Anxiety is the price of intellect when there is nothing to occupy the mind it will follow it's own fancies namely, naming everything that could potentially pose a threat Genius is a gnawing hunger that left unfed, lends itself to a buffet of fear starved of stimulation it will learn to feed on insecurity Yet a fire that is fed only grows larger always asking for more no longer sustained on yesterday's small rations A tired mind, an engaged mind is peaceful and satisfied a brilliant brain left to wander will always find new worries and run itself ragged on rumination Great potential is balanced by the possibility of great peril a fast metabolism requires extra fuel likewise an exceptional mind needs it's own nourishment of new knowledge
Reading about all of the microscopic intricacies of what is going on behind the scenes every second inside of our bodies has given me an entirely new perspective on just how much I have been taking for granted all these years. Our bodies and the trillions of cells that they are made up of are truly our dearest and most valuable friends in this life. It is absolutely staggering the amount of vital functions being performed rhythmically, silently, efficiently, and without thanks within each of us at every moment.
Our bodies are tirelessly defending us even as we sleep, completely unaware of their endless efforts to protect us and keep us healthy. The body must simultaneously perform so many different functions with precision and diligence from directing immune cells, to transporting oxygen through our bloodstream, to identifying good vs. bad bacteria in our gut, to forming new neurons, to storing memory, etc. Many of these necessary tasks are carried out despite us having little to no understanding of how or why the body does them in this way. Even in our dullest moments, there is an entire world of activity going on just beneath our fragile skin.
Really contemplating these facts, it becomes clear to me how ludicrous it is to spend so much time criticizing my body and mind for not being they way I want and expect them to be. Can you even imagine, making a cake from a molecular level, concocting everything yourself down to the very atoms that it consists of, only to have it criticized for being the wrong color or being too round or too flat? That is the rough equivalent of what we do when we judge our bodies and their worth/value to us based solely on appearances. It’s laughable when you think about it.
My body is not just what I see in the mirror. It is a fucking miracle. A perfect and awe inspiring gift from the universe crafted from eons of evolution, built on the backs of all the living organisms that have come before me. It’s an absolute crime to think I have spent most of my life hating this body for what it’s not instead of shouting my praise to the heavens for everything that it IS. And not only this body, but this mind of mine as well.
I am so harsh with my mind, sometimes even more than the rest of my body. I feel sorry for myself for suffering with anxiety and depression, for not being able to control and subdue my emotions. Yet I should know better than a lot of people how well my mind actually works in comparison to others. How many nights I’ve wasted wishing my brain worked differently. I never stopped to consider that it is actually not one I’d likely trade for another if given the chance. My brain may offer me anxiety more than I’d prefer, but it is still amazing in so many ways. For one, I have been gifted with an impeccable intellect that I cherish more than most things about myself. On a simpler and more important level though, my brain consolidates an avalanche of sensory information each second and compiles it into an understandable and accurate portrayal of the world around me. This may seem trivial. After all, that’s what the brain is supposed to do, right?
I’ve seen first hand that many brains are not up to this monumental task. Quite a few of my former clients suffered with severe mental illnesses such a schizophrenia. What a terrifying and disturbing thing it must be to not even be able to trust what your own mind is telling you. We all have slightly skewed perceptions of ourselves and the world, but for the most part, we feel confident that what our brain creates in our field of vision is actually there. What sounds we notice, come from outside of our heads, and are true vibrations being picked up by our ears. These details seem so simple, but we cannot forget that so many people would react with undying gratitude if their brains did the same things that ours do without us even noticing.
So no matter what you may think of yourself, the way you look, or the way you think, take a few moments today to be grateful for being here at all. Understand that even when you don’t love yourself, each one of the trillions of cells in your body do. They are fighting every moment for you. They are protecting you and healing you and giving you information to keep you alive and healthy and hopefully happy. We are all unimaginably complex miracles. Just consider that today, and if you can be grateful for it too.
Lying in bed last night, about to drift off to sleep, my mind was flooded with fearful thoughts of my boyfriend coming home in a few months. You may at first assume you misread that first sentence, but no, I was afraid for him to come home. Even though I love and miss him tremendously. Still I was feeling terrified by the way things may change once he’s nearby again. I was afraid of how my routine would change. How much time will he be expecting us to spend together? Will I have to drive up to the city multiple times a week to see him? How often will he be staying with me? All of these unknowns prevent me from my normal mental and emotional preparations for change. I simply don’t know how my life is going to be from day to day in 2022.
