An excerpt from The Bliss Experiment: 28 Days to Personal Transformation
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” — Henry Ford
Affirmations are positive statements of truth that we aspire to absorb into our lives. They share similarities with practices like awareness, optimism and gratitude, but also at least one essential difference: they penetrate much more deeply, helping us take the next step to bliss.
There are several strategies and techniques for purifying our mental rivers and helping us gain mastery over our conscious minds. These are all effective and essential practices. Nonetheless, by themselves, they are not enough. While they definitely improve, even outright manifest, regular happiness, they can’t directly connect us with pure bliss. This is because “everyday happiness” (as we call it The Happiness Scale) primarily results from cultivating a positive mental and emotional state.
Bliss exists on a deeper plane. It is a spiritual state far beyond our mind and emotions. Ultimately, bliss is much more than an abundance of happiness. It’s a new category of consciousness that exists on a higher octave of human experience. As indispensable as things like optimism and gratitude are — we wouldn’t have made it this far without them — it takes an entirely new set of tools to help us break through to the next level.
George is a huge, hulking guy. Stands about 6’5″ and weighs at least 250 pounds. He grew up in Mississippi then spent nearly a decade in the Army. Even now, years later, he still wears his hair high and tight. He’s tough, blunt, and no-nonsense. His last posting, prior to leaving the Army, was Fort Irwin in Barstow, CA. Though it wouldn’t have occurred to him while growing up in the Deep South, after being stationed in California, he decided he liked it very much — especially the desert areas — so he chose to stay in the area after his discharge from the military. George and I met when he attended one of my meditation workshops.
He was an instantly likable guy. I particularly appreciated his straight-forward, honest demeanor. He says what he thinks and feels, no sugarcoating or carefully phrased tip-toeing. Whenever he felt like I said something stupid or incomprehensible, he didn’t hold back challenging me. My kind of guy.
After the workshop, before he drove two hours back to the desert, George invited me next door for coffee. He explained that he wanted to learn meditation because he was having difficulties finding and keeping a good relationship. He realized that at least part of the problem is that he’s a little too aggressive, even wound-up, and this tended to scare off or alienate most of the women he’d met. He’d read about meditation and figured it might help mellow him out, provide him with a little more calmness and lessen his reactivity.
Since George is the type that demands results right away and was looking for ways to accelerate his progress, I suggested that he pair his meditation practice with affirmations. After explaining to him how they worked, being sure to mention a few of the more interesting scientific studies, we selected one that seemed particularly suited to his relationship issues. Since a constant theme in the feedback he received from women was that he was a bit insensitive to their needs and feelings, we decided he would work with one taken from a book that I happened to have in my car.
This was the affirmation George chose: By sensitivity to others’ realities, I keep myself in readiness to perceive the truth, no matter what garb it wears.
Two months later, I received an email from George. He told me that he had been practicing it every day. He had even used sticky notes to post it around his environment: on his bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, even his car dashboard. Two weeks after he started working with the affirmation, he went out with a woman he had casually dated the prior year.
He wrote, “The whole date I kept reminding myself of the affirmation but I was kinda nervous so all I could remember of it was be sensitive to others’ realities.Â So I just kept sayin’ that in my head the whole night, ‘specially when she gave me that look I get when the ladies are ticked off at something I said. We had a great time and have been seein’ each other since. I’m still doing meditating and affirming every day…thanks a bunch, my friend, your magic voodoo works!”
While often seen as excessively self-helpy, affirmations properly understood are anything but New Age. They are based on the neural operation inside our brains. One of the accepted truths of neurology is, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” also known as Hebbian Theory. Visualize a dry piece of flat land. When it rains, water begins cutting a path through the ground. At first, it is a small channel but as more water runs through it, the deeper the indentation becomes. In turn, this allows more and more water to flow through the same pathway with less resistance.
Affirmations, when practiced correctly, reinforce a chemical pathway in the brain, strengthening the connection between neurons, making them more likely to conduct the same message again. Neurons that are routinely fired in a specific pattern strengthen their bond, “wiring together” in a complex network that will be automatically set off whenever properly triggered.
There are a number of scientific studies that show the effectiveness of affirmations in different contexts.
