We don’t see things as they are

Occasionally, I like to repost things from my other blog, which deals more specifically with consciousness, and less with neuroscience. I wanted to put this here because I believe as coaches, we do much to help our clients shift their fundamental level of consciousness. I can point to neuroscience in terms of shifting neural pathways, increasing integration between different parts of the brain, etc. But this doesn’t always explain what we might call the ineffable nature of reality. But I do believe there are scientific explanations that go beyond what neuroscience has yet discovered or may be able to discover. I am threatening to study quantum mechanics next. 🙂 Enjoy. 

We don’t see things as they are, but as we are. 

~The Talmud

At a recent BEabove virtual staff meeting (I think I was walking around the lake while Ursula was having a pedicure — we’re very good at work/life integration — or wait was that just multi-tasking? Shoot. Well back to my point anyway), we started talking about the profundity of this statement. It really fits with our understanding of the Seven Levels of Effectiveness — the world literally shows up differently at each level.

For me, learning this concept (and it’s taken many years for me to understand it deeply, in the core of my being) has contributed hugely to my sanity. Perhaps people aren’t as crazy or irrational as they seem. Perhaps they are simply responding to a world that looks, feels, and to them IS, not at all the same as ours.

I recently heard Deepak Chopra speak about levels of consciousness (not our Seven Levels, but what he said was in alignment). I really liked the analogy he used, which was school. Some people are in kindergarten, others high school, etc. When we are children, the world looks bigger, doesn’t it? I remember visiting my childhood home in Seattle as an adult and thinking “this can’t be the place, there was a HUGE hill leading up to the front door.” We think about ourselves and others in a certain way, which changes as we grow. Our parents can go from being heroes to villains to human. I love this famous quote by Mark Twain:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

But while we learn and develop, we don’t necessarily change our consciousness as we age. In fact, according to David Hawkins, most people’s vibrational level only changes by about 5 points during their lifetime if they do nothing to develop themselves emotionally and spiritually. This means that most people’s fundamental “home frequency,” the level of consciousness they return to from the peaks and valleys of life, remains set very close to where they were born.

And from this level, our lives unfold. At the level of Frustration, the world looks frustrating. It appears that this is both a perspective–that is, people at the level of Frustration resent standing in lines much more than people at higher levels–and a creative energy. At the level of Frustration, we call things in that give us a reason to be frustrated. More fights, more lawsuits. The energy field creates and shapes this world. Think about someone you know who is always angry and defensive. Generally, if you look at their lives, you will see both perception and “reality.” It’s the field.

The same is true of course at every level. At the level of Synchronicity, standing in a line at Starbucks is an opportunity to talk to someone, meditate, ponder, or simply be. It is what is, and we’ll get our latte when we get it. And we seem to also have more and more magical moments. We decide to forgive someone in our hearts and they unexpectedly call to apologize. The very thing we have wanted (but been peacefully unattached to having) shows up. The lines are actually shorter. When I tap into this level of peaceful openheartedness, I find  things come to me easily and effortlessly.

NOTE: this is “the secret” to manifesting what you want. It has to come from the highest place of love, peace, and non-attachment. Many people long for things, but are afraid to not have them, so the vibration of fear pulls in more things for them to be afraid of. What we get, our “reality,” is always a direct match with who we are being. When I am interested and yet not attached to having new clients, they show up on their own. When I am worried about money and feeling frustrated, nothing I do seems to work.

And of course, just as you don’t expect a kindergartner to read or understand Proust, you can’t expect someone who is living in Hopelessness, Fear or Frustration to see the essential spirit in each person and the beautiful world we share. But you can help them shift to the next place. And at BEabove, we believe this is the work of all conscious beings. To see where people are, and help them take the next step. No one is stuck with only a 5 point move in their lifetime. We all hold the seed of peace, love and joy within.

The Problems with Positive Thinking (and what we can do about it)

Why does “positive thinking” work sometimes and not others? Why are some people able to “manifest prosperity” ala The Secret while others fail again and again? Why are there some areas of life where I have been able to shift my own limiting beliefs easily and others I have not (no matter how hard I try)? I should say that I actually believe that thinking positively is essential to happiness, creates a much more fulfilling life, and is possible. The problem is, we don’t always know how to do it effectively. Maybe this is because I think there are a couple of essential problems with positive thinking from a neuroscience perspective. One, the brain is designed to keep us safe, and two, we are powerfully shaped by our subconscious.

Problem Number One: The Brain is Designed to Keep Us Safe

Years ago, before I began studying neuroscience, my amazing business partner Ursula and I intuited our way to something powerful. We started designing activities in our workshops to “trick the brain.” We realized that the direct approach to learning often didn’t work for people, so we came up with numerous ways to go through the side door.

