I am working on Mindfulness the 2ndpillar of The Foundations of Well-Being. This week’s theme is Refuge – that which protects, comforts, nurtures, lifts or inspires you. Life can be difficult. We all need someone to lean on. We all need a place of refuge. Traditionally it has been cathedrals, temples or things in nature. One can also find refuge inside oneself – perhaps one’s practice itself – a sense of accomplishment.
Mindfulness is sustained present-moment awareness of both outer and inner worlds. What we pay attention to continually is sculpting the structure of our brain. So it is key to get more control over of that spotlight, which is apparently also a vacuum cleaner – sucking its contents into our nervous system. Unfortunately a lot of us don’t have very good control over that spotlight. It is important to get control over our brain, it takes its shape from what your mind rests upon, especially repeatedly. What has your mind been repeatedly resting upon? Rumination, criticism, resentment or good facts – the things that you are grateful for?
According to neuroscientist Sara Lazar, whenever you are engaged in a behaviour over and over again, this can lead to changes in your brain – known as neuroplasticity, meaning the brain is plastic and the neurons can change how they talk to each other with experience. Brain scans show that mindfulness meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.
So being able to rest on things that are helpful and moving away from things that are not, is fundamental to becoming more mindful. How do we become more mindful? One way is to start out focusing for short periods. Perhaps a minute or two, watch your breath or a candle or saying a phrase such as may all beings be peaceful and see if you can stay with it. That will steady your awareness and over time as your attention becomes steadier, you will be able to relax into a stabilised sense of presence with everything, without getting distracted by what is flowing through the stream of consciousness. You can start doing that for a minute or so and extend that to longer period over time. May you be mindful.
To sustain mindfulness and stay present with whatever arises, it helps to find refuge. Can we identify one or more specific refuges? A special person, place or practice, experiences, memories (calming, awe, sense of the sacred, grandma’s kitchen), reason, ideas, teachings, knowing that you are a good person. It can be helpful, perhaps once a day even for a few seconds, saying to oneself that “I take refuge in “____”, to feel what it’s like for this refuge to be in you. Keep letting the sense of refuge sink into you as you sink in to it. At least once a day, may you take refuge.
If we train in attention which is sustained present moment awareness and mindfulness, as we do that we become more fundamentally able to educate ourselves in many ways including learning for life, development of inner strengths and refuge.
“Take my advice, I don’t use it anyway!”