Continuing in this series, we delve into the neuroscience of what we know about the brain and the impact work has on the brain as well as understanding particular areas of the brain and how they function to help us in different areas of life. In this episode, we discuss:
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Your Brain on Health & Wellness
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Debra Maldonado 00:01
Welcome everyone to another session of Soul Sessions with Creative Mind. Today's topic is the brain on mind body. We did the brain on success, the last week we did the brain on love. Now we're getting into the body. We asked in the brain on love, what's the real question? The real question for love is how do I have lasting love? That's really why we would want to understand this. But the question for the brain on mind body is how do I enjoy my body while I have it in this life? That's the question we're going to try to answer today. We're not just going to teach you what the neurons are. We're going to actually help you understand how you can live in this body and enjoy your life in this body.
Robert Maldonado 00:59
What was the question for the brain on success?
Debra Maldonado 01:05
What is success? What does it mean to be successful? Is it to have a lot of money, acquire a lot of things? How do I have true success? We talked about purpose being that. Next week, we're going to be talking about the brain on God. We're doing all of the major parts of life. But today, we're talking about our favorite topic, the body mind, and what the brain has to do with our body.
Robert Maldonado 01:41
Let's jump right in. We'll start with what the research from neuroscience says about the brain and its interaction with mind. This is pretty current research. Neuroscientists have been looking at what's happening with long term meditators. Because if you want an example of people that are actively working with their mind, what's going on in the brain is really impacting the brains. We could think of the brain as the hardware, the physical wetware of the three pounds in our skull. The mind, in this case, is the idea of meditation, the idea of going inward, of working on the mind directly, and we'll talk more about that as we go along. But some of the findings are incredible. Long term meditators, meaning people that do more than weekend meditations or anything like, some of these people were are monks that have spent 20-30 years meditating on a day-to-day basis, hours and hours meditating. But they also have found that even a few weeks of meditation begin to affect these changes. What are the changes that are going on? When we look at the brain through the MRIs and the functional MRIs, one of the things that has consistently been found is that the hippocampus, which has to do a lot with learning and memory, begins to grow. It begins to grow and to function better, of course, meaning you have better memory, better recall of information you've stored in your brain. It's improved by simply paying attention to your mind.
Debra Maldonado 03:59
What's the benefit of having better memory?
Robert Maldonado 04:14
In this in this sense, it helps you retain information better. If you think about what is learning, learning is retaining information and being able to call it up when you need it to problem solve.
Debra Maldonado 04:30
So the more information you can retain, the more understanding you have about yourself in the world.
Robert Maldonado 04:36
You can function a lot better in your job and your relationships. The other one is the amygdala. The amygdala is very deep in the brain structure, it's part of the limbic system, which is the mammalian brain, it has to do with fear, fight or flight. In other words, that fear reaction that helps us survive. What happens there, when you look at long term meditators, is that the amygdala actually starts to shrink, which means you're not as fearful. You're not afraid. But in practical terms, you're not as anxious.
Debra Maldonado 05:27
So that helps the body because it's always in fear and anxiety
Robert Maldonado 05:32
The amygdala is the body. It activates these different glands in the body that release adrenaline and different neurotransmitters to help us survive.
Debra Maldonado 06:02
Do you think that in the modern men amygdalas are very large? Because there's a lot of stress, people in the fast paced Western world, do you think their amygdalas are really—?
Robert Maldonado 06:17
Some of the research indicates that most of us are chronically stressed. The system was designed to quick activation, run away from the danger, get away from it and then relax. Whereas constant stress, chronic stress, you're always on high alert, your system is revved up all the time. The amygdala is overworking and it gets used to being on high alert.
Debra Maldonado 06:46
So when someone has a PTSD, come back from a war or something happens to them, amygdala would be the function of the brain.
Robert Maldonado 06:57
That's part of it, you can think of it as being left turned on because of that traumatic experience. Now when they hear a loud sound, it reminds of the trauma, or the life threatening experience they went through.
Debra Maldonado 07:16
They have dreams about it, or they think about it and obsess about it. The mind doesn't know the difference between it's really happening and what it's remembering. It gets stuck in a way in that process. Meditation is really great for that as well.
