Anyone who’s ever struggled with their mental health for long enough has potentially gotten to a point where they thought something like, “my mind is broken.” They may have even expressed such a sentiment to a loved one, friend, or therapist. Intuitively, this idea makes sense. Since breaking any part of your body (like a bone) means it won’t work correctly, the reverse seems like it should also be true. If a piece of us isn’t functioning properly, it must be broken.
Unfortunately, some people start to repeat this phrase to themselves day after day. When done long enough, it might evolve into “I’m broken.” Because we equate our minds with ourselves. And eventually, it can become “I’m permanently broken.” This is especially true in the case of chronic illness, which via the mind-body connection, is intrinsically tied to mental fitness. If you physically feel terrible most of the time, with seemingly no end in sight, it’s difficult not to assume something is damaged, perhaps forever.
Many people suffer in this way. And tragically, I think a form of that “I’m broken” belief leads some to take their own lives. When they make that fatal decision, they are convinced their mental state will never improve. I know exactly what it’s like to feel that way. But I finally concluded that this entire line of thought is built on a spurious supposition. The reality is that your mind cannot truly be broken, ever. Which means you cannot be broken. Here’s why…
Consider a scenario where you break your leg. That bone must heal before it can regain full functionality. You don’t have a single moment during recovery where it can support your weight, because your limb is actually broken. This is simply not the case with mental conditions. Regardless of what you might be dealing with - anxiety, depression, or other chronic problems that hinge on limbic system loops, you aren’t afflicted 100% of the time. No matter the severity of your situation, there are instances when you feel fine, even if only sporadically for a few seconds.
Zeroing in on those moments is critical. Because they provide a crucial insight into the nature of the mind. That while the software might be malfunctioning, the hardware itself is not damaged. There is nothing broken and never can be. The trick becomes noticing those flashes of mental wellness and learning how to extend them. This is precisely where mind training comes into play.
If you’ve read the RARE SENSE Manifesto, you know that I compare the pursuit of mind fitness to physical fitness development. The health of our minds improves with exercise, just like our bodies. To illustrate this point, let’s consider the following spectrum:
The exact terminology at each end isn’t important. You just need to understand that your body is exceptionally unfit if you weigh 600 lbs and can’t get out of bed. And if you find yourself at the opposite pole, you might win the CrossFit Games.But the more vital realization is that this diagram isn’t binary. It’s not like you are either fit or not. We all lie somewhere between these two extremes. With consistent training over time, we can slowly move to the right.
So if we apply this same idea to mind fitness, we might come up with this:
You can also progress towards the positive side of this spectrum via steady, repeated work. However, mind fitness has a distinct advantage over its somatic counterpart. Your physical fitness is whatever it is right now. All you can do is execute the daily grind to improve it gradually. Conversely, you have the ability to decide, in an instant, to operate at a higher level of mind fitness. You can notice your thoughts and not identify with them. You can let anger dissipate almost as quickly as it arises. You can relinquish the pull of desire and choose to be content.
Discipline and practice simply sharpen your ability to do so. Mind training allows you to get better at making these choices more often. If you can engage in such a routine regularly, and make it habitual, a pattern such as “I’m broken” becomes dismissible.
But what about things like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), whereby there is an injury to a person’s brain? Doesn’t that constitute a genuine “break” to one’s mind?
TBI is a sensitive topic to talk about. And certain types of brain injury can undoubtedly cause losses in faculty and behavioral changes. Sometimes severely. But too often, I hear a narrative of “you all have TBI…” directed at special operations veterans. This is partly because blast exposure TBI (bTBI) causes a particular type of damage called Interface Astroglial Scarring (IAS) that’s currently undetectable via scans on living patients (although this is changing).So I understand the reasoning behind this statement. Many of us may have this condition. But we don’t know for sure. And regardless, I’ve not seen a consensus on effective treatment.
Given the unknowns at play here, I worry about the message. We are left with a situation where actual damage to our brains might or might not be present. Maybe something shows up on a scan, or perhaps it doesn’t. It’s possible our conduct is being altered due to these injuries. Potentially not. And meanwhile, there are no definitive corrective measures yet identified from a medical standpoint.
