By Steve Peterson, MEd, MAIS
Faculty Training and Development Specialist, College of Nursing and Health Care Professions
Unlike the brain that is fueled by blood at its core and electrical connections throughout the grey matter, the mind is a bit more ethereal and is fueled by experiences, interpretations and memories that guide the brain to carry out certain physiological functions.
The brain is composed of nerve cells and blood vessels. It is an organ, the center of the nervous system and responsible for coordinating movements and carrying out thoughts, expressing feelings and emotions.
The brain requires no input from us for it to carry out rudimentary and reflexive events such as breathing, heartbeat, blinking, etc. The mind is a conscious collective of thoughts, experiences, emotions and feelings. It is very existential and the vehicle for daily experiential existence.
The mind requires no input from the brain and relies solely on our psychological thought processes to function. This is where the ego resides.
The brain cannot “unlearn” how to carry out its physiological duties. Breathing. Blinking. Digestion. Only through a medical or biological event can the brain be crippled and no longer able to function. The brain does not take commands to breathe or blink.
But the mind. Ah, the mind.
The mind CAN take commands to change its habits and behaviors, because the mind is fueled by interpretations of experiences. We have absolute control over whether we allow the mind to accept those interpretations as positive or negative. We have control over our egos. We can change them. We can nurture them.
However, we cannot utilize our IQ to affect such change. We use the resounding power of our emotional intelligence. No machine or medical procedure can make a healthy, mindful ego.
Harnessing and utilizing our emotional intelligence is a tool that we are all equipped with, regardless of what a standardized test told us our IQ was. Just like the mind and the brain are separate, so are IQ and EQ.
Your brain houses your IQ.
Your mind is your EQ.
A mindful ego is ultimately about personal development, building confidence, self-growth, overall health and wellness. In essence, a mindful ego and emotional intelligence equate to emotional resilience.
Resilience is the ability to embrace the positive and discern the negative – the ability to identify what is negative and make the personal decision that it is not going to have an impact. Search for the positive and allow it to manifest within you for the good of not only yourself, but also for others.
Resilience is the lens through which our minds perceive reality that shapes our behaviors and perceptions of reality. It is not the reality itself that shapes us because that is merely a resilient, transient perception.
Allow mindfulness to keep that lens free of smudges and dust.
Imagine yourself walking across a hillside on a beautiful spring afternoon. Perfectly warm weather, sun melting upon your skin, just enough to balance the crisp breeze that is carrying the amazing scent of irises, lilies and daisies. Every step you take through the bright green carpet of wild grass lifts small scented seedlings that catch the slight breeze and dance effortlessly to their final resting point elsewhere along the hillside.
You happen upon a lightly forested area and notice dandelions scattered beneath your feet. You sit down, lift a handful of dandelion seed bundles and blow gently to release the pods. They float all around you, dance over your shoulders and arms and gently glide to the ground.
Close your eyes, lean back into the sea of white and golden dandelions. Smell the scented air. Feel the warmth upon your skin. Lose yourself in the moment. Not a thought or a care in the world. This moment is yours. All yours.
The sound of a gunshot in the distance. The lingering echo of something very wrong has broken the hillside silence. You instantly sit up, heart racing. You feel the deafening thumping in your ears as blood is racing to your head.
What just occurred is an example of mindfulness versus (what I like to call) “brain fullness.”
Mindfulness was the hillside experience. Brain fullness was the instantaneous disengagement of the mindful experience and immediate reactionary state that occurred with the gunshot.
The mindful experience lasted 20 or 30 minutes on that hillside. The brain fullness experience will last as long as it takes to process the fear of the unknown, have a physiological “fight or flight” reaction, run down the hill to safety and then dwell on the “what if” for the next week and a half.
And then that brain fullness experience will be the one thing you talk about amongst friends and at social gatherings for the rest of your life. That gunshot in the distance is what you will carry with you whenever you think about that hillside experience.
You won’t talk about the “moment that was all yours.” You will remember and rehash the sound of the gunshot that ended your moment.
And to further complicate the matter, every time you see that hillside, or another similar hillside, you won’t remember the beauty of the flowers, the scents on the breeze or the dandelions. Your brain will rekindle that terrifying experience.
This is human nature. This is the construct of a lack of mindfulness.
The mind was lost in the moment on that hillside. And the brain was the reactionary response to the unknown.
This where emotional intelligence comes in.
It wasn’t a gunshot at all. It was an old car on the backside of that hill. The engine was in need of repair and it backfired – that’s what you heard.
Having a mindful ego and exercising one’s emotional intelligence would have prevented the destruction of the beautiful hillside experience.
How? By simply acknowledging that there is information out there that is unknown and not reacting to this unknown. Instead, respond to it.
Mindfulness is also the resiliency to respond to a stressful event and return back to the pleasant experience of the moment.
More about Steve:
Steve Peterson’s belief is that whole person health includes mindfulness, diet, exercise, stress-management and an understanding of the mental and physiological processes that can inspire or drain wellness. Steve has taught in nursing, pharmacy and integrative health care programs for more than a few years. Additionally, he has served as the dean of education for two proprietary schools during his career. His passion for health care spread into being a contributing author and co-author to two textbooks being utilized at the university-level in the Integrated Nursing & Health Studies Initiative. When not focusing on helping others discover their path to wellness, Steve is challenging his own by nurturing his love of riding motorcycles.