I have mentioned I have come to understand key activities which have been proven to facilitate a successful/fulfilling life. As I said in my discussion on gratitude, I’ll be going through these things and discussing why and how they have a positive impact.
The second activity in my morning routine, after I take some time to actively think about the things I’m grateful for, is to sit down for 15 minutes and do mindful meditation. This is a simple process of sitting in front of a candle (the candle is not required, but I find it helpful) and breathe in and out. The idea is to be present with the breath… sensing it go in, feeling it go out.
Invariably, as I breathe, I’ll catch myself thinking about something. When this happens, the idea is to acknowledge the thought and let it go as one might let a butterfly fly off one’s hand. If I try to fight the thoughts, shut them off and stop thinking, I’ll end up in a battle. The idea is to simply let the thoughts go, return to the breath. When it does, repeat the process.
Some very interesting things happen when people practice mindful meditation for 30 minutes a day. Studies show that the impact on anxiety is what researchers consider ‘moderate’. That may not sound too impressive, but Dr Madhav Goyal, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, "In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants." When one considers the stack of side effects of many antidepressants, meditation sounds like a good alternative.
An analysis of MRI studies of meditators found that structures of the brain associated with emotional integration, focus, and memory increased in size and maintained through aging.
“These studies principally found that, compared with control participants, expert meditators showed increased grey matter volume at the level of the posterior cingulate cortex, temporoparietal junction, angular gyrus, orbitofrontal cortex, hippocampus, and subiculum in the medial temporal lobe and the brainstem.”
The link to the above article has many other scientifically observed effects of meditation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471247/
However, the core benefit of meditation to me is a release from the cage of ‘the mind’. This is the story teller which gives meaning to events in our lives. Those with positive outlooks will generally attach a positive story to events. Those with negative outlooks will tell a story that assigns negative meaning. This negative story is often at the core of motivation erosion, depression, and so on. Regular meditation allows us to see, as we let each go, that our thoughts aren’t really us. More importantly, as we let each thought go, it has the effect of ‘breaking the record’ so that repetitive thoughts which don’t serve us begin to break down, leaving us in a greater state of peace.