How we feel about ourselves influences our immune system. Candace Pert (Molecules of Emotion) and many researchers since have uncovered physiological mechanisms in our bodies that influence how we feel and how effectively we can fight off and recover from illness.
Hopelessness, anger, frustration, regret, resentment, and any emotion that brings the spirit down depress the glucose available to our cells and contribute to the exhaustion, mental fog, lack of interest in life, and inability to make decisions that characterize depression.
When depressed people change how they speak about their situations, to themselves and the world, they take proactive steps to change, not just the feeing state, but how their bodies respond biologically.
Change your thoughts, change your life is a mantra for healers of all stripes.
We know this. The critical question is, do we do it?
Do we seek within ourselves for the messages that got stuck in our brains and repeated the same negative programming over and over until we believed it?
It’s hard to do, yes, until you do it enough to acquire a knack for how it works. Then, it becomes a game. Ferreting out negative, unhelpful ideas and changing them is a critical step on the way to health and wholeness.
Not until you know what negative messages you’re sending yourself can you begin to change them.
Changing negative messages requires that you say things to yourself you may not believe are true.
- I enjoy perfect health.
- I have everything I need to be happy.
- I am loved and love in return.
- Every day, I am healing my ______________
These seemingly contradictory statements, spoken aloud or mentally, can change how the body functions. Healers have always known this. Now physiological researchers are finding the mechanisms that explain why.
At first, it may feel silly to say things to yourself that are not “true,” but in fact the body does not know the difference between “true” and “false.” It responds to all messages, so why not give it something that will perk it up? This can be easier to understand if you think of messages like,
I am a person worthy of respect.
For someone told in childhood that they were not worthy, the shift can be lifechanging. And isn’t everyone worthy of respect?
Recently, I was reminded of how vehement some folks are about giving others what they call “false hope.” They think it’s worse to try and fail than not to try at all.
Now, I’m not talking about telling people without a high school education they can obtain an executive position by taking an online course on management. Or, making inaccurate claims for expensive and bogus “cures” for diseases. Or products that promise easy weight loss with no change in diet or exercise. These are schemes offered by manipulative and reprehensible people who will do anything for money. Of course, we should beware their ilk.
I mean those who discourage family and friends from using complementary healing methods in addition to traditional medical ones. Adding acupuncture, massage, herbs, therapy, energy healing and other modalities can help change a patient’s attitude and feelings of self-worth which allows their bodies to marshal the natural healing mechanisms we all have within us.
A less tense, less frightened patient will have a stronger immune response we well as more energy to make lifestyle changes to support her health.
- Attitude counts.
- Faith counts.
- Hope counts.
For myself, I am working on pulling down some of the walls of my comfort zone. I want to have hope that I can change my life. Lose a little more weight. Publish more stories. Write that nonfiction book that terrifies me. Not that hope is enough. I also need time, energy, a plan, resources, support, and confidence, even if I have to prop it up with a two by four.
But first, I have to believe it’s possible. Not every minute. Not even every day. But enough to keep me plugging away.
An irresistible urge to clean out a closet came up the other day. I attacked it with gusto and deposited in a cardboard box shoes I’ll never wear again, clothes that don’t fit, worn out bags, random books, and a lamp I hate.
After finishing, I realized I had been looking for something. Not that elusive black shoe to match the one in the box. Something more important. I was looking for my point of power. The place of stillness. The present moment.
I’ve often been stymied by resistance, which is a great catch-all for negative ideas and beliefs—the programming that lives in what some call the subconscious mind. It’s taken years to understand that what stops me from 1) starting and 2) finishing projects is hiding inside me.
Every spiritual teacher I’ve encountered, in person or books, emphasized the importance of the Now. In the sixties and seventies, as meditation and eastern philosophies integrated into western culture, it became an often-spoofed catch word. Be Here Now! Allen Watts exhorted us.
The truth is, he was right.
The only way to create anything new is from the present. If we try to create from old patterns and memories, we end up re-creating old situations, even if dressed up in new clothes.
If you prefer dwelling on the past, you may identify yourself with childhood experiences, past wounds, slights, or resentments. Hold beliefs about how limited you are, how it’s too late (or too early) for what you want. Think you need more security, money, or free time before you create. You tell stories of what happened.
If you’re oriented to the future, you’re always planning. You have goals, vision, motivational tools, a to-do list. You’re so focused on what you will do that you don’t notice what is happening now. You tell stories of how great things will be.
If we don’t question where our ideas come from and if they are still true, we risk repeating patterns we don’t understand. A stuck pattern is a lens of perception.
If you feel at the mercy of time, other people, or your responsibilities, and can’t seem to start that novel, exercise program, or job hunt, maybe it’s time to look inside. The inner way is not often valued by the outer world, but it’s essential if you want to know yourself.
