The Science of Affirmations

carmichael_mirror_lake_1929Have you ever tried to repeat a positive statement to yourself in the hopes of feeling better or improving your situation? Statements like: “I love and accept myself,” “I am successful at my job.” Did you get limited results or none at all? Or maybe things got worse instead of better? You are not alone in this experience. Research has shown that ‘affirmations’ work for some people and not for others.

I have spent many years researching and using affirmations both with my clients and myself. In the early years, I often gave up on them because of limited results. Yet I kept returning to them with renewed curiosity and fresh questions.

Over time, I came to appreciate that we humans are complex, multidimensional beings and so the reasons why affirmations often don’t work is similarly complex.

We are not all built the same

Too often, in our cookie cutter culture, we have one-size-fits-all recipes for improving health and living a better life. “Eat lots of broccoli,” we are advised. Yet, in Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing tradition, broccoli is contraindicated for one body type and recommended for another. The ancients knew something that we have either failed to notice or completely ignored: that we are not all built the same.

Each of us is unique, with our own personality and body type, a specific family history and a range of attitudes, beliefs and life goals.

We are energy

Kirlian photo
Kirlian photo of a plant’s energy field

We are, in addition, more than just a mind and a body. We are also energy. Somewhat like the earth’s gravitational field, we each have a subtle energy field, what some researchers call the ‘biofield’. Within this biofield is an imprint of all our past experiences, our thoughts, emotions and a vibrational template of our physical body.

Our energy field responds to thoughts and attitudes, (our own and others), and registers every experience we have. As a therapist who has, for many years, worked directly with the human energy field, I am able to sense these energy effects. I provide a therapy that combines what is traditionally called hands-on healing with various counselling approaches. As a person lies, fully clothed, on a treatment table, I gently place my hands on different energy centres, called ‘chakras’, and feel what is happening for the individual.

For example, a woman once came for a first visit, and as I walked around to her left side, I suddenly heard in my mind’s ear, the sound of an angry man’s voice. She had not mentioned anything about her father so I gently asked her: “Did your father tend to get angry?” Her response: “My father had a violent temper. We never knew when he’d flair up.” It is amazing that as an adult, her energy still had an imprint of these experiences.

Clearing out the old to make room for the new

If we were to buy a whole new set of clothes, we would have to clear our closets of old clothes that are taking up valuable space. Likewise with affirmations. To assimilate a new attitude, a new way of perceiving ourselves and life, it is necessary to clear out old habits of thinking and feeling.

If, for example, you were criticized as a child, told that you were stupid and would never amount to anything, this message becomes lodged in your memory and in your energy. When you try to repeat an affirmation such as “I am intelligent”, this will create a ‘dissonance’ in your energy. I would experience this dissonance or contradiction as turmoil in your biofield. It is as if the whole ‘system’ has to reject the new message because it doesn’t fit with the old imprint.

Statements of truth versus affirmations

I have found over the years that a person’s body and energy respond to the truth much more so than any wish or intention. It is as if a person’s energy, which has a unique intelligence, cannot assimilate something new until the old pain is acknowledged and cleared.

tundra-rainbowWhat I do with clients is create a ‘statement of truth’ which their whole system accepts rather than rejects. So if a person is experiencing anxiety, I would suggest a statement such as: “I feel anxious. It’s just a feeling.” I have the person repeat this as I perform energy healing. The combination of the healing with a focus through repetition clears the old stress locked up in the individual’s biofield. It is a surprisingly gentle yet effective approach.

Once this is cleared, it leaves a ‘space’ inside that is receptive to something new. So I compose an affirmation that can be accepted by the whole person’s being. It always amazes me how specific it must be. The exact words must be used, words that the person’s subconscious can relate to. After all, words are symbols of direct experience. For example, when doing a clearing, the words ‘anxious’, ‘afraid’ and ‘scared’ each has a different effect even though they all refer to the emotion of fear.

Likewise with an affirmation, or what I prefer to call a ‘positive input’. If a person rejects the phrase “I am confident”, then we must find something that can, at the very least, be considered by their biofield.

For me, there is a definite science to using affirmations. It requires skillful investigation and the crafting of an approach that is tailored to each individual.

