Consciousness – Self Possession – Mood Control

by pre., Friday, April 4th, 2008.

Your mood effects the way you react, of course it does. If you’re sad you’re generally less motivated, less interested, more introspective. If you’re happy you’re usually more extroverted, more inquisitive, less lethargic.

But what actually determines your mood?

Sometimes this is obvious. Your pet just died, you just won the lottery, your just got fired or you’ve been offered that great job. More often, it’s quite subtle. Maybe you’ve already forgotten that compliment, but it’s still affecting your mood. Or you’ve been day-dreaming about the good time you’ll have on holiday in a few weeks. Perhaps a con-man or stage psychic recently primed you with words associated with trust and giving.

But usually, our moods seem to slide to what you may call a ‘default’ state. A disposition. A base-level that’s different for everybody. Some folks are generally happy, and others generally more miserable. Some people are generally more introspective, some more extrovert.

So what determines this default state? It could be our genes of course. Perhaps some of us are just born happy. This even seems likely to be the case to some degree, but that original genetic effect is soon dwarfed by the feedback mechanisms, parenting style and other external influences in our environment.

If the human brain does something, practices any skill at all, it gets better and better at doing it again. The more you play the guitar, the better you’ll be at playing the guitar, the more you’ll enjoy it and the more you’ll be likely to do it again. This doesn’t apply jut to learning a music instrument. It applies to drawing, to cookery, to philosophy, to maths and carpentry and skating and sports and indeed to every possible human endeavour. It even applies to smiling.

If you know all that, you won’t be surprised to learn that it also applies to mood. The more you’re extroverted, the more likely you are to act that way. The more you’re miserable, the better practised you are at being miserable, the easier it’ll be. As you move through your life you wear a path in your brain just as you would if you walked the same path over a lawn each day. You’ll then find yourself walking that same path over and over again, wearing it deeper and deeper, just because it’s easier to do so than to walk less charted ground. If you’ve been happy a great deal of the time, you’ll automatically follow that happy-path, find yourself in a happy mood for no other reason than that’s the rut you’ve worn in your mind.

Rut is the right word too. You can become stuck in it. If you’ve been miserable for a great deal of your life, you’ve worn a path so deep it can start to become hard to get out of it. Depression results. If you’ve been overly introverted much of the time, shyness and embarrassment can become overwhelming.

But even those who aren’t depressed, shy, violently angry or annoyingly hyper can benefit from learning how to practice other moods. However happy you are, you can probably be happier if you’d spend more time practising doing so. You can learn to control your mood.

How do we practice such a thing? How do we learn to influence our own emotional state?

You have already, in the first few paragraphs of this article, been primed with a clue.

As we’ve mentioned in these articles many times before; your brain is an associative machine. If you want it to be happier, think of a time when you were happy. If you want it to be more outgoing and lively, think of a time when you showed those qualities. If you need to act more confident and self assured, spend time thinking of examples of yourself doing so.

The more you can concentrate on the images, sounds, memories and details of these things, the more they will affect your spirits. Con artists, psychology experimenters and stage hypnotists use subliminal cues to influence you, and even that works surprisingly well; but the more you can focus and direct your attention towards those particular things that make you feel a certain way, the more you’ll slip automatically into that pattern of thinking.

If you consciously and actively monitor your mood, deliberately take note when you feel a certain way, you’ll have more examples to call on when you want to recall that feeling.

We do not advise trying to turn yourself into a happy hug bunny who’s always laughing and full of joy and never angry or low. The whole range of human emotion is valuable at some time in your life. Being too overbearingly, relentlessly, hyperactively joyous all the time is just as dysfunctional as being a paranoid, gloomy, depressive grump. We think you should practice the whole gamut of emotion until you can switch mood at will. Learn to monitor and adjust your mind-set and emotional resonance as and when it’s useful to do so.That means being well practised at all of them so that when you find you need to angrily rip some idiot a new arsehole, you can get into that head-space easily. Or when it’s better to passively ignore and let wash over you yet another insult from a less transcended friend, that too is a simple matter.

