“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
:: Helen Keller
Welcome to part 5 of a 6 part journey into meditation. Whether you know it or not, and more importantly, whether you feel it or not, when you meditate you are healing yourself. If you havn’t followed this series from the start, click below.
When we sit in silence, and simply witness life, emotional wounds that we store in our body can be connected with and released. This is the foundation for the experience of amazing insights, breakthroughs and shifts in consciousness that are part of the inner path.
Our body is a highly sophisticated and complex of integrated sensory organs. Each second we take in 2 million separate bits of information through our senses, so the practice of becoming aware of our bodies is the practice of taking in more of this life experience is.
Mind is body and body is mind
We will explore this strange sentence very soon. First of all, let’s examine the problem that meditation is a solution to. The problem created by the way we exist often is that our mind and body are split when they are supposed to be in harmony.
We get stuck in our heads and analyse the hell out of everything and because of this over reliance on our thinking mind, the capability of our aware mind, which is what I mean by body intelligence, is diminished and forgotten. We forget how to intuit and feel. We live in our heads, pulled this way and that by excessive thinking.
Tension, anxiety and stress gets trapped in our body. We tune out of our intuition and become robotic. Tune out of intuition.
Think about that. Intuition is this mystical sense that our thinking mind can do nothing to logically understand, so we call it the 6th sense and place it somewhere in the “it’s so weird I’m not sure what to think” realm of horoscopes and ghosts.
But intuition is so so simple and powerful. It is our human ability to sense and feel on a non-thought level. Sub-thought. A level of consciousness that is too deep for thought to even think about. A level of consciousness that is beyond time and space… but I’m getting carried away here. This stuff is for next week.
My point is that mindfulness helps with to bring the mind and body back together. Mindfulness is a road that connects head with heart.
Western culture: Putting a leash on our full potential
In many ways our western culture has conditioned us to live from our heads and not our hearts.
We are taught to think in terms of analysis and linear, reductionist, ways rather than intuitively feeling things. In smaller words, our educational system and institutions are designed as if we live in a black and white world with angular corners, straight edges and fixed laws. Thinking in rational ways is wonderful and powerful.
But the constant use of one form of intelligence surely means we forget our full powers- we put a leash on our full potential.
We try and think our way to every conclusion, instead of feeling the innate wisdom and intuition that is within us all.
The Eastern Philosophy & Modern Science of mind-body connection
The eastern world has always known the mind and body are connected. That’s why if you go to see a Chinese healer for a bad back, he might give you some breathing exercises. Or if you go in feeling depressed or feeling low energy he may rub your kidneys or poke your gall bladder.
In the Chinese tradition, meridian lines and energetic centres in the body are what their entire health system is built around.
In the Yoga tradition, chakras are energy channels, wheels that process emotions and experience. When our emotions are flowing and being expressed, our wheels are turning. These energetic wheels turn freely when our breath flows freely, which is why yoga is actually more about breathing than bending into shapes.
When we get caught in excessive thinking, our breathing usually gets caught up and the wheels slow down or stop.
Finally! Western medicine catches on
One of the most ironic “discoveries” of modern times, has been the discovery that our minds and bodies are connected. The beauty of the western medical establishment getting all excited by mind-body connection is that we now have millions of research dollars pouring into an area of wellbeing that has been ignored forever. This is wonderful news for humanity. The merging of science and spirituality can now begin.
So, contrary to popular belief our mind is not just in our brains. It exists throughout our bodies as well. Scientists are calling our gut the second brain, as it contains around 100 million neurons, more than even our spinal cord, which is directly attached to our brain.
Think about that for a second. We have brain cells in our stomach. This system is called our enteric nervous system, or our “second brain”. The second brain consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut, or alimentary canal, which measures about nine meters end to end from the esophagus to the anus.
Our Vagus nerve connects our mind-body. Vagus means “wandering” in Latin. The vagus nerve conveys “gut feelings” to the brain. Rooted in the brain, it goes all the way to the gut, and touches the heart and most major organs along the way.
Researchers at the Heart Math institute in the US have discovered that our hearts give off an electromagnetic field, as do our brains. But our heart gives off a field that is 60 times more powerful than our brains. They have also found that the electrical frequencies emitted by our hearts vary according to whether we feel happy or sad, angry or grateful. Have you ever heard someone talking about personal vibrations, or how that person is a low vibration person, or how we should raise our vibration?
This is no longer hippy talk. This is science talk. Everything is energy (more on energy and quantum physics in the next chapter). When you walk into a room where people have been arguing, the tension you feel is electro-magnetic vibrations emitted from the hearts of people.
What does this science have to do with mindfulness?
