Brainy Adaptation: Make It Work With You

If you’ve ever tried out meditation or the other tools I’ve suggested on the blog, you’ll likely have noticed unexpected sensations arising or will otherwise have experienced emotions bubbling up.

The sensations can be surprising for some, or experienced as uncomfortable for others. Or just plain whacky. Here are examples of some of the possibilities:

  • Surprising: Suddenly feeling anger or sadness when all you were doing was focusing on your breath or in an area of your body.
  • Uncomfortable: Experiencing fear that the emotions that might bubble up will be overwhelming. Or just feeling fearful about meditation or meditation-adjacent practices in general.
  • Whacky: Starting to giggle or laugh right out loud, followed by getting shivers, followed by [insert any other seemingly unrelated emotion or sensation…] while meditating.

In the post on bringing your consciousness to different areas of your body, I discussed that emotions and energy are held in the body. When you start meditating, it’s natural to become more conscious of your whole self. This means you start to notice all of the thoughts that have been on autoplay/repeat in the background of your heart, mind and body for years.

Autorepeat: A snapshot of your brain’s ability to adapt

It’s not a bad thing that you’ve had thoughts or perspectives on repeat. That’s just how our brains do their best to serve us. By making decisions more efficient, by setting them on repeat in perpetuity.

It’s like if you use one of those list apps for your groceries that allows you to set staples that you know you need every week on automatic repeat for your shopping list. Or if you have a subscription to a favourite consumable through Amazon so that you get automatic reorder and delivery.

Our brains do the same thing for actions (or inaction) that we do repeatedly. It’s called brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity.

This is the brain’s ability to make new connections and rewire itself to respond to new demands the person places on it. It’s about the brain providing adaptation and efficiency to allow the person to respond to new environments and new situations that result in new activities.

Ways this can serve you

Your brain’s plasticity means that as you take up new activities or new habits, your brain will rewire and make new connections (including your central nervous system) to give you enhanced ability to do those new activities.

It’s why practicing an activity (like piano, public speaking, writing, sewing, meditating, anything!) is a thing. Regular practice of anything tells your brain that this is an area in which you need more firepower.

If you continue with that regular practice, your brain gets the hint and rewires those new connections for you.

It’s how meditation results in reduction of the unhealthy over-connectedness with the stress centre of the brain (the amygdala) to leave you with less anxiety and only the necessary ability for fight-and-flight

It’s how you can improve existing skills and knowledge, and how you can learn anything new. Yes, anything, and there’s a whole literature on learning new things, but that’s for another post.

Ways this can be of disservice to you

Okay, cool…good to know my brain is super adaptable, but what does that have to do with my uncontrollable laughter and simultaneous sobbing everytime I start breathwork??

This brings us back to the purpose of this post.

While our brain’s efficiency is an amazing thing, it can also present a challenge.

Efficient wiring of our brains and central nervous system may have served us at some point in our lives when we were in a particular environment or situation.

But that wiring may be irrelevant to us now, or worse—it may actually be negatively impacting us.

The issue is that it’s natural for our early learning (of life, not just schooling) to have lasting impacts on how we see the world. Even if you had a nurturing, amazing upbringing, every single person has experienced moments that have taken you aback as a child, or were otherwise formative memories. Regardless of whether you now remember it.

For example, as a child, a good friend may have been playing around and somehow hurt you. Maybe they tricked you into giving them a toy that they really wanted to play with.

Or maybe they said you were going to play hide and seek but then they locked you into an enclosed space or they simply stopped playing hide and seek and you were left waiting for ages.

Maybe you were playing, and they/you both broke something, and then they let you take the heat for it.

Protection mode is real

As adults, it can be easy to shrug off those instances as insignificant childish moments, but in those moments, those experiences are real, and our brains seek to protect us from ever experiencing those negative situations again.

