After hours of walking in the bright, early-summer sun exploring Warsaw, Poland for the first time, I was happy to soak myself in a warm bath to ease out the stiffness in my legs. Without thinking about it, my fingers started to probe deep into the ligament attachments of my left hip, finding the spots where the fascia were tight and massaging them free. It was excruciatingly painful, but I knew the release would speed the healing of an injury I had sustained from jumping rope barefoot on a concrete floor. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)
While my mind wondered aimlessly, reviewing my experiences of the day, my fingers continued to explore intentionally, finding and releasing painful, tight spots in my hip and deep in my lower belly.
After a while, it occurred to me that this was not normal behavior.
Here I was ‘relaxing’ after a long and strenuous day by torturing myself as I bore my fingers and knuckles deep into my most tender and painful ligaments. Yet this activity was an essential part of how I maintain my wellbeing while traveling around the world.
The realization that this was ‘not normal’ and yet essential got me thinking about the other ‘not normal’ things I do to ensure my wellbeing.
Here’s my list of the seven most important mind-sets and practices I use for my ongoing wellness and personal development. (I know, there should be five or better still, ten, but I just happen to have seven.)
1. Pain is Your Friend
The common response to pain is to try and feel as little as possible. Most people to use drugs (prescription and otherwise) to numb physical pain. It’s even more common to shut off, deny or ignore emotional pain as much as possible.
However, the true purpose of pain is exactly the opposite. Pain is a message from our body to our mind signaling that there is something wrong that needs attention. Pain is, in fact, our best guide to opportunities for healing.
For example, the pain in my hip was telling me exactly which ligaments needed attention.
Similarly, the pain in my heart after my wife left me told me exactly where I needed self-compassion and healing in order to move on.
If we avoid feeling pain, we also avoid healing it and so become increasingly scarred. As we journey through life we accumulate more and more wounds, which become increasingly disabling.
If, in contrast, we use pain as information, a compass guiding us to our healing opportunities, we can continue to grow and evolve, no matter what challenges life throws at us.
The next time you feel pain, of any kind, take it as a request for attention and an opportunity for healing.
2. Suffering Is Your Nemesis
A potential downside of experiencing pain is that it can be exaggerated as a way to garner attention and sympathy.
Often people will dramatize their pain, maximizing it, talking about it, sharing with anyone who will listen, purely for the purpose of attracting attention and gaining sympathy. They do this because at an unconscious level they don’t believe they’ll get the attention they need if they’re not in pain.
Holding the belief that the pain itself is bad while simultaneously increasing the pain to get attention creates the experience of suffering. It’s not just simple, honest pain but it’s poor-me,-why-did-the-world-do-this-to-me? deeply suffering pain.
Worse still, when we use pain and suffering as a way to get attention, we have an incentive not to heal. After all, the subconscious thinking goes, “If I wasn’t in pain I’d stop getting attention, so I better keep the pain.”
Such an attachment to pain inevitably inhibits the healing process.
Sure, there are times when sharing your pain with others is a powerful healing tool – when shared with someone who will witness it in a compassionate, non-judgmental and non-reactive way. But a few minutes to vent or emote with a trusted friend or professional healer with the intention of moving on is very different from indulging in a negative emotion for hours or weeks on end.
When I have something particularly tough to deal with I have a few close friends who I can count on to listen and help me move through whatever emotions I’m dealing with. At the start of the conversation I’ll let them know that I need to get something off my chest and ask if they can just listen. After they’ve said “yes,” two or three minutes are enough to internalize the experience of being heard and move on with my healing process.
3. Your Mind Is A Simpleton
Our conscious minds are useful for identifying and committing to personal development goals, but they are completely inadequate for achieving those objectives.
Any healing or personal development process involves parts of the brain and body that are outside of our mind’s conscious awareness. To put it bluntly, there’s just way too much going on for the conscious mind to grasp and work with.
For this reason, it’s essential to turn over healing processes to non-mental, brain and body-centered processes. In my intro story I said, “While my mind wondered aimlessly, reviewing my experiences of the day, my fingers continued to explore intentionally, finding and releasing painful, tight spots.” My conscious mind was at most a curious observer of this process, but the exploration itself was guided by parts of my brain outside of my mental awareness.
