The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger

Inspired By  Shauna Shapiro
13 mins

Quick Summary

We’re not supposed to be perfect. Perfection isn’t possible, but transformation is. We all have the capacity to change, learn and grow and one of the most effective vehicles to do that is with mindfulness

Studies have been done that show the mind wanders at least 47% of the time. That is time we are not present in our bodies and we are either stuck in the past or stuck in future thinking. 

What you practice grows stronger. We know this now with neuroplasticity. Our repeated experiences shape our brain. We can sculpt and strengthen our synaptic connections based on repeated practices. 

How do our brains grow bigger and stronger?

When you look at the brains of taxi drivers their visual, spacial mapping part of the brain is bigger and stronger. They’ve been practising navigating the thousands of roads they need to remember. When you look at the brains of meditators, the areas related to attention, learning and compassion grow bigger and stronger. It’s called cortical thickening - the growth of new neurons in response to repeated practice. 

If we focus on judgement and frustration, we grow the part of the brain that gets stimulated by those emotions. 

Mediation is not about attention, it’s about how we pay attention that makes the difference. It's about paying attention with kindness.

We are practising in every moment. We are growing stronger in parts of ourselves, good or bad in every moment. 

The question becomes 'What do you want to grow? What do you want to practice?'

2 key things that affect most of us

Shauna studied mindfulness with all types of people from - stressed out college kids, veterans with PTSD, high-level business executives, women with breast cancer... and the data showed 2 key things;

  1. Mindfulness works, it's good for you - it strengthens your immune system, it decreases stress, decreases cortisol, it helps us sleep better.

  2. Almost all people in her study were talking about the same thing. An underlying sense of I’m not good enough, I’m not ok, I’m not living this life right, self-judgement and shame. 

Shame doesn’t work. When we feel shame, centres of the brain shut down. What happens is the amygdala triggers a cascade of norepinephrine and cortisol to flood our system, shutting down our learning systems and moving our resources to survival pathways. You rob the brain of the energy it needs to do the changing. 

Worse, when we feel shame we want to avoid it so we hide from those parts of ourselves we are ashamed of, the parts that most need our attention. It’s just too painful to look at them. 

So what’s the alternative to shame? Kind attention. 

  1. Kindness gives us the courage to look at those parts of ourselves we don’t want to see. 

  2. Kindness bathes us with dopamine, turning on the learning centres of the brain and giving us the resources we need to change. 

True and lasting change, requires kind attention. 

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention with kindness.

It’s about cultivating kind attention to help ourselves and others with the healing process. Sometimes we don’t want to let go of our shame because we feel we don’t deserve to but we need to know we are not our past actions. Transformation is possible for all of us, not matter what and it requires kind attention, not shame and requires lots of practice. 

Tip: By putting your hand on your heart (it releases oxytocin) and saying to yourself in the morning ‘Good morning (your name), I love you.’ This starts to build self-love and it will grow stronger every day.

TEDx Washington Square

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