Bruce Lipton is a former cell biologist and researcher who made breakthrough discoveries in the operation of the cell membrane and the function of genes. His first book, The Biology of Belief (2008), is a current best seller in the field of biology. I attended a multi-day seminar with Dr. Lipton years ago and have seen him give several talks in the years since. He is a very dynamic speaker and his ideas are also very engaging. This article uses his book as a springboard to a discussion about how we can live a better life by understanding how our cells work.
The states of a cell: growth and protection
At any given moment in time, a cell is in one of two states-growth or protection. In the growth state, our cells are open to their environment — taking in needed inputs, responding to the environment, and outputting waste products. As Bruce says, “Growth processes require an open exchange between an organism and its environment. Protection requires a closing down of the system to wall the organism off from the perceived threat.” The normal state of a cell is growth, which leads to cell division to create more cells and replace dying cells. This is the basis of life.
The state of protection is a temporary state that occurs when the cell is threatened. In this state, the cell closes its interfaces with the outside world and “holds on” or “resists” until the situation passes. If this state continues long enough, the cell will die.
“Mechanisms that support growth and protection cannot operate optimally at the same time…Inhibiting growth processes is also debilitating in that growth is a process that not only expands energy but is also required to produce energy. Consequently, a sustained protection response inhibits the creation of life-sustaining energy. The longer you stay in protection, the more you compromise your growth. In fact, you can shut down growth processes so completely that it becomes a truism that you can be “scared to death.”
The states of the mind: love and fear
So, what determines if the cell is in the growth state or the protection state? The growth state is the natural state and the cell will stay in this state as long as it doesn’t feel threatened. It either detects a hostile local environment or is “signaled” that there is a threat to the whole body. This signal comes from hormones created by our body’s “fight or flight” response or by our general feelings of well-being. In other words, it can be affected by our very thoughts! If we are afraid or have fearful thoughts, we “signal” the cells of our body to protect themselves. “You can live a life of fear or a life of love. You have the choice! But I can tell you that if you choose to see a world full of love, your body will respond by growing in health. If you choose to believe that you live in a dark world full of fear, your body’s health will be compromised.”
Much has been written about the power of positive thinking, but Bruce was the first person that told me that there is a biological reason for this – our thoughts literally affect the health of our body! “Learning how to harness your mind to promote growth is the secret of life.” So, how do we start? “Letting go of our fears is the first step toward creating a fuller, more satisfying life.”
As Bruce says, we have a choice: we can live out lives in fear or we can live our lives in love. Just as growth is the natural state for the cells in our body, love is the natural state for our mind. By “natural”, I mean that it is life-affirming and the only state that allows us to function to our maximum potential. In the state of love, we are open to our environment, able to utilize everything that is available to us and responding to life as it happens. We are creative and we are living in cooperation with our fellow man. All of these attributes are analogous to the functioning of a cell in the state of growth.
When we are living out of fear, we are closed to at least part of our environment; we are “shut down”. Just as a cell in the state of protection, we stop thriving and start just surviving. We isolate ourselves from our surroundings, including our fellow man. As is true of the cell in protection, this state is meant to be temporary, until the threat is passed. But many of us live in this state much of the time! We probably don’t label it as fear, we call it “being realistic” or “not getting our hopes up” or “playing it safe”. We consider the world to be a dangerous place and we don’t want to be taken advantage of or become a victim. We’ve been hurt or disappointed before and we don’t want it to happen again. Besides we aren’t worthy of anything better than what we have now, so why should we take a risk to do something else?
How do we control our mental states?
These kinds of thoughts are often labeled as “negative”, because they prevent us from achieving our highest potential. They are all different aspects of fear. Sometimes, we recognize the limits imposed by these thoughts and we decide to “think otherwise and be positive”. But not much changes in our lives. Why? Because the decision to change was a conscious one and only changes what our conscious mind can control. But the truth is: out unconscious mind controls our body 95% of the time! When we are thinking about our new resolution to change in our conscious mind, our unconscious mind is replaying our old beliefs. So to truly change our mental state, we have to “re-program” our subconscious mind.
“The conscious mind can also think forward and backward in time, while the subconscious mind is always operating in the present moment. When the conscious mind is busy daydreaming, creating future plans or reviewing past life experiences, the subconscious mind is always on duty, efficiently managing the behaviors required at the moment, without the need for conscious supervision.”
There are two ways to change our beliefs stored in the subconscious – denials and affirmations. A denial is used to remove a belief that no longer serves us, that makes us live part of our lives unnecessarily in fear. Once we realize we have this belief, we deny it any power over our future life. To actually change this belief will require repetition and effort, but we can remove this “bad” programming from our subconscious if we persist.
As we remove this belief that we consciously recognize is no longer serving us, we can begin to “program” in the new belief that we want to replace it. This is done with affirmations – statements of our new understanding, beliefs that will support our desire to live more often in a state of love. As we repeat the denials to remove the old belief, we also repeat the affirmation to program the new belief.
“The learned behaviors and beliefs acquired from other people such as parents, peers and teachers, may not support the goals of our conscious mind. The biggest impediments to realizing the successes of which we dream are the limitations programmed into the subconscious. These limitations not only influence our behavior, they can also play a major role in determining our physiology and health. The mind plays a powerful role in controlling the biological systems that keep us alive.”
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Therefore, to move from a state of fear to the state of love involves “dropping our defenses”. We must find or create an environment that allows us to trust again; allows us to reaffirm the friendliness of the Universe, re-connect with our fellow man, and be fully open to all that life has in store for us. We are then “in love”, because we have returned to our natural state.
For most of us, the ability to truly be this open, this authentic, is only allowed in the presence of a special person who has helped us recreate this trusting environment – our lover. And so we assign the state of love to the relationship with this person, but in reality this feeling of freedom and creative power is merely the expression of who we really are IN OUR NATURAL STATE! This person didn’t give us love, they gave us the inspiration and support that allowed us to express this state that is always available to us. When we truly love ourselves, we can live in this state without the help of others. But it is much easier if we have a partner, friends, family, or a community who can support us, because fear is always lurking in the shadows to take away our trust and faith and push us out of the state of love. So, love is not a quality of a relationship per se, but it certainly can be supported by a strong relationship (known as a loving relationship).
Therefore, a loving relationship is one in which the partners support each other in a manner that allows each of them to live in the state of love. This requires each partner to “drop their defenses” and be themselves and to ensure the trust and faith of their partner is maintained, so that they can do the same. “I love you” means “I see you as you truly are, in your natural state of love” and “I will help you create and maintain an environment that allows you to express that state”. It also says “I am connected with you as part of a larger cooperative” and “I will work for the highest good of the cooperative even if I have to sacrifice my own good”. This is the wisdom we can get from observing how our very cells live.
We all want to live in a state of love because it is our natural state; it is how we were created to be. We can each work to make this state more available by constantly working on our fears – fears of security, fears of not being worthy, and fears of separation. We can return to the state of love by practicing the freedom of letting go – forgiving others and ourselves, releasing anything that keeps our attention in the past. The effort that it takes to achieve the state of love is worth everything it takes; it is the path to our divine purpose!
The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton