In our culture the notion of surrendering has a negative connotation to it. It means you’ve been defeated and that you’re powerless. But if you look to the world’s wisdom traditions you’ll find that the idea of surrendering is a courageous act that creates more insight and freedom from the unnecessary mental struggles of life.
The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi uses a wonderful metaphor to bring this to life:
Very little grows on jagged rock.
Be ground. Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You’ve been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Many of us harden into patterns of life that keep the struggle going. We can’t seem to let go of the self-judgment because our brain believes it’s there to keep us in line. We numb out to the world through eating, drinking, over-use of social media, among so many other ways.
Question: Why is our brain so afraid of surrendering our unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving?
Well as you may know by now mindfulness has made the cover of Time Magazine. This means that mindfulness has arrived, right? When I first heard this I said to myself something I said to myself over a decade ago which was “this practice is going to reach the mainstream world, it something we sorely need right now.” But watching a short clip on MSNBC made me curious about whether it’s being conveyed in a way where people are going to truly get the benefit that the science of mindfulness promises.
Let me explain.
Today I’m going to keep it short and give you something to immediately put into practice to feel a sense of personal control and freedom in your life.
First, a story:
I was driving on the way to my office this morning and noticed a number of occurrences where my attention was brought to my phone. It was as if my brain and body were hijacked and pulled me in that direction. In an instant there was a feeling of tightening in the chest and my breathing became a bit shallower. I decided to just be aware of this for the duration of the drive and noticed it a few more times. Each time I would note it and redirect my attention to the road ahead of me. Each time I did that my body relaxed. I decided in that moment that the diagnosis of ADHD nation is incorrect; we have now become an Obsessive Compulsive Nation (OCN).
But even this has an upside…
Smiling is something almost all of us could do a bit more often. Past science shows that smiling – especially the kind of smile that involves the muscles around the eyes – creates a specific type of brain activation that’s connected to being in a happy mood. More recent research shows that even adopting this kind of smile, known as a “Duchenne smile” leads to lower heart rate levels and quicker recovery from stressful activities. Resilience and positive brain activity are maybe good reasons to grin a bit more in our lives, but there’s even a better reason.
The following video will show you exactly what that is.
In her infamous song the late Whitney Houston said, “I believe the children are our future.” The fact is, this is simply true and if so, it seems more important than ever to provide them with the tools to be grounded in the midst of an increasingly chaotic world. Recently my wife and I led a group of teens from our CALM (Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness) program on a daylong retreat in the heart of a beautiful canyon. During part of this daylong we do a guided “Mindful Hike” and on this hike one teen discovered the root cause of all of our suffering and how we can begin opening up to hope.
The hike ends with us coming back to a little room, breaking the silence and my wife and I ask, “What did you notice on the hike?”
One teen raised his hand:
There’s an inherent trap in trying to become a mindful person. Any moment that you are acting mindlessly you fall into the category of deficiency. You are less than what you are trying to be and this leads to some form of suffering. It reminds of a quote by Walter Landor that said, “As soon as you want to be happier, you are no longer happy.” There’s a more optimal way to view living mindfully.
“TAKE A MOMENT to look around. Where is the good in this moment? Look inside and out. What’s the good within you, what’s the good outside of you?
The gifts of life are truly here; we just need to come to our senses from time to time to notice them.”
The fact is our brains aren’t wired to be happy; they’re wired to keep us safe. That’s why left to its own devices the brain isn’t going to be aware of all the good that is around.
There are many writers, psychologists and mindfulness teachers who speak about the essence of our true nature being good, being happy, and being compassionate.
However, this only comes when we feel safe and secure.
Our brain is often times not in a state of feeling safe and secure and is more often on the lookout for what’s a potential danger around us. This is what’s been called the brain’s automatic negativity bias. In other words, we’re far more likely to pay attention to what’s not good than to what’s good. This is especially prevalent if you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, depression or any trauma.
But there’s good news:
Unfortunately, our brains don’t seem to be built to pay attention to what’s good in life, but more to what seems urgent or threatening. That makes sense as fundamentally safety and security trump happiness and well-being. However, having our minds roll around in past hurts and regrets of the past or potential catastrophes in the future isn’t really keeping us safe nor is it making us happy. It’s more likely stressing us out. It’s a lose, lose. At times it’s skillful to grab hold of our minds and incline them in ways that create a reinforcing spiral up to feeling good.
One of those ways is to build a wall of gratitude and here’s how.
A research study just came out in the Journal of Neuroscience where scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston used sea snail nerve cells to reverse memory loss. The scientists were able to help the cells compensate for memory loss by retraining them when the nerve cells were primed for optimal learning. Of course they’re hoping this has implications for working with Alzheimer’s, but the implications don’t stop there, it could also support a neuroscience for learning to trust ourselves in times of difficulty.
A while ago I walked into a particular publisher and saw every title of their upcoming books having “mindfulness” in the title and I was concerned that it was getting watered down. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As of today, mindfulness has evolved within America and has the potential to have a greater influence than we had ever imagined. Leaders around the country are implementing it in early child development, the military, education, politics, neuroscience, medicine, healthcare, business, the prisons, at-risk youth, and of course, psychotherapy. In this post I’m going to highlight a few key things that are happening that you may want to know about and how our culture is ripe for a second wave of mindfulness.