Working with your own mind—whether it is practicing awareness or kindness—it all works in the same way.
It needs on-going care not only to stay fresh, but also to improve the current state you are in. Daily practice keeps the mind on track.
We all have certain rituals we follow every day in order to maintain our state of well being, such as brushing our teeth and taking a shower, but for some reason we don’t recognize the need to also train our mind.
If we dive a little bit into the latest neuroscience research about mind training we get clear results. The studies prove that mind practice has real effects on our brain and does actually change our mental state and behavior. As a result, it influences the way we interact with our environment and our lives as a whole.
The adult brain has the ability to change its structure and function in response to external stimuli as well as internal activity—which is what mind training is.
If you are having a thought or are experiencing an emotion, it’s because your brain has done something. Specifically, electrical signals have shot across a whole bunch of neurons, and those neurons have then handed off droplets of neuro-chemicals, like runners handing off a baton in a relay race.
Sharon Begley writes in Change Your Mind, Change Your Brain about the power and effects of mental training, including practicing mindfulness. She uses examples of people with OCD practicing mindfulness to approach their thoughts differently, the result being that the brain region responsible for over activity actually caused the disorder to quiet down.
The mind works here in the same way as a muscle.
Like all the other muscles in our body, practicing mindfulness every now and then won´t make any significant changes to our brain, to our mental state or to our behavior and communication with others. It needs constant repetition and awareness.
If you want to make something familiar, it must become a regular habit.
Changing our common why of thinking is like taking an exit on the highway. The highway is the known, often conditioned way in which we are thinking. The new way, leading from the exit, is a road that seems unknown to us.
It’s unusual and challenging to take this new road. The huge, fancy highway—oh, it’s so much easier and smoother, more comfortable and we can cruise along on autopilot with minimal effort and input.
Again, it needs repetition; it needs daily cleaning, a constant awareness, and patience.
You don´t quit your training if you don´t see results after one or two days, right? You know that it needs time and effort to see any real changes.
That’s the same scenario when it comes to working with your mind. We must choose to take this road several times in order to get used to it. But there will be also circumstances and situations that cause us to miss the exit, lose our concentration and pass it by.
But—and this is a huge but—only by taking new paths can we open up our consciousness, which leads to a wider view and more freedom.
So, don´t get lost on the highway. Be aware of the exits. And keep going on the small roads which will get bigger and wider over time.
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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal / Ed: Catherine Monkman