Secret of forgetting your past and finding happiness revealed
When we distance ourselves from a situation, we stop activating the same circuits, which gradually fade out.
- Total Shares
"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
— Wayne Dyer
Dr Dyer, a popular 21st century spiritual teacher, was onto something when he said this. I think we have all experienced the way our entire realities shift when we are truly able to change the way we perceive the world, or when our minds open up to new information.
Imagine that "aha" moment you had when you were able to look at a problem in a different way and solve it when you previously thought you couldn't. Or, that feeling of freedom and lightness you felt when you were able to drop a limiting belief or emotion that you had been carrying for a long time and change the way you process the world. For millennia, nearly every spiritual or self-improvement path has placed emphasis on letting go of the past and living in the present moment in order to live at one’s highest potential. This idea appeals strongly to the innate aspirations of the human being to be totally free, untethered, and unconditioned.
Could there be some scientific basis to why changing our perspective and forgetting the past can help make us smarter, happier, and freer? Until recently, it would have been impossible to test this theory, but new advances in neuroscience and technology are allowing us to learn that the wisdom expounded by the great saints, yogis, and legitimate spiritual leaders of the past has a very sound scientific backing to support it. By combining the teachings of the past and correlating it with the latest knowledge and research in neuroscience, we are beginning to see that spirituality and science are not at all separated, and that "forgetting the past and letting go" could be the most scientifically beneficial thing you can do for your brain to reach its full operating potential.
Basics of the nervous system
To understand how forgetting the past can help make us smarter, happier, and more skilled, we need to understand a little bit about how the nervous system works. The nervous system is made up of an immense network of cells called neurons, which conduct electrical impulses throughout the human body, constantly sending information and instructions either to or from the main parts of the nervous system which allows us to operate in and respond to the world we are living in. The nervous system is responsible for allowing us to experience and feel anything. According to the NCBI, "The nervous system takes in information through our senses, processes the information and triggers reactions, such as making your muscles move or causing you to feel pain. For example, if you touch a hot plate, you reflexively pull back your hand and your nerves simultaneously send pain signals to your brain. Metabolic processes are also controlled by the nervous system."
All of this sensation, processing, and reaction triggering take place through the medium of cells called neurons. The nervous system is essentially a vast network of interconnected neurons constantly communicating with each other to ultimately create the experience we term as life. A neuron "fires" or conducts an electrical impulse called an action potential to an adjacent neuron when it has been stimulated to a certain threshold which causes an electrochemical reaction called a depolarisation. The stimulation level of a neuron is constantly monitored by short extensions of the neurons called dendrites, which pick up signals from its surroundings. Only when the sum of the stimulation to a neuron's dendrites reaches the threshold at a given time does the neuron fire and send a signal along the axon to the next neuron-this is called an action potential.
As most of us know, the most important parts of the nervous system are the brain and the spinal cord, which contain enormous networks of neurons that have become responsible for various functions, feelings, and thoughts in the human system. For example, there are areas of the brain which are responsible for controlling body temperature, memory, attention, language, anxiety levels, emotions such as happiness and sadness, and any other human function you can think of.
The ever-changing brain
Every time we think a thought, certain regions of the brain are activated according to the nature of that thought. An impression is left on the brain with each thought. The more we think in the same way, the deeper the impression becomes. If we constantly think thoughts of anxiety and fear, the centers of the brain involved in creating the feeling and emotion of anxiety and fear will be continuously activated and a cascade of chemical reactions occurs throughout the body to make us feel anxious and afraid. If we think thoughts of positivity, peace, and joyfulness, centers of the brain responsible for making us feel good will be activated. This idea that the way we think changes how the brain functions is a concept known in Neuroscience as neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural networks and connections throughout life in response to thoughts, learning and experience.
This concept of neuroplasticity is simultaneously both liberating and damning. It is liberating because it implies that we are not condemned to be the way we are, or to suffer the diseases and emotional baggage we carry throughout life. We have the ability to change ourselves, to “reprogramme” ourselves and change our destiny by changing the way we think. However, it is also damning because the brain is obsessed with efficiency. When we think certain thoughts for a long time, eventually the circuits in the brain that are activated by that continued way of thinking or being become thicker and more “hardwired” into the nervous system. That means, what started out as “free thinking” has now become something that is beyond our conscious control, and changing the program becomes a hellish job.
