What is a comfort zone?
We need to answer this question with respect to biology and not some airy fairy “psychological reasoning” because it is all about modifications in body function, especially with respect to the heart and blood pressure.
(Note: all this information is to be treated as the author’s opinion. You need to investigate these matters to arrive at your own informed opinion.)
There are no doubt changes in the brain, which are part of the biology anyway, nonetheless we can’t learn much at this stage by looking at brain scans and surmising about brain activity. We do not understand enough about the brain at present. Anything we may observe in the brain’s activity we can only conjecture about. BUT we do know a great deal about the rest of the body and how it functions. So it is best to look at the enormous changes that take place in body function and most importantly what we are doing to bring them about and how we can stop employing them because you will soon see that while we might foolishly shield our conscious knowing by putting our head in the sand, which is really all that the comfort zone is about, we are not really shielding our selves. Quite the opposite is true. The comfort zone, despite its seemingly benign name is a very harmful and one may say deadly habit.
The first thing to recognize is that a comfort zone is not about finding rest but a clouding of consciousness. Under mildly unpleasant conditions any offending thoughts can effectively be made subconscious. I don’t subscribe to the idea that these thoughts are unconscious because there is too much evidence that we actively try to remove them from consciousness and keep them from being fully conscious. If they were unconscious, ie without consciousness then we would not be making all that effort. Though we can remove the ideas from full consciousness we cannot do away with the accompanying emotional reactivity -the bodily reactivity that is instigated owing to these ideas. However when the ideas are subconscious the emotional reactivity becomes obscure. This obscurity is not a diminishing of the emotional reactivity. It is only the association of such activity with the source ideas that is obscured. And that obscurity also comes because the new changes in body function that aid the process of making ideas subconscious muddies the waters so to speak as the emotional reactivity is no longer pure but mixed so there is a combination effect. The new bodily reactivity, which brings into being the clouding of consciousness (i.e., the comfort zone) is combined with the emotional changes due to the unpleasant thoughts. And remember these emotional changes are physical changes in the body and have nothing to do with psychology. The net effect is that the emotional reactivity is mixed with other reactivity in the body and is therefore no long definite. The use of a comfort zone, the blurring of consciousness is not a good habit even when the unpleasant ideas and the associated emotional reactivity has no serious consequences because unhealthy conditions are brought into being in the body that will in time cause havoc. However where the issues are pending and serious the blurring of consciousness is not effective and as more and more effort is made to blur the consciousness the habit can be dangerous and even deadly. And might I add that such habits are ignited automatically. Only when we recognize them and have made some effort to eliminate them have we any control over the situation.
The second thing to appreciate is that denial is the method commonly used to avoid any thoughts that are unpleasant so as to make them seemingly go away. However though this denial and avoidance seemingly works to dismiss unpleasant thoughts it is not the same as “letting go of or properly discharging thoughts from mind”. We can only let go of thoughts when they have no value. And we cannot just give them no value. Thoughts that have no value are thought that are insignificance or irrelevant in our lives. Thoughts that are associated with and describe issues, especially serious issues cannot be given no value. For example the perception of danger can’t be “just dismissed” because danger is a critical issue. The perception of a critical issue is primary especially if it is an issue of life and death. By assuming that danger “without apparent cause” is not real does not attribute it “no value”. A person perceiving danger whether its cause is apparent or not cannot just let it go until that person can determine whether the danger perceived affects them or not. While they are perceptive of danger and at the same time undecided about its relevance on their life it remains an issue that cannot be dismissed. An attempt to devalue danger by saying “it’s not real” will not work because while a perception remains and corresponding bodily reactivity results no amount of saying it’s not real is of any use. Only when we understand that we can control the situation can we manage the problem so as to remain well.
