Deal With Stress

The Secret Diary of an Aspiring Meditation Master – November 2014, Week One: “What You Don’t Know Controls You”

woman-thinking-1No one likes to be under someone else’s control, right? That’s part of the growing up process. We just can’t wait to leave mom and dad and take charge of our own lives, to think and do what we want.

Of course, grown up life is full of other controllers. Bosses, tax collectors, department of motor vehicles employees. We still can’t do a lot of what we want. But we probably still believe we control our own thinking, and most of our own destiny, and we may have even spent time studying how our minds control our world.

So, surprise. Just when we thought we understood this mind-over-matter business, it turns out that a lot of what we think depends on matter-over-mind. It’s a two way street apparently. Our minds control our bodies, but our bodies also control our minds, in ways we may never have realized. The physical sensations our bodies experience, change not only our moods and how we feel about our day, but also how we perceive other people. Whether we think of them as warm hearted or cold, comforting or hard to deal with may be directly related to whether we are holding a latte or sitting in a comfy chair.

This month on Spiritual Growth Monthly, Kevin Schoeninger explores the new book Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence, (Atria, 2014) by Dr. Thalma Lobel, and takes a closer look at how this body-mind connection impacts everything we do.

To get us started, Kevin reviews the “Law of Perspective,” which he has written about before. As much as we believe the things we see are the way they really are, Kevin explains, none of us can really know the way things really are…because none of us can separate what we see from the context in which we see it.

Some of you may recall the old TV show Dragnet. Every week, the dogged Sgt. Joe Friday had to remind his witnesses, “just the facts, ma’am.” But it was pretty clear that the facts depended as much on the characters’ point of view as what they actually witnessed.

Kevin provides a visual exercise to remind us how this works. Even when we know what the measurable facts are, our eyes will continue to try and convince us that our skewed perception is the correct one.

It is important to realize that this issue of perception is far more than just visual. As Kevin explains, there is absolutely nothing we perceive that can be separated from the context we view it in, and the meaning we attach to it. Context determines our opinions, our world view, even those “laws of housekeeping” our mothers taught us about whether or not to store the coffee in the fridge.

Anytime we think that something is “always” supposed to be some way, or that we should “never” do this or that, we are operating from the context our parents or culture taught us. The facts before our eyes don’t stand a chance.

So what does this have to do with sensation?

According to Dr. Lobel, studies have demonstrated that part of the context of our perceptions comes from the physical sensations we experience every moment of our lives. A warm cup of coffee gives you far more than just caffeine. The physical warmth makes you feel warm and comfortable with those around you. Even more startling is that physical warmth does more than just make us feel better. It makes us believe other people are better too.

When we are warm and cozy the world seems generous and kind, and the people in it warm and caring. Cold may not only make us feel irritable and desperate to get inside, it also makes us view those around us as disagreeable and cold themselves.

This might explain why a co-worker’s ideas sound so wishy-washy after the coffee at the business meeting has grown tepid and dull.

On some level we probably already know this. Personally, I think snow is beautiful and amazing, if I am in my jammies with a cup of cocoa and nowhere to go. But when I am out in it, freezing and wet, digging out my car, snow becomes the enemy, and I am about as happy as a cat being given a bath. One look at snow on a work day and my attitude is shot. I know in advance that I will be grouchy all day.

There is some comfort to be found in this idea of our attitudes being determined by our senses. I know my attitude toward snow is ridiculous, and no help to anybody. So why can’t I change it? It is sort of encouraging to know not all my thinking is my fault. Sometimes we feel how we feel in spite of our best efforts to do otherwise. We don’t like being cold and not much is going to change that.

(Of course, my skier friends love snow. I think they are crazy, but there’s that perception thing again.)

The other sensation Kevin explored this week was texture, to get us thinking about how qualities of hardness, roughness, softness or touch sensations have become metaphors for all sorts of difficult or comforting moments in life.

There is far more to this week’s article than I have covered here. I especially recommend Kevin’s fuller discussion of Perception and Context. He has written an entire course about the topic, entitled “The Life You Are Meant to Live”, and you can read excerpts from it at Spiritual Growth Monthly.

Next week Kevin will look at the effects of color and light, as we continue to delve into Dr. Lobel’s book. The more we learn to understand the impact of sensations on our thinking, the more control we gain.


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