Fun With Affirmations

maui beach sunset

The New Age Thinking regarding the use of affirmations can be somewhat frivolous. The idea that you can simply think about or affirm what you want and then get it is decidedly absurd. Yet, there is no doubt that thinking is a formative force in the materialization and fabrication of our world view and the conditioned circumstances in which we exist. How we view the world, and ourselves, as we are in and of the world, determines how we act which in turn results in effects. Our current situation–all the conditions of our present life and the various contexts in which we find ourselves, is a direct result of our past, specifically how we have used language in describing ourselves, our capacities, abilities and goals all of which is a precursor for behavior which, again, is causative meaning it brings about effects.

Language is not only our tool for communication. It is also our tool for thought. We think in words as well as mental pictures. But, language is a rather crude instrument. In English, with a mere 26 letters, we codify and represent all our experience…and communicate that experience, as best we can, with language. How can 26 letters encompass not just decades but ages upon ages of experience?

Language is tricky…it’s not always easy to understand the true meaning of a word or phrase. For example “love” has many different shades of meaning. When we say we love that new restaurant down the street, is that the same as when we say we love our mother? And when we are told that we should love ourselves, what kind of love do we apply? The kind of love we have towards our pet? Our sibling? One of the most common New Age Affirmations is something along the lines of “I love myself.” What does that mean? Really? Do we love ourselves the way we love our spouse? The way we love our neighbor? We don’t do those very well, so how could we possibly love ourselves any better?

Because thought, which uses language, is a formative force. Affirmations are important. What we say to ourselves, and how we say it, does have an impact upon our mind, our body and our behavior…which, being causative, brings about effects. It behooves us to consider the positive and accurate use of affirmations as part of mental health hygiene. Just as you brush your teeth twice a day, so taking a few minutes to use language and thought in such a purposeful way that the mind is imprinted with positive impressions, is healthy. And, just as toothbrushes come in different styles and choosing one that works well is a consideration, so too designing an effective and accurate affirmation takes some meditation.

There are some basic guidelines to the proper use of affirmations: relatively short, first person singular, realistic, and yet not necessarily a present reality, vividness and kinaesthetic intensity, which is feeling. An affirmation is generally no longer than a few sentences and mostly just one simple sentence. The most common beginning of the sentence is “I am” and this is actually a very good affirmation to start with. After you brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say to yourself “I am.” After you’ve done that for a couple of months consistently, you can add on to it. For example, “I Am Healthy.” Of course, exactly what “healthy” consists of is not detailed, nor should it be. The word “healthy” is associated with dozens, if not hundreds, of other words, phrases, images and feelings. It’s those associations that gives that word its meanings. As you say “I am healthy” the subconscious mind automatically conjures images of what that means. As you repeat that affirmation as if it is a mantra, the images and feelings become intensified. But, you ask, what if I am not healthy, as many people in fact are not. You can still affirm this statement. It is not a hope or a want, it can be a statement of fact…even though it may currently be a lie.

Many of the beliefs and world views we hold today were built up through repetitive use of affirmations…simple sentences…which were, at the time, untruths. But, having repeated them so often, in first person singular, with vividness and feeling, these simple statements which were not at the time realities, became so. For example, a child growing up and learning language might imitate their parent who might often say “I’m such a klutz.” The child begins to imitatively repeat this affirmation and, although not a reality at the time, can easily become one.

To affirm something in the present which is not currently a reality is not a lie. It is simply a conflict. The subjective reality of the affirmative statement, coupled with vividness and feeling, is in conflict with the objective reality of consensual agreement. As the new affirmative statements are repeated the conflict increases. During this period of conflict there may be very strong thoughts attempting to convince one that the objective consensual reality is “the truth.” By continuing on with daily affirmative statements the creative subconscious mind begins to work towards conflict resolution. One of the two “realities” must be dissolved. There is tremendous force and momentum behind the objective consensual reality. Yet with simple persistence, the new subjective affirmative reality which was in conflict with the objective consensual reality begins to take dominance. The objective consensual reality’s basis, which is nothing other than established internal, subjective, affirmative statements becomes less rigid…it begins to crack. It becomes subordinate, and diminishes, and eventually dissolves away. Objective indications of the new affirmative position begins to be noticed in the world of consensual agreement…a new personal reality begins to emerge which is also substantiated by growing objective consensual agreements.

