We all know about stress related illness. If you don’t, go read “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” Stress typically is caused by the perception that we are not OK, things are not going very well, or life is overwhelming. Stress can have origins in chronic pain and medical issues, although, we know that we can overcome some of the negative impacts of pain or poor health with a positive outlook. Even cancer is managed via wellness centers focused on your perception of the condition. Integrated medicine typically includes addressing faulty thought patterns.
We all pretty much agree that having a positive outlook on life leads to a healthier life. Positive Psychology is now a well researched field. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based on the theory that better psychiatric health is tied to how we think (or behave) which drives how we feel. So, if we got really specific and could identify a single unhealthy thought that was specifically tied to a physical ailment or illness, would you argue that removing the thought would not heal the physical body?
Thought surgery (as I like to think of it, although it has many names) is highly effective based on my personal experience, work with my clients, and the reports of countless colleagues and professors. How we go about removing the thought varies depending on the client and their desire or level of spiritual awareness. I wouldn’t come at a highly intellectual person with color and sound therapy or a trance healing. They’d run out the door. A highly mental person with little spiritual openness would require a different type of approach. At some point though, even the most mental person, is going to have to feel something different to believe letting go of a thought is in their best interest.
Let’s run through a common example of the type of thought you might want to get rid of – kind of like a tumor. If you can, for example, remove a long standing thought that you are unloved, you might see radical changes in your overall health. Metaphysicians are attempting to tie specific thoughts to specific parts of the body. For example, the liver will often reflect problems of desire. The pancreas relates to psychological balance and one’s attitude towards life. This type of mapping of issues to specific areas of the body has existed for thousands of years in many cultures (I didn’t make this up).
The challenge is how to go about the thought surgery. For some, just becoming aware of the thought and deciding to let it go is enough. Other thoughts are not so willing to leave. Some thoughts can become so stubborn that it is as if they take on a life of their own and the person housing the thought is tortured by it day and night. For example, if I believe that it is my job to make everyone around me happy (which is a thought not a truth in case you agree with it!), and I have been energizing that thought for 40 years (meaning I have been trying to make everyone happy around me despite the toxicity or cost to my own well being) just becoming aware of it may not be enough. In this case, this has been my modus operandi for my whole life. Who would I be if not “the one who serves”? This could become terrifying for a control freak very quickly!
I might really not want to let that thought go even if I see how it has cost me dearly (my health is poor, my relationships are codependent, I have little self esteem because people continue to take and take without reciprocating, and people don’t seem to care that I am suffering). If I don’t want to let it go, then it is time to figure out how that thought is serving me (yes, I am getting something out of clinging to an unhealthy thought – similar to taking heroin). That can be tricky for most people to figure out. No one wants to admit that an anxiety driven need to serve others is really masking a deep fear of being unlovable. In reality, this means that I do not love myself. Now we are really going down the rabbit hole. It is necessary to keep going until you hit the rock bed of the thought.
Thoughts are like roots of a weed, the roots can run far and branch out in all directions. So while you might have ripped the head off of the dandelion, the roots are safe and sound and ready to sprout another problem (dandelion) at any moment. If I happen to believe I cannot trust people due to a childhood experience of having unpredictable or unavailable parents, I might not be very open to others. I might have trouble finding friends because no one seems to measure up to my very high standard of perfection (set intentionally high so I never have to really wrestle the alligator that is trust). In this scenario, I don’t want to try to trust people and get hurt. I have done it a bunch of times, and eventually, the person hurts me. Story proven. Case closed. However, I am seriously lonely and unhappy because I have no one to share my life with. Around and around I go. I don’t trust people, I am lonely, I try to have a relationship (probably with exactly the right person to help prove my story true), and then I get hurt, and then I withdraw into my shell again. Rinse and repeat. The pattern will repeat itself until I stop it. People are not perfect, but the other people are not the problem. I am the problem. In this example, I do not like the feeling of being hurt because it sends me into the same bloody panic I experienced as a helpless child with less than perfect parents. And that just isn’t OK according to my brain which identifies threats to my well-being and safety by comparing events and feelings to past events and feelings.
If I go to a therapist or counselor and just address the obvious problem of having no friends by going out more and becoming more forgiving of imperfect people, I still might not be able to swim in the deep end of the ocean that is a real, connective, loving relationship (which is what I am really craving).
I highly suggest pulling the weed out with all the roots. It may be that I have to reach that little, traumatized child who is stuck in the fear of the perception of being unloved by her parents and therefore in risk of being abandoned and dying. She believes that she isn’t good enough, she is a failure. At the base of the lonely issue (which is a branch of the main root) lives and breathes the four core human fears: the fear of failure, death, abandonment and, well, nothingness. These fears can populate an entire stress forest if we aren’t mindful. They wreak havoc on our genes (causing all of the bad ones to fire) and our bodies (the physical body is the punching bag for our unhealthy, negative thoughts).
