When Mind Over Matter Is What’s The Matter
The idiom “mind over matter” has been defined as the use of willpower to overcome physical ailments and is generally seen as a positive thing to share with someone (or ourselves) when suffering. It serves as a way for us to move on from the matter and get things done.
It is similar to the practice of cognitive reframing, but with a crucial difference. Cognitive reframing is shifting perception of an event or circumstance in order to be perceived with less stress. An example is when someone shifts from seeing themselves as a victim to a survivor. Cognitive reframing helps us to grow with, and in thanks to, our pain.
“Mind over matter” assumes that we are of the right mind to make a judgment that the “matter” should be pushed through. Quite often it is our ego mind that doesn’t want to suffer or feel pain, and therefore the term has become synonymous with sweeping pain under the rug and “pushing through” as if the pain and suffering were not real or of great impact in one’s life.
As a recovering overachiever and people pleaser, I have been someone who “muscled through” pain and difficulties to show what I thought was success and strength. When I had a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis, an inflammatory disease of the bowel that causes frequent diarrhea, stomach pain and intestinal bleeding, I wore a symbolic badge of honor at work. I knew that my illness was my secret and took particular pride in knowing that my quarterly reviews remained outstanding.
On the recovery-side of being tough on myself, I’m sharing that the opposite is alarmingly true.
Mind over matter is not the strong picture of admirable perfection we make it out to be. Mind over matter is rejecting our body’s wisdom, shaming our natural cycles of rest and energy and ultimately it is planting seeds in our bodies for illness – from digestive disorders and auto-immune diseases to heart problems, even cancer.
When we are in situations of believing we need to put “mind over matter,” we are clearly facing a difficult time — maybe it’s a marathon at work, a break or change in an important relationship or a health issue. This difficulty is often a big or seemingly sudden change in our everyday life and it can feel jarring. Things are no longer “business as usual” and we don’t have an operating manual for it.
Our natural reaction to this is to want the pain of the “matter” to end as quickly as possible. That’s why we turn towards our ever strong minds to “push it aside,” or “walk it off.” We want to “get back on the horse,” and to do this, we put “mind over matter.”
Often we are in resistance to difficult or painful situations because we fear we can’t handle the repercussions of accepting and listening to this change. We cling to “normal” because we think we can rely on it. Our difficulty feels like a loss of control and, in an effort to gain back some control, we resist, push through and sometimes use our minds to block or numb out.
Unfortunately, this prevents us from processing what has happened and taking intentional action on the matter. This mathematical equation used by mindfulness teachers, says it quite simply:
Resistance x Pain = Suffering
The suffering we cause ourselves by using our mind to push away the matter can manifest in feelings of anxiousness, stress, impatience, agitation, anger, worry, fragmentation, depression, loneliness or numbness. Depending upon each of our autonomic nervous systems, we are coping with the difficulty through either the freeze or fight/flight response. According to Polyvagal Theory, these states of our nervous system happen automatically as a response and cause decreased immune response, as well as digestive and relational abilities. Essentially, our “mind over matter” technique severs our ability to connect and relate well with others and decreases our ability to connect with ourselves. It makes it harder to digest our food properly, get proper nutrients from our food and to heal from illnesses.
I suffered with ongoing Ulcerative Colitis for nearly a decade before I understood the message – I needed to listen to my body, accept my situation and then make lifestyle changes. With this wisdom, in the past six years, I haven’t needed any medication for what was once a 20-pill-a-day regiment.
Our minds are powerful, so if we turn against ourselves by suppressing reality, we suffer more in the long term. Instead of being at war with “the matters” of our lives, we can use our minds to work for us. I’ve found that the key to unlocking the pathway through is compassion.
Here’s a short inquiry for the difficult “matter” you’re facing – whether you’re feeling burnt out or down in the dumps.
- Imagine a child in your life is experiencing this very same matter.
- What words would you share with them? How would you comfort them in the face of their difficulty?
- Direct that same wisdom and compassion toward yourself.
Buddha has taught, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
When we give ourselves compassion in difficulty, we are able to stay with what challenges us long enough to process it. With this, we can act for long-term health, instead of the short-term show of “look how I pushed through!” With compassion, we become open, we listen and can actually hear the wisdom within each of us. It’s this inner wisdom that lights our way forward, transforming our “matters” into true strength and growth.
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Jordana Reim has dedicated her life to expanding consciousness - her own, her community’s, and humanity’s. She has spent the last decade refining her personal practice through travels and residencies at some of the most sacred and beautiful places on Earth including the islands of Thailand, ashrams of India and the Himalayas of Nepal and Bhutan. An author, meditation guide and co-founder of the online mindfulness platform PeaceInside.live. Jordana works with individuals and organizations to build healthy mental and emotional hygiene habits. The New-Jersey native connects with hundreds of people from around the world through her online programs. Her original meditations have been streamed over 500,000 times. A “recovering-type-A-overachiever,” Jordana understands high-stress “go” lifestyles. In her previous career, Reim was an award-winning producer of advertising on New York City’s storied Madison Ave. Her teachings seamlessly bridge the gap between ancient practice and modern day mindsets.