Our brains may want to protect us from the betrayal we experienced at trusting the person who took the toy we were playing with. To protect us from the sense of being trapped or abandoned. Or to protect us from being blamed unjustly.

Betrayal, abandonment, helplessness, isolation, injustice. These are all very real experiences across the globe on a daily basis. So it doesn’t matter that a “tiny memory” from childhood doesn’t logically seem like a big deal now. 

What does matter is to identify whether it has been subconsciously on autoplay in your brain.

What does this have to do with weird reactions arising?

Shifting from established patterns

When you do something that is a diversion from your go-to reaction, it creates discomfort because you’re not following the established, efficient plan. You’re shaking things up. Your brain believes it has wired itself to protect you, so it throws up warnings.

It’s like starting a new job and asking “Why do we do things this way?”. The response being, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” The organization hasn’t been around for eternity. The original template was established at some point, whether or not the established process is effective at this point.

Any attempts to make changes (even to organizations that are all about “failing fast” and “innovation”) create discomfort—or chaos.

No different from how your brain responds. I believe this example is just a microcosm being played out in our economic and social world, of what happens inside everyone’s minds.

Awakening dormant emotions and energies

Another reason odd feelings and reactions can arise when you start doing self-healing and meditation is that you’re also starting to prod all the emotions and energies that were stored throughout your body. Those can begin to surface when you start reaching into core, unresolved or unhealed issues.

It’s exactly like doing a cleanse or a detox. If you’ve ever done a cleanse or detox, you know that for the first few days, you feel like crap. Tired, sluggish, odours, skin breakouts. Not fun. But this is, in fact, just part of the cleanse. All the toxins that have been stored throughout the body are being prodded and moved out of the body.

Energy and emotions are no different.

Starting self-healing and meditation is like going on a cleanse energetically. The first while may feel uncomfortable, unpleasant or unexpected. But if you stick with it, those things that no longer serve you (toxins/old energies) are brought to your attention so that you can move on from them.

How to help the energetic/emotional toxins release

You’ll need to decide whether you genuinely want the release old patterns.

You may not want to, and that is completely a valid decision. Just be honest with yourself about what you want.

You can still meditate and benefit from anxiety-reducing effects of mindfulness and other tools without being willing to grow or change much.

Just don’t expect life-changing positive effects without being willing to in fact change your life.

Facing what bubbles up

My earlier post on how to process difficult news explains how it’s important to move with emotional energy instead of resisting it.

If you know you want to release old patterns, know that you do have what it takes to do so.

Your inner wisdom never brings up what you’re not able to handle.

If something is coming up for you, then there’s no time like the present to explore what’s going on, to let go of what no longer serves and embrace what will.

There is a variety of ways to do this. Find what works for you and play around until you do. What has worked for me is to consciously nurture my emotions, while also actively reflecting to move myself forward.

Here’s the approach I have found to be effective

1. Speaking the words to yourself you needed to hear

Check out the book referenced below, by author Matt Khan.

The idea is that as an emotion/memory/feeling arises, you say to it, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

You can also say to it whatever words you never heard at the time that you really needed to hear.

2. Regularly reflecting in a structured way, to rapidly and successfully work through new learnings and goals

I have done this through the use of moon reflections. There’s a post on why syncing your reflection work to a nature-based cycle is useful and some guidelines on how to do it. 

If you find it would be helpful, I have also created downloadable moon ritual reflection bundles to make it easy for you to get started. 

However you choose to go about your reflection, I recommend incorporating some structure to it.

Regardless of how you proceed, remember that your higher consciousness only reveals to you what you’re ready to face. And those layers usually involve some discomfort.

The place we grow, the place we find ourselves, we find when we take on that discomfort head-on.

References

These books have been helpful resources for me. As usual, find what works for you.

  • Whatever Arises, Love That by Matt Kahn.
  • Bio-Spirituality: Focusing as a Way to Grow by Peter A Campbell and Edwin M. McMahon

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