Knotty Mind

How many ways do you know to tie two pieces of rope together? Most of us know how to tie a granny knot and it’s slightly more elegant variation, the square knot. And we know the knot we use to tie shoelaces, but we aren’t sure we could use it to tie pieces of rope. If we were a sailor, or maybe a boy scout, we would know quite a few other knots, but most of us know that other knots exist, but have never learned them and we just rely on the very simple ones we know.

It is much the same with states of consciousness. Most of us have a few emotional states that are quite familiar, and we settle into those quite easily. Ask us to tie up a package and we whip together a granny knot without thinking too much. Ask us to meet new people or speak in front of a group and we may step into anxiety as easily as putting on an old shoe. We know of people who actually enjoy meeting other people or speaking to groups, but perhaps can’t imagine how that would be.

Many people who suffer emotional disorders have learned relatively few emotional responses and they rely too often on those they do know. There is nothing wrong with those responses. There is nothing wrong with using a bow to tie shoes. But if you are tying a line around your waist so that someone can haul you to safety, a bowline will serve you better. Your childhood emotional response to your angry father may have served you well, but as an adult you need to have other, maybe more skillful responses to angry people.

To live well, we need to have a number of skills for changing our emotional states and for modulating our consciousness. We need to be able to relax for instance. If watching TV is your best strategy for relaxing, you have a tangle in your twine. There are many techniques for inducing relaxation, such as progressive muscle relaxation and autogenics. They can take us to a much deeper level of relaxation than we would probably attain without being exposed to them.

Meditation can teach us to relax and focus and be alert. Various breathing practices can be useful for altering our level of consciousness. Visualization techniques can help us modify our mind/body responses. Affirmations seem to activate unconscious processes that energize our lives. Various practices, such as Qi Gong, allow us to move and direct the energy in and around us. Numerous healing modalities are now available that take away physical or psychic pain and induce healing through modification of consciousness. Year by year our options increase for learning ways to be skillful in living.

Just as, if you had to, you could learn some new knots; it might be that you could learn some new ways of modifying your mental and emotional states. How empowering it is to know that even under adverse circumstances, you have the ability to modify your mind and emotions.

Here is a simple example:

Imagine you have had a tough week. You worked hard, endured a lot of stress and you feel depleted and irritable. You find yourself at a social event, but your heart is not really in it. Part of you would like to just go home, but you know that’s not your best option, so you decide to make the best of it.

So what do you do? First you need to be aware of your current state. You recognize that you are tired, a little uncomfortable. You notice that your attitude toward other people is not as charitable as it could be. You notice the thoughts that are flowing through your mind. You observe them as data, but don’t get caught in the fallacy that they are fact. Your annoyance is viewed as a transient state brought on by various conditions. You recognize that you could stay in your anti-social funk or you could use skillful means for changing it. You decide to change it. You get clear on your intention to change your state.

Breathing is a good place to start making changes. If the problem is that you are tense, you would want to slow and deepen your breathing in a relaxed way. Maybe the problem is that you are worn out and you need more power. In that case, you might draw the breath in through your nose, filling your lungs and letting it out slowly, but your intention is not so much to relax as to draw in power. Your in-breath is like slowly drawing a bowstring. You are accumulating power. As you fill your lungs, your body fills with energy. As you breath out, you do it slowly as if you were pushing it out. It doesn’t just fall out of your lungs; you are moving it with intention. If you were in private, this might look like a martial arts breathing exercise, but you are in a social setting, so nobody can tell you are doing anything different. They might notice, however that you were sitting or standing a little straighter. As you breathe, you want your ribcage to expand freely, and straightening your spine, even arching it a little will let that happen.

As you do this breathing, you visualize the flow of energy. With each in-breath, you imagine energy flowing into you from above and below. Energy from the cosmos pours into the top of your head and energy from the earth drives up through the soles of your feet. As this happens, your chakras light up. All the major energy centers in your body are turned on. And as you continue to breathe, all the minor energy centers and all the organs and all the cells of your body are energized.

Once you start to sense your energy growing, you can direct some of it outward. Here you are in a place with a lot of other people who have had their own hard weeks and their own difficult life experiences. They too are struggling with their emotions and doing the best they can. If you collect a number of human beings in one place, some of them are going to be vibrating at a lower energy level; some will be in pain. You, being the compassionate being that you are, wish them well, even as you notice that some don’t smell so good and eat with unusual manners.

Having drawn toward you energy from an unlimited supply, you can send it to those in your vicinity. Possibly you visualize this energy as love. Maybe you imagine it in the form of light. Either way, you send it out to fill the space around you. You might be filling a small room or a large assembly room or even a stadium. It doesn’t matter. You imagine a field of energy, maybe a large bubble full of energy, light, or loving-kindness. It includes you and it surrounds everybody in the vicinity.

You now are no longer the worn out shlub who walked into this room. You are a radiant being. You are ready to enjoy the event. You can meet and greet acquaintances and strangers without fear. You can be spontaneous and charming or quiet and receptive, as the occasion requires.

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© 2007 Tom Barrett