What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness meditation is brain training.
You can train the brain in anything, with thinking exercises, memory, and in fact unconsciously we have trained our brain with a collection of reactions and thoughts throughout life.
One of the most important facts known today thanks to the fields of brain research is that the brain is a plastic organ: that is, contrary to what was commonly thought in the past that it was fixed and unchangeable, the brain is a flexible organ that can be changed and shaped by learning. Like any other skill acquired by the brain, today we know that cognitive psychological skills, given appropriate training, can change and develop.
This fact points to a very significant point: over the years we have shaped the brain through repetition of mental habits, forms of behavior or thought patterns until these have become established and become automatic responses, but at any moment we can start practicing something that will shape the brain in a different way. In other words, what we get used to has a great influence on how we think, feel and behave.
Mindfulness meditation trains the brain to meet the present, a meeting in which we stop reacting in the same familiar ways, and in their place we make room for a positive and non-judgmental meeting with what is happening in this moment, such a meeting opens up a new space that will allow the cultivation of qualities such as compassion, love and acceptance for ourselves and the environment.
Why is mindfulness practice so popular?
In recent years it seems that wherever we turn, the practice of mindfulness is there. It has long been out of the domain of spiritual people and is today found in hospitals (for patients and doctors alike), in high-tech companies, in the health and welfare systems, in the police and even in prisons.
It may be that the reason why the practice of mindfulness has become so common is that it is scientifically proven.
There is no other mental practice that has been tested so much in brain research laboratories, in the therapeutic field, and in the world of psychology. The effect on ADHD, anxiety depression and more, in all of them you can see how the practice supports a better ability to deal with the complex situation, in cultivating mental resilience, mental stability, concentration, emotional regulation, and cultivating feelings such as compassion and empathy.
For example, in the studies done, it was discovered that practicing mindfulness strengthens the activity in areas of the brain related to attention, memory, and emotional and cognitive regulation, and is therefore found to be very effective in working with ADHD. In other studies done in particularly stressful work environments such as among doctors or police officers, it was observed that the possibility of making wiser decisions improved.
In order to understand how much the practice of mindfulness can be useful and supportive, let's look for a moment at our daily life:
How do we live our lives?
Our life is a race, and in this race there is an imaginary finish line that keeps getting further and further away from us. And not because we are going backwards, but because we constantly want more. The incessant movement towards the next job, the next relationship, the next destination leaves us with a sense of constant running.
But in fact, when we are constantly on our way to somewhere else, we are in a situation where everything we have now, to one degree or another, is not enough for us. Many of us live our lives with a constant feeling of dissatisfaction. If we stop for a moment and try to pay attention to our thoughts, we will find that they are constantly jumping between the past and the future, we are not here, something in this moment is never good enough for us to stay in it.
why is it happening?
Our attention is easily distracted.
While running, the brain chooses in a survival way the same reactions and patterns that are familiar to it from the past, many times it is not what we really want, it is simply the way we have become accustomed to reacting. The more times we repeat a certain response, the better the brain knows it and it becomes its default. When we live on automatism, the same habits and patterns continue to rule our lives: when an automatic response becomes fixed, our life becomes fixed with it.
What does mindfulness practice offer?
to stop. stay. to be.
"Directed attention to this moment, accompanied by an attitude of openness, curiosity and acceptance towards everything present"
Mindfulness practice directs us to stay in this moment, when we stop for a moment in a place, we reduce our automatic reactivity, free ourselves to see a wider picture in which a multitude of possibilities exist, an interval opens up for us in which we can flexibly choose among different responses. When the possibilities open up, we get out of the limited story we are used to telling, and become not only more sensitive to ourselves, but more sensitive to our environment. Delaying the reaction actually allows freedom of choice.
Such an approach of flexibility and openness, allows qualities such as compassion, patience and generosity to become more available, and more present in the way we meet with the environment. Cultivating such qualities, support our connections, relationships and therefore constitute support for the other as well. When we don't shrink within a relationship into the same familiar and old pattern, the latter will also be allowed a more open and supportive space to break free from his story.
From paying attention to the experience we will discover what is valuable and meaningful in our lives, in our relationships and in our choices. We can find satisfaction that is beyond a stage in the race. The marathon will not have a finish line but a long and beautiful road. For everything we meet in it.
Photography: Adi Hellman
And how do you do it?
Practicing meditation is brain training.
We train the brain to direct attention in a certain way and to a certain object.
It is important to note that such training should be studied in depth as part of a mindfulness course and with a qualified teacher, but in the meantime you are welcome to follow the instructions and try it yourself:
Mindfulness meditation: awareness with the body and breath
Comfortable position: sit on a chair or pillow, sitting upright and therefore alert, but not strained.
Relax: hands, shoulders, and everything possible and close your eyes or keep them half open while they are focused on one point on the floor in front of you.
Pay attention to the body: pay attention to different sensations in different areas of the body, to its presence in space.
Pay attention to the breath: expand the attention to the breath and notice where you feel it. The breath doesn't necessarily have to be long or calm, it can be just what it is, just stay with your attention on it.
Variability: Stay with the body and the breath, and notice how the sensations change from moment to moment.
Cultivate: a non-judgmental attitude, everything that arises and is present is natural and in order.
Drifting: Whenever you drift to other places, you can come back to the body and the breath, they are always here.
Remember: no matter how many times you have wandered to other places - every moment you recognize that you have wandered is a moment of awareness, and a new opportunity to train our attention to return to the body and the breath.
Very quickly you will surely notice how strong the drifting after thoughts is.
Thoughts are a natural part of our mental activity, but often these thoughts run our lives, they tell a story, and while we are carried away by the story, we forget about everything else.
The practice teaches us that everything that appears has the legitimacy to be, but one can choose to see and not identify, to pay attention to the thoughts that appear, but not to believe every story they tell, but to learn to see, recognize, let go, let them pass.
The degree of distance and observation of thoughts will allow us not to react and act automatically following every thought that occurs to us.
The connection between the practice and mental well-being
Attention training:We train our attention by returning every moment anew to what is present at the moment, instead of jumping to a thousand other places, we are simply here.
Reducing reactivity:Very quickly we will notice how much we want to get up, react, move, itch, the practice is an opportunity to simply stay with what is without automatically reacting in the same old and familiar ways.
Cultivating attitude:We cultivate an attitude of interest and curiosity towards what is happening, when we meet the experience with openness and curiosity - there are many more possibilities within it.
The training in directing our attention actually reduces the tendency to react in the same old, familiar ways, and although life itself will continue to provide challenges, cultivating the attitude of acceptance and openness will allow us a new encounter with reality, an encounter that will be based on curiosity, openness and acceptance, and therefore will lead to inner stability, joy, well-being and freedom.
Written by Shahar Matan, a meditation teacher atIKIGAI
15 minute guided meditation
Dr. Keren Arbel