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Quiet Your Mind
By John Selby
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 John Selby
All rights reserved.
who's running your mind?
* * *
Each of us is born into this world in intimate possession of a personal biocomputer so vast and mysterious that even our best scientists admit that – considering the staggering interactive complexity of the organ – they know very little about how it actually runs and what its ultimate potential might include. And the average person remains in virtual darkness concerning the neurobiology of consciousness and the underlying mental forces that shape our lives.
There's certainly no owner's manual for our brain – and our parents, who are initially in charge of fine-tuning its performance and data entry during our formative years, receive no formal training at all before taking over the massive job of orchestrating our mental and emotional development. Furthermore, we then go through at least twelve years of academic schooling, during which our minds are required to perform mental gymnastics and download great quantities of information to clog our cognitive storage units, and yet we never receive significant guidance in how to manage all the complex emotional, intuitive, perceptual, and spiritual dimensions of our mental functioning.
We know the end result: We do our very best to manage and hopefully even excel in our mental performance. And sure, we somehow survive one after another emotional and spiritual crisis. But ultimately, when we ask ourselves who's really in charge here, the answer is all too often uncertain, discouraging, or even downright scary.
When queried gently, most of us admit that we all too often feel like helpless victims of our various mood swings – for no seeming reason at all, we sometimes find ourselves engulfed in worries or even caught up in a full-blown panic attack. At other times we may sink unexpectedly into bouts of depression, or flair up with uncalled-for hostility – or perhaps find ourselves shrinking back from the world with thoughts and feelings mired in guilt, shame, apprehension, or self-loathing.
Of course most of us have our better days, when we wake up bright and eager, full of love and fun, spreading joy and laughter wherever we go. But even our brighter, more joyful moments tend to come to us not because of anything we have done consciously through wise mind management, but seemingly out of the blue. We might feel thankful for our good feelings, but still we know we're not in charge – and at any moment we can get dragged down again into another bout of negative thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms that turn an otherwise beautiful day into a bother, or even sometimes into a living hell.
Obviously I paint this initial somewhat depressive picture of our present social condition not to further depress you, but just the opposite – to say loud and clear that such emotional suffering and mental anguish are not necessary. With the proper mental tools they can be dealt with directly and consciously put aside.
As a psychologist who has been studying mood swings and their underlying cognitive causation for thirty years now, I can say emphatically that chronic emotional suffering is not our natural state, nor is it our necessary destiny. Yes, something is haywire inside our collective minds; somewhere during the development of our giant thinking brains still wedded to ancient survival emotions, we missed an essential cognitive leap. The good news is that we're just emerging into a period of history when we can identify why we're continually torturing ourselves with unwanted emotions; blow the whistle on the root cause of our inner torment, confusion, and agitation; and then act to shift into more enjoyable, fulfilling realms of consciousness.
This book will spend just enough time on psychological and neurological discussions to make sure you understand the science behind our common dilemma, and the logical course of its resolution. But the ultimate aim isn't just to create a new intellectual concept. Instead, you're holding a hands-on manual that will teach you step-by-step psychological tools that can realistically liberate your mind from the grip of negative beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.
Some of these techniques have emerged from ancient meditative insights and practices, some from cutting-edge neurological and psychological research, some from far-out New Age experiments, and others from the more conservative realms of psychoanalysis, Gestalt and reality therapy, cognitive behavioral studies, and so on. Recent books, such as Antonio Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Judith Beck's Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond, and John Welwood's Toward a Psychology of Awakening, have clearly elucidated specific academic dimensions of this progression toward a new vision of how the mind works and how we can act to become masters of our own inner destiny.
The introduction listed the dramatic changes that can be generated when we choose to quiet our overbusy thinking minds and open ourselves to new experience in the present moment. The positive effects of quieting our thoughts can also be readily seen through the personal experience of one of my recent clients.
Let's take a couple minutes to enjoy a short retelling of Richard's shift from no-choice to full-choice living. (Names and life details have been changed throughout to preserve anonymity.)
Richard Sees the Light
Richard's alarm clock went off with a loud jangle. Letting go of a vague dream, he blinked his eyes and woke up, his mind already starting, out of habit, to fixate on the most urgent challenges facing him that day. His wife woke up beside him with a welcoming smile, but instead of cuddling with her for a few moments, he sat up and began to mull over the details of a marketing presentation he had to deliver at 9:15 at the downtown office. Worried thoughts assaulted his mind as he realized he was still unsatisfied with some of the wording in his PowerPoint delivery.