We need to climb into our unconscious and subconscious minds to start working towards these core issues. Our brains will continue to believe whatever we tell it to be true. The nasty part of all of this is that we cannot think our way to some of these deeper fears. They remain hidden from the conscious brain. The brain isn’t very clever but our ego is. Our ego does not want us to change because its primary job is to keep us alive. If something worked when we were little, damn it, we are going to hold onto that strategy forever. The ego knows how to keep these thoughts on the down low so we cannot just pitch them willy nilly. We have to dig and move past the ego with the clear, unclouded vision of our loving self. Our loving (or higher) self can see whatever we are ready to see and not be afraid. I wouldn’t believe it if I heard it, so I suggest experiencing it yourself before you go all skeptical.
Once we get in touch with our loving self, who is fearless, and look at the reality of an experience or feeling, we can start the journey of healing the thought. Interestingly, most of these thoughts that are messing with our health manifested in our early childhood. Know that what was true for us at four years old should not inform our core beliefs at age 40 (yet we see and experience it ourselves all the time). We need to do an inventory check of our beliefs we may or may not be conscious of and decide which ones are still in our highest good. The belief, “I cannot trust people,” is a common one. However, mistrusting people, especially those closest to me, doesn’t work very well. My marriage might not be as intimate as it could be. I might not have a lot of friends. I may not be as joyful as I could be. I am lonely and feel helpless to do anything about it. Mistrust can sprout a very complex root system manifesting a wildly unhealthy looking tree.
What would I need to do in this situation? I need to go back to the origin of that thought. When did I first decide that trusting people wasn’t a good idea, and what was I feeling? If I can find that, I can maybe look at the scene through different eyes – the eyes of a wise, loving adult who can comprehend the behavior of the adults in the scene. A child cannot fully understand the behavior of the adults because they are focused on themselves. They cannot take into account the history of the adult, or why they are thinking or behaving the way they are. Only when I develop a full understanding of me as a traumatized child can I begin to heal, understand how that child felt, and then release the faulty thought(s) that the child came up with to explain something incomprehensible to them at that point in time.
Remember watching Scrooge find his way to love? If you looked at Scrooge in the beginning of the story, he was simply just an ass. But we were given the opportunity to look at his life, especially his childhood. Here is a summary from Wikipedia if you don’t remember Scrooge’s difficult childhood and early traumas.
“Scrooge was a lonely child whose unloving father sent him away to a boarding school. (Some film adaptations say Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him, which is the source of his father’s grudge. This would make his sister Fan the eldest of the siblings which, again in some films make her the younger sister.) His one solace was his beloved sister, Fan, who repeatedly begged their father to allow Scrooge to return home, and he at last relented. Fan later died after having given birth to one child, a son named Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. The spirit then takes him to see another Christmas a few years later in which he enjoyed a Christmas party held by his kind-hearted and festive boss, Mr. Fezziwig. It is there that he meets his love and later fiancée, Belle. Then the spirit shows him a Christmas in which Belle leaves him, as she realizes his love for money has replaced his love for her. Finally, the spirit shows him a Christmas Eve several years later, in which Belle is happily married to another man.”
Once you gain some context about how Scrooge became, well, a scrooge, you begin to have some empathy for the person who is underneath all that pain and fear. Scrooge needed to be able to see his life clearly without the clouded feelings of anger and victimization that are completely normal. Only with this clarity could he admit to the way he was abusing others and ultimately himself. His faulty thought was that he was unlovable because everyone who loved him abandoned him. Underneath this is a child’s belief that he is unlovable, and at his core, Scrooge could not love himself because of his failure to capture and keep love. There were probably also the child’s feelings of fear and anger, but what is driving Scrooge as an adult is the faulty thought that is attempting to keep the child’s feelings of fear and anger at bay. Once he was enlightened to the totality of his story, he could decide whether he wanted to continue to live his life in anger and isolation or let it all go and forgive. Letting go of the thought that he was unlovable opened his heart to be able to love himself and therefore be able to share his love with others. His life changed radically overnight.
You may think Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” is just fiction, however, there is some serious psychological truths being revealed to us. The change in Scrooge’s life came around because he decided to let go of all of the thoughts of abandonment, betrayal, hurt, and fear. Like the Grinch, his heart grew three sizes that day. Scrooge looked a lot healthier when he woke up that morning compared to when he went to bed.
I have seen these transformations occur in hours if not minutes. We often joke that this type of thought surgery could replace cosmetic surgery. I have seen people look 10 years younger after a single session. I have watched a man run down a flight of stairs who could barely walk up them. Does this last? Yes and sometimes no. If the person does not continue to work to keep the weeds from re-infesting their garden, then the symptoms will return (sometimes in a different form). Just like after regular heart surgery, you need to continue to care for yourself with healthy diet, exercise, lifestyle, and thinking, or you will end up back where you started. Thought surgery requires us to be aware when old thought patterns try to resurface (because they will). We may even need to peel the next layer of the onion. Once you uncover one thought, you might find more thoughts underneath, etc.
It becomes a way of life. Some groan when I say that. Then I remind them of how far they have come, and encourage them to imagine where they will be in the not so distant future. Now, that is exciting!