How to regain control over your mind

Dayen Here is a fascinating article sent to me by the Guru of Creative Thinking Mark McGuinness.

Here is that article. You might wish to read it first before you read the rest of my comments.

That misery called meditation – What seven days of silence did to my head

It’s about a journalist who goes on a 7-day Buddhist silent meditation retreat which does his head in. After just one day he thought he was going insane. Symptoms: intense boredom, aching, agitation, restlessness, escapism. All the signs, in fact, of a Headmind that was about to explode with frustration.

Interestingly, his Headmind adopted a very familiar tactic in such situations: which was to chatter about what other people on the retreat might be doing: making up fantasies about who was sleeping with who on the retreat. Everything you would expect, in fact, from a Headmind which would do anything at all to escape from living in the now.

But after the fourth day Bodymind takes over once more and he ends up in a much better place.

Reminds me a lot of the Teachings of Gurdjieff, on which I have written before in this blog. That, in turn, advocated that we human beings need to do a lot of work on escaping our enslavement to Headmind. But that can be difficult to do because Headmind is crafty in feeding the idea that what it thinks is ‘reality’. And then feeding the further idea that escape from that is impossible…

To remind you, Headmind hates:

Silence

Living in the present moment

Being ignored

Raw emotion

The desert (nothing to worry about or do there! – which is why Christ so frequently visited it).

But, as the article demonstrates, when you force Headmind to give up what it habitually likes to do: watch TV, read newspapers, crawl the internet, worry, fantasize, make up stories about the past, chatter about the future, then eventually it just shuts the fuck up.

And then you end up in a very nice place indeed, a place of ‘mindless salvation’; a place of overwhelming peace, happiness and fascination with the world we live in; just as if you were seeing it (again) for the very first time.

14 facts about the brain

Head Your body contains at least 60 trillion cells. Yet your brain contains ‘only’ 60 billion cells, just 0.001% of the total. Proof that the ‘mind’ isn’t just inside your skull.

Each cell carries, on average 7000 connections to other cells. Therefore the number of cell networks in the brain is 42 thousand billion, or 42,000,000000,000 pieces of information your brain can, store.

Yet your brain only weighs 3 pounds and uses just 10-23 watts of energy per day. That is less than the energy in three bananas.

Each year you will lose about 3.3 million brain cells. But that is less than 0.00000006% of the total. And nearly all of it is replaced, right on up until old age.

There is no truth in the myth that we only use 10% of brain power. The entire brain is being used every day, even if some areas of the brain are there only for storage or for back-up functions.

Super memory. The brain is capable of storing 10 trillion bits of information about you and your life experiences. 

The brain can make its own ‘heroin’. Endorphins are released in the Hypothalamus after vigorous physical exercise, injury, meditation, laughter and chocolate. Endorphins are up to 19 times stronger than morphine. By contrast, heroin is only 7 times stronger than morphine.

Being happy is good for the brain. Happy states trigger dopamine release, a feel-good chemical. Personal fulfilment increases neuroplasticity, slows down ageing and improves memory.

Why is adolescence so difficult? One main reason is that, between puberty and early adulthood, the brain is being rebuilt. There is massive growth in the pre-frontal cortex (Headmind); connections between cell networks are being hard-wired (making emotional life-lessons more intense); and there is a temporary loss of connection between the brain’s emotional centres (the limbic system) and the intellectual centres – which means that teenagers lack the capacity to make good decisions.

New experiences are vital for improved brain function. Getting out of the rut and going for new horizons increases cell growth, delays ageing and improves cell connectivity. The same goes when you let go of the past and exercise forgiveness.

Binge-eating. Emotional self-neglect can lead to food cravings and over-eating. So-called stress triggers an increase in Cortisol in the blood stream, which stimulates Insulin release. High insulin levels are associated with a craving for sugary foods and foods high in carbohydrates.

Regular sex (at least twice a week) improves daily moods, reduces pain thresholds, cuts the risk of a heart attack, decreases menstrual pain and promotes sleep. This is because enjoyable sex fosters high endorphin release.

Love and sex can be addictive. Falling in love, like sexual infatuation) is similar to taking cocaine: the hypothalamus triggers a cascade of dopamine. One problem is that, once the dopamine wears off, a ‘down-mood’ sets in, leading to further cravings.

