Cognition has two mechanisms: neural connections and supporting blood flow. The second has an underappreciated impact on our thinking.
Negative thought patterns are sustained because the inner mind believes that they are useful for our survival. Unfortunately, to sustain the supporting blood flow they require exercise now and then – else they atrophy (just like a muscle does). On the other hand, if we’re not careful they begin to run in loops in the background, starving other thoughts.
We can’t blame the negative thoughts – they’re just trying to maximize their ability to perform their function.
A function performed by the rational part of our mind (what Freud called the “super-ego”) is to regulate wayward thought patterns by pruning, and to fortify functional thought patterns. Where most of us think of this as changing the pattern of neuronal firing, the rebalancing of blood flow is also important.
We shouldn’t seek only happy thoughts, for they tend to passivity. We shouldn’t tolerate anxiety either, for it tends to isolation. We need balance. In building our capacity to control our thoughts, meditation helps us attain that balance. In emphasizing non-attachment to our thoughts, I think that the principal mechanism is reorganization of the blood flow in the brain. This achieves balance, while preserving the store of knowledge that allows us to move skillfully through the world.
Inspired by Rhi-Inspired’s post out at An Accidental Anarchist.