A classic example of one of these activities we call “The Metaphor Process.” It was created because it’s incredibly powerful to simply be present with your emotions. When we can notice what is going on without judgment, something will shift. This can also be very difficult. When we would ask people to sit with an uncomfortable feeling, such as anger, fear or grief, they often couldn’t do it. Their rational brains would take them away, change the focus, attempt to diminish the feeling, or get lost in a long story. But when we created some separation by first having them think of a metaphor for the feeling, and then be present to the metaphor, it worked magically.

I believe this is because we’ve got well-worn neural pathways designed to keep us safe and away from emotions that we were taught are unacceptable. If there is no room for our anger or sadness as a very young child, we’ll learn other strategies that don’t earn us social rejection (neuroscience has shown us that social rejection activates the pain centers in the brain). As babies and young children (and arguably, every stage of life) social connections are critical to survival. Thus, asking someone to experience these emotions can feel threatening to their very survival and the brain is having none of it. It says “I’m on the job here and we are just not going there.

This is true on the positive side as well. It is scary to the brain threaten any kind of old pattern that was created to keep us safe. So becoming more open? Scary, not doing that. Speaking up for myself? Nope. Promoting my new business and letting people know I think I have something valuable to offer? Um…. maybe next year.

Problem Number Two:  We Are Powerfully Shaped by Our Subconscious

Fun facts time. Do you know that if I give you a warm drink, you’ll feel warmer towards me? If you wear a doctor’s white coat (and you know it is a doctor’s coat, not a painter’s) you’ll actually be smarter? If you stand with your shoulders hunched over and head hanging down you’ll feel less competent and confident (you can try this one at home)? And (freaky fun fact) studies of people with multiple personalities have shown that is possible for personalities living in the same body to have different physiology? One personality can be allergic to orange juice while another is not. Welts will appear and disappear depending on who is “in” the body.

So the problem isn’t so much positive thinking per se, it’s how to help people “think positively” on the subconscious level. You see, when we try to think ourselves into a new, more positive belief, if it is incongruent with what the embodied self believes at the core, it won’t stick. In fact, it can even have a sort of “bounce back” effect. Like Jack Handy, we say to ourselves “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me” and our deeper awareness says “Oh no I’m not and oh no they don’t,” at the subconscious level reinforcing the limiting belief instead of the positive one.

I believe that we can use the power of positive thinking to change our lives, but we need to do it taking into account how the brain works. Telling ourselves something we don’t actually believe is no help whatsoever and can even make things worse. We need to find ways to expand on what we do believe until we are where we want to be.

My friend Laura Fenamore is a weight loss coach who figured this out years ago. Overweight and miserable, she realized that somehow the key to weight loss was in loving herself. But as much as she tried to love her body, she simply couldn’t. It was a lie, and the old stubborn beliefs about herself kept her stuck at a weight she didn’t want. Then one day she saw that if she could simply love one pinky, really and truly, it would be a place to start. She did. She told herself her pinky was beautiful, and it worked because she believed it. From there, she went on gradually to the rest of her body, and you should see her now. She coaches, teaches and supports people now who want to learn how to love themselves into a healthy weight.

As you can probably guess, I strongly believe in the power of coaching to help people shift and transform. But remember how much the brain wants to keep us safe, and how dramatically we are shaped by things far out of our conscious control. My best advice? Find ways to come in through the side door and trick the brain, and help people start with what they can actually believe and keep pushing them to expand that edge.

Process Coaching / Guided Awareness and Focus

In Co-Active Coaching, we learn a principle known as “Process,” which is designed to help clients experience the ebb and flow of life more fully and completely. The tools in this principle are designed to enable the client to be fully present to their experience rather than sleepwalking through life or subconsciously resisting certain aspects or areas. Process coaching helps make present what is bubbling under the surface—often only experienced as vague sensations or fleeting thoughts. By stopping the chatter of the active mind and helping put voice to the client’s full experience, Process coaching deepens and integrates what Daniel Siegel calls our “embodied mind.”

Amazingly, recent research has found we have neurons not just in our brains, but also in our heart and in our gut. And our whole bodies are taking in critical information all the time, somatically doing their best to make sense of the world. This useful information is all too often ignored in our day to day lives, possibly because the pathways from the body connect with the right hemisphere of the brain, which is not as skilled at putting things into linear language and logical understanding (see Come On Over to the Right Side for more on this). When the information is not processed and integrated, it stays vague and unfocused, and often continues to nag at the client even though they may not know why.

Process coaching helps the client “grab” this information, and through the use of metaphor, focusing on body sensations, and other tools, to go deeply into the experience. Research on meditators has shown that the close paying of attention — which is exactly what the coach is supporting the client to do — activates a part of the brain that releases a chemical called acetylcholine, which helps with neuroplasticity  (the ability of the brain to make new neural pathways). Close attention is also linked to the brain’s release of brain-derived neurotropic factor, which increases growth between widely separated areas of the brain.

Thus, when we help our clients pay close attention by taking them into their experience through process coaching, we help create lasting change. The impact is that issues that have been bothering the client, and areas where they have been stuck (sometimes for years) get resolved.