“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.” - Gautama Buddha
Sometimes life can feel like one big drama of decision making, where the boundaries between the past, present and future become increasingly nebulous; the more thought given. Research has shown that the more time we spend mind-vortexing (i.e. not being present), the less happy we’re likely to be. In fact, humans wither-away an astounding 47 percent of our waking hours to the sense of mentally time-traveling mentioned above.
So, how can we become more present and in turn, fortify our brain health? Enter, the age-old, irrefutable prescription that both the scientific and the spiritual have unconditionally and vastly distributed: meditation.
Choosing meditation - which is a grounded and presently-rooted mindset - is a commitment to fully engage in life: to be mentally active rather than passive in our existence and to firmly turn off our mind-meandering autopilot.
For example, researchers have been unveiling the long-term effects of practicing meditation on neuroplasticity: the brain’s ability to consciously replace unwanted thoughts with positive ones and to form new connections. Just as exercise develops your muscles, practicing presence through meditation strengthens neural connections. Meditation and pranayama (breath-work) stimulate your brain as sensorimotor experiences based on perception-action systems aimed at creating awareness of mind and body and the union between the two - This kind of brain activity has been proven to prevent atrophy and functional decline.
Meditation teaches that there is a consciousness beyond “anatomical me”, and this “you” has serious agency. A side-effect of meditation is that by turning inward and practicing thoughtful instrospection, we begin to question ourselves about what we’re doing to disturb our own health and well-being. This authoritative voice is very empowered, because we begin to realise that it’s our prerogative to take action upon these dwellings...
To meditate is to disassociate from the disturbed mind, to actively chose distance from futile thoughts and instead anchor oneself in the present by watching the breath. But what does this actually do and what is so holy about this? Basically, if you are watching your breath passing in and out, you are not watching your mind complain about X, Y and Z; you’re not watching your mind that is participating in the fruitless game of “what do I or don’t I want”. You are instead focusing your awareness on the breath going in and out. That’s it. If the foundation of the mind is “What do I want? What do I not want? And how do I make it happen”, it will always be disturbed and unsettled. You’re are pitting yourself against the unfolding of reality in your own fraught thoughts. Choose to be present instead: meditate and be with each passing moment in it’s purity as this is the true invitation for clarity.
Positive effects have been seen in long-time meditators who practice for as little as 10 minutes a day. If we look at the current literature on medical use of antidepressants, the effects are pretty meek. Enter: Neurochemistry. Did you know that your brain is capable of naturally creating key chemicals that pharmaceutical companies synthesise in a lab? For instance, some antidepressants work by increasing the usable levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin helps regulate mood, social behavior, appetite, sleep, memory, and more. Meditation has also been shown to positively increase serotonin levels, without the side effects, making it a promising complementary therapy. One direction of current and future research is how these approaches can be best used for emotional regulation...
My ultimate meditation mantras are: “chose a different thought to think” and “don’t make feelings facts” - I invite you to change your life by using them.