Robert Maldonado 07:33
We'll talk more about how we work with amygdala. We have these both very deep structures in the brain, the hippocampus, which has to do with memory learning, and the amygdala, which has to do with fear and the fear response. But also long term meditators have an increase of functioning in their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is that part of the brain right in front, behind your forehead. It is what distinguishes us from most apes. If you ask what is the difference between a chimp and a human being, it's the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is really what has allowed us to create computers and jet planes. But when you talk about ADHD, when you talk about OCD, impulse control problems, you're talking about a dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex, it's not doing its main function, it's unable to direct the rest of the functions of the mind like memory recall, attention, it's not able to do it well.
Debra Maldonado 09:11
I've heard it was called traffic, it directs the traffic to the rest of the brain. But if it's not too strong, the gate is open, it's more chaos. Some people have that experience of feeling very chaotic. Is this why when we are really upset emotionally that we lose our logic? Prefrontal cortex, the impulse control say “Relax that's just a post on Facebook. It's not gonna threaten your life”, but you get all upset.
Robert Maldonado 09:51
Remember the conversation we had on love. A lot of the hormones and neurotransmitters associated with attraction and falling in love override prefrontal cortex. We're not able to make decisions in a clear, logical way. The executive functioning, as it's called, allows us to really take control of our own mind. That's a great ability to have. When we don’t, we can't really make decisions in a clear, logical way.
Debra Maldonado 10:29
We have this default, we've basically been conditioned, a lot of people talk about conditioning and programming. Each of us has our own unique way of how the brain has been structured to respond to the external, that's our default. Some people have a higher tolerance for pain and stress, and for other people, one little thing can set them off. That's based on a lot of factors, not every human being is exactly the same because we all have different genetics and different environments. We grew up in different cultures and different spiritual disciplines that are culturally influenced how we see the world.
Robert Maldonado 11:22
It's called the default mode network, these parts of the brain that light up when we're not focusing on anything. We're not doing homework, we're not intently focusing on our work. We're driving to work. We're on autopilot. These parts of the brain then come into play. That's why we often drive somewhere or drive to work, the routine, without even thinking about it. And we do it well.
Debra Maldonado 11:59
We get in the shower, we do our routine like “Did I shave my legs today?” I don't know. I can't remember because we're just on autopilot.
Robert Maldonado 12:08
Bigger implications is for art and sports. If you think of what people call the flow. If you overthink it, you're interfering with what your body knows to do, and to do well.
Debra Maldonado 12:24
Like Simone Biles experienced in athletics.
Robert Maldonado 12:27
When the prefrontal cortex and other logical part of the brain kick in, it interferes with these networks that are already good at doing what they do. You interfere instead of helping, you're overthinking it.
Debra Maldonado 12:47
You're trying too hard. If you're trying to rationally create something, creativity comes from more open flow than practical, step by step, logical steps. Creativity comes in a lot of different ways. A lot of people talk about musicians. When they come up with their pop, like The Beach Boys, they came up with their pop. And that one person, Brian Wilson, he was wanting to do something completely different. It was so illogical, but that's what creates, he was in the flow versus doing the formula. I also think when it comes to personal growth, one of the things that Jung says is that when you're approaching personal growth, there isn't a formula because everyone's so individual. If you approach it in a formulaic way, you're actually overthinking it, you're getting in the way of a natural process of creative transformation that's happening within you.
Robert Maldonado 13:58
By the same token, when you do want to concentrate, meditators are better able to direct the mind in this way so that when they do want to focus, they're able to shut everything off and focus intently on that one subject or one point. That is a very powerful tool because if you think what distinguishes successful people from people that are not as successful, it's the ability to focus.
Debra Maldonado 14:36
You need both. You need the focus but also you need to know when to let go of it. It’s that not too tight, not too loose. You don't want to be completely unorganized, but you don't want to be so tight up that there's no room for flexibility.
Robert Maldonado 14:54
If we look at all the data from neuroscience and say “What is the point to, what is the benefit of meditation?” it's the ability to choose how you're using your mind at will, which is an incredible idea. Instead of letting your mind go by the habits of the circumstances of your environment, which condition the mind. We know conditioning is always impacting the way we behave.
Debra Maldonado 15:29
So can we make a distinction between the brain and the mind?
Robert Maldonado 15:34
That's what we need to figure out because the mind body problem as it's known in psychology, is this particular question. How can these neurons which are cells, physical cells in our brain, create what we call the mind which is our experience of the world, ourselves, our thoughts, our dreams, our emotions? There's no logical way to explain how the brain does this.
Debra Maldonado 16:08
The mind isn't just thoughts. A lot of people think that my thinking is my mind. It's a lot more. Now we're talking about the mind body which is the intelligence, the psyche that's driving all the traffic in our bodies and our experience and our dreams. Would you say the brain is the tool that the mind uses? The mind doesn't arise from the brain, the brain arises within the mind.
