Mental Health is Contained in Language

mental health is contained in language

Our experience in life, even in the womb, is one of sensation. All our physical sense channels, collectively referred to as ‘the sensorium,’ make up the body of our experience, which is then represented with language. In other words, we can share our experiences because of representational language, because of words and pictures. It makes sense then, that a lot of our mental health is contained in language because all of  our experience of which we have identified, codified, is contained in language.

Sensation is just sensation. It is raw experience. Sensation can be described, with language, in terms of intensity, duration, frequency, temperature, weight, pressure color, hue, shade, sound, rate, rhythm, bitter, sweet, pungent, aromatic. Lots of words available to help codify and represent raw sensational experience. Sensation itself is without words,without description, without meaning, other than what we give to it, with language.

We use language every day all day, both with others, and internally in what is referred to as internal dialogue, or ‘self-talk.’ Self talk is the undercurrent of chatter, using language, to make statements about situations; those statements, valid or erroneous, become the platform then for our sense of personal self, our sense of others, the experience we recognize as our reality. A lot of that reality is ‘shared reality’ in large part because of the same language. Language is a kind of encoding, and decoding, system. We use words, spoken and printed, to convey experience, ideas, concepts, information. We also use visual images to convey the same. Visual symbols carry a lot of power. Even language is composed of visual symbols, the letters, which make up printed, and spoken, words, associated with sounds, and sights, and feelings.

We typically refer to physical gestures we make, which are visual images, both obvious and subtle, as body language or non-verbal behavior. The term non-verbal behavior is non-descriptive. It is like saying the sky is not green. But, what it is it? The sky is blue; non verbal behavior, or gestures, is visual communication. It is sight. Words, images, behaviors are all used in communication. Behaviors, from slumped in a chair with depression to ecstatic acting out in mania, is communication. We communicate with others, and within ourselves, using language, primarily composed of words and pictures. Words and pictures makes up the bulk of our thinking. Thinking is using words and pictures to define and give meaning to our sensory experience.

The sensorium, the collection of different senses, is composed of the 5 channels we are all familiar with: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The content of our sensorium, our raw sensory experience, through these basic 5 channels, is the material we use to build our reality, through codification, with language. One of our more sensational channels in the sensorium is touch, and body feelings, technically referred to as ‘kinaesthetics.’ Our kinaesthetic experiences are preverbal. We feel sensation before we describe it. A child of 1 year feels a lot, and has no auditory or visual representations for it, yet. We codify our kinaesthetic feelings with words, and pictures. In some cases, those feelings are so intense, or so sublime, they cannot adequately be codified by language; they cannot be expressed; they are ineffable, inexpressible.

Mental health is a poorly understood term; but then, so is health, and so is mental. We typically think of health as the absence of disease when in fact it is so much more than that. To say a person has gone mental is to suggest they have lost their mind, when in fact it could mean they have gained insight, understanding or have had a transformational breakthrough, what is sometimes called ‘metanoia,’ which is kind of like a ‘new mind.’ We use the term mind a lot, not really knowing what it does, how it works. Learning a bit about how we use language within ourselves, and with others, can help us understand the relationship between mind and body, mental and physical, because the language we use on ourselves, and with others, does influence state of mind, which does have influence over state of body, just as state of body has influence over state of mind. The language we use on ourselves can generate hormones in the blood, just as seeing somebody bleeding generates self talk.

We use words a lot, perhaps too much; that undercurrent of self-talk chatter is actively interpreting and evaluating and commenting upon sensory experience of sights, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes, situations, contexts. Kinaesthetic sensations, ie,, the sense of touch and body feelings, as one of the sensorium channels, is often overshadowed by sight and sound but may at times be more valid than conclusions arrived at through the more visual and auditory processes. There is a lot of ‘body intelligence’ that communicates through kinaesthetic sensations. How does one talk about kinaesthetic sensations, ie, feelings, in, and on, the body, using language? How do we incorporate kinaesthetics into our self talk, and into our thinking, more consciously? How do we invite feeling into thinking?

