In the blog-post I shared titled, 'Calming The Mind', I suggested that in order to find our best shot at healing from our psychological traumas, we're best to agree with ourselves that it's important to learn to become consciously aware of our thinking.
There are many who written about the human condition who agree. I acknowledge here all who across human history shared these words, or words similar, to point out how important right thinking has become for me:
"What we think . . . We become."
I've learned that to tackle my own symptoms that present as troubling behaviours often, I first must tackle the thinking that's attached to the behaviours: symptoms of anxiety can still get in my way sometimes when triggered enough to take away any steps of remission I might have gained. So this 'thinking' thing, remains on my plate from time to time needing attention.
This is not an easy task, getting in touch with what one thinks. Given that conscious thought-awareness can elude us in our efforts in the beginning to be well, we need some guidance into how we can best learn how to do that. With an understanding of what it means to be meditative commonly accepted by many to mean, 'getting rid of thoughts':
I've found this inaccuracy keeps us-beginners shy in terms of making a decision to give such things a try.
I speak here of learning to meditate. When I first was drawn in this direction, I held the same beliefs about meditation that many of us do. I believed the purpose of meditation is to silence our thinking in the mind. With a life-time of practice, I suppose this remains part of the deal with meditation. In the beginning, what I learned made a whole lot more sense for this beginner:
The purpose of learning meditative skills, is to learn, first, how to observe our thinking (thoughts) as they come and go. We are to learn how to listen-in on these thoughts without attaching any meaning to them-judgement, so to speak, about whether or not the thought that goes by even holds any validity.
With some education and now a couple of years of practice (supported with some study of Buddhist Philosophy), I've come to learn that much of our thinking is insidiously silent enough already. Having become for us something more like subconscious programming of the brain, it's this silent thinking that drives the majority of our behaviours,
I can agree with my friend, Charles A, that our silent-subconscious can often take us places we don't really even want to go.
Here's how Charles put it to me in regards to the silent subconscious.
He shared a story of getting himself ready for work one day, packing up his mining gear, his food, clothes he needed and the like. From there, he lived close enough to the workplace to walk himself to the job. He found himself sullen, shoulders slumped over, and his head was down enough, he started watching his feet as the legs moved him step-by-step towards the job.
What came next was a revelations for him, Charles says:
"I looked down at those feet, and I stopped to ask them a question. 'Feet?' I questioned. 'Why the hell are you taking me again to someplace I don't even want to go?'"
When he shared this story with me, he shared a light-bulb moment with me that's stuck ever since.
The lesson is this: We've a ton of learned-already stuff that's stored in our brain below our conscious awareness. When we repeat behaviour patterns enough times, the brain learns what it needs to carry out such commands as 'walking to work' by rote. Only when we address the subconscious processes, as Charles did with his question, will we find any way at all to challenge the 'program' (so-to-speak) in a way that can bring upon some changes.
It is estimated that our conscious mind can process, only 1-3 bits of information coming at us at a time as we meander around in our living environments. The conscious mind is said to fire at a rate of 40 bits of information per second.
On the other hand, the subconscious processing capabilities are expanded. The subconscious (our "autopilot") processes 4 Billion bits of information per second and can manage to interpret thousands of events. This ends up creating a challenge for us as we choose to develop greater conscious awareness of our thoughts, beliefs, and conscious choices-all which leads to decision-making and behavioural action-when we first start to work on repair of our trauma-damaged mind.
If we can think of the brain as a computer (it isn't-the brain is more powerful) think of conscious thought as the writing of our software to operate the programming we experience day-to-day, ultimately. Our subconscious, acts as the completed installation of the programming.
The subconscious brain (mind) then operates much like a computer might on autopilot, taking in a ton of information at once, processing it all, near-silently and immediately. Then the subconscious triggers the thoughts and behaviours necessary to complete any task or to take any action towards 'doing something' we need to do as part of typical life.
When we walk as adults, for instance, without falling on our back-sides or bouncing off-of the walls-this is driven subconsciously. When we drive, after learning how to get that done without putting ourselves in harms way, this too is subconscious stuff once we've learned how to drive.
