How We Respond Matters

Little Girl Looking Surprised

I recently read an important statement in a book called “Your Power to Heal” by Henry Grayson. It reminded me that stress is not a given. It’s how we respond that matters. In this post, I consider this crucial point.

Grayson explains that stress is a network of these four elements:

  • Traumas.
  • Negative beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.
  • Interpretive perceptions.
  • And “downloads” of family patterns we receive growing up.

I really like the term interpretive perceptions–it points to the way we all give meaning to the people, objects, and events we encounter. It’s just what the brain does. It interprets sensory input to keep us safe. Yet, the way we create stories around these interpretations can mean the difference between suffering from chronic pain or not.

In his book, Grayson provides this real-life example:

Bill and Thomas grow up in similar situations with critical parents who are always putting them down.

Bill concludes: I’m no good. I’m not loveable. Something is wrong with me. I can’t do anything right. These are pretty typical thoughts patterns for many of us who suffer from chronic pain. We seem to take everything to heart and point the fingers of blame back on ourselves.

Thomas, on the other hand, decides that his parents are just crazy. So, he avoids them as much as possible, and develops a strong sense of self-esteem in the process. He learns positive ways to control the situation, whereas poor Bill feels powerless to protect himself. Bill is traumatized. Thomas is not.

As we might suspect–given what we now understand about the psychogenic component of illness and pain–Bill tends to get sick a lot. Thomas enjoys perfect health.

As Grayson puts it:

The bottom line is whether we perceive ourselves as powerless in a situation or as having the power to deal with the situation effectively.

Here’s another way to say it.

Stress has more to do with how we react to events than the events themselves.

How Mindfulness Fits In

Practicing mindfulness, we learn to perceive events objectively. This helps us formulate new and more empowering interpretations. In fact, through mindfulness and meditation, we can learn how to respond to events rather than just react. In so doing, we have much more control over our actions, thoughts, and words (rather than being controlled by them).

We may even begin to see life differently and learn to re-interpret things that happened to us while growing up. This helps us cope with the past as we begin to bypass those “downloaded” family patterns Grayson speaks about. As he explains it, seeing ourselves “at the effect of” a stressor is what leaves us feeling stressed and traumatized.

That’s with repeating. Consider deeply.

Seeing ourselves “at the effect of” a stressor is what leaves us feeling stressed and traumatized.

This goes right into our bodies and reduces our immune function. For many of us, the result is chronic pain.

Grayson provides a number of helpful strategies to get around all this in his book. I encourage you to check it out.

I think self-awareness is always key. Healing begins the moment we recognize unhealthy mental patterns. In fact, if somebody like Bill in the example above could just see his negative thought patterns for what they are, stories he told himself that aren’t really true, he would already be setting himself up to respond differently.

That’s why mindfulness is so important to the healing process. And once we learn to respond mindfully to situations, the sky’s the limit. Why? Because how we respond matters.

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Kimberly Holman

Kimberly is a Certified Mindfulness Meditation Teacher with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maine and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Naropa University. She has been practicing Mahamudra Meditation since 1996 and studies Dzogchen with her teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
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