A 1998 study published by the American Psychological Association showed that doing affirmations stops the process of rumination that leads to depression. Put another way, research showed that affirmations were an effective way for practitioners to gain enough control over their minds that they could then redirect their thought-energies in more positive directions. The researchers even speculated that affirmations by themselves might be powerful enough to reverse depression. (A 2006 European study confirmed that those who were doing affirmations gave subjects better and more efficient “mental control” than those who don’t.)
Affirmations can improve academic performance. An encouraging study published in Scientific American found that African-American school-children who practiced affirming their integrity and self-worth scored higher on tests and got better grades at the end of the semester than those who didn’t. The increase was so substantial that it almost eliminated a previously measured performance and grade gap between white students and African-American students attending the same school.
Similarly, a study published in the prestigious journal, Science, demonstrated that college-age women who did affirmations closed the traditional math and science performance gap versus men.
More good news for women: research published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion concluded that affirmations help women improve their body image, especially how they feel about their appearance and looks, in turn helping them to feel better about themselves overall.
Affirmations also have a positive effect on our physical health. A study conducted at UCLA demonstrated that affirmations have a positive effect on breast-cancer survivors:
- Those that engaged in the practice reported less stress and fewer adverse physical symptoms from the disease and its treatments.
- The same researchers conducted a different study on non-ill people under ordinary, every-day stress and discovered that they, too, lowered their subjective feelings of stress andÂ the measurable levels of cortisol (the stress-producing hormone) in their bodies.
Affirmations can even boost business success: A study conducted at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that subjects who developed positive self-esteem through affirmations made better business decisions. Specifically, they were more likely to admit when a project or product wasn’t working and were faster to re-allocate those resources towards more productive avenues.
Affirmations help actualize our potential and greatly bolster the effectiveness of optimistic thinking. A study of two groups of elite athletes with equal injury histories and performance measurements found that:
- Athletes with a high degree of self-confidence in their abilities sustain fewer injuries than those with lower self-confidence.
- Those telling themselves things like, “I don’t know if I can do this” or “I might injure myself here” resulted in significantly higher numbers of injuries than those who told themselves, “I can do this.”
Years ago, I loathed affirmations. All I could think of was the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Al Franken plays the character of self-help twit Stuart Smalley, crooning such comically cringe-worthy sentiments as “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” I couldn’t get that out of my head. I felt like a complete idiot every time I was even near someone doing affirmations.
While I still believe that affirmations done incorrectly do indeed have that Stuart Smalley feel, I eventually realized that, done properly, they are powerful and effective. It turns out that affirmations predate the modern self-help movement by about 4,000 years; they have long been incorporated into authentic spiritual traditions for millennia and are not, thankfully, the invention of 1970s cheesy pseudo-psychologists. Additionally, as we just saw, there are legitimate scientific theories, based on our understanding of how the brain works, that explain why affirmations work, coupled with a growing body of experimental evidence. Above all, the largest factor in my acceptance of the practice is that, after I got over my hesitation, I found they actually worked for me.
What Are Affirmations?
Affirmations are positive statements of truth that we aspire to absorb into our lives.
This immediately raises an important question: given that the point of an affirmation is to repeat something to ourselves that is NOT reflective of our current reality, what do we mean we say they are true? Clearly, they can’t be true for the person doing the affirming, otherwise it wouldn’t be an affirmation, it would be a statement of fact.
An affirmation is a statement of a universal truth, not necessarily a local experience. Qualities like love, peace, joy, and wisdom are genuine possibilities for most humans but that doesn’t mean that all six billion of us currently understand or manifest these qualities equally. They are true in the sense that they are potentially accessible to us. It may be a fact that I am currently unhappy but it is a truthÂ that I have the potential for happiness, if only I could figure out how to tap it.
We might even think of affirmations as the process of setting mental and spiritual goals for ourselves. Just as students in law school are not yet attorneys, in order for them to achieve that, at some point (probably again and again) they had to affirm their interest and then set a concrete plan in motion to make it happen. Nonetheless, at the moment they set that intention, factually speaking, they were not yet practicing attorneys. Nor would we expect to them to be.
Our words are extremely powerful. Perhaps more powerful than we realize. What we say to ourselves, and how we say it, is vitally important. They impact everything: our worldly success, bodily health, mental well-being, and above all, our spiritual realization.
