Nov 02 2013
We become what we immerse ourselves in. This awareness hit home for me recently when I found myself becoming increasingly stressed and emotional and realized that I was immersing myself in the Breaking Bad marathon. I was spending hours each day engrossed in its harrowing 62 television episodes, marinating in suspense and danger. As a result, I found myself smack dab in an unfriendly universe, bracing for something to break bad in my own life.
I remember that unfriendly universe well – the first third of my life was spent immersed in it. Early childhood experiences wired me for danger and drama, with emotional suppression always threatening a sudden and frightening Jack-in-the-Box explosion of feelings from those around me, and, mortifyingly, from myself. By the time I was 21 I was clinically depressed and hospitalized twice for suicide attempts – I wanted out of my unfriendly universe!
Fortunately, I was able to see at that young age that my thoughts and beliefs were responsible for which universe I inhabited. For over 40 years I’ve been in the monumental process of rewiring that unfriendly universe into a friendly one. I recently reconnected with childhood friends I hadn’t seen or heard from in nearly 50 years. As I reviewed my life and summed it up for them I was delighted by the realization that I have accomplished some major rewiring in this lifetime!
I have come a long way from the tortured soul I once was. I now live in a beautiful place, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Life is good! I’ve even come to perceive my experience with cancer as the perfect plan of a benevolent universe conspiring for my highest good, my richest life, my deepest learning and healing, prompting me to return to the safety of knowing I am loved, watched over, and right where I’m supposed to be, no matter what.
To be sure, I am an ongoing work in progress, and still hardwired for danger: I cautiously lock my doors, I startle easily, I’m a nervous and annoying car passenger, (“Watch out for that pedestrian!”). But the scale has significantly tipped more into the friendly zone. A big difference now is that I have developed a compassionate witness, so instead of constant hyper-vigilance, I have a higher vigilance where I see life from the perspective of my soul.
Rewiring my brain for happiness has required steadfast commitment and focus because, as it turns out, negative experiences imprint more deeply and quickly than positive ones. In the book Hardwiring Happiness, neurophychologist Rick Hanson states that the brain has a negativity bias: it’s like “Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” We are wired for survival and that’s why the negatives are more compelling and more easily imprinted in the brain. He says that in order to build neural pathways for positive experiences we need to soak in them and absorb them for at least 10 to 20 seconds – the longer and more intensely it’s felt, the deeper the imprint.
As soon as I realized I had gone off track recently, that I was breaking bad, I began re-immersing myself in a sense of safety, joy, and connection, what Rick Hanson calls “Taking in the good.” I’m allowing myself to deeply savor and sink into the peace and pleasure of daily practices like meditating, walking in nature, time with loved ones, even laying on the couch at the end of the day playing online scrabble with my sister. Since I’ve been savoring and taking in the good, I have come back Home to my beautiful world – as Tom often says (whenever we pull into the driveway), “Home again, home again, jiggity jig.”
How about you? Where have you been immersing yourself? Are you taking in the good? Or are you breaking bad? Remember, we become what we immerse ourselves in.