Much is made this time of year about getting the body in shape - many of us commit to new routines, workouts, and diets in an effort to improve our health. Yet state of mind is just as important as shape of body.
"Researchers in the field of neuroscience have found that whatever you focus on shapes your brain. If you are constantly thinking negative thoughts...the neural pathway becomes stronger, and those thoughts become more automatic and habitual. The basic idea is that 'neurons that fire together, wire together.' The more you practice a new behavior, the more integrated or groomed the pathway becomes. This news is both disturbing and liberating: through purposeful attention, mental training and practice, we can change our brains and ourselves." - Ann Kearney Cook, Darling Magazine
The brain has been on my mind this week. In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, in an article titled "Mind Games", scientist Sebastian Seung compares the firing of neurons to a river and the continual wiring and rewiring as a riverbed - over time the river shapes the riverbed until, in an extreme case, the result is the Grand Canyon. And then the canyon determines where the water flows.
Meditation then, is more than just a way to calm the mind, it can shape our lives. A few years ago I was introduced to a "meditation misperception," namely that a blank mind is the goal of a meditation practice. To stop neurons from firing - that's just a fools errand. What we're really after when we sit is awareness. Attention is paid to what the mind is thinking and from there, we can make changes. Positive thinking really does have power. It can actually reshape pathways in the brain.
Want to try it out for yourself? You might start with a Heart Math technique. Negative thoughts impact physical and emotional health. Instead, if we focus our attention on a previous experience of appreciation, we can rewire pathways to promote well being. It's simple. Find a quiet place to sit for a couple of minutes (you really don't need more, a 20 minute meditation goal is pretty intimidating). Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Recall a time you felt appreciated. Imagine reliving that experience, rather than just thinking about it. Let the feelings spread through your body. Stay with this experience for 30 seconds. When you finish, take another 3 deep breaths and notice how your body feels. Open your eyes and go about the rest of your day. Find another few minutes tomorrow and repeat the practice. It doesn't take much to start reshaping the riverbed.