The Need to be Mindful of the Mind!

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People of Christen belief are less likely to die 20 days before Christmas than after Christmas. People who believe in something higher themselves are more likely to live longer, generally healthier and more resilient than people who are non-believers. People who meditate are more to feel a sense of wellbeing and are generally happier.

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These statements are rooted in science and from them one may conclude that these people are somehow living and seeing the world in a different way that confers them some benefits.

What’s special about these situations and these people that causes them to experience these benefits?

Research seems to confirm the age-old suspicion that these individuals’ brains are firing differently! That is to say their mind is processing the world differently.  In a sense they are creating their own reality and their own happiness.

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The Buddha realized the world is suffused with suffering and always advocated cultivating the mind to free one of suffering. Science is now discovering that cultivating the mind is indeed very important determinant of our health and wellbeing.

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It is easy to say cultivate your mind but how does one do that? There are many ways, but none surpass the practice of training your attention, which really means meditating. The practice of meditation is a technique used for thousands of years to improve concentration and focus, which improves the control of  our awareness.

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When we are more aware, it allows us to “see and map out” our own mind.  This then allows us to see different aspects of our self. These different aspects of ourselves have different drives, they are all driven to fulfill our different needs and if these needs are in conflict with each other, then this will result in uncomfortable feeling of either chaos or rigidity within us, resulting in ill-health, relationship conflicts and feeling of depression.

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Sciences is now finding out that Practices like prayer, meditation, tai chi, qigong, yoga all help to cultivate our minds in a beneficial way. Even simple exercise is shown to help depression and improve neuroplasticity in the brain.

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So if you are doing any of these practices please don’t let them lapse and if you were thinking about starting, I wholeheartedly support your effort because the benefits are obvious.

Resources

The Mindful Brian by Daniel Siegel

http://flickrhivemind.net/

Skills of Compassion.

In the last blog we looked at what it is to be compassionate. It is now time to look at the skills we need to be compassionate. Lord Buddha thousands of years ago recognized this and recommended the following. Science is now catching up and suggesting the same skills.

Skill 1. The right view is knowing that suffering is caused by viewing the world in a way that’s not serving us and causes us to live in an illusion. We have to remind ourselves that we are not independent of everything; we are dependent on animals, plants, earth, sun, moon, water for our survival and well-being. To be independent of all this would mean we are like god himself, omnipotent. We all know we are not and yet we behave and act like we are. When we truly realize that we are not independent our behavior may change in a way that’s respectful towards others and our environment; we may not pollute the earth and the air, we may look at our fellow humans as fellow travelers in the same boat; what frustrate our needs will also frustrate theirs.

Skill 2.  The right concentration is that which allows us to focus in a way that is life-giving or life flourishing for all rather than self-motivated focus that doesn’t account for the needs of others.

Skill 3. The right intention is when our sole intention towards everyone is to relieve suffering even though there may not be any benefit for us.

Skill 4. The right speech is a communication in a relationship which is non judgmental, comforting and helpful. Non-judgmental does not mean giving up discernment.

Skill 5. The right action is one where we strive to help satisfy human needs that is life-giving or helps us to flourish.

Skill 6. The right livelihood we are lucky if we are doing a job that is promoting healing and human spirit. There are some jobs that are very bad for human spirit and people doing them become numb and “hardened”. In these jobs there is little opportunity to show kindness, promote healing and human flourishing. These jobs are bad for those that do them and for the human spirit as a whole.

Skill 7.  The right effort we have to make the right effort and be dedicated to learning and practicing the skills of compassion.

Skill 8. The right mindfulness we have to learn to be present in the moment so that we are fully engaged in life and not dead in the past or not yet born in the future.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

http://flickrhivemind.net/

Can the brain be trained to cope with suffering and bring about feeling of contentment?

In the last post I talked about how we feel inside, depends on how we view the world . We produce stress hormone if you see the world as hostile and healing hormone if you view the world as friendly.

