You’ve probably heard about the benefits of meditation: it reduces stress, improves sleep and increases focus. Many people, like me, are drawn to meditation because they are experiencing some kind of discomfort and they want to feel better. I started meditating about 5 years ago in order to relieve the anxiety I was having. I found that even a short 10-minute meditation helped me to feel calmer, more grounded, more in my body. As I continued on my meditation journey, I discovered that there was so much more to meditation than simply feeling relaxed.
Good Evening fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests. Tonight I’m going to share with you how mindful meditation can lead us to mental clarity, emotional stability and more satisfying relationships. I’ll show that meditation can help us in responding more wisely and compassionately to both our internal and external worlds.
A couple of years into my exploration with meditation and I really began to see how thoughts would come and go. In just a minute or two, my mind jump from planning my dinner to worrying about my next Toastmaster speech to rehearsing a future conversation. Gradually, there was more space around my thoughts and less attachment to them. Instead of letting my mind go off in a spiral of negativity–I could switch channels to thoughts that were more positive and uplifting
Neuroscience expert and psychologist Dr. Rick Hansen, who wrote Buddha Brain, says that the mind and the brain are a unified system and when you repeat a thought, you strengthen the connection between the brain cells. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”. Over time, you can actually change the structure of your brain by interrupting old patterns and replacing them with new ones.
Not only is meditation empowering me change my mind’s mental patterns but it is also getting me in touch with my emotions and giving me some perspective on them. Before I started meditating it was easy to be blown about by the winds of my emotions–I could get latched onto a feeling of fear, anger or sadness or repress them altogether. Now, when an emotional state arises, I realize that I have a choice. I can continue to feed the harmful feeling or I could feel it and let it pass.
One morning, as I sat having my morning oatmeal, I noticed some anxiety coming up. This time, instead of trying to push it away or create a story around it, I simply felt what was going on in my body. Okay, queasiness in my stomach, heart pounding, sensation in my throat. In a minute or so, the anxious feeling had passed! Wow! My meditation teacher had just been talking about the 90-second rule a few nights before.
Neuroscientist and stroke survivor, Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor says in her book, “My Stroke of Insight”, that when we have a reaction to something in our environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body. If there’s still an emotional response after that, it means that we are choosing to stay in that loop.
Imagine a child who is upset and crying one minute and happily playing the next–this is how our emotions can naturally flow through us, if we let them. We don’t need to be afraid of of feelings. In fact, we can learn from them if we are open to them. Pema Chodron, a well-know Buddhist nun, says, “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy and fear instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.
It unfortunate that we don’t learn this kind of mental awareness and emotional regulation in school. But through meditation, we can learn how to witness thoughts non-judgementally and deal with our feelings, responding with intelligence, creativity and compasssion.
And that brings me to my second point which is how meditation can help us develop deeper relationships based in acceptance and compassion. From my own experience with meditation, I’ve discovered that my mind can be a pretty chaotic place. I was humbled by the truth of what was really going on up there–not always the wholesome place I thought it was! As I became more compassionate with myself, I became more compassionate with others. I could see how we are all experiencing suffering of some kind whether it be frustration, grief or despair.
A study published in Psychological Science in 2013 showed that meditation increased compassionate responses to suffering. The group of people who had meditated were more likely to assist someone than the non-meditators. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, agrees that mindfulness and compassion are inextricably linked. He says what mindfulness and meditation are really about it presence of heart.
I’ve definitely noticed that in my interactions with people I am now more present and making an effort to listen more carefully and respond with empathy and understanding rather than giving advice or trying to figure out what to say next. I can sometimes pause and breathe before reacting in an unskillful way. In general, I have a greater sense of connection with others.
Marsha Lucas, author of “Rewire Your Brain for Love”, concurs that a meditating mind creates better relationships: She lists seven skills that we gain from meditation that are powerful in creating and sustaining healthy, happy relationships: 1. Management of body’s reactions 2. Regulation of response to fear 3. Emotional resilience 4. Response flexibility 5. Insight or Self-awareness 6. Empathy and attunement to others 7. Perspective shift from “me” to “we”. These characteristics which are seen in people practicing mindfulness are the same as for people with healthy attuned childhood relationships.
So beyond helping us to relax and feel better, meditation is an invaluable tool that can lead us to a new way of living–a new way of relating to our own inner world of thoughts and emotions and a new way of relating to the people in our outer world. It’s clear that meditation has both intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits. But you don’t have to take my word for it…try it for yourself and see!!!