Affirmations, then, are the conscious effort to plant positive thoughts and the best-possible outcomes in our minds. The more effectively we can do this, the more likely that’s exactly what will happen, just as athletes who told themselves they might get hurt, did, and those who told themselves they wouldn’t, didn’t.
The Bridge to Bliss
Affirmations work on multiple levels. Like optimism and gratitude, they help us exchange negative thoughts for positive ones. Unlike those practices, however, they help us make direct contact with both the subconscious and superconscious minds. As you may recall, the superconscious mind is the origin of bliss.
The subconsciousness is a repository for the thoughts, impressions, and feelings that pass through our conscious mind and are then stored for future use. It is a neutral storage facility, indiscriminately filing away all kinds of scraps and fragments, both positive and negative. This is the first way in which affirmations help us. When performed properly, they tunnel down into our subconscious minds, bringing order to the chaos, and effectively replace negative thoughts, habits, feelings, and impressions with positive ones.
Now comes the twist, the reason why affirmations directly connect with bliss. In addition to improving our conscious and subconscious minds, affirmations open us to the highest and rarest form of consciousness, superconsciousness. When we practice affirmations, we make a conscious attempt to notice, feel, and connect with superconsciousness. As we’ll see in the Experiment below, the correct procedure for affirmations includes directly accessing and seeding the superconscious mind.
By themselves, affirmations aren’t powerful enough to completely and permanently open superconsciousness for us. But they do provide the first contact with it, like drilling a pilot hole that, later, more powerful equipment will use to further open and expand our superconsciousness more thoroughly and systematically.
Tips for Working with Affirmations
As I mentioned, affirmations are an ancient practice stretching back over millennia. There is an accumulated body of spiritual wisdom concerning how they should be implemented — the theory may sound complex (and in some cases it is), but for our purposes here it can be usefully simplified as follows.
Affirmations are most effective when planted in all three levels of consciousness: sub, waking, and super. Each of these has a corresponding eye position. By concentrating on different places while doing them, we can seed the affirmation on all three levels. The eye position associated with everyday waking consciousness is open and looking straight ahead (as you are doing right now as you read this or as you interact with the world in your daily, waking life). The eye position that accesses subconsciousness is closed and looking downward, as we do when we sleep, rest, or daydream. The position that accesses superconsciousness is with eyes closed but looking gently upward towards the point between the eyebrows (sometimes called the Third Eye or Spiritual Eye in various literatures). This is the seat of superconsciousness.
The first step is to choose the appropriate affirmation for our goal. As we saw in our review of the scientific literature, affirmations are helpful with just about everything, not only happiness or bliss. There are affirmations for success, love, will-power, physical healing, forgiveness, patience, humility, courage, peace, success, creativity — even income or work. For our purposes, we’ll focus on affirmations that improve our happiness and directly help us experience bliss. Once we learn the technique, we can use it to improve every aspect of our lives.
Repetition is critical, in two senses. During the session itself, we repeat the affirmation again and again. Secondly, it’s important to work with the same affirmation many times over multiple sessions. Remember the adage, “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more we repeat it, the more deeply the groove is etched into our minds. Lack of sufficient repetition is one of the main reasons for failure. Work with a single affirmation for at least a month before changing it. Some people use the same one for years.
Great energy and deep concentration are necessary. This practice can’t be done on auto-pilot or while spacing out. Our complete, conscious, will, interest, and presence are required.
To help remember to do it, it often helps to utilize cards, sticky notes, calendars, even an alarm or chime on your mobile phone — whatever cuing system works best for you. Write the affirmation down and then place it where you’ll see it often such as: on your night stand, lamp, altar, bathroom mirror, computer or desk, car dashboard, on refrigerator.
If you can’t say it out loud because of the people around you, at least say it mentally with as much energy as you can.
You can do them any time of the day. If you meditate, immediately after is a very effective time as your mind is at its most open and alert. Or when you are falling asleep, waking up, while doing yoga, walking, exercising, driving, vacuuming, eating, doing the dishes, brushing your teeth or shaving. Anytime!
Use affirmations as a defensive weapon. When a negative thought, mood, or situation crops up, a positive affirmation can be used to counteract it. You can even think of it like playing an inner video game — using the positive affirmation to conquer the forces of negativity.
Finding or Writing Your Affirmations
In the practice session below, I will give you two affirmations, one for happiness, the other for bliss. There are many resources for finding affirmations written by experienced, knowledgeable people. Suggestions are available on the companion website for the book, The Bliss Experiment.
