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Complementary Corner

WordsÖ Creating our World and Health

Renee Lehman

Words, words, words. We are surrounded by words. We use words to speak with one another and to ourselves in our own brain. Words are used in the music that we listen to and in the news we tune into, and currently you are reading words in this article. The words that we use in our speaking about the "world" shape both our external environment, and our internal state and subsequent actions.

"The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm."

Exactly as it is with our words." (Unknown)

Do you remember a previous article on how our beliefs affect our health (Emmitsburg News Journal, March 2011)? In it I wrote about how our biology adapts to our thoughts and beliefs. When we truly recognize that our thoughts/beliefs are that powerful, we hold the key to freedom (Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief). Well, what comes before a thought or belief? Words! Words create thoughts, which create emotions, which then create behavioral and physical conditions.

Words Have Power

What you say matters. Words can teach, guide, encourage, inspire, reassure and unite. Words can also destroy visions and dreams, and tear relationships apart. With words, we both create life and destroy life.

For example, there is no past, only what you say about it: "I had a terrible childhood." The present is what you declare it to be: "Itís going to be a horrible day." The future is not separate from what I say it will be: "Iím never going to find love."

Think about this excerpt from the book, My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD (a neuroanatomist who had a stroke at the age of 37 years old) about what she learned during her recovery:

"One of the greatest lessons I learned was how to feel the physical component of emotionÖ I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of meÖI made up my decisions based upon how things felt insideÖI learned that I could use my left mind, through language, to talk directly to my brain and tell it what I wanted and what I didnít want.

What kind of life do you want to create with your words? IT IS YOUR CHOICE! WE can CHOOSE to build a heaven or construct a hell.

The words we use in our thoughts trigger our brain cells to release neuropeptides (our brainís chemical messengers to our body). These messengers will cascade throughout our bodies and will either be health-promoting or health-destroying. Thoughts create emotions, and particular emotions are associated with a particular neuropeptide, so that over time, if we are prone to experience a particular emotion, our cellular structure actually changes to accommodate more of the neuropeptide associated with the emotion. In this way, our neural pathways build up to become like well worn roads along which the electrical impulses (which stem from the power of the mind) travel (2004 movie, What the Bleep do we know!?).

"You are literally thinking with your body. The words you sayÖ actually affect the neural networks forming in the brain."
           (Candace Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotion)

Words Give Power

Words are creative and open new doors to possibility:

"You can do it!" "I believe in you!" "What else is possible here?" "This experience gives us the opportunity to doÖ"

Words Take Power Away

Words are harbingers of separation and violence:

"I canít do anything about this situation." "You idiot!" "Nonsense!" "I will not compromise. Take it or leave it." "I donít trust you."

Words and Illness

Are negative words precursors to illness and disease? The article written by Barbara Frederickson in the March 7, 2000 edition of the American Psychological Association journal Prevention and Treatment, (Cultivating Positive Emotions to Optimize Health and Well-Being) demonstrated that research has shown that negative emotions like poorly managed anger, fear, anxiety, depression, and prolonged grief have been shown to compromise immune functioning, lead to heart disease, cancer and other stress-related physical disorders. What comes before negative emotions? Negative words!

What is the impact of how you speak about your body and yourself?

I once had a woman referred to me for physical therapy because of pain at the base of her skull and upper neck. She had x-rays and other tests completed that showed no structural problems. One day when working with her, she said, "I know in the back of my head that my husband (who has cancer) is going to die soon." I asked her if she realized what she just had said! The back of her headÖ where her pain was located! She suddenly realized that the pain dealt with her husbandís condition. Her pains did go away shortly after her husband died.

What do you notice when you repeat the following statements to yourself?

"That just kills me." "This anger is eating me up inside." "Iím going out of my mind1" "This is going to be the death of me!" "I canít stomach this anymore." How do you FEEL?

Now repeat the following statements:

"That brightened my day!" Iím so excited!" "Thereís a weight off my shoulders." "I can see clearly now." Now, how do you FEEL?

One of my mentors in life and acupuncture, Dianne Connelly, PhD, once said:

"There are three things of which we can be relatively certain.
We are here. We are here together.
And there will be a time when that is no longer so.
What is the conversation worth having in the meantime?"

