Conquer Your Mind through the meta-skill of meditation
When we closely observe our mind, with closed eyes, for a few moments, what we see is a non-stop stream of thoughts. We have no idea how thoughts arise. From one set of thoughts to another, the mind is always engaged in generating thoughts. Most of the time, the mind is restless. Like a monkey, it jumps and swings from one branch of thoughts to another, alternately nibbling on and throwing out ‘’half-eaten” fruits/thoughts. Buddhists call it the “monkey mind” to describe its unsettled and restless nature. Unless we calm our monkey mind, it never rests and keeps jumping in all possible directions.
We must have noticed that despite trying hard to stay in present, our mind keeps wandering. Mind’s wandering increases when we perform uninteresting tasks. When we attend any lecture or meeting and the topic is either not relevant or not to our interest, our wayward mind will not be attentive to the subject.
We invariably get lost in our own thought process. We are either planning or anticipating the future, worrying about something, or reliving the past. There is no shortage of upcoming tasks and duties to think about. Even if we don’t have anything pressing to consider, we will slip into daydreams. We are lost in fantasies.
When our mind is wandering, it means it’s in an ‘autopilot mode’ or in default mode. During this time, many interconnected areas of the brain are active and they form a network, which is known as the default mode network (DMN). When there is a high activity in DMN, it means we are not focused on the present moments and thinking about all other things (except about the task at hand). In a way, DMN is the home of our ‘ego’. It’s also referred to as the “me” network of our brain. It lights up when we think about ourselves, daydreams, introspects, worries, or busy with ‘I’ thoughts. So, whenever we are not focused on any task or present at the moment then our DMN is activated. We are in ‘thinking mode’. Our thinking mind is at work.
It’s a known fact that when we are disturbed or distressed or worrying about something, then it’s very difficult to focus on the present moment. Mind’s wandering increases in those moments. We are not able to concentrate on anything other than the issue which is troubling us. It’s well established that a wandering mind is unhappy while a focused mind is a happy one. Among life’s, most challenging tasks is to control our mind. To manage thoughts under distressing moments is not as easy as we think.
The more we try to suppress our negative or troubling thoughts, more forcefully they resurface. Even if we divert our attention to entirely different thing, we are not able to focus on present. This condition leads to ‘overthinking’. Same set of disturbing thoughts come in the mind despite our best efforts.
When we experience a continuous bombardment of negative thoughts, unless we control them, they can potentially lead to mental illnesses. Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or attention deficit disorder invariably start with our inability to manage toxic and distressing thoughts. Then a time comes when those thoughts become uncontrollable. Therefore, each one of us must learn how we can manage thoughts when we face challenging situations. Negative thoughts are among the biggest obstacles we face on our life’s journey.
Several studies have shown that therapies like meditation could influence the default network. Our thinking mind or the DMN can be calmed by way of meditation. After practicing meditation, we can effectively control the DMN of our brain. That’s the reason with meditation, we start managing our thoughts especially distressing thoughts. Hence, these types of thoughts can’t disturb our minds for a long time. This is how through the practice of meditation; we can successfully control the inflow of thoughts. Negative feelings like sadness, depressive mood, hatred, loneliness, fear, and anger can be managed very well through the ancient practice of meditation.
Meditation is currently one of the most powerful wellness trends in the world. It’s growing exponentially across many nations, including the USA and India. Since the benefits of meditation have been validated by scientific studies across the globe, very large numbers of people are turning to it. Meditation along with yoga, two ancient practices, is now officially the most popular alternative health practice in the United States. According to the survey conducted in 2017, nearly 14.2% of people practiced meditation in contrast to just 4% in 2012. Meditation is thriving and has become a billion-dollar industry in the US.
A listing of meditation’s benefits on both physical and mental health, validated by research studies, would become voluminous. Therefore, only certain critical areas are being touched upon here.
When we meditate, we practice moment-to-moment awareness while observing whatever happens around us. It’s like any other physical exercise. The result is that our mind gradually becomes more focused and attentive. As we become more aware, our meta-awareness (awareness of awareness) increases. We become non-reactive, responding appropriately to situations as the need arises. We then start observing ourselves from a distance, it’s a big positive change that happens when we meditate.
We begin to make more conscious choices and decisions because of increased self-awareness and attention to the present moment. Once we begin to live mindfully and are attentive to whatever is happening around us, many pleasant changes in our mind and body start manifesting. Whatever may be our core purpose in life, we all want to live a healthy and happy one for the longest possible time. No one wants to die prematurely. What is happening now is that more people are dying from lifestyle diseases. Research has shown that through the regular practice of meditation, we can slow down our aging process.
As we have seen, meditation can transform one’s life with far more self-awareness, focused attention, and clarity. Through these attributes, we can live mindfully. With better control over our inner life, we certainly can live life on our own terms.
Clarity and control are also the conditions in which a strong sense of compassion and empathy take root, which can give meaning to our life. Studies have established that through meditation, we can become more compassionate and empathetic toward others. We understand their feelings and point of view with greater clarity and understanding.
Living mindfully, with warm feelings of love and compassion, also improves our immune system. Overall mental and physical health improves significantly with regular practice of meditation. Numerous studies have shown remarkable structural and functional changes in the brain of practitioners. The only requirement for beginning meditation is to break the mental inertia and come out from the comfort zone.
Takeaway: Through the practice of mindfulness-based meditation, we can transform our life by managing our thoughts and emotions. Some studies have even gone to the extent of establishing a linkage between this meta-skill with longevity. Meditation practitioners can add more years of healthy life. Though the practice is extremely easy, many people find it equally difficult to practice for the initial few days due to their inability to manage their thoughts. As a result, they get tempted to discontinue the practice.
Besides, there are certain misconceptions and myths attached to this ancient skill, which also weaken their determination to pursue meditation. However, those who overcome these hurdles can find surprising results of meditation in the time to come.
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