Here are some simple ways to start:
State a clear intention.
- Decide what you want.
- Write it down.
- Don’t share what you’re doing with anyone. Make this a private space, just you and the contents of your mind.
Spend fifteen minutes a day alone.
- Sit quietly with yourself. In nature. In your favorite chair.
- Close your eyes.
- Breathe, and notice what thoughts come up.
- Listen to the voice within, even if it sounds like your dad.
Get a notebook
- Commit to three sessions a week, twenty minutes each.
- Write what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it.
A practical way of clearing the mental residue is to look around at your living space to decide what you don’t need. Cleaning out closets, bookcases, attics, and garages is a physical correlate to cleaning out old ideas. It’s satisfying to cart away physical objects. Plus, it gives your resistance a heads-up that you mean business!
And who knows, you may find your point of power hiding behind that old tennis racket!
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make
you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week we celebrated Independence Day, a time for family and friends, barbecues, swimming, fireworks, and whatever makes you feel good.
But what if you don’t feel free and independent? What if finances, health issues, time, difficult family members or inappropriate living situations weigh on you? How do you celebrate your independence then?
It might be just the time to stop seeking solutions in the outer world and consider a walk down the inner path. Instead of traditional group activities, you might get more out of a quiet day of hiking in a beautiful place. Or reading an absorbing book, painting, playing with your pets, learning something new, calming your mind.
But what about that picnic everyone else is going to? Won’t you miss out? Not if you’d rather do something else. Not if your inner self is pining from lack of attention.
It takes strength to say no to the crowd. You risk being branded as strange, anti-social, a trouble-maker. The impulse that leads you to forego the picnic for a solitary walk may result in the happiest unforeseen events. A new friend met by happenstance. A stray dog that longs to comfort you. Perfect light on the river illuminating a fish swimming upstream. The book that will change your life at a garage sale for only a dollar. You could miss a lot at that picnic with people you’ve known your whole life.
If you long to answer the question posed by the whispering Self/Soul/Spirit, you want more than the easy answers provided by popular culture. Instead of Superman flying in to save us from our enemies, we seek the true myth, personified by the age-old gods and goddesses that sing through our blood and inhabit the nether regions of our minds.
One of my heroes, late writer Ursula K. Le Guin, talks about the difference between true myth and sub-myth, between Zeus and Superman, in her book, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction
She quotes a story told by the poet Rilke who, when he gazed at a statue of Apollo, it spoke to him. “You must change your life,” Apollo said.
“The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it, and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero—really look—and he turns into a gerbil. You look at Apollo and he looks back.”
Every writer, artist, mystic, and seeker knows that when the true myth rises into consciousness, that is its message: you must change your life. But that’s hard. Maybe you don’t want to. Maybe you’re happy the ways things are. If so, I salute you. But if you wonder what treasure lies buried behind that door you’ve never opened, then consider, what will make you free and independent?
Go ahead. Open it. Try. All you have to lose are the chains binding you to the past.
What happens when we don’t express our creative energy? When something inside blocks us from writing, painting, designing, making music, dancing for joy?
Lots of things can happen, most of them not positive, although some do a good job of masquerading as useful and practical.
- We can become so entangled in our jobs that we don’t take time for ourselves, our families, or friends.
- We can go back to school, in hopes that more education will spark our ability to create.
- We can become meticulous housekeepers, never a speck on the rug or a smudge on the mirror.
- We can become the most helpful person in the neighborhood, the one everyone comes to for a ride, a loan, or a shoulder to cry on.
These patterns, if freely chosen and intrinsically rewarding, are fine. But if they mask the face of resistance whispering that serving others, being busy, having a spotless home, and doing our jobs better than anyone else ever has, it’s time to put on the brakes and take stock.
My students often say:
- “I don’t have time.”
- “My job is overwhelming.”
- “My kids/parents/friends need me to be there all the time.”
- “Maybe when things slow down, I’ll work on my dreams.”
Maybe you haven’t noticed but the world is not slowing down. We’re expected to do more with less at work. Social media takes up time we used to spend talking to real people. Our phones demand our attention, and only the bravest does not use a phone for socializing, game playing, and entertainment. Even those who write the apps admit they intend to make us addicts.
At worst, blocked creativity leads to depression, lack of fulfillment, bitterness, anxiety, boredom, and seething resentment. The terrm “Prozac Nation” was coined because we use drungs to mask how we feel. It would be easier and safer to spend some ttime doing what we feel like doing.
Everyone has a need to create. For some, the drive is pre-eminent, while for others, it resides in the background. People who do crafts, garden, develop a personal clothing style, and make their homes restful havens are creative just as novelists, musicians, and playwrights are. The energy comes from the same place. The form it takes depends on your interests, abilities, values, and inclinations. Any form your creativity takes is valuable to you.
