creating a free, open, flexible mind
One of our challenges is to create and maintain a flexible mind. How do we avoid limiting our thinking through self imposed restrictions. It may be that our own mental conditioning severely restricts our thinking and instead of enjoying a flexible mind, channels responses through existing neural pathways leading to predictable responses. A flexible mind could be defined as a mind that can explore and interpret stimulus in a way that leads to many different interpretations. Out of this a flexible mind is able to process, analyse and prioritise information without being limited by past conditioning.
exploring the universe through a conditioned mind
One of the interesting qualities we all have is that we interact with everything through a conditioned mind that filters and distorts the sensory information coming into it. It is possible that through continual use, the brain over develops certain responses through neural pathways to sensory information leading to default reactions. These may be partly created through our parental upbringing, education, culture, family values, religion and life experience.
In addition it is probable that some conditioning is already wired into our brain from birth. Just like a calf being able to get up and walk, with no training, we are born with auto responses to help us survive.
Even our senses can provide information that is misleading. Descartes realised that he could not trust his senses and it was only that he was thinking about these issues that proved his own existence, leading to his famous quote – I think therefore I am. We are easily misled by optical illusions, slights of the hand and assumptions based on familiarity.
Our memories are also selective and unreliable, as found in many witness statements and through research. Just feeling very happy can colour our memories of an event compared to remembering the same event when feeling angry or depressed.
do we really need a flexible mind?
All we know is our perception of universe through our conditioned mind and if we are happy with it, we could claim all is fine. The questions begin when we are not happy, and our conditioning creates more of a stressful nightmare. What happens when our conditioning leads us to making repetitive choices that are self harming and place us in unnecessary difficulties?
how much can we trust our minds?
With training in developing a flexible mind we can be more aware and conscious of our senses and try to go beyond the natural filtering and the filling in gaps that our minds like to do. Slowing down, studying objects, being descriptive, experiencing the world afresh, as though the first time, all help to gradually bypass our conditioning.
How much conditioning is happening now?
By writing, I am transferring my conditioning into the words and you are getting to know me in terms of my conditioning. As an exercise, try noting your responses to this article and see if through your conditioning you follow a well worn pattern of responses, or whether you can choose other new responses.
how can we more flexible minds?
The first step is to a more flexible mind is to identify the conditioning that is creating emotional and mental challenges for us. Once we know a particular way we think is simply the result of our conditioning it takes the power out of the thoughts. That great realisation that my unhappiness is not exclusively based on circumstances but partially the way I think, is the beginning of change. Then training our mind to have different options and responses starts to change our conditioning. With specific mental exercises we can begin to create a happier choices through developing and strengthening new neural pathways.
If we think of our brain as an organ that develops through exercise, certain repetitive reactive thoughts patterns will become stronger, whilst other options become weaker. The result is that we become trapped inside a narrow range of thoughts. Our own conditioning will literally close off a potentially infinite number of possibilities, reducing us down to of few familiar patterns of thought. In a sense we are mentally strangled by our conditioned responses. It is as though highly developed neural pathways are bypassing any other options.
If we value our own mental freedom, one of our challenges is to be open to different ideas and perceptions so that we create a more flexible mind that can think beyond our former self imposed limitations.
To what extent does our own conditioning keep us locked into repetitive relationship difficulties, health issues or financial challenges?
Many of our difficulties come from repetitively making choices that lead us to situations we are unhappy with. This is a common theme in relationships, careers and health. We may logically know that a sugary cake will sabotage our efforts to lose weight, and yet our conditioned mind will repetitively take us down that well worn path. The same might apply to repeating issues that come up in a relationship, or even over several relationships.
what is our potential?
Great claims are made about humans only using 20% of their brain and what would happen if we could use more? It may be that we choose to only use our brain in a repetitively similar way, and therefore engage the same neural pathways, greatly limiting our potential to other pathways. What would happen if we spent ten minutes or an hour a day training our mind to be more flexible and develop new pathways? What would life be like if we developed a very flexible mind that knew its current limitations and was training itself to go beyond those boundaries?
