There is an enormous amount of research happening about the brain, mind, and consciousness. Science knows a hundred times more today than it did in 1990 about what happens to the brain when we engage in contemplative practices like meditation.
This is great news for those who say “I can’t meditate”!
There is now good motivation to meditate because it actually changes our brain. The days of saying “Brain cells die as we age, the brain is fixed, you can’t change your mind, I am stuck in this thinking” is over. And here is why.
We now know that that the brain of people who regularly meditate becomes thicker. (not more stupid!) It becomes thicker in two major regions of the brain. One is the pre-frontal cortex, located right behind the forehead. It’s involved in deliberately paying attention to something.
The second brain area that gets bigger is the insula. The insula tracks both the interior state of the body and the feelings of other people, which is fundamental to empathy. So when we regularly meditate it helps us become more self aware and empathic.
Now that is motivation!
This is neuroplasticity in action which is really the idea that as the mind changes, the brain changes.
In the Buddhist tradition the mind takes the shape of whatever it rests upon – or more exactly, the brain takes the shape of whatever the mind rests upon. So if we are regularly thinking of regrets, resentments, quarrels with others, self reproach, and continually commenting of everything that isn’t working for us, it will change our brain in that direction, because the neurons that fire together wire together.
Conversely, if we think about those things that are going well, what we are grateful for, good connections we have with others, our positive qualities, what we have accomplished in our day, we are going to build neural pathways and circuits of positivity.
This is good news when we live in a world that is changing rapidly and feels out of control.
No matter what is going on “out there in the world” we can choose to stay more peaceful and calm by the regular practice of mindfulness or reflection or meditation or whatever we want to call it. The facts are in. When we meditate we change our brains and we change our lives.
If you haven’t started yet, today is a good day to commence changing your brain and your mind.
See Rick Hanson’s book The Buddha Brain.
Wendie has co-facilitated residential programs with Petrea for more than sixteen years. Prior to that Wendie spent over 25 years as a teacher, school principal and was involved in educational leadership and facilitation of school executive groups.
Ten years of this time was spent in PNG where she taught and worked for the government. Wendie has been travelling since the early sixties and is especially attracted to Asian cultures. She holds degrees in Anthropology, Education, Sociology, Theology and Political Science. Her current passions are her grandchildren, travel biographies, exploring Asia, 4×4 driving, reading everything she can get her hands on, and watching movies on the big screen at home.