Mental health is contained in language; it is about how language organizes the content of the sensorium in a way that is coherent, comprehensive and wholistic, or not so, in which case, dis-ease and dis-comfort would be expected. The sensorium is somewhat like a complex woven tapestry of many threads in many colors with shifting scenes, sights and sounds and smells and tastes, and feeling, like a living garment, woven day by day, hour by hour, by our own thinking and use of language; a web, if you will, in which we are entangled, by thought and language, trying to get out, to understand, to know. In a crazy world in which we drive on parkways and park on driveways, language can have us parking in the street,or driving in the park, just as it can also have us drive well on the highway and park comfortably at home.


More ABC’s of Rational Thinking

rational thinking and beauty go together

Here are a few more ABC’s of Rational Thinking, as a sequel to the post The ABC’s of Rational Thinking

The Triad of Inertia: Can’t, Won’t & Don’t.

The ‘I can’t’ phrase is one of the more everyday lies we tell to ourselves, and others. The reality is we can, and choose not to. We generally have very good reasons for choosing not to pursue some activity, behavior, skill, relationship. We say ‘I can’t’ to avoid responsibility and ownership of our state of mind. The human mind, and body, is capable of extra-ordinary feats. If one human can do it, any human can do it. Of course, it may take many years, decades, to accomplish being able to do it, and do it well. But, we can do it, if we so choose. So, the more realistic, and empowering, phrase to use instead of ‘I can’t’ is won’t or I will not. Or, I choose not to.

Don’t, or do not, is, again, like can’t, coercive; that is, the language of you can’t do this or that, you won’t or don’t do this or that. Presumably, these demands are imposed upon us by authorities such as parents and teachers. We continue to use them as adults because they are very ingrained as habitual language patterns we use when talking to ourselves, which we do constantly. We have a never ending stream of commentary going on. We can get very wrapped up in the commentary, and upset when disrupted, when asked to put it aside and do your work. Like daydreaming, and coming back to this reality.

The common denominator with can’t, won’t and don’t is coercion. Unlike shoulds and have to’s which are coercive towards something; can’t, won’t and don’t is coercive away from something, it is prohibitive.The human ethos is rooted in doing what is prohibited. You can’t eat that! And, so, it is eaten. What we might call original oppositional defiance. But, let’s imagine, if you will, being told by a very high authority to not eat an apple on the tree, and you abide by that command and do not eat the apple; yet you very much want to eat the apple. And, you don’t. Perhaps compliant now, and also tired, lethargic, unmotivated and depressed, because you want, and can’t have. And then, years later, we see an apple on a tree, have the thought to go pick it and eat it, and tell ourselves we can’t, because we were told don’t, and won’t; and, again fall into the fault zone of depression, and inertia, based on a belief schema about what happens when opposing prohibitions.

Catastrophizing & Magical Worry

The mind is very creative and can find significant joy in fabricating scenarios, positive and negative, and shades of hues in between; and yet,few situations rise to the level of catastrophe, and yet we may use language within ourselves that make it out to be the worst thing in the world. There could be benefit to this if when the catastrophe does not occur, there can be significant relief. This is a bit like ‘magical worry’ in which the belief is that worry itself wards off that which it is worried about. If you don’t worry, that which you are not worrying about, will happen. Because so much of our understanding around concepts is in contrast to its opposite, understanding this process of catastrophizing, magical worry, and making mountains our of molehills, in comparison to its opposite, can be helfpul. Let’s postulate that the opposite of catasrophization is ‘minimization.’ At the more extreme side of things minimizing is just as dysfunctional as catastrophizing. That being said, some minimization may well be called for to counter a fabricated catastrophe.

Generalizations & Distortions

The mind also likes to generalize and can take one trait, one behavior, one incident, from one person, and generalize about all of humanity. We may use words like ‘everyone’ or ‘all the time’ or ‘always’ and ‘never’ to represent this gross generalization. ‘I’m never going to be able to do this or be that; I’m always going to have to deal with this.’ ‘Everybody is out to get me.’ ‘Nobody likes me.’

