Excerpt: The Science of Mind Management by Swami Mukundananda
This book charts the paths towards mastering the different aspects of the human mind. This edited selection is from the chapter on Positive Self Talk and Affirmation
We have seen how we are what our mind is for our consciousness is tied to it. Therefore, we need to purify not just the top layers of the mind but even its innermost depths. When we get down to cleaning it, we will realise that it is far deeper than we had imagined. Just as the ocean is immensely deep below, with tiny waves on the surface, the mind too has its conscious and subconscious aspects.
We are aware of the conscious mind, for we observe its negativity, fluctuations, and mood-shifts. But we do not understand that ninety per cent of these perturbations are inspired by the subconscious mind of which we are not even aware.
The Subconscious Origin of Our Attitudes
The subconscious mind is a huge memory bank carrying images, experiences, grudges, phobias, and endless other events and emotions from the past. It is like a bottomless well; there are no limits as to how much it can store. These subliminal memories from the past influence our conscious thoughts and attitudes. For example:
A four-year-old girl got stuck in an elevator. She was alone and had no one to turn to. She felt extreme fear, isolation, and uncertainty until she came out of it. The distressing incident was experienced by the conscious mind. As the months went by, the girl forgot about the event. Nevertheless, its memories remained in the subconscious and continued with her into adulthood. Even now, when she enters a car, she feels claustrophobic. She cannot figure out why she has this irrational fear of closed spaces, and hence, cannot overcome it.
This mechanism does not apply only to phobias. It is also true for many of our other attitudes, likes, and dislikes. The subconscious mind is like a child — it holds memories and creates sentiments, but it cannot logically reason whether they are beneficial or harmful. The conscious mind is aware of these feelings and sentiments affecting it from deep inside but is often unaware of the source from where these arise.
Sigmund Freud referred to the subconscious mind as the ‘unconscious mind’. He went to the extent of hypothesising that the unconscious mind has a will and purpose of its own, which cannot be known to the conscious mind, and hence, termed it ‘unconscious’. He considered it a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions thrown out of conscious awareness by the mechanism of psychological repression.
Modern psychiatry sanctions the use of hypnotherapy to regress patients to earlier stages in their life under the spell of hypnosis. Such guided regression of patients with the help of certified hypnotherapists enables patients to discover the source of the troublesome behaviour in their past experiences. Once the awareness comes in the conscious mind, they are able to stop the distressing behaviour with remarkable ease.
The Deep Roots of Our Attitudes
Our nature and attitudes often have their roots in past lives. Thus, some people are naturally diehard optimists while others are hopeless pessimists.
As an example of the former, take the case of Arunima Sinha. In her youth, she was a sportswoman of moderate accomplishment. In November 2011, she was traveling by train from Lucknow to Delhi to participate in the National Games. Unfortunately, at night, robbers entered the train and began to ransack the passengers with abandon. Arunima, being of fiery spirit, put up a resistance. This invoked the wrath of the thieves, and to inject fear in other passengers, they took the harsh step of throwing her out of the moving train. Poor Arunima fell onto the parallel railway track. As luck would have it, at the same time a train was coming from the other side, and it went over Arunima’s leg, shearing it below the knee.
The courageous girl lay on the track all night with one leg cut. In the morning, nearby villagers discovered her and took her to the nearest medical facility. When the news appeared in the media, it caused a national uproar. Arunima was airlifted to Delhi and treated at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). An immediate surgery was performed, and she was given an artificial limb. That was the end of her volleyball career.
Arunima’s dreams of entering the national women’s volleyball team had been dashed to the ground by the cruel hand of fate. But such was her indomitable spirit that it refused to be suppressed. She said to herself, ‘I cannot succeed in volleyball, but I will still succeed in life.’ She soon learned that Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest, was conducting classes in mountain climbing. Arunima decided that this would be the field in which she’d make her mark. She completed the course on mountain climbing, and in May 2013, attempted to scale the highest peak of the world.
On the way up to Mount Everest, the party was caught in a snowstorm, and the loose snow caused her artificial leg to come off. Arunima sat on the snow holding her leg in her hand, while the climbers in the line behind her urged to be given way. She quietly moved to the side, alone in the snow, and then gathering courage, put back her leg and continued the ascent joining the rest of the party. On 21 May 2013, she became the first woman amputee in the world to climb Mount Everest.
When we hear tales of such courage and determination, we wonder what is the source of valour of people like Arunima? Did she develop all her inner strength and courage in this life itself? That seems highly improbable since she possessed it from youth.
At the other end of the spectrum, we also come across examples of people who have a hopelessly pessimistic attitude. Their mind does not believe anything good can ever happen to them, and their pessimism seems to work like a wish-fulfilling prophecy, as they move from debacle to disaster in their life.
This wide spectrum of human attitudes is not the result of mental thought patterns developed in just one life. They are the consequence of images and impressions in the subconscious from many past lifetimes. How, then, can such a vast and deep mind be improved and controlled?
Ongoing Self-Talk in Our Mind
We have seen the subconscious basis of conscious attitudes. The subconscious stores data, retrieves it, and passes it to the conscious. It has the potential of a double-edged sword. It can be our worst foe and cripple our personality with its debilitating attitudes. But it can also be our foremost benefactor and provide inner strength through never-say-die positive attitudes.
