How your brain might be holding you back…Pt2 (science)

In my previous post, I mentioned Napoleon Hill and Maxwell Maltz. These two, along with others, talk a lot about the Subconscious mind, and the power it holds.

In recent years, researchers have discovered where this amazing, yet elusive thing resides. It’s called the Reticular Activating System.

Reticular Activating System

Sounds important, yes? Well, in is. While the name simply means that it’s a web-like structure of neurons that activate something, what makes it important is what it does for you.

The RAS is a web-like structure of neuro-pathways located where your spinal cord meets your brain. It’s responsibilities are to control your level of awakeness, and to filter input from all of your senses, except smell. (Smell goes directly to the emotional center, which we wont talk about today.)

Imagine that you’re in a crowded waiting room. In a corner is a muted television. There is also an aquarium. It’s a warm spring day, so a window is open and a ceiling fan is turning slowly overhead. Behind the sign-in desk, someone is doing paperwork.

As you sit, scanning your phone or reading a magazine, you dont really notice what’s happening on the TV, or the sounds of bubble pumps in the aquarium. The outdoors sounds from the window dont bother you. Neither do the moving shadows from the fan. Shuffling of papers behind the desk are simply part of the background.

Then, in a whispered conversation around a corner, you hear something that sounds like your name. You hadnt noticed the people talking before, but now you’re listening. Are they talking about you, or was it some other word?

That’s your RAS at work. What if it hadnt filtered out all those irrelevant noises? How overwhelming would it be?

In a nutshell, the Reticular Activating System removes unimportant stuff, while notifying you when something important, like your name, comes up. The basic function of this bunch of neurons is to keep your reality as normal as possible, so you dont go crazy.

In the moment, it filters out things that might distract you from your immediate purpose, but in your life, it plays a much bigger role

From the day you were born, it’s been programmed with your deepest beliefs about life, the world, and yourself. If you believe life is hard, it will filter out things that say otherwise. If you believe the world is brutal, it does the same thing. So, if you believe your not good enough, too stupid, ugly, it will work to reinforce those beliefs.

Let me reemphasize that:
Your Reticular Activating System works to support your deepest beliefs about the world, life, and who you are.

That’s why some people seem “lucky”, while others cant seem to catch a break. If you believe that the world is full of opportunities, the RAS is going to open up and send you all kinds of information about opportunities that surround you.

Contrariwise, if you believe that life is a struggle, filled with almost insurmountable obstacles, those are precisely the messages that the RAS is going to reinforce.

See, the RAS just wants things to be normal. What ever that means to you is what it will support. Your core beliefs are what it will protect.

Now comes the interesting part: You can train it.
How does it know what to filter out?

To train it, you have convince it that things are different. That means you have to change your beliefs.

Next time, we’ll talk about what that means (and it has nothing to do with religion).

Thanks for tuning in.


How your brain might be holding you back…Pt 1

…and what you can do about it.

When I was a teen, a series of detrimental events left my father unemployed, unmarried, and broke. He’d been a successful manager in a large computer company and things had snowballed. You know the story.

One winter night, we quietly loaded up a trailer and moved out of our apartment in Denver, and drove to a mobile home park in Oklahoma. It was a stereotypical place, and our trailer was not in good condition, but it didnt leak and the heater worked.

Dad spent his days job searching, and we spent our evenings playing cards around a tiny table in the kitchen. Each of us kids had a bedroom, and Dad slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room.

At one point, I asked him, “Dad, what are we gonna do?”

He looked at me calmly and seriously and said, “I dont know, Son, but I do know that five years from now things will be completely different”, and I believed him.

I grew up in a home where anything was possible. Dad subscribed to the teachings of Napoleon Hill, Maxwell Maltz, and Jesus. If you can imagine a thing, and believe it, you can accomplish it. Selah!

Five years later, he had moved back to Denver and was living in his dream home. He had a new car. He’d also bought my sixteen year old sister a car. He was making more money than he’d ever made, in fact, more money than most people made. He was back in the computer services field as the Western Regional Manager. His territory was everything west of the Mississippi River. I honestly dont know how many people were under his authority.

You see, my father knew the secret of creating his own reality, and he taught it to me.

In the next few posts, I’m going to share that secret with you (and it really isnt a secret).

Morning Mindfulness

Recently, on VagabondStew, I posted my morning routine. As I was posting, I realized that it really is a meditative and mindful time. From the moment I wake up, until I’m in the driver’s seat rolling out, there are several times when I take time to notice the moment.

My time living in the forest, has helped me to become more mindful and aware of what’s happening right now.

Dont get me wrong. I do spend time imagining the future. Building a comprehensive image is vital to achieving the imperatives. Still, in order to function best, I also need to stay anchored.