For people who have been raised in our Western, mind-dominant culture, letting go of mental control can be hard to do, but it’s essential in order to accomplish real change.
The body-centered guided explorations on this site give you one powerful way of accessing the wisdom of your whole brain and body to achieve profound healing way beyond what the mind alone can accomplish. Going one step further, the Body-Psyche somatic hypnosis sessions in the Body-Psyche Program take the mind totally out of the picture so your brain and body can make deep changes without interference.
4. Curiosity Did Not Kill The Cat
The conscious mind has another shortcoming when it comes to making real changes. Our minds tend to pre-judge outcomes and processes, thinking they know exactly what the result of a healing process should be and how that process must happen.
But given that the mind only has access to such a miniscule subset of what’s going on in our brain and body, it’s not in a good position to guide personal development processes. That would be like handing over the US government to someone in Bhutan who’s never been to the US and whose entire knowledge of America has been gleaned from web research over a 64K dial-up modem.
Not a good idea.
Sure, the mind can set initial development goals. In fact recent research in evolutionary psychology suggests that is exactly what our pre-frontal lobes, the home of the conscious mind has evolved to accomplish. But once the goals have been set, the mind needs to get out of the way and let the brain and body do the work.
The best way to accomplish this is to adopt a conscious attitude of a curious observer, and then let your non-conscious brain and body do the real work.
5. Try Multiple Approaches Until Something Works
If a therapist, coach, healer or any guru tells you they’ve discovered the secret to life, the universe and everything, then they’re either lying or are self-delusional. Human bodies, consciousness and spirituality are just too complicated for one person to have it all figured out for every kind of issue any given person might face.
Feedback from my clients suggests that I’m pretty good, but I have my blind spots and limitations too.
To heal my hip injury, I first tried my own self-healing approaches. Nothing I did made any difference. Then I went to one of the best acupuncturists in Massachusetts. Still no change. Then I drove 100 miles to see a respected healer who has done great work with me in the past. Nothing again. After that I went to the most expensive body worker in the Boston area who has done near-miraculous work in the past with some of my clients who had physical injuries. Still no change.
Finally I did a web search in New York and found a massage therapist who works mostly with professional dancers and ultra-athletes. In our initial half-hour session we made the first progress I’ve seen since the injury. From two more sessions before I started traveling again, my hip is back to 80% of its pre-injury function. Better still, from working with him I know what I need to do to continue the healing process on my own. (Hence my fingers doing the fascial release in the bathtub in Warsaw – mimicking what the massage therapist had done when he worked on my fascia.)
The moral here is if one particular guide or discipline is working well for you, then stick with it. If it’s not, then keep exploring new paths to healing until you find something that works.
Equally important, remember that every discipline has its strengths and weaknesses. You’ll only achieve well-rounded personal development if you utilize a range of wellness and personal development resources grounded in different approaches.
6. Maintain Strong Relationships
One of the most important things you can do for your own wellbeing is to maintain strong and positive relationships.
This one may seem out of place in this list, but it’s such a crucial factor for overall wellbeing that I just have to include it.
When I arrived in Poland two days ago I didn’t know a soul here. When I land in a new city I go out of my way to force myself out of my comfort zone to meet new people and ensure I have social interactions. It’s tough, but it’s essential for wellbeing.
More importantly, I have a network of strong friendships around the world that sustain me. Even when I’m not with friends in person, I have regular contact with a few folks by Facebook chat and Skype. And I have a bunch of cities around the world with enough good friendships and familiar places that being there feels like ‘home.’ Those relationships are my lifeblood as I travel the world.
The quality of relationships is more importantly than the quantity though. If you only have shallow acquaintances or relationships that are high in drama and emotional strife, then they’re going to be bad for your health. Focus on your own development and interpersonal skills, so that you attract the kind of people who are going to sustain you. Then cultivate these relationships so that they’re open, honest and supportive.
7. Integrate Personal Development Into Your Life
Perhaps the most important aspect of maintaining long-term wellbeing and having success in personal development is to integrate it into your life, so that it’s a regular habit rather than an interruption to the rest of your life.
Lastly, small, regular changes will have way more impact than big, dramatic workshops or events.
Here’s to your health and wellbeing.