If on the other hand an issue is not critical then thoughts associated with it can be avoided by denial. To avoid a thought we can deny its value somewhat by saying “it doesn’t matter” or “I don’t care about it” or “I don’t want to know it”. By denying a thought’s value we do not discharge that thought. We do not “let it go”. Rather we push it out of consciousness. Medical science equates awareness with consciousness and defines them both as “having knowledge of or perception of something”. Thus they talk about being subconscious or unconscious of something when there is no knowledge. But is this true? We still have knowledge of something if we work to keep it submerged! I differentiate between consciousness and awareness. I believe that awareness is a constant that cannot be changed. We are ultimately aware of everything in the universe but we have lost that state. As we develop a personality we in effect also develop a filter system by which we accept certain thoughts freely while suppressing others. The level of awareness that results with the personal bias or personality is consciousness. However there is more to this matter. The way we seemingly modify our awareness as to create a more limited form of awareness has all to do with attention. We can decrease our level of attention. Attentiveness is like a spotlight of awareness. The more attentive we are, the more awareness we have. Attention can be and is largely affected by novelty, interest and curiosity and sudden changes in the environment. However it can also be manipulated by actively increasing the level of concentration. Increasing the level of attention by increasing concentration is essential for the practice of meditation and I will discuss that later. Here we want to consider how attention is habitually diminished because effectively that is what the comfort zone is all about.
We diminish the level of our attention in one of two ways, we either:-
- distract our attention by way of increased activity or
- becoming unresponsive and lethargic, as in very earliest stages of sleep.
The first method involves increases in energy production in the body and specifically in the skeletal musculature, while the second method is just the opposite. Energy production in the skeletal musculature is decreased. Both ways are accomplished simply by manipulating the breath.
We can affect the breath INDIRECTLY either
- by reducing activity and remaining passive, or,
- by increasing activity and becoming very active.
We can also affect our breathing, DIRECTLY either
- by taking shallower breaths and/or holding a breath so we delay the time a little until we take another breath, which means we take in less air. Alternatively,
- we may breathe more deeply and /or force an extra breath every now and then, which means we take in more air.
The two methods are effective the same because when a person is less active their breathing becomes shallower and when a person become more active their breathing deepens. So what we are utilizing is our everyday natural process as we become more or less active. And these process don’t only take place if we go running or remain sitting in a chair. These processes on a very subtle level happen seamlessly as we move about stop for a while and move again. These breathing processes and changes happens continually as we go about our daily activities our but in generating a comfort zone we employ these breathing changes unnaturally.
We may term the manipulation of our breath coping habits or better still as “coping mechanisms”. These coping mechanisms are habits that are commonly known but of course they are not known by the names I have given them. One coping mechanism is commonly known as “keep busy, keep it out of mind” and here the person becomes hyperactive. Certainly such a person can be very productive and it is a feature that is prized in our societies. We call such a person a “high achiever, but essentially what that person is doing is distracting his or her attention from other things. The other type is commonly known as “if you don’t have to do it today, put it off till tomorrow” or words to that effect. In this case a person becomes hypo-active and thus very unproductive and generally looses interest in their surroundings, these are features that are loathed in our societies. We label such a person lazy but again what the person is doing is lowering his or his or her level of attention.
We have two means of affecting our level of attention and thereby clouding our consciousness, and both are brought into being either directly by changing the breathing pattern (making it deeper or shallower) or indirectly through the moderation of activity, either greater or lower. We use these methods to help us cope with troubling issues and unpleasant circumstances when we can’t deal with them adequately and particularly when they appear inexplicable.
However BOTH TYPES ARE BAD FOR OUR HEALTH!
What implications do coping habits have for the body?
The air we breathe in contains oxygen. And just as in making a fire, where oxygen is needed to burn the wood (fuel) to make energy, so too in the body oxygen is used to burn ‘fuel materials’ such as sugars carbohydrates and fats, even proteins to make energy some of which is heat. The supply of oxygen governs how much energy we can produce.
In taking deeper breaths we take in more air and that means we increase the oxygen supply to the body. The body then makes more energy and specifically for the muscles that move the skeleton, these are the skeletal muscles.