There is a time and place for generalization; it makes communication convenient, not to mention a very simple way of building a reality. This tendency to generalize is most obvious when in a traumatic situation. At those times, the impact of the trauma becomes a kind of baseline through which all subsequent experience is filtered. If you were bitten badly by a big dog as a child, all dogs are a potential threat. That one experience has generalized to encompass a very specific field. For this same person for whom all dogs are a threat because of one dog, could be entirely comfortable with several different brands and models of automobile. The adolescent who is spurned may now generalize that one painful, hurtful situation into others as an inevitability.

Generalization is often, easily, distorted. We may recall a traumatic situation, even one mildly so, and what we recall is not what happened. What we recall is what we think happened, what we remember happening; but, memory is not that reliable, especially over time. Growing up is not without its traumas, which is a Greek word meaning ‘wound.’ We are not without our wounds, and wounds contribute to distortions of thinking. If we are hurt, there is more likelihood of not being accurate and coherent, rational and realistic, which are distortions


One of the most substantial cognitive faults is believing that we must know. Of course, we do know a lot of everyday things; we know how to drive a car, boil and egg, complete a myriad of tasks at work, have some fun with a hobby or sport or game or socializing. And yet, when it comes to the way we think, how we have built up our personal reality, our beliefs, we don’t know if they are valid, useful, accurate, erroneous, productive, or counterproductive. We don’t know a lot about ourselves, and even less about others, and far less about the world, and the universe of which we are all, individually and collectively, a small expression. But, we have beliefs about all of that, and more. We think we know.

To acknowledge that we don’t know is rather liberating. And, it opens the mind to information that is not available when the belief is such that I already know.


A Meditation of Appreciation

scenic coastal image for meditation of appreciation post

Appreciation goes a long way towards a good life

Here is a simple meditation of appreciation that will put a smile on your face. You can do it laying down in bed, sitting up in a chair or in the more traditional cross legged or lotus posture. The meditation of appreciation is basically giving thanks to the many parts of your body that are working. You can often tell when a part of the body is working well when you are NOT noticing it. It is only when things don’t work that we become focused upon them. If you’re NOT aware of your back, then it’s probably working fine. If you’re NOT aware of your toes, then they are likely working fine. If you have a headache, you’re aware of your head—and something is wrong. If you sprained an ankle, you are aware of your ankle—and something is wrong. The meditation of appreciation affords us a time to focus on what does work– when it works. We become aware of areas we would normally be ignoring. It’s much like a disruptive child in a classroom who gets the attention. If we learn to give attention to the positive behaviors of children rather than only when a child misbehaves, we reinforce that positive behavior. It’s the philosophy of “catch them being good.”

To start the meditation of appreciation, simply relax in any comfortable posture. Take a few deep inhalations and exhalations. You can do this meditation with your eyes closed or open. Either way, focus briefly on your feet and ankles and say, internally, “thank you.” You can also say “thank you” externally if you so choose. Of course, you need to have some semblance of authenticity when you say this. It’ can’t be like a moody, broody teenager apologizing to an adult. There needs to be a genuine sense of appreciation for the feet and all that they do for you. It’s truly remarkable what the feet do and they certainly do deserve appreciation! You can even say “thank you” to each toe if you choose. From the feet and ankles move up to the knees. Focus on the knees and say “thank you.” Then move up to the pelvis region which is a very complicated area housing not only the sexual organs but is also the seat of elimination which is terribly important. It is also a central point of balance. Focus on the pelvis region and the legs as a whole and say “thank you.” You need not know all the various functions and components of each area you are thanking. It is enough that you have a general sense of the area and a recognition that it’s functioning is very important in your life.

