“Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly, seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven, that nothing is separate or extraneous. If you see in this way, then everything becomes spiritual in its deepest sense.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
What is mindfulness? I define my mind as a process in my body that is related to others and myself that regulates the flow of energy and information. Also, the tasks of the human mind are to monitor and change things. Mindfulness includes different exercises that improve my ability to monitor and modify my internal world. The basic element of mindfulness is focusing on something or some process. We can focus on our breath during mindfulness meditation. In yoga, we focus on our postures. During tai chi, we focus on movements. In qigong, we focus on the sense of motion of energy. While practicing centering prayer, we focus on words. During walking meditation, we focus on our feet. Daniel Siegel writes, that “over 100 years ago, the father of modern psychology, William James (1890/1981), said that such a practice of returning a wandering attention back to its target again and again would be ‘education par excellence.’”
There is a difference between concentration and mindfulness, according to Dr. Roger Walsh. Concentration allows us to direct our attention to whatever we wish to experience. Mindfulness enables us to explore our experiences sensitivity. Mindfulness is where we bring greater awareness to each activity. We are more present in each moment. Another gift of mindfulness is that we catch subtle experiences of which we usually remain unaware.
Dr. Walsh writes mindfulness “enhances our awareness of relationships, the world around us, and the world within us.” It also frees us from our automatic mindless reactions and heals the mind. According to the National Institutes for Health, there are 18 million Americans that practice meditation of some kind. Meditation improves the health of our body as well as our mind. It lowers the risk for cancer and heart disease. Meditation makes us happier.
Please watch this body awareness mediation video with Judith Peterson and learn about the path to joy.
Most of our thinking is subconscious. Only a small part of our brain is engaged in conscious thinking. The areas of your brain that are engaged with consciousness thinking will process about forty nerve impulses per second on a normal day. The brain areas which are involved with activity outside of your consciousness will process forty million nerve impulses per second on a normal day. Only a fraction of your brain is engaged in conscious thinking.
Donna Eden and David Feinstein write that “your subconscious mind is the storehouse of the lessons life has taught you as well as your natural abilities and intuitive wisdom. Along with countless automated actions as mundane as putting on your shoes, your subconscious mind holds innumerable instructions for more complex actions and has access to transcendent sources of inspiration for solving the bewildering problems life presents and for pursuing your most creative aspirations. While your subconscious mind is an enormous sound guidance that is available 24/7, it also stores past hurts, self-limiting beliefs, unresolved conflicts, and dysfunctional behavioral strategies. So it doesn’t always work to your advantage.”
Bruce Lipton cites studies that reveal 65 percent of our thoughts are negative or repetitive and unnecessary. Our mind is thinking thoughts that are not important and disturbing most of the time. Additional studies indicate that people spend 50% of their time awake not thinking about what they are doing, but something else. When our mind drifts away from what we are doing, we become unhappy. There is another problem with a mind that strays from the present moment. As our mind wanders, our subconscious mind takes over. This is when we do things that interfere with our own success. We undermine our desires, because of our subconscious thinking.
We have repetitive patterns in our subconscious thinking that lead to behavior that is not flexible and responsive to our present set of circumstances. For example, a husband may be talking with his wife and experiencing fear from a memory about his dad when he was 5 years old. Fear is a signal of possible danger. His thinking and energy is preparing his body and mind for crisis. He may not be able to listen well, because he is scanning for what is dangerous in what his wife is saying. He may want to end the conversation and leave, because he is afraid. These reactions and his poor listening have an effect on his wife. She doesn’t feel understood. Her husband’s reactions do not make sense to her. The more that he has conversations with her where he is not present, the less trust the husband and his wife will have with each other.
Dr. Ron Siegel traces these type of reactions to the harsh lives of our ancestors who lived and survived great dangers millions of years ago. He describes the mechanisms of our brain that make us miserable. These are the reactions:
1. Focusing on what is bad
2. Being stuck in a stress response – heart beating faster, muscles tense, sweating, acid released to stomach for digestion
3. Comparing myself to others
4. Avoiding what is unpleasant
5. Envisioning a future with assumptions of what could go wrong
The good news is that our brains are flexible. At any age, we can acquire new information, process the new knowledge in our brain, and develop new ideas. As a result of our learning, we think differently and our brain physically changes. The idea that “I am who I am” is false. You can remake yourself, like remodeling a house. The name of this is plasticity. Our brain changes as a response to each new experience, each new thought, and every new idea we learn. At any age, our brain is like playdough; we can move it and shape it.
Dr. Joe Dispenza writes that meditation can change how the brain works. He described the research. Meditation alters brain wave patterns. Another benefit of meditation is that it grows “new brain cells that are the product of inner mindfulness . . . . Most of the participants (in the research study) were average people with jobs and families, who meditated only 40 minutes a day.”
Please watch this video by Santa Clara County’s first Poet Laureate, Nils Peterson on the gift of focus.