One of the exciting attributes engaging with another human is that we get to experience the world we inhabit through a differently conditioned mind. Conversation, books, films, art and music are typical ways in which we find out how a different mind can describe the universe in ways we could not imagine. In addition a group of humans sharing their experience will often be able to make decisions out of a broader range of perceptions and reduce the risk of one human’s conditioned mind leading to poor decisions. This can lead to more accurate and wiser decisions.
cross cultural fertilisation?
When a large group of people live and work together in a strong dominant culture, a similar conditioning pervades. The humans mostly become conditioned to accept the rules, enforce them on others and defend the cultural conditioning. This leads to cohesive, functional societies and these have been very successful economically and militarily. One of the risks is that two very strong but different cultures find themselves in conflict.
Once humans become exposed to various cultures through travel or immigration, the community begins to experience other ways of perceiving our universe. For people who can be culturally flexible this encourages a change of perception. In the UK exposure to people from India has led to a rise in acceptance of yoga and meditation. Exposure to Chinese people has created an interest in acupuncture and TCM. People from Japan and Korea have brought in a greater awareness of Buddhism and mindfulness. This helps broaden our conditioning to include other cultural perceptions.
When we learn something new, is it really new if we learn it through the same conditioned mind? Would it make sense to look at our conditioning and explore how we could change our conditioning to create new ways of learning?
practical ways to create a flexible mind
Try a one minute meditation every hour to help develop new neural pathways and gain greater control over the strong existing pathways that may lead to responses and interpretations that cause us stress and unhappiness. Meditation is an effective way to stop going down the same old pathways, if we choose to meditate rather than engage in repeating thought processes.
Make a point of experiencing something in a descriptive manner several times a day. It could be a cup of tea, the grass under our feet, a textured pebble, piece of music, the clouds blowing overhead, the sun on our face, an apple?
Be very aware of the words we use to think in and try changing negative words to positive. Explore thinking in a constructive, solution orientated language where the thought process is about how to bring about positive resolutions.
Experiment with at lest 3 different ways to perceive a situation or experience. Note your emotional reaction to the different perceptions. Try thinking the opposite to normal and use this flexibility to understand people and be empathetic with them, even when they voice opinions you would not normal agree with.
Use creative activities such as writing, poetry, singing, painting, sculpture? to develop a descriptive language to express yourself and think in. Try creating freely, without expectations and judgement.
Play with embracing new experiences and see if you develop new previously unknown neural pathways. Examples would be taking on an acting, comedy improv, painting, music, cooking or writing course, trying new sports, or engaging in new activities like sailing, kayaking, cycling?
developed and underdeveloped
If you perceive you have undeveloped a part of your brain try taking simple courses to activate that part of your brain. This could include maths, science, philosophy, literature, history? Think of it as going back to school with a developed mind and filling in the gaps.
Notice any strong beliefs or attachments to ideas and try not having those beliefs. This is particularly true of potentially harmful nocebos. To what extent could you accept a different view? Could you take on other contrary possibilities as well?
empathy and understanding
Use your new flexible mind to try to be better at understanding other people and through this be aware of any greater empathy that develops.
Explore ways in which you can connect more deeply with the world you inhabit through a mind that is able to push back some of the boundaries of your own conditioning.
Before studying our external world it makes sense to first study our own mind and appreciate the conditioning that we will study our world through. This is a key part of any of my courses that I feel helps us better learn any subject. Rather than introduce greater conditioning I would rather open up our minds to a greater range of possibilities and choices. In my humble opinion it is through a less conditioned mind that we best explore all the dimensions of a new subject and hopefully embrace the subject as part of a process of creating a more flexible mind, rather than submerge ourselves in deeper conditioning.
For courses on macrobiotics, feng shui, face reading and shiatsu call 07543663227 or email Simon for more information. Appointments and courses available online and in London.