Become Positively Empowered
Want to make your world happier? Here’s how to focus on what’s going on within because that’s where the power is
Over the past decade, Buddhist monk Zoran Josopovic has extended an invitation to fellow Buddhist monks to meditate inside an unusual location – a 5,000kg functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.
This isn’t a typical meditation retreat where practitioners rise before the crack of dawn and spend a whole day meditating against the backdrop of bird song and gentle breezes rustling the forest canopy. Instead, as the monks–many of whom are prominent Buddhist figures–close their eyes, all they hear is the metallic crackle emitted by the state-of-the-art machine.
Josopovic, who’s also a a research scientist and adjunct professor at New York University, has spent over a decade peering into the minds of monks in an attempt to map out how their brains organise themselves as they steep in the ancient practice of meditation.
The science is startling. “Meditation research, particularly in the last 10 years or so, has shown to be very promising because it points to an ability of the brain to change and optimise in a way we didn’t know previously was possible,” said Josipovic, in an interview with the BBC.
His research builds on existing scientific literature which proves that meditation has the ability to affect the body on a physiological level: cortisol level decreases, the body’s immunity response is enhanced, and more remarkably, even patients suffering from chronic pain experience a decreased level of intensity.
According to scientists, the human brain is organised into two networks – extrinsic and intrinsic. The former is activated when people are performing external tasks such as playing tennis or slicing an orange. The intrinsic network becomes active when people reflect on issues that involve themselves and their emotions.
However, both networks are rarely active at the same time. This default state of the brain allows individuals to concentrate on a task without being distracted by impulses such as daydreaming.
Interestingly enough, the unusual ability of monks to activate both the intrinsic and extrinsic networks of the brain at the same time may lead the monks to experience a harmonious feeling of oneness with their environment, says Josipovic.
THE POWER TO RISE ABOVE YOUR EMOTIONS
Indeed, meditation is able to free us from the tyranny of mental states that leave us feeling distressed. However, it is important to note that the act of meditation itself is not an attempt to suppress our emotions, but rather work with them in such a way that they contribute to our inner peace. With inner peace comes a fertile cradle for the cultivation of positive and empowering thoughts and actions.
While thoughts and emotions are but as fleeting as the wind, the accumulation of thoughts and emotions possess the power to craft our moods. In turn, moods can last for a few hours, a few days, or even an extended period of time – eventually forming our character traits.
Allowing the mind to indulge in habitual thoughts only strengthens suffering, whereas meditation helps your mind to stop dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. As your mind becomes more focused, confusion gives way to clarity, thereby unearthing greater feelings of self-control and inner satisfaction.
It is natural for disempowering thoughts to occasionally arise.
That’s not for me; it’s beyond my abilities.
When such thoughts visit you, you have essentially given up the race even before you reach the starting line. Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard has the antidote. “To overcome this obstacle, give the potential for transformation that exists in you its true value and look at the purpose of your life on a larger scale,” says Ricard in his book Why Meditate?
Indeed, recognising the true nature of the mind is key to mastery of the mind itself. The mind exists in some way, because you experience it. As we begin to familiarise ourself with how the mind works and letting thoughts pass away as soon as they arise, we begin to progress more easily on the path of inner freedom. When this happens, habitual thought patterns no longer have the same power to destabilise us. We eventually become empowered by the freedom and confidence we have cultivated over the course of our practice.
ONE THOUGHT AT A TIME
So don’t be impatient to see change. Persevere and strive towards true and lasting change. Don’t be discouraged when progress does not happen immediately. Begin with just one empowering thought. Then another. Followed by the next.
To get you started, here’s a guided meditation session led by Australian Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm. In this session, he guides you through the process of how to handle both negative and positive thoughts.