We can also write our own. If we choose this route, it’s essential to construct them correctly. Otherwise, they might not only be ineffective, they could even provoke the opposite response. Some guidelines:
- Keep them short and specific. They will be easier to say and remember. They will also have greater impact by removing extraneous elements and zeroing in on the precise seed-thought we are planting.
- Make them positive. Avoid negative phrasing. Affirm what you want, not what you DON’T want. For example, don’t say, “I am no longer depressed.” Your mind will hear the word “depressed.” Instead, affirm, “I am joyful.” This reinforces your goal and doesn’t confuse your subconscious mind.
- Phrase them in the present tense. For example; “I am in bliss” instead of “I am going to feel bliss”. Remember, an affirmation is not a fact but a truth.
Affirming Happiness and Bliss
Here are two sample affirmations. Instructions for use are below.
For happiness: I am even-minded and cheerful at all times. Joy is my birthright. I radiate happiness to all.Â
For bliss: Behind my thoughts, feelings, and mind-river, infinite joy awaits me. The ocean of eternal bliss flows through me, now and forever.Â
Choose one of the above for now. Later, you can find others or write your own. The process:
- Sit somewhere quiet, where you can focus without distraction.
- Close your eyes. Keep your spine erect, chest high. Relax completely. Take deep breaths and exhale thrice. Keep your body as motionless as possible.
- Empty the mind of all restless thoughts, and withdraw it from all sensations of bodily weight, temperature and sounds.
- Fill your mind with compassion, determination, and will-power. Cast away anxiety, distrust, and worry. Surrender doubt or disbelief; these are negative affirmations that will undermine your practice.
- Looking straight ahead with eyes opened or closed (keep them open if you have trouble “looking” straight ahead with your eyelids closed). Say the affirmation out loud in a clear, strong voice, and with enthusiastic energy. If circumstances allow, your voice should be louder than your regular speaking volume. Not necessarily shouting but as loud and energetic as you can muster. Repeat it out loud a minimum of three times — but you can do it as many times as you feel.
- Continuing to repeat the affirmation out loud, slowly begin lowering your voice, getting softer with each repetition. Saying it in your normal speaking voice at least once, then whisper it at least once. This quieting process is bringing it into your subconscious mind.
- With your eyes closed (if they weren’t already), now repeat it silently, mentally only. Behind closed eyelids, have your eyes pointed down, as they would when you are resting or sleeping. Visualize the affirmation being planted deep into your subconscious. Repeat at least once like this, but you can do it more if you so choose.
- Now, still behind close eyelids, raise your eyes so that they are gazing gently upward at the point between the eyebrows. There should be no tension or “scrunching.” As if you were looking at a distant mountain peak. Once again, silently, mentally only, repeat the affirmation while looking upward. This plants the affirmation in the superconscious mind.
Part IV: Broadening Our Domain
Now that we’ve come to understand, relate to, and work with our minds in a new way, it’s essential that we learn how to properly re-inhabit the world around us.
Although bliss is primarily an inward experience, our lives unfold as part of a broad tapestry that weaves together every atom and being in the Universe. We can’t ignore the outer world, nor should we want to. A negative relationship with the outer world leads to either a solipsistic self-centeredness or an agitated, fearful, loneliness, all of which lead us far away from our deepest yearnings and Highest Self. We must learn to relate to the external world in the right spirit.
Our outer world, our environment and the people with whom we come into contact are vehicles for furthering our self-understanding and excavating the hidden bliss within. We can learn to expand our sense of Self to include every object, event and person in the Universe, without losing our balance or inward orientation towards our highest Self. Doing so redefines and reinterprets the traditional distinctions between the internal and external. In so doing, we skillfully dissolve the false barrier between our inner and outer worlds, allowing the possibility for unity, wholeness and completeness. Every moment becomes an opportunity for the discovery of bliss.
Meet Sean Meshorer, author of The Bliss Experiment: Happiness is Good, Bliss is Better! on June 11 & 12 in the Twin Cities — at 6pm June 11 at Valley Booksellers, 217 N. Main St., Stillwater, and at 7pm June 12 at Bookcase on Lake Street, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata, MN. For more information, please visit www.theblissexperiment.com