When we make our breathing shallower we take in less air and that means we decrease the oxygen supply to the body. The body makes less energy and again specifically in the skeletal muscles.
When these habits start early in life and become strong habits owing to ongoing unpleasant conditions in the person’s life then lung development may be affected. Habitually taking deeper breaths over a lifetime cause the lungs to become enlarged so the rib cage that houses the lungs will also become enlarged. Habitually taking shallower breaths over a lifetime means the lungs are under-used so they do not develop to their full capacity and the rib cage also does not develop to its full size. So what appears to be genetic may indeed be the result of persistent and habitual changes in normal body function, if the problem begins in a child’s developmental years. It shows that not everything physical is genetic.
The amount of air we normally breathe in ultimately also affects the heart because the heart and the lungs are a part of one system. Habitual deep breathing can keep the heart working much harder than necessary and as a result may affect the heart muscles. Muscles become larger and thicker when they are over worked this is also true for heart muscles too. As the heart is mostly muscle this then means that the heart becomes enlarged. This can have many undesirable consequences, one of which is high blood pressure.
The two main organs then that are affected are the lungs and the heart and the changes that affect them in turn affect the supply of oxygen to the body and hence all the process that take place in the body, which are collectively called metabolism. All the chemical processes that take place in the body that are involved with maintaining life are collectively called metabolism. The main ones are energy-producing and affiliated processes and it is these that are affected by the two common coping habits And as the person either engages in high or low energy activities then the metabolic processes that are most affected are those of the skeletal musculature. I have called the coping habit or coping mechanism of raised energy production “Elevated Metabolism Coping Mechanism” (or simply EMCM) and the other of lowered energy production “Lowered Metabolism Coping Mechanism” (LMCM). Ordinarily the two conditions of increasing and decreasing the amount of oxygen intake into our bodies or alternatively of increasing or decreasing bodily activity are natural. However as coping mechanisms these conditions are used artificially, which makes them unnatural. Why people choose one over the other? I can answer that but it is a long story and not relevant here. However it is important to note that most coping habits develop from infancy or early childhood so they are long standing. A long standing habit is bad enough but one that is heavily used is particularly bad. The reason being that by the time the person reaches adulthood the habit is ingrained, automatic and may have affected the development and function of their body. However even ingrained habits to some extent can be changed and not slightly, if sufficient effort is made there may be significant improvements in health.
The reason for my discussion here on coping mechanisms has to do with how we may manipulate our level of attention and by manipulating attention effectively cloud our consciousness. It helps us create the comfort zone, which is none other than a zone of fuzz. With EMCM the person become distracted but also bounds to hyperactivity. This affects the brain’s capacity to think because the brain is put into competition with the skeletal musculature for oxygen supply. And in addition the brain is engaged in different activities with respect to physical activity which again is competing with perception. With LMCM on the other hand the person creates lethargy, a state similar to the very earliest stages of sleep and as a result they are also bound to inactivity. This significantly lowers the oxygen intake and hence the supply of oxygen to the brain as required for thinking and high levels of perception.
There is a tendency for psychologists and psychiatrists to talk about some issues as being subconscious or even unconscious and by that they imply that the person has no awareness of those issues and related matters. This can be seen to be false because even when a person is said to be “unaware of a problem” there is still evidence that they know of the problem, as for instance they may avoid certain people or objects or similar issues etc. The term unconscious is also used when describing someone who is either in a coma and someone who is brain dead. I think it is misleading to talk about subconscious. Rather it is better to talk about varying levels of awareness.
