Offered the choice between a McDonald’s hamburger and self-condemning negative thoughts, which would you choose? Which one would be worse? The hamburger is loaded with chemicals and preservatives and well, we’re not sure about the negative thoughts. . .
Both are of course, undesirable, but while we are careful about what we eat, avoiding toxic chemicals, taking anti-oxidants, eating organic, etc., we allow our minds to be cesspools of toxic thought. We clean our diet while filling ourselves with the toxicity of self condemning negativity. And that has a profoundly negative effect upon our well being!
How many brutalizing, eviscerating negative thoughts rip through your system every day or even every hour? Feel your shoulders and neck right now. . . Are they tight? That’s tension. Yoga and massage can help release that, but why create it in the first place?
Researchers have established over and over that thoughts and beliefs have a direct impact on both your physical and mental health. Genuinely positive thoughts and attitudes contribute to your well-being while negative thinking leads to adverse physical and mental health. Worry, anger, jealousy, hate, ill-will, grudges, vindictiveness, irritation, resentment, guilt, depression, anxiety, a lack of joy and unhappiness – in addition to wrecking your days, impairs your health!
Negative thoughts are a pathway to diseases like cancer, chronic fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, and digestive disturbances, to name just a few. And, your faulty thinking attracts other negative thinking people, negative situations and negative events, leading to even greater emotional stress, opening the door even wider to disease.
This is how powerful the mind is – clinical trials have shown that brains of people who take what they think is a potent drug (really a placebo) produce almost the identical neurochemical responses as the brains of actual drug takers. In one study, a group of Parkinson’s disease patients were given a placebo. Brain imaging showed that they actually produced more of the muscle-controlling chemical acetylcholine as did the patients receiving the “real” medication.
And like “real” drugs, placebos produced negative side effects when subjects thought those side effects were possible. If you tell a patient treated with a placebo he might experience nausea, he’s likely to feel nauseous. If you suggest that he might get a headache, he may. Patients given a saline solution, who thought they were receiving chemotherapy, actually threw up and lost their hair.
Science journalist Jo Marchant, in an article titled “Heal Thyself,” explores how the way we think about medical treatments shapes their very real, very physical effects on our bodies. She writes:
“It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself – rather than a particular drug – might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal”.
She cites a recent study at the Harvard Medical School, in which people with irritable bowel syndrome were given a placebo and informed that the pills were “made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes.” As Marchant notes, this is absolutely true, in a meta kind of way. What the researchers found was startling in its implications for medicine, philosophy, and spirituality – despite being aware they were taking placebos, the participants rated their symptoms as “moderately improved” on average. In other words, they knew what they were taking wasn’t a drug – it was a medical “nothing” – but the very consciousness of taking something made them experience fewer symptoms.
Doctors will tell you they can walk down the street and identify the people who have cancer. Carl Simonton used to go out on the streets and identify those people. He would ask them to spend a few minutes with him. This was in the ’70s when Pacman was big. He would say to them, “Close your eyes and picture Pacman eating your cancer.” Shockingly, within five minutes, the cancer cell rate in everyone’s body dropped an average of 10%. That illustrates the power of the mind.
You can can control your diet and exercise, but controlling the thoughts that run rampant through your mind presents a different kind of challenge. We feel that we have little power over our emotions. In addition, most people would rather not go there. We are so accustomed to feeling badly about ourselves and having our lives filled with stress that we just shoulder our burdens and carry on, doing the best we can. Well, I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way!
The first thing I want to talk with you about is meditation. Now in all likelihood you have tried it and it didn’t work. Either you couldn’t quiet your mind or experienced some other resistance that manifested as “I can’t find the time,” or “My life is just too busy,” etc. I believe in meditation and I want to talk with you about the real reason you haven’t been able to meditate.
Meditation requires being calm, and that prospect terrifies your inner one. It makes her feel vulnerable. She’s more comfortable if you are occupied, stressed out, busy, or in some other fashion, agitated. There is another reason too. She is in pain, probably a good deal of pain, and if you let down and become calm, her pain is likely to to surface and then things could get really ugly.
However, as you do your healing work, if you can begin a meditation practice, it will benefit you tremendously. When you slow down as you do in meditation, you become aware of your thoughts as they form. This increased awareness gives you the opportunity to address the false premises upon which your beliefs are built before your thoughts take hold.
We know that meditation is useful in treating both anxiety and depression. We have also found it very useful as a primary treatment approach for chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and even HIV.
MRI scans show that with meditation the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, shrinks. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, initiates your response to stress. With meditation, the connection between this center and the rest of the brain actually becomes weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration are strengthened.(1)
Let’s face it, your inner one’s fears and anxieties have already caused you to make many compromises in your life. We tend to accept these as matters of course. Relationships are a compromise, a job is a compromise, having friends is a compromise, kids are a compromise . . . As Carlos Rey wrote, “Our dreams are what we are meant to be. Our life is what we settled for.”
This compromise business is a lot of bull, but you don’t want to hear about it! Because dealing with your beliefs would mean not only dealing with present situations, it also means going back to the childhood events that led to the formation of your beliefs in the first place and untangling them. It would mean overturning the core beliefs on which your life is built – never mind that they were never true and that they seriously impinge upon your life today! But most people don’t want to tear up their lives. It’s messy, unpleasant, painful and disruptive!
