Rather than write a blog, which I’ve been a little neglectful of recently, I thought I’d share my latest poem, ‘Rudderless’. I hope you enjoy it and realise that you’re not alone and that, as long as you keep the faith, particularly in yourself, things are going to be OK. Love, Catherine x
Lost at sea Set adrift Without direction A vast expanse of water Overwhelming and bare Yet brimming with life I cannot reach
Helpless on the tides That pull me in directions No means to determine my destination
Yet determined to land Safely, securely With purpose
Navigating an ocean Unfamiliar and cold No compass to guide me No rudder to direct my path
Barely sea-worthy Yet worthy as any other Vessel that sails The purposeful wind Offering safety to land
Let grace by the wind That guides me to my shore And faith take me to where Not even dreams would dare
(..a continuation of the blog post ‘The undeniable impact of our environment and beliefs on our health’)
As a society, we have been programmed to believe that we are victims and that we have no control over many areas of our life, particularly our health.
We’re also programmed from birth with our parents’ beliefs. For example, when we are sick, we are told by our parents that we need to go to the doctor because the doctor is the authority concerning our health. We are all given the message throughout childhood that the medical profession is the authority on health and that there are many areas of our life over which we have no control. The irony, however, is that people often get better while waiting to see their doctor. That’s when the innate ability for self-healing kicks in, another example of the placebo effect.
Reclaiming our power over our health can help us heal and doing so is, in fact, necessary for us to truly heal. Yet simply ‘thinking positively’ and reciting affirmations for hours on end doesn’t always bring about the results that self-help books promise.
This is because positive thoughts come from the conscious mind, while contradictory negative thoughts are usually programmed in the more powerful subconscious mind.
The problem is that we are aware of our conscious beliefs and behaviours, but unaware of our subconscious ones. Our subconscious mind is far more powerful than our conscious mind, meaning that we operate around 95% from our subconscious beliefs and programmes. These are working either for or against us, and our subconscious mind will always supersede our conscious control.
Therefore, just telling ourselves that we are healthy isn’t good enough – if there is an invisible subconscious programme that is sabotaging us.
The power of the subconscious mind is revealed in a fascinating way in Multiple Personality Disorder (now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)) where, for example an individual may be allergic to a certain fruit when occupying the mind-set of one personality, while happily eating the same fruit without consequence in the mind-set of another personality.
So, how do we change the negative thoughts and programmes in our subconscious mind?
We first need to let go of guilt and self-blame – after all, we were downloaded with these limiting programmes in our childhood without being consciously aware of them.
We must also recognize that we are the driver in the direction our life is taking, and that we are responsible for our own health.
To change our beliefs, we have to be as honest as possible with what they are in the first place. This involves becoming adept at catching our thoughts.
Whenever we start to feel upset or uncomfortable in a situation, we need to make it a habit to turn our attention to what our thoughts are. The core beliefs we need to work on will be hidden behind our negative thinking patterns.
Tools that help:
Pausing every hour or so to notice what we are thinking
Mindfulness – this is one of the best tools there is for learning to hear our thoughts
Breaking thoughts down to beliefs.
If we can work to recognise what thought is upsetting us, we can then ask ourselves ‘Is this true?’, and then try to uncover what the belief behind the thought is.
A great way to do this is to ask ourselves ‘If this thought is true, what does it mean?’ By repeating this question to ourselves we often experience a wave of emotion, or an ‘aha’ feeling.
This will inevitably be the core belief.
For example, say that the thought is “nobody at work likes me”. The process might look like this:
“If it’s true that nobody at work likes me, it means there is something wrong with me. If it’s true there is something wrong with me, it means I am flawed. If that’s true, it means I’m never going to be as good as my colleagues. If that’s true, it means I am the worst. If I’m the worst, it means I’m worthless. Oh goodness that feels like a punch to the gut. That’s my core belief – that I’m worthless.” (https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/how-to-change-your-core-beliefs.html)
Try to change perspective
This means we take the core belief we’ve discovered and see it from a completely different angle. For example ‘If I asked my colleague if he/she thought I was worthless, what would they say’? Or, ‘Who gave me the idea that I was worthless? Was it because they felt this way about themselves and were projecting this thought on me?’
The point of doing this is to notice how changeable, and therefore not factual, beliefs really are.
It also enables us to consider ‘what might be a better thought?’
This involves acting out a belief to see if we can prove it to be correct. The brain loves to think it has ‘proof’. We think of a belief we want to challenge. We then think of a few small actions we can take to test if this belief is true. Then we write down all the things we assume will happen when we do these actions. We carry out those actions and write down what actually happened. What was the difference was between the reality and our belief?