In everyday experience the medicos talk about the waking state, which is the conscious state but the attention is not steady so the conscious state falls a long way short of full awareness or what in mystical experience is called the super-conscious state. Achieving this state is the spiritual purpose for which some people are prepared to engage in long and arduous meditation. I don’t want to go into any details about it but only to mention it as I will discuss meditation later. I will discuss it from the point of view of health because it is the royal road to better health. When you begin to meditate you will discover for yourself that your level of attention is extremely limited to begin with and by earnest practice you can extend it and thereby enjoy a far greater degree of awareness. You will discover that the psychiatric assertions of the existence of an “unconscious”, which they are searching to find somewhere in the brain, is true fantasy. Nor indeed is there any such thing as “the subconscious”, which has the implication that something lies somewhere below some threshold of consciousness. Meditation will show you a very different state of affairs.
Thoughts are really part and parcel of our awareness. We cannot block them. Rather we muddle them with other thoughts by manipulating our attention level or span. By such means we can seemingly become unaware of unpleasant thoughts. We call that state a “comfort zone”. We can however regain full awareness of all thoughts, pleasant, neutral and unpleasant by regaining full attention. Meditation is the best way to achieve higher levels of attention and thus become more aware. Why do we tend to shun unpleasant thoughts? I suspect that the answer to that is that people have a belief that “if you can see it happening in the mind, then you will see it happen in your life”. This is not true. Only through the exercise of choice can anything seen happening in the mind actually happen in your life. I will show you later how this belief is exploited by controlling manipulative people in foul game play and to great effect. Very briefly what is done is that a person is influenced most commonly by a danger issue and while they are intensely attentive they are presented with some nasty idea. Owing to the belief that if they see it happening in mind they will experience it in life the person is driven to struggle against the idea presented. This struggle causes suffering.
You can recover full attention and hence full awareness simply by allowing the breath to return to its normal state; BUT this is not done by attempting to manipulate the breath. Certainly breathing exercises can help and other associated conditions that may affect your breathing rate and /or capacity. However the most effective means is achieved by mental means only! To do this first learn to concentrate, to pay full attention to something for a period of time. Begin with a few minutes, use an attractive object of observation and extend the time bit by bit but always with what is comfortable for you. Everyone has a different degree of comfort zone to eliminate. It depends on how ingrained a habit you are trying to remove and what physiological changes have to take place. A person with an enlarged chest and heart is not going to have the same success rate as a person whose heart and chest have not become over or under developed.
Through meditation you will discover that attention is like the volume button on your disc player. You can turn it down until the sound inaudible or you can turn it up to full volume. As you do so you will find a continuum of varying levels of awareness until you reach full awareness. Both diminishing of and raising of awareness comes about when we affect attention. We do not affect awareness directly. So though we don’t realize it we are aware of all thoughts that are relevant to us; we have knowledge of them. If we did not know the thoughts that are unpleasant or painful, we would not be seeking a comfort zone. The very fact that we seek a comfort zone and sustain that comfort zone means that we cannot avoid being aware or conscious of the unpleasant or painful thoughts. What we can do is to avoid placing them or keeping them in the spot light of our attention.
To prove to yourself that a coping habit leads to a zone of mental fuzz you need to first lean to meditate. For meditation you must learn to hold your attention steady. This is most easily done by using a prop. Any chosen object of observation can act as a prop. When attention can be held steady anchored on some object of observation you will find your body’s metabolism naturally becomes regulated. This happens because your breathing has become subtle but excited, as a newborn babe’s. When we cease to allow thoughts to distract us we cease to have emotional reactivity. And that is done when we realize that some thoughts are presented and those thought are aimed at distressing us because it is the distress that is caused that is insightfully perceived and relished by evil people. It gives them a high. When we know this and can distinguish those thoughts we can discharge them from mind and not simply from our attention. When we can find mental rest there is no corresponding emotional reactivity so there are no modifications in body function. Profound states of rest can be achieved. Without disturbances proper body function is restored. You can do breathing exercises in addition to meditation but do not try to control your breathing during meditation. Correct breathing comes about naturally, without any effort on your part. The only work you need to do to bring your body to rest is mental and that should be effortless. Ordinarily we react to thoughts that we uphold with some level of confidence or belief. This reaction is in the body, mostly owing to emotional reactivity but also the coping habit. Both of these cause changes in breathing making it either deeper or shallower. You can make a choice here. You can set yourself a five minute meditation span to begin with and choose to remain non-reactive to all thoughts that arise, even though you may uphold them with confidence for the duration of meditation. If you persist in this effort your breathing will become regular during your meditation. You can then extend the time you meditate and as you do you will find the benefits spill over into your daily life.