So, you may currently be very unhealthy. That does not matter. You can still affirm “I Am Healthy.” Be warned however, that as the weeks and months pass, as the conflict between the objective consensual reality and the newly forming subjective affirmative statements increases, there may be tendencies to prove to yourself that you are unhealthy. These tendencies need not be acted upon and, like storm moving through the region, they too pass; and then you may find yourself engaging in behaviors which are more aligned with the newly forming subjective reality of being healthy. What these new behaviors are will vary from individual to individual. There is no prescription as to diet, exercise, etc. The behaviors arise from the subconscious mind which is now accepting the newly forming reality. Although some may argue that you must affirm specifics, this writer believes the more generic, the greater the chance of allowing the creative subconscious mind to organize and formulate the necessary components of that reality without undue influence from the conditioned conscious mind.

There are a number of simple, generic affirmations that can be practiced. For example, “I am competent,” “I am efficient,” I am relaxed,” are some very simple affirmative statements that if practiced regularly can impact the subconscious mind in such a way as to bring about behaviors that are in alignment with that affirmation. Here is a longer affirmation that can be useful to repeat upon awakening in the morning and upon retiring in the evening: “I am a unique person, wonderful in many ways. I am gifted with the freedom to make choices and the means to act. I live in a world of possibilities and respond with intelligence. I am alert to what is happening around me. I can communicate. I am able to reason and I can learn. I will often remember…I am a unique person, wonderful in many ways.”

The Bread of Breath

a loaf of bread

Bread has long symbolized sustenance and nourishment. The idea of ‘breaking bread together’ is about collective sustenance, and nourishment for, indeed, we are intimately connected to the collective, and it to us. And yet, as an old goat once bleated, ‘we can live without food for weeks maybe months, without water for days maybe weeks, but we cannot live without breath for more than a few seconds to minutes. Breath is the bread of life, and the bread of breath is that mysterious animating energy, beyond conception, itself invisible, untouchable, unknowable, and, yet, without which we cease to exist.

Beyond Basic Needs

blue jade flower

We often think of our needs as being solely the basic survival needs of air, water, food, clothing and shelter. However, there are a series of needs which emerge when these basic physical needs are met. These higher needs are psychological and if not satisfied can result in depression, anger, anxieties, confusion, isolation and even violence. Before these psychological needs can be satisfied, they must be known. If we know we need food, we can get the food. But, if we don’t know what we need to eliminate the hunger, or the depression, we cannot satisfy that need. So, what are our psychological needs?

The most basic of psychological needs, and it overlaps with physical needs, is the need for Security. We seek not only physical security through our shelters but also through the establishment and enforcement of boundaries. The concept of boundaries also applies to us psychologically as we have an individual self which requires security. Our security and safety needs are satisfied through a variety of protective measures and much of our behavior is geared towards providing us with some semblance of psychological protection. For example, the child who consistently refuses to go to school may be, in their mind, trying to protect themselves from something. That something may be to avoid being bullied at school or perhaps this child’s single mother is ailing and the child wants to stay home to take care of her as she is the main source of protection and by assuring her well being, the child assures their own protection. As adults we also engage in behaviors which serve as psychologically protective mechanisms and there is certainly nothing wrong with this…unless the behavior is actually causing the reverse effect, which can often occur when childhood protective behaviors continue on into adulthood.

When our psychological needs for security are relatively satisfied, yet another set of psychological needs become dominant. These needs are about Connection. We strive to be connected to others, related to others…to have friends, to give and receive affection and caring. We need to belong, to love and to be loved. To meet these needs, communication, negotiation, dialogue, discussion and conflict resolution skills are very important. Just as a child needs to activate motor skills to walk to the kitchen to get some food when hungry, so too must we engage communication skills to meet our needs for connection with others.

When our needs for connection are satisfied, even in part, the needs for Value arise. Some of our greatest joy comes from being valued by others for who we are and what we do. Yet, even more important than being valued by others is our own sense of our own value…self value, self esteem. To the degree we estimate our self as valuable; to that extent we are healthy and productive. The golden rule, “do unto others as they do unto you” may in fact not be an injunction but rather a statement of fact. For, indeed, we do treat others as we treat ourselves and the more we value ourselves the more we value others and the world around us. It is not difficult to see how a person who met their needs up to this point and is not aware of this need for Value may begin to find a general malaise in their life, a gnawing hunger or thirst that nothing seems to quench. But, once they understand that this need to value…to value the self, as it is, to value others as they are, to value the world, and, in turn, to be valued, has been neglected, steps can be taken to address that lack.

