Mindfulness might sound simple - just be aware of what you're thinking, right? Mindfulness is more than that, but unfortunately there's no clear definition of "mind" in conventional medicine or western psychology to help us understand what we are trying to keep in our awareness. Brilliant people have tried to describe just exactly what the mind encompasses, but the subject is still up for grabs. What I know is that understanding the mind gives my clients a guide to where their own processes have developed problems and what they can do about it.
The author of Mindsight, Dan Siegel, MD, suggest that the mind "...can be defined as an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information." In other words, our minds have a physical reality located in our brains (actually there is no location of mind), but they are something more than just that grey matter upstairs. The mind, according to Dr. Siegel, controls the ins and outs of our energy, our reactions and the vast amount of information that we process daily.
One scientist, Richard Davidson, PhD, researched exactly how negative qualities of the mind (fear, anger, shame) can actually change the neural pathways of the brain. He showed clearly that through practice, focus and attention we are capable of changing our brains, a process called neuroplasticity. Fortunately for us, the Dalai Lama suggested that Dr. Davidson turn his attention toward the positive qualities of mindfulness and peaceful inner strength. Just as you can change the biology of your mind (brain) with thought with fear, you can change your neurons with happiness or contentment.
In much the same way that a computer and software work together to accomplish goals, your brain and mind work cooperatively to understand, interpret and process the world around you. Computer hardware can work faster or slower depending on the kind of software used and your mind (the software within the hardware of your brain) can change how you understand the universe.
Why do software, hardware and mindfulness matter? I use this analogy as a tool to understanding how to work on basic problems with your world. Through study, meditation and mindfulness you can improve your understanding of how the software and hardware of your mind work together. This interaction of the brain and the mind is often the basis for many of the issues we experience.
Over time you can use neuroscience research, like that done by Richard Davidson, to update your own software. Mindfully change your processes to reflect the world you would like to inhabit rather than the world of your childhood or your fears. Changing thoughts can impact the pathways in your physical mind and allow you to more readily understand how a problem can be solved. You can improve how you interact with the world around you.
Sherri Aikin is a Fellow of Integrative Medicine, Nurse Practitioner, Sex Counselor, Mindfulness Facilitator, and Life Coach.
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