Heading into the bathroom, Richard was already fully in problem-solving mode, his emotions tense and his body presence hardly acknowledged at all. Brushing his teeth, he found himself engaged in an imaginary argument with one of his coworkers, Oliver, defending his business logic and trying to come up with the exact words that would make Oliver look wrong at the meeting, rather than himself.
Twenty minutes later at the breakfast table, Richard had his laptop out making changes, fussing over details as he struggled to come up with some better wording for the first lines of his presentation. His teenage son came to the table wanting to talk about his tennis victory the day before, but Richard had no time for chatter – he was so consumed in his business worries that he barely focused on his son's presence at all. And when his wife put a comforting arm around him as he was heading out the door, he brushed aside her gesture – he was already gone in his mind and gave her no more than a perfunctory kiss as he hurried out to the car.
Driving downtown, Richard was impatient with traffic, and twice made half-conscious lane changes that could have caused an accident. Looking back suddenly at how heartlessly he'd acted with his family, he became swamped with guilt, worrying that he'd hurt his son's feelings and wondering if his wife would feel he didn't love her, even though he did very much.
He went into the office fast, still caught up in his family worries. When Oliver passed him in the hallway, Richard just scowled and then ignored him. They'd had a major run-in last week, and Richard was still angry at Oliver for resisting his new vision for the Lugombria account.
A few minutes later the meeting convened, with seven of Richard's superiors sitting around the table scowling at him as he tensely and somewhat aggressively gave his presentation, stumbling over some words and not really doing justice to his new ideas. And sure enough, Oliver attacked him right where he thought he would, and the ensuing argument made the whole meeting upsetting and indecisive.
Richard went stalking out of the building, driving back to his regional office feeling exhausted, angry, and fearful that he'd failed with his presentation. It seemed as though the whole world was down on him – he hated his work, hated Oliver, and could hardly manage to push forward with his life. He knew he was always doing his best, but somehow he remained a victim, caught up in worried feelings and paltry performance, over and over. As he drove out of the city he felt depressed, worried, angry, hopeless ...
Richard's morning scenario seemed to be fated to happen, as if he were locked into a life loaded with anxiety, frustration, and guilt. But as we're learning in this book, he actually could have taken fate in his own hands at a number of crucial points and transformed his experience for the better. Let's take another look at Richard's morning, and identify the key choices he could have made to improve his business performance, and enhance his family experience as well.
Right when Richard wakes up, rather than letting his prevailing business worries immediately take over his mind, imagine how his morning would flow if he chooses to quiet his habitual thoughts and shift his attention toward the opportunity to snuggle for a few moments with his wife – thus beginning the day with heartfelt emotions and even a rush of sexual pleasure.
And while brushing his teeth, he again has the opportunity to put aside whatever thoughts about the future might come to mind, tuning instead into his physical body in the present moment, focusing on his breathing, his heartbeat, the feel of his bare feet on the cool tiles. As he walks downstairs, his mind clear and his body a pleasure to inhabit, he might have a sudden flash of business insight, seemingly out of the blue, suggesting a way to improve his PowerPoint presentation.
He takes his laptop to the breakfast table and makes his changes. Right in the middle of completing his notes, his son comes in. Richard chooses to let go of his work long enough to stand up and give the boy a fatherly hug, and chat with him about the tennis match. There's a flow of heartfelt love that feels good to both of them – then Richard dives back into his computer work as he finishes his breakfast.
He gives his wife a loving embrace before they both go out the door to their respective jobs. For just half a minute they let go of everything on their minds and experience the charge of intimacy that means so much to them both. As he leaves his home, he feels sharp in his mind, expansive in his heart, and in harmony with the world around him.
Driving through traffic, he's several times pulled into worrisome thoughts – but each time that he feels anxiety gripping his breathing, he makes the purposeful choice not to drift off into bothersome imaginings. Instead, he reflects upon several business moves he needs to make in the next couple of days, then does a special meditation he's learned to help awaken contact with his deeper sense of purpose in life.