The brain also contains a bonding chemical: Oxytocin. During labour, female brains produce large amounts of oxytocin, which stimulates contractions and smooths the passage of the baby down the birth canal. Oxytocin also creates a primal, intense bond with the child. Adults in love (or during ecstatic sex) also release high levels of oxytocin.


Hugh Laurie, Schopenhauer, and the art of life

Schopenhaue This is the follow up article to Schopenhauer: a philosophy for grumpy people? Which attracted  a good response from many readers, many of whom had never heard of him, and were intrigued by his pessimism. Like Hugh Laurie in House he attracts people with his attitude problem.

In fact both Dr Gregory House and Schopenhauer have much in common:

  • Both are loners
  • Unconventional thinkers
  • Grumpiness combined with a wish to help others
  • Black humour
  • Grim realism
  • Mockery of conventional, pompous, people and ideas
  • Atheism
  • Disillusion
  • A (well-disguised) compassion for others.
  • Both are skilled wind-up merchants

For Schopenhauer, the world was a place he never made and little admired. Unlike almost all other philosophers, he did not believe that human beings were created to be happy. The reason for that is that our Will for personal gratification is out of all proportion to what Life can actually offer us. That, he claimed, was the reason for our continually recurring states of frustration, heartache and boredom.

Now, while I believe Schopenhauer was right in some of his diagnoses, I disagree about the cause. It is not the Universal Will which is the cause of personal misery but Headmind obsessions working through the Ego. I have written about this before in my article on How your Head F*cks You Up.

While I agree with Schopenhauer that we are not created to be happy (because we are blessed/cursed with an enlarged Headmind/Pre-frontal cortex), I disagree that we cannot, in fact find it. We can find it if we persist, through Awareness, and through downsizing the Ego.

However, I will leave you with a few more conclusions from the Master:

  • Make good use of the only thing you can control: your conscious mind.
  • Strive to live in the Now
  • Set limits everywhere: on desires, wealth and power.
  • Accept limitations: that leads to peace of mind.
  • Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if you can change something about them.
  • Seek out personal space and time for yourself; other people may try rob you of peace of mind.
  • Keep busy, always.
  • Do not expect too much from other people: like you they are only human.
  • In the long run, assume disappointment will be your lot more times than not.
  • You are not alone: others share your disappointments.
  • Your recognition of your shared humanity with others is the basis for compassion.
  • This recognition frees you from the Ego.
  • At times of great difficulty you can take consolation from the fact that every other human being has endured similar difficulties.
  • Contemplation of Nature, Art, Music, Literature and the Spectacle of life raises you above it.

Schopenhauer – a philosophy for grumpy people?

Schopenhauer In my last article – Can feeling grumpy be good for you? I mentioned one of my favourite philosophers – Arthur Schopenhauer – who was a grumpy old man already by the age of 19. I first read him at 15 and developed a ‘bah humbug’ attitude which was delicious and self-indulgent while it lasted although I no longer think it is clever – or even profound – to be pessimistic about life. Even so, I still think that Schopenhauer possessed a genius for philosophy. (He also wrote a lot about sex).

Here are a few gems:

After your death you will be what you were before your birth.

Everyone takes the limit of his own field of vision for the limit of the world.

The conscious mind may be regarded as a kind of parasite of the organism, a pensioner, as it were, who dwells within the body.

If you want to know your true opinion of someone, watch the effect produced in you by the sight of a letter/email from that person.

The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.

Console yourself by remembering that the world doesn’t deserve your affection.

Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.

There is no absurdity so obvious but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to introduce it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.

The closing years of life are like a masquerade party, when the masks are dropped.

Compassion is the basis of all morality.

Wicked thoughts and worthless efforts gradually set their mark on the face, especially the eyes.

The greatest of mistakes is to sacrifice health for any other kind of reward.

There is no doubt that life is given us, not to be enjoyed, but to be overcome.

In my next article I will write about the advantages – and disadvantages – of pessimism for life.

Can feeling grumpy be good for you?

Moods1 I receive a mischievous communication from my very good friend Mark McGuinness who wants me to comment on a research article he has looked into, written by some ‘Australian psychologists’, which claims that being in a ‘bad mood’ can be ‘good’ for you.

