There are over 10,000 good studies now that describe the benefits of practicing meditation. The new documentary “The Connection” beautifully illustrates the mind body connection as a powerful tool for health and well-being. (more on this documentary in a future blog)
Mindfulness is simply training ourselves to be present to what is happening in the moment without judgement. Simple but not easy.
There are key factors about the brain that help us understand the challenges and benefits of meditation:
- The job of the brain is to look for problems to be solved. It has evolved this way to keep us safe. It is perfectly normal and natural to have a mind that wanders to the past or future.
- The brain is designed to constantly seek fulfillment of our three basic needs:
- To be safe, avoid harms
- To be satisfied, gain rewards/pleasure
- To connect with others
- When our basic needs are not met, the primal part of the brain triggers a flight, fight or freeze response and the more rational part of the brain is put on the back burner.
- The brain is neuroplastic, we can train the mind to focus just as we can train a muscle to be stronger
The mind-body connection is a powerful two way street. The state of either the mind or the body, calm or agitated, causes the other part to respond in the same way. A simple mindful breath calms the mind and the body.
Being in judgement adds another layer to get through when we are trying to calm. Judging ourselves keeps us hijacked in fight, flight or freeze. Judge others, and we are focused on their actions instead of what is happening within us.
Mindfulness just asks that we shift our focus to noticing and accepting what is happening within us. This accepting does not mean we are consenting to what is happening around us. This is a misconception about meditation. We are not practicing being passive to the world, just “being with” what is happening inside. From this calm awareness we can access our own wisdom and intuition. We can be true to ourselves.
Just as being with a caring friend in times of challenge soothes the pain, being a friend to ourselves with compassion, without judgement, allows for the “being with” whatever is happening inside. Therefore, practicing self-compassion is a key part of mindfulness.
When we practice mindlessness, we are more likely seek quick comfort by avoiding something important or choosing something unhealthy. When mindful, we have an easier time making healthy choices and staying true to what is important to us. Each state of being is a practice – training the mind for either distraction or presence.
Tara Brach calls the first moments of mindfulness “the sacred pause”. Simply discontinuing of the action is a powerful shift.
Bottom Line: Meditation is not about stilling the mind, it is stilling the reaction to the mind and body. It is the practice of learning to be with what is happening inside in the safety of compassion. Meditation trains the brain to allow for more frequent access to our ability to calm our mind and our body. In this calm state, the body heals and the mind is open. In this calm state, we are able to choose to activate health and well-being in our body ,mind and heart.
If you would like to learn more, I enjoyed this talk by Tara Brach on Mindfulness in Education. It is a great 35 minute summary of mindfulness in general as well as for teens and parents.
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC