Why does our state of being matter and what can we do to influence it?
“Once you change your internal state, you don’t need the external world to provide you with a reason to feel joy, gratitude, appreciation, or any other elevated emotion.” -Dr. Joe Dispenza
Being All Zen is the art of consciously choosing our thoughts and feelings so that we can experience motherhood and life with ease and enjoyment.
What Being All Zen is NOT
Before diving into the what, why and how of this, I want to clarify that Being All Zen isn’t about only experiencing positive thoughts and emotions. We are spiritual beings having a human experience and as such we will succumb to human conditioning, patterns, behaviors and yep - negative states of being.
Being All Zen is not about reaching some state of perfection where sadness and worries don’t exist. It is about mastering our awareness and having the ability to move lower vibrational emotions through the body and release lower vibrational thoughts from the mind. Thus creating space for the intentional bodily emotions and mental thoughts that will create the state we wish to experience.
Levels of Consciousness
In order to fully understand how we can purposefully choose and direct our state - and therefore the way we perceive and experience reality, we must first understand the different levels of our own consciousness.
Within the capacity of our human mind there are 3 distinct layers to our consciousness. A common metaphor used to help understand these layers is that of an iceberg, where a small fraction is above water, some is below the surface of the water but visible from above and some is so deep it cannot be viewed from the water's surface.
First there is our conscious mind. This is what we are aware of at any given moment. It could be a daydream we are having or the sound of our fingers tapping on the keyboard. We could be focused on an event that occurred in the past or be paying attention to what is happening right now.
In the iceberg metaphor the conscious mind is the part that is sticking up above the water. It is what we can clearly see.
The conscious mind is where we have the agency of free will and the ability to make decisions beyond our conditioning and ingrained patterns. The conscious mind is where we have the capacity to form new habits or direct our thoughts and feelings in an intentional way.
While very influential and ultimately extremely powerful, the conscious mind is also quite limited. This is because we can only hold so much within our conscious mind at any given moment. It is estimated that of the inner workings of our minds, the conscious mind only makes up about 5% of what's really going on.
The subconscious mind can be thought of as what is just below the surface. Things within the realm of the subconscious mind are aspects of our experience that while not immediately under focus, can be brought to our attention.
A primary example of this is the breath. We are not always noticing our breathing, but we can bring our attention to the breath and either simply hold it in our awareness or choose to influence and change it using our free will.
Other examples of what resides within the subconscious are certain memories, like the birth of a child. You aren’t always thinking about it, but the memory is such that you can easily draw it forward and perceive it with great detail.
Learned skills are another resident in the subconscious. You don’t have to think about driving a car because you have mastered it to the point of no longer needing to give it your full attention. You can however teach the skill to someone else, which requires pulling forth the information and bringing it into your conscious awareness.
Subconscious programming, like driving a car, usually runs on autopilot. Just because we can bring it to our attention doesn’t mean that we often do.
Lastly, buried in the deepest depths of our psyches is the unconscious mind. Biological functions run through the autonomic nervous system, such as digestion and the fight/ flight/ freeze or fawn responses are controlled by the unconscious.
The unconscious is also where we store our beliefs, or what we hold to be true. This could be the belief that the sun always rises each morning or the belief that our father never loved us and therefore we are unloveable. It doesn’t have to be concretely true for us to hold it as a belief in our unconscious mind.
We can keep thoughts, feelings, memories, aspects of our identity - all deeply undercover in the unconscious. The automatic reactions we have to certain tiggers, the self righteous behaviors that keep us rooted in our belief systems along with the prejudiced interpretations we make about people, places and things all run from the programs of the unconscious.
Some avenues for exploring what is held in the unconscious mind are dream interpretation, hypnosis and mindfulness meditation.
Dream interpretation attempts to use the language of literal symbolism to draw forth messages from the unconscious.
