How to Make Mindfulness and Compassion Your Automatic Response to Stress

In “A Basic Meditation to Strengthen Neural Connections,”[1] Dr. Christopher Willard gives us a peek into his upcoming book Growing Up MindfulHe notes that just as we take care of our bodies with nutrition and exercise, we can also “change our brain, boosting concentration, flexibility, and intelligence and building new neural pathways and networks, by working out our brain” with mindfulness practice.

Are you skeptical that this could work? Why not try Dr. Willard’s simple exercise:

Before you begin, adopt a posture that is both comfortable and sustainable for a few minutes, and then set a timer for three minutes.

  • First, bring your awareness to an anchor: sensations or movement in your body, the breath, ambient sounds, counting, or even an image you found powerful or calming. Anything can be the anchor for your attention. Just invite your mind to rest there.
  • Pretty soon, you will notice your mind begin to wander. That is completely normal. Each time you notice it wandering, notice where it goes and then gently guide your awareness back to your anchor.

Pretty simple, right? So simple, in fact, that it might seem like you’re not doing very much. But don’t be fooled. Every aspect of this practice is building the muscles of your mind. In fact, one of my patients even likes to use the image of his brain getting a little bit bigger with each moment of mindfulness.[2]

Dr. Willard explains why this simple mindfulness practice works:

  1. Each time you focus on or return to the anchor, you are building your concentration
  2. Each time you focus on the anchor, you detach from your thought stream. This is a practice of letting go in the moment, which translates to letting go in the rest of the world.
  3. Each time you notice that the mind is wandering, that is the moment of mindfulness—not a moment of failure.
  4. Each time you are kind to yourself when your mind wanders, instead of criticizing yourself, you are exercising and strengthening your self-compassion for challenging moments in the rest of your daily life.
  5. Each time you notice where the mind is wandering, that is an opportunity for insight into your mind’s habits and patterns—what we might call wisdom or self-understanding. ?[3]

I hope you will try mindfulness practice and discover its benefits! Over time, you’ll find it becomes almost second nature. As Dr. Willard states so well, “each of the mental actions in this practice strengthens neural connections that, with practice, rewire your brain, over time making mindfulness and compassion the automatic response to stress.”[4]

Peace,

 

Dr. Pamm

[1] Christopher Willard, “A Basic Meditation to Strengthen Neural Connections,” Mindful, May 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.