Have you ever thought about how you think? Yes, I know that is oddly phrased, but I mean it. As humans, we have this amazing ability to turn our thoughts back on ourselves, to think about our own thoughts. We can even think about our own thought processes. A major part of the practice of mindfulness involves being mindful of our own minds, to consciously and intentionally pay attention to how are brains are functioning.
So take a moment and mind your brain. First, note just how powerful your brain is. I am not talking about telekinesis or mental superpowers. No, the regular powers of the brain are amazing enough. With your brain you can access a vast amount of memory. You remember facts, events, and data for all kinds of subjects both trivial and essential. However, you do not just remember separate pieces of information like data on a spreadsheet, you also remember things like sensations and emotions. Consider how the smell of cinnamon can transport you back to grandma’s kitchen over the holidays. Through your mind, you do not just remember things, you experience them.
Not only does your brain remember, it can also dream and create. Look at the artists, inventors, and scientists who dared to imagine that which does not yet exist. Consider the story-tellers who create entire worlds out of thin air. We have this seemingly infinite potential to see things that are not there and make them real.
The brain is powerful, but the brain is also fragile and bit temperamental. Our brains can easily be led astray from important tasks simply because they aren’t fun. (Just a couple of minutes on Twitter then back to the blog). They can become overwhelmed with anxiety over impossible scenarios. (What if the government is using chemtrails from airplanes for mind control?) They can be provoked to anger over the slightest inconvenience. (I spilled soda on my favorite pants, and now my whole day is ruined!)
Yet here is the good news that the practice of mindfulness teaches us. We are not our brains. You read that correctly. We all have the meta-ability to see what our brain is doing and say, “No, stop that.” For instance, when you spill soda on your favorite pants and are about to go into a downward spiral of grumpiness, you have the power to stop, take a breath, and reassess what you are about to do. The same is true for all our bad habits, thought processes, and addictions. Just because our brains are wired and trained to act a certain way, it does not mean that we are helpless and incapable of change.
Now when I say we all have this ability, I am not saying it is easy to do. I have the ability to run, but I am no where close to running a marathon. This ability, like so much of life, gets stronger with practice. This is where the discipline of meditation comes in to the picture. One of the effects of meditation is that we increase our ability to 1) listen to and 2) focus our brains where we want it to go. In future posts, I will cover the meditation practices I using. In the meantime, I recommend Amy G. Oden’s book, Right Here, Right Now.