Oddly enough, just eight hours later after waking up, having some coffee, and starting my workout, the thought of him not only being close by again, but even living with me, seemed like a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to share as much of my time with him as possible. I fantasized about being the very best version of myself with him by my side to motivate and inspire me. Everything I’ve been aspiring to do/be seemed more likely to happen once he is back home. The same changes that sparked fear last night, were now the very thoughts spurring me onward, giving me hope and energy.
This is not an uncommon occurrence for me. There are many times I find myself overwhelmed with a thought at night, that brings me joy the next morning. The question that always arises is, “Which one of these people is really me?” Who should I believe? The evening me or the morning me? How can one person shift so totally in the span of a day? And shift so predictably and consistently at that? It seems like everything becomes scary and negative in the evening hours, but in the morning the whole world appears brand new and enchanting. It makes me wonder if this is normal. Do other people feel this way? Is this what people mean when they say “morning person”?
In my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that this drastic inner change is caused by my brain’s neurochemicals dwindling as the night sets in. So I’m inclined to believe that the morning version of me is more true to who I am. The evening me is depleted and out of sorts, unable to view the world accurately. However maybe it’s my morning self that is deluded. Perhaps my refreshed brain is offering me a rose colored perspective that is just as inaccurate. Should I be distrustful of both? Should I deem the middle ground between these two states the most reliable and realistic?
This confusion and uncertainty about which thoughts are “me” and which thoughts are “not me” has always been of great interest to me. Never being able to decide, I gravitate towards the Yogic perspective. None of these thoughts are actually “me.” I am not my thoughts. I am the one who watches these thoughts. I am the one who wonders which of them are me. After all, that watcher within is the one consistent aspect of my mind, the one that is ever-present and unchanging.
Now the question becomes, how can I learn to identify with the watcher, rather than the fluctuating thoughts constantly demanding my attention? How can I keep myself from getting caught in the undertow of emotion that they cause? I suppose that this is the purpose of meditation. To practice being the watcher. To train ourselves not to get swept away. To ground ourselves in the impermanent and illusory nature of existence. To cultivate trust in the fact that it is okay to allow these thoughts to pass through us without letting them force us into action.
Contemplating the different layers within has, at the very least, allowed me to let go of the urgency I feel to respond to the thoughts I have. Lyrics from one of my favorite bands explains it best: “Nothing is ever as pressing as the one who’s pressing would like you to believe.” So when I find myself franticly playing out different scenarios in my head and wondering how on Earth I’ll be able to cope with them, I remind myself of those words. I assure myself that I don’t have to make any decisions or take any action right now. I can acknowledge that sense of urgency without feeling pressured by it. I remind myself that no matter how serious a situation may seem right now, with time my perspective will surely change. It’s okay to just wait, to observe, to sit with those feelings for now. Because I know that tomorrow I will awake to a new world, a new me. And maybe she will be able to handle it. She always has.
Algorithms, particularly social media algorithms, have been on a lot of our minds lately. But what even are they? Well one definition I found says that algorithms are: a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. So basically they are like an ever evolving blueprint guiding the computer’s actions. This isn’t much different from the way that our brains work, at least from my limited understanding of both.
I was thinking over how strange and ironic it is that we as a society have been struggling so much with technology and social apps. Even though we don’t want to argue, fight, compare, etc. These apps feed us the type of content that will get us to react in that way. This morning the parallel between that struggle, often leading to mental illness, and the struggle to cope with mental illness itself really became apparent to me.
Sometimes it’s almost as if the universe presents us with clever metaphors to force us to confront the things we try to avoid. Humanity has been running from itself, especially in the last few decades. We’ve submerged ourselves in these digital landscapes as a distraction from our thoughts and worries and fears. The internet, in a way, is the ultimate form of disassociation. Yet, there is still so much we can learn about ourselves through this unlikely medium.
It’s ironic that the very place we’ve gone to escape ourselves has become a mirror of the worst within us. These algorithms online tailor what we see, they filter the world through a lens of violence, outrage, and disgust. As I explained before it’s because we are naturally inclined to react to these things more forcefully than things that inspire joy, happiness, comfort, or love. Even while pointing that out in my post about personal responsibility, it didn’t occur to me just how much these algorithms are actually amplifying the algorithms within our own brains.