From the pelvic region move up to the abdomen. Here is the seat of digestion and our “guts.” Courage, will power, decision making are the psychological associations to the physical process of digestion which takes place in this area. With your mind focused easily on your abdomen, say “thank you.” Then move up to the chest. Our respiratory and circulatory systems are housed in this area. Psychologically, it is our emotional center, the heart center. It is a treasure chest. All day long you hardly give the functions of this area of your body a thought. Now you can take just a brief second and say “thank you” for all that it does day and night, week after week, month after month, year after year, often without so much as a simple “thank you.” Now, you can change that and say “thank you.”

The next area is arms and hands. Remarkable appendages wouldn’t you agree? If you have ever been without their use for a while, like a broken arm or hand, or even a broken finger, you know how valuable they are. Simply be aware of these limbs and the extremities and say “thank you.” If you choose, you can say “thank you” to each finger.

Now move up to the throat. Another complex area. No need to focus on all the functions. Simply be aware of the throat area and say “thank you.” And then to the head(and that marvelous, mysterious, magnificient brain it houses). Wow. What a place! “Thank you!” If you choose, you can also focus on the ears, the eyes, the nose, the tongue, the teeth and whatever other specific components in the head area to which you would like to acknowledge appreciation. Next give a “thank you” to the entire spinal column. Also, while you’re at it, give a “thank you” to all the bones in the body. No need to get elaborate. Just think of your spinal column and all the bones in the body and say “thank you.”

Then, let your awareness envelope the skin covering your whole body. The skin is actually an organ and serves numerous important functions. Be aware of the skin from the top of your head to the soles of your feet and say “thank you.” Finally, give a “thank you” to the whole complex system that is your body.

To end, take a few deep inhalations and exhalations – and that’s it. You’ve completed the meditation of appreciation. It only need take a few minutes. As you become increasingly familiar with the process, you may begin to notice positive feelings and sensations in the body when you are appreciating it. You may find yourself smiling, maybe even laughing – and happy. That’s what often happens with appreciation.

This meditation should be conducted without any effort. It is not a concentration meditation; there should be no force involved. It’s just a few minutes of putting your attention on different parts of the body and saying, sincerely, “thank you.”

If there are parts of your body that aren’t working so well, you can still appreciate it even if it’s only partially working. In fact, not working well is a signal for help, which itself suggests its’ working well by asking for help. You can thank a misbehaving child for what is being done correctly even if it’s only half the time. The body, like the misbehaving child, is a manifestation of intelligence and will respond favorably to positive attention.


Creative Procrastination

creative procrastination

Procrastination has a bad rap. It is a very creative and often useful behavior. Generally defined as putting things off until the last minute, procrastination is also putting things off until the best time. For some, it’s that last minute rush which energizes and motivates. For others, it’s that last minute when important information is made available allowing then for more accurate decisions and actions. Some people may be perceived as procrastinating but they are actually prioritizing, working on more important tasks first. In these instances, procrastination is creative, effective and useful. However, there are situations in which procrastination can be a problem.

One of the more common reasons people procrastinate is that they simply do not enjoy the activity they are supposed to be doing. They put it off and put it off until they can’t put it off any longer. And then they do the work, but not very well. Another reason some people procrastinate is passive aggressive behavior. If, for example, a person is angry with someone who wants them to do something, they simply don’t do it until the very last minute, if even then. Passive aggressive behavior is a way of getting back at someone without doing anything. Procrastination may be a way a person asserts their independence. If they believe they “have to” do something, they can gain the upper hand by simply not doing it, or doing it on their own time schedule, which may be at the very last minute. Another form of procrastination is simple avoidance through physical illness. For example, a student who wants to avoid going to class to take an exam because they are not yet prepared enough, may come down with a cold thus postponing the exam. A person can procrastinate as a way of dealing with their fear of failure because if they do not complete the task they cannot fail at it. And others may procrastinate as a way of dealing with their fear of success because if they do not complete the task they will not feel the pressure and stress to keep up that same level of performance. Procrastination may also be a symptom of an underlying issue such as depression, anxiety or traumatic stress. And, there are those who may procrastinate simply because they are not well organized. In such cases, procrastination is not really the issue at hand, but rather time management, goals setting and self-discipline which are different topics.

