Yesterday I wrote some general benefits of regularly performing sacred practices. Now I want to talk about how those benefits help you to create new patterns.
Ten years ago, when I bought What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole, I watched it over and over. And I especially played certain sections about the science multiple times. One of the pieces that had a huge impact was the stuff about how we create neural nets, the patterns of thinking and habits of doing that become the fabric of our lives.
The news that an overload of negative patterns can shift your peptide receptors so you can no longer take in positive thoughts, foods, etc. resonated deeply for me. And, of course, the idea that you can change those patterns was something I’d been working on since I started off in 1985 with the “you create your reality with your thoughts” philosophy (for more recent converts/younger people, think Law of Attraction).
Most of what I worked with on the creating reality front was mental. Although my therapist also taught me a number of meditations in which I could release or change something, the process was by and large mental. And I believe changing your mind is a crucial part of the process.
But it’s not the only way you can make changes. And, over the course of 30 years of performing various practices, I’ve come to believe that practices can make a huge difference in changing patterns.
BACK TO MINDFULNESS
As noted in Part 1, most spiritual practices, if done with focus and attention, can help train you to keep your mind more quiet and focused in the moment. If you want to change your thinking, it’s just about impossible to do if you can’t stay mindful enough to realize when you’re running negative tapes or falling into old patterns.
Although I’ve met a few people over the years who seemed to be able to encounter Wayne Dyer or Louise Hay, flip a switch and suddenly be positive all the time, for most of us it requires a lot of work to even notice all the negative tapes playing in the background. And without mindfulness training of some sort, I don’t see how you can stay present enough to turn around those negative thoughts.
The critical editor in your mind, who constantly criticizes, complains, and points out the bad in everything, tends to run rampant and keeps a flood of those kinds of thoughts racing around. That becomes a groove; a set of neural nets that only notice and only run unhappy thoughts.
Practices that train the mind to be more quiet over time start creating a new groove in which the mind becomes more comfortable without the constant chatter and it slowly becomes easier to stay aware of your thinking and change its direction.
THE CALM AND BALANCED GROOVE
When I do a yoga set or the Five Tibetan Rites or “sit vipassana” I always notice that the state of balance and calm these practices induce lasts for hours afterwards. Over the years, these hours of calm have created a new pattern of serenity that carries into pretty much all areas of my life. And I doubt you’ve ever known anyone who was any more tense, anxious, and neurotic than I used to be
Combined with the greater mindfulness the practices have also created, I can much more readily notice when anything has thrown me off balance and almost immediately call back the calm.
A big component of Feldenkrais’ and Robert Masters’ (student of Feldenkrais who created the Psychophysical Method I use in my teaching) work is the idea that if you notice how your body normally is held and then do something to release it and purposefully note the change, you will eventually create a stronger pull to the one that feels better. I think of it as making a new neural net or pattern.
I think the calm, balance and serenity of these practices affect you the same way. When your mind starts contrasting the anxiety or tension before you practice with the peacefulness afterward, it moves toward the pattern that feels better and begins to hold it more often and more strongly.
I also find after I’ve done the Eight Key Breaths or chanted the Lovingkindness chant, for instance, the negative tapes and thoughts just don’t have a foothold for a while. My mind is more positive when I feel that centered and balanced. I’ve noted it’s a great time to say or listen to affirmations as my whole being is more receptive from that calm space.
BYPASSING THE MIND
I tried for a long time to make these changes mainly through mental processes. I wanted to “think away” the negative thoughts. I’ve known a LOT of people over the years who want to accomplish the spiritual journey only by working on the mental side.
Over time I’ve learned there are too many levels to us to work just on the mind. I’ve also found that the ego more easily controls, blocks and redirects mental efforts.
Most of the practices I’ve ever encountered work much more on the spiritual, physical and sometimes emotional levels. Movement practices often open key areas of the body so both blood and prana flow more readily everywhere. Sometimes they stretch muscles enough to release emotions and issues held within.
Even more important, they build energy and help to bring it into balance. When the energy is flowing freely and is balanced, it can shift you more profoundly than just changing your thoughts.
I’ve found it’s often easier to shift if I bypass my mind with practices than if I try to force my mind to change. About 8 years ago I went back to faithful practice of the Eight Key Breaths, the Five Tibetan Rites and Flying Crane Chi Gung. As I wrote a while back, I felt I needed to approach my remaining physical and emotional issues and blocks with energy.
I generally always have several types of practices and some body work going at the same time, so it’s hard to credit one particular thing, but the fact that I’ve finally been pushing through the hold-out muscles and issues can be credited in large part, I feel, to doing those practices. While I’ve also had AMAZING body work and I also credit the great therapists I’ve seen, I’m not sure their work would have worked as well without the energy practices opening and moving and shifting as much as they did (still do…).
As you can see, I really love doing various practices and I absolutely believe those practices have been a major component in the many, many ways in which my life has changed. In the final part of this series I’ll explore how many of us sabotage ourselves by not practicing and some of the reasons why.