Why we get stuck
Anyone who has tried to truly change themselves from the inside and forget the past knows exactly how difficult it is to become a new person. We try with all our might and will power to change, but we are stuck in our ways and seemingly helpless to do anything to change our minds. At this point, I would like to refer to Swami Vivekananda to explain why it so difficult to transform ourselves. One must understand that when Vivekananda refers to “Prana", it is the electrical force that runs through all of the universe, and which animates the human body which he is talking about, and not the breath, as it is commonly understood to mean today. It is remarkable when you think that these yogis of the past were talking about advanced scientific concepts like neuroplasticity long before modern science:
“You must remember that yoga changes the body. As you go on practising, your body changes; it is not the same body that you had before the practice. That is very rational, and can be explained because every new thought that we have must make, as it were, a new channel through the brain, and that explains the tremendous conservatism of human nature. Human nature likes to run through the ruts that are already there because it is easy. If we think, just for example's sake, that the mind is like a needle and the brain substances a soft lump before it, then each thought that we have makes a street, as it were, in the brain, and this street would close up, but for the grey matter, which comes and makes a lining to keep it separate. If there were no grey matter, there would be no memory, because memory means going over these old streets, retracing a thought, as it were. Now, perhaps you have marked that when one talks on subjects in which one takes a few ideas that are familiar to everyone and combines and recombines them, it is easy to follow because these channels are present in everyone's brain, and it is only necessary to recur to them. But when a new subject comes, new channels have to be made, so it is not understood readily. And that is why the brain (it is the brain and not the people themselves), refuses unconsciously to be acted upon by new ideas. It resists. The prana is trying to make new channels, and the brain will not allow it. This is the secret of conservatism. The fewer channels there have been in the brain, and the less the needle of the Prana has made these passages, the more conservative will be the brain, the more it will struggle against new thoughts. The more thoughtful the man, the more complicated will be the streets in his brain, and the more easily he will take to new ideas, and understand them. So, with every fresh idea, we make new impression in the brain, cut new channels through the brain stuff, and that is why we find that in the practice of yoga (it being an entirely new set of thoughts and motives) there is so much physical resistance at first.”
Elsewhere, Swami Vivekananda describes the role of Prana imbalances in the development and cure of diseases:
“Sometimes in your own body the supply of Prana gravitates more or less to one part; the balance is disturbed, and when the balance of Prana is disturbed, what we call disease is produced. To take away the superfluous Prana, or to supply the Prana that is wanting, will be curing the disease.”
When we have been thinking and feeling the exact same way our entire lives and never made an effort to look at things in new and different ways, we have locked the Prana, as it were, into the same ruts or circuits, becoming thicker and thicker. Even when presented with new information, the prana that is needed to activate the centers of the brain that would process and react to that new information in a different way is unable to escape the circuits that it is already travelling through, so we are not able to learn new things effectively or change our emotional states easily. When this Prana becomes imbalanced in such a way due to repeated habits of thinking and living, the activity patterns in the brain become abnormal. Certain centers of the brain are overactive and others become underactive. This leads to the development of various mental and physical diseases.
Vivekananda’s idea that Prana imbalance in the brain (read: abnormal brain activity) is responsible for disease is now being strongly supported by fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology, which enables researchers to actually observe the activity of a subject’s brain in real time. Scientists are learning that diseases like depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, OCD and more all have distinct and abnormal brain activity patterns which can be observed on fMRI scans.
Change is possible
With this being said, are we condemned to be slaves of the past and to continue to be the same person every single day for the rest of our lives? Once our Prana becomes imbalanced, are we then helpless victims to our diseases and illnesses?
No! Neuroplasticity goes both ways. It means that if you keep using the same circuits over and over again, those circuits will harden and become more and more prominent. On the other hand, circuits that are not used are removed by natural processes that occur in the body.
The process of breaking up connections between brain cells is known in scientific terminology as “synaptic pruning” (Synapses are the junctions between neurons, consisting of gaps across which signals/impulses are transmitted from neuron to neuron through the medium of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, GABA, etc). This synaptic pruning is actually a very natural process and occurs every night when we are sleeping.
While we sleep, the brain is still active, trying to reorganise and “clean itself up” by removing connections that are not being used as much. This, I believe, is the scientific basis of the old adage, “time heals all wounds.” When we remove or distance ourselves from a situation, we stop activating the same circuits and gradually allow for the body’s natural processes to fade these circuits out and free up the Prana to be used differently.
The problem, however, is that these natural biological processes of change and evolution are very slow, and sometimes we cannot afford to wait months or years for them to remove unwanted neural networks, especially when we are continuously confronted with stimuli on a day-to- day basis that cause us to react in the same way again and again.
