By Mary Jaksch
If you meditate regularly, you’ll know that even a short meditation in the mornings has the power to improve the way you experience your whole day. Not only will you feel more peaceful and relaxed, you’ll also be more alert, feel more positive, and have a greater sense of empathy.
That’s why meditation techniques have been refined over thousands of years.
But do you have to meditate for years in order to experience the benefits?
Recent research has proven that there are measurable brain changes after only eight weeks of meditating regularly. The research was conducted at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness
How we can change our brain
The brain is a complex network. People used to think that our brain is something we can’t influence. But in recent years, research has shown that the inherent plasticity of the brain means that we can create new neurons and lay down new pathways as the result of training.
The brain is like a muscle that we can train
Britta Hölzel, PhD, one of the leading authors of the research into mindfulness meditation, says:
It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.
Awareness is a key aspect of meditation
Most forms of meditation revolve around awareness training. Awareness is different from concentration. To become aware means that we notice what is usually outside our conscious experience.
So, what does this actually mean? It’s hard to become aware of what seems ‘normal’ to us. If you were a fish, for example, You wouldn’t be aware of water, would you? In order to understand ‘water’, a fish would have to be outside of its ‘normal’ element.
That’s exactly what meditation training does: we come aware of what is usually hidden by going outside of our ‘normal’ mode of experiencing. If you were a fish, for example, you would only understand water if you were lifted out of it.
In the process of training our awareness through meditation, we learn to understand how our habitual thoughts shape our reality.
Let’s try a simple experiment:
Stop reading and notice the sounds around you.
When you start to attend to sounds, you’ll notice that sounds were going on all the time around you, but you somehow managed to screen them out.
What if you were screening out most of your experience?
Internal dialogues drown out most other experiences. That means that it’s possible to go through life, and only experience a fraction. If you spend a lot of time listening to your inner dialogue, you may be missing the small beauties of life: the warmth of sun on your skin, the smell of freshly ground coffee, the kindness with which a friend looks at you, or the delicate taste of the meal you’re eating. If you don’t want to miss out on life: start to meditate.
Meditation allows you to experience your life fully
What is your attention default?
What kind of thoughts does your mind return to most often? For most people the attention default is their internal dialogue. But we only notice what our attention default is when we start meditation, and experience inner and outer stillness. Again, it’s like taking a fish out of water in order to know about water.
Meditation helps us to change our attention default because it trains us to be more present. When we learn to become aware of our moment-to-moment awareness, our life changes. We become more present, and less self-involved.
One of the changes in the brain through meditation is that affects we become more empathetic. We become more in tune with others. When we emerge from the fog of our internal dialogue are we able to tune into the needs and hopes of others.
Use the breath as an anchor to the present moment
A simple way to retrain our attention is to use the breath as an anchor that brings us back to the present. Whenever we pay soft attention to our breath, it takes us out of our self-involved inner world. It also calms us and steadies us.
Who are you?
One of the main reasons why meditation changes us is because you can get a glimpse of who you really are – when you drop all ideas about yourself.
What you can notice is that we actually construct our sense of self from moment to moment. That’s the main function of the internal dialogue. When we meditate and are able to notice and let go of the constant chatter in the mind, we get to glimpse the reality of who we are in the depth.
Even if you only meditate for a short space of time each day, there will be a definite change in life after only eight weeks. There’s a radiance and serenity that comes with regular meditation. And, most of all, you’ll become present and really experience your life, instead of living in a fog of preoccupation.
What’s your experience of how meditation has changed your life? Or do you have questions? Please share in the comments.
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