Unfortunately, creative work, unless it is popular and financially rewarding, is often not highly valuee by others. If your writing, painting, or music does not result in income, it may be considered, by your friends, as well as the IRS, as a hobby. The problem with hobbies is that they are “extra,” not as important, easily pushed to the background.
If you have the urge to create, consider giving yourself permission to start. What would it take to devote an hour two or three times a week to learning how to paint, compose a poem, design a website? What could you let go of, so you can learn about the pleasure that awaits you?
What would it feel like to dance for joy?
An exercise I use with coaching clients moving through transition is to write their own epitaph. Some are put off by this exercise, but others embrace it. Some find it validates their choices, while others realize their current life does not reflect their true aspirations.
Since we’re all different, what is important to us varies by age, sex, education, income, values, and abilities. And, as we age, our values and perceptions change.
The first half of life is about learning who we are in the world, choosing and establishing careers, and starting a family. For artistic souls, how to express themselves is critical. For security-minded folks, long term safety trumps risky challenges.
Later, as careers progress and families grow, we may find that what was once satisfying has become humdrum, maybe a little boring. At this point, many explore career transition, or develop new avocations.
Difficult life circumstances influence all our decisions. Victims of trauma and abuse who do not receive treatment can find their goals out of reach. They may have financial difficulties, trouble maintaining stable relationships or jobs. They may suffer from a nagging sense that something is wrong but can’t pinpoint what.
Anger and fear not processed block the creative energy that is our birthright. People who want to write, paint, design, or express themselves in any way may find resistance a formidable force.
- I don’t have time.
- I don’t know where to start.
- I don’t have the right education to do that.
- How do I know my work would be good?
These thoughts are negative programming held in the brain below the level of conscious awareness. We can hold beliefs from early childhood to old age without knowing what they are. All we know is that we don’t do what calls us. Not until we learn why we do what we do, can we uncover the beliefs that hold us back.
When asked how they want to be remembered, which is another way of asking, are you on track with your goals? Most people mention:
- Creative Work
- Personal Traits
If you try this exercise, and find you’re not engaged in activities related to your goals, this is a clue that it’s time to work on that negative programming.
Like the ancient goddess of crossroads, Hecate, with her ability to look both forward and backward in time, we can use past experiences to guide change in the present, so we can be more confident about how the future will unfold.
How do you want to be remembered?
Language shapes our concepts about who we are and what we can do. Even idle words tossed off without thinking can be taken to heart and turned into beliefs. Hiding beneath the notice of the analytical mind,these beliefs govern behavior even when the person has opposing conscious beliefs.
I was once told by a healer that I was acting on ideas about having the “right job”, the “right clothes”, and the “right car.” Indignantly, I protested. Not true, I said. More interested in leading an authentic life, material possessions approved by the common culture had seldom interested me.
“Yes,” the healer said with a smile. “But your mother held those beliefs, and she gave them to you.”
My mother had passed on several years before, so I could not question her about it, but lo and behold, when I examined my own beliefs, using a simple muscle testing system, sure enough, I was holding onto unconscious ideas that conflicted with my value system.
Beliefs can be tricky, since those that most affect us most are often buried under layers of experience. They must be coaxed out, with meditation, journaling, or whatever healing method works for you.
A simple way to start examining our beliefs is to notice how we talk to ourselves and others. Do we use a lot of judgmental words? You should. I ought. That’s hopeless.
If you use judging words every time you make a minor mistake, is there a way you can substitute kinder words?
- I forgot again! Could be changed to I am working on remembering
- I’m so stupid! Could become I made a mistake, but that’s okay because I’m human.
- How could I have done that! Could transform to I am learning from my experiences
If you try this exercise, it may feel awkward at first, but with some practice, you’ll soon learn to catch those automatic judgments and start speaking to yourself like a friend.
James W. Pennebaker, the pioneer in research on expressive writing for healing, discovered patterns of language typical of those who get the most benefit from expressive writing. He used a software program to analyze both written and spoken communication and found that pronouns (I, he, she, we, it) are a key to change.
When people who have experienced trauma write about the event, they can create a more coherent story which leads them to new understandings of what happened to them. The use of causal (because, why) and insight (realize, understand) words predicted how well the writers recovered from the trauma.
The most interesting and unexpected result came when he found that people who changed the pronouns they used (from first person to third person, for example) improved most in mood, health, and sociability.
By counting pronouns, Dr. Pennebaker found that people whose health was improving tended to decrease the use of first person pronouns. They gained perspective and the ability to see the situation from more than one point of view.
If you’d like to learn more about his research, he has written a popular book on the subject.
His original research, which inspired my own investigations into the benefits of writing for healing, is discusssed in his first book.
Wbat about you? Have you noticed how you talk to yourself? Have you tried journaling to uncover beliefs and stuck patterns you want to change?