Much of New Age philosophy talks about the power of our thoughts to change our lives. Certainly our thoughts are powerful, but in order to change them, we need to understand more about how they work.
A psychologist driving to work became aware of what felt like an uncomfortable feeling in her gut and recognized it as a sensation of anxiety. Having started the day in a good mood, the negative feelings surprised her. She was clueless as to what might be causing them. Her psychological training took over as she explored the possible root causes of her unpleasant feelings. She noted with interest that she had felt fine when entering the car. However, knowing that emotions were capricious and could strike at any time, she masterfully came up with and explored a list of things that could be making her nervous. The list became longer and longer. Wow, she hadn’t been fully aware that there was so much in her life that was problematic! Clearly there was ample cause for these uncomfortable feelings. In fact, she began to wonder how she had been so calm earlier. Her mood continued to slip into a downward spiral as she zealously explored her anxiety in an attempt to free herself from her unpleasant state. The cause of her anxiety was uncovered while parking the car. This is actually a true story that took place in the days before cell phones when people still carried pagers. Before leaving the house, she had stuck her pager in her sweater pocket. Upon entering the car, the sweater became draped over her in a way that caused the pager to lie directly over her stomach. It was on “vibrate” and when it went off the physical sensation over her abdomen was misinterpreted as a feeling of anxiety in the pit of her stomach. Her mind then took over, defined it as anxiety, and began creating feelings that supported her assumption. Believing that the sensation was anxiety, she proceeded to make herself anxious.
This example exemplifies how our thoughts and interpretations of experiences can have a profound influence on us. If you think you are depressed, you will find reasons to support your supposition. If you think you will fail, it will not be difficult to find ways to do so. Henry Ford said it eloquently when he stated: “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” Change your thoughts, change your beliefs, and you change your life. If only it were that simple…
It is easy to set the intention to change one’s beliefs, but most beliefs are rooted deep in the unconscious level of our psyche. They are formed over years of experiences and held together by intense emotions. It is not the same as changing your mind as to what you want for dinner. “I wanted chicken, but now that you are suggesting beef, I’ll have that instead.” It is more like trying to convince yourself that everything will be fine during an intensely stressful situation. Let’s say you have a big presentation tomorrow and the fate of your career is on the line. You know the material and are totally prepared. You tell yourself that there is no need to worry…except for the small matter of the terror of public speaking that has been with you since the fourth grade and that has you sweating at the mere thought of speaking in front of a crowd. You feel you have no control over this terror because much of its cause originates in the subconscious level of your psyche. Subconscious beliefs and emotions have compelling power over us. Viewed from this perspective, just changing our thoughts is not so easy. It takes time and effort to alter these kinds of beliefs and the emotions that underlie them. Does this mean it can’t be done? Only if you believe it can’t…
Changing our basic beliefs frequently requires re-wiring the foundation of our mental and emotional constructs. The idea that merely changing our thoughts changes our life is too simplistic. Many people try, but when their attempts do not lead to the expected results, they become disillusioned with philosophies advocating positive thinking. It is not just our thoughts, but our unconscious beliefs and our unconscious emotional reaction to situations that create the majority of our responses. In other words, it’s your subconscious feelings and beliefs that need to change if you want your life to change. Fortunately there are ways to do this.
Both psychology and many spiritual practices can help to bring about a positive alteration of unconscious thoughts and feelings. Psychology helps us understand our basic belief systems and their origins, shows us how to change our unhealthy patterns, and allows us to develop a healthier relationship to our emotions. Meditation and spiritual practice can lead to inner peace and healing down to our fundamental core. These techniques will not change us overnight and are not for the timid. Facing our unconscious negative patterns requires us to face the painful inner emotions that most of us prefer to avoid. Change is challenging. Facing fear and pain is difficult, but if the alternative is staying stuck in the same old negative patterns that aren’t working, isn’t it worth a try?
I am not presenting a random conjecture or theory. I know from experience the powerful healing that can come from the integration of meditation, psychology and spiritual cultivation. I have spent much of my life teaching classes and leading healing groups based on this philosophy – and having the wondrous experience of watching people heal and grow. Change your thoughts – down to the subconscious level – and you do indeed change your life.