Robert Maldonado 16:47
Let's back up a little so we don't confuse people. Let's look at the biology, let's stay on what we're able to observe and what we know, what science agrees on, and what we can agree on. We know we have a brain. Hopefully everybody has a brain and it's working relatively well. We know if the brain is damaged, meaning the physical part of the brain — if I'm in a car accident, and part of my brain is lopped off for some reason, I know my mind isn’t going to be functioning the way it was before the accident. I'm going to have to figure out things in a new, different way. But there is this power the brain has, called neuroplasticity, meaning that it can re-learn to do these things with whatever capacity is left.
Debra Maldonado 17:49
There was one where a girl had half a brain, or she had a tumor so they had to take it out, and they thought she wouldn't be able to have some faculties. But then the other side of the brain basically filled in all the details for both sides, acting as one which means that the brain itself isn't the end. There is another consciousness that has the information. It's not in the physical.
Robert Maldonado 18:19
That's part of it. A big part of the mind body question is precisely that. How can the brain recreate the mind again, or attempt to recreate the mind the way it existed before it was injured or damaged? This sets up the mind body question, the mind body problem. If you think of a tiger, for example, you know that image you hold in your mind of a tiger is not going to hurt you. You intuitively know “I'm imagining it, I'm thinking about it, I'm experiencing it, but it can't hurt me.” Whereas if you perceive a real tiger, it's a totally different experience. What’s going on in the mind and in the brain? In neuroscience they say, it correlates, that is, when you imagine a tiger, certain parts of your brain light up, including the fight or flight system. But of course, your higher functioning is able to override it and say “You're imagining it. Don't run.” Just like when you're watching a movie. You're caught up in the action, you're putting the logical reason on pause to be able to enjoy the movie and go along with the story. But you know it's not going to hurt you, I know what's going on on screen isn’t able to hurt you. We can think of the brain as the body, or part of the body, and the mind is the thoughts, the subjective experience that we're having of the world and ourselves in the world.
Debra Maldonado 20:38
It's like the interpretation of emotions because emotions aren't really— we have sensations in the body, then the mind creates the labels and associations. We're not really feeling emotion in the body, we're feeling a sensation, the mind is processing the feeling and interpreting. That's where a lot of people think they feel the emotion in their body. But actually it's in your mind, your body's just feeling something. Your mind is telling you if it's good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant based on that experience.
Robert Maldonado 21:18
At the biological level, we know, and you can verify it for yourself, because we've all experienced worry. What's going on when we worry is our mind, not our brain, but our mind is running through all these worst case scenarios. We're thinking “What if the worst happens? Am I ready? What will I do when this this terrible thing happens? What am I going to do, it's going to play out this way.” We know it will impact the structure of the brain, it will cause the amygdala to start to grow and be more active.
Debra Maldonado 22:10
We're training our own brain to worry. Then it gets in the habit of worrying.
Robert Maldonado 22:17
That's right, because now an overactive amygdala will also create more worry. There you see why it's so important to work with the mind in order to start to train our brain to work in a proper way where it helps us. If we leave it up to our past experiences, all those little traumas and difficulties that we experienced in the past are going to be dictating how we see the world right now.
Debra Maldonado 23:02
Like we're still living the past in the present.
Robert Maldonado 23:04
Whereas if you're able to use your mind, use some of this knowledge to reshape your mind, then you're able to train it in a proper way. This is called neuroplasticity, or self directed neuroplasticity.
Debra Maldonado 23:28
So we're basically we have neuroplasticity already, we're always constantly learning. We go into an environment and our brain is processing and picking up things, learning something new. Every time we read a book, or you're listening to this podcast or watching a video, your brain is basically opening up new ideas, so it's constantly evolving. But what we want to do is not just leave it up to the brain to just be like “I think I know what that means based on the past.” We want to be able to direct what we want it to mean and what we want to step into, who we want to be in the world through that. For me there's a lot of when I first became a hypnotherapist, a lot of reprogramming. There was a lot of that retrain your brain to think positive, to stop eating, I would do weight loss and quit smoking. Is that what you're talking about here?
Robert Maldonado 24:28
Pretty much. There's a whole spectrum of brain training or brain reprogramming programs and techniques that have existed from a long time ago. Yoga is one of the best researched and best known methods of retraining your mind body or using your mind, your higher faculties to have an impact on your body and reshape your brain in a very direct way.