This public discussion about social media and Facebook are actually a fascinating parallel to the discussion of neuroplasticity. Unfortunately, no one has the power to change the algorithm in our heads except us, so in this instance, while not our fault, it is up to us to make a change. While that autopilot algorithm does do a lot of the work behind the scenes of our consciousness, we are able to take back the wheel and steer ourselves in a new direction.
Let’s get back to what I mean when I say this is a metaphor though. Think about the internet, for the most part, we all understand that what comes up in our feed every day isn’t all that exists on the web. Yet, somehow the things we take notice of in our everyday lives, start to seem like all there is to notice. We become cynical, or at least I did.
I can still remember arguing with someone when I was in high school. I was insisting that life was mostly negative or neutral events with light sprinkles of happy ones in between. How sad it is to look back at my young self who truly believed such a terrible thing. At the time, that was true though, at least for me. Because that’s what I was looking for, so of course, that’s all I found.
We are always subconsciously looking for evidence to support our beliefs, even when those beliefs aren’t something we are happy about. It starts with a belief, just like our apps start with an interest. Our “feeds” in life then fall into place around that central idea. That isn’t all there is to see, but it is all that we’ll see.
That inner world of ours, our perceptions of life and those around us, seem so real. It’s hard to conceptualize that there may be so much more that we are not aware of, that our view is skewed by the limited scope of what we are taking in. The world around us is continuously colored and altered by our mood, our knowledge base, our preconceptions, our biases, our past experiences, and so much more. These are the “filters” that we use on the universe. But the small amount that we are able to take in, that is not an accurate reflection of existence. Just as our Facebook or Instagram feed is not an accurate representation of the content available online.
So don’t get too trapped in your own perceptions of this life. While we may not be able to make a new account or scrub our hard drive so we can start again from scratch, we can make an effort right now to challenge our preconceived notions. We can practice compiling new evidence to support beliefs that we choose to hold. We can make our mantra each day that the world is good, that there is beauty and happiness all around us. I promise you, no matter how dark the world may seem to you now, practice believing that there is light and you will find it.
Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.
The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.
I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.
This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.
Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.
Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.
Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?
Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.
I’ve never been a very competitive person. Growing up with an older sibling, you quickly realize that you’re more than likely always going to lose anything that isn’t purely chance. My odds were only slightly better even in those scenarios as I never seemed to be lucky either. I have always blamed this dynamic in my childhood for creating the largely apathetic attitude I have regarding any type of competition. I expect to lose. I don’t care much if I win. So what’s the point? I’ve always preferred to avoid any chance of failure.
Recently I’ve realized that my lack of a competitive drive has also bled into my relationship with my own personal challenges. I’m a huge quitter. I’ve never had any problem backing out or giving up if I believe I am going to finish short of my goal. In addition to that, academics have always come easily to me. I never had to struggle to understand or accomplish anything as far as my school work went. I got pretty used to being ahead of my peers. It felt good to always be the smartest person in class, even if intellectually I knew I didn’t attend a very good school. When I got to college and found myself actually having to study for my chemistry and biology classes, I was quick to change my major rather than put in the extra effort. Psychology came much more naturally to me than science, so I finished out my formal education at the top of my class, no studying required.
I still think back on those college science classes every now and then though. I take pride in the fact I still managed to get A’s even though it was hard. Whereas I don’t really care about the grades I got in my psychology courses, because in my mind, they were easy. I was more shocked that anyone managed to do badly. I’ve started to recognize this recurring theme in my life though. I’m so afraid of failure that I only allow myself to do things I know I’ll excel in. Yet, whenever it does happen that I find myself in a challenging situation, it seems I enjoy it more in some ways. I definitely take more pride in accomplishments that were difficult for me. Sadly, despite my many accomplishments, I only have a few that fall into this category.
I think in a certain way, society encourages this type of behavior. “Do what you’re good at” seems to be the message. There is this idea that we have natural gifts. Once we find out what those are, that is where we should focus our energy rather than wasting our time improving at something we may only ever be mediocre at. Only after learning about the 10,000 hour rule, did I really begin to question that idea. While it is still widely believed some people are simply born with special talents, the 10,000 hour rule explains that if someone devotes enough time to a certain art or discipline, they will surely master it, regardless of innate ability. This idea puts the locus of control back on the individual.
After spending the last few weeks absolutely obsessed and in love with my new electronic drawing tablet, I started to view this whole issue from a different perspective. At first, I was terribly intimidated by this new software I had no idea how to use. A large part of me wanted to quit and just go back to pen and paper which I already knew I was good at. However, knowing how much money I spent on this tablet, I pushed through the discomfort of being an amateur. In doing so, I ended up having so much fun learning something brand new.
