By Alexander Japit
At first glance, it’s very easy to write off mindfulness practices; such as meditation, of having real tangible value.
After all, the only thing that it really involves when you look at it from the outside is sitting. In the modern world, where everyone is so busy and involved in several different activities and has a to-do list that just never seems to shrink, it’s really easy to just write off the practice of sitting there for some amount of time to do NOTHING. When you’re busy, it’s easy to resist the thought that settling down and not working towards your ambitions will lead to LESS stress.
The truth, however, is more complicated than that, and meditation has an impossibly long list of potential benefits including, but not limited to better stress reduction, sleep, focus, and awareness, among many other things.
While these benefits are wonderful, where meditation practice really shines, in my opinion, is the development of the ability to affect and change the brain’s default behavior.
As previously mentioned, we all lead very busy lives in today’s world, and as part of these busy lives, we are subject to a lot of stimulants such as social media, the news, and our general activities that we have to constantly juggle. We live in a world where we are always connected, and that is exactly why we must unplug from time to time.
Physiologically, there exists a neurotransmitter that affects our brain called dopamine. Dopamine can be considered the “pleasure” or “happiness” hormone, and it’s noted that abnormally high or low levels of dopamine are the cause of many behavioral disorders.
I think it’s easy to understand why LOW levels of the “happiness” hormone can lead to behavioral change, but how can HIGH levels have the same effect? This is because the body eventually becomes desensitized to abnormally high levels of a hormone, which means that the same dose of that hormone will not induce the same effect. Therefore, the body will continue to require more and more of the “happiness” hormone to produce the same level of happiness for your mind. This is very dangerous, as it makes other activities that are less interesting or produce less of a dopamine response no longer attractive to perform.
Take for example, wanting to exercise. Exercising is a very healthy behavior that is undeniably good for us, but it’s an extremely difficult habit for many people to begin. One potential explanation for this is that the dopamine response from an exercