I heard the wonderful Joe Dispenza do a live talk the other week, and in listening to him I was reminded about how our brains get neurochemically addicted to thinking and feeling in certain ways. In order to create change we have to go through a transformation process, one where we are letting go of the old habits of thinking and feeling, and replacing them with new ones. As we know from the work of Candace Pert, each emotion has a specific neurochemical signature. Because of neuroplasticity, the more we entertain specific emotions, the more we release that specific neurochemical signature. Our brain adapts to this level of neurochemistry by adding more receptor sites to receive the neurochemicals being released. In this way our brain adapts to our dominant feelings (and corresponding thoughts). What happens during the process of letting go of these old habits of thinking and feeling is that we are no longer producing the same levels of that familiar neurochemistry. Those receptor sites are being starved of that specific neurochemical signature and go through a process similar to withdrawal from an addiction. Just like any withdrawal there are going to be symptoms that go along with that, and a desire to feed the addiction. Our brain is going to try to get us back into feeling and thinking in the familiar ways. It is going to pick the things that you are most emotionally attached to and bring those thoughts up in your brain as a way of getting you back into the old emotions. This is why Dr. Joe say that, in order to change we have to think greater than how we feel. It is important that we recognize what is going on, that we can step back into our curious observer and see this process for what it is (rather than buying into what our brain is trying to get us to think and feel). By recognizing it and not falling for the traps the brain is sending, we can stay our course with replacing those thoughts and feelings with the new ones. Just like any withdrawal, it gets easier over time. The old receptor sites start to prune away and the brain adapts to lower levels of that familiar neurochemistry. At the same time, we start to develop more receptor sites for the happy-feel-good neurochemistry that we are now accessing more and more. Ultimately, the brain will adapt to having this new neurochemical signature as the dominant one in the brain. But in order to get there we have to stay the course through the torrent as the old pathways undergo transformation.
One of the things I have found helpful during this process is to imagine myself in the ocean (or some kind of deep pool of water). I start floating at the surface of the water. I see the bubbles and waves on the surface and equate those with my old thoughts and feelings. As I breathe deeply into my belly I imagine myself sinking down into the deep still waters. I can look up at the waves of thoughts and emotions but I recognize I am not them and I am not on the surface with them any longer. As I continue to breathe deeply into my belly I focus my attention on the stillness and depth of the water, feeling surrounded, comforted and fully supported by the water. Eventually I place my focus on my heart center, imagining my breath coming in and out through that area. Occasionally I may notice the mind chatter still going, so I look up at the surface waves and bubbles, breathe into my belly, and then bring my awareness back down into the stillness below. The goal in this exercise is not to make the mind chatter stop, but to drop below it, activate your heart, and recognize that you are much more and much deeper than the chatter that is going on. You are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. They can exist but we don't have to give them our attention or believe what they say. As we settle into going deeper, often a warm feeling arises, one of love, gratitude, wellbeing, or feeling supported.
What we are doing through this process is detaching ourselves from the dominant patterns that are operating and giving us something supportive to focus on. We rewire our brains by replacing the old patterns & habits with new ones, so it is important to have something else to direct our focus toward. Self compassion practices are another great way to activate an alternative within your system when the brain is really stuck in the old patterns.
In order to benefit from any of these processes, however, you must first ask yourself, "Are you willing to not believe everything you think and feel? Are you willing to start holding the messages (that your brain is sending you) more lightly, and to recognize that the messages you feel are so true will actually change as your brain changes? That this "truth" is subjective and is simply a product of what is currently dominating in your brain?" If so, then with this commitment and the awareness of the transitional process that is taking place, you are well on your way to dropping below the dominant feelings and chatter, and creating new alternative pathways & neurochemistry!
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Candy Widdifield is Master Coach, Registered Reiki Master Teacher and former Registered Clinical Counsellor, living in Calgary Alberta, Canada. She has a background in nervous system regulation, trauma, grief & loss, mindfulness, somatic therapy, & positive psychology. She taught the DNRS in-person program for 5 years, has over a decade of experience coaching brain re-trainers & provides mentorship to other coaches. Candy works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com