Mindfulness meditation has a way of working on different important circuits of the brain. For example, when we are trying to stay present to the coming and going of the breath (our object of attention in this case), following four different circuits* are being worked on constantly:
- When mind drifts away: Default mode network of the brain is active (it is the area which fuels mind-wandering and is related to how we view our ‘self’)- with practice this area starts to dial down, as seen under MRI in experienced meditators
- When we notice we have drifted away: Salience network (anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex) helps us in becoming aware of the distraction
- When we come back to the breath: other areas (dorsolateral cortex and lateral inferior parietal lobe) of the brain are active
- When we resume our focus on the breath: a fourth area (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) of brain helps us in that.
So in this hide and seek of drifting and coming back, and even when we are wondering if something useful is happening, we are still continuing to work on four important circuits of the brain. These areas of the brain are involved in attention, emotional regulation, empathy/compassion, memory and self-referential processing (how you relate to yourself).
One take away from this is that even when we are struggling to stay present, our efforts of staying present moment after moment and distraction after distraction are doing something useful in our brain. Before we know it, benefits of mindfulness will start to show up in our real life.
In that spirit, please continue to practice, practice, practice…, even more so urgently when nothing seems to be happening and we feel stuck.
That is the most important moment to practice these skills.
*Ricard, Lutz & Davidson. Mind of the meditator. Scientific American, November 2014 issue.
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