By the time he's walking into the downtown office he's feeling confident of the outcome of the presentation, the people around him responding to his brightness with heartfelt greetings. When he meets his antagonist in the hallway, Richard doesn't react to him based on past experiences and judgments. Instead he smiles, opens his heart to the man – and even though Oliver doesn't completely let go of his own negative feelings, Richard can see that something softens between them.
The formal meeting and presentation unfold positively without any stress on Richard's part. He purposefully stays grounded in his body, calm and clear in his mind, accepting in his heart whatever might happen. Because he's not caught up in worries and power plays, his superiors admire his solid presence and receive his presentation with high praise. He even surprises himself with several flashes of spontaneous brilliance that emerge out of nowhere to make his presentation an obvious success. Meanwhile Oliver, rather than attacking him, realizes that the rest of the room supports Richard's proposal and there's no point in fighting.
Richard walks out of the building feeling like he did when he walked in. He wasn't anxious going in, and he's calm and satisfied as he goes out – taking a few minutes to chat with a colleague in the parking lot about mutual interests and making plans for a dinner that will be fun for all.
From experience, I can imagine what some of you are thinking right now. Sure, we've all heard these overbright scenarios promising to miraculously transform our lives through some simple trick that perhaps might work for some lucky people but probably won't work for us. Our lives aren't so simple, our worries aren't so facile, our mental habits aren't so easy to change. Obviously, if transforming our lives for the better were so easy, we'd all have done it already. Therefore, positive stories like the one we just heard don't necessarily inspire us. They sometimes even depress us because we feel that we're now being expected to instantly throw off a lifetime's worth of worrisome habits and mental fixations, as if it were no challenge at all.
As the author of this book and creator of experiential programs, I fully understand and appreciate such initial reactions. I'm well aware of the complexities and challenges facing each of us when we decide it's time to take more conscious control of our minds and develop the ability to refocus our attention in more positive directions.
At the same time, Richard's second story was not in any way a fairy-tale episode of unrealistic life improvement. Over the years my colleagues and I have observed a great many everyday people make major changes in their lives. At this point there's no question: When provided with effective experiential guidance and a clear conceptual understanding of the quiet-your-mind process, most people can indeed progress confidently toward the positive goals and results just described.
We're clearly not talking about a superficial fix that temporarily treats surface symptoms. We're talking about applying the most advanced techniques and working together over time to identify the core causes of an agitated, unsatisfied mind – and then step-by-step mastering these techniques so as to advance toward a more fulfilling and, let's say it, openly fun-filled approach to life.
Insights from Research
The psychiatrist and mind researcher Humphrey Osmond, like so many great scientists and humanitarians before him, has now receded into history, nearly forgotten by up-and-coming generations. But when I was just beginning my professional work in the late 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Osmond was recognized as one of the true bright lights in the psychological and medical research community. He was the wise yet supportive doctor in Aldous Huxley's classic autobiographical account of early psychedelic research, The Doors of Perception. For over two decades he served as both leader and mentor of the new research community that was struggling to make scientific sense of the often radical insights of professionals who were exploring the psychological and neurological effects of physical and cognitive stress, emotional trauma, hypnosis, alcohol, marijuana, and psychedelics and the expanding frontiers of human consciousness.
I considered myself lucky to be offered the position of research hypnotist at Humphrey Osmond's Bureau of Research in Neurology and Psychiatry at the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute. For our present discussion I want to mention the seminal months during which Dr. Osmond oversaw our research into how the brain's performance might be altered when a subject's conscious attention shifts from deductive thinking to pure present-moment sensory experience. The results of these studies forever impacted my understanding of the primary ways in which we can liberate ourselves from the grip of our own noisy mental chatter and shift into present-moment engagement with the world around us.
The research protocol was straightforward: Each of our thirty-two subjects read a biology text for five minutes, then put the book aside and focused their attention fully on various sensory inputs, such as the sensation of the air flowing in and out the nose, the sensation of chest and belly movements while breathing, the sensation of heartbeat or pulse, the sensation of auditory inputs (sounds) and visual inputs (selected objects), and so forth. The subjects were wired to EEG (electroencephalographic) equipment and to machines measuring changes in heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and so forth. We also conducted special pre- and post-interviews for data on subjective experience.
Excerpted from Quiet Your Mind by John Selby. Copyright © 2004 John Selby. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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