In “The Power of Human Relationships” [link], I highlighted how our relationships with others can influence us. This excerpt from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s book, The Joy of Living, sent to me via a newsletter I’m subscribed to, reminds me to remind you that the relationship we have with ourself is just as important as the relationships we have with others.
In particular, I think what captured my eye was the awareness the passage brings to the way we use words in our conversations with ourself and the ways we can use our language to control our perception of our self. Hope you enjoy, Eds
…some people can’t stand feeling or cold. They say that they’ll die if they have to go outside in hot weather. Even a few drops of sweat can make them feel extremely uncomfortable. In winter, they can’t bear even a few flakes of snow on their heads. But if a doctor they trust tells them that spending ten minutes of every day in a sauna will improve their physical condition, they’ll often follow the advice, seeking out and even paying for an experience they previously couldn’t stand. They’ll sit in the sauna thinking, How nice, I’m sweating! This is really good! They do this because they’ve allowed themselves to shift their mental perception about being hot and sweaty. Heat and sweat are just phenomena to which they’ve assigned different meanings. And if the doctor further tells them that a cold shower after the sauna will improve their circulation they learn to accept the cold, and even come to consider if refreshing.
Psychologists often refer to this sort of transformation as “cognition restructuring.” Through applying intention as well as attention to an experience, a person is able to shift the meaning of an experience from a painful or intolerable context to one that is tolerable or pleasant. Over time, cognitive restructuring establishes new neuronal pathways in the brain, particularly the limbic region, where most sensations of pain and pleasure are recognized and processed (Bold added by another).
If our perceptions really are mental constructs conditioned by past experiences and present expectations, then what we focus on and how we focus become important factors in determining our experience. And the more deeply we believe something is true, the more likely it will become true in terms of our experience. So if we believe we’re weak, stupid, or incompetent, then no matter what our real qualities are, and no matter how differently our friends and associates see us, we’ll experience ourselves as weak, stupid, or incompetent.
What happens when you begin to recognize your experiences as your own projections? What happens when you begin to lose your fear of the people around you and conditions you used to dread? Well, from one point of view-nothing. From another point of view-everything.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
More about Language and Self Control: