I sometimes call my new kitten Buddha-Pest because at times he has the serenity of a Buddha, but at other times he is a pest -- nipping, biting, and digging his claws into anything that moves! This is much like my mind, which at times rests in a sublime state of peace and acceptance, and at other times pesters me with gnawing, clawing worry thoughts, like, "What's that ache? What's that twinge? Why am I so tired? Could it be the cancer is back!?"
I wish I could rest in a Buddha-full state of serenity all the time, but ever since I was diagnosed with cancer three years ago, my mind is ever alert for danger. That's what the lower reptilian brain does -- its prime directive is survival and avoiding harm. For that reason, according to Rick Hanson, author of the book Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, painful experiences are more easily and deeply imprinted in our brains than pleasurable ones. He explains: "There is an innate negativity bias of the brain, whose unfortunate default setting is to be Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones."
Here's an example: A few weeks ago I saw a three-foot snake on the nature path behind my house. It was patiently poised beside a gopher hole, so I'm assuming it was a gopher snake; nevertheless, it was a SNAKE! And it was BIG! I haven't been back there since...until today. I walked along the path, vigilantly scanning for snakes, seeing twigs, and even shadows of branches, as snakes. Even though I was surrounded by beautiful nature, all I could envision was snakes! I sadly realized, "Every time I walk here now I will be looking for snakes." The same is true with cancer -- with each minor ache and pain and fatigue...my mind leaps to cancer.
Buddhists call this "the pain of pain" -- the initial pain is unavoidable, but the reaction to that pain, the fear and resistance to it, is self-inflicted. The challenge is to get free of the pain of pain, to let go of negative reactions, because those reactions and perceptions are what cause the greatest suffering.
My goal is to walk along life's path and see the beautiful flowers, the blue sky, the mountains, instead of imagining twigs as snakes and twinges as cancer. I want to be higher-vigilant instead of hyper-vigilant -- to see life from the higher perspective of my soul, where I remember that I am an eternal being, where I know that cancer is my great teacher, life enhancer, and burr under my saddle that woke me up and keeps me awake!
Fortunately, the higher brain has neuroplasticity, which is the ability to learn from experience and imprint the positive new learning. But in order for this to happen, research shows that the new belief and feeling needs to be repeated many, many times. Fear is an easy neural pathway to go down. Faith needs to be repeated over and over again. Therefore, whenever fear appears, I remind myself, "What's the truth? The truth is that right now I am safe. Right now all is well. Right now is all there is." I breathe a big, deep breath, really feeling and letting in this belief.
Rick Hansen says we need to hold the desired thought and feeling for about 30 seconds so that it can imprint in our memory. We need to bathe in it for a bit, feel it fully, and generate excitement about it, because the longer it's held in awareness, and the more stimulating it is, the more it will increase neurons firing and wiring together into new neural structures.
I am passionately intent on firing and wiring beautiful, Buddha-full neural pathways in my brain -- pathways where a snake is just a snake, simply another of God's creatures, and a twinge is just twinge, reminding me to breathe and shift from hyper-vigilance to higher-vigilance, and cancer is just a kick in the can, waking me up to my true self.
Is your mind a Buddha-pest, serene at times but pestering you with habitual, hyper-vigilant worry thoughts? I invite you to shift into higher vigilance and fire and wire up some new, positive, life-enhancing neural pathways!
Janet Jacobsen, author of the book, Oh No, Not Another 'Growth' Opportunity! An Inspirational Cancer Journey With Humor, Heart, and Healing
If you or someone you know is coping with cancer or other life challenges, you can read more of Janet Jacobsen's FREE, inspirational, entertaining, and informative essays, as well as the first 4 chapters of her book, at to http://enlightenink.com/