Debra Maldonado 25:07
So the question is then, what decision we’re making. Is it directed from the ego, I want to use my brain capacity to lose weight, so I look more attractive, or I want to use my brain capacity and train it to think more positive, so I can make more money, I want to use my brain capacity to feel more confident, so I can find a relationship. Those are great things and tools, but then you're only staying at that ego level. You're assuming that the prize is really just getting the goods out in the world, and you're defined by those goals. There needs to be another level. I mean that's a really great, it's great that we have that tool, we can direct our mind, we can train our mind. But when we talk about the spiritual element of the mind body, what's possible for us that we can not just rearrange the furniture, or what I would call ego rebuilding or reframing, or re programming the ego. How can we transcend and go to even a higher level of being in the world than just making sure the mind body feels comfortable and has the delicious things in life? There has to be some other level that we can go to.
Robert Maldonado 26:34
There we're leaving the realm of biology and entering the realm of psychology, because now you're talking about the ego, which is like our phones have apps that help it function. Our mind has an app called ego that helps us interface with the world, with the environment.
Debra Maldonado 26:59
It's an app that is a part of the operating system, we have a little app. How would you define the ego?
Robert Maldonado 27:08
It gives us a sense of identity, a sense of self, I'm an individual and I can make decisions. When I look at the environment, it's separate from me. Then I'm stepping into that environment and interacting with it as an individual. But it's the app that's given me that sense. It's very much tied to the brain function. When we ask is that app really telling us or giving us true information about what's going on up there? Or is it more like a subjective experience that helps us survive? It's the latter, it's a subjective experience of ourselves that helps us interact with the immediate environment.
Debra Maldonado 28:07
If we're programming our mind from that survival standpoint, of when I get that partnership, I'll feel safe. If I have enough money in the bank, I'll feel safe. If I have the right body, lose 10 pounds, I'll feel better. There's some security in there. Even our health, of course, when we're unhealthy, we feel unsafe, we feel like we're going to die. There's that natural mechanism of self preservation. But it’s only beginning way to work with the mind and self direct. I always call it the step one of self awareness. We do need to go into understanding our mind and that we can create our reality and create things that are maybe ego based, just to get started. But once we learn that, there's another level to go to. How do we operate outside of the app? What's the other app that we have?
Robert Maldonado 29:11
In Jungian terms, the ego’s function is to create a persona, to create an avatar. To follow the computer analogy, reality is the environment that we're moving in, the virtual environment. We create the avatar from the ego in order to have an identity within that virtual reality that we are interacting with. There's nothing wrong with it, we don't consider that pathological in any way. That's what we're meant to do to interface. Because, remember, in the beginning of the series, we said it's always a brain environment interaction that we're talking about. The brain cannot be understood on its own, without understanding its environment that it evolved in, that it grows in, that it moves in. That function of interacting with the environment is really important in the mind body because it gives us a sense of control, I'm making decisions, I have free will in the environment. But it's an illusion essentially. Because we are so conditioned by our past experiences, like learning, we're not really making free will decisions. It appears that we are, but we know from neuroscience that our brain is reacting to the environment and making the decision before we're conscious of it by about eight seconds on average, before we are aware that we've decided something.
Debra Maldonado 31:14
But then the ego takes credit for the decision.
Robert Maldonado 31:17
The ego makes a rationalization as to why we decided that, and then it fits in.
Debra Maldonado 31:27
If you've ever made a bad decision, look back how your mind tries to rationalize how you made that bad decision. Why did I get in that relationship? Why did I invest in that thing I didn't like, or buy this car that was way too expensive for me or not nice enough or something. Why do we do all that? We can drive ourselves crazy trying to think about how we made that decision and beat ourselves up for that decision. But that makes it easier that we didn't make it, the ego didn't make it, it's part of our karma, what we're really seeing is much deeper than you like. I think it's freeing in a way from guilt and shame when we make bad decisions, because we know we didn't make them consciously. But then also it feels powerless because then we're like “Who is making that decision? How do I tap into that decision making process so I can create the life I want?”
Robert Maldonado 32:31
We look at some of the most advanced systems like the Upanishads and the yoga philosophy of the mind body. What they were saying is that as long as you're not perceiving the truth directly, you're essentially projecting your own conditioning, your own assumptions, your own past experiences unto the present moment. Then you're not seeing reality, what you're seeing is your own conditioning. In a sense, you're creating your own reality by bringing all that baggage of past experience into the moment. It's very much tied to karma, what was in the so called karmic imprint, or your stored up karma, you're bringing it into the present moment.