The problem is, you’re gonna have to do it. You don’t have any real choice. You can postpone things for now, but that just means you’ll face a larger crisis later. The simple truth is, like it or not, you’re going to have to deal with your false beliefs and the assumptions that underlie them. It’s the reason you are here! And The Universe isn’t going to let you go until you’ve finished your homework.
Your beliefs will cause you pain and disrupt your life until you exchange them for the truth. Resisting only means that you will eventually be brought to your knees, most likely through a life crisis or disease. Then you can make these same changes through what is called “a healing crises,” or die. Viktor Frankl hit the issue dead center when he wrote:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
So, the real question is whether you want to add the drama and pain of an emotional crisis or a physical malady like heart disease or cancer to the mix because today in all probability, that’s where you are headed.
Your negative thoughts are detrimental, but they also offer you an opportunity. Your false beliefs are a warning signal. They tell you that something isn’t “right” inside and that you need to pay attention to it. They offer you the opportunity to deal with your beliefs. So, as damaging as they are, and they are, they are also, in a sense, a gift.
Take any one of your negative thoughts and “unwrap” it, and you will find at it’s core a belief – and a false one at that. You’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, smart, sexy enough – whatever. Those are lies, pure unadulterated lies, that a part of you came to believe many years ago. That’s what drives your negative thinking today. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Consider this for a moment. The mind of the wounded soul focuses on the self. It is filled with fear and worry. The healed mind pays little regard to the self and that frees it to enjoy life and the moment. I do not have the space to deal with solutions here, and I’m sorry if this sounds like a commercial, but Healing The Shadow, my first book, deals with the subject of healing your beliefs at length. It has, and continues to be, the focus of my life’s work.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016
(1) Scientific American, “What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?” By Tom Ireland, June 12, 2014.
John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago writes about a student named Tommy in his Theology of Faith class:
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both blinked. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders. It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn’t what’s on your head but what’s in it that counts; but on that day I was unprepared and my emotions flipped. I immediately filed Tommy under ‘S’ for strange, very strange.
Tommy turned out to be the “atheist in residence” in my Theology of Faith course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father/God.
We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was, for me
at times, a serious pain in the back pew.
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a slightly cynical tone, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?”
I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. “No!” I said very emphatically.
“Oh,”he responded, “I thought that was the product you were pushing.”
I let him get five steps from the classroom door, then called out, “Tommy! I don’t think you’ll ever find Him, but I am absolutely certain that He will
He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.
I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my clever line: “He will find you!” At least I thought it was clever. Later I heard that Tommy had graduated, and I was duly grateful.
Then a sad report came. I heard Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could search him out, he came to see me. When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted, and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy, but his eyes were bright, and his voice was firm for the first time, I believe.
“Tommy, I’ve thought about you so often. I hear you are sick,” I blurted out.
“Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It’s a matter of weeks.”
“Can you talk about it, Tom?” I asked.
“Sure, what would you like to know?” he replied.
“What’s it like to be only twenty-four and dying?”
“Well, it could be worse.”
“Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals; like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life.”
(I began to look through my mental file cabinet under ‘S’ where I had filed Tommy as strange. It seems as though everybody I try to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)
“But what I really came to see you about,” Tom said, “is something you said to me on the last day of class.”
He continued, “I asked you if you thought I would ever find God, and you said, ‘No! ‘which surprised me. Then you said, ‘But He will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time.
(My clever line… He thought about that a lot!)
“But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that’s when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven, but God did not come out.
In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try something for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get psychologically glutted; fed up with trying. And then you quit.
Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may or may not be there, I just quit. I decided that I didn’t really care about God, about an afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable.”
“I thought about you and your class, and I remembered something else you had said: ‘The essential sadness is to go through life without loving. But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.’ So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him.
“Yes, what?” he asked without lowering the newspaper.
“Dad, I would like to talk with you.”
“I mean it’s really important.”
The newspaper came down three slow inches. “What is it?”
“Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that.” (Tom smiled at me and said it with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him.)
“The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me.
We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me. ”
It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years.
I was only sorry about one thing – that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to.
“Then, one day, I turned around and God was there! He didn’t come to me when I pleaded with Him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop; ‘C’mon, jump through. C’mon, I’ll give You three days, three weeks.’
Apparently God does things in His own way and at His own hour. But the important thing is that He was there. He found me. You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking for Him.”
“Tommy,” I practically gasped, “I think you are saying something very important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather to open up to love.
You know, the Apostle John said that.
He said: ‘God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him.’
“Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now. Would you come into my present Theology of Faith course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn’t be half as effective as if you were to tell them.”
“Ooh… I was ready for you, but I don’t know if I’m ready for your class.”
“Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call.” In a few days, Tom called, said he was ready for the class, that he wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a date, but he never made it. He had another appointment, far more important than the one with me and my class.
Of course, his life was not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever heard, or the mind of man has ever imagined.
Before he died, we talked one last time. “I’m not going to make it to your class,” he said.
“I know, Tom.”
“Will you tell them for me? Will you… tell the whole world for me?”
“I will, Tom. I’ll tell them. I’ll do my best.”
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to hear this simple statement about love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy, somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven – I told them, Tommy, as best I could.
John Powell, Professor Loyola University, Chicago
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016