Mind, Body and Healing (or, how I had to learn to stop thinking with my brain)
File this under emotional or alternative health. (First posted to my livejournal.)
There have been two life-changing experiences I’ve had this year, at least in the area of teachers and workshops. The first was Drunvalo Melchizedek’s Awakening the Illuminated Heart. The other was Dr Pee Tek Chan’s workshop on the Form Reality Practice; which I can only describe as Tai Chi on a higher level: It changes one’s outlook on what reality is, and how to perceive and interact with it. And I do it with the utmost respect when I say that Dr Chan became my Yoda. The stuff he imparted was just incredibly profound, and done with a very loving you’ll-reach-where-I-am-now-just-you-wai
The regular understanding of intelligence is that the brain is the sole organ responsible for our thoughts, choices and logic. It is the seat of the mind, and in Buddhism (sometimes called a philosophy or the “science of happiness” by the Dalai Lama), the mind is the focus: you’re taught to dettach from the monkey mind, or discipline it, or simply to recognise You are not your thoughts, and the Watcher of those thoughts (the You with a capital Y) does not have to engage or encourage the emotions brought about those thoughts. With that discipline comes freedom.
Having subscribed to this philosophy of Buddhist meditation for close to a decade, I say this with utmost familiarity of my experience: This all works VERY nicely on spiritual and meditation retreats where your normal cares, annoyances and challenges are far away. It’s tougher (but not impossible) to maintain equanimity in everyday life even with the tools for mental discipline. In my case, I had an epiphany, away from my Buddhist teachers, that the point of Life shouldn’t be to ignore or downplay emotions (or the body) relative to one’s brain or mind–emotions are part of the whole, just as one’s body is part of the whole–you can change your moods, for example, just by how much you move the body, just as one’s mental clarity benefits from having a healthy body, and so on. The brain/mind may appear the master, but it is only ONE of several possible tools.
The realisation of this on my own may or may not have been the fault of my Buddhist teachers. I just found many classes and books revolving around people asking advice for dealing with family/career dramas. While I’ve definitely had those experiences, I’ve found I’ve always known the answers to them; but knowing the answers and putting them into practice are two different matters, with my biggest personal block always having been that I believe in treating others with kindness, faith and respect, and it absolutely confounded me whenever I did not get it in return, even after asking for it. The emotional upset was not easily processed: Why were people willfully ignorant? Why were people rude? Why were people selfish, condescending (to me, me!), afraid, etc etc? And within the Buddhist classes, the answer was always simply “karma”, which easily could become a condescending rationale in its own right–temporarily gratifying, sometimes inspiring compassion, but once examined, didn’t really help me feel much better.
Part of my personal challenge was that I could see both my own and other people’s attitudes as choices. I can choose not to fear. I can choose to be open to information. I can choose compassion over suspicion/condemnation. I can choose to educate my opinions and my stances on issues. I can choose being honest over saving face (whether someone else’s or my own). I can choose my actions. With these conscious choices, I had (and still have) a hard time understanding other people and their choices. The jump I would make from from my non-understanding to condemning them was still too quick, and I knew the latter was just an easy cop-out. And while I know I have a higher level of self-awareness than most, I still wondered why. I couldn’t quite extend compassion whole-heartedly without understanding.
It was also that as I grew older, all my memories of myself thinking differently from my peers, school teachers and elders, and that I had frequently been right even when forced to give in for face’s sake, was starting to smart badly. That I had with conscious intent honed my skills of rhetoric on the Internet for decades meant I now knew I had no need nor personal benefit to giving in at all. Not when I had read books and books, not when I had statistics from peer-reviewed sources, not when I had experience, not when it was topics I was familiar with, despite being “just” an artist. I may be able to let go of arguments (sometimes), but not of the certainty and evidence when my knowledge is right. My upbringing had trained me to give in to others–something that maddened me, since ignorance is no virtue. At the heart of it, whenever I engage in debate, it is because I have given the benefit of the doubt to the other person to be able to learn what I know and how that helped form my opinions. I’ve learnt I can extend that benefit a little too readily–in a very real sense, the IQ band I’m in is a statistically lonely place; even if that sounds arrogant, it is a real thing, along with my hard-won lessons in Philosophy class. And the breadth of reading and firsthand knowledge and experience I’ve accumulated is unique–I shouldn’t have to apologise for it, and God knows I already re-examine it all the time. (I got a 3.9-something GPA in college. It was no accident. I need to remember that.)
To get back to the original topic of mind and body, what I’ve learned this year is that you can think with more parts than your brain (and I don’t just mean in the pejorative sense of guys thinking with their dicks, although that does serve as a negative example). There’s evidence that the heart is a brain, but we’re not taught to think from it. We can. The body can be viewed as a brain too–I’ve experienced meditations of not just putting one’s awareness on parts of the body, but putting the seat of one’s awareness in different parts of the body. It’s an illuminating exercise–perspectives change, sensations of consciousness are different. Once you’ve experienced this, the integration of the whole body with mind becomes an entirely real possibility. But to put it most beautifully, borrowing Dr Chan’s words:
Your whole body is a prayer.
It is consciousness embodied, in every sense of those words. And if you accept this, then every conscious movement can be turned into a sacred dance. Particularly once a person has accepted that divinity is to be found within before it can be recognised without.
To bring this idea down a level, from the divine to the energetic, the body is not just an extension of the mind (information processing), it is information storage. (Most obviously, your cells and entire body express the information in your DNA.) In specific areas, you can store the pain of an injury from some accident years ago, you store muscle aches from the habit of having tension at work. Or, even your own touch on a taboo area of your body can bring up turmoil from an event or childhood programming you may or may not understand or remember. Everyone has got something like this, some physical pain that completely bypasses the logical, seated-in-the-brain mind, pain that persists despite all outward steps taken to counter it. It’s because the problem is not of the brain-mind. It’s the body or body-mind, storing information. In yogic terms, one’s chakras can store pain, can store trauma, can store karma.
When I first encountered this idea from a book, a ton of understanding crashed onto me. (Followed by the irritation that none of my meditation/healing teachers to that date had never explained it like this.) Storage of unhelpful societal programming, or real physical pain, or emotional trauma cannot simply be dealt with with the mind alone because it may NOT be of the mind alone, but has been stored in the body/chakras–as what is frequently called “blocks” in yogic/New Age terminology. In energy healing, these blocks can be slowly overcome any number of ways, but conscious intention and self-compassion/understanding form a huge part. Defying conventional understanding and expectations for the cure may also be necessary.
Most of us have lived almost all our lives only inside our heads. We’ve not been taught any other way. Mind over matter, will, mental discipline, control. Even the Buddhist teachers, with all the compassion-talk (which for me was annoying without understanding) and the visualisations of light in your heart–I’ve experienced and tried these all and it’s still mostly obsessions with the mind. It’s not that the mind is bad. It has its use. It’s just that it’s not everything. With Dr Chan this past weekend, I received the final puzzle piece for me to reach this understanding.
It has been with this understanding I can get out of my (mostly mental) frustrations and impatience with other people. Put another way, I can see their blocks. And, I know that logical thinking alone isn’t going to help them (I have, unwittingly, accumulated years of interactions to prove this) and short of a sea change of holistic education becoming commonplace, this knowledge may only benefit a privileged few. And while I haven’t been wrong in that generally, personal attitudes can be chosen, a lack of understanding of the blocks we form/inherit/internalise from others can make that hard to see.
Logic/brain intelligence cannot comprehend this alone. It also takes compassion (heart-intelligence), inspiration and faith (third eye and crown chakra territory). And maybe lifetimes. Because right now, I feel so, so old.