Trí saghas incheann: inchinn reatha, inchinn cloiche, inchinn chéarach – The three kinds of brain: a running brain, a rock brain, a wax brain.
In Ireland we have a long tradition of triads – poetic, insights clustered in threes; like the one quoted above. Three is quite a sacred number and it resonates throughout Irish folklore and our mystical participations. We had many tripartite goddesses firing the imagination and gracing the natural wonders of the place until St Patrick found a little plant with three leaves to replace all that.
The lesson is, if you can rewrite a whole nation’s spiritual identity with a good story, what can you do for your own brain with a little creative thinking and some mindful tools?
The running brain is the thinking brain – it can of course run faster than you want and so anxiety and stress ensues. The rock brain is the stubborn brain, the inflexible self, refusing to acknowledge the true reality and make changes – it’s the rigid mind-set that holds you back. And finally the wax brain is the receptive brain – open and consciously aware; this is a more mindful mind.
Just like in those old movies were the prisoner makes a key mold from a wax candle and forges an escape, so here the wax brain is your key to freedom. Mindfulness works on the receptive nature of the brain – which in its ‘wax’ mode we might call it neuroplasticity. It is the brains innate capacity to learn new skills. It is a way to reshape how we think and in so doing how we feel and live.
So In the spirit of the triads – here are the three good reasons of mindfulness.
Mindfulness and wellbeing
In recent years mindfulness techniques have become validated and utilized as tools for mental and physical health by health professionals and support groups globally.
Mindfulness improves mental health by giving us control over our mind, by allowing us to choose to calmly respond or simply let go of thoughts arising before they become deep seated feelings. The acceptance and letting go processes in mindfulness cuts out the aversion and avoidance cycles that add to psychological disturbance; stop the thought from becoming a feeling and forming an emotional hook into your brain and how you experience the world. The breathe techniques are grounding and the embracement of forgiveness, loving kindness and gratitude can reframe self-worth and also perception of the world.
Councillors and psychotherapists often recommend mindfulness meditation to treat depression, anxiety disorders, addiction / substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and other obsessive-compulsive behaviour. It is deeply helpful to heal past trauma and address post traumatic experience.
Mindfulness practices improve physical health by relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins, improving sleep, providing a sense of wellbeing and happiness. Apart from the physical benefits of summoning a sense of wellbeing , mindfulness lets you know yourself and be yourself, rather than be defined by your illness – mental or physical. Mindfulness takes away a mind full of adversity and emotional clutter and allows a purer you to find peace, clarity and resilience – to have the capacity for life – there is nothing more healing than that.
Mindfulness and spirituality
On a spiritual level, what is now known as mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and Hinduism and echoes of it are found in many religions and mystical traditions; from the practices and vocations centred on the cultivation of an enlightened awareness.
In the Buddhist tradition it is sati – part of the noble eightfold path and central to the teachings of the Buddha. It features in the Upanishads and other Hindu scripture. It is the backbone of the Christian contemplative tradition. To name but three.
Awareness/sati/mindfulness is both the means and the end to the enlightenment that the spiritual selves of all faiths seek – it is the thread of loving compassion that unifies us all in God – it is, to use a western term, the grace of God. You may have previously encountered it for yourself in moments of prayer, chanting, meditation, contemplation, yoga, stillness. It is the ‘at-one-ness’. It is the being awake to and aware of your living self presently engaged with the divine, of your own divine self. Mindfulness is as relevant a way to pray as it is a way to cope with a busy life.
Mindfulness and full potential
To live to your full potential is to live – to really live. We often confuse living with doing and not being. We may think ‘having a life’ is all about parties, adventures, achievements, action and by all means pack your life full of wonderful experiences but remember to experience each one. Mindfulness brings life to sitting on your front door step, to washing your hands, to taking the dog for a walk – imagine what it will do for traversing the steppes, showering beneath a waterfall or watching the wolves watching you. Mindfulness is an adventure because it brings you fully alive.
Mindfulness hones your grasp on reality and so deepens each experience. You don’t have to circumnavigate the world to feel you have lived a life – being in the world is an adventure in itself. Being there as the seasons change in your back yard is as amazing as seeing a leaf unfurl, or change colour anywhere in the world because with mindfulness it is you and the leaf experiencing reality in the moment – it does need a location to bring awe into the equation.
Full potential is really being there, present, alert awake to the life happening. Be there for your child’s birth, be there for your parents death, be there for all of your life – that is living – joy, pain, experience – that is life. That is living up to your full potential.
So whatever your intent – spiritual mindfulness, stress relief mindfulness, addiction control mindfulness, productive-self mindfulness – it doesn’t matter – it is the being aware of what you are doing now in the moment of doing/being that delivers it.
So be spiritual, be calmer, be free of desires or in other words be actively engaged with living. Be your true and full potential self. Be more mindful.