“Scientists now know that the brain receives 400 billion bits of information each second. To give you some idea of how much information that is, consider this: It would take nearly 600,000 average-size books just to print 400 billion zeros. Needless to say, that’s a heck of a lot of reality. So what do we do? We start screening. We start narrowing down. When all is said and done, we’re done to 2,000 measly bits of information. Go ahead and take a bow, because even that’s pretty impressive. We’re talking 2,000 bits of information each and every second. But here’s the problem. What we choose to take in is only one-half of one-millionth of a percent of what’s out there.” – Pam Grout
The Recticular Activating System (RAS) is the part of the brain that filters out all the information that the brain receives in any given second and decides which of it gets through. It does this based on what it believes is relevant to us--in other words, the information that is in alignment with our priorities and expectations of the world. It’s the reason you can pick up on someone saying your name across a crowded room or find your lucky number anywhere you go. It looks for information that is in alignment with your beliefs and values; this includes what you believe to be true about yourself. Basically, your RAS is like a biased reporter who only looks for the evidence and proof that supports her version of the truth. She doesn’t even bother to interview the other witnesses or follow the other leads. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she doesn’t even begin to look for new stories. She just tells the same one over and over and over again.
This programming certainly makes our brain’s job easier, because it doesn’t have to process new information or change its belief systems and structures, but it doesn’t serve our spirit when those existing systems and structures aren’t clear reflections of who we truly are and what we are actually capable of.
Luckily for us, we have another source of (unlimited) information—our intuition—and this source can give us information that our brains and physical bodies can’t even perceive. We can “see” things that our eyes can’t see, “hear” things that our ears can’t hear, and even “feel” things that our skin can’t touch. Best of all, our intuition isn’t limited to our own self-limiting beliefs. It can see the bigger picture: not the brain’s one-sided “truths,” but the larger Truth.
So how do we get our brain and intuition working together in alignment? How do we get the RAS to serve our highest good? Think of it like Google. If you want to find the information that you’re looking for, you have to put in the right search terms. If you want to feel a certain way or have a certain experience of the world, you have to consciously plant that information into your brain so that the RAS can use it as a filter. You have to tell the brain that this new information or belief is important and relevant to you, and you have to consistently remind it of this fact.
This is where mantras can be powerful allies. By repeating a statement over and over in our mind, we give it significance and relevancy, which tells the RAS to start searching. Then, as we begin to look for (and focus on) evidence of this statement in our lives, it slowly becomes true for us, because our experiences and the feedback we receive from the world support this new belief and not our old version of reality.
For example, if you are struggling with your relationship with your body and constantly tell yourself that you are fat or ugly, you will look for proof of that belief in the outside world. You'll focus on the images of models in magazines and on billboards and compare yourself to those air-brushed images and often-starved bodies. Your eyes will zero in on any belly rolls or arm jiggles every time you pass by a mirror--instead of on your soulful eyes, your beautiful curves, your kickass outfit, and all of your other positive attributes--and then you'll beat yourself up and reinforce that negative mantra even more. You'll obsess about the calories in that salad you're eating, instead of the beautiful setting you're eating it in or the person sitting in front of you who is opening their heart to you in a conversation that you are only half-listening to. You'll read every book and try every beauty product or fitness fad that promises to "fix" you, instead of spending your time and money on the things that allow you to express your unique qualities and strengths and remind you that you are perfect, exactly as you are. (Trust me, all of this is said without any judgement, because I was guilty of this myself for a very long time.)
Now, let's say you begin to work with a mantra, like "I am healthy and strong" and change the filter through which you are experiencing your reality and your body. Perhaps, instead of spending most of that 60 minute barre class comparing yourself to the skinny girl next to you, you'll focus on your own form and feel proud of how hard you're working and how much your body is able to do. With every rep and every class, you'll reaffirm to yourself that you ARE strong. And perhaps, when you pass by the mirror, instead of focusing on your arm jiggles, you'll zero in on your toned biceps (which are getting stronger every day) or on your glowing skin (thanks to all those fresh fruits and veggies) and reaffirm to yourself that you ARE healthy.
REPLACING MEAN THOUGHTS WITH MEANINGFUL MANTRAS
If you want to get clear on what sub-conscious beliefs are running the show and find an empowering mantra to work with instead, try this exercise:
- Take out a piece of paper and make a list of all the things you believe to be true about yourself. Each statement should be on its own line and should begin with the words, "I am...." (Examples: I am fat. I am powerful. I am funny. I am brave. I am shy. I am kind. Etc.)
- Go back over your list, and read each of these statements out loud. Notice how each feels in your body as you read it. Do you feel a tightness in your chest? A sickness in your stomach? A sense of contraction or heaviness in any areas of your body? Or do you feel a sense of brightness and expansion as you read that statement? Do you feel your shoulders broaden, your posture straighten, your chest lift and your heart open? Whichever statements cause you to feel a constriction or contraction, underline those. Whichever statements cause you to feel an expansion or lightening in the body, put a star next to those.
- Now, go back over your list and read each of those statements out loud again. This time, notice how each feels in your heart. As you state each one, are there any specific emotions that arise? Do any evoke feelings of sadness or heaviness? Of anger or frustration? Of hopelessness or despair? If so, circle those. Also, notice which statements evoke feelings of joy, wonder, excitement, love or curiosity. Put a heart next to those.
- Those statements that you have circled and/or underlined are the false, limiting beliefs that need to be examined and adjusted. For each of these beliefs, see if you can recognize the opposing quality that wants to be nurtured in your Self instead and write out a mantra that affirms that quality. (Remember that you already have this quality within you; it just hasn't been recognized or integrated fully). For example, if your false belief is that you're "stupid," you could affirm your own wisdom with a mantra like, "I own and express my deep inner wisdom."
- Those statements that have hearts and stars next to them are the positive beliefs about yourself that need to be fed and reinforced on a regular basis. These are great statements to use as mantras on any occasion.