In my last column, I talked about understanding how the subconscious mind and the body communicate with the conscious part of the brain to make decisions.
Today, I want to continue with the same theme and let each of you work out what determines your decision-making, which of the voices in your head are steering the ship and where you are sailing to.
Most of us can clearly identify the two voices in our head, which are always in conflict and represent duality.
These voices have been classified in various forms – in some, the voices are represented as good and evil or god and the devil; in others, it’s the ego and the conscience.
What we choose to call the voices is a personal matter, but what is important is the ability to distinguish between them and acknowledge that the voice we most listen to will define our character, as well as our long-term health and happiness prospects.
These voices make up parts of our cognitive system and are in a constant struggle to be heard.
Their goal is simple: To influence the decision-making process.
Conflict of interest
Should we go for a run and burn some fat, or sit and watch TV?
Should we drive to the grocery store for fresh ingredients to provide a healthy nutritious meal for the body, or just go to the local restaurant and order something fast and convenient?
As you can see, there is a pattern behind the decision-making conflict.
The good decisions require effort, planning and hard work, but benefit us greatly in the long run.
The easy option, well, it’s just the easy option!
The good decisions based on hard work reflect self-love and encourage health and happiness.
The easy or lazy path, however, is a slippery slope that indicates a lack of care for our health and well-being, and that neglect creates a wall or a gap between the mind and the body where disease and despair can grow.
I have spoken many times about the importance of building good habits that reflect self-love, and again, we can see how the voice that has the greatest influence on our choices has a direct and most profound impact on our long-term health and happiness.
As Gandhi taught his followers: “Be careful of your thoughts as your thoughts become actions. Actions become habits, and we can be defined by our habits.”
What Gandhi suggested is that with time, one voice becomes louder than the other, having a direct impact not only on our daily mood and energy levels, but also on our very destiny – the same effect scientists studying epigenetics have found affects our DNA through the switching on and off of disease-based genetic markers.
So, how do we change our DNA, our direction in life and our destiny?
How can we realise our potential and be the best version of our true selves?
How can we turn pessimism into optimism and ensure our glasses are always half full?
Researchers at Harvard Medical School in the United States suggest spending at least 10-20 minutes a day bringing decision-making back to the conscious mind and building habit patterns that reflect our desire to live in a state of good health.
Mindfulness, or the act of bringing attention to our conscious mind, is not a new concept, as it has been suggested as a method of promoting health and wellness for thousands of years.
In fact, it is an underlying concept of wisdom that has transcended religions and cultures, enabling individuals to truly set themselves free from the perceived expectations of the society they live in.
It’s a way out of the rat race, or a solution for people who are stuck in “the Matrix” and have chosen to awaken to their true purpose, if Keanu Reeves’ movie analogy resonates better with you.
In order for us to complete this process of awakening, we must fully connect on the physical, mental and spiritual planes. In other words, acknowledge ourselves on each level of being and ask ourselves the tough questions, like what motivates us and why? What are our hopes and dreams? Can we identify the fears and doubts that stand in our way?
On the spiritual front, religious teachers believe we are born with a purpose, and our goal is to align ourselves to that purpose and find our way to the path that brings us closer to God.
Everything else is a distraction, a temptation to a false goal that seems to offer the answers to all of our prayers but only leads us to more problems – goals like the pursuit of riches, fame and popularity that come from the ego and not the heart, and even when achieved, leave us feeling flat and cheated.
Here are a few examples of this universal signpost to living mindfully. The fact that the same message is found so widely across time and space are an indication of its importance:
• “Know Thyself” – Inscribed on the wall at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece.
• “But if you will not know yourselves. then you will dwell in poverty and be poverty” – Gospel of Thomas in the Bible
• “Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom” – Tao Te Ching
• “The kingdom of heaven is within and whosoever shall know themselves shall find it” – Egyptian proverb
So, what does this road sign on life’s highway mean to the average Malaysian? After all, we are not all destined for, or even interested in, enlightenment in this lifetime.
Well, connecting to the body brings better health. Connecting to the mind brings focus and direction in life, and connecting spiritually brings joy, peace, and maybe even an end to suffering.
These goals are worthy of our attention and are especially important as we reflect on our purpose in life.
Fasting is a spiritual practice encouraged by many religions. The process of denying the body food so that we may nourish the mind and feed the spirit is the action that starts the journey to self-knowledge.
Time spent in meditation, self-reflection and fasting is the process of becoming intimate with ourselves – learning how our minds work and understanding whether or not we have the character to stay true to ourselves in times of crisis when temptation is great.
And so, if our goal is to improve our health, then we must pursue healthy activities.
If our goal is to become happier, then we must find and listen to the voice in our heads that leads the way.
When we are in clear connection with that voice, we must ask ourselves the toughest of questions and trust that the hard path is the one that brings us closer to understanding.
Food for thought
In your journey to mindfulness, perhaps it’s best that you ask yourself these few questions:
When you have a hard day, do you detach and seek comfort in junk food or alcohol, or do you connect with practices like qigong, yoga or meditation?
When you are upset with the people around you, do you lose your temper and attack them or do you spend time understanding why your emotions are stirred and look to resolve your issues with an open heart and mind?
Do your relationships always follow the same pattern and end in disappointment?
Do you have self-esteem issues or constantly think that your body is not good enough and needs improvement?
When you spend time with friends or family, do you celebrate by over-eating and staying up late or do you go hiking, play sports and enjoy deep conversation?
Think on your answers, and see where that leads you.