We live in a busy culture. We value hard work and productivity. We aim for a full, healthy and satisfying life, marked by successes and milestones. We strive to advance our careers, improve our incomes, acquire high-quality products, and find and maintain fulfilling relationships. In short, we are often seeking: Better, faster, more.
Why do we pursue these things? Because we believe that acquiring them will lead us to greater happiness and satisfaction for both ourselves and the people we love.
Yet our search for happiness can often be so stressful that our noble goals often end up causing distress, decreased performance and even illness.
We know from our own negative personal experiences that excessively high-levels of stress are harmful, and a plethora of reports and studies support our intuition:
- Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress
- Over 75% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints
- Stress can cause or exacerbate: headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, anxiety, and other conditions and diseases
- Stress costs American industry over $300 billion annually • Half of emotional disorders are due to chronic, untreated stress
Yet stress is a natural response to our human experience and is harmless (even helpful) if managed properly.
The stress response in our brains evolved to avoid threats. Threats include anything that hinders are ability to live and pass on our genes. But our highly evolved brains in some ways have not kept up with the times. For the vast amount of people living on the earth today, our hyper-sensitivity to potential threats are misguided. No longer are we concerned that a lion lay behind a bush, nor do we struggle to obtain enough calories each day. And now a system that was meant to assess the occasional threat, is now bombarded with physical stimuli that cause our response system to be over worked, with little down time or chance to recover. Many people find that they are living in a constant fight, flight or freeze mode of being.
Our brains also have evolved to seek out pleasure, too, which allows for a greater likely hood of living and producing progeny.
The way the brain seeks to both avoid threats and seek pleasure is by constantly reviewing past experiences and imagining future ones. Our brains take in a vast amount of information, process it, reprocess again, and imagine outcomes. And, if left unmanaged, it is this fundamental function of our brains that can lead to unhelpful levels of anxiety and stress, which leads us to suffering.
Because this is our default nature, is there nothing we can do about it?
We could change our pursuits: Live as monks or nuns in the desert or some isolated forest. We could do that, but that’s not likely for most of us. So, the alternative is to learn how to manage our minds.
Mindfulness Training allows us to become aware of our mind’s default modes and develop methods to lessen negative impacts, responding to inputs in a more productive and healthy manner.
And like most things that are good for us, this requires both inputs (learning) and outputs (practicing). Exactly like a workout regimen. Our minds, like our bodies, are stimulated and strengthened with consistent practice and exercise. The result of Mindfulness Training will lead to:
- Reduced stress
- Increased focus, concentration and clarity
- Freedom from harmful patterns of thought and emotion
- Increased learning capacity and memory
- Enhanced well-being and peacefulness
- Improved health and slowed aging process
- Deeper connections with yourself and those around you
All of these results ultimately make you feel better, live a more healthy life and lead to greater happiness and success.
In this blog we will attempt to provide inputs and guides for training. The goal of this blog will be to provide you useful information that will help you to advance your goal of becoming a healthier and happy person, allowing for deeper awareness and connection. The next blog will focus on a few resources that might help you in your pursuit. Until then, wishing you greater awareness.
(Tim Carl, PhD, is a long-term advocate and practitioner of meditation and mindfulness practice. He has studied science at Harvard, has been a business consultant at McKinsey & Co., and co-founded Knights Bridge Winery. Presently he lives and writes in Calistoga with his wife, dog and cat. His two children have left the house and are pursuing their own paths. He can be followed @tim_carl on Twitter or emailed directly at email@example.com)