Debra Maldonado 33:32
For example, if you're worried about something that hasn't happened yet, what you're really doing is your mind is bringing in all the karma from what you believed in the past about what may be the worst case scenario of what can happen, you're creating a hell in your mind before it even happens. They call it pre-suffering. Have you heard of that? You're worried and you're already suffering. How many times have we done that, where we worried so much and spent so much of our energy suffering, when everything turned out okay. We all wish we can go back to our younger self and say “It's gonna work out, you're gonna be fine. That problem that you thought was so big when you were 10, or 12, or 17, or 30, you're going to overcome that.” But in the moment we're playing off that, we're making a world or perception of a world that is not really real but is an experience that we're having, that's taking us away from the true nature of reality. It keeps us stuck in this idea of suffering.
Robert Maldonado 34:44
We're essentially just replaying the old programs that were instilled in us by conditioning. And the mind is doing its job. We don't consider even that pathological because that's what it's meant to do. It's meant to help you learn from your past experiences. If it happens again, you're ready, you learned it. You learn the lesson. The only problem is that if you never get to the point of consciously retraining your mind, you're stuck there, you just replay the same old patterns. What Jung would say, you're stuck in the persona, you're thinking “I am the persona, I'm this app or this avatar that I created for myself. That's as far as I go.”
Debra Maldonado 35:44
So you're saying the solution is to retrain the mind? But isn't there a higher level that you want to go to than just think positive?
Robert Maldonado 35:56
What retraining your mind will do is it'll give you a direct experience of the true reality.
Debra Maldonado 36:07
Reprogramming or training your mind to be more conscious?
Robert Maldonado 36:14
Retraining or reprogramming will open up your eyes.
Debra Maldonado 36:24
You have to learn to perceive, the brain is the organ of perception. What we want to do is retrain the brain to perceive the world differently.
Robert Maldonado 36:38
Yes. To understand what is perception, what is the nature of perception.
Debra Maldonado 36:44
This is more than just “I don't love myself — I love myself” reprogramming. That's what I'm trying to distinguish. People think reprogramming is just— I used to think that it was just thinking positive thoughts, feeling positive emotions, having positive energy, programming myself to be more positive.
Robert Maldonado 37:11
But here we're leaving the realm of psychology and entering the realm of spirituality. Because you're talking about consciousness. In consciousness is not the mind. This is a big misunderstanding in the West. When we talk about thoughts and emotions in the West, we're used to thinking of that as consciousness. If I'm thinking that means I'm conscious and I'm using consciousness. But in the East, which has a much more sophisticated way of understanding consciousness, that is not consciousness. That is the human mind you're talking about, human experience of memory and perception.
Debra Maldonado 38:01
I think people confuse conscious mind to consciousness. I think that happened on one of the other podcasts we had, someone asked that question. We're conscious, there's a conscious part of our mind that’s our awareness of ourselves and our thoughts. Then there's consciousness, which is more one consciousness, the soup that we live in, everything has consciousness from the Eastern perspective.
Robert Maldonado 38:31
Think of it as of a fish in water. We are fish in the water of consciousness, ocean of consciousness. We live in it, we don't see it. Because if you ask a fish what is this thing called water, it would say “What water? It’s just the way things exist. It's just the way I live.”
Debra Maldonado 38:59
In order to see consciousness, we have to be outside of it, to see it. But there's nothing outside of consciousness, so you can't really see it. That's the tricky part.
Robert Maldonado 39:12
In the Upanishads, it says that it doesn't have any qualities. That's why you can't see it. Anytime you try to see it, you have to give it a name and a form. Anytime you are talking about name and form, you're talking again about the mind because that's how we use the mind — to perceive form, name things, identify things. That's part of where meditation comes in. The true aim of meditation is not stress management or relaxation. Its primary aim is to realize that pure consciousness at the center of your being. A lot of it is more about letting go instead of acquiring something. A lot of people think it's kind of a special state of mind that I need to acquire. No.
Debra Maldonado 40:13
That you have to reach it, but it's already there. It's just that our human mind is covering it up and distorting our self perception.
Robert Maldonado 40:22
The road inward is about de-identifying with our ego, with our persona, with that avatar we created to interact with the world. Not to get rid of it but to understand its nature that that's not who we are. It's a tool that we use.
