I never really understood the point of repeating affirmations or mantras until yesterday. Chanting puts me to sleep. In a class I am taking, Barbara Waterhouse of Center for Spiritual Living Asheville explained that our negative thoughts build strong neural networks so that these thoughts are easier to think than new thoughts–like an interstate vs. a cow path.
The impact of this became clear to me yesterday. I went for a walk and listened to myself repeat a story, one that was not uplifting or inspiring. I decided to repeat a mantra as I walked, mostly to get the inner whiner to shut up.
I’d tried several affirmations for the class: All is well, Life is good, I am happy, I am safe. So halfway around the park I chanted to myself, and it worked well.
I could not think anything else while I said this to myself. I had repeated each of these sentences individually over the past week, so putting them together was easy.
Building new neural networks
But when I stopped to take a picture with my phone, a new thought occurred to me. If I made some variations in the statements, just rearranging them a little, that should build another lane, so to speak, on my new neural highway. Then I found out why having a strong network is important.
It’s hard to think a new thought.
I didn’t change the mantra very much: All is happy, I am well, Life is safe, I am good. It was very hard to say. I had to concentrate to change the words around. Even after repeating for at least ten minutes, I still had to think about each word to keep from going back to the previous pattern.
The new neural net was not nearly as strong because I had new sentences. My brain didn’t see these new sentences as just variations, but as completely unique. I did not have a neural path for each of these sentences, but was building four new paths at once.
The value of mantras is first that they crowd out other thoughts, those repeated stories that pop into the unoccupied mind and reinforce the nearly unconscious thoughts like “I can’t do this, I am not good enough, I am fat, I am weak, what if…”
Then the kicker–if I do build my own worlds from my thoughts, it’s time I took control of them. Easier to think than to say. Neural networks are built by repetition.
I also get the “walking meditation” idea, at least that I can walk around in a garden, look for flowers in the winter, and keep the inner chatterbox busy with something good to think.
All is happy. I am well. Life is safe. I am good.