The need to actualize one’s inherent potential arises when the previous needs are largely met. However, these needs are somewhat systemic and do not simply arise one after the other in a linear fashion. They overlap and can ebb and flow. A middle aged business person in the prime of their life, with a comfortable home, numerous friends, meaningful and productive work can become only focused on the basic needs of water, food and clothing in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The higher needs of connection and value vanish as the needs for security and survival take precedence. However, when this business person, or anyone who has found their needs for connection and value satisfied, begins to feel the stirrings of a deeper and more profound need, it is the need to actualize the potentialities inherent within the individual mind. Often referred to as Self Actualization, this need is rarely recognized let alone activated as the previously mentioned needs are almost universally not satisfied to the level required to allow the emergence of the need for Self Actualization to any significant degree. In fact, it is estimated that most people continue to seek satisfaction of their connection needs throughout their adult life. Perhaps because our communication skills are so poor, our ability to connect with others leaves much to be desired. Fighting, abuse and violence of all sorts may be the last attempt of an unskilled mind in trying to make connections with others.

Did You Choose To Be Here?

sunset at keawakapu beach

I have often heard from some, as you may have too, that you chose to be here, on this planet, at this time, in the circumstances you find yourself. And why did you choose to be here? To learn lessons. Do you believe that? If so, I am going to suggest that you are misinformed. You did not choose to be here, you are here by the inescapable results of consequences. Granted, you may be learning lessons here, but that is not what brought you into this world. What brought you into this world is the inexorable unfolding of consequences. Just as a person may find themselves in prison as a consequential result of their actions, not their choice, so too we find ourselves in this world. We did not choose to be in this world. We are here as a consequential result of actions and deeds from the past. And, just as a person who finds themselves in prison can choose to use that experience to learn and grow, so too we have choices we can make in this world by which we can learn and grow. But, the fact that we have choices now does not mean we chose to be here. Some would say, and rightly so, that regardless of our conditions, be they pleasant or bitter, by being here, and having choice, we are empowered, for it is our capacity to make choices, and enact those choices, that builds consequences.

Consequences are the natural results of actions. The sequence of events which has lead to our present circumstances can go back very far, even long, long before our birth into this material world for, indeed, we are far more than the transient body we inhabit or our temporary personality. We are an active energy system that animates the mind and body we inhabit. That energy system, like all energy, is, according to the first law of thermodynamics, neither created nor destroyed. It only changes form. Energy, as the poet William Blake stated, is ‘eternal delight.’ The third law of motion, postulated by Isaac Newton, states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, or, in other words, an effect, a consequence. Long before Newton, the law of cause and effect was understood as an underlying force responsible for bringing about the conditions of our experience. You cannot throw a rock into a pond and not have ripples rebounding from the farther shore, returning to its source. Every action has reverberations, consequences. To say that we choose to be in this world in the circumstances we find ourselves is to disregard this fundamental law of cause and effect.

Many people are relatively familiar with the concept cause and effect, or consequence, also known as ‘karma,’ which is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘action’ or ‘deed.’ What is less well known is the Sanskrit word ‘phala,’ which means ‘fruit’ as in the result of action. There are no actions or deeds, no karma, without phala, the fruits of those actions or deeds, which eventually ripen – and fall upon us. Yet, despite the commonly understood, and accepted, doctrine, or law, of cause and effect, many well intentioned, though misinformed people, continue to expound that we chose to be in this world with the circumstances which permeate our lives. There are problems with this line of thinking beyond the mere disregard for the law of cause and effect. For example, if a person suffering with a terminal disease is told they chose that, the presumption is that they can choose to not have that. And when the disease continues, or worsens, the person can feel guilty or ashamed for not choosing health. If a person is born into this world with significant deficits, either physical, emotional or social, or any combination of those three, they may be told that they chose this because they have lessons to learn. When these deficits continue, they can become guilt ridden and ashamed of themselves for not choosing to get better, or not learning their lessons. To say that those interned in concentration camps chose that is to seriously question the mental health of such people. A person would have to be crazy to choose to be placed in a concentration camp, or in a refugee camp starving to death, regardless of what lessons might be learned. It is far more sane to suggest that current conditions, no matter how beautiful or ugly, pleasant or painful, are the ripened fruit of past deeds, past actions. It is accurate to state that we do have choices in the present; we can make choices about the consequential conditions we find ourselves in. One of the principle tenets of Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy is that people have the freedom to make choices in which they can find meaning in any circumstance, including the most wretched. People can choose what to think and how to act, and interact, in any given situation.

