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Mind Myths and The Science of Meditation

From a place of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, our body floods with cortisol, and our perception is narrowed to one of self-preservation, seeing the external world as negative, or even threatening.

Frank Fitzpatrick
Frank Fitzpatrick

“You have a treasure within you that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.” — Eckhart Tolle

The greatest battle we will fight in our life is with the ongoing turmoil created by trying to follow the thoughts of our ever-fluctuating minds. The next greatest battle is trying to stop them.

Even in our sleep, explains John Medina in Brain Rules, the activity of the brain is high—higher than it is during most of our waking state. This is the beautiful nature of the human mind—the unending generation of data that shows up as thoughts—conscious or unconscious.

The mind cannot be stopped by force nor resistance. The mind can, however, be won over, and put at ease through mindful observation, compassion, and acceptance.

If we accept that the mind is an ever-fluctuating thought-generating and reason-making machine, we realize that we don’t need to, and shouldn’t, let it be the primary guide to our lives or definer of our life experiences. When we recognize that our thoughts are not who we really are, nor an entirely accurate view of the world, we can start to shape the pathways that we want our thoughts and our feelings to follow.

Over time, and with practice, our mental habits and repeating thought patterns start to shift to ones that better serve us. And when they don’t, we don’t have to react to them, or even believe them. We can simply let them pass and/or replace them.

A spinning mind, like a running tiger, burns up a lot of energy—energy that can be applied to other areas of our lives. Wrestling with one burns up more. When we stop resisting, struggling or battling with our own minds; when we take a moment and stop flailing about, we can save all that energy we were futility expending.

The Power of Consistent Meditation

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.” – Pema Chödrön, American Tibetan Buddhist

Meditation, however, is more than an essential tool in your survival kit—only to be called upon when the next tsunami hits your company, a health pandemic paralyzes the world, or your personal life starts to unravel.

By practicing meditation regularly, we give ourselves a much-needed opportunity to take a pause and reboot our operating system. As we step away from the noise of the world outside, and our spinning mind, we can delve deeper into the true essence of who we are at the core of our being.

Meditation is one of the primary paths that can lead us back to this inner world—to a place where we feel no separation, no anxiety, no judgment…a coming home in the truest sense. The more we practice in the best of times, the easier it will be to return to that place in the worst of times.

The Science of Meditation

Have you ever seen an unhappy monk? I’m sure they are out there, and that they have plenty of their own moments or inner turmoil. For the most part, however, they seem pretty content and at peace. This observation has led to a number of studies by curious scientists, researchers and seekers of inner wisdom.

In one such study, New York University neuro-scientific researchers used MRI to observe the brains of over 20 Buddhist monks during meditation. One of the most important findings was that meditation can actually change the circuitry, better known as the neuroplasticity, of the brain. The monks’ brains were physically and functionally superior than those without meditation experience.

You don’t have to be a monk, however, or live in an ashram, to reap the benefits of meditation. Meditation can improve the function of your brain in the same way exercise improves the function of your body. The number of scientific studies confirming the benefits of meditation have created an outpouring of books on the subject, and have made meditation part almost high-performers’ daily routines.

Beyond improved functionality, meditation allows us the opportunity to explore and experience the vast beauty and wonders of the universe within. We can travel beyond where the eyes can see and gather new insights and wisdom, without ever going anywhere.

How Meditation Helps Us in the Real World

The external world is a reflection of our internal state. In other words, the way we perceive the external situation, determines how we will experience it. Our entire system reacts to this perception, which in turn affects everything from our physical and mental health, to our emotional state, to our relationships.

From a place of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, our body floods with cortisol, and our perception is narrowed to one of self-preservation, seeing the external world as negative, or even threatening.

Meditation also helps us develop a set of highly practical mental skills and qualities for navigating the often-turbulent waters of our life.

Those include:

1. Concentration: The ability to focus, to hold our attention on a single point (referred to in yoga as a drishti), idea or sensory experience.

2. Presence: To be fully, with your body, mind and spirit, in the present moment—without distraction, judgment, or thoughts of the past or future.

3. Sensory Clarity: The ability to illuminate (amplify), track, and explore sensory experience, through and beyond our 5 senses, in real-time.

4. Creativity: The ability to hold 2 or more seemingly opposing ideas in our minds without stress.

5. Equanimity: The ability to stay centered, or balanced, while allowing sensory experience—from our thoughts, our emotions, our physical bodies, or environment, to pass through us with clutching, holding on, or resisting.

The more we meditate, the more we develop the capacity for these skills and more desirable states of being. In addition, the more we develop and hone these skills, the easier it is to meditate—to meditate for longer periods, and to go deeper in our meditations.

Ultimately, meditation offers us greater access to joy—one of the greatest gifts of the human experience.

By starting our day with meditation, we grow our capacity to be present to the gifts of our lives, and to increase the levels of joy we experience in all the other areas of our life.  Even 20 minutes a day can make a world of difference. And the small investment of time will pay itself back in multiples. Best of all, anyone—even you—can reap these benefits with regular practice.

About the Author

Frank Fitzpatrick is an Award-winning Creative Executive, Best-Selling Author, and Music and Health Expert, on the Faculty of Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine.

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