Debra Maldonado 40:45
Just like our body and mind isn't who we really are. There's something more to us.
Robert Maldonado 40:50
At the spiritual level that makes sense. As we learn to understand the nature of our bodies and our brains, what they're doing and their function, we're free from that misperception and misconception that we are the body and we are the brain. We are those things but those things exist within us, not the other way around.
Debra Maldonado 41:17
When we think about the amygdala, back to the biology of it all, if we realize that we are that consciousness, that we're not the ego, wouldn't that change the quality of the amygdala because we wouldn't worry so much? You're like the ocean of consciousness and this cork that's bobbing on the top of the ocean, the ego is like that cork that's being pushed away by the storms and the waves, it has no ability to self direct, it's just reacting to life versus you’re the ocean. Then you can support the ego and enjoy. We don't want to get rid of the ego because this app that we have helps us have wonderful food, relationships, experience pain, joy, sex, abundance, see beautiful things in the world, hold a baby, all these wonderful experiences, love another person. We want to have ego experience because it has the duality. But we also don't want to think that that's it, because if we do, we're only happy half of our life. We're only happy when everything is good on that side. Having the higher consciousness helps us dance in the duality, but also not get so attached to it that we define ourselves by it and that make us suffer. The amygdala shrinks not because these monks were less stressed, they probably were, but they were less stressed not because they were meditating. They were less stressed because the meditation led to the self-awareness that there's nothing to worry about instead of retraining your mind to say “Don't worry, everything happens for a reason.” You're seeing this beautiful truth that shall set you free. That's the whole idea. If you're not free, you're seeing a distorted reality.
Robert Maldonado 43:46
That's a great point. Also these monks, their function is not just to meditate. That's not what you're looking at when you're looking at a monk's brain. They're also learning. They're also reading about consciousness and about the mind. They're feeding their higher knowledge of what is the nature of reality, then meditating on those things. A lot of the mistakes we make in the West, we think the techniques are what's having the impact. The techniques are nothing without the philosophy, without the right understanding and use. It's like a tool — if you don't know what the tool is designed for, you might be able to use the tool but you're using it in a very primitive or limited way.
Debra Maldonado 44:47
I remember Ram Das said that for the first 26 years of meditation he was meditating on his delusions and wasn't really getting anywhere. He was just thinking about his mind. Finally realized that he was not using the technique, directing it in the way that it was meant to be directed. Let's take it down to practicality, mind body. People want to have healthier bodies, they may be struggling with weight, or anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, and even auto immune diseases, like physical pain and cancer. The first step would be to start believing that you can self direct the body. The very first level is just believing that the body can heal itself, training your mind to believe in the possibility that you can affect your body through the power of your mind. The next level would be realizing that you are more than just the body. The first step may be just that the mind can direct it. But the higher state would be that you're not the body ultimately, that you're this great higher consciousness, a part of something bigger, there's nothing to fear. I think the spiritual philosophy of losing the fear of attachment to the body actually helps the body heal. There's even research on that, when we get into relaxation response, the body automatically goes into homeostasis. The body knows what to do to balance itself. A lot of people will talk about, just like when I did hypnosis for pain management, they said a lot of it is just getting their mind away from focusing on the pain, then the body will do what it needs to do. But when we focus on the pain, what happens is the mind is directed on the pain and amplifies it. We end up with an untrained mind where we feel pain in our body, we have a backache or stomach ache, then we think about it. Migraines is all about the mind. I always tell people if you have a migraine, put your feet in hot water because then you are focusing your mind on your feet, you're bringing that blood down, your attention to another part of your body. We could start doing that on a functional level. The next level is that you know you can control your body. Let's see if we could transcend it and get to this place where we're not a prisoner to our body and a slave to how it reacts and feel that it's doing something to us versus we can be in control of it, our brain, our urges, our focus, all that.
