“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.”
– Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Buddhist monk, author and mindfulness teacher
Have you given much thought to how we seem to be racing through our days and our lives? Just look at how we spend our time in a quest for immediate gratification, where everything is available at the click of a button. Most of us live with constant stimulation of our senses and resulting stress. We’ve become experts in multitasking, but to what end? The average
American spends 5.4 hours a day on their phone. Millennials spend slightly more time on their phones (5.7 hours) compared to baby boomers (5 hours) on average. A new study by St. Louis-based senior living community provider, Provision Living, took a hard look at our smartphone habits and determined that on the average we check email and instant messages every six minutes. That’s truly unbelievable. But sadly very true.
Multitasking is simply not good for our brain and overall quality of our lives. A 2011 research study from the University of California San Francisco found multitasking negatively impacts your working memory – basically, your brain’s “scratchpad” used to manage and focus on key information. Neuroscientists say that multitasking literally drains your mind’s energy reserves, causing you to lose focus and become more anxious.
We’re not only potentially working less effectively, we’re also working more. A survey by Harvard Business School showed that 94% of service professionals put in 50+ hours of work each week. And while some people claim long hours are necessary, study after study shows that when we lose work-life balance, everyone suffers the negative consequences.
“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another…and ourselves.”
– Jack Kornfield
Mindfulness and Meditation: The Antidote to Our Stressful World
Studies have found that meditation and mindfulness can improve focus, lower stress, improve emotional regulation, help us get back to a task at hand after being distracted, and enhance our compassion and creativity. Neuroimaging studies suggest that these techniques increase our brains’ gray matter, where abilities and knowledge are guided through the billions of nerve pathways. Mindfulness actually strengthens these neural connections or neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize itself in new situations. So by training our brains in mindfulness and related practices, we can build new neural pathways and networks to boost concentration, flexibility and awareness. Think of it as exercise for your brain!
Regular meditation is a form of self-directed neuroplasticity. You can use your mind to make positive long-lasting changes in the neuronal pathways of your brain. New research goes even further with the positive benefits of mindfulness and meditation can reverse expression of genes involved in inflammatory reactions that are induced by stress. And we know from so many resources that stress is the number one driver of disease in this day and age.
Mindfulness cultivates awareness and allows us to be in the present moment without judging our experience. What it means is summed up perfectly in the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
When we learn to tune into ourselves and be comfortable with the silence and the pause in conversation, we become more aware of the most beautiful little things. Spacious awareness is a state of unimaginable deep peace. Oh, the power of the mind, body, spirit and soul….and the powerful healing force within us all.
Buddha stated, “Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” I encourage you to take the time for yourself, for your overall wellbeing and for the benefit of those you love to stop, breathe deeply and just be in the moment.
Dr. Suzy Gazda
For more information about meditation and mindfulness, visit https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/
Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology