How Your Subconscious Mind Prepares You For Painful Life Experiences
As a gift to herself at the beginning of her recovery Melanie got a puppy. To help her stay connected to the present moment, mindful of her recovery goals and, yes, for a lot of fun and comfort she indulged a long-held desire: She found a breeder and picked out a 10-week old yellow lab to mark the beginning of her commitment to herself, her life and healing.
She named the puppy Cody and, with his squirmy body and cuddly warmth beside her, Melanie dove head first into the difficult process of kicking addiction.
When Letting Go Hurts
Twelve years later, Melanie has been sober for eleven years and Cody has gone from playful pup to senior dog. Losing him is imminent and Melanie is having a hard time imagining letting go.
“Cody’s been with me every step of the way. From those first painful days of withdrawal to the baby steps of resisting temptation, from the sadness of regrets to the happiness of milestone triumphs Cody has loved and played and slept and sat and cried and cheered with me through it all. Now he’s entered the decline of old age and I know at some point soon I’ll lose him. I can’t imagine being without him. Just thinking about that makes me want to cry.”
…Cody has gone from playful pup to senior dog. Losing him is imminent and Melanie is having a hard time imagining letting go.-Michele RosenthalFor several weeks Melanie’s mood was overshadowed by the expectation of pain, loss and grief. Then, something interesting happened: Melanie had a peaceful, even happy, dream about letting Cody go.
“I don’t know why, but after weeks of feeling so sad I had a dream that Cody was meant to leave so that he could go live and play in a beautiful park filled with other animals. In the dream I went to visit him and could see that he was happy and carefree, full of spunk and fun and energy. I woke up from the dream feeling more at peace about what the future holds. Mostly, it was the idea, “Cody is meant to leave,” that stayed with me. Rather than hold on tighter the dream created the feeling that I should let him go. That single thought changed everything. I know I’ll still grieve his absence, but at least now I know there’s a part of me that’s prepared for the loss.”
Amazing Benefits of the Subconscious
What Melanie experienced is one of the powerful ways the subconscious mind helps us approach and make peace with painful life experiences. The subconscious, which processes and shares information through stories, symbols and metaphors often uses dreams to organize the chaos of experience and emotion. The resulting transition and transformation of how we feel creates deep subliminal programming that can be enormously useful in how we consciously approach daily life.
Able to process 20 million bits of stimuli per second, your subconscious mind catalogs, accesses and integrates information more quickly and effectively than your conscious mind ever could, which is why it can be an incredibly powerful recovery tool.
While your subconscious mind can work independently to help prepare you to manage pain, the reverse is also true: You can enlist your subconscious mind to focus, plan and function in ways that support you during tough, stressful and painful times.
Ways to Engage Your Subconscious in Preparing for Pain
- Know what you want: The more clear you are about what you want your response to painful situations to be the more your subconscious mind knows how to focus on developing and delivering that response. To create clarity spend some time detailing for yourself (in a notebook or in a Word document) what you imagine your best response to a painful situation to be. From a single sentence to a paragraph refine the idea until you feel it best represents what will make you feel good, whole, supported and in control.
- Send the message: The last thought you have before you fall asleep is the thought your mind holds onto for the next four hours. By focusing your mind on what you want during that transition from wake to sleep you can effectively program your subconscious to mull over and develop the idea while you are sleeping. For a meditative, organized and peaceful way to effect this: Whittle down what you want into a single sentence or phrase and hold that in your mind and/or repeat it as you drift off to sleep.
- Ask a question: Sometimes, while you may know that you need to shift to a more empowered approach to pain you may not have a clear idea of what that looks like. In that case, ask your subconscious for suggestions. For example, at bedtime, fill a glass of water while holding in your mind the question you wish to have answered (i.e. “What’s the best way to handle this painful situation?”). Then, drink half the glass of water, turn out the light and go to sleep. In some situations you may actually dream the answer. If not, upon waking in the morning drink the other half of the glass of water while holding the question in your mind again. Let your mind wander and see what answers spontaneously occur.
The Tools of Practice and Patience
Learning to collaborate with your subconscious mind takes practice and patience. Be open to answers and accepting of how and when and in what way they arrive. Repetition of the practice is key for success.
One way to deepen subconscious programming is to simultaneously use breathwork to help your body relax and achieve a meditative state. You can do this during the day by taking a five minute break to breathe and focus on your pain response intention (inhale through your mouth for a count of six, hold your breath for a count of two, and exhale for a count of eight). Or, you can use the same breathing technique at night as you fall asleep. Not only will the breathwork relax and focus your mind but it will also send the message to your body to calm down, which opens you to receive information both through thoughts and feelings.
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