During a radio call-in show I appeared on, a caller expressed the frustration and stress he feels with his life. “I know I should be exercising, eating well, and meditating,” he said, “but I have three jobs, kids, and not enough time to do anything.”
Primitive humans were lucky to have the automatic brain (AB). It was completely reactive and a powerful, effective protection machine that got people to fight or flee danger. In that prehistoric environment, dangers abounded. Humans did not have to think to avoid danger, threat, or vulnerability. The AB always triggered an automatic response.
But we don’t live in a primitive era. The dangers, threats, and vulnerabilities of the 21st Century do not require the protective services of the AB. Yet most of us fall prey to its still ever-present nature, seductive false protective ability, and it’s almost complete lack of evolution from the primitive brain of our prehistoric ancestors.
I have written that we are fortunate to possess a mind designed for higher thinking, one that presents us with the power to render the AB irrelevant to our lives. But how do we cultivate this mind? How do we harness it when the draining influence of the AB is so exhausting? How do we believe, trust, and take direction from our mind rather than our AB, when the world seems to be crumbling around us and everything screams out for the protection of our primitive brain?
To be sure, every one of us has our individual challenges (i.e., what our AB picks up as danger, threat, or vulnerability). For many in the 21st Century the top three are money, health, and relationships (which includes family and children). Challenges in these areas are the saber-toothed tigers of today. In my book Brain Drain, and in a previous weekly message, I explained why this is so. The AB is triggered by challenges in these areas, leading to thoughts and behaviors that direct us to fight or flee. Often it leads to overwhelming, swirling confusion. In extreme cases, the flight option leads to depression and withdrawal, while either the fight or flight option can produce self-destructive behavior, anxiety, or abusive thoughts and behavior. Those overwhelming feelings signal that the AB is in full throttle, draining the ability to believe in the power of the mind. Professional help may be needed, at times. Never let the fact that your AB views seeking help as a defeat or weakness stop you from doing so.
Getting back to that radio-show caller: How does he start to get back his belief? How does someone who is sick–or tending for someone sick–accept that life is much fuller than simply a checklist of self-imposed or community imposed expectations?
Before I answer these questions, keep in mind that, especially when you feel overwhelmed, any positive step you try to take will face opposition from your AB’s false effort to protect you. If I suggest, for example, that you repeat the affirmation, “I will always find a way, and a way will always find me,” your AB will counter with: “No, you won’t,” and then scan its data banks of past danger memories for reasons you should not trust the uncertainties of the mind.
Which brings me to the first step for helping that radio-show caller. The AB lives in the past and the future, but our mind resides in the present–the here and now. When faced with any of the three dangers (money, health, relationships), don’t stray into the past and wonder what your life would look like now if you’d actually done what you “shoulda” back then, as that is useless speculation. Similarly, the future is a fantasy and illusion, a futile attempt by your AB to organize what is inherently unknown so that it becomes less dangerous. Stay focused on current activities and avoid following the natural drift of your automatic brain.
The mind offers a glimpse of life’s wonders, rather than merely its processes. When we allow the AB to guide us, we miss out on the wonders. The caller said he has “no time,” but I pointed out to him that he has plenty of time in his car driving between jobs. I suggested he stay focused by tuning in to music or comedy rather than news or talk radio. Most importantly, I suggested that he breathe. Each breath refreshes the vital energy required for the mind to stay focused and resistant to brain drain.
I continued: Never fall victim to the AB’s urge to compare your particular situation with someone else’s–the AB is always trying to judge others to find out from whom danger might arise.
Another suggestion I made was to keep a daily-magic journal. I explain this in detail in my book. Keeping such a journal makes one very focused on the here and now, and helps remind us that, despite the ever-present doom and gloom, “magical” circumstances will always pop up in our life. Even if these situations appear bad at first, put them down in the journal anyway. In a previous message, I talked about what can come out of “bad” circumstances. Resist labeling them bad or good. They just are. (Warning – your AB will trigger big time with this suggestion!)
Become aware of the first few moments after you wake up or times you find yourself smiling inside or laughing about something. See how long it takes before your AB becomes alerted that such happiness and serenity inevitably lead to danger. After all, cajoles your AB, you should be thinking about how you can help your hurting sister, or how you should reorganize your finances to pay for an upcoming expense. Don’t fall for the AB’s trap; its physiological (hormonal and electrical) responses last only a minute or two if you don’t egg them on. Take some deep breaths and tell yourself “There is no danger in this moment. There is no threat. There is no danger; there is no threat.” Your mind will come to your rescue over the AB, and you’ll be able to come up with a plan that’s right for your situation. You’ll be in a much better position to deal with whatever challenges you face.
One additional suggestion about the powerful (and nearly universal) trigger of money: Do not pore over your financial documents–401K reports, stock portfolio balances, bank statement–every day. When you make a deposit, make sure it clears. Set up low-balance alerts, get overdraft protection, do what you have to do to achieve freedom from worry about the daily fluctuations. And then, move on in the moment.
Will my suggestions allow the caller to become financially independent overnight and to quit his three jobs? Of course not. But maybe these ideas can start freeing up his mind, and all of our minds, so we can see that every day is not a burden but an opportunity to grow and be alive and not simply exist. Tapping into our mind is the key to the inner strength and spiritual wonder which, when mastered, guide us along on our journey.
by Charles F. Glassman