Our latest guided meditation is based around this idea. It will help you to recall an emotional state, take note of it, and compare it to another emotional state. To understand the differences between then and associate each mode with simple keys to help you recall them later at will.

Before you start to listen to it you should have have in mind a mood that you’d like to practice, and two events. One when you experienced that mood intensely, and one when you experienced the opposite just as intensely. It will guide you through trying to focus on each event, the way they made you feel, and monitor the changes in your brain as it re-experiences it during the review. To really focus and learn quickly how you can direct your brain towards the experience, and of course to associate that mood with some trigger image or sound to aid you in slipping into that mood later.

Though it’s unlikely to actually be true, some people may believe that they have never experienced the state that they’re hoping to practice. A painfully shy person can probably not recall ever being the centre of attention as they regaled a room full of people with fascinating stories that kept them all enthralled. This is partly because we find it easier to recall a memory when we’re in the same emotional state as we were when the memory was first imprinted. Again, our brain is an association machine. It’s also partly because it will simply happened less of course. It may, possibly, have even genuinely never happened.

If this is the case, don’t worry. Sometimes just try to think of a time when you were closer to the desired mood than you usually are. If you’re trying to focus on being happy but you’re usually utterly miserable, think of an occasion when you were less miserable than usual. Other times, just make one up. Make it up before you listen to the mp3, know before you start what pretend-party you were at, what people were there. Your imagination will provide your brain with how it feels to be in that situation if you can imagine it in as much detail as possible.

Consciousness – Self Possession – Pausing To Think

by pre., Friday, April 11th, 2008.

B.F. Skinner was a behaviourist. He studied psychology, animals and humans, and he figured out that animals act mostly through reflex, and furthermore that those reflexes can be altered through associative learning. If you ring a bell every time you feed a dog, the dog will start to salivate at the sound of the bell. Since you and I are also animals, we can be sure this process works with us too.

However; we are a special class of animal. Yes, you and I do work through reflex. If I make you angry, you’ll lash out. If I make you happy and secure you’ll be more trusting and friendly. If you’re hungry, you’ll eat. This is true of every mammal you care to name. But it’s also true that you and I have a faculty that it would seem most animals live without: introspective self-conscious sentience. Self awareness. In short: Self possession. The ability to understand our reflexes. To notice them, manipulate them, to change them or override them.

Our next two essays will help you to understand this fact, suggest ways that you can use to train yourself to rely less on reflex and more on deliberate thought and considered opinion, and then help you to learn how to train your reflexes so that even if things are happening too quickly for self-conscious introspection, your reflexes will do what you’d want them to do anyway.

Next week, we’ll look at ways to change your reflexes, train your own knee-jerk responses when it’s useful to do so, but the truth is that usually this isn’t even needed. In the life of a modern western human being, most action can be deliberate, willed and conscious. Most of the time we act on reflex, but usually we actually have plenty of time to slow down, consider the options and act consciously instead, consider if our reflexes have become corrupted.

Both now and next week we’ll use the same three examples. Typical instances where people find their reflexes differ from the actions that they claim they would chose given a long and rational argument: (a)Giving up cigarettes, (b)dieting and (c)overcoming anger.

If these examples don’t fit your own life, and doubtless many of you have no trouble with those particular things, then I’m sure it’s not hard to pick something that will be more relevant to your personal experience. Some time when you find yourself in a situation where your instinct contradicts the action you know, rationally, you should be taking. Something like being offered a cigarette and knowing you should refuse, or thinking about having that second helping of pudding, or shouting and edging into someone’s face knowing that it’s pointless and counter-productive and only likely to lead to trouble.

In the first instance you need to recognise the situation. Realize that this is one of those times when you’re not acting properly. Your reflex is unprofitable. When you drag on yet another cigarette, eat that donut, or start clenching that punching fist again, you need to notice that this is not what you want.