When you feel “gutted”, when you feel unease in your belly, when you feel heartache, or feel your heart swelling with happiness and contentment be sure you truly absorb these amazing experiences.
These are real and powerful signals about your life. Ignoring them or suppressing them (by continuing to live through excessive thought) is to deny yourself of your full human potential
Mindfulness of Emotions (The Feeling Tone)
Emotions are a source of information about our environment. They stem from thoughts in our minds, to become feelings in our bodies. When we fail to express our emotions, they become clogged in our bodies. This is emotional repression.
Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the impact of thoughts, emotions and behaviours on our immune system. This is a fascinating area of study which has discovered that the same biochemical processes that communicate needs and feelings also regulate our immune system. Its all about neuropeptides.
Research by Dr. Gary Schwartz has shattered the long enduring myth that negative emotions equate to bad health and positive emotions mean good health.
Dr. Schwartz led a research study on people with breast cancer. Those who learned to accept their emotions, connect with them and express them, had a 46% higher rate of remission. He later wrote: “Our ability to attend to, connect with and express our emotions correlates to our ability to heal ourselves.”
How powerful is it to have scientific proof that it is not about the presence of negative emotions, but whether they are expressed and experienced or repressed and withheld that determines our bodies ability to self-heal?
Chronic emotion repression is now linked to a hypersensitive immune system, allergies, auto-immune imbalance, as well as stress and anxiety.
Why do we repress emotions if it is so unhealthy?
Repression is a survival tool, a short-term strategy to cope with overwhelming situations. In certain situations, it is far more important to run away than stand there processing the emotions you feel. If you find yourself in a life or death situation, repress the emotions so you can get the hell out of there! Deal with them later. The same goes for heavy emotions. If grieving, it may not serve you to express the emotions immediately.
Perhaps you need to create a temporary blockage so you can support others or achieve certain things. But, if they are not expressed at some point, they will probably manifest as sickness.
Repression is a habit that begins in childhood, as we push away unwanted thoughts and feelings that then get stored in our subconscious. Repression involves denial, distraction but it doesn’t make them go away.
Habitual repression can turn into emotion phobia: when this happens we avoid strong emotions at all costs and use a sophisticated range of avoidance strategies to pretend they do not exist.
Mindfulness of emotions is the opposite of repression and can be used to heal repression.
How do we deal with strong emotions?
By facing them, connected with them. Expressing them. It’s about developing emotional responsibility. Being in the struggle, instead of running away.
If you think about it, we have developed countless ways to leave ourselves in order to not face any one of a huge host of unpleasant emotions, and sensations: boredom, shame, fear, loneliness, despair, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, insecurity, guilt, restlessness, craving and so on.
Through a wide array of internal and behavioural mechanisms, we have learned to flee from emotional pain. Internal defence mechanisms, drug and alcohol use, preoccupation with eating, shopping, cleaning, work, sex, exercise, material and monetary acquisitions, interpersonal control, overindulgence in technology, staying busy, relationship dependencies, to name but a few.
When we learn to sit with unpleasant emotions, we can stop the habit of avoiding information that helps us- indications we need to change something or take care of ourselves.
5 Steps to Deal with Strong Emotions in a healthy way
1) Label your feelings – the simple act of labeling your current feeling state with some degree of discriminative specificity can greatly enhance mindfulness and help produce measurable degrees of neural integration
2) Identify and focus on any unpleasant physical sensations that may be occurring in your body. Take some time to simply watch thee feelings or sensations.
3) Watch the conversation that your brain weaves around difficult feelings that you are experiencing. Your brain always wants to engage in dramas and stories. Feel the feelings but watch the drama.
4) Practice emotional surfing- you will learn that there is nothing you need to do with difficult emotions. Like all other mental events, they simply come and go on their own All things are transitory. Nothing lasts. The irony is that the more we avoid difficult emotions, the more they linger. Unexposed emotions stay perfectly conserved and therefore stuck. Learn to “lean into pain” and you will find there is nothing to fear, therefore nothing to control. True control is requiring no control at all.
5) Ask yourself the question, when in the course of an activity or while contemplating an activity, “Am i avoiding an uncomfortable feeling by engaging in this?” Or, stated another way, If I wasn’t doing this, what might I be feeling?”
By dealing with our own emotions in a responsible way, you increase your emotional intelligence. You become a more advanced human, responsible for your own growth, instead of needing from others or projecting onto others.
You can find and listen to our inner wisdom and use our trauma and suffering as soil for growth.
To wrap up….
I hope you have embarked on your contemplative practice, one that involves meditation, silence and solitude. Giving yourself space to be, away from the devices, in nature as much will help you reclaim your full powers of Human-ness.