Friday, 26 July 2013

Just A Thought ....

Have you ever examined a single raindrop? If you touch it, it loses its form and gradually evaporates. However, the effect of multiple raindrops is much more apparent and enduring. Over time, water can literally change the landscape, wearing away rock, making grooves in the earth’s surface, nurturing plant life, animals, and humans, or instead it can cause devastation. I don’t need to convince anyone of this, we can each see it for ourselves.

It’s the unseen and intangible that typically proves more challenging. How do we imagine a thought to be? It’s easy to assume, that like the single raindrop, a thought appears momentarily and then evaporates. The analogy with water works well; the raindrop may evaporate, but the fact that we can no longer see it belies the fact that it persists in an altered form, it cannot be destroyed, eliminated from existence. It’s much the same for the single thought, a measurable vibration of energy that cannot be destroyed.

Just as the single raindrop has virtually no impact on wherever it lands, so it is with the single thought. But equally, the combined effect of thoughts can be life-enhancing or damaging. This is where the parallel with water must end, although only partially; it is not just the volume of thoughts that creates an impact but also their nature.

It’s remarkable to me now that the ‘thought is energy’ revelation made me sit up and take notice; I simply hadn’t stopped to consider it before, and yet I was at least vaguely aware of the consequences of (mostly negative) thinking. It’s no hardship to understand that there’s some link between anxious thoughts and stress, for example; haven’t we all experienced a racing heart beat in the face of something we’re afraid of? And there’s enough science around to support our hunches that feeling like this repeatedly is likely to lead to a tipping point, the point where symptoms of stress-related illness begin to emerge. The difficulty we face is dealing with that sense of inevitability: stressful events can’t always be avoided, therefore the resulting stress in the body is equally unavoidable. But is it?

Once I’ve worn a ‘stress groove’ in my brain, anything I associate with the origins of that stress can have me in panic mode before I’ve had chance to evaluate it. Let me give an example: travelling back home after a holiday some years ago, the train pulled into the station at Dalton-in-Furness, not my stop, and sent shock waves through my body, or to be more accurate, that was my experience; Dalton is a benign little town where nothing ever happened to me. My stop was next, however, and being at home meant being kept awake at weekends by the sound of loud music from my next door neighbour, and this is what arriving at the-next-but-one station signalled for me. At the back of my mind, throughout my ‘suffering’, I was aware that not everyone would respond the way I was doing; were they just made of stronger stuff, or was there something I could do differently?

I now know that the latter is certainly relevant. If I can create a ‘stress groove’, however unwittingly, then I must also have the capacity to reverse the process, and even create ‘peace grooves’! The process may not be particularly swift or easy, but then how long did it take me to build up so much anxiety that the sight of a small, innocuous Furness town could have my body preparing for fight or flight?

The key is awareness. The study of neuroplasticity has shown quite definitively that we can literally influence the physical structure of our brains, but to acquire new grooves that will bring us more peace (and subsequently better health!), we must become aware of our thoughts, which is quite different from the typical default position whereby our thoughts control us and all our reactions. If this is new to you, just stop for a moment, and put all your focus on one thing whether it be a part of your body, an external object or your breathing. Notice when a thought comes. Decide to let it pass. When other thoughts arise, let them go too. This is a type of mental training, you might say, and just as regular physical training builds muscle, regular thought observation (or mindfulness meditation) strengthens areas of the brain that allow for greater peace, more focus, clarity, and efficiency as well as the potential to lead to more spiritual understandings if that is your choice.

There are some excellent books that expand on any of the above: the power of thoughts, neuroplasticity, brain and mind, meditation and mindfulness. I am happy to recommend any that I have read.

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