May: National Meditation Month!
Happy National Meditation Month!! What a great opportunity to tune inward to help refine our brain! Just like any instrument, our brain needs sharpening to continue along the path of spiritual growth. According to the Dalai Lama, "meditation is key to spiritual growth." Some of you may know that I was a biology major in college. Because of that, to kick off this National Meditation month, I'd love to talk about one of the major benefits of meditation. Namely, meditation can help us rewire old circuits and habits in the brain.
The brain is very powerful because it provides us the motivation we need to keep on doing things that will be beneficial for our survival and it teaches us to change when we are acting riskily. This phenomenon works largely through the hormones present, such as stress hormones like cortisol. Unfortunately, it is all too common to live in a constant state of stress in our modern world. The actual events which are stressful constitute a very small percentage of our time, but our brains are conditioned to continuously replay the past over and over again. When the brain reminds itself of a tragic or stressful past experience, the brain is fed the stressful hormones all over again. It eventually accepts this as the normal baseline state of living. It assumes that this state is the state needed for survival. So when the brain is in any other state, it craves the stress hormones because it has developed an addiction to that baseline state. Perhaps this is partially what the ancient sage Patanjali meant when he said that "At other times (when not in the state of yoga), the seer (aka you, the observer of your situation) appears to assume the form of the fluctuations."
Think of this situation: You've been working hard for 10+ years for a company where the boss doesn't value your contributions. He is constantly pushing you to do more even though you feel overextended. His personality is very strict and straightforward. His compliments happen once in a blue moon. You see him walk past your office 50 times a day, five days a week. On top of that, you are getting 10 plus emails a day. Every single one of these interactions with your boss brings up feelings of bitterness and frustration. That alone is more than 300 direct reminders per week of these awful emotions. Now when you replay these frustrations all during your drive home, complaining to your family at dinner, and when even the alarm clock is reminding you of having to wake up to go to that job, you easily have thousands of miserable thoughts towards work per week-- maybe even per day.
When the brain is used to thinking these things toward work, then even if you get another job, the brain believes that the way life has been is how it always has to be. It has become addicted to those stress hormones and has built its baseline with them. This explains why people go through a honeymoon phase with new jobs but then they are often brought back to that miserable state within a few months.
So if changing the situation doesn't necessarily change the miserable feelings, what can change the outcome? Changing the thinking can change the outcome. This is where meditation comes in! Meditation gives your brain time to consider ideas such as contentment, gratitude, non-attachment to results, patience, and more. We let the emotions resolve themselves because we give them time and space rather than ignoring them because we feel guilty for having them.
If we consider the immense amount of time and energy lost in emotions which drain us, we can assume that the amount of energy regained by changing the thoughts is more or less equal. So where does this leave us? Need more time, more energy, more patience, and more contentment in your life? Start meditation now!