Through this experience, I’ve begun to realize that I actually enjoy being challenged. Once I get past my initial fear of failure, once I overcome my massive ego telling me it will be the end of the world if I’m not the best at something, no matter how frivolous, I inevitably start to have fun. Sure there is frustration along the way as I struggle to do something new, but that makes it all the more satisfying when progress is made. Ultimately I don’t even care if I can eventually master whatever it is I’m doing. The enjoyment itself is all I’m after.
I remember hearing about how highly intelligent students may do poorly if their lessons don’t keep up with their ability. The smart kids get bored and lose interest while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up, causing them to lose focus and motivation, or even start to act out. This never made much sense to me growing up. I liked that school was easy. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want their lessons to be harder, even if they found them laughably easy. Now I think I’m finally starting to get it.
A happy mind is a busy mind. A bored mind will tear itself apart. In my opinion this is why we often see the most intelligent people also suffering with the most extreme mental illness. Being intelligent is simultaneously a gift and a curse. High intelligence demands high levels of intellectual stimulation. The brain was made to create, to investigate, to learn, and to solve problems. Without these healthy outlets for mental energy, the brain begins to make problems for itself.
When all I do is things that only require half-assed effort, my brain has plenty of extra energy to run amuck. Boredom breeds rumination. With nothing to occupy my mind, it begins to pick apart little details of the past or fret over the future. To me, this is the opposite of the “flow state.” When we are in that coveted flow state, our brains are fully engaged in what we are doing. The rest of the world falls away, and we are able to exist in the present moment. When nothing in the present requires our full attention, the mind is free to wander. With enough wandering, it’s only a matter of time until we find ourselves in the uncharted territory of our own mental illness.
The ego looms large over the mind with mental illness. The ego tries to keep us in our comfort zone, tells us challenge is too hard, that failure is painful. But if we can push past this flawed perception, if we can overcome our ego, we actually find that it’s fun to be challenged! Challenges are what help us to learn, to grow, to stay interested in our day to day lives. It’s new. It’s novel. It’s engaging. Challenges are true workouts for the brain. And just like physical exercise, it makes us happier.
Now my problem has become coming up with ways to challenge myself. My brain is quick to catch on to anything new I try. Therefore I’m constantly required to switch it up and try new things if I want to keep my mind engaged. However, just like with my workouts, it’s always hard to motivate myself to take things to the next level. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. It feels good to be good at something. I’m going to work harder from now on to remember that it also feels good to be challenged and practice facing difficulties with enthusiasm rather than dread.
If you haven’t heard the term default mode network (DMN) before, you’re not alone. Yesterday was the first time I did. Although I still am new to this concept, I wanted to talk about it today. I just wanted to get that disclaimer out first thing. I’m certainly not an expert on this. I hardly know anything about it. What I do know, however, is already enough to enthrall me and make me eager to learn more. So don’t take my words here as gospel. Go read about it for yourself.
I first heard about this term while continuing to read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. If you’ve read my other posts referencing this book, you already know where this is going. That’s right, psychedelics. Scientists have discovered a very fascinating phenomenon in the brains of people tripping on LSD or psilocybin. These psychedelic substances inhibit or turn off the default mode network in our brain.
So what is the default mode network? From what I’ve gathered, the default mode network includes many different parts of the brain that are active when we are “in our own heads” so to speak. These are the pathways we are using when we are ruminating, daydreaming, planning, remembering the past, contemplating the future, etc. Basically this is the network that is active when we are lost in thought, rather than focusing our attention on something in the outside world. In the book, it also specifies that this DMN kicks on when we are thinking about ourselves.
This aspect of self-awareness encompassed in the DMN is one of the reasons why we are able to experience “ego death” while using psychedelics, which switch off this network. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that ego death and transcendent experiences are both known to occur while tripping. The DMN, while useful, is also being linked to depression and other mental illnesses. People that spend a lot of time in the DMN are often less happy overall than people that spend less time in this brain state.
I find this very fascinating because it seems to reflect a lot of the advice you hear given to people that are unhappy. “Try to focus on someone else for awhile.” “Rather than ruminating, use that energy to help someone you love.” “Become a more active part of the community.” All of these shifts in focus are actually helpful, but now it seems science is getting a better idea exactly why that’s the case. And I don’t know about you, but I find it more easy to follow through on advice if I know the facts back it up.