Hypnosis creates an altered state of consciousness by lowering brain wave activity. This altered, trance like state creates an opening into the unconscious.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of noticing thoughts and emotions as they arise into the conscious mind, which overtime can expand one’s awareness, in effect lowering the water level on the iceberg so that what was once in the realm of the unconscious can be raised up into the subconscious where we can then access it.
So How Do We Be All Zen?
Refining the artistry of consciously directing our state requires work! Being All Zen is not a quick fix or an overnight solution.
The first step in using our agency of free will to determine how we think and feel is to become aware of how we think and feel!
This is easier said than done. How many times have you gotten caught up in some hypothetical scenario playing out in your mind? While it may feel as though we are directing the daydream and are in control, our thoughts, feelings and state act more like a loop than a straightforward equation.
If we have fallen into the habit of thinking jealous thoughts which then cause us to feel envious of others, thus creating a jealous state of being, that in turn will create more jealous thoughts and more feelings of jealousy, perpetuating the cycle.
So to stop the feedback loop and change course, we need to maintain a certain level of awareness - or “stay awake” to what is transpiring to create our state.
Getting + Staying Awake
Probably the most tried and true methods of reaching this alertness of attention is meditation and mindfulness practice.
Not what you wanted to hear? Neither did I for a long time, but once I added meditation to my routine and started implementing mindfulness practices throughout my day, I started to become aware of so many thought patterns and emotional hang ups that were keeping me in negative feedback loops and impacting the ways I was experiencing the fleeting phases of motherhood and my life.
Check out this post full of resources to help you establish your own meditation practice.
Moving Out of Negative States
Once you are beginning to become more aware of the habitual ways your mind is falling asleep, a.k.a. following thoughts and holding on to emotions that result in an undesirable state, you can begin to direct them using your free will.
So say for example you begin to catch yourself when you have a thought like, “they have it so much easier than I do…” Rather than following the thought and adding fuel to the fire so to speak, you can simply choose to let the thought go or redirect it to a more desirable thought such as, “everyone has challenges, I am just better able to witness my own.”
When you find yourself feeling a lower vibrational emotion, such as resentment, you can then take a look at the thoughts behind the feeling to remove the energy source as well as channel the existing energy through and out of the body. Emotions are energy in motion, so it is important to allow for release on a regular basis, whether through exercise, allowing a good cry when needed or whatever works best for you.
If thoughts are the language of the mind and emotions are the language of the body, then the breath is one of our greatest translation tools between the two. When we are feeling caught in a storm of negative thoughts and feelings, harnessing the power of the breath can help to balance out the nervous system and in effect, bring the conscious mind back "online" allowing us to make choices outside of our habitual programming.
Choosing and Creating a Desired State
Steering your mental and emotional ships in the direction you want also involves having a clear vision of where you are heading. Take the time to make a to-be list!
Ask yourself, who is it that lives the life I desire? What are their traits? Are they patient? Compassionate? Generous? Once you have a list of the ways you wish to be, you can practice choosing the thoughts and feelings that will lead to that state.
You do not have to wait for real life circumstances to practice these traits. In the middle of your child’s tantrum is not the ideal moment to start working on being more patient. Instead, use your imagination to envision yourself being patient. Come up with the thoughts that fuel feelings of patience within you.
Your brain, the wiring and firing that is the malleable hardware to this whole system, can not tell the difference between real life experiences and imagined ones. So the more you practice from a neutral, non-triggered, conscious state of mind, the better equipped you will be to follow your desired route in moments that spark that survival response.
Let’s Be All Zen
As I said, this is not a quick fix! It takes time to expand our awareness, it takes effort to install new programming into our sub and unconscious minds. This is not a simple weekend project that will overhaul your life. This work is ongoing and requires endless maintenance.
But it is worth it. It is so worth the time and effort because not only will you feel more at ease and better enjoy the moments of your life, but it will impact the people closest to you and around you as well. With each of us doing this inner work to be the conscious captains of our states, it won’t just be us that’s better, the world will be too.