Developing Intuition: My journey of self-discovery

I don’t come from a long line of clairvoyant women. Nor as a child was I aware of sensing things that other people couldn’t. I didn’t see the spirits of dead people nor have prophetic dreams. As an adult, however, I came to realize that I am highly sensitive, acutely aware of other people’s feelings and easily affected by environmental stimuli. This seemed to be a liability until I discovered it was intuition and began to honor and develop it.

Intuition – or to use other common names such as extra-sensory perception (ESP), clairvoyance, the sixth sense – has long been shrouded in myth and mystery as well as religious and scientific condemnation. Intuition is in fact an aspect of human consciousness. It is ‘knowing’ something without using the rational mind. It is also not based on cues from the physical environment such as reading body language.

Often we ignore these intuitive impulses. For example, you find yourself thinking about a long lost friend only to have him call that day. After many years of experience I now know it’s not coincidence. It is intuition at work.

chakrasMy training in intuition started seemingly quite by accident. A friend coaxed me into going for a psychic reading with someone that she recommended. During the reading, the psychic asked me whether I heard voices. I replied with some embarrassment that sometimes I talk to myself. To which he responded, “Oh no, I’m referring to something very different, like psychic energy around you.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I never considered myself having intuition, let alone psychic ability. “Well, you’re just sitting on it,” he said and let it drop.

When I returned six months later for another reading (being impressed with the first), I asked him about this “energy” I was sitting on. He asked if I really wanted to know. I said yes and he invited me to join his newly formed psychic development group. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Although I didn’t believe myself to be psychic, I was nevertheless intrigued.

A common misconception is that intuitive/psychic perception is a gift that one either has or doesn’t have. On the contrary, it’s more like musical ability. Some people may have a natural talent for music, but anyone can learn to play a musical instrument if they’re willing to put in the time and effort. Even those born gifted need training and the guidance of a teacher. According to my Dutch teacher, in Holland psychic perception is treated as a legitimate profession. Psychics are tested and regulated by the government. And they tend to use their psychic abilities for healing work rather than fortune telling.

For a long time I told no one except my closest friend that I attended this group. I was studying to be a psychotherapist at the time, and I feared that others might think I was some kind of flake, someone prone to fanciful ideas. In my own mind I hoped my undergraduate science degree lent me credibility as a rational, realistic person.

For three years, I participated in the group and experienced no psychic impressions whatsoever, or so I thought. Others in the group reported seeing lights, swirling colours, amazing images, the presence of spirits. Me? Nothing. Occasionally, my retina would fire off and I’d see a few speckles here and there. I discovered much later that I was looking for the wrong thing. I expected to have a clear visual image, like watching TV.

Blue Holy Spirit Even though nothing happened for me in the group, I continued to go because, for some inexplicable reason, I always felt good being there. The group process was quite simple. We started with meditation, staying open to any impressions, be they thoughts, feelings or sensations. Our teacher occasionally reported that he sensed the presence of spirits in the room. I remained quite skeptical about all of this, thinking, “I’ll believe it when I experience it myself.”

Over time, I began to suspect that I might be afraid of anything psychic. One day I felt quite determined to break through this block. I convinced myself I was ready to see or sense these spirits, whoever or whatever they are. As we meditated, which, by the way we did in pitch darkness to eliminate all visual distraction, I felt a flutter on my left shoulder and a wave of terror ran through me. I realized I had deeply held unconscious fears related to the psychic realm and the unknown.

When I finally did have an intuitive impression, I discovered the information can come in different ways. How we experience intuition varies with each individual. Some people are more tuned into their body sensations or emotions while others are more visual or thinking types. After anticipating a visual image, my first psychic impression came as a thought. Rather than being excited by this discovery, it quite disturbed me. I felt a strong wave of anger when I realized that some of the thoughts I had been having my whole life weren’t all mine! I wondered, “How on earth am I going to be able to distinguish my own thoughts from intuitive thoughts?” Through my teacher, I discovered the answer: “Lots of practice, my dear.”

Recognizing these intuitive thoughts was a significant breakthrough. From then on, during meditation I also began to feel things in my body. I discovered I habitually dismissed these intuitive impulses. An example of this occurred one day when a friend asked me to help her pick up some paint. Driving in her car, we passed a hardware store and I said, “Isn’t this where we’re going to buy the paint?” She replied, “Oh, no, that’s the hardware store, we’re going to the paint store!” It was curious because I felt my whole body leaning towards the hardware store as we passed it. As it turned out, the paint store didn’t carry the brand she wanted and we ended up getting it at the hardware store.

