Mind Boggling

According to the Buddhist Mahamudra tradition, the mind is principally located at the very centre of the chest in the region of the heart channel wheel called the heart chakra. According to the same tradition, this so-called 'root mind' is the source of our awareness and its nature is clarity. This means that it is an empty-like space and a formless continuum with no shape, colour, sound, smell or tactile properties. Our root mind has the power to perceive, understand and remember the world around us. 

Interestingly, emotional stress triggered by events such as the death of a loved one or a break-up, often results in heartache or a ‘broken heart’. Biologically, some people actually experience a temporary weakening of the heart muscle, causing the left ventricle to change shape. This condition is called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy from the Japanese word takotsubo (octopus pot), which is reminiscent of the deformed shape of the heart’s left ventricle. Although the cause has not yet been confirmed, one of the theories is that broken heart syndrome is caused by significant emotional stress.

It would seem then, that working towards acquiring a clear and peaceful mind is the key to alleviating all kinds of misery like stress and anxiety. Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, wisely stated that: “People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take on them.” 

From a practical viewpoint, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) lists a series of cognitive distortions, also called Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) that can be quite helpful in shedding light on how each one of us perceives our own world from our unique inner and outer experiences. Common thinking distortions include: Black or white thinking or thinking in absolutes; catastrophising or making mountains of molehills; mind reading or assuming we know what others are thinking; compare and despair or comparing ourselves negatively against others; and negative focus or looking at the dark side and ignoring positive aspects of a situation, just to name a few.

According to CBT theory, there is an intricate connection between our thoughts, emotions, behaviours and physical symptoms. Therefore, the first step towards reducing emotional distress and self-defeating behaviours is to gain awareness of the unhelpful thinking patterns we have developed over the years, often unconsciously. Once we understand how we have formed what CBT calls our core beliefs as a result of early experiences and how we might have developed unhealthy ways of functioning (dysfunctional assumptions), we can begin to look at alternative ways of thinking and work towards creating a healthier perspective of not only events affecting us, but also of ourselves.

Although many therapists would agree that CBT is far from being a universal panacea, counselling can help you tackle your dysfunctional assumptions, help you identify your NATs, and begin the process of replacing them with a more balanced perspective, thus developing more positive thought patterns and working towards achieving your goals.

“If our mind is not peaceful, then even if we have the most pleasant conditions we shall not be happy.” Geshe Kelsang Gyatson – Transform Your Life (2001)

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