I decided to attend a Buddhist Retreat some years ago which focused on meditation techniques. Now I have a problem with meditation. I have difficulty quietening my mind. Meditating is a great challenge for the borderline ADHD’s. It’s almost impossible for us to remain with a clear ‘screen’ for more than three minutes. Anyway I persevered and managed to let go of the immediate past, future-paced hopes and fears, erotic daydreams, the worsening backache and the itchy nose. And I must admit that I managed to quieten things down quite successfully over the course of the weekend.
During one of the breaks I approached the facilitator, who appeared knowledgeable in Buddhist matters and inquired how meditation assists us in daily life. I suggested that it’s all well and good getting into a resourceful mind state in such perfect surroundings, but on returning to the stresses of the coal-face and daily life in the ‘front’ lines, the serene would be replaced in minutes by the blood curdling battle cries of survival. The young man replied that ongoing repetition of the meditative state would eventually pervade daily life and ultimately would become the default mode – a kind of osmosis!
Now being a ‘neuro guy’ I know about this process called neuroplasticity – the breaking down of old redundant neuronal circuitry and the establishing of new connections, which underpins learning. Therefore learning and change is an active process. And so I had difficulty in accepting that answer. Things don’t just happen. You might as well put a book under your pillow at night so that you get to know it all in the morning! So I sought out a Buddhist person of repute to assist me with my dilemma. For without knowing the benefits of meditation, I couldn’t squeeze out sufficient dopamine to sustain the effort. This time my question was perfectly answered.
That person, who I respect enormously, indicated that what we gain from effective meditation is awareness, clarity, calmness and motivation towards value contribution. These are the qualities that you need to carry over into daily life. Wow! Then it all came together.
Awareness – of self, others and of the extended environment is the first step to appreciating our strengths and weaknesses and the influence that we have upon the environment and how we are impacted by that environment. This leads to the next element, clarity, which itself feeds further awareness.
Clarity – an understanding created by perceiving self and the environment with minimal subjectivity and applying reason (seated in our pre-frontal cortices) to the observations. In this way we begin to chip away at the foundations of our limiting beliefs which determine our subjectivity and undermine our ability to transcend intrinsic biases and prejudices. And as we neutralize the fear elements (amygdala-based) of our limiting beliefs which cause us to fear loss ( of property, recognition, adoration) and to defend our turf at all costs and employ judgementalism against everything which lies outside of our turf/comfort zone, we become more sensitive and accepting of others. We judge all the time. But this judging reflects the exercising of opinion based on our subjective world view. The concept of ’judgementalism’ that I refer to above however, is disparaging and denotes the need to put something or someone down because it challenges/threatens one’s subjective world view and is therefore inconvenient. It invariably incorporates other elements designed to aggressively eliminate the opposition so that the subjective view point prevails – amygdala initiated, adrenaline mediated. Once clarity is achieved we inherit calmness.
Calmness – evolves from awareness and clarity of self and of the extended environment (and all that dwell therein) and an acceptance of the way of things. This leads to a respectful engagement with the environment which has incorporated an authentic sensitivity to others and to their situations. From here there is a natural hop to value contribution.
Value contribution – arises out of awareness, clarity and calmness which invites us to make a value contribution – making things better than they were before we engaged with them. The process is driven by mind states of awe, a sense of connectedness, empathy, trust, belief and gratitude (the oxytocin array!). Value contribution further enhances the integration underpinning awareness, clarity and calmness.
It became apparent to me that integrating a neuroscience-based program with the ancient concept of mindfulness meditation could achieve the best of two worlds. One had to respect though, that learning is based on the process of neuroplasticity. The process is driven by mindful engagement, curiosity and reward (optimal quantities of dopamine and adrenaline). My existing clinical and corporate application at the time was an integration of the neurosciences with PNI (psychoneuro-immunology – the scientific study of the two-way traffic between neuropsychology and immune function). It was relatively easy to go the extra mile and incorporate the dimension of mindfulness and mindful meditation into the application (www.neuronostic.com/PromoSurge.pdf) And the rest, as they say, is history. For the past ten years I’ve been facilitating Retreats at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, South Africa (www.brcixopo.co.za), in addition to using the same application in the clinical and corporate environments.
While slowly learning to walk my talk from the experiences gleaned in this life experience, the take home message for me personally became pretty clear: There’s enough reason to pause regularly, find a quiet spot, clear the toxic thoughts from your mind, enhance awareness, become more sensitive and gain clarity and calmness. Additionally, I would throw in a generous helping of gratitude!
Copyright reserved – Ian Weinberg 2017