Making my bed, for instance, is a time to focus, paying attention to pull the sheets and blankets tight, tuck the sheet in on the side, smooth out the pillows. I notice the different textures of cotton and wool, pillows and mattress, areas that are cool or warm.

This is important because it puts my mind into a task focused mode, along with the immediately tactile dynamic. I am grateful for this wonderful bed that I have.

Another way that my mornings are mindful is in the time I spend sitting or lying still on my bed, melding into my environment. I notice what’s happening around me – sounds, wind – and feeling the calm that comes with that. Again, I express my gratitude.

When I step out of my little sleeping pod, into the world, it is still dark. The million stars shimmer overhead. Some mornings it is frigid cold and I dont have time to properly take it in. Most days, though, I can gaze up. Naming familiar constellations, I wonder about the names of other stars.

At the same time, I attend the feel of the air. Is it brisk, or soft? Are there fragrances and what are they? I notice sounds, if there are any.

Up on the mountain, things are usually quiet, so early, but as the days lengthen and light creeps into the sky sooner, birds will waken and sing. I once found a moose standing in the midst of the meadow, just before dawn. Always, I am grateful.

Feeling and expressing gratitude is one of the most important and fundamental ways that we can build a more fulfilling life. If we arent grateful, we cant wonder why there’s so much negative in our lives.

Check out the post on VagabondStew.

If you’d like to learn more about bringing more positivity into your day, click over to the Contact page and drop me a note. I’ll get back to you quickly.


A Summer Afternoon in 1972

This is the first time that I’m cross-posting between these two sites. Please, let me know your thoughts about this way of sharing.

On my travel page, VagabondStew, I posted an article about a hitchhiking trip from Dallas to Denver. (Ellie Hoskins article, to your right.) It relates the story of an afternoon I spent talking with an an older woman, as she prepared me a meal. What I want to do here, is to relate that story to mindfulness and illustrate some ways that I’m learning from Ellie Hoskins, even forty-six years later.

Out of respect for her, and the etiquette of her time, I’ll refer to her as Mrs. Hoskins. She was a beautiful and gracious woman, who took time out of her day to entertain an adolescent stranger in her home, and to make him feel important. I am grateful for Ellie Hoskins.

On a late July day, in 1972, Mrs. Hoskins sat on her porch, enjoying the shade and watching the cars go by. As she did, a young man came walking up the sidewalk, wearing a broad brimmed hat, carrying a homemade pack made of corduroy. “Mornin’!”, she called, little knowing that she was about to make a life-long impression that would affect countless others, in time.

If you’ve read the story, then you already know what she did and how grateful I was, and still am. Here’s the way that I interpret that story today.

Mrs. Hoskins was a mindful woman.

Although that term was not used at the time, as a traveling Methodist minister, she had undoubtedly spent many hours in prayer and meditation.

She knew who she was.

Considering her own frailties and her place in this world, even at eighty-six years old, she knew who she was, and didnt hesitate to express it.

Time in meditation and walking mindfully can also help us come to understand who we are, and how we fit into our own worlds. If you’re religious, you’ll find this in the words of scripture.

She was not hesitant to be kind. We shouldnt be, either.

It may sound cliché to say, but Kindness is one of the most important attributes to develop, if you want to be happy. Acting kindly immediately releases serotonin, which makes you feel good.

A consistent practice of kindliness reduces stress, which is good for your heart. People who practice kindness are less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Think about it.

In your meditation, today, think about Ellie Hoskins and others like her. Who has shown you kindness? Have you expressed your gratitude for them? If not, I’d encourage you to take a few reflective minutes. It’ll be good for you.

Be the Leaf

Leaves in the Stream…

Most modern humans see things from a self-centric viewpoint. It’s what we’re taught from birth. When things go wrong, we’re supposed to look for a lesson or reason. Most of the time, though, there isnt one. Life is just happening, and we’re there.

I believe that we move as participants in the flow of Life, rather than the focus — proverbial leaves in a stream. Floating downstream, the leaf is not the point. Nothing the stream does is for or about the leaf. Flowing over stones, between the roots of trees, plunging over waterfalls, these would all happen just the same if the leaf werent there. Life is like that. By accepting that this flow is neither for us, nor about us, we can let go of the guilt and responsibility of “doing it right“. By simply taking an objective viewpoint and moving in harmony, we are free to enjoy each moment for its own wonder.

However, if we perceive that everything happens with us in mind, life can be overwhelming. We begin to ask, Why me? Am I supposed to learn something from this? Should I have done something differently? Then guilt climbs in, and regret, and depression. While I believe that God exists, and is involved in our lives, I dont think that all of reality is customized for each individual. In most cases, something simply happened and you were there when it did. Most of the time, things arent about us. They’re just part of the flow.

Understanding this has freed me from the guilt and regret that I used to experience. It  leaves me free to float, accepting what is, and to respond in whatever way seems best. I’m grateful for that.