The problem is that the subconscious can only create sentiments and feelings, but it cannot reason logically. And that is why it gets us into trouble with illogical fears, likes, and dislikes. If we wish to make the subconscious our friend and partner in life, we must be very careful of the inputs we consciously pass to it. The intellect and the conscious mind must train the subconscious and diligently seed it with positive assertions.
For instance, if we wish to programme our subconscious with positivity, we need to consciously seed it with positive thoughts and prevent contaminating it with negative thoughts. If we wish our subconscious to help us become fearless, we ought to indoctrinate it with thoughts, such as: ‘God is with me. There is nothing to fear.’ or ‘He takes care of all the living beings in the world. Why will He not take care of me?’
This brings us to the topic of self-talk, which is the act of consciously speaking to ourselves within our mind. The self-talk gets passed to the subconscious. One person repetitively thinks, ‘I am sick … I am sick … I am sick.’ Consequently, the subconscious becomes convinced of the state of ill-health. It then repeatedly tells the conscious mind that it is feeling unwell. Another person repeatedly thinks, ‘I am getting well … I am getting well … I am getting well.’ Accordingly, the subconscious firmly begins to believe that the body is well. These feel-good thoughts are then supplied abundantly to the conscious mind.
Some people ask the question: Do we talk to ourselves? Well, I have seen people speaking to their billiard balls: ‘Come on … just a few inches more. Aah … you did it!’ When people talk to billiard balls, what is so surprising about speaking to themselves?
I was once staying in a devotee’s home. Suddenly a commotion began in the room upstairs. I went up to see what the matter was and was amused to see the person’s three-year-old son playing with his toys. He was having a gala time and was speaking to himself all the while. Now, as adults, if in the same fashion, we spoke out aloud to ourselves, we would be considered insane. It is crazy people who mumble to themselves while walking down a street. To avoid such a label, we have learned to engage in self-talk silently.
For example, let us say you are talking to someone. Alongside with the discussion, you engage in self-talk, ‘This person is speaking too much … I am bored now … He does not know what he is talking about.’ This is the constant mental chatter that our conscious mind indulges in. And our subconscious unintentionally becomes programmed by it.
Using Self-Talk to Programme Our Mind
If our self-talk is negative and pessimistic, it permeates down to the subconscious and our personality becomes cynical and miserable. It is not uncommon for our inner voice to be our own worst enemy. It is the tormentor in the head that is incessantly punishing us and draining us of vital energy. Instead, if we use the power of affirmations to our benefit, we can programme our psyche in very positive ways.
Sports persons and athletes have always exploited the power of self-talk. For them, a hundredth of a second improvement in their performance can mean the difference between a silver and a gold medal. Consequently, they strive to bring their bodymind-intellect to a state of peak performance. To accomplish it, they repeatedly speak to themselves.
The legendary Muhammad Ali’s indoctrination of himself with ‘I am the greatest’ is well-known. However, his is not the only example of self-talk amongst champions. Practically all sports champs at the higher competitive levels stimulate themselves with self-talk such as ‘you need to relax’, ‘stay calm’, ‘stay focused’, and so on. They do it either verbally or silently in the mind.
The first Olympic Games of modern times were held in 1896, in Athens. However, until 1954, nobody had run the mile in less than four minutes. It was considered an impossibility and various reasons were attributed why it could not be done. Some said that the heart was not strong enough — if exerted so much, the heart would burst. Others said that the lungs were too small for it — they could not supply the oxygen to sustain the effort.
Then came a medical student, Roger Bannister. He refused to believe that the four-minute barrier was unbreakable. His self-talk was ‘I can do it …. I can do it.’ His subconscious became programmed accordingly, and consequently, on 6 May 1954, with minimal training, he ran the mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.
The miracle that followed Roger Bannister’s achievement was astonishing. Just forty-five days later, his competitor, John Landy, ran a mile in 3 minutes 58 seconds. The matter did not stop there. In the same year, 29 runners broke the four-minute barrier. The next year, 237 runners clocked the sub-four-minute mile. What had suddenly changed? Roger Bannister’s feat had altered the self-talk of all middle distance runners to ‘It can be done … It can be done.’
Deliberate self-talk for the purpose of programming the mind is called ‘positive affirmation’. It capitalises on the power of repetition. When a message is iterated again and again, it goes deep within and is internalised. In mind management, positive affirmations have a significant role to play. We can use it to develop a positive personality, full of optimism, faith, courage, perseverance, and purpose. Some positive affirmations we can use are:
1) I have infinite potential for growth.
2) The universe has a great plan for me.
3) God’s grace is upon me. I will surely succeed.
4) I am protected by my divine Father. There is nothing to fear. There is abundance in the universe, and I will always have enough.
5) My body is in good health. The organs are healthy and well.
6) Every cell in my body is sparkling with joy and bliss.
7) I will focus on the effort without worrying about the results.
8) Whatever happens will be for the good.
9) I can do it. I will succeed. The goal is almost achieved.
10) My work is very important. I am trying to please God through it.
11) I have received so much from God. I must give back through devotion.
Positive affirmation is thus carefully selected self-talk that moulds our subconscious in the manner we desire...