The difficulty here, obviously, is that at the time you’re deciding you do want one more cigarette after all, or you’re holding someone by the throat, or you’re stuffing more food down your face than you should be doing, you’re not really thinking at all. Except perhaps with your guts. You’re just acting on instinct, like a bell-salivating dog.

However, this in itself can be your cue. If you recall such an event and notice how it feels, you can learn to see when it reoccurs, when you’re acting on instinct again, and use that feeling to remind you to think. You do this using the same methods we’ve been discussing for the last couple of months of course: practice, association and imagery. Every time you make this mistake, you have another example to use in your imagery. Another example you can play over in your mind, only changing the result. You need to imagine yourself not acting according to your gut this time but stopping and thinking.

In fact, you need to imagine yourself doing the second thing you’ll want to actually do in this situation. Once you’ve recognised that you’re being led by your instinct, against your own interests, you need to realize you can slow down. You don’t actually need to reply or react immediately. You can take your time. Realistically, in just about every occasion, a few breaths are not going to make much difference. You need to slow your brain down. Relax. So imagine yourself doing that. Daydream about it. Don’t concentrate on what you did wrong the last time you sucked heartily on that mild filtered smoke, licked the jam from that cake or punched that idiot in the face. Instead, fantasize that you stopped, drew a slow (smoke-free) breath, and then used your brain. Did that thing that separates us from the animals: act against your instinct because you know that your instinct is wrong.

Our usual meditation techniques are useful here. Listen to a breath or two, focus on thinking about nothing for a moment. Take a deep and slow, very slow, breath. Imagine yourself in that relaxed and happy place where there’s no pressure. Now. Start to think. What would you decide? What should you decide?

Finally, you need to know how to convince yourself to apply this plan more often. You’re in the middle of a reflex reaction. Just knowing what’s going on will help a great deal. Just understanding that your actions are on reflex, and that you can override it, will mean you’re more likely to over-ride it. But you can do more. You’ve already started to learn some self-hypnosis techniques by now. Try some visualisation. Slow down your mind, meditate, pause, then see yourself refusing that cigarette, throwing away that half-eaten meal, or calming down rather than escalating some violence.

As always, the key is to practice. Not necessarily in real life, but imagine yourself practising. Take one of our hypnosis-files and record a personal message over it. Start using that to give your brain your own instruction. If you hit upon a useful combination, post it to our forums. Share the experience. There’s only one person in the world who can make you stop acting on yuor broken instincts, and in fact that is why ‘you’, your higher function self-awareness, exists at all. To stop yourself making those stupid mistakes.

Next week, we’ll look into how you can go further than this, how you can not only learn not to rely on reflex action, but even train those reflexes when you DO have to rely on them.

Consciousness – Self Possession – Conditioning Reflexes

by pre., Friday, April 18th, 2008.

Last week we talked about reflex action, and helped you to develop techniques which enable you to practice not giving in to that reflex. Techniques to help you notice when you’re not thinking and slow down enough to think.

This week, you will learn how to undo unprofitable reflexes, retrain yourself to automatically take the best course of action even without having to pause and think.

The first thing you’ll need to be able to do is to recognise situations where your reflexes are inappropriate. Often this will happen when someone points it out to you, and your natural reaction will be to become defensive and explain why it’s not inappropriate at all. But that in itself is a counter-productive reflex and you should probably use these systems to work on that reflex too.

You should spend some time considering which of your reflexes are helping you the least. Spend a few minutes doing that now. Close your eyes, and meditate for a few minutes on your breath. Think back over the last week or two, and try to remember a situation in which you reacted quickly, and later came to regret your action. We’re using the same examples as last week: Smoking, over-eating, becoming angry, but you should meditate on the question until something specific from your own life drifts into view. Imagine we’re talking about that.

