We each consist of body, mind and spirit. And we all operate on these three levels, whether we’re aware of it or not.
When I look back over my own life, it’s clear how how I started out learning to get better at the level of the body. And by body I don’t mean in terms of sports and athletics, but rather actions, strategies, tactics. Become a better programmer, a better entrepreneur, a better writer, a better lover.
At some point, you reach a limit to how far you can take it down this path, though, without working on the level of mind also. Things just won’t work for you, anymore. You notice that you’re sabotaging yourself,
So you start working on your beliefs and your mindset. I’m talking about the truths that you hold, that you’re not consciously aware of, that you haven’t actively chosen to have, but which were installed into your mind while you were growing up. Beliefs about who you are and what you can do and what you’re worthy of, and so on. These will have a huge impact on your life.
There’s a famous social study where they gave two groups of students the exact same test, except for one single change: In one of the groups, they’d added a question on top asking about the student’s race: Asian, caucasian, african american, hispanic, and so on. By adding this simple question, african american students performed significantly worse on the rest of the test. Why? Because these students had an unconscious belief that african americans do poorly on tests. By simply asking that innocent-sounding question at the start of the test, that belief was invoked right at the critical time, and these students did indeed perform worse.
Beliefs truly have a way of making themselves come true. Think about the implications of this. In the words of Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right”.
The thing about growing up is that our mind is so tender, so soft, so open to new inputs. In fact, a child up to about 6 years of age has a brain that stays at or below the theta level, which is basically like being in a hypnotic trance. So they learn not through words and cognition, but almost by downloading concepts and beliefs and behaviors from their parents and their environment. It’s the old “do as I say, not as I do,” over again. Except it’s impossible for your kid to do as you say and not as you do, because observing what you do, in part thanks to mirror neurons, is how they learn. They cannot learn any other way.
So all kinds of shitty beliefs get snuck in the back door while we’re almost literally asleep, and now as grownups we have to expend all this effort to wade through, expose, and expunge ourselves of these beliefs.
Alas, such is the bargain of life, it seems, and so you find yourself working your beliefs, your mindset, your thoughts.
Perhaps you don’t really believe that you have it in you to succeed and achieve your dreams. That would be a major block to achieving it. Or perhaps you have secret unconscious beliefs that successful people are cold and heartless. That would pretty effectively keep you from ever becoming successful.
Perhaps you attend a Tony Robbins seminar and start saying affirmations to yourself: “Every day in every way I’m getting stronger and stronger!” That kind of stuff. Perhaps you just start to be more aware of what’s going on inside your head.
Either way, as you work on changing these beliefs, either by yourself or with a life coach, and you do change them, and suddenly paths start to open up that were previously closed, you experience great success, great progress, happiness, joy. Suddenly some of the things that you’ve dreamt of all of your life, but which have eluded you until now, come true. You’re elated!
But then, hot damn!, things start falling apart again. You find yourself stuck, you find that there’s something not quite right. Something feels out of alignment. You thought you were safe, that you’d cracked the code of life, but there’s a growing sensation that you haven’t. Not quite. And you desperately want that voice to go away, because it’s annoying as hell. You remember the last crisis you went through, all the agony and pain of digging out and changing all those beliefs, and you refuse to go through all that pain and trouble and uncertainty again. But the voice won’t go away, it won’t back down.
There’s a real risk at the ‘mind’ stage of falling into what I like to think of as “the sun is always shining above the clouds” thinking. It’s positive thinking gone astray. You know these people who always find the bright side in everything, and can never acknowledge the pain they’re experiencing, even though it’s achingly clear that this person is bursting at the seams with pent-up pain and sorrow.
Positive thinking is so much more awesome than negative thinking, but if you just gloss over the deep pains and sorrows and hurts and sadnesses that are still trapped inside your system, it’s going to come back and haunt you. Your body and subconscious mind has a life of its own, and your job as a grownup is to be the steward of that. You cannot just pretend it doesn’t exist, no more than a gay person can pretend to be not gay. (I know some people would take issue with that, but they’re the ones that are sick, not the gays.)
Most of your beliefs are held in your subconscious mind, and you can’t change them by a simple decision in your conscious mind. You have to make the new belief sink into your unconscious mind. Thankfully, there are techniques for this, many of which are derived from NLP. Tony Robbins is a master at this stuff.
But your deepest beliefs are held not just in your subconscious mind, but also physically in your body, as tension in your gut, in your shoulders, in your butt, in and around your organs, all the way along your entire back side, and on and on. And for these deep tensions, NLP and positive thinking just won’t do it. There’s no avoiding actually getting in touch with those deep, tough, nasty emotions that just sit there, waiting for you to look at them. With compassion.
It’s weird, how it seems we all have a deep, bottomless pit of really nasty stuff sitting somewhere in the pit of our stomachs, that we jump through all of these hoops to avoid feeling into. It’s so painful, it so epitomizes everything that we don’t want to be. The very thing that we are absolutely convinced would mean certain extinction, should we become or experience that, yet that’s exactly how we secretly feel inside, we’re just hoping that no-one will notice, and that we can delude ourselves long enough to survive this lifetime.
This what drives addictions, causes depressions, gets us into fights and even wars. The unwillingness to feel that deepest most ugly and nasty feeling that has us at our most vulnerable.
I once read somewhere that all struggle is really just a struggle to avoid feeling a feeling. In my experience, that’s dead on. If you’re willing to entertain any feeling that might show up, no-one can hurt you, nothing can really get to you. Isn’t it amazing, how much we’re really controlled by our emotions? Add to that how much our emotions are controlled by our bio-chemistry, which in turn is influenced by what we consume, and it boggles the mind. No wonder that sugar and alcohol and caffeine and nicotine and fat are such big businesses.
The good news is that the process of connecting with and releasing this deeply held pain is entirely possible and natural. Not always fun, not always easy. Scratch that. Never fun, and never easy. The programming to look the other way is so strong, it takes relentless commitment to seeing the truth if we are to get through. But it is both much easier and much harder than you think it will be.
And if you keep ignoring it, I can almost guarantee that you’ll end up at a major crisis at some point. The universe won’t let you off the hook. It’s taken an interest in you, and it’s going to see it through, no matter how hard you resist. So you might as well give in and see what’s in store for you this time. I promise it’ll turn out well in the end.