The Mind, Body Connection
The Dali Lama told us: "Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart." He was referring to the Buddhist notion that in order to find peace we must learn to quiet the mind. There's little quarrel with the US track record: our minds have taken us to great achievements, to the most remarkable, the highest standard of living in the world. But for all our mental efforts, Americans are not especially happy overall; only 33% of Americans surveyed said they were happy in 2017. Material things don't move your needle up on the happiness scale. Things of the heart---compassion for yourself and others, forgiveness, kindness---move the needle.
Yet, the fact remains, the mind can be a powerful tool. Especially for healing, the virtues of Mind As Medicine were touted by the health care guru, Jane Brody, in a recent NYT's Personal column. Brody recounted her own healing experiences with amazement and quoted neurologist Dr. Jim Campbell from Johns Hopkins. Campbell said, referring to the mind: "The best treatment for pain is right under our noses."
In Medicine in Search of a Soul, my own work, the mind was described as a major avenue for healing. Healing takes place on three levels, the physical, the mental and the spiritual, and the mind is described as the main conduit for healing conditions from epilepsy to cancer and heart disease. "Once we understand that the mind governs the body, and just how powerful the mind is, we learn to challenge all our negative thought patterns."
The body is at the mercy of whatever we hold in mind, which is why the stress we experience is only a perspective, the perspective or belief we hold in our mind. For instance, to some, NYC is a noisy, crowded and highly stressful experience. Others thrive on the fast pace of the City, the colorful array of races and ethnicities and the whirl of constant excitement. Whenever stress hammers away at you, and if it feels like there's no way out, you can always change your mind about it. Reframe it, as the therapists say. Or learn to ignore the stream of thoughts ticking off all the bad things. That works too.
Continuous stress poses the danger of getting sick. Along the way, you may experience all kinds of physical ailments that are your body's way of telling you something is wrong....like your own built-in GPS. Headaches, stomach aches, mood swings, respiratory problems, viruses, infections, all have their roots in the stresses you're feeling much of the time. Stress plays havoc with your immune system.
But we can learn to take charge of our health. By understanding that our minds and bodies and spirits are interconnected, we can learn to manage our thoughts and emotions to create healthy patterns of living for ourselves. We can learn to be happy and to heal.
Here are a few guiding points to keep in mind:
1. We can learn to manage, to direct our thoughts and consequently our emotions, in a way that is helpful to us and makes us feel good.
2. If you must be in situations that are tough for you, (a difficult parent, a friend going through a rough patch, pressure at school or a loss) you can learn to reframe the situation, so that you see the silver lining in it.
3. We are made of energy and depending on our thoughts and moods this energy has a different density according to the frequency in which it vibrates. High frequency, positive energy that comes from positive thoughts and emotions, attracts other positive people and experiences into your energy orbit. The opposition is also true.
4. Healing is an inside job. Loving thoughts heal. And self-love, self-acceptance are paramount. It is our own responsibility (and that includes removing yourself from situations that feel harmful to you). We look outwardly and tend to blame the external world and people around us for the feelings we have inside us. We blame another person for being unhappy and feeling bad. But that isn't really what's happening.
We feel unhappy because unhappiness is what's inside of us.
There is no blame involved. We feel stress because stress is inside of us. Something external might trigger it, but it can't be triggered if it's not already there, perhaps from an earlier relationship or traumatic event.
5. We're all energetically interconnected. So choose your friends and circumstances wisely. Their energy can have a positive or energetically draining effect on you, just as yours can on them.
On a day to day basis, you have the freedom to choose your attitude and your focus (and therefore manage your energy field), in any given set of circumstances. A famous, if extreme, example is described by Victor Frankel in Man's Search for Meaning, in examining the “intensification of inner life” that helped prisoners stay alive in a concentration camp, he found the single most important factor in cultivating the kind of “inner hold” that allowed people to survive was teaching them to focus on some future aspiration that was very important to them.
We can heed this advice today, for ourselves and those around us.