After contemplating this dilemma for a long time, I finally decided my approach would be - so what? There might be some IAS in my head that’s contributing to the various symptoms I experience. But the best thing I can do is avoid making assumptions and not succumb to defeatism. I won’t provide any fuel to fearful thoughts about my condition, presumed or otherwise. Besides, I once had a neurologist tell me, “there is no such thing as a perfect brain.”
As I reflected further on this topic, I was reminded of a few other key findings from my decade of mental self-discovery that offered me solace:
Your mind is not your brain. Your brain plays a significant role in creating your mind, but it’s still part of your body. As I’ve stated before, if you think of your body as an instrument, your mind is the music. The former is a thing. The latter is an energy, an experience. They are not the same.
As much as your brain shapes your mind, your mind can shape your brain. It’s a two-way street. If you are proactive with mind training, there’s nothing but potential upside.
Your brain has a unique ability to adapt compared to the rest of your body. It can create capacity where it didn’t exist before. If you suffer an amputated arm, you might figure out a way to play the piano with one hand, but it’s still not the capability you would have had with two. But where we once thought your brain was essentially fixed as an adult, and that certain functions were limited to specific areas, we now know it’s “plastic” and can remap faculties to new locations. Even people with literally half a brain in their heads have learned to operate in ways we once believed impossible.
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Here’s the bottom line. Whoever you are and whatever you are dealing with, realize that you can improve your condition. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s affliction out there. But consider your actual choices for dealing with the situation and select a path that elevates your experience. Understand the power you possess at any moment. If you find “I’m broken” popping up in your head, recognize what it is - unhelpful and false - and ignore it. Mental conditions don’t represent damage. And even brain injuries don’t constitute a foregone conclusion for your future. You might have an exceptionally tough road ahead, but don’t give up.
Other people can figure out ways to fix what’s in your head. But only you can fix what’s in your mind. Choose to be unbroken.
Disclaimer: None of the ideas expressed here are intended to diagnose or treat any condition or disease. Nor do they represent the official position or opinions of any organization or persons outside of Rare Sense LLC. If you suffer from a mental or physical disorder or illness, please seek medical attention from a licensed professional.
This basic analogy is one I learned doing the Gupta Program.
Note that this is absent any disease or ailment that might weaken you in the moment. But that’s a temporary condition. You can be sick but still exceptionally fit.
For inspiring stories of how the brain can adapt in even the most extreme cases, I highly recommend reading “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge.
Avoiding things mentally is not possible because avoiding is attention and everything getting attention will grow (bigger, better, on more terrains etc etc etc)
You are never free when there is a need to avoid whatever you choose to.
I am a remedial teacher, an autodidactic one, and I work alone. I tried to find some collegeas for years but failed.
My way of working starts with telling my students have rights and I have duties. I am responsible for their failing, if they would fail, which in thirty years never happened, only me, and even not their parents, is responsible. The parents are now free to build a new positive contact to their children, and that is far more important than everything else, in my believe.
I start with looking at the successes of my students and the more happier and enthousiastic they are about those, the more important they are to me to work with, because my students are going to study whatever they want and they need during the rest of their lives. The are going from completly lost/almost imprisioned to people who want to learn to do something they like in life. And that is not difficult. To me.
Because I only look for talents, desires, knowledges and whatever else you can think of, that are going to help my student reaching their goals.
Of course lots of spiritual matters occur on their way/on our way. Problems. Big Small (non)existing(?)...
They have one thing in common: they will be brought up by my students, and so the moment and focus is always in the right direction: because it is THEIR direction.
The student are my guide. I cannot guide them on their spiritual growing. Nobody can. They guide me on their spiritual development, and I can tell them what I know if they need it, but most of the time just my 'ok, sounds good!' Or 'well thinking!!' will do it all. And the fact that I am there for them when they need it 24/7 which only one student in 30 years really used for I guess three minutes of my time once around midnight... they know their direction... because I didn't ruin it by taking over, instead supporting it by letting them guide me.
I guess this is also working for all other spirtual not wanted 'states of minds' if there is something like I wish to whatever what is left in the mind of the person you want to learn to guide himself to a life this person thinks is worthwhile living