Great advances in neuroscience have shown that the brain can transform itself, that it can generate new neurons, in response to experience. Mindfulness allows us to transform our mind.
In 1970, the American doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn, seeing that his patients did not improve with conventional medicine, began to approach mindfulness and, after verifying its beneficial effects, he began to introduce it into health services. Since then, this oriental technique has been integrated into Western medicine. Why does it work? Neuroscience has shown that mindfulness is much more than just a relaxation technique and that it supports mental health on several fronts.
HELPS TO RID OURSELVES OF MENTAL NOISE
Ellen Langer, a social psychologist, was a pioneer in warning us about the physical and mental costs involved in the acceleration of our vital rhythm that has come from the hand of new technologies. The continuous mental noise in which we are immersed prevents us from glimpsing the possibilities of our mind and in practice supposes that our way of behaving is plagued by moments of mindlessness , forgetfulness or unconsciousness, a concept opposite to mindfulness (literally, “state of fullness of the mind”).
Langer also stresses the importance of context. In an experiment carried out in a geriatric clinic, a group of elderly people was tasked with taking care of some plants and taking responsibility for decisions that affected their daily lives. A year later, they were more cheerful, active, awake and long-lived than the rest.
Thus, mindfulness would involve the process of being active and consciously open to new experiences, of being able to renounce preconceived habits and attitudes and act according to these new observations.
TRANSFORM OUR BRAIN
The great advances in neuroscience support Langer’s thesis and demonstrate that the brain’s ability to change and transform, to generate new neurons and neural connections in response to experience, is maintained throughout life.
From the beginning, the neural development of the brain is built on the intimate exchanges between the baby and those who care for him. When adults are in tune with the child, when they reflect an accurate image of his inner world, he can feel his own mind clearly.
During our existence, through facial expressions and tone of voice, postures and gestures, we end up resonating with each other, giving each other meaning thanks to a “we” that encompasses much more than our small identities.
HELPS US ACCEPT DISCOMFORT
Currently, in addition to underlining the importance of context according to Langer’s premises, the importance of self-compassionate processes is increasingly being emphasized.
Unpleasant emotions are part of the natural repertoire of human emotions; however, many times we block ourselves and come to think in circles to avoid them. After all, what would happen if we were to experience that emotion again? Perhaps we could understand that his “mission” is not to stay forever and that, in the same way that he has arrived, he will leave. Something so simple to explain can, however, be very difficult to achieve.
If a friend with problems came to us, we would most likely listen to her, invite her to bring out any black thoughts in her head, and offer her a shoulder to lean on. How many times are we willing to do the same with ourselves?
Thanks to meditation we try to accept the experiences, and the reactions they cause, as natural, normal. The effort not to value them and accept them without more means that we do not reject them: one realizes that discomfort, anger or annoyance is not something that you have to flee from, but that it is an inalienable part of the human experience of life.
This principle largely contradicts certain types of messages that are transmitted socially, and even from the professional practice of psychology: discomfort is counterproductive, anxiety must be reduced, stress must be controlled, and negative thoughts must be limited…
When we experience pleasure, we cling to it because we want more. When we experience pain, we try to avoid it. But the problem with trying to avoid pain is that it is an impossible task; furthermore, it is often made worse by our efforts to avoid it.
It would, therefore, be about freeing ourselves from the automatism of entrenched behaviors and routine responses and breaking reactive emotional cycles in which we tend to get trapped. Buddhist psychological analysis considers that disidentification in relation to our mental and emotional processes is the true antidote to anxiety.
It is within us where we have to go to look with kindness for our own healing power, the remedy against all the fears that sooner or later grip all people.