How many times have you noticed yourself reacting to a certain situation(s) the same way over and over? I notice this of myself time and time (and time) again. I call this living life in the weeds. I’d rather not live life in the weeds. If you feel the same, read on. Read on because this is good news.
Those habitual responses that most of us have are simply neuronal structures, well grooved pathways in the brain, through which our responses flow. Some cultures call them imprints. Whether they are imprints or pathways, meditation can help us with redirecting those well grooved channels.
For example, as I’ve mentioned before, thefullvegetarian.com/daily management , if I have a medical issue, I assume the worst. In 1- 2 minutes I can be wondering how long I have left to live almost regardless of facts surrounding the situation. How do I do this so spectacularly? It is just one of the well greased pathways in my brain. A reaction that I have had so many times in the past, it becomes almost second nature. My thoughts automatically flow through those channels of the brain.
The good news is I can change that and so can you. This is where meditation is available to step in and help us. The practice creates new neuronal pathways. In addition to creating new pathways in the brain, the practice can also cultivate an awareness of thoughts and feelings. By cultivating awareness of thoughts and feelings coupled with a basic understanding of the nature of mind, we set the stage for change: change in our reactions throughout daily life, change in our perception of life events, and change in our habitual patterns. (Psychology Today’s blog has a great straightforward post titled, “Change Your Mind, Change Your Brain.” It discusses how those new channels are created. Sorry, I was unable to link to it.)
And, the next time we are confronted with a similar situation in which we have an immediate fixed reaction, we can ask ourselves: Is this simply a reaction I tend to have more often than not? Is my reaction based on fact or emotion? What is the reality of the situation? If you get caught up in your thoughts while trying this and are not able to mindfully be fully present, give yourself time and without judgment try to move on from the situation. If you have the intention to be mindful of your reactions and a consistent meditation practice, change will slowly come.
So, back to living life in the weeds. The good news is we aren’t stuck. Not by a long shot. We are not trapped by habitual responses. When the day comes your response to a situation has changed, notice the shift in consciousness. Notice if you have a visual with this shift or a particular feeling. The feeling could be one of lightness and freedom. The visual could be a bright, open spot far outside of the weeds where you stand. I’ll catch up with you there.
Meditation Q&A / Tips and Advice
Q: Why is it so hard to make the practice of meditation stick?
A: It can be difficult to make the practice stick usually because of emotional resistance. I struggled for the first two years of my practice. It was something I knew I had to do, yet it was the last thing I wanted to do. For me the struggle came with the fear of meeting my mind. (Recognizing my thoughts.) Because once I met my mind, what was I going to do with all of that emotion and those irrational thoughts? Clearly my fear was driven by a strong identification with my thoughts and emotions. With the practice of meditation once I developed some space between myself and my thoughts, I began to find the practice more accessible and was able to make it stick.
Q: I am dealing with a lot of stress in my life. (This is a comment I get from about 80% of people coming to class for the first time.) How can meditation help me with managing stress?
A: Meditation calms the fluctuations of the mind. As the fluctuations of the mind calm, the practitioner is better able to cope with stress. More often than not, the first indication meditation is changing your response to stress is that you may not react as quickly as you had in the past.
Q: What am I supposed to do during meditation, clear my head?
A: While there may be meditation techniques that are designed to do that, the practice I’ve found most useful is simply the development of awareness, self-awareness. So, during this practice we acknowledge all thoughts and emotions without fixating on them, being lost in them, or trying to change them.
Meditation Tips and Advice
An accessible practice I teach most often is sitting quietly with the breath. It can be as simple as this:
In a comfortable seated position with a straight spine, notice your inhales and exhales, be fully present and engaged, and recognize your thoughts and emotions. Try it for five minutes. Notice how you feel afterward.