By Dr. James Baird, Author of Behavioral Genes-Why We Do What We Do and How to Change
Our mind is a two-edged sword. It is capable of bringing us a feeling of well-being or one of anxiety. Our thoughts seem to be out of control, coming from all directions. They are so disoriented that our mind seems to have a mind of its own. And we wonder why would evolution leave us with such a confusing mind?
But in fact there is good reason why our mind is so discombobulated. Our disorganized mind of today is a reproduction of the survival mind of our ancestors. Our prehistoric ancestors roaming the African savanna about 120,000 years ago needed a mind that could defend against the countless hazards that threatened survival.
A defensive mind considering a wild array of potential threats insured survival for those who could react fastest, and enabled them to pass along their genes at a higher rate than those who were slow to react. Consequently we inherited an intuitive mind that is constantly evaluating potential threats to our well-being.
Such a mind is termed our ‘unconscious mind’ since it runs on inherited genes without our conscious input. Our unconscious mind is much like a recorder of past experiences and is basically the prime mover of present thinking, which is mostly on Auto Gyro. Later in the evolutionary process, our species was gifted with a conscious mind which did not dwell in the past but only in the present. This enabled creative thinking, planning and altruistic acts. While our conscious mind offers hope for the future of our species, it unfortunately has just a fraction of the neurons that our unconscious mind has.
Meditation, the first step to mindfulness
Meditation essentially is the process of turning off the scrambled thoughts of our unconscious mind, by using our conscious mind and the biological fact that we can only think of one thing at a time. This may seem confusing at first glance, but the reality is our neurons can’t process different thoughts at the same time. ‘At the same time’ is scaled in micro-seconds, or periods of time beyond our conception. Sources of meditation techniques abound. They can be found in many places online, in magazines and outlined in major medical organizations.
The reality is that meditation doesn’t require a Spiritual Master, a Swami or a Buddhist monk; nor are any other esoteric teachings are required. Rather it is a simple natural biological act that anyone can employ. It can be done by anyone at virtually any time and any place, except perhaps while driving. Its only requirement is that you focus your mind in on a single point, which can be a breath, a word [mantra], body part, waves in the water, and so forth. In other words, in meditation the mind is oblivious to your environment, and focused on a single element so that all other thoughts are dissolved.
The common definition of mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
Mindfulness also has many other benefits, such as relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and reducing depression and anxiety.
Mind management for compassionate thoughts
Mind management is a technique used to condition thoughts to focus on compassionate thoughts. Thoughts and acts that are altruistic, such as compassion activate genetic expression resulting in happiness and joy. This biological response is genetic since it occurs in all people in all cultures and is always repeatable.
To train your mind to think more compassionately reject all thoughts that are not compassionate. This can be done by using a meditative tool such as counting breaths to dissolve. This will condition your mind due to the fact that neuroscientists have shown that a continuous type of thinking conditions the mind for more similar thinking. This is because more similar thinking causes an incremental change in brain architecture. A supportive mind management technique is to employ the well-known principle of’ ‘fake it till you make it’. Over time if you think and perform compassionate acts, even if you don’t feel compassionate, you will soon be and feel compassionate.