Once you train your attention on an object of observation, such as a flame or a sound you can then do a simple experiment. Having obtained a state of rest you can then deliberately either breathe more shallowly, or take a few deeper breaths, that is you decrease or increase the volume of air you inhale. If you breathe in more air you increase your oxygen intake and the body will respond by making more energy, which means more activity in the body and particularly in the skeletal musculature. The brain as I mentioned earlier s put into competition for oxygen with the skeletal muscles so there is less oxygen available for thinking. Furthermore different brain activity is required when there is higher muscular activity so here again thinking is affected. If you breathe in less air you decrease your oxygen intake and the body will respond by making less energy and activity is decrease below the normal rest conditions. This is similar to the very early stages of sleep. With either of these two conditions you will find that you have lost some attention and your awareness has become a little clouded. You may not only loose the object of your observation but also awareness of your surrounding environment, including sensations in your body such as the feel of you buttocks on your cushion etc. When you forget about breathing and returning your attention to your chosen object of observation once again and regain steady attention you will find that your body automatically returns your breathing to a regulated state and bodily rest is restored. And when rest is restored higher levels of awareness are restored. With changes in inhalation and exhalation you lose some attention and while you choose to remain steadfast on the object of observation, your breathing is automatically regulated and your level of awareness is increased.
Thoughts are valuable information. Where there are issues the thoughts that arise in mind enable you to discover the true nature of those issues and even who is behind them. Once you realize this you will become less and less disturbed by the perception of thoughts. And again it’s got nothing but nothing to do with any psychology. Thoughts are just packets of information and you can use them to help you resolve issues rather than spend valuable time avoiding them. This means you will not need to experience any unnecessary emotional reactivity. It means you experience less and less unnecessary and undesirable changes and modifications in body function. Rest enables the body to work perfectly so all abnormalities are corrected. Being able to bring your body to rest and thus proper function is achieved by addressing problems at the source –at the thought level. It is a very powerful means of restoring health. Even a small amount of meditational practice done every day can significantly improve your health. The zone of fuzz on the other hand, -the comfort zone- does not facilitate rest. Rather it creates habitual unhealthy and unnatural changes in body function that add to the changes due to emotion. Furthermore a zone of fuzz is really about preferring ignorance to knowledge. Ignorance is not bliss as some suppose because it denies a person the ability to resolve any issues that they may face. If a person cannot restore proper body function then the door is open for toxic people to do that person serious harm. Only with knowledge can issues be addressed and proper body function regained. And that knowledge comes in thoughts. Often this is in the form of extrasensory perception that is born out of relationship or in other words insightful perception. It means you gain awareness of anything that affects your life, whether intended or done and especially when that intention or doing is behind your back.
It is worth mentioning here something about an ancient concept that the heart is the seat of the soul. There is nothing to be found within the heart as against any other part of the body. However there is truth in the statement just the same. The reason is that the heart is not “just a pump” or more correctly a set of two adjacent pumps that the medicos are keen to point out. The heart is also the time keeper of events in the body. When the heart beats in a regular tempo there is rest in the body and with rest so too high levels of attention and thus awareness. In such a state all the reactivity in the body that gives rise to an identity we call personal self vanishes and nothing remains behind. This is often called extinction or annihilation or the body is described as an illuminated but empty temple. With extinction the non-physical nature of being or spirit is experienced as self, not as personal self but as impersonal, universal self or what we may call the soul. This is the mystical experience. So there are benefits not only in health to be gained through meditation but spiritual attainment as well. This experience is covered over in daily life for the ordinary person owing to emotional reactivity and the comfort zone. However for toxic (evil) people this experience is absolutely lost owing to dependencies created in the body that exclude true rest. Becoming evil as I will discuss in a later chapter is to become spiritually blinded forever and spiritually disempowered.
