At this time of year we all think about a clean slate and starting anew but research shows 80% of us have let our resolutions go by February.
So what can we do to support our goals, dreams and aspirations that we sincerely intend at the start of January? Learn to meditate!
It’s not that our resolutions are unachievable; we’re simply not starting from the right place. To achieve anything, we need to be aware. Only with awareness can we effectively manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to consciously move toward our goals. The benefits of meditation are proven from improved sleep and reduced stress, to better relationships and communication.
Beginning a meditation practice is free and can be integrated into any of our daily activities like cooking, cleaning, walking or gardening. The simple act of being present with what you are doing can soon become a way of being.
Meditation will benefit your mind, your body, and your brain.
This is not an exaggeration, it’s what rigorous scientific study has shown. People often ask me about ‘the science’ there are now 6000 peer reviewed academic articles on the subject. For their latest book The science of meditation how to change your brain, mind and body Daniel Goleman and Riche Davison have reviewed the evidence for us. And they found thorough evidence showing that:
1.Meditation can sharpen your ability to concentrate rather than being distracted.
2.Meditation focused on compassion makes you more likely to actually help someone in need.
- Meditation practice helps ease symptoms for people who have experienced trauma or PTSD.
- After thirty hours spread over eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction practice, the “fight or flight” part of our brains (the amygdala) reacts less strongly to stressful events.
And these are just the benefits at the outset, among beginners. Seasoned meditators (who have meditated for thousands of hours over their life) show long-term lasting impact from meditation.
- For long term meditators one day of meditation shuts off genes that create inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is the cause of numerous diseases in the body if there was a pill that could do this we would all be taking it – so why aren’t we all meditating?
Let me know in the comments below.
The picture above is from ‘action for happiness’ and is wonderful guide to mini-positive steps you can make every day in January to help nudge your brain in a positive direction.
Did you know that mindfulness is ALWAYS mindfulness of something? Mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of walking, mindfulness of washing the dishes… and I dare to posit mindfulness of Christmas card writing!
They say sending Christmas cards is on the decline and has been for some time… maybe something to do with the price of stamps Royal Mail! But the cost of a stamp aside – it is lovely to give and receive a card.
When you receive a card you have a reassurance that this person has been thinking of you, has taken the time to write a few lines, cares. They also make nice festive decorations! At Christmas time we are reminded to think of others, to check on elderly neighbours and relatives, sending a card is another way to do this.
A recent survey by An Post showed that only 5% people want to receive an eCard or text message saying Happy Christmas. And not everyone lives on social media. And to receive card, a physical thing you can touch and feel and even keep really does have more meaning. I can’t be the only person who has kept special cards over the years?
It can be a really lovely thing to do – to pause for a moment, think of someone and take the time to actually handwrite a card. Writing a Christmas cards also gives us time to pause and reflect on the year gone by. To look for the good, the people who have touched us and those we have lost, maybe even those who have moved to other countries who you won’t see so often but you can still communicate with.
So if you haven’t written any cards this year – it’s not too late! The last posting day for 2nd class stamps is 20 December 2017. Christmas cards are now half price in most shops too– even better if you get charity ones!
- So get cosy, make a cup of tea and even a mince pie and then write a list or just think in your minds eye of all the people you would like to send some love to. All the people who have helped you this year or the people who you haven’t seen for various reasons but you want them to know you haven’t forgotten them.
- Choose an appropriate card and have a breath then write your message. Thich Nhat Hanh said that when he was signing books he would breathe in and breathe out three times thinking of the reader before signing his name – on hundreds of books! Why not have a breath for the recipient of your card? It can be a really enjoyable mindfulness practice.
- Take mindful walk in the crisp winter air to the office (or Spar with Post Office in it!), chat to the staff on the counter – spread some Christmas Cheer! Before you do this you may have to ring them for a chat or text for their address!
- When you receive a card in return (though don’t send to receive – the other person may be too busy or unable to send a card, this is a practice of just sending) take a pause to breath, enjoy and receive the good that has come your way. The neuroscientist Rick Hanson teaches us that the more times throughout the day that we can pause and ‘take in the good’ the more we re-wire our brain towards happiness and contentment.
A Christmas card is only a small thing but it comes with a big intention and a wish for your happiness. Allow yourself some gratitude that someone has taken the time and effort to think of you. Receive it, believe it and enjoy this special time of year
People who are interested in meditation and spirituality are often looking for something magical and mystical. Maybe enlightenment. All my study of the great teachers and traditions tells me the opposite. In order to have, seek or find a spiritual experience you must first go to something very simple, very ordinary, very present: the body and the breath.
Our breath is the link between the body and the mind, when we cultivate awareness of breathing we begin to become present and increase our concentration and capacity for insight. Insight will lead us to enlightenment.
So there is a path to enlightenment, but the path begins with the practical step of mindful breathing.
Mindfulness of breathing will help us right away. It will enable us to calm down, to slow our heart rate, activate the parasympathetic nervous system enabling us to release and relax tension. Healing. Eventually we can learn to turn off what in Plum Village they call the NST – the non-stop thinking radio of the mind.
If we continue to practice over time, neuroscience shows that this type of meditation will shrink the areas of our brain to do with anxiety and stress, (the amygdala) and will thicken the parts of our brain to do with happiness and contentment (the right pre-frontal cortex).
How amazing is that? Just from making an unconscious process (breathing) conscious we are changing our brain, rewiring the mind for happiness. Once this begins to happen perhaps we will no longer feel the need for enlightenment or perhaps this is enlightenment?
To be happy and contented in our own skin, to have the capacity to bounce back from disappointment and failure (resilience) and to handle all of life’s vicissitudes with equanimity… This is the kind of enlightenment I’m seeking. J
Try some mindful breathing right now:
Breathing in I know I am breathing in, Breathing out I know I am breathing out. In, Out… repeat and enjoy.