There are also more serious forms of procrastination. Habits of performance in which a person has simply learned through their upbringing to put things off can be become quite problematic. In these cases, there is no immediate or current creative underpinning to the behavior; there is no advantage in postponing decisions or actions. Such people may find it difficult to meet performance expectations at a job and as a result may find it difficult to hold a job. Such behaviors can cause conflicts within a marriage or a household, especially when one partner is organized and efficient and the other is a chronic procrastinator. Ironically, this learned behavior may have originally been developed to gain approval and as an adult it is actually gaining disapproval. Learned behaviors such as this can be difficult to change because they become part and parcel of the self-image. The behavior becomes “just who I am.”

However, as I have stated in several other essays, all behaviors arise from an underlying positive intention to satisfy valid needs. The means by which those needs are satisfied may have worked in the past but in the present may well be distorted, skewed, ineffective or outdated; nevertheless, the need itself is legitimate. In the case of chronic procrastination learned from childhood, the need may simply be to gain the acceptance of parents if they too were procrastinators. Children model their parents. This is how they learn and it is often how they gain the approval of their parents. Learned procrastination may also be a form of protection as procrastination can be an effective means of avoiding or postponing criticism. That is, in a household where the child can never do anything well enough and is constantly reprimanded, it can make sense for them to put off doing anything in an attempt to postpone the bad feelings which come from completing a task. This learned behavior then becomes established as a norm and is carried over into adulthood. Children can be terribly creative when it comes to learning coping strategies and procrastination can be one of those strategies. Procrastination then in adulthood becomes a problem not only because of work performance but the accompanying emotions of stress, guilt, shame and the growing sense of worthlessness.

Overcoming procrastination is only advisable when it gets in the way of effective performance. In those situations where it serves a purpose, as in energizing and motivating, it is really not a problem. When it is used as a means of delaying important decisions awaiting critical information, it is not a problem. However, if it is causing sub-standard work performance or conflicts in the home, then it needs to be looked at as a problem behavior. Solutions do exist as it is a learned behavior and new behaviors can be learned. The key to replacing old behaviors with new ones is to first understand the underlying positive intention, the needs striving to be satisfied, in the old behaviors and then coming up with alternative behaviors which can meet those same needs. From that point it is a matter of visualizing the new behavior, role-playing the new behavior and setting up incentives and rewards for engaging in the new behavior and completing tasks in a timely manner.


Yoga: The Life Breath of Generations

Yoga: The Life Breath of Generations

Yoga is generally considered to be a set of physical postures; often a class to which millions of people throughout the world go to stretch this way and that. Yoga, however, is a much grander philosophy which encompasses not just physical health but mental well-being and spiritual regeneration. Yoga is often ridiculed and made fun of in today’s modern materialistic societies; it has also been revered in many of yesterday’s ancient spiritual societies.

Yoga goes back thousands and thousands of years. It is an ancient and time tested approach to physical health, mental well-being and spiritual regeneration. It is the ultimate self-care, and could be considered a requirement if not for surviving then definitely for thriving. Throughout these ages and ages, there have been many excellent teachers expounding this comprehensive view of physical health, mental well-being and spiritual regeneration which is Yoga. One such teacher was the East Indian Yoga Master Patanjali. Patanjali expounded Yoga as having eight limbs. Each limb is a practice or set of practices, some for physical health, some for mental well-being, and some for spiritual regeneration. These limbs are not hierarchical; they are systemic. That is, one does not necessarily lead to the next. All eight limbs, like the tentacles of an octopus, are independent, though connected through that ninth element of the whole octopus itself.

The language of Yoga is Sanskrit, an ancient technical and scholarly language which translates to English as ‘refined speech.’ The word Yoga itself is Sanskrit and translates to English as ‘yoke’ or ‘union.’ The terms used to label these limbs of Yoga are Sanskrit as are many terms used within the field of Yoga.