What new beliefs might our actions actually show us?
Learn belief triggers
If we have a particular core belief that we find really hard to shake off, it can help to learn what triggers it most and then find ways to respond differently to the trigger. It can help to ask:
Who are we with when this belief tends to rise up? Where are we? What are we doing? How are we feeling?
For example, does the core belief trigger most often when we visit a member of family? Could we set some boundaries around how often we visit that person, or how long each visit lasts? Could we try to respond differently to them or take some time out during the visit?
In addition to the above, various techniques are now available if you would prefer to see a trained therapist. These include (and are not limited to):
the use of affirmations
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Our environment, and how we respond to it, plus the toxins around us and the trauma we face affect the health of our bodies down to a cellular level. When we change our environment (or how we respond to it), free ourselves from toxins, and process the trauma we have faced or are facing, we improve our health and our bodies can heal.
As stem cell biologist Bruce Lipton demonstrated, the fate of our cells is not determined by our genes – it is determined by our environment. So if cells are in a healthy environment, they are healthy. If they’re in an unhealthy environment, they get sick.
The Western medical model tends to view our bodies as machines, much like a car mechanic views a car. When a part of our body appears to be failing, the parts are blamed and treated (through drugs, physical therapy etc), removed or replaced (through transplantation, joint replacement etc). Sometimes this is necessary, but oftentimes not. What we fail to acknowledge is that our body has a driver. The new science of epigenetics reveals that the vehicles—or the genes—aren’t responsible for the breakdown. It’s the driver.
According to Dr Lipton, “In essence, if you don’t know how to drive, you’re going to mess up the vehicle. In the simplest translation, we can agree that lifestyle is the key to taking care of ourselves. Think well, eat well, and exercise, and your body won’t break down and need new parts”.
It has been shown that conventional cardiovascular patients, when provided with important lifestyle insights (better diet, stress-reduction techniques, and so on) were able to resolve their cardiovascular disease without drugs. If the same results were obtained through a drug, every doctor would be prescribing it.
But can the same be said for cancer? Even the strictest lifestyle changes don’t cure cancer in everyone. What about genetic predispositions to getting the disease? “It used to be that we thought a mutant gene caused cancer,” Lipton admitted, “but with epigenetics, all of that has changed.”
What is epigenetics?
Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off, It affects how genes are read by cells and what, ultimately, becomes of those cells.
Bruce Lipton carried out a fascinating experiment to reveal the science of epigenetics, which made sense even to a lay person such as myself!
“I placed one stem cell into a culture dish, and it divided every ten hours. After two weeks, there were thousands of cells in the dish, and they were all genetically identical, having been derived from the same parent cell. I divided the cell population and inoculated them in three different culture dishes.“
“Next, I manipulated the culture medium—the cell’s equivalent of the environment—in each dish. In one dish, the cells became bone, in another, muscle, and in the last dish, fat. This demonstrated that the genes didn’t determine the fate of the cells because they all had the exact same genes. The environment determined the fate of the cells, not the genetic pattern. So if cells are in a healthy environment, they are healthy. If they’re in an unhealthy environment, they get sick.”
He discovered that, with fifty trillion cells in our body, the human body is the equivalent of skin-covered petri dish. When we move from one environment to another we change the composition of our ‘culture medium,’ the blood.
“The chemistry of the body’s culture medium determines the nature of the cell’s environment within you. The blood’s chemistry is largely impacted by the chemicals emitted from your brain. Brain chemistry adjusts the composition of the blood based upon your perceptions of life. So this means that your perception of any given thing, at any given moment, can influence the brain chemistry, which, in turn, affects the environment where your cells reside and controls their fate. In other words, your thoughts and perceptions have a direct and overwhelmingly significant effect on cells.”
This teaches us that our mind can and does contribute to both the cause and healing of whatever illness we experience — including cancer.
The two other factors impacting the fate of cells are toxins and trauma. All three factors have been associated with the onset of cancer.
So what does this mean for me and my health?
Our perceptions are reflected in the chemistry of our body, so we can literally change the fate of our cells by changing our thoughts! Our beliefs create our reality, as we have thoughts and then take actions to reflect those beliefs. For example, if have been told we have two months to live and we believe this to be true, we will most likely die in two months as our minds work to connect our beliefs with the reality we experience.
Nocebo vs Placebo effect
Nocebo: Latin for ‘I shall harm’. For example, a doctor telling us we have two months to live.
