The word is out. Just about every day, a new article appears celebrating the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation.
"I’ll admit I’m a skeptic."
Meanwhile, though, she pointed to a new study, not the first, which suggests that 8 weeks of meditation can produce important physical improvements in the brain that lead to more well-being in life!
The Harvard research suggests that individuals who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in the gray matter of the hippocampus (associated with increased learning and memory) and importantly, a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, that chunk of the brain associated with anxiety and stress! The control group showed no such changes.
The fact that only eight weeks of meditation produced brain changes that could be detected by MRI imaging is remarkable. What does this suggest for individuals who, like the husband of the The New York Times writer, are committed to trying to make mindfulness meditation part of their regular practice? Quite ironically, as I am writing this post, I hear my own husband upstairs. He just started chanting the "om" that signals the start of his own meditation. He's been meditating for almost four years now. He started during a time of great stress; he came home one day and I had set up a small meditation space for him in the bedroom, a quilt on the floor, a small table and a candle. (Later he got rid of the table, and we bought him a fancy round pillow.)
To all those people who are contemplating trying meditation, I say, go for it. Don't start by trying for half an hour though. To start, set a timer for say, five or eight minutes max.
Perhaps the best way to start is to take a class; it helps to have regular instruction and the support of a trained teacher and a group of people around you.
All through the day when life throws its wrenches my way, I stop and take in a long slow breath and say, OK, just let it go. Just stay focused. Just realize that "this too shall pass" (one of my Mom's favorite quotes!) I really think that the meditation practice I started in 1996 has made me see life in a different way. It's made me happier, and it's showed me how to find joy even in the weirdest small moments when you wouldn't otherwise expect to find joy!
I tell myself, "it is what it is. It will be what it will be." I get nervous looking at that block of ice, now approaching two feet in thickness on the porch roof. I start to worry that it might bust up the roof. I breathe. I say. Whatever it will be (I also take the roof rake to it!)
Yesterday I was trying to cross the backyard to bring the compost outdoors. I wasn't even trying for the spot we've got set aside back behind the garage. Much too far, and way too much snow. No, I had decided to go just to the edge of the yard beyond the old apple tree.
It was so exhausting, sinking deep into drifts with each step. Finally, half-way to my goal, I collapsed, and just sat there, me and the compost container, sunk in the snow. I started to laugh. I found this bizarre situation comical. Instead of being annoyed and angry about being trapped by snow, I said to myself, hey, might as well accept it. It's just...snow. It will eventually go away and spring will come and all those hundreds of tulip and daffodil bulbs will come poking up out of the lawn.
Well, so, mindfulness, like life, isn't perfect. It doesn't always work. I still curse and get frustrated and angry. But I can pull myself back from the brink. I can think myself out of dark corners. I can live with what happens. I am way more forgiving of myself and others, and unfortunate (and worse) circumstances.