Another thing I found interesting is the idea that social media tends to strengthen the DMN. When we are scrolling through Instagram or checking how many likes we got on our last Facebook post, our brains are in the default mode network. Apart from all the other reasons there are to disengage from social media, this one is quite compelling. No wonder I feel happier and less anxious now that I don’t use those apps!
If you’re looking for a way to experience the bliss of brain states outside of the DMN, but don’t want to take a drug to do so, you can try meditation instead. Surprisingly fMRI scans of experienced meditators and those of brains on psychedelics are remarkably similar. Training our minds through meditation can give us the power to focus. That focused attention in itself is another way to get ourselves out of the DMN. I believe that is why the “flow” state we experience when we loose track of time while working on a task that completely absorbs our attention is so pleasant. It’s a great feeling to “lose ourselves” in our work.
I have yet to see any research related to this, but I’m interested to know how the DMN functions in adolescence. I hypothesize that it may play a role in the unhappiness a lot of us experienced during this time in our lives. It also appears to be a time in life when we tend to be the most selfish. We’re learning who we are and what we want, finding our own identities. While this is an important and necessary part of growing up, it also requires a lot of self-centered thinking, which as we now know, can lead to a greater sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. As we get older and start to think more about others, the emotional turmoil of youth also seems to subside somewhat.
As this term was only coined in 2001, there is still a lot that science doesn’t understand about this brain state. A lot more research needs to be done. I’m excited to see what else neuroscience will discover about our brains and how exactly they work in the future. But as I said earlier, I am not at all a voice of authority on this subject. I just couldn’t resist sharing the concept and the things I’ve learned that have got me so excited about it. I highly recommend doing your own research and reading more about the default mode network for yourself. Feel free to correct me if I have misinterpreted, misunderstood, or misrepresented any of the things I’ve shared about this network. Also Let me know in the comments if you find out anything interesting that I didn’t mention.
Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.
Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?
As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?
It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.
I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.
It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.
Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.
If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.
I’m still rather new to the practice of setting intentions for myself. I’ve been trying to take a moment each morning to set daily intentions and then return to those intentions throughout my day in order to guide me back onto the path I want to take. Trying to set intentions so far has only really emphasized exactly how scattered I am throughout the day. It’s quite hard to focus on the energy I want to cultivate. Half the time I have completely forgotten what intention I’ve set before I even leave for work.
My experience with intention setting has still been able to serve me, albeit not in the way I thought it would. It has shown me just how often we lose sight of what really matters to us. Even though we’d all like to be kind, we can instead be very short-tempered and aggressive. Even though we’d all like to be generous, we still pass up dozens of opportunities to share our abundance each day. Even though we’d like to be closer with our family, we end up arguing over dinner instead. Even though we’d like to relax, we end up pressuring ourselves to do more.
This just goes to show why setting intentions for ourselves is so important. Rather than setting one for the entire day, at first it may be easier and more realistic to set intentions for smaller tasks. I think often we have been so pressured by society to embody goals such as productivity and progress, that we forget to ask ourselves if those goals are in alignment with what we really want for ourselves. For example, every weekend I get excited at the idea of having time to relax and unwind from a hectic work week. Yet somehow I end up being just as busy on my days off. Instead of giving myself permission to rest, I see this free time in front of me and immediately start to fill it with errands. After all, I don’t want to “waste” this time.
If you take a step back and think about it, wasting time is really a matter of perspective. What makes something a waste? Is it a waste of time to play catch with your dog instead of doing the dishes? Is it a waste to watch a movie with a friend instead of writing that essay due next week? It all depends on what you’d like to prioritize. If you want to prioritize a clean house, do the dishes. But if you’re prioritizing taking good care of your fur babies, playing with your dog is the right choice. If your schoolwork is most important to you, you’d want to take care of that right away. But if you find it more important to set aside time to bond with your friends, go ahead and watch that movie. We get to decide what the best use of our time is, not our parents, not our friends, and especially not society.
Most of the time when we do something we regret, it’s because we lost sight of what really matters to us. We say we want to be closer to our loved ones, but when we talk to them, we end up getting angry at every little thing they say, correcting them whenever we get the chance, or arguing about things that aren’t even that important to us. When emotions like anger or fear bubble up inside of us, that is a great cue to take a deep breath and try to remember our intention. What do I want to get out of this conversation? Am I trying to be right? Am I trying to be the smartest person in the room? Or am I trying to show this person I care about them and have a lighthearted chat?