When we ignore or question an intuitive impression, often it is our conscious, rational mind interfering. When I was told no by my friend, I immediately assumed I was wrong. It was only upon reflection that I remembered my body responding to the hardware store. I realized this was an intuitive impulse and I had dismissed it.

blue mandalaMany intuitive impulses are subtle. In our busy, often chaotic lives, these impulses get drowned out. So it’s important to include meditation or some quiet time on a regular basis. Meditation is one of the most effective ways of developing intuition because it not only helps us to quiet our busy minds but also trains our attention. Intuition is about paying attention to what we are actually experiencing.

As part of our psychic training, our group practiced ‘reading’ photographs of people (who had volunteered), including ones concealed in an envelope to eliminate visual clues. Our teacher instructed us to pick up the photograph or envelope and immediately without hesitation report any and all impressions, that is, any thoughts, feelings, sensations or mental images. We were to identify our immediate, very first impressions before the thinking mind or imagination has a chance to interfere. I was always astounded when I could actually get information about an unknown photograph concealed in an envelope. I could pick up on whether the person was male or female, young or old, as well as some of their personality traits.

Our teacher warned us about how unconscious prejudices can contaminate and cause inaccurate assessments. He once brought in the photo of a man sprawled out on a couch with a beer in hand, looking rather macho and boisterous. Almost everyone in the group had the “psychic” impression that he was an insensitive perhaps cruel person, maybe even a criminal. As it turned out, he was a caring, sensitive man and loving father. It was just a bad photo of him. Oops. Another time, we were given the photo of a handsome, healthy-looking young man whom we ‘read’ as being a really nice guy. He had a lengthy criminal history.

OK, big lesson number one: do not rely on visuals, that’s not intuition. We can get good at reading body language, tone of voice etc. but … that’s not intuition.

A critical lesson we learned, and were repeatedly reminded of, is how our beliefs, values and past experiences affect our psychic impressions; like water that takes the shape of the vessel holding it. Self-awareness, gained through practices such as meditation, counseling and journal writing, is important in identifying how we unconsciously interfere with the intuitive process. Wishful thinking, imagination and attachment to a desired outcome can cause us to embellish or add a bias. If, for example, a psychic consultant has had a painful divorce, her intuition may be more alert to relationship problems in others but might interpret an ongoing conflict as inevitable divorce.

Toshiba Digital CameraMy intuition tends to focus on a person’s thoughts and feelings rather than external details about their life situation, making me well suited to being a therapist. I have a propensity for tapping into someone’s subconscious. At times, I feel as if I am having their experience. With much practice and study, I now understand that I am actually tuning into a person’s ‘subtle’ energy field where all of our thoughts, emotions and previous experience exist, as well as the ‘vibration’ of the person’s physical body. I especially pick up impressions about emotions, especially fear, or emotions that the person tends to dismiss or are submerged in their subconscious.

During a healing session, it is as if I am making friends with the person’s deeper self. As it begins to ‘trust’ me, it provides ever more information and guidance on how to best help this person. On the rare occasion, I can sense and communicate with the spirit of a deceased person whom my client knew.  The first time this happened, I can tell you it was a mind-blowing experience. Afterwards, my mind kept telling me, “That didn’t really happen. It was just your imagination.” Yet my client was able to confirm my experience. I had passed on information that was not only accurate but also pertinent to my client’s current life, specific circumstances of which I knew nothing. We are so conditioned to believe that this is not possible that when it happens, it can really shake us up.

After seven years, our psychic group came to a close. Although none of us wanted it to end, our teacher was retiring. ‘Miraculously’, I was shortly afterward introduced to a husband-and-wife team who were practitioners of energy healing and Native spiritual healing rituals. I became one of their apprentices and over a two-year period, they taught me how to work with the human energy field and do laying-on-of-hands healing, a thousand-year-old approach upon which Therapeutic Touch is based. It was such a blessing as it helped me to expand and gain a deeper understanding of my intuitive abilities.

Awakening and developing my intuition has allowed me to do the work I love and expanded the choices in my life. It gives me access to new ways of knowing and being in the world, and to be in relationships with greater self-awareness. I feel more confident in my life decisions both large and small, such as finding the right place to live, the right people and even … the right paint.

by Louise Gabrielle