It would be nice to live in a world where we feel safe and nurtured. You may wonder if such a world exists in reality; for most of us it probably doesn’t.  Even the father of the young Buddha tried to create such a world for him  but he failed. Later the Buddha himself realised that we cannot live without unpleasant things happening to us; in fact he thought life was suffused with suffering and that it was not just periodic good and bad events in life. The continuous suffering from ordinary life events ,such being late for work , getting a speeding ticket , weather either too hot or too cold , seasonal allergies , burning the tongue with hot beverage, argument with a colleague etc  can all contribute to the ongoing suffering; and chronic suffering will eventually give us ill-health. Buddha suggested minimising this suffering by being fully aware of it at all times; by being aware allows us the opportunity to react appropriately when we do suffer so that our behaviour or our reaction to it doesn’t produces more suffering to us or others.

The obvious question is if we can train our brain to always come up with the right action so that we cause no or minimal suffering to others and ourselves. The answer is yes; we can train our minds to do extraordinary things. We train our soldiers to kill when in combat. The training they get prepares them to kill in the war zone, if they don’t they will put their selves and their comrades in danger.  If mind can be trained to kill in certain situations why can’t it be trained to come up with right action at the right time? The right action is generated by cultivating compassion for all living being. It is the compassion that ultimately matters and guides us towards the right action. The science, with the new technology have studied brains of Buddhist monks and who practice cultivating compassion for all living beings. The part of the brain that is involved in compassion is markedly more developed than the average person who led an ordinary life. The monks have the ability to show compassion even to a psychopath. That does not mean they condone their bad actions or behavior, rather that even when they see how bad their behavior has been they still don’t want to cause them more suffering. The compassion they show is by seeing the situation as it really is, yes the psychopath may have lied, cheated, harmed others but after seeing all that their action is going to be based on how to prevent further suffering to psychopath and others. They do not believe (like most of us have the tendency to) that punishing and causing more suffering to them can avoid further suffering. Rather they believe that change in psychopath’s behavior is going to come from behaving differently towards him so that his view of the world is slowly converted to one where the world looks lot more friendly and caring. When one feels cared for and feels safe in the world then one will be predisposed to acting in a beneficial way to himself and to others. Of course the behavior of the psychopath is not going to change from one interaction but it may give him pause to think that there is another way of acting which maybe more beneficial to all concerned. With repeated showing of compassion his behavior may change.

When one is showing compassion to others don’t forget there is also a great benefit for to the one showing the compassion. As I suggested in my last posting they act from place where the world feels and seem friendly and their relationships are better; their level of stress hormones are lower and their feel good brain chemicals higher and their immune systems are more robust. The same is true when one show compassion to themselves.

So how can we learn to be compassionate and receive/give these good benefits? I said in my last posting I will go over some exercises to enhance the system that controls the feeling of contentment, but before I do that we need to know more about compassion; which will be the topic of the next posting. Until then may you see and find the world friendly.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

We Are Not To Blame For What Goes On In Our Mind.

You may have noticed that what goes on in your mind you may not have much control over. In many ways much of whats goes on in our mind is not our fault or even our intention. It is amazing that nearly 3000 years ago Buddha had this insight about the mind and come to the same fundamental conclusion; that because we have no control over whats in our minds then it implies that it’s not our fault or our intention to have those thought in our mind.

It is now well accepted that two major factors that influences us are our genes and our early environment; and we have no control over neither of them. We are hard-wired, so to speak, by our genes and our early childhood experiences but had no say in the process. We were not consulted, no one asked our permission. But it is the interaction of the genes and the early childhood experiences that gives us our sense of “being oneself “; this experience of oneself may vary from feeling amazing to feeling severely traumatized, and we had no say in the matter.

Even though we had no say in the design of  ourselves and we have little control over our mind we can still take responsibility in a new way so that we can live in and work with such a mind. It is like taking responsibility for our physical body; we had no choice over what body we were given but we still have the responsibility of looking after it to keep it healthy. We have to eat right, exercise etc. The same is true for our mind, we are learning that our brain and mind need certain kind of input to function well.

We will explore what kind of input is required for our brain and mind to function well. But until than it is important to realize that we are not to blame  about whats going on in our minds. We can be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

Resources

The Compassionate Mind. by  Paul Gilbert

Interchange Blog

Interchange Blog

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