Once you have such an occasion in mind, you should allow yourself to relive those events as best you can. Visualise the things you saw, let your body react the way it reacted at the time and feel how it felt, remember what drove you to your unprofitable choice. Hold that in your memory for a while. Experience it again. Feel the desire to react wrongly, as you felt it originally.

Next, you will decide what would have been the most profitable reaction. What you would have done if you’d cooled down, sobered up, slept on it for a night and then decided. If this is the same thing then, well done! You’re reflexes served you well.

Just as often, however, you’ll find that if you’d had time to reconsider, you’d have done something differently. So you need to relax again, and watch images drift through your mind, solutions suggest themselves, until you grasp what kind of action would have been best.

Then you need to associate those things together in your mind. So, while still relaxed and receptive, replay in your minds eye the situation in which you went wrong, in which you made a mistake. Reach for those same feelings again, but instead of going through, watching yourself make again the mistakes you made last time, instead imagine yourself doing the most profitable action. That which brings the most joy, to you and others.

As you watch yourself doing the right thing for a few minutes, over and over, in vivid technicolour surround-sound with amplified cartoon emotion, take the time to see how much better it feels. How the results help you, how they benefit those around you. Remember to enjoy watching yourself reacting as you would like yourself to react.

Doing this exercise frequently will increase the chances that you will, in a similar situation, take the more useful course of action.

You will, of course, slip up. Very often to start with and occasionally even after you’ve been trying to change for a while. When you do this, if you notice quickly enough, you may decide to try to condition yourself against it. Associate some pain with your mistake. If you notice you’re smoking that cigarette you swore you’d never smoke again, slap that cigarette our of your face. The harder the better. If you notice you’re pigging out on yet more midnight cake, throw it away and punch yourself in the stomach. Really. I’m serious about this. If you start to associate following misguided reflexes with receiving real, physical, pain you’ll be surprised how rapidly that reflex recedes. If you find yourself angry, perhaps having just slapped someone, slap yourself harder.. These training methods may be cruel, they may be unusual, but they do work. If they’re applied consistently. Even if you apply them yourself.

It’s probably more effective, perhaps because it’s also more pleasant, to reward good behaviour rather than punish mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of assuming a reward is just anything you enjoy though. It’s no use rewarding yourself for not eating that toast by eating a cake. A cigarette is no kind of reward for anything. But lucky, in conscious human brains, a reward doesn’t have to be anything so physical. You can make yourself feel happier with a smile, even a forced smile. If you’ve acted on reflex, and you’ve acted right, learn to notice that and give yourself a smile. Spend a moment to breathe in your victory. Imagine the cheers, the applause, the adoring crowds. Nod, even bow a little. You will consciously know that you’re doing this to yourself, but it will build those neural connections all the same.

This punishment or reward reinforcement must be more or less immediate though. If you’ve changed mental context, if you’ve been distracted, it’s too late. You must build a new reflex which punishes you for your old reflex. A new reflex to reward the ones your trying to build. Once the context has changed, it’s too late, and only visualisation and imagination are worthwhile tools. Things that can help you to re-live and yet change the moment.

Your brain is, of course, already doing all this on some more or less unconscious level. But by doing it consciously, by paying attention to it, by doing it more you’ll not only do it better but you’ll practice it so be able to do it better next time. By observing the process you learn to understand the process, and get quicker, more efficient, more transcended.

Consciousness – Self Possession – Insomnia

by pre., Friday, April 25th, 2008.

Our bedtime guided meditation files are designed to help you drift into sleep, to help you to relax, wind down and hopefully influence your dreams so that even while you sleep your brain can be striving towards transcendence.

However, as many as fifty percent of people suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives, and when people can’t drift easily into sleep it’s less likely our suggestions will influence their dreams, and perhaps more importantly they’ll be tired, drained and miserable much of the time. Hardly transcended!

Trouble sleeping is often a result of a racing mind, people’s thought processes run away with them, they’re essentially thinking too much to be able to fall asleep. They find that their brain starts chasing its own tail, running in circles. Just as it’s difficult to sleep when the neighbours are shouting, so people find it’s even more difficult to sleep when the noises are originating within their own head.

