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Negative emotions like fear and anger can seem to last forever, but do they have to?

When something occurs and we have the thought that it might be threatening to us, one of our protective emotions is triggered (fear, anger), and our bodies instinctively respond. Chemicals are released that physiologically send us into a state of readiness to deal with the aforementioned threat. Those chemicals have a natural lifespan, leaving the bloodstream to return the body to a more neutral state, and that lifespan is 90 seconds. If an emotion seems to last for longer than 90 seconds, we have done something to restart or prolong that chemical response. Dr Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist with a special appreciation for the brain functions we might take for granted. She experienced a rare form of stroke in 1996 that necessitated her rebuilding her brain from the inside out over eight years.

"If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run."

Jill Bolte Taylor

The phrase "I have chosen to let" is powerful. How many times do we feel at the mercy of an emotion, like it has taken the reins of the team of horses and is driving down a path where we don't wish to go? We may struggle and fight with that emotion, adding more negative feelings on top of it, so that the wagon's speed increases ever faster and the grip of the emotion sinks in deeper. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and author on mindfulness, teaches that if you allow the feeling to exist and notice what you are feeling in your body without judgment, justification, or constructing a story about it, it will dissipate in 90 seconds.

"Feel the feeling -- drop the story."

Pema Chodron

Instead of the question I usually close my entries with, I would like to leave you a quote from the novel Dune by Frank Herbert. This process has been useful to me in times of fear and anxiety, as a reminder that the feelings and distortions are temporary and if I would watch them pass without attaching, they would leave all the more quickly and easily.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune

I am composing this post from the final day of the HypnoThoughts Live convention in Las Vegas, NV. This is my second year attending, and as the attendees begin to drift home from the liminal space that annual conventions occupy, I reflect on the nature of connections.

As members of the primate order, humans exist most happily in social groups and communities. Having moved on from the days of small villages and nomadic tribes, we still find our own connections of some kind with family, friends, and neighbors. Scientific studies demonstrate that humans who lack appropriate social relationships suffer in mental and physical health. As we have evolved to more complex social networks, have our brains evolved with us?

One thousand hypnotists come from all over to attend the world's largest hypnosis-related convention, putting a lot of miles between us the other 362 days of the year. During those times, we interact through Facebook, YouTube, and other social media outlets. While I may spend dozens to hundreds of hours interacting with someone online, an hour of face-to-face conversation has a noticeably different feel to it, like a more concentrated essence. Perhaps it's a reflection of the environment in which I was raised, where internet access didn't become too common until I was in high school.

I watch teenagers now who would much rather go to their individual homes and text or call up the friends they saw earlier that day. Their social media accounts have hundreds, thousands of followers, most of whom they have never met in person or possibly even exchanged words with. When the conversation is essentially viewable by the world, how can it not be different from a sotto voce private conversation in a library corner or coffee shop? I don't know if anything like this has happened yet, I think it would be interesting to conduct a study on the overall health of individuals who would consider themselves highly social where the majority or all of those connections are virtual/distant. Technology does have the capacity to connect us, and I wonder after the quality of those connections, especially as it impacts our individual health.

What is the smallest step you can take today that will empower your present and future connections, and you, in the most healthy way?

Look at the photo below: notice the faces of the children, the posing for the camera, the brightly colored shirts, the fixed attention on the turtle; nothing special, right?

Work by artist Øyvind Kolås modifying a photo by Chuwa (Francis).

Look again. The photo by Chuwa (Francis) is originally a black and white photo. Go ahead, click to open the full-size version and look at the proportions. A digital artist has placed grids of overly-saturated colored lines going across the image. Those parts where the color looks solid? That's your brain filling in the rest, what it thinks should be there. The effect really becomes hard to see when the image is smaller, or when you squint at it.

This image reminded me loosely of Magic Eye picture books, which were all the rage when I was in high school. The pages appeared to be a swirling mass of color, maybe some unclear shapes, but there was supposed to be a magic 3-dimensional image hidden somewhere in each picture. The secret was to start very close to the image, focusing the eyes in a particular way, and then by slowly moving away from it, the illusion came forth.

Do you see the shark?

Our minds are pattern-making machines; when data is missing, the brain moves to fill in the gaps so that sense emerges. It saves us time and allows us to function in the world at its current pace. When it can't, we may find ourselves becoming frustrated and will reach for something, anything, to find that closure, often missing some small detail that could make a world of difference in meaning.

Where have you filled in the blanks in the past that you can look back on now with a wider perspective and find new more powerful positive resources?

I had a blast last week having an interview with Nickolas Ely from Liberation Hypnosis. I quickly found out this wasn't going to be the typical "what's your origin story, what do you do" interview when the conversation ranged to the nature of consciousness, finding your inner game, and how do we maintain healthy connections in an increasingly digital world.

It was an honor to be the guest on your first podcast, Nickolas; I look forward to hearing where your other-than-conscious mind directs conversation with future guests!

I heard that a lot when I was younger, especially when I said I was too sick to go to school. The thermometer would come out: no fever, it's all in your mind. In other words, what I had just told them was made up, not real, not to be taken seriously. As I went back upstairs to get dressed for school, I shrugged it off until I was reminded of it an hour later at school. I had been feeling fine, and now I had a stomachache.

Power of the Mind

While the younger me preferred to believe that I was psychic, it was much simpler than that: where attention goes, energy flows. Our bodies make millions of processes and adjustments every single second of the day, some within our conscious awareness and some not. The fields of psychosomatic medicine and psychoneuroimmunology are devoted to the link between thoughts/emotions and the body. People regularly will themselves into getting better, or getting sicker, all with the power of the mind. An athlete in the final stretch of a major competition can severely injure himself and yet, decide to put all thoughts of pain from his mind until after the competition has ended.

Phobias can be one of the most debilitating crosses a person may have to bear, sometimes leading a person to build their life around that phobia, and what it doesn't allow them to do. Most of those phobias start with one moment, where something happened in the past and the mind keeps building and overlaying and intensifying the memory and its linked emotions. A simple event, a chance encounter, a single decision, all have the potential to hex a life for minutes to months, for days to decades. And it can be, on the other side of that, another different brief moment, perhaps not even what others might consider a significant one, that undoes years of pain and limitations, when the mind is properly motivated.

Looking at it All

Considering all of that, I say there needs to be a new interpretation of this phrase. When we say something is "all in your mind", why not focus on the all? Maybe we really have all the resources we need inside to face what life throws at us, and it just takes the right circumstance, or the right combination of factors, or the right guide to help us find them.

What is it that you have all of what you need already in your mind, that you aren't even aware of yet, and how will you go about discovering that today?