With these two simple examples: does much conscious thought go into our walking or driving once we've learned how to do such things?
No-we seem to do both rather automatically once we've learned.
This is what living through our subconscious programming (stored away, learned memories in the brain) can be sensed by us to be.
Think about it. When we're learning anything, we receive "input" (sensory information). We interpret and calculate the input (both consciously and sub-consciously) in using the brain. With that accomplished, we produce "output" (any given behavior our bodies might perform in response to the input we've received). When all this is seamless and functional, we've little problem carrying out what we've learned once it's drilled in as second-nature.
When this process is confused by our experience with trauma, we operate with a computer (subconscious mind and processes) that has been corrupted, for analogy's sake.
Trauma, in terms of programming us (learning) teaches us to subconsciously remain on alert for future threat, when the traumas aren't dealt with correctly, which is why we end up then struggling with PTSD.
Via our traumas, we've LEARNED what out here in the big-bad-world could threaten our well-being. With that drilled into the subconscious, the brain and body fire with any perceived evidence of threat. Threat that's real or otherwise.
Anything coming at us in the form of 'triggers' from the environment we're living in, for us, it's our symptoms that tell us we've connected with our trauma-driven, learned-conditioning again. As I shared in prior posts, memory-recall of traumatic events alone can set this off for us inside.
Because the subconscious is firing so rapidly in terms of processing information (4 Billion bits/second); it becomes a major challenge to hear the thoughts driving the reactions we experience, post-trauma, living with PTSD.
Prior to our experience of trauma, this way of living on auto-pilot didn't create too much trouble for us in terms of behavior. Up until our time of injury, for instance, we'd likely grown to a point in which we were no longer giving "thought" much attention at all where our day-to-day behaving is concerned.
We'd learned to walk in many ways over our lives prior to trauma, those of us traumatized as adults, that is. For those who've suffered the oft horror of Adverse Childhood Experiences, this analogous programming was put upon us in childhood when the brain was naturally developing, which makes the subconscious stuff more deeply ingrained.
This is how the subconscious works.
We're hungry? We eat. Or, it's noon-therefore, it's time to eat. Whatever life-stuff we do, once learned, isn't any longer carried out by our conscious mind and conscious processing in the brain.
I would suggest, that this may be one of the major issues in trauma. We'd taken it for granted that things were a particular way in our lives-we'd learned what life is, or were taught in childhood by less-than-helpful teachers.
We grew comfortable with those ways; and we lived our lives accordingly.
We'd learned how to do life, When we were directly traumatized, it's because what we'd learned prior to trauma, didn't have anything stored away in the subconscious for the brain to respond with.
Thus, the level of hurt and confusion we experience at the time of trauma that floods our system (the body) with so much stress-chemistry. Chemistry more powerful than any street-drug circulating in the black-market today.
When the trauma came knocking at our door to eventually haunt our lives, the brain was simply too overwhelmed with information to cope with the processing. Under stress, our traumatic memories are "super-learned" memories. These memories take over the mind and body, as we attempt, naturally, to make sense and to re-frame our experience.
Post-Trauma, making sense of anything is incessantly difficult for us to do.
With automatic, instant behavioral processes going on for us, as the brain has programmed any number of stimuli we took in at the time of traumatization, thinking through certain actions seems impossible: which it is. With PTSD active, our 'what should scare the shite' out of me brain, and our, 'let's see this through rationally' brain, no longer are in sync.
In fact, studies suggest, the thinking brain we need is shut down when our symptoms are active. Those I've studied suggest that when we're dealing with active PTSD, and other mental health issues for that matter, the thinking we hope to be able to do, can't be engaged as it's becoming biologically impossible for us to do.
Think of it this way-for those stricken, as well as for those visiting who simply want to learn about this stuff:
Have you EVER, personally, been empowered to think clearly and rationally through any decision-making if you're in a state of panic or fueled by anger?
If you're like me, I suspect you can understand what I'm hinting at. Thus why PTSD-Brain makes it difficult post-trauma for us to learn practically anything we try to learn at all. Thus, again, the why I attach to my encouragement of others to seek-out right, trauma-informed clinical care.
