“Biological behaviour can be controlled by invisible forces, including thought, as well as it can be controlled by physical molecules like penicillin.”Bruce Lipton
This quote was not taken from a yoga or alternative medicine book, but from an author with a PhD in Biology, someone who spent most of his adult life within the standard academic circles. His insights into New Biology came later in life, fuelled by his own personal struggle with finding fulfilment, satisfaction and, ultimately, love. Bruce Lipton has written a book called The Biology of Belief, which I am reading right now and highly recommend for the slightly geeky among you and those who don’t want to take my word for it.
The Biology of Belief
Lipton explains that the study of genetics has led us to believe that our DNA (our genes) determines everything about us; from the colour of our eyes to the diseases we are likely to develop. But in recent years, a new branch of genetics called epigenetics has proven that the triggers found in the environment of a cell are the true determining factors of how a cell will develop. Some genetic material will not even be read unless the environment triggers it. The environment can be affected by a substance circulating in our blood, or by the electromagnetic field of a cell phone or, indeed, by a thought or the biological trail a thought creates.
Those ideas are not new for most of us who have been practicing yoga and meditation for a while, although I myself find it always enormously satisfying to discover scientific evidence that proves what yogis have been saying for so long.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of positive thinking or positive affirmations, as many branches in alternative medicine and psychology have been using them over the past few decades. But have you ever really tried it? My husband, who is a Kinesiologist, many times tries to get me to repeat the positive affirmations for a meridian or organ that is imbalanced and in need of strengthening. These affirmations sound a bit like “I am wonderful and perfect and deserve all the love in the world” (or something like that, sorry honey). The thing is, when I am feeling down and insecure and unworthy, repeating these words feels silly and empty. I don’t believe them for one second at that moment. If positive affirmations would work just like that, most of our problems would be solved so easily! The fact is that our conscious mind, the one that is repeating the words, only controls about 5% of our life and choices. 95% of our life is determined by our subconscious and unconscious beliefs. So if we have received the information again and again that we are unworthy and fundamentally flawed, and if that information is etched in our subconscious, the conscious repetition of the opposite words will have no lasting effect.
According to Dr. Lipton, this information in our subconscious will be shaped by our experiences before we are 6 years-old, but yogis of course talk about a programming that can be there for many lifetimes; in any case, these are the beliefs and thoughts that will be truly affecting not only our mood and choices in life, but the life and health of the cells in our bodies as well. In other words: the stories we tell ourselves, especially the ones we have been telling ourselves for a long, long time, are literally shaping our reality and as a result, become THE story.
The Pull of the Ego
I see this everywhere, in my own life and in the life of the people close to me: we have a concept of “I” that comes with a whole package of history, preferences, traumas, victories, fears and hopes. A whole package of stories about Me, stories our ego will fight and fight to hold on to. Regardless if our stories do us good or not, we are so identified with Me that we never question these stories: I am very sensitive, my parents never understood me, I feel like a stranger in this world, I am a failure, I am superior, I like this and detest that. We are full of these stories and we repeat them over and over again to ourselves and others. I have observed how attached we are to these stories, because they give us a sense of identity and existence (which is the egos raison d’etre), even if they make us miserable. I have also observed, in myself and others, that the stories we tell ourselves are responsible for the great majority of our problems and suffering. If we could change the story we could affect real and profound change in our lives, but this change has to be made deep in our subconscious or it will have no lasting effect at all. We can’t simply say some empty words every day and think that our stories will change. It is possible to investigate these beliefs that keep us enslaved in personalities and lives that do not serve us or others. Doing this isn’t easy- it demands a huge amount of energy and patience and, you know, we have things to do and places to be. By bringing subconscious habits to the surface we can slowly examine and eventually transcend them.
At Times of Crisis
With all that is happening in the world right now, this is, of course, particularly relevant. We are collectively experiencing a crisis in the way we go about our daily lives, and this is impacting us deeply.
You can see all around that our reactions to this crisis (aka the stories we tell ourselves and others) are escalating into narratives that can elevate us by making us more compassionate and thoughtful or ones that make us slide into panic and desperation. This crisis has forced us to be mindful of our behaviour but if being mindful is an option, how come we are not mindful all the time? How come us humans allow ourselves to be selfish and ignorant until we are literally forced into action? We are appalled by stories of doctors who need to choose who to treat because they cannot treat everybody, but this exact scenario happens every single day in many parts of the world and somehow we let that pass us by without a thought. There are diseases and wars that are killing more people than the virus plaguing us right now, and yet we don’t seem to mind the vulnerable all that much when they are far away from us. Bruce Lipton presents comprehensive research that proves that 300.000 people die every year in the US from the side effects of prescription drugs. But there is no blind panic, no measures are taken, no outrage is shown. I could go on and on with examples of terror in the world. My point is, it is not the facts that freak us out, but the narratives that we produce around these facts. If the narrative affects Me then we’re likely to pay attention.
Suffering and Pleasure
Suffering and pleasure are the two constants in this world, and there is not one human being on this planet that will not experience them both to some degree. That experience, if nothing else, binds us humans to each other. We all go after things that are pleasurable and take insane measures to avoid feeling any pain, but ultimately that will not increase joy and reduce suffering. The old cliché is true: I cannot control the events that will generate suffering or happiness in my life, but I can control my reaction to them. Or at least I could, if I had any control over my own mind and my emotions. And this is why we practice yoga: to become the master of our minds and bodies and not be slaves to them. When I suffer, I can feel sorry for myself, panic and try desperately to save myself and my loved ones or I can remember that every single being on this planet experiences the same at some point. It doesn’t stop it hurting but it does add some much-needed context. Knowing it’s not all about you is the basis of compassion. Compassion means “feeling with”; it is not a feeling of “poor you” but a deep connection from one aching heart to another.
We now have a choice, we can tell ourselves a story about how MY country and MY family need to be saved first or we can live the story that we are all connected and that the suffering of others is always reason enough to adapt my behaviour, to care for the vulnerable and to alleviate suffering in any way that I can.
Modern science is uncovering the ancient truths that everything IS connected and what we do, how we think and how we react affects everything around us. Now this is a story that can take us way further into fulfilment and happiness.