Robert Maldonado 47:44
I love that that movie and book “The Life of Pi”. For those of you who haven't read or seen it, The Life of Pi is about this boy who is shipwrecked. He survives on a small boat. But a tiger manages to get on the boat with him because they were on a ship that was transporting a whole zoo full of animals. The tiger happens to jump into the boat. So now he's stuck in the middle of the ocean with this tiger onboard. If he doesn't learn to tame the tiger, the tiger is gonna have him for lunch. That's very much the situation with us, we have this very powerful mind that is able to create our reality and the way we experience the world. But if we don't manage to train it to find a way to coexist with it in a harmonious way or in a leadership way, because he learns eventually to tame the tiger. What is the alpha element in our mind? It is that self directed ability, that self reflective ability, in some traditions it is called the Buddha mind, or the Buddhi. It is the intellect, the ability to observe our own mind, our own behavior, our own emotions. That capacity has to be expanded, cultivated, so that it becomes the dominant force in our mind. Then it is able to tame the rest of the functions of the mind and bring it under control. Otherwise, the tiger is going to eat us for lunch. It’s going to dictate to you what kind of relationship you're going to have, what kind of work you're going to do, etc. It eats up our life, it eats up our time on earth, we don't get to find happiness, fulfill our purpose, because the tiger is dominating us.
Debra Maldonado 50:13
I want to say that a lot of people think about changing their thoughts. When you say retrain, I know I would think that thinking positive is the goal to retrain. But what you're saying is retraining isn’t thinking a certain way but perceiving yourself in a certain way. So you're training yourself to see as the higher self versus the ego, that's really the training, not the content of your thoughts, or the content of your emotions. It's that self realization that we're really trying to train our minds to achieve.
Robert Maldonado 50:57
In trying to be practical and trying to think in terms of where do we start, we have to start with this idea of “My mind is torturing me by causing me fear.” Like the boy in the boat was afraid of the tiger in the beginning, he was terrified. He knew that if the tiger was set loose on him, he was going to have him for lunch. So he had to find ways to survive, first of all.
Debra Maldonado 51:34
But I think that some people are terrified of their negative thinking. They get into this pushing away of that negative thinking. Like the tiger is our negative thoughts or anger, and we got to get rid of it versus understand it. It's more retraining our perception of it versus retraining it to be different? Perceiving it differently, so then it appears differently?
Robert Maldonado 52:05
Yes. But I think that initial reaction is part of it, we have to suffer a little bit. We have to experience that fear and dread a little bit so that it motivates us to find a way. Because otherwise, people tell us “I'm doing fine, everything's going great, why would I want to change? Why would I need to work with my mind?” They're not motivated to change. Whereas those of us that experienced hardships in early life, we know we were going to have to do something, we're going to have to take the reins of our mind if we want to get out of this alive. It prompts us to do the internal work.
Debra Maldonado 53:00
I think I'm talking about attachment, we are attached to our minds being a certain way so we can get things. Retraining our mind to find love or to find money. We can get caught up in the attachment to that training. Beating ourselves up if I have a thought or worry about money and saying “No, I'm creating luck in my life.” I have to train my mind to think positive. That's what I'm talking about. It is more than seeing the bigger picture versus just attached to it.
Robert Maldonado 53:35
I'm a little bit more tolerant because I've made all those mistakes. I was very much attached to getting it right and thinking positive, doing it right and appearing to others to be spiritual. I think it's just part of the process to go through, like layers of conditioning, layers of ego.
Debra Maldonado 54:01
It's like stage one. Like I said, that first stages learning that you can actually change your mind. But there's also that other level of that's not going to be enough for you. Because eventually you can get all those things but then there's also this other place that you can go.
Robert Maldonado 54:19
And that's where mentors, teachers, coaches come in, so that we can avoid a lot of the mistakes by listening to good teachers, good mentors. They've gone there before, they've gone through the process. Of course, most of us still don't learn, we have to experience it ourselves and make those mistakes ourselves. But if we persist, then we find a way to work and to coexist with our mind.
Debra Maldonado 54:50
Our mind isn't always going to behave, so it's this constant. Like the tiger. You have to constantly be on alert because the ego, the app that we're with, is still going to do what it always does. It's always going to go back. It's about that balance of understanding that we're not the ego.
Robert Maldonado 55:10
Back to the metaphor of the boy and the tiger, he didn't want to kill the tiger. He could have at some point because he understood “If I kill this tiger, I kill my soul, my essence. He represents this.”
Debra Maldonado 55:28
He felt one with the tiger. We’re together on this boat. It's like a metaphor of we're in the same boat, basically, you're a part of me.
Robert Maldonado 55:40
We have to take care of our mind body, nourish it, respect it, but at the same time, we have to use our higher faculty of consciousness to train it, to dominate it, to learn to direct it.
Debra Maldonado 56:00
Not being such a harsh judgment of ourselves when we are caught up or worried, to feel like I got to stop this bad habit, beating ourselves up for our habits and only praise ourselves when we do well. It's to open up a whole wonderful experience of loving the ego and understanding its nature.
