Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply sit down on our little cushion to meditate? Instantly drop into the stillness, our internal chatter quieted, our bodies relaxed, not a care in the world? No doubt it would! But it doesn’t happen like that. But did you know that meditation changes your brain?
It takes a bit of repeated practice and effort to find the stillness that exists already inside each of us. Not to mention that as human beings, we are hard-wired with what is called a “negativity bias." We overwhelmingly gravitate toward the negative side of life rather than the positive.
With the expression, “Neurons that fire together wire together”, Psychologist Donald Hebb was onto something over 70 years ago. And Buddha too when he wrote “your mind takes its shape from what it repeatedly rests upon.”
“Our brain gravitates and sucks up whatever crosses its path like a starving anteater.”
Today, we have scientific tools to research the inner workings of our brains that we did not have when Buddha walked the earth over 2,500 years ago. Today, for the most part, we know what actually happens in our brains.
I’m no neuroscientist but I do understand the notion of neuroplasticity. Namely, the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections. This is especially in response to learning or experience like a stroke and even following an injury. Former Arizona House Representative Gabby Giffords comes to mind. After having been shot in the head in an attempted assassination in 2011, she has since recovered much of her ability to walk, speak, read, and write.
This gives me great hope that we all have the ability to change our own brain, relearn, restore, renew and return.
Research has shown that if we repeatedly dwell in resentment, anxiety, or inadequacy, these traits will gradually become hard-wired into our nervous system. On the other hand, if we deliberately steady our minds enough to sustain attention, to a sense our innate goodness, or a fundamental compassion for others or ourselves, if we rest our mind there, that is what gets hard-wired into our own living circuitry and we begin to dwell there.
Research also shows that as we deliberately steady our minds, we also gradually build up circuits in your brain. The broader point is that little things we do every day add up to big changes.
Little bits often and repeatedly.
A little bit of meditation here and a lot of mindfulness spread out about your day amounts to a change in your brain each day.
Those individual changes may be small every day and only accumulate a little bit each day but over time, these little changes accumulate to create a measured change and can really make a difference.
I’ve personally seen the enormous changes in myself over years of meditation practice. From having been someone who was quite impatient, judgmental, sometimes unkind and argumentative, to feeling at ease in my own skin, compassionate, kind, generous and patient, these changes are real.
But, we really do need to help our brain change for the better.
Cultivation of a steady mind makes us more able to deal with the world. This is not positive thinking, this is realistic thinking. And the results are positive, realistic, tangible and real.