that cheesecake. I won’t have the cheesecake…..give me that cheesecake NOW.”

Until you know what hunger you are truly feeding at an unconscious level, you won’t change your relationship with food. Until I understand that I am filling the hole in my life which is self doubt with cheesecake, I will keep running the fear script. If you feed your fears, they thrive. Once you feed your passion to live an integrated and healthy life, your fears will starve to death.

How do you know when you’ve made a change at the unconscious level? The sensor light of self awareness flashes in your mind like a fridge light in the middle of the night. You realize what you are doing, and it becomes a joy to change, a natural expression of who you are becoming.

Integrating the Unconscious Mind

When the sensor light of self awareness flashes in your mind, you are moving towards transformation. Your mind is transcending limitations. Your consciousness expands in every direction. You discover yourself to be a greater person BY FAR than you ever dreamed yourself to be. Replay that last sentence. You discover yourself to be a greater person by far than YOU ever dreamed YOURSELF to be. YOU surprise YOURSELF. That’s strange. Who is this you, and how is it different than yourself? Who is the YOU who makes the big discovery about YOURSELF?

If you want to communicate with your unconscious mind, bring together a united front and stop the struggle. Positive thinking, and self will require a lot of effort. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to overwrite the unconscious script. So stop trying. It’s like looking for your glasses. You can’t see them because you don’t have your glasses on. You can’t access your unconscious wisdom because it is the essence of peace and you are striving for something that can’t be found outside of you and you are looking without the benefit of the very thing that will get you there. The glasses are on your head. Just tilt your head to the sky and let them fall into place.

When you shift your habitual way of thinking, stop judging things as positive and negative, and get out of the way of your inner wisdom, you come closer to communicating with the unconscious mind. Spiritual traditions have always found ways to point to this truth, whether its parables, proverbs, stories, myth, silence, koans, music or art. They speak the language of the unconscious mind, rather than battling with it. They offer ways to subtly shift your consciousness to include more possibilities, rather than trying to overwrite the unconscious.

One example is The Ten Ox Herding Pictures, originating in the Sung Dynasty in China in 12th century. Each step comes with an image and a few words that convey the usual path that we follow in search of spiritual awakening. The ox symbolizes the mind and the herder symbolizes the seeker. You look outside of yourself for the ox, think you find it, try and tame it by riding it, and then eventually realize that it is within. You stop looking, and eureka there it is in the peace.

Practical Ways to Speak to Your Unconscious Mind

Some of the internal conflicts require therapy, and there are many good professional ways to access, heal and transform your unconscious script. There are also some things you can do yourself.

I’m a big fan of affirmations. I write them every day. When I write affirmations, I’m not just writing positive thoughts, although I hope they are positive thoughts. I use images, poetry and metaphor to bypass the conscious processes and speak to the unconscious mind. I don’t say “This will be a great day” or “I will lose weight this week” or “I will become super wealthy”. I use images that point back to the peaceful essence within that knows that it has the resourcefulness, the capacity, to thrive in any situation. I say, “I have everything that I need to thrive” and “I am becoming exactly what the future demands of me” and “I have an abundance of resourcefulness.” I wrote one last week that said, “Everything that happens makes me wiser and stronger.”

Affirmations aren’t desires for the future. They are affirmations of peace and capability that you already have. This is an affirmation I wrote recently.

Don’t compare yourself to any another person, or compare this time to any another time. You and this moment are a perfect match, engaged in a fateful love affair. You are the right person in the right place at the right time. Give thanks today for who and where you are. It is PERFECT for NOW.

Say to yourself: I am who I am, and all that I need to be.

I also try to reframe unconscious beliefs through affirmations. I heard an awesome example of reframing, which is to put your situation into a new context. I heard a guy say that the upside of having to live in his car is that he wakes up in whatever neighborhood he wants to. He has choice. We all have far more choice than we usually imagine. Your attitude is a choice. This is another affirmation I wrote about reframing anxiety.

Does anxiety sometimes get you down? Think of it as part of your growth. Questions, doubts — the very things that you thought were weighing you down — are part of your growing resourcefulness. You don’t need to pretend or put on a brave face. Growth happens in the midst of struggle.

Say to yourself: Even anxiety is making me stronger and wiser.

In other words, you aren’t denying your anxiety. Denying your anxiety would fly in the face of the unconscious message and lead to conflict which is another anxiety. You are acknowledging your anxiety and redirecting your anxiety to a new end in your life.

The unconscious mind is your friend. It holds your capacity for genius, as well as some hidden fears and insecurities that want to be healed and transformed. Honor it all, work with it, and let your life change from the inside out. Namaste.

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