Now, some of my best experiences in life have been prompted by my ‘bad’ moods. With the aid of those I have got rid of countless annoying relationships, irritating jobs and pointless activities. So my first thought was that – yet again – a bunch of overpaid academics were being subsidised to announce discoveries most of us learned in primary school. And that Mark had forgotten our many rambling midnight conversations about emotions and the meaning of life.

Yet I realised immediately that these gorgeous, Bondi-beach seeking academics have made yet another category mistake: While bad moods can, indeed, be ‘good’, those are not the same as ‘bad emotions’.

To remind you: there is no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are an expression of Bodymind
intelligence. A mood is different. It is a  Headmind attitude. It expresses a relationship between our attitudes and the world as we find it. You can read more about moods here.

A grumpy mood, for me, is a relationship based on suspicion. It means that I no longer trust that experiences, situations, people, or the Lord God himself are doing me any favours. And that, in turn, is a cue that I need to revise my trusting attitude towards these entities. I need to retreat, stand-off, complain, and have a moan. I may even need to disengage – permanently.

So yes – a grumpy mood can be good for you if it helps you get rid of your intellectual garbage.

The funny thing is that I actually find grumpy moods enjoyable. Entraining my suspicion and pessimism on the planet gives me a god-like sense of detachment and playfulness. It also gives me a playground for wit.

Rather like one of my favourite philosophers – Arthur Schopenhauer – who once wrote:

“If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.”

Come to think of it, Schopenhauer deserves an article all to himself, so I will write that next.

28 annoying thoughts

Thinking The universe is too complicated to make final conclusions possible

Self-pity is the worst sin

Your perceptions are based on your biography

The illusion of free will is based on vanity

You are only innocent when you live in the now

Serial killers are extremely boring people

Much of what happens to you is down to chance

Anger and disgust protect you

Alienation produces psychotics, revolutionaries and fundamentalists

Evil people don’t understand what they do

Life is so simple that a child of five could get it

Who and what you are is reflected in your behavior and in your face

Sex differences are bigger than we imagine

Most people would rather be right than happy

The Self is just a label – perhaps no more than your name

History reveals no progress at all

Moralising is for the small-minded

Democracy is tyrannical

Chemicals have a bigger influence on people than many of us realise

Mind doesn’t exist in the Head – it’s something you were born into

Your past is a made-up story

Medical science prolongs life but doesn’t improve it

There is something divine in you but its outside your control

Your inner self is genetically coded

Madness is another word for defeat

‘Success’ and ‘failure’ are a matter of dates, places and opinions

Your body knows more about you than you do

Your life journey is not determined. If it were you would have been told what to do and where to go.

Image by Tumitu Design

38 provocative thoughts

Much was decided before you were born.
You don’t choose what happens  in life.
Your actions are driven either by passion or by regimentation.
Regimentation comes from failed cultures.
Passion belongs to the divine in you.

You didn’t choose your gender.
Men and Women are from different species.
The correct attitude to the opposite sex is playfulness.

You didn’t choose your race.
Racial differences are really cultural.
The correct attitude to other cultures is curiosity.

You didn’t choose your parents.
You maybe didn’t get the parents you would have chosen.
The correct attitude to your parents is objectivity.

You didn’t choose your education.
Much that is taught in schools is based on ideas that were once alive but which are now dead.
The correct attitude to teachers is scepticism.

You didn’t choose the Law.
Laws are created by people in authority.
The correct attitude to the Law is caution.

You didn’t choose the Society in which you live
Social rules are based on customs.
The correct attitude to those customs is pragmatism.

You didn’t choose the people who love you.
Your relationships chose you.
The correct attitude to relationships is love.

You didn’t choose your Body.
Yet your Body decides your health, your emotions, desires, moods, and temperament.
The correct attitude to your Body is wonder.

You didn’t choose your gifts, talents, or your inner self.
The core of who you are is determined by your Daimon.
The correct attitude to your Daimon is obedience.

You didn’t choose your actions.
Your actions are decided by the needs and expectations of the moment.
The correct attitude to past actions is amusement.

You didn’t choose God.
God is another term for whatever it is that keeps the universe in being.
The correct attitude to God is silence.

