TO MOVE FROM THOUGHTLESSLY FILLING LIFE UP WITH ADDICTIONS
TO CONSCIOUSLY, PURPOSELY CHOOSING WHAT WORKS.
THE MIND AND THE EMOTIONS
It's all quite simple in the overview, though complex in the creation. The mind and the emotions are the miracles and the gifts we have all received as humans.
Yet we often fail to use them to create so much more in life. We default on life, leaving it up to the randomness of what happens to us and the reactions of the mind-emotions system.
That system is like gravity. We use it effectively or we abuse it, and it ends up abusing us, as we hit the ground with a definite thud!
Basically, the structure of the mind is comprised of little central relay stations and wires (neural pathways) along which the signals travel. Each signal we receive creates a unique sequence of relay stations, that then compose our memory. Millions and millions of combinations are possible, each representing something unique.
Creating the mind pathways
Over the tens of thousands of years, the combinations that created survival, of course, were the ones that evolved to be with us today. But along with that, a very unique, sophisticated system (the prefrontal cortex, or the forebrain) evolved to give us the process of thought, unlike any animal.
Animals are (mostly) simply "reacters" - there's a stimulus and there's a reaction.
We are thinkers - we can actually "formulate" strategies and make decisions, rather than being run by the neural pathway patterns of our "lizard brain" (the first one developed) and our "monkey mind (the second one developed, before the pre-frontal cortex). We do not need to be run by simple stimulus and reaction - we can, uniquely, intervene in between. The extent to which we use this gift is the extent to which we are differentiated from animal-like responses and an automaticity of life, where we simply repeat patterns, as if we were mere machines not in control of or cause over our responses.
The lizard brain recognizes danger and reacts - extremely quickly. The monkey mind is one level up, as it has much more ability to interpret, the higher end of which occurs somewhere around 12 years old in humans; but it has the more simple functions of "protecting" us and, as part of that, in a primitive interpretation of what it takes to survive, it assures that we "look good", as a way of getting the love needed by a small child in order to be fed and to survive.
Our system evolved such that the hypothalamus "obeys" the signals sent by the brain to generate little combinations of amino acids, called peptides. To match an emotional experience, we simply release these through our pituitary, sending little chemical combinations into the body to arrive at the receptors that are designed to receive them.
The receptors are like a lock which will receive only the right key, the combination of chemicals that fit it.
Signals go out, chemical combinations get disbursed and fit into a receptor in a cell and the cell reacts, doing some kind of function. Some of the functions or the chemical combinations that cause them are experienced as "pleasant" (probably things interpreted to promote "survival") and some cause "unpleasant" experiences (which we want to avoid, probably things that caused "non-survival" and which serve as signals that we are doing the wrong thing).
This is what we need to "watch out" for and consciously observe.
If we experience a "pleasant" feeling, we will, like a small child, try to recreate that feeling (the chemical combination that caused it) in the quickest way possible. When we can't think of a better way or alternative way to create that feeling, we just go to what is simplest. And, as we do it over and over, the pathway gets fully wired in, or the rut gets deepened.
At the extreme, we simply let the process happen and become the effect of "automaticity", automatically going to those pathways over and over again, in search of the "cheese" of feeling good. If the pathway is one that ultimately has some harm to it in the long term, we tend to call it an addiction - which we define as something we cannot stop. We become addicted to our emotions.
At that point, with no further intervention, we are controlled by our emotions - in a way, our emotions are creating us, rather than us creating our emotions (which in total become our experience of life).
The physical effect of bombarding our receptors over and over (as they fill up with keys in the locks) becomes smaller and smaller per amount of chemical batches - essentially we become desensitized to the point that we need more and more to create the same effect.
We can actually concentrate so greatly on getting those emotions in the most convenient way that we do not react to reality any more and we become "not present" to the world, as we are simply focused on our body sensations and emotions and our next "chemical hit." or avoiding any negative hits. Why would we ever smoke if we had any long term perspective? Or drink alcohol? Or get engaged in what creates stress for us? We simply are not present or conscious and we are operating, like a child, based on what is most expedient rather than what is best.
When the disciplines of the Far East and parts of some religions make much ado about learning "to be present", it may sound like some mystical, impractical viewpoint - but consider the fact that some of the world's wisest people have advocated it! If we pay attention to this "wisdom" and believe it, then our task is to accomplish it in a way that works for us.
Human beings generally look down on drug addicts as if they are "wrong". But, in truth, they are simply doing what we all do, seeking some good feelings through "chemistry." They simply do not know of better ways to create the feelings that we are addicted to having!
The physical effects on drug addicts are relatively apparent to everyone but the drug addict. But we, also, are addicts of a sort and we often are not aware of the long term effects, to a degree, at least. As the cells adapt to a bombarding of chemicals to cause emotions, they begin to lose the receptors, from disuse, that are for utilizing good nutrients and for functioning better - such as detoxifying and cleaning out. The cells become less able and we age. The harsher and harsher the chemicals from these emotions, the more and more we age, because our cells are learning to handle those impacts and becoming maladaptive to what is required to stay (more) alive, in a strong sense of the word.
LEARNING AND MANAGING
Getting some perspective and control
As we get older (I'll avoid the term "mature", although some of us just get older and not more mature), we progress further into looking at this with our higher brain a bit more and more and more... as we learn the more complex rules.