I found that until the day came when I found such care and could face-down the trauma with safety and right support, I remained stuck with a reptile's brain, dictating to me that I needed to remain in survival-mode, which until some of the traumas were released, made learning, for me, extremely difficult.
I've come to accept this as truth:
Across our lives, we form memorized patterns of thought, which create habits that translate to behavior. We act out these habits day by day, leaving us to believe that thought is no longer necessary (totally unconsciously-we're little aware this is happening).
Once we learn anything, thought is no longer a part of our behavioral equations, post-learning.
Thought is there, running silent the show we put on as we live. When thoughts are firing below our conscious awareness, we simply aren't in a position to hear these thoughts as we might when we make a conscious choice to think about something-like reading, for instance, which is a conscious choice and process you're engaging to consciously think right now using words.
It's said, via Cognitive Behavioural Therapy principles, that if we are in emotional discomfort, living with anxiety or depression, for instance, our thoughts are focused either to heavily on past information (creating the depressed state) or too heavily on imagining future events coming in our lives (creating an anxious state).
Some thoughts, of which, have no basis in fact often. I've uncovered now many times that what I might believe, isn't always accurate. Sometimes, not whatsoever accurate. I think we all can relate to our symptoms making it difficult to remain 'with-it' sometimes as engage in any current-moment-by moment, present reality.
A key to our recovery, lies in our ability to develop thought processes that are more mindful; Thinking that is based on living in the "now" moments of life, consciously.
This is the challenge I personally took on in my own recovery: To learn ow to think and live in such a way as to remain focused upon my present reality, no longer distracted by the memories of my trauma-past, and no longer taken in with any imaginings that are about what can only be an unknown future.
How can we achieve this practice of taking charge of our thinking?
I won't lie to you, it's long, arduous, trial-and-error, very tough work to get though.
I'll say as well, however, that doing the work, will prove itself over time in terms of value.
We learn to practice, mindful living-That's what I agreed with myself about 5 years back to learn how to do.
It's a learning curve, but worth the effort. So, please, at the very least, consider taking a shot at learning how to get there.
To help share knowledge of developing a mindful practice, to aide our psychological recovery from trauma, let's meet, Jon Kabet-Zinn, through this biography from Wikipedia.
Zinn is the pioneer of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
After reading the article, consider taking some time to learn about Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Sttress Reduction from other sources.
Here's a couple of links to start:
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Health-Link BC.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: What It Is and How It Helps: Psychology Today.
Below is a 72 minute talk, in which Kabat-Zinn discusses Mindfulness with staff from Google. His gentle, teaching approach, brings a softness to the experience. The lessons he shares, will become priceless, as we all agree, who are dealing with trauma issues, to work our recovery towards an experience whereby we're more empowered to remain present, in the reality of the moment.
With Zinn's help, we can begin to construct a daily practice of mindful, relaxation; create a better lasting sense of peace; and learn, as well, a technique to assist us as we develop ways to self-regulate our emotions in daily life.
One of BC'S clinicians who treat trauma issues, works with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, in combination with Equine Assisted Therapy. I fully trust Dr. Sandra de Blois, having witnessed her skill personally. She came my way highly recommended by my brother in the cause, NAFFVN'S, Shannon Pennington (Former Fire Fighter and now my Peer in the cause).
Through recovery from our trauma experience, the gift of mindful living will support, along with other tools we'll pick up along the way, leading us as far out of the darkness of our past as we can get, into the light of the present-if we agree to allow it to do so.
Mindfulness Practice in my experience learning this, is powerful in assisting creating balance for us, as we march on into the unknown future more fearlessly (with less anxiety).
Always keep in mind, that the information shared here is for educational purposes only, and is no substitute for professional guidance.
For those who want to give a course a try: Visit Palouse Mindfulness for an Eight Week (Free) introduction to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
While you are here, please take the time to visit the Charter for Compassion (a partner) and consider signing the pledge they share that reminds us to remain compassionate first towards ourselves, which will lead to a stronger sense of compassion for others.
Thank you for stopping by. . . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory: Curator, The Trauma Recovery Blog
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.