We cannot put off living until we are ready. —José Ortega y Gasset
Recently I read a really interesting article in The Wall Street Journal, “Rewiring the Brain to Ease Pain.” It was a good start on a subject I’ve been thinking about for some time. I was on a plane preparing to jot down some notes about it when I looked over at the article the woman sitting next to me was reading, “What is Genius?” I couldn’t lean in to read along, not wanting to be accused of any attempt to be her newest best friend. The title was all I needed for my notes, however, as it fit perfectly with what was on my mind. But first the WSJ article.
Researchers have shown that “How we think about pain can have a major impact on how it feels.” What, I wondered, took “researchers” so long to figure that out! Holistic practitioners have known for centuries that the mind is the most powerful healer but also sometimes requires healing itself for our bodily well-being. Research has also shown that how we perceive pain is highly individualistic. Many factors figure into the mix, from emotional issues – fear and stress – to prior experiences.
But I will bet the biggest factor in mitigating pain is our ability to govern our negative thoughts. We always try to keep on a short leash the dragon in the den, the demons in the cave—restraining them at a safe distance from our busy lives. Even though we devote a lot of energy to restraining our darkest thoughts, folks who practice mindfulness meditation experience less pain than we do. Just as an athlete builds muscle memory and a highly skilled musician does the same in his/her many hours of practice, those who meditate accept as their most important daily focus remaining in the moment.
Of course, folks practice mindfulness every day and don’t even realize it. Have you ever noticed that when people take a picture of a child or another they hold dear, they have a smile on their face? In fact, the people around the photographer will also be smiling. Why? They are focusing in that moment on the subject captured by the camera. Our minds at that instant are also a lens.
Just as the camera focuses, gazing not on the many surrounding objects, the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, the empty juice glass, the crumpled napkin, the mind is also ignoring all else in the universe—making sure that nothing diverts it from the wonder of the moment in which THAT child picks up THAT tawny Cheerio from its Peter Rabbit plate, and smiles. And, in universal focus, everyone there smiles with the bright-eyed child. Meditation guides who know how to bring peace to the adult ego can produce the same mental focus day to day, moment to moment, at will.
Now to the genius article. Its definition of genius is a mosaic, of sorts. To some, genius centers on intellectual horsepower – Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Marie Curie. Creative genius abounds in the great men and woman of literature, the arts and humanities, music, as well as industry. But genius also lies in the healing disciplines of yogis, mystics, shamans, and intuitive counselors. Is there one day of our existence that isn’t imprinted with difficulties? The genius of self healing is practitioners’ deep understanding that we can’t control the uncontrollable–the daily hazards and conflicts not of our making. This type of genius consciously expands our comfort zones in an ever changing world. It both comforts and strengthens. It focuses. This genius comes to you when the demons slip their leashes for a little visit but you decide what script they will read from, or whether they will be allowed to speak at all.
Life is a multifunctional wonder that mixes joy and grief, pain and bliss. That intuitive, genius truth is always hard to accept—we keep wanting to restrain this wild mix on a short, hardened-steel chain leash. But no, that won’t work in the long run. In the long run, tight restraint of painful thoughts and memories, of physical pain, too, create their own wild mix. Finally, we have to know that these varying degrees of hazard and pain seldom fall, well oiled and cool and precise, into the core of our being like the tumblers in a safe. My friends, you can over-think, over-control your life. The genius of it all is in understanding that prosperity of heart and soul occurs when we will it to be so. When that is our focus in the moment. Smile. Click-click. Smile again. Print.