Our unconscious beliefs about ourselves make themselves known to us as feelings - feelings happen in the body - by regularly looking there we begin to get to know who we really are.
The word Meditation has many implications and assumptions attached to it. Perhaps the one most firmly fixed is the idea that it is welded to some Eastern spiritual practice and that its main goal is the attainment of some unspecified and lofty transcendent state of being. Thankfully recent brain research has, in my view, successfully divorced the practice from this monogamous relationship and made it more practical and desirable.
Plasticity is the capacity that the brain has to re-wire itself in response to consistent changes in our behaviour and research has show just how surprisingly plastic the brain is and how it retains this plasticity for virtually all of our lives. For instance, a group of non-meditators were brain-scanned and asked to meditate for around 30 minutes a day for three months after which their brains were scanned again and compared to a control group of similar demographics. Among the meditation group the brain tissue in the areas of the cerebral cortex had increased to a significant degree compared to a small decrease in the control group. The increases were in areas responsible for cognition and memory but also in those areas that relate to empathy and compassion.
Perhaps even more surprising was the overall reduction in the size of the amygdala. This is the emotional centre of the brain responsible for our fight, flight and freeze responses to danger, whether the danger is real and physical or psychological and imaginary. This is particularly significant for us trying to navigate the choppy waters of relationships, where the mostly imaginary threats to our sense of ourselves are most common. A smaller amygdala will create less stress, a lower level of vigilance to danger and allow for a greater calm and balance when apparent danger threatens - and I'm talking about emotional and psychological danger - not snakes and crocodiles.
One of the other discoveries by these brain-scanning researchers was that the brains of fifty year old, regular meditators were of equivalent size and functionality as those of twenty-five year olds who didn't meditate.
But even more importantly! - Our unconscious beliefs about ourselves, the world and others are stored deep within and are usually inaccessible to our logical thinking. They permeate our thoughts and our actions by making themselves known as feelings. Feelings happen in the body and if we are to become aware of them we need to learn to direct our attention away from our thoughts and into our bodies. We acquire this skill by regularly practicing doing just that and in so doing we begin to re-wire our brain and make such attention and awareness more and more natural and instinctive. In other words the more we do it the easier it gets.
We strongly recommend that you introduce the practice of presence into your daily routine. For between 15 and 30 minutes a day just sit and rest within your body as we did in the workshop. The benefits are well worth it. Essential even.