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Conflicted thinking causes stress and bodily tension

Conflicted thinking causes stress and bodily tension

For most of us, stress and tension have become a part of our daily lives. We go through the hustle and bustle of daily life carrying stress and tension throughout our bodies in various ways; muscle tension, sore necks, back pain, stomach problems, headaches, even anxiety and depression. Rarely do we ever stop to consider where that stress is really coming from, what it’s true source really is?  Nor do we question why we experience stress in a situation that someone else does not!

It is far too easy to find circumstances outside of ourselves on which to blame our troubles and problems. We have to deal with meeting financial obligations, putting food on the table and a roof over our heads, holding down one or more jobs we dislike or looking for work in a high unemployment low wage economy, all of which competes with family time, leisure activities, and quality of life. When our reality is not the way we would like it to be, we experience inner turmoil, often subconsciously, which in turn spills outward affecting the ways we interact with life and with others.

The real source of stress however is not the outside circumstances that we attribute it to, but rather, it is our inner reactions, thoughts, perceptions, and emotions, responding to those outside circumstances. On some level, we all know this already, but usually only on an intellectual level, and not on a practical or experiential level. Instead, when we experience a reality that does not meet our expectations, or we simply find ourselves bored or dissatisfied with the reality around us, our minds drift into a fantasy world where we can experience an alternative to reality that fulfills all of our expectations. It is an imaginary version of reality that we have complete mastery and control over, where we can feel in control over our own domains.  When reality does not live up to our expectations these alternative realities can become very seductive, hijacking our consciousness until we become ‘lost in deep thought’.  

Because our mind can create any fantasy that we desire, we create alternate realities that are based upon the way we want things to be, ones we have control over. These fantasy versions of reality are the playground of the Ego. Here, the Ego can be anything it wants to be. Anyone looking to transcend, or rise above their Ego need look no further than their fantasy world.

Allowing ourselves to become lost in thought and fantasy can be embarrassing, disrespectful, and even dangerous to ourselves and to others. Most of us have experienced circumstances where our mind has wandered off at inappropriate times. We may be having a conversation with someone, and suddenly realize that we have no idea what the other person just said.  Or worse yet, driving our car and suddenly realizing we are unsure whether or not we stopped at that last stop sign. We were not present in reality at that moment, we were lost in thought and mind theatrics. It is not much of a stretch to attribute most car accidents to a lapse of present moment awareness.

Not only can a wandering mind be dangerous, it can also have negative health consequences. The subconscious mind does not distinguish between imagination and reality, and as a result, we can experience very real emotional responses to our imagination. We physically experience the chemical cocktails of emotions released by our brains in response to our thoughts just as easily as we do in our responses to real situations. We can prove this to ourselves simply by noticing our emotional reactions to our memories. Remembering a departed loved one can still bring sadness and grief years later, remembering an important life event can still bring happiness and joy years later. When we become emotionally engaged in a movie or book, we know consciously we are not responding to reality, but emotion is still there. In the same way, emotional responses can be generated by our fantasies. When we imagine stressful situations, our brains release very real fight or flight stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline. The negative health effects of too much cortisol in the body are well known. In an imaginary, fantastic reality we are not burning off those chemicals by running or fighting, so the body must deal with trying to dispose of those chemicals in other ways, like muscle tension and other stress responses.

Stress and tension are a result of the fundamental conflict between the way things really are and the way we would like them to be. Conflicted thoughts arise due to an inability or a reluctance to simply accept reality, and to be with it the way that it is. In fantastic reality, we can have complete control but in physical reality, we have limited and sometimes no control, and this can make us feel very uncomfortable.

Because we haven't learned or been taught the importance of objectively observing our own mind, we have never developed a proper healthy relationship with our thoughts and thought patterns. We want to trust and believe our own thoughts. We don’t question our thought patterns because we don’t want to admit that there could be anything wrong with them, because of course, that would mean we are harbouring some insanity in our mind. We would rather believe and trust blindly in our mind without ever noticing that sometimes our thought patterns are not in our best interest. But the truth is, observing the inner workings of our mind is one of the sanest activities a person can ever indulge in.

A mind that has never developed a proper healthy relationship with thoughts, creativity, and imagination is very childlike. It always wants to be stimulated, amused, and entertained, and likes to get its way. If external reality is not sufficiently stimulating and satisfying, we simply create our own alternative reality, imagining a different version of reality to go play in.  

When we develop the skills of objective, non-judgmental self awareness we begin to see how our self created fantasies and thoughts shape and affect our interactions with reality, and in turn how we affect and influence the world around us. In other words, we can see how we create our own Karma.

Until recently, very few people outside of monks, mystics, sages, and a few rare individuals have undertaken the path of deep observation of their own mind. However, as our global collective conscious (collective Karma) continues to impact the world in negative ways, a growing number of people are taking responsibility for their role in shaping the world, beginning with their own minds. As Gandhi said, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself”. An ever increasing number of people are turning to practices like meditation, mindfulness, and introspective self-awareness as a means of improving their interactions with reality and quality of life. When the adepts speak of silencing the mind, or stopping thoughts, and of the Ego being an illusion, they are referring to a practice of not allowing mind theatrics and fantasies of the Ego to operate un-observed. In time and with persistent practice, quiet peaceful space begins to open up in the mind.

Learning to regain control of a wandering mind, and no longer indulging in thought patterns that are not serving in one’s best interest does not mean all mental activity ceases. Indeed what it does mean is that as some quiet space is opened up, the mind becomes able to operate with greater clarity, focus, efficiency, and creativity, engaging only in those mental activities that are beneficial to our interactions with life.

Although the practices of meditation and mindfulness have become quite mainstream, it is the practice of developing self-awareness, of turning one's focus inward, engaging  in deep introspection and contemplation that is the most transformative. Learning to objectively observe the inner workings of our minds allows us to experience first hand the effects our thought patterns have on our inner and outer realities, and in turn we discover we can choose to no longer indulge in mind activities that are not in our best interests or of the world around us.

Remember, fantasy is not reality, wake up and start paying attention to what is going on inside your head. It’s your mind, shouldn’t you have control of it?

Michael L. Fournier

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