I love the question: would you rather be right or happy? It’s a great model to use for whatever intention you may set for yourself. If you’re like me and you find yourself spending your only day off giving yourself more work to do, try asking: would I rather be productive today or would I rather give myself a chance to rest and recover? Usually both options are completely valid and valuable in their own unique way. It’s not about what you should be doing. It’s about what you’d like to do.
Try setting an intention for at least one small part of your day today. You might decide to set the intention to be calm and mindful on your drive home from school or work. Seems simple enough right? But notice if you still manage to become enraged when another car cuts you off or is driving too slowly. When this happens, as it likely will, gently guide yourself back to your intention. Was your goal to get home as fast as possible? Or was it to have a calm and enjoyable drive? No need to be hard on yourself for getting off track. Stay curious about your automatic reactions. Isn’t it fascinating how our minds are able to defy our best efforts? Keep practicing and it will feel even more rewarding when you notice your ability to focus become stronger and stronger.
After 27 years of life, a pattern that now seems so obvious has finally revealed itself to me. While I’ve always heard that change is the only constant, it seemed equally as natural that we will inevitably resist and detest this constant change. How many times have you heard someone say something like “I wish things could stay this way forever”? I’m sure we all feel that way sometimes. However, even if it were possible to avoid change in our lives, should we?
I’m reminded of when I learned that despite having clear ideas about what will make us happy, studies show that we don’t have very good judgement in that regard. We don’t know what will make us happy. It’s a hard concept to wrap my mind around. I feel so sure that this or that will make me happy. I almost don’t even realize it when I acquire said thing and am still just as unhappy as before. I thought working from home would be a dream come true, but it turned out that I’m actually much happier coming into the office every day. Despite clearly remembering this baffling realization, a few months after coming back to the office, I find myself hoping for another shut-down so I can work from home again. I can’t seem to convince myself that being at home alone every day actually makes me feel depressed and more anxious than usual.
This strange dilemma is similar to the way I view change. I assume most people would say that they don’t like change. Evolutionarily, change is an obvious threat. If we’re able to survive with the way things are, change could potentially be catastrophic. Our minds and bodies are inclined to try to hold on to what has been working for us up to this point, even if something else may work better. As long as we’re alive, change seems like a big, unnecessary risk. I think this is one of the complexities that make modern day society so difficult for us to navigate. It is not an accurate reflection of what our minds and bodies were designed for.
I mentioned in some of my recent posts the new habits I have added into my daily routine to promote mindfulness and self care. While I initially felt an immense positive impact from these changes, after a month, they have begun to feel lackluster. This is the pattern I have finally noticed within myself. I am constantly concocting new plans and habits that I believe will help me live a happier and fuller life, more in line with my values. These changes are always amazing for the first week or so. Then they start to seem ineffective. I find myself back where I started. I fall back into the mindless hum of habit.
I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps what is making me so happy at first isn’t the specific tasks I’m including in my day, rather the change itself. Although the habits I’ve cultivated are mindful, I wasn’t being more mindful simply due to the actions I was performing. It’s much easier to be mindful when you are doing something new. Perhaps I wasn’t less anxious because I wasn’t watching TV while I ate, but because I was doing things differently than I normally would.
I’ve often had the feeling that intelligent minds are more prone to anxiety and depression. I believe this is due to the effort that we have to exert to stimulate our active, easily bored brains. Not many of us are willing or able to make that effort. I’ve always detested challenges as well as change. I don’t know if that was innate or a result of my early environment, but it is a misguided opinion nonetheless. I need to be challenged, I need new, novel experiences and information to make me happy. Now the issue is how do I go about intentionally including these things in my life.
When we’re growing up, we have little choice in the matter. There are lots of consistent changes that come our way which we have no control over. Maybe our parents move or get divorced. We have to go to a new school. We suddenly have a new sibling. Whether we are resistant to change or not, we know there is going to be a lot of it we’re going to have to deal with. Once we are adults and have more control over our own lives and environment, it becomes easier for us to avoid change. Often we even avoid changes we want to make out of fear. Stagnation may be unpleasant, but it is safe and that is our prime biological imperative.
After trying for years to cultivate healthier habits, there is one I have been missing. This month, I’d like to try to make change a habit. In order to break free from what has become a quite oppressive daily schedule, I think intentionally doing at least one thing differently or trying something new each day would be an excellent way to invite more mindfulness and mental stimulation into my day.