Placebo: Latin for “I shall please”. For example, a doctor telling us that they are confident we will fully recover from our illness.
Can you read in this the power of belief? In the nocebo scenario, even if our conscious mind believes it doesn’t want to die, if our subconscious mind believes that we will (based on the doctor’s words) the body will conform to the dominant belief. As the subconscious controls 95% percent of our lives, it wins.
Compare that to the placebo scenario, in which the doctor is confident we will recover. If we also believe that we will recover, the conscious and subconscious mind are in harmony and our body has a far better chance of healing.
So, how do we change our thoughts? Part 2 coming soon!
somatic – affecting or characteristic of the body as opposed to the mind or spirit
We are often so good at attending to others that we forget to attend to ourselves. This subtleneglect can have emotional and physical consequences.
Remember the last time someone asked how you were. Didn’t it feel wonderful just to be checked in on?
Somatic tracking is about checking in how we’re feeling in our bodies. Find a comfortable seat and try it now. Are you aware of any physical sensations in your body? Perhaps in your chest, tummy, back or shoulders?
How would you describe this sensation? Is it:
a tingling, a tightness, a clenching?
sharp, dull or achey?
warm or hot?
unpleasant or pleasant?
in one area, or multiple?
And when you pay attention to the sensation what happens? Does it:
intensify or subside?
expand or contract?
move from side to side or up and down?
Whatever it does, it’s OK. You’re not fighting the sensation, and you’re not frightened by it. You’re not trying to make it go away; you’re just observing it, with curiosity and no judgement.
By doing this you are attending to your internal state, treating yourself with love and giving your brain the message that it’s safe.
Somatic tracking works because it teaches our brain to reinterpret signals from our body through a lens of safety, thus deactivating the pain.
Neuroscientists have found that paying attention to our bodily sensations mindfully (on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally) can actually shrink the ‘fight or flight’ centre of our brains – the amygdala.
You don’t need to set aside hours of your day to carry out this practice. The goal is to attend to yourself on a moment-to-moment basis: while you’re working, while you’re reading, or while you’re lying down in bed – any moment during which you can simply stop, observe and give yourself a little love and attention.
The following is a ‘Somatic Tracking Exercise’ from the BCH Center for Mind Body Medicine.
Somatic Tracking Exercise
(Source: BCH Center for Mind Body Medecine)
Remember that pain (or anxiety, nausea, or dizziness) is your brain’s alarm signal. When you do this exercise mindfully, it is teaching your brain that the pain or distress is not dangerous to you, and that you are safe and in control of the situation. By simply examining the painful sensations without emotion, your brain is learning that the pain or discomfort is nothing to be afraid of, and without the fear, the pain loses its power. The goal of the exercise is not to get rid of the pain. In fact, the more you try to get rid of the pain, the more you are telling your danger-alarm mechanism that you are in trouble, and the more likely it is to continue to run the alarm pathway of pain, anxiety, or discomfort. The goal of the exercise is to teach your brain that it is safe and in no danger, but you don’t care whether the pain changes, or gets better or worse while you are tracking it.
When should I do this exercise?
Practice this exercise when pain, distress or negative sensations or thoughts happen any time during the day. When you find yourself using your normal avoidance strategies to get away from the pain or distress you are feeling, take just 2-3 minutes and do a somatic tracking exercise to mindfully explore and examine your pain or discomfort. (You can then go ahead and do your avoidance strategy if needed.)
When you notice pain, distress, or other negative thoughts, take two minutes (or more if you like):
1. Notice it with interest, maybe even with a little curiosity, but with no emotional reactivity. Almost like a hiker who reached the top of a ridge and is just looking at the landscape on the other side with interest. Pay attention to how the pain moves around or changes in quality but do so without emotion.
2. Accept it as happening right now but realize that this thought or body sensation is transient and caused by the brain. Say to yourself “It’s just a thought, a sensation, or neurons firing.”
3. Remind yourself that since these are just sensations, they are not in any way threatening to you. These sensations are not dangerous and cannot harm you.
4. Tell yourself “I don’t need to do anything about this right now because this is not harmful, and it will pass.”
5. Tell yourself: “I’m okay. I’ll be fine. There is actually nothing wrong with my [back/head/stomach/chest] because I am healthy and strong.” Or say “I am safe, and there is no danger from these nerve impulses. I am safe. I am not in danger.”
Here is a useful 11-minute somatic tracking guided meditation from the app Insight Timer.