Early morning, just before daybreak, my neighbor Sandi walks her dog holding his leash tight to her chest as he walks next to her, not too pleased. “This is our training walk,” she tells me.
Mindfulness meditation has been around for 5,000 years. In the 1960s, meditation took root in the West. Focusing on the breathing is the best known method for disciplining the mind. Other forms of mediation are visualization and moving (walking, Tai Chi, etc. ). In mindfulness meditation, you make no effort to control or worry about what comes into your mind but rather try not to get caught up in it.
Historically, the focus of mediation was not improve your health or enhance your career. It’s goal was for you to change at a core level. However, with the exception of groups of yogis and other individuals who devote thousands of hours to this practice, most of us use it to clean up the mind clutter, for self-reflection, and as balm for modern day angst.
Melinda Gates writes on her Facebook page: The first thing I do every morning is carve out a few minutes to meditate—and the last thing I do every night is try to get to bed early enough that I can meditate again the next morning. When I take the time to reflect and unwind, it makes me happier, more mindful, and more productive both at work and at home.
Ellen DeGeneres: meditates because it feels good. “Kinda like when you have to shut your computer down when it goes crazy. You just shut it down and when you turn it on, it’s okay again. That’s what meditation is for me.”
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were early enthusiasts of walking to relieve stress so good thoughts could enter. Thomas Jefferson: The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk. But divert your attention by the objects surrounding you.
In meditation, you bring discipline to the mind, like Sandi does with her dog’s leash. The goal of lifting weights is to make muscles stronger. Each time you bring your mind back to your meditation, rein in the thoughts, you strengthen the neural circuity in your brain.
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, just co-authored a book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body. “There are many beneficial effects of this simple exercise [meditation]. Attention strengthens. Concentration improves. Memory improves. Learning improves. And because the same circuitry in the brain that focuses your attention also manages the amygdala, which causes you to get anxious or upset or depressed, people have a double benefit: They react less strongly to things that used to upset them and recover more quickly when they do get upset.”
In the last few years, this ancient practice is finding acceptance within the medical establishment. Doctors are recommending mindfulness-based stress reduction programs for patients with pain and other conditions difficult to treat in hospital settings. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Goleman points out that while meditation may not cure the underlying illness that’s the cause of the pain, it can change your relationship with the pain making the pain more manageable.
Sandi’s success depends on her single-minded willingness to retrain her dog’s brain to accept her as the leader of the pack. Meditation is much like that. We sit or move in purposeful concentration. Like lifting weights, in time the practice gets easier and the meditation deepens. Insight timer, a meditation app, is home to 3,200,000 meditators.