Mental scientists of the past, or yogis, understood this problem and set about to study ways to accelerate the natural processes of change occurring in the body and came up with various techniques and methods devised to help the human change himself which have blossomed into various paths of yoga and meditation today.
One such highly effective technique is the “cleaning” or “rejuvenation” technique taught for free by the Heartfulness Institute. A system of meditation and well-being designed to optimise and liberate the human mind to its full potential is taught. In this cleaning technique, one is asked to sit for 30 minutes and mentally suggest that “all impurities and complexities are leaving through the backside of the system in the form of smoke and the sacred current from the 'source' is entering the system in their place.” One is supposed to use the force of will to mentally push out all of these complexities. After doing this, the meditator is left with a sense of lightness, calmness and freshness. Over time, he finds that he has changed dramatically from the inside out.
While all this may sound absurd, it is not at all far-fetched to believe that mental suggestion and visualisation dramatically affect the human body. Dr Natwar Sharma, a Chennai-based pediatrician and long-time meditator, is quick to remind us that the mind/brain is not able to differentiate between reality and imagination. “When we visualise and imagine that we are exercising our muscles, scientific studies have shown that we actually become significantly stronger without ever actually lifting a weight. While some may be quick to label this a placebo effect, scientists have observed that the brain is literally building new synaptic connections to the muscles to give us greater strength. When imagination can be used to build new connections in the brain, there is no reason to believe that the same cannot be used to remove unwanted connections.”
I believe that when modern scientists decide to seriously study this cleaning technique, they will discover that the flow of Prana within the person is being normalised and balanced. Hundreds of thousands of people have been employing this technique for nearly the last 100 years and have gained immense benefit and personal freedom through its use. Anyone who doubts the possibility of such a simple method being so efficacious is invited to try it out for themselves on their own or for free with a trainer, which is usually more effective.
More to life than what meets the eye
Evelyn H (not her real name), a practitioner of Heartfulness Meditation for the last 5 years, who is now also a Heartfulness meditation trainer in the United States, had this to say about how the cleaning technique has helped her transform herself over the last five years.
“Even though I ‘knew’ intellectually through the study of various philosophies of life such as Karma theory, Judaism, Christian Science, Vipassana and more, that there was something more to life than meets the eye, I was still filled with a deep sadness inside myself. An unfulfilled longing which manifested as internal tension and anxiety that I could not resolve. I was an extremely emotional person and underneath an optimistic exterior, I felt profoundly sad. When I first started Heartfulness meditation, I would just cry after one-on-one cleaning sessions with a trainer. Somehow, I could feel something inside me beginning to melt, to yield. I could feel a warmth and love filling the space that had been cleared out by the cleaning. Day by day, year by year, I could begin to observe immense changes in my life and inside myself that showed how much had shifted. Layers of emotional pain and complexity had fallen off. Five years into the practice, I can finally say that all that inner turmoil of the past has completely disintegrated. I am still a human like everyone else and am working on aspects of my character, but in my heart, is a trust, satisfaction and joy I had imagined and believed was possible, but which I now actually can feel. It is possible to change and remove the hold that the past has on you. There is a place of balance and trust within each of us that allows us to be content and trustful regardless of outer circumstances. It is when we are centered in this place of balance that we are able to respond masterfully to any problem that we are faced with, solving problems with efficiency and poise we were not previously capable of. The removal of the inner impressions by the Heartfulness Cleaning practice was solely responsible for this change and inner growth. It is the single most potent and effective practice I have come across in my consistent pursuit of self-transformation.”
It all depends on you
While Heartfulness is certainly one highly effective system to help humans change themselves and become better, freer, and more potent versions of themselves, it is certainly not the only way. There are many different techniques, systems, healing modalities, and more which are specifically designed to help us let go of our immense inner burden and grow into the magnificent human beings each one of us is supposed to be. The key, then, is to find a practice that works for you and go full-tilt at working on “forgetting” everything that has held you back your whole life. Your memories will not disappear, but they will no longer have any hold over you. They will no longer be capable of causing you pain. They will appear to you like distant dreams or past lives which you end up laughing at.
We are, each and everyone of us, meant to be happy, intelligent, untethered, and fulfilled. Our destiny is in our own hands. The only thing holding us back is ourselves. We must each take responsibility for every single aspect of our own lives and seek out methods and guidance that help us become better version of ourselves. When we actively accelerate the process of removing the inner burdens that are tying us down, we begin to soar and approach our fullest potential as humans.
"Never say any man is hopeless, because he only represents a character, a bundle of habits, which can be checked by new and better ones. Character is repeated habits, and repeated habits alone can reform character.” — Swami Vivekananda