Robert Maldonado 56:27
That's an interesting point because ultimately, a lot of this distinction between the true self in us and the mind body is leading us to understanding that there's no difference. But in the beginning, because our perception is so split that we think I'm inside this little body, and the world is out there, we have to work in that respect that the higher faculty is training or reshaping the brain and the body. But ultimately, then you realize, there's no difference. We are the self, and our body is the higher self as well, because our bodies are also made of awareness and consciousness. It's ultimately one. But to get there is that journey of transformation. Somebody is asking what happens to our consciousness when we die. Here again, we're leaving the realm of biology, psychology, and entering into mysticism or spirituality. The Upanishads are the best guide for that. The Upanishads say, if you think in terms of what is it that you're experiencing when you're alive in this world, there's two main principles. One is completely still, clear, and eternal, which is the true self. The other one is always changing, moving, morphing, which is called Maya. You have these two opposing principles, one being completely still, eternal, and one being completely the opposite, always moving and morphing. If you think, what is this body made out of? Maya. It's the appearance of things. It's always morphing. What survives and what is eternal in us is that still point, that true self, it is eternal and indestructible. The appearance of things are our mind body. It's always morphing.
Debra Maldonado 58:57
It's almost like we die every day in a way. The person we were last year is no longer around, the child we were is no longer around. It's not in this reality anymore. Unless we carry the memory and live there. It's like we die every night when go to sleep, we go into that pure consciousness and come back and we just pick up where we left off.
Robert Maldonado 59:22
They say, in your individual experience, that eternal power, that immutable part is called the atma. The atma is indestructible. It's eternal, so it doesn't die. You never die. You were never born, not in the temporary sense. It's an appearance of Maya. It's a beautiful play, dance, because Maya translates as magic, as dance, as power. It's the powerful dance of creation that we're witnessing and the witness mind is that atma. It's the one that is able to observe all these changes that we go through.
Debra Maldonado 1:00:07
We can experience it right now by being aware that we're watching. You're aware that you're watching a video here, or listening to our audio here. That awareness is who you are, there is a great story you tell a lot about the king who has very rich and very powerful. He has a dream one night where he has lost everything. Enemy came and took everything away, he became a slave and was destitute. He wakes up the next day and goes “Oh my God, that was so scary.” He went to the guru and said “What was real? Is this world real that I'm the king, and I'm powerful, or was my dream real, that I have nothing?” The guru said “The awareness of you awake and the awareness in the dream is only thing that's real.”
Robert Maldonado 1:01:02
He said “Neither one is real, neither your dream that you experienced destitute, or this reality of where you're the powerful king. Neither of those are the absolute reality. They're Maya, they're part of the appearance of what is true and absolute. What is real is your awareness of those things.” That one is constant, it's able to observe us being destitute and think in terms of “What's gonna happen to me in the long run, I'm gonna die.” It's also able to observe ourselves as powerful rulers of the world in our power and our glory.
Debra Maldonado 1:01:52
If you think about just your life, your body has made all these changes, the environment has changed. But there's an awareness of yourself that's always been there, that constant. That's the true self.
Robert Maldonado 1:02:05
In meditation, what we're doing is we're resting in that absolute reality, that's why it's so peaceful. That's why it's so restorative, because we're using our mind to look inward to that absolute reality and resting there instead of trying to find out in the external ever changing Maya of the world.
Debra Maldonado 1:02:35
And the last question “Is soul another word for consciousness?” I guess it depends on how you define soul. But that would be the atma?
Robert Maldonado 1:02:43
In the Upanishads, it says the atma, the individual essence in you, is identical with Brahman, what is the universe or consciousness, the ocean. There is no difference. That's why in some interpretations people say “You are God.” Because the essence in you, your awareness in you, is the absolute creative power of the universe. It's an incredible journey. But again, this is not just an intellectual realization, what they're talking about is you actually having a direct experience of that. That's the realization.
Debra Maldonado 1:03:44
Great. We're going to talk about the brain on God next week, to end our series on social neuroscience. We want to invite you to subscribe to our YouTube channel, just push the button below where our little icon is. You can subscribe so you can make sure you don't miss any episodes. We are here every week. Also don't forget to subscribe to us on Spotify, iTunes, where you listen to your podcast, so you can make sure that when we come live you don't miss an episode. We enjoy having you here, and we will see you next week.
Robert Maldonado 1:04:34
Next week, your brain on God, join us.
Debra Maldonado 1:04:40
Take care. Bye bye.