Don’t forget to call home….

IMG_2550Remember to take it. I shouldn’t have said that. I wonder what it will be like next year. And on and on it goes. There is a part of your brain that does nothing all day except generate words. This is similar to your digestive tract that spends its entire day processing food. You don’t need to be paying attention to your brain or your stomach for them to continue doing what they do. The word generating part of your brain is quite useful when you are speaking to someone, but if you have no one to speak to, you speak to yourself. This might take the form of reminding yourself about what you have to do, planning your day, counting calories, worrying about the future, rethinking the past, or other stories that you tell yourself about how things should or shouldn’t be.

The important thing that we need to recognize here is that the constant jabber is not who we are. We often mistake the word generating part of our brains as the one running the show. If we are kind to ourselves this can be a good thing. But if we are self critical, demeaning or depressed, the things that we tell ourselves can not only ruin our day, but they can be bad for our health. (Are your thoughts making you sick?)

If a thought is causing you pain (and I mean all negative emotions here as well as physical symptoms) there is little doubt that it is not true. We all face tragedy in our lives. Experiencing it, mourning it and letting it be, is the best that we can hope for. Pain and loss are unavoidable parts of being human. However, our past is just that, behind us, and reliving it wastes right now. The same could be said about worrying about the future. We have no way of knowing what will happen tomorrow. Why spend time thinking about things that make you unhappy when you could be paying attention to the world that actually exists in this moment?

As recently as the mid-80’s researchers have been able to measure how neurons fire in groups or neuronal assemblies. Gerstein (1989) has shown that neurons fire in groups and preferentially in patterns. So, you have this part of your brain that has nothing to do but generate words all day and words that you have thought before, phrases that you are familiar with, are the easiest words to generate. This same group of neurons gets in the habit of firing together all of the time, repeatedly thinking the same thing over and over again. Thought ruts form. It is easier for the word generating part of your brain to refire in this familiar pattern saying the same series of words than it is to think a unique thought. It then becomes difficult to believe that these words are not true simply because you’ve heard them so often.

Once you recognize that you can pay attention to what you are saying to yourself, you can examine the truth of it. Acceptance and Commitment therapy, affectionately called ACT, is a way of examining how language creates pain. It uses techniques to get past the literal content of what we tell ourselves so that we can be present in the moment (Hayes, 2005). By accessing our thoughts and bringing them into our awareness the thoughts can be examined rather than just taken as the truth.

The same thing has been discovered through spiritual channels. Byron Katie, a spiritual healer, discovered this on her own after a bout of serious depression and now teaches it. She uses the phrase, “Is that true?” to help people examine their thoughts. And the work begins. By asking yourself whether or not a thought is true and then examining when it possibly might not be true, you help rewire the cluster of neurons that have fired in a similar way for a long time. This helps to develop alternate pathways for thoughts to take and you can literally free yourself from the pain that the painful thoughts have been causing you.

So what do you say to yourself all day? Is any of it true? Is it always true? Can you think of an example where it might not be true?

 

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This is the essential book for learning how to examine your thoughts.

 

How to Clean Up Your Whole Life MP3

A TELECOURSE LED BY MARTHA BECK

How to Clean Up Your Whole Life MP3

The pile of papers in your office, the long-unworn clothes clogging your closet, the tiny frozen quiches that have been in your freezer since the Carter administration…they’re all cluttering your outer life, but they’re also hogging a portion of your inner life.

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