The 30 most important life lessons

Moses These lessons are borrowed from Regina Brett, who wrote them when she turned 50 three years ago. Thanks to Lindsey Jones for sending this to me.

1. Life isn't fair but it's still good.

2. When in doubt just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.

5. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

6. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

7. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

8. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.

9. It's OK to let your children see you cry.

10. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

11. Don't take for granted what you have got – or you may lose it.

12. Everything can change in the blink of an eye.

13. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

14. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.

15. Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger.

16. It's never too late to have a happy childhood.

17. When someone breaks your heart quickly bestow your love on others.

18. Over-prepare, then go with the flow.

19. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.

20. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

21. Forgive everyone.

22. What other people think of you is none of your business.

23. Time heals almost everything.

24. However good or bad your situation is, it will change.

25. Don't take yourself seriously. No one else does.

26. Don't audit your life. Make the most of it now.

27. All that truly matters in the end is love.

28. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting to happen.

29. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.

30. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

 

Five ways to get rid of your moods

Mood In my last-but-one post I wrote on what your moods tell others about you.

In this post I describe how you can shake off negative moods.

The first step is to understand what a mood actually is. It’s not a feeling or an emotion but a subtle change in Bodymind energy which can be sensed both by yourself and by others around you.

For example, a self-pitying mood could manifest as a heavy, oppressive, melancholy kind of energy.

While a fun-seeking mood could be light, bubbly and playful.

The second step is to raise Awareness. Of who you are and what you are doing in the moment. Of your emotions, feelings and moods. You can’t change a mood that you don’t know you have. In some cases you can shake off a bad mood just by becoming aware of it and focusing your attention on something else.

Which brings us to the third method, which is actually the simplest one to use: listening to music. If your mood is down, put on something uplifting. If your mood is bitter, put on something sad. If you are panicky, put on something with a big beat! And so on.

The fourth way is to eliminate the cause of your moods, which reflect your relationship to yourself, to other people, or to life.

  • If your relationship to yourself is judgmental your mood is likely to be edgy, tense, strung-out.
  • If your relationship to other people is hostile your mood is likely to be prickly and ‘ready-to-blow’.
  • If your relationship to life is defeatist your mood is likely to be depressed.

In each case the answer is to change the attitude.

  • Instead of passing harsh judgments on yourself, focus on your achievements.
  • Instead of attacking people, empathise with them
  • Instead of giving up on life find new things to do or a new way to live.

The fifth solution is to get rid of your Personality. You only need to use this one if you find that the same mood keeps coming up, again and again. For example, if you are continually despondent, agitated, or bitter and you have been that way for a while then you have become trapped by false personality.

Image by nyki_m

What your moods tell others about you

Depressed Far more than emotions (which, after all, we all share) your moods show you what, and sometimes who, you are to others.

But first we need to understand what a mood is.

  • It isn’t a feeling.
  • It isn’t an emotion.
  • And it isn’t something that just happens to you.

It’s based on your attitude to things going on around you.

Your attitude, in turn, is governed by your relationship to people, events, the world – as shown to you by Headmind. It is the atmosphere in which you live. It is the atmosphere you give off to others.

For example, if your relationship to the world is that of Victim, your relationship to the world is likely to be self-pitying or else aggressive (in a negative way). So your mood will either be depressive or hostile.

By contrast, if your relationship to the world is based on the idea that you can do anything you want (within reason) then your mood is likely to be sparkling and aggressive (in a positive way).

Attitudes trigger moods in a variety of ways:

  • Suspicious (morose, surly mood)
  • Hopeless (depressive mood)
  • Self-sufficient (tranquil mood)
  • Self-important (impatient mood)
  • Manipulative (uncomfortable mood)
  • Loving (peaceful, blissful mood)
  • Nihilistic (despairing, suicidal mood)

It was said that the Buddha filled most of those who met him with a mood combined of tranquillity, kindness and awe. Similar reports apply to Christ.

Whatever your attitude to the world, to others, or to the things that happen to you, the rest of us can tell the kind of person you are, not only by the way you react to situations but by the vibe we pick up from you. One reason for that is that Bodymind not only tells us about other people through the emotions but also tells people about usthrough our moods.

If you prefer not to give away so much about yourself I will be telling you in the next post about how you can change both your attitudes and your (negative) moods.