The limb, or tentacle, of postures and bodily positions, of stretching this way and that is called Asana. But, that is just one limb of Yoga. Two other limbs are called ‘Yama’ and Niyama.’ These two limbs are along the lines of guidelines for behavior which are conducive to physical health, mental well –being and spiritual regeneration. Yama is more concerned with physical behaviors and actions, such as having compassion for others or being honest in relationships whereas Niyama is more concerned with psychological behaviors and actions, i.e., thoughts and decisions, such as self-examination and self-discipline. Another fairly well known limb or tentacle, and one which is often associated with Asana, is Pranayama. Pranayama is the myriad of breathing exercises of which there are multiple dozens. It doesn’t take much awareness to realize that our life, our personal existence, is more dependent upon breath than just about anything else. One can go many weeks without food, many days without water, but no more than minutes, and more often seconds, without breath. Breath is Life. Learning to breathe properly and well has extra-ordinary benefits for both physical health and mental well-being. Coupled with Asana, which is a tremendously positive influence on the nerves, muscles, joints, glands and skeletal system, these two limbs of Yoga go a long way towards physical health and mental well-being.

The fifth through eighth limbs are concerned primarily with spiritual regeneration and can be clumped together under the umbrella of Meditation. Meditation is the process of redirecting awareness from outward to inward and then transcendence of the subject-object duality. This transcendence is a ‘melting’ of individual, dualistic consciousness into non-dual, universal wholeness. It is referred to as Samadhi and considered the fruit of Yoga. There are as many forms and styles of meditation as there are postures and positions of Asana, or breathing exercises of Pranayama.

Pratyahara is the beginning of meditation. It is the embarking upon a journey inwards, with ever increasing focus and awareness leading to the transcendence of subjectivity, and its intimate partner, objectivity. The ever deepening experience over time is called Dharana, and then Dhyana, leading to Samadhi. The path of Pratyahara to Samadhi can be lengthy; but, it is not unheard of to be instantaneous. These eight limbs of Yoga, though often believed to develop in a linear fashion from ‘first’ to ‘eighth’ is not necessarily factual. Certainly, and traditionally, linear development beginning with the proper behaviors leading to postures and breath, then to and through meditation, arriving in Samadhi, is a route taken by many. But, like the tentacles of an octopus, which do not develop in a linear fashion, but rather holistically and systemically, so too a glimpse of Samadhi, that transcendental consciousness, described, in the language of Yoga, as Sat, Chit Ananda (Truth, Consciousness, Bliss), can be the initial igniting force behind a life-long love affair with Yoga. Such a person is then described as a Yogi, or Yogini (female). Because the nature of Samadhi is often described as nectar, it is not surprising that the path of Yoga is populated with hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

These adherents to Yoga all tend to align with various emphasis on some limb or another. Hatha Yoga tends to emphasize the Asanas and Pranayama, but would certainly not discount Yama and Niyama, or Dhyana. Those who are called to service, practice Karma Yoga, of which there are millions in every walk of life, every corner of the world, every race and creed and of both genders, while those who travel the path of knowledge are Jnana Yogis. Many a scientist is Jnana Yogi. Bhakti Yoga is all about love, surrender and devotion. Many an artist is Bhakti Yogi. Tantric Yoga is for those who have a proclivity towards the mystical and is the one which can be, and often is, most misused. Because of the potential for misuse, and injury – physically, mentally, and spiritually, in any aspect of Yoga, the Guru is not only the instructor, guide, mentor and model, but also a protector. In today’s global world, there are many mentors, models, guides and instructors to access, most all available to some degree online. Protection comes about through the most subtle and effortless acceptance of Samahdi.

Yoga, as a comprehensive educational philosophy for health and well-being , accommodates a wide variety of personalities and nationalities. It is generic like aspirin. It is some of the very best information available in the world about physical health and mental well-being, which combined together is spiritual regeneration. The information, and the spark of animating energy that gives it breath, has been available for a very long time, and will remain so far beyond the foreseeable future. It is the life breath of generations.