It is far more compassionate, and accurate, to recognize that although we do have choices in this world, the conditions we find ourselves in, no matter how satisfying or frustrating, are not of our choosing but rather brought on by the law of consequences. We did not choose to be here in this world; we did not choose to be in the circumstances we find ourselves. We are here as a result of consequences. We are the ones ourselves, as a system of active animating energy, that brought on the consequential conditions we find ourselves in, both individually and collectively. And, so often our actions have been, and still are, unfortunately, short sighted, selfish, and even malevolent. Despite that, we do have choices now as to how we interpret and respond to our circumstances, how we behave and communicate, how we live, and love, which then does contribute to future consequences. The active animating energy that has brought on these consequential conditions, and which underlies our current mind and body, is channeled into action through a mind that is often still heavily conditioned with erroneous beliefs, skewed values, emotional debris and intellectual blockages. Short sightedness, selfishness and malevolence are still quite prevalent in this world. But, we can choose alternatives. That requires a consciousness at least willing to accept the idea of a law of cause and effect, and a consciousness that can delay gratification, for consequences may not, and often do not, arrive immediately. It is not a matter of figuring out what to do, the multi-dimensional cosmic mechanics of cause and effect are unfathomably complex. It is sufficient to act….from the heart.

Anticipating Anticipatory Anxiety

green ti  liear

You’re going to the dentist – and you feel anxious. You’re about to go take a test, and you feel anxious. You’ve been asked to have a meeting with your supervisor, and you feel anxious. You might just be anxious anticipating another day! Anticipatory anxiety is a common discomfort for millions of people. Some people can even get anxious anticipating the arrival of the anticipatory anxiety! Anticipatory anxiety is the physical symptoms of increased heart rate, increased pulse, shallow rapid breathing and increased tension which can cause upset stomachs and headaches and perhaps increased sweatiness, all of which arise when thinking about an upcoming event.

General anxiety is also often caused by thinking; however, the thinking may be about anything: a past relationship, ongoing financial issues, problems on the job…. Anticipatory anxiety is specifically about some particular event about to occur. What we think might happen can cause great anxiety. If we magnify the potential problems of the event to such an extent that in our mind it becomes a catastrophe, our anxiety could reach such levels that we become dizzy and may even pass out. If we imagine the upcoming event as being uncomfortable or embarrassing, then our anxiety will be less severe, though still quite noticeable. The difference between anticipatory anxiety that is incapacitating and merely moderately uncomfortable is entirely rooted in what we are thinking about the upcoming event.

Truly, any thinking about an upcoming event is conjecture. We really don’t know what will occur. We guess, we fabricate, we imagine and yet we don’t know, which in itself can be a cause of anxiety – especially if we think not knowing somehow equates to instability. Nevertheless, we do fabricate outcomes of upcoming events and those outcomes are generally negative which causes the anxiety. If we were to imagine positive outcomes we would be much less anxious, maybe even excited. Also note that anxiety and excitement can share the same kinds of symptoms: elevated heart rate and pulse, shortened and shallow breathing, tension….Before a person diagnoses themselves with anxiety, they might want to explore the possibility that they are actually excited.

The key to lowering and perhaps even reducing anticipatory anxiety is an awareness of thinking. If we can capture those fleeing internal sentences and/or internal images which we have created about an unknown future, we can analyze them. More often than not, these internal fabrications are not realistic. We may see ourselves at the dentist and in excruciating pain. We may imagine ourselves taking a test and totally unable to answer any question. We foresee the meeting with our supervisor as ending up in being reprimanded or even fired. All of these scenarios take place in our mind often without a shred of evidence. Yet, the mind reacts as if it’s a fact and the body reacts accordingly.

So, how do we combat anticipatory anxiety? First, be aware of the physical symptoms and then take a moment to relax. You can do this by taking a few deep inhalations and exhalations. Then examine the content of your thinking, your internal dialogue and your mental pictures, which occurred at the onset of the anxiety. Counter the unrealistic and irrational thoughts with more realistic and evidence based thoughts. For example, if you see yourself in excruciating pain at the dentist, counter that with the knowledge that you will actually be feeling no pain due to the Novocain or other pain inhibitor you will receive. Test anxiety can be countered with envisioning yourself answering the questions rather than not – it’s purely a matter of imagining something negative vs. imagining something positive. And, if you have studied for the test and know the material, then it’s far more realistic to have a positive outcome than a negative one. If you find that the holiday’s when family gatherings are common cause anxiety, examine what mental pictures you are holding that might generate that anxiety. Sure, maybe you are recalling past holiday’s that were terrible, but that does not necessarily mean that the upcoming holidays must be that way. You can envision and imagine alternatives which are more pleasant and that will reduce the anticipatory anxiety.

Why the mind tends towards the negative rather than the positive is a mystery. Yet, there is no doubt that anticipatory anxiety is purely a mind game. You can win the game if you are aware of your thinking and able to challenge the irrational, unrealistic thinking and replace it with more realistic thinking. Realistic thinking is not necessarily positive thinking, it is more objective thinking sometimes called scientific thinking because it is based on evidence, not conjecture. So, next time you start to feel anxious, become a scientific thinker and examine the evidence. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised to find the source of your anxiety vanish like a clouds dispersing after a storm.