Richmond, Virginia Amtrak Station

January 5, 2022

From Susan David’s monthly newsletter. Great stuff!

For ages, monks and mystics have used practices such as meditation to dissolve the fusion between thought and thinker, impulse and action, freeing the mind from some of its tighter constraints and distorted interpretations.

When these sorts of practices first became popular with Westerners in the late sixties, the operative phrase was “Be here now.” The idea was that the undisciplined mind is easily distracted, whipsawing back and forth in time, engaging with “push” memories of the past and “pull” projections of the future.

It’s only by being fully in the present, fully attuned to the “now,” that we can deal with the moment in an emotionally agile way.

Since the days when the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Mia Farrow went to India to sit at the feet of the Maharishi, research in the behavioral and cognitive sciences has worked to demystify these imports from the East, and much of their focus has been on a technique for paying attention, on purpose and without judgment.

That technique is called mindfulness.

Harvard researchers performed brain scans on sixteen people before and after they took an eight-week mindfulness-training program to reduce stress. The results showed changes in the brain regions associated not just with stress but also with memory, sense of self, and empathy.

It appears that practicing mindfulness improves the connectivity inside the brain’s networks that keep us from being distracted. By paying attention to what’s going on around us, rather than ignoring it or just going along with the program, we can become more flexible and insightful.

However, mindfulness isn't a silver bullet solution. The idea that everything you do, every moment of the day, should be approached with purposeful in-the-moment attention is ridiculous. You really don’t need to take out the recycling mindfully or comb your hair mindfully—that is, unless you find it rewarding.

Wishing you balance and mindfulness on your journey,

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