Stress can also cause insomnia, a wound-up person with high blood pressure can find it hard to relax properly, and it’s almost impossible to sleep soundly when feeling tense and anxious.

Luckily, there is a simple process we can recommend which works both by reducing stress and by helping to eliminate the stream of thoughts that a racing mind can produce, a method which will both help to to relax, and distract you from the brain’s runaway self-accelerating thought processes which can keep you up half the night.

Simple meditation practices have been proven to reduce stress, and a frequent reason that people never practice any meditation techniques is that they claim they don’t have the time. Given that the actual technique of most meditation processes is to clear the mind of all thoughts, to focus on one thing and continually revert your focus to that one thing, it seems that there’s ample opportunity here to stone a whole flock of birds at once.

So it comes as no surprise that when Dr. Miskiman from the University of Alberta studied the issue he found that insomniacs who learned to meditate could reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep from seventy minutes to just ten. See “The treatment of insomnia by means of meditation” (Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation Program: Collected Papers. Volume 1, 1976).

How To Meditate In Bed

Firstly, if your mind is racing around worrying about something, or trying to figure something out, it’ll be impossible to let it go until you resolve to do something about it. Even if you just resolve to ask for a friend’s advice, you will need to be able to satisfy yourself that you have promised to take action before it’ll be possible to let the dog-chasing-it’s-tail thought processes slip away. Once you have done so though, you’ll be surprised how easily you can step out of the loop.

Next, ensure you’re lying comfortably. Tense and then relax each muscle in your body, starting at the toes and slowly making your way up your body to the head. Focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply, slowly, and listen to the slow rush of air moving in and out of your nose. Let it get slower and slower. When you’ve tensed and released the muscles in your face to finish, just relax and listen to the noise of the flow of air.

You will almost certainly be distracted, you will lose focus. Your brain will begin to think about that meeting in the morning, or your relationship worries, or the TV show you saw earlier in the day. Do not be surprised. Do not feel disappointed. This is inevitable. Merely note the fact and then dismiss the thought, go back to listening to your own breath, concentrating on feeling your breathing get deeper and slower.

Likewise, if you’re distracted by external noises like a siren on the street outside, or a neighbour loudly banging a door, or a fox crying in the garden, just try to ignore it and redouble your efforts to empty your mind of thoughts and concentrate on the slow in… out… in… out… of the flow of air to and fro into your lungs as you breathe slowly, very deeply, thinking of nothing but your own breath.

To begin with some people, especially those who aren’t very practised at the process of meditation, may begin to think that it won’t work, that they’ll end up staying up all night worrying about the fact they won’t sleep. If this happens you should simply accept that you may find yourself practising to meditate for the next eight hours. While this will not be as refreshing, relaxing and rejuvenating as a good night’s sleep, you should be aware that a solid eight hours meditation is certainly better for you than eight hours of fretting and worrying about sleeplessness. Eight hours of meditation is almost as good as eight hours sleep. Again, just dismiss the thoughts and concentrate on the flow of air into and out of your lungs.

This process, making sure your mind is as empty as possible during the time between listening to our guided meditation mp3 and falling asleep, will also help to keep you from polluting the dream-suggestions embedded within our files. We highly recommend thinking as little as possible between the end of the audio and the beginning of sleep. Just concentrate on your breathing, on relaxing all of your muscles, and on letting any intrusive thoughts drift though your mind rather than catching it and driving it into self-destructive sleep-distracting patterns.

Finally, remember that most people who suffer from insomnia do so only temporarily. We all need sleep, and as long as you can relax and avoid getting worked up about your sleep-lack, the chances are you can catch up tomorrow even if you spend the entire night merely listening to the noise of your own lungs inflating and deflating, relaxing, calming yourself, learning to chill down.

Guided Meditation File 3 – Consciousness – Self Possession
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