What are the consequences of living unmindfully?
Have you ever felt overwhelmed, angry, frustrated, depressed, anxious, out of control, or caught in a cycle of drama created by yourself or others? Most of us have experienced inner disharmony, which negatively impacts the quality of one's life. The picture to the right represents what occurs when our thoughts are splintered because we unconsciously react to day-to-day challenges. An untrained mind is constantly racing, thinking about events of the future that have not occurred or perseverating on past experiences that cannot be changed. This takes us away from the present moment and from our authentic nature. The brain is a host for all of our past experiences and shapes our perceptions and behaviors based on what it knows. It is a habitual organ that goes to a default setting determined by our own socialization process, which can sometimes lead to inner and social chaos, depending on our personal life story and traumatic experiences.
The brain is an amazing organ, but left to its own devices can lead to a life of suffering. The good news is that we can change our brains, the functioning of our body, our thought patterns and behaviors by changing the focus of our attention. Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, enables individuals to change their thought patterns, thereby changing the neural pathways or messages being sent throughout the body and mind. Here is how neuroplasticity works:
When hiking, people typically follow the beaten path, which has been walked on countless times. As a result, the path deepens and widens. It is a habit that we continue to walk that path because it is easy and open....it is what we know and we are comfortable with the security of it. The brain loves this because it is a default setting. It doesn't have to think about the winding turns of the path because those are already stored in the mental and physical memory. Our thoughts are like this path. When we repeatedly have the same thoughts the brain firmly creates a neural pathway that becomes a default setting. If the thought is, " I am not good enough", the brain will store it after some time because it only knows what you tell it and it is a loyal servant, believing you wholeheartedly. But, what happens if you decide to blaze a new trail? When you intently focus your attention on the present moment and consciously determine your own thoughts you change the neural pathways in your brain and body and thereby reset your default settings.
Developing a Personal Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is an intentional decision to focus your attention and notice what is arising in any given moment without judgement. It allows the individual to be the creator of their own life, choosing peace or suffering in every moment. Mindfulness does not mean that life is without challenges or that we walk through life without a care in the world. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Executive Director for the Center for Mindfulness @ UMASS Boston, captured mindfulness beautifully when he stated,"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."
If you are interested in learning and practicing strategies to help you effectively surf the waves in your life, contact me and I can teach you practical techniques that will enhance joy and help you ride those waves of life with more ease. Mindfulness practices are incorporated into group classes and private sessions. Research has proven that mindfulness has the power to do the following:
- Engage the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and opening space for more joy
- Decrease rumination (thinking the same negative thoughts repeatedly, creating rigid patterns of thinking)
- Boost the immune system
- Increase concentration
- Help one to manage emotions and relationships effectively
- Develop self-inquiry skills and self-empowerment