The terms coping mechanism or any counterpart is not mentioned in medicine only the effects are recognized. Doctors recognize high or low blood pressure, irregular or rapid heart beats, enlarged organs, such as the heart, weak organ function or capacity, such as weak lungs, they recognize over or under active thyroids and livers and so on. In recognizing the symptoms medical interventions in the form of drug solutions or surgery become the only means of dealing with the problems. However in understanding coping mechanism we can deal with whatever problems or issues exist and their effects on the body so that we overcome them without drugs and certainly before we require any surgery.
The two coping habits by which we create our comfort zone create the following more obvious medical problems:-
† EMCM: created either with constant activity or habitual deeper breathing when not exercising, It means the heart works too hard and may become enlarged and the blood pressure rises remains high for extended periods of time causing secondary problems over time and the lungs may become over-inflated. When the lungs are overworked over long periods of time the rib cage may become enlarged and may lead to breathing problems under some conditions giving rise to some forms of asthma. The thyroid and the liver are over active and there is a slightly higher than normal level of sugar in the bloodstream.
† LMCM: created either with reduced activity (including doing the same amount of work much more slowly) or habitual shallow breathing in the waking state. It means the heart’s output is too low, which makes it inefficient for pumping the blood and providing the body’s cells with sufficient fuel material to make the necessary energy. The level of energy produced may become too low for doing even ordinary everyday activities. The blood pressure goes down and remains low for extended periods of time. The lungs work below capacity and may become weak or even atrophy (wasted) and rib cage may become under developed. The thyroid function and liver may become under active.
Once again it’s all about physiology. There is no psychology to speak of.
Both coping habits are bad, not only because of the changes in body function, but because over the long term there may be changes in body structures as for instance over-inflated or greatly expanded lungs in the case of EMCM or under-inflated or atrophied lungs in the case of LMCM and correspondingly enlarged or under developed rib cages, enlarged hearts or weakness of heart muscle etc., etc. For both coping habits doctors treat the many and varied symptoms medically with drugs and /or surgery and sometimes drugs are taken for a life time. They surmise that if you have an over-active liver just go and get it checked, there are drugs you can take to correct it! If your heart is beating too fast maybe surgery and the insertion of a wire “fixes the problem” and so on. It is little wonder that the medicos don’t recognize the problem when they can treat the same patient with many different treatments. It is no doubt a bonus for the medical industry but it is a life time of suffering for the person involved. And there are always side effects, which can be life threatening in themselves. A drug-free solution is found in addressing the breathing and the level of physical activity. Some will need to slow down while others will need to become more active. To address the problem more fully we need a change in attitude, a full commitment to knowledge. We need to give up forever the need to escape anything unpleasant and choose not to live in a fuzz. And when we have knowledge of what sort of games are played, how we are made vulnerable and what we can do about it, then real healthy solutions can be found to restore health and preserve life and quality of life.
Before I leave this subject I want to introduce another aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine and that is acupuncture. Almost all acupuncture points lie in the musculature. An acupuncturists needles these points to “adjust the energy” which the Chinese call Qi. As you will see in later chapters, you can effect rapid changes to some conditions by stimulating these points, not by needles but by pressing on them either with a finger or a blunt or vibrating object. In many cases what you will be doing is having a sufficient effect on key organs so you can effect changes in body function. The two organs that are most affected and can be corrected are of course the lungs and the heart. I strongly suspect that it is the coping habit that is being rolled back that brings about many of the changes. Sometimes you can arrest the severity of a condition and bring body function back from a critical situation until you decided what course of action you need to take. Asthma is one such area where you can sometimes have enough effect as to significantly arrest the problem. However you do need to know what you are up against so knowledge of foul game play is essential.