Mindfulness Part 2 – Rational Thought

I have been writing about my management mechanisms for stress.

The teacher in me alliterated the practices as:

Meaningful Relationships

Meditation

Mindfulness

Movement

Music

Mindfulness involves engaging the neocortex of the brain. Rational thought consists in thinking about what you are thinking about and how you are thinking about it. One of the notable discoveries in brain research is that humans are not wired to be rational. Being rational is a choice.

Much of life’s input activates the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system is a collective term for brain structures that are involved in processing emotions. This system is responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making. It has no capacity for language. The neocortex of the brain processes language and rational/analytical thought. The limbic system processes information 200 times faster than the neocortex.

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The field of marketing, for example, seeks to capitalize on the tendencies of the limbic system. The limbic brain system responds to manipulation. Advertising that highlights such things as Price Point, Promotions, Fears, Aspirations, Peer Pressure, and Novelty activate that part of our brain. Focal points for manipulative Christian ministry are Law, Guilt, Shame, Fear, Judgement, and Moralistic Preaching, (gotta, oughtta, should’ve). These topics light-up the limbic system.

Most political ads, platitudes, and labeling are manipulative. They activate the limbic system and arouse human emotions, not the rational mind. Political ads, platitudes, and labeling are visceral, aimed at deep-seated emotions. For this reason, I prefer to read party platforms on political party websites. I also check out the candidates’ websites to learn about their political worldviews and aspirations. This practice engages my rational mind and protects me from political manipulation. I desire to base my political decisions on reason, not emotion.

Bullying also lights up the limbic system. Fear triggers the amygdalae, two almond-shaped clusters in the limbic system. The amygdalae alert the hypo-campus, which in turn triggers the flight or fight response.

Happily, the limbic system also responds to inspiration. Good leaders inspire! Simon Sinek, in his book, Start With Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, affirms this truth. Leaders who articulate their “WHY” motivate and inspire constituents to follow.

Emotional responses to the stressors on life are normal. Moderating stress involves engaging the neocortex and rationally processing the response to stressors. Fear and a feeling of being out of control magnify stress. These are realities faced during the current pandemic. We can do things to give us a greater sense of control. Learning about the scientific understanding of the coronavirus is constructive. Observing the prescribed guidelines for protecting our community is also empowering. These kinds of activities help us feel like we have some level of control during the pandemic.

Identifying and bringing stressors to light is the first step in practicing rational mindfulness as a means to manage stress. At times the conscious mind may not be aware of specific stressors. Highlighting particular stress points allows the creation of plans for addressing and potentially alleviating the stress. Distinguishing between what is controllable and not controllable is also helpful.

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I face the combined stressors of physical aging and the Late Effects of Polio (LEoP). I have sorted through the control issue. I had no control over contracting Polio. I have exercised control over my physical, mental and emotional responses to the effects of the virus. The same is true for the resulting LEoP. I have taken charge by seeking guidance from knowledgeable medical professionals and practicing the M & M’s of these blogs. The process of the physical aging of my mortal body is inevitable. Exercising control by managing the physical aging process can improve the quality of that process.

What about the stress related to that which we cannot control? That leads to the consideration of the role of faith. Faith provides a context in which to deal with the uncontrollable in life.

Whenever I face a circumstance where I lack control, my Christian faith inspires me to turn to Biblical passages such as Psalm 46:

“God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” 

(Psalm 46, NKJV)

The Serenity Prayer practiced by those in Alcoholics Anonymous comes to mind. “To accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Faith provides an avenue of release. Even though the circumstance may not change, stress is alleviated.

Brain science has also introduced the concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections. These changes occur through learning and experience. Practicing positive mindfulness also contributes to these changes. The brain thus becomes a better ally in alleviating stress.

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