We learn to "think ahead" and control some of the things we might ordinarily do to get a short term "hit" because we have learned that in the long term certain of those behaviors will result, later, in getting some negative batches of chemicals OR in getting more positive hits in the long term, in total. Essentially, we get enough of a "hit" off the thought that if we delay doing something now in order to get something later that the "hit" will sustain us until the next "hit," which we are off looking for as fast as we can.
This process of thinking ahead is sometimes called "maturing" or, if truly completing it to a high level, "Mastery".
We simply learn rules that we think will work and then we repeat them. (Rules are "if this happens, then that will result." They are essentially "if-thens".) Someone, in the beginning usually our parents, teaches us this either directly or by inference. We see something we believe has created something good for our parent and then we make up a rule for us to be able to create that same good thing - "if I don't eat all these cookies now, my parents will be proud of me - and that feels really good, better than all those cookies combined!" (Yeah, right!?!)
Now we have a choice: Random or Systematic Learning And Good Well-Screened Conclusions Or Not
Usually there is no pre-designed program, so we learn "life" at random and then hope it all works out. This is kind of like my father's theory of teaching kids: "just throw them in the pool and they'll learn to swim!". Since he was big and powerful and I was little and not powerful yet, I believed what he said was true, though later I found out he wasn't always right, though he was never uncertain. But, given what he knew at the time and given the small amount of time he had to focus on it, he did the best he could and I turned out "ok" - a bit neurotic, but pretty ok by society's standards.
So, throughout our youngest and fastest learning years, we receive at random some information that is good and definitely some that is not and we usually spend little time differentiating between the two. And then we also make conclusions based on inadequate reasoning or inaccurate perception. So, we end up repeating or copying our parents' behaviors thinking that the behaviors will work for creating some long term chemical "cheese".
Houston, We Have A Problem...
And, then, when or if one looks at it carefully, one can come to several conclusions:
1. Since we haven't fully reexamined and redecided some "rules", a relatively great amount of our
adult was designed by a pre-logical seven year old with inadequate perspective and
2. That rats are smarter than us.
Notice that human beings have some things so wired in them that they will repeat behaviors that
do not get the "cheese" we want. Rats, by contrast, simply determine there is no cheese down
that tunnel any more and they stop going down it. Of course, they are not smarter; they merely
have not, unlike us, devised rules that make no sense when examined in perspective.
Now, We Have A Choice
Knowing that the physics of our mind and body are the way they are and that indeed we are seeking good chemical combinations and trying to avoid bad ones, our logical alternative is to learn more about how to do that in order to maximize (or at least increase) the ratio and amount of good stuff in our lives, correspondingly reducing the bad stuff. We can learn much more about how to operate as an integrated whole - directing and managing the process rather than being, at least somewhat, passive "victims" to our chemicals and to the ignorance of having only a few simple alternatives, like a child would.
It simply takes acknowledging that the "game" works this way and that we can learn more of the "if this, then that" rules that work to create a bigger net positive in the long run. It would also seem that we would need to become very knowledgeable and completely convinced of this reality in order that we would take on new, productive behaviors and then give them the time to wire themselves in, to build a strong groove in our "computer hard disk." We need to have the awareness that the old "habit" (the grooved in behavior to get the chemicals) will begin to disappear from disuse of those neural pathways.
It's simple physics.
The only problem is that somehow many of us, especially if we have been relatively successful at adjusting to life, will rationalize that we do not need to learn any more and/or that there isn't sufficient payoff to justify the effort (we equate, incorrectly, effort with negative chemical packages) necessary to learn and to do what is necessary to get the good chemical packages in more abundance. Or we've made up things like "only the weak do that", "only people with problems seek more knowledge about that stuff", "I must avoid anything that could possibly have anything to do with anything that might upset me..." and on and on. And, sometimes, even those whom we respect are espousing these unreasoned rules. But it is now time to think for ourselves to answer the question:
Will I get a bigger net batch of good chemicals if I learn more about what will give me those, so
that I've acquired more and better "if-then" rules?
So we get to choose now. I choose to (mark your choice):
___ 1. Become very, very knowledgeable in what works.
___ 2. Maybe get to know a bit more, but not spend much time or effort.
___ 3. Let things stay as they are.
If you answered #1 or a high #2, then the next question is how to acquire the knowledge in a systematic (not random) manner from reliable (knowledgeable) resources.
Well, the answer lies in the question: Go to a person who is knowledgeable about the alternatives and who can guide you in that process to the proper resources and help you interpret and understand what the individual resources are teaching or saying.
Another "answer" is to be around people who are knowledgeable and avoid being around those people who are exhibiting lack of knowledge - they are easy to spot once you have some clear criteria. The clear criteria: they are producing positive, enduring effects in their lives that benefit themselves and those around them, rather than short term or glamorous effects.
For an overview of what produces good, long term results, see: "An Overview of Happiness, What It Is and What It Isn't", "Happiness Producers - Effectiveness Ratings", "Happiness Tests", and "The Happy Person - Test". Read also the module on "What Makes People (More) Happy". (Click on Site Map - Section I in order to go to the site, then go to Psychology, Happiness.)
Also, to get the point even more, in a more creative presentation, see the movie "What The Bleep Do We Know".