What strategies can you develop to be a better listener of the words that you use to converse with yourself and others? What steps can you take to help make your word choices more beneficial for you and the world? Continue reading this article for some suggestions.

Listening

We all tend to hear at least two voices in our head. The inner voice that speaks with wisdom tends to be a peaceful voice. Letís call it "Buddy." We can hear Buddyís voice saying, "Great job" or "Wow, that was easier than I thought." It can make you feel open, freed-up, and like smiling.

In contrast, the other inner voice may speak with greater authority about our life. Let us call this inner voice "Bully." It shouts, shrieks, and is based in fear. We hear the Bullyís voice coming from inside of us saying things like, "Donít screw this up" or "Iím not very good atÖ" Sometimes we hear the Bullyís voice speaking through others around us: "You canít do that" or "Youíll probably mess up." Finally, sometimes we are the voice of the Bully for others: "Thatís not how I would do it" or "That wonít do any good." Recognize the Bullyís voice! It shouts! It makes you feel constricted, contracted, and even paranoid.

Practices to Minimize the INNER Bully

Call the Bully by name when it is yelling at you. Ask yourself, "Really?" "Is this true for me?" Thank the Bully for sharing, and send it on its way. Take the Bullyís words, twist them, and turn them upside down. The Bully will not appreciate this. There will be more shouting. You will gain more wisdom, and the Buddy will give you more peace. As you do this, the Bully will often recede to the shadows.

The Bully Turning it Upside Down

  • "You canít do that" "I can do that and I might even be good at it"
  • "Thatís too risky" "Yes, it may be risky, but maybe itís time that I take a risk"
  • "Youíre not good at _____" "I am willing to be a beginner at _____"
  • "You didnít do it perfectly" "Youíre right, I am only human"
  • "Youíll probably mess it up" "I am willing to make a mess"
  • "You donít deserve this, youíll fail" "Youíre wrong. I do deserve this, and even if I do fail, it wonít be the end of the world"

Also, you could try the following:

1. Take a minute and write down the areas of your personal life that the Bully speaks most loudly.

2. Take a minute and write down where in your life you mistake the voice of the Bully for the truth? Build a list of the Bullyís favorite sayings.

3. Then take five minutes and write down a description of your life. Donít lift your pen; just write without editing yourself and without self-judgment.

4. Then look over your description, looking for each word that carries fear-provoking or painful associations.

These words have power! Use your Buddy voice to then change every stressful word in your description to something more freeing, exciting, or calming. For example, if you wrote "Iím nervous," see if it could be replaced by "Iím excited." As you become aware of the Bullyís favorite sayings, and change your words, its voice will begin to fade. The Buddyís voice of wisdom will become more prominent, and you will begin to have more peaceful thoughts. (Exercise from Martha Beck, Finding Your Inner Voice in the July 2011 issue of O, the Oprah Magazine.)

Practices to Minimize the OUTER Bully

It will take practice to have more healing conversations with "others." To work on decreasing the chances of you being the voice of the Bully to someone else, try the following tips:

1. Make no assumptions! Do not even begin to think that you know what another person is thinking!

2. Simply listen! Is it possible to listen newly to another as if you have never heard this person speak before?

3. Make no comparisons! Listen without comparing what one person says to what another has said.

4. Again, simply listen! Can you listen without thinking about what you are going to say in response?

Other things that you can practice include observing over a set period of time what your tendencies are when you are in conversation with someone. For example, rather than just listening, do you have a tendency to give advice, to fix, to correct, to teach, etc.? Then after observing yourself, change your tendency and just listen. How is the conversation then different? Also, when having a conversation with someone, practice staying silent and attentive (just listen) for an extra second longer than usual before you respond. Notice how often the other person will have more to say.

Finally, practice asking more skillful questions that reveal how much you care and are concerned. Questions that begin with "WHY" tend to make people feel like they have to explain or defend themselves. Reflect on how you might respond to someone asking you, "Why did you do that?" "WHAT and HOW" questions tend to be more open-ended and keep the conversation moving. Now, observe how you feel when you are asked, "What made you decide to do that?" This may create a different feeling inside of you.

"Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people
will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill."
(Buddha)

How do you want to be a healing presence in the world today?

If this topic interests you and you would like to read more I would recommend the resources discussed in this article and the book Dancing with the Ten Thousand Things (2004) by Tom Balles.

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.  She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman