How the mind works – Physiology of stress – Chapter four

How the mind works – Physiology of stress – Chapter four

Physiology of stress

Acknowledging how our minds affect the way we feel is to realise how our thinking creates changes in our physiology. We can also start to see what the Buddha was talking about 2500 years ago when he said that all of life is suffering and all suffering comes from craving. The craving comes from the intense desire for relief from the uncomfortable chemicals we release in the body when seeing the world in a fearful way – from an ego point of view. Aggression, anxiety and depression are mind-created stressful states that strip us of our happiness. Let’s face it; we are not going to be releasing serotonin and dopamine, (the feel good chemicals), if there is a sabre tooth tiger coming at us. We would be patting it on the head instead of running away! The flight or fight response works perfectly for real physical threats but is not so good for imagined emotional threats.

Image 1Suppressed emotional issues will find their way out one way or another.

If we look at our immune system we see it is designed to fight threats at a cellular level. Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen (a threat) and attacks its own cells. We know that continued stress will affect out health in a negative way. Could the cause of this be the body turning back on its self because we feel powerless to resolve an emotional issue or trauma – the suppression of this resulting in the body attacking itself? Suppressed emotional issues will find their way out one way or another.

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Image 1Nothing is permanent and all things must pass.

Someone came up with this serenity prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference. Serenity is probably what the Buddha had in mind when he said to look at thoughts and feelings with equanimity as they continually rise and pass away. Nothing is permanent and all things must pass. Why get attached to something that is not permanent? But we do. We cling to the good feelings and have an aversion to the bad feelings. As we cling to the good feelings they soon disappear and our aversion to the bad feelings only perpetuates them but none of them is permanent. When we look at thoughts and feelings with equanimity, we are withdrawing the judgement of good or bad. This in turn stops the mind from seeing the threat and that in turn changes the body’s chemistry.
Image 1Are you feeding the good wolf or the bad wolf?

Here is a story I heard or read a number of years ago. I believe it puts the ego and true self in a nutshell. It is about a wise old American Indian chief giving advice to his grandson. The chief says to his grandson.

‘Grandson, there are two wolves inside us all, a good wolf, and a bad wolf, and they are fighting all the time. The good wolf is love, compassion, courage, generosity, fortitude, discipline, laughter and every worthy virtue a human being is capable of. The bad wolf is anger, hatred, laziness, jealousy, envy, greed, sloth and other vices a human being is capable of.’

The grandson looked at the old chief and said. ‘But grandfather, if they are fighting, which one wins?’

‘The one you feed is the one that wins,’ said the wise old chief.

Which one are you feeding?

Our life experiences can cause us to doubt our ideals and our basic moral beliefs when we feel like a victim. It’s not hard to see how some experiences might feed the “bad wolf”. For many of us it might seem easier to feed the bad wolf, giving in to negative wants and giving up on virtue. To do so is to become a victim of yourself. To lose your moral compass is to lose yourself to fear.

What do you need to do now that you know this? You can choose the way you think and what you focus on. You can shift from wants to expectations. Let your feelings be your guide. If you are feeling down, upset, angry or frustrated; change your mind. If you don’t mind it won’t matter.