I’ve been teaching meditation for almost 2 years and my personal practice has hit the 5-year mark (10 if you include the times I started and failed to build a habit!). One of the things I come across in my teaching is when people say they’ve tried and failed. Meditating is a hugely personal experience. It can be very difficult to persuade people that they are doing it right. Since it’s essentially sitting and ‘non-doing‘ for a period, it’s less difficult than people realise. The hardest part is letting go and surrendering to the ‘non-doing‘ part of it.
Imagine, you’ve spent all your life in ‘doing’ mode. Been encouraged to be this way, reach goals, strive for more. So the concept of sitting and doing nothing seems odd. How can this be helpful? How can this make amazing and worthwhile permanent changes to our brain structure? Doesn’t this make us lazy?
First of all, you can’t really get it wrong. Yes, at first you may not be able to surrender to the letting go part. You will, in time. That’s why it’s called a ‘practice’. Second, giving yourself time away from striving and ‘doing’ is such a soul-nourishing experience it should not be underestimated.
How can it be helpful?
In the long term, it helps you to deal with stress more effectively by cooling down the amygdala and helping to reconnect your prefrontal cortex to your limbic system. People who have been under prolonged stress have a hypersensitive amygdala which is the part of the brain which controls your fight or flight response. ‘Cooling’ this down means you are less sensitive to things and you recover from stressful situations quicker. Meditation also helps to reconnect, or rather strengthen neural connections between the prefrontal cortex and limbic system which helps you to think before you react, rather than just reacting in situations. Your prefrontal cortex is your thoughtful, planning brain and your limbic system being your emotional brain.
How can this make amazing and worthwhile permanent changes to our brain structure?
Each time you meditate, whether you realise or not you are increasing the density of the grey matter (neuronal cells). What this means is faster processing. It’s like getting a faster processing chip in your computer or building a muscle, except it’s here to stay. So each time you meditate you increase the parts of your brain responsible for learning, memory, compassion, happiness, emotional intelligence and much much more.
Doesn’t this make us lazy?
You will have to get over the initial feeling of laziness to start with. Sitting, being and ‘non-doing‘ seems such an alien concept at the beginning that impatience crops up. For me, this was one of the hardest parts in building a habit. I felt like I was being lazy… until I understood all the changes that were happening in my brain that is! It really helped me to read some of the research to get out of the mindset that doing nothing was lazy!
On that note, I’m going to give myself some ‘me’ time and meditate now. It’s funny, there was a time when ‘me’ time meant plucking my eyebrows or a face mask but now that all seems so trivial. Meditation is the true ‘me’ time as I get to look inside my mind and see what’s going on in there with a non-judgemental view which allows me insight that no amount of dream interpreting (I’ve tried) or counselling has helped me find before.