In Pursuit Of A Quiet(er) Mind?
Westerners tend to have this idea that a quiet mind will bring about happiness and bliss.
But that’s backwards.
First, let’s get clear on what it is we really want. No one walks around with a blank mind. The nature of the Waking State is that you’re going to have thoughts – and lots of them.
It’s a well-known fact among people who study the brain that the average human has somewhere in the range of 60 to 90 thousand thoughts every day, and that about 90 percent of those thoughts get dumped into the next day.
So technically, everybody has a busy mind.
But last I checked, nobody was complaining about having too many creative thoughts, too many insights, or too many big ideas.
I suspect that’s what everyone is really after: a higher quality of thoughts.
If the majority of your thoughts are relatively negative in association (and by that I mean thoughts tied to some kind of distressful content like loss, fear, rejection, etc), then you would have what brain scientists would describe as a “busy mind.”
But if most of your thoughts were creative and insightful in nature, you would likely be considered a prodigy or a genius.
As it turns out, it’s the experience of bliss that eradicates the negative thoughts, and spontaneously attracts the higher quality thoughts that everybody enjoys having.
The question is how to upgrade your thoughts?
The short answer is to upgrade the body through achieving deeper states of rest.
A stressed body reinforces negative thoughts, whereas a relaxed, healthy body reinforces positive, creative thoughts.
With each stressful experience, the body acquires PCCs (Premature Cognitive Commitments), which are chemical messengers that preempt the stress response whenever you cross paths with a similar sensation from a previous stress response.
It works like this: suppose you are lying around in a room with a turquoise wall, eating jalapeno poppers, burning your favorite Nag Champa incense, listening to Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby Mcferrin, and enjoying pillow talk with your spouse.
And let’s say that your spouse turns to you and tells you that they have some bad news: they’ve recently met someone on Craigslist, who lives in Argentina, who is undoubtedly their true soulmate. And they’re moving out with you and flying down to South America to be with them tomorrow.
Understandably, you may be a little confused, angry or sad. While the idea of leaving immediately or getting into a fight with your spouse may begin to overtake any kind of rational response, those negative emotions instruct your body to start scanning your immediate environment and memorize the look, smell, taste, touch, feel and sound of that room.
Instantly, the taste of jalapeno poppers, the color of the blue wall, the smell of Nag Champa incense, the chord changes in Don’t Worry Be Happy, the color turquoise, and anything having to do with Craigslist or Argentina get stored in the cells of your body as stress triggers.
So the next time you cross paths with just one of those sensations, your body will send a message back to your brain to evacuate that situation immediately, and fight whatever’s in your way. This can show up as being disagreeable, confrontation, or argumentative in otherwise innocent (non-life threatening) situations. Or we can feel withdrawn, paralyzed or indecisive.
Those are the psychological manifestations of the stress response.
The average person accumulates something like 100,000 new stress triggers every decade. The more you have, the more your body tells your mind to run or fight, the more mental clutter your experience.
The reason mental techniques like meditation work so well to alleviate the experience of overwhelming negative mental content, is because when you have a rested mind, only then will the body rest in a deep and profound way.
This kind of deep and profound rest can be like Kryptonite to stress triggers. Stress triggers start getting neutralized, dissolved and replaced by endogenous bliss (rest) triggers: mainly Beta Endorphins.
These chemical messengers work in the same way as the PCCs, only they send a different kind of message back to the brain.
Instead of looking for ways to fight or run, bliss triggers tell you to stay and play. They reinforce your ability to adapt to change, and to see the best in a situation.
When the body receives these positive messages over enough time (a handful of years) from daily meditation practice, it will begin to habituate to sending these higher quality messages all of the time. Old neural pathways get replaced by newer ones that promote growth, restoration and higher quality mental content.