Too busy to relax? Make taming your mind priority!
22. September 2020
If you are too busy to relax do it anyway
An old Zen teaching is saying, that you should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. This makes us smile as it is contradictive to what we would have expected and yet it is so true.
Lately, I have realized, that I am less concentrated, while sitting in my daily meditation. As soon as I start to relax, my mind starts spinning; shooting ideas and tasks for the day. I was tempted to quit the meditation to escape the pain of sitting there and “wasting time” I could have used for other things, more important things. Luckily, I know better.
What can be more important than taming your mind to rest in a calm and peaceful state?
Nothing. Quieten the endless stream of thoughts should be our first priority to start the day with. Scientist have proven that there is a correlation between the chemical action in our cells and our thoughts. Only by thinking in a certain way, we trigger our cells to produce chemical messengers in relation to this thought. Amongst others read publications from the author Dr. Joe Dispenza, who has published a variety of books on this topic and holds frequently seminars and lectures about it (e.g. “Becoming Supernatural“; “Evolve Your Brain“).
The mode of action is described as follows: if we think about the load of our daily tasks, we immediately feel stressed and trigger the hypothalamus, the so called “control center” of our brain to produce the stress hormone cortisol in order to prepare the body for the increased workload. Or thinking about the dispute with our boss or co-worker will have the brain switch to “alarm mode”, relating to the production of the stress hormone adrenaline, which is an evolutionary stress hormone to prepare the body for the fight, flight or hide mode.
Without even getting out of the bed and preparing for work, let alone being at (home) office, our body sets free a number of hormones, which sets the body in alarm mode and triggers actions. We may be tempted to grab our phone to check emails or messages from work. We check the news to be “on top” of the latest political and economic development, the trend at the exchange market, or any other news are interested in. The heightened stress level immediately increases the pulse and blood pressure, which can result in heart diseases and arteriosclerosis.
Switch to a “healthy reaction” – sit back & releax
The logical consequence once we are triggered by thoughts would be to sit back, slow down and try to relax and calm our brain. Unfortunately, we are often times not wired like that. Instead of taking more time for relaxation (as mentioned in the quote), we often times reduce the time or stop it completely.
A study in a mindfulness stress reduction training showed that how the mood influences the mindfulness training. Test persons, who were in a good mood, were more motivated to complete their training modules than persons in a bad mood. If they had been in a bad mood the day before, they reduced their training module the next day. Had they been in a good mood, they increased their training modules the other day (See “Psychologie Heute 10/2020, page 8).
How can we overcome this adverse cycle?
The good thing is that the brain is a highly efficient learner. The same way it has learned to react to certain situations and cope with stress, it can also learn “new ways of thinking”. It is possible to train the mind to not immediately react when triggered by a certain thought, but to objectively observe the thought before starting to act.
Take your time!
There is no shortcut to a calm and relaxed mind, once we are used to triggering thoughts and stress reactions. To avoid misunderstandings: a heightened stress level is not only triggered from work related problems, there are millions of stress forms in all areas. Misunderstandings in your relationship, difficulties in raising children, financial straits, only to name a few. We cannot judge someone else by what or whom he/she is stressed. It is so depended on the way we were raised and how we lived our life up to point where we are at now. The most important thing is to realize, that we live in a negative stress cycle and that we can effectively work on overcoming these patterns.
How can we learn new ways of thinking?
First, we have to detect, the negative thought constructs. The best way to do this is to observe when or how we will be triggered and in which ways these thoughts come to the forefront of our mind. In order to do this, we have to sit back and listen.
Meditation is a highly efficient “training” to stop the constant flow of thoughts and calm the mind. But only a continuous practice leads to visible results. Studies have shown, that people who meditate only from time to time feel indeed relaxed and calm right after the session, but can´t constantly keep this feeling. Only a perpetual practice helps us rewire the brain from old patterns and create new ones.
It is similar to taking a new hike for the first time: you follow the signs and hope you won´t miss the marks where you have to turn left or right. The second or third time, you have a general knowledge about the way, but you look up from time to time to check, if you are still on the right path. Once you walked it a number of times, you know it by heart.
The same stays true for meditation: the more often “you walk the path” and sit down to meditate, the more used the brain gets to “do nothing”. The more training you have, the easier it is to observe your thoughts without reacting to them. Only a constant attempt to stop the chatter of the mind, leads to steady results.
On the other hand, meditation shouldn´t be another “must do” on our daily list, reserved with a negative feeling of failure, if you can´t complete it, but with a feeling of happiness and joy, as you have consciously taken the time for yourself.
The more often you try, the more obvious the results.
7 Tipps for a successful mediation practice:
Make small steps, start with 5 minutes daily and increase it over time.
Don´t make meditation optional. Better to meditate daily for 5 minutes than to omit a session.
Observe! Don´t get stressed with your thoughts, if they come and go. Overserve the nature of your thoughts without getting triggered by them.
Meditate even, if you don´t feel like meditating. Especially, if you feel you can´t concentrate on the meditation, it has its highest value.
Meditation is not about concentration. You don´t have to forcefully stop your thoughts. You just let them go, without reacting to them.
Every day is different: don´t get caught up in negative thoughts, when you realize that you can´t get to the point, where you had been yesterday. Lean back and relax.
Enjoy! Above all, meditation is about enjoying and appreciating the time you took for yourself. It is the best invested time of the day.
I started a 5-minutes meditation practice per day, just to see “how it goes”. Soon, I realized that it helped me cope better with the little distractions and annoyances of the day. The continuous meditation stopped my whole way of thinking. There is just not point in getting angry during a traffic jam – take public transport or another route the next time. Instead of letting myself been triggered by my kids, after they´d come home from school, I´d try to be more compassionate, thinking about how their day had been and that they probably just need a cuddle and something to eat (and drink!).
We can do so much about our thoughts; first of all, we have to identify them as pathogenic. Meditation helps us to observe them carefully and think twice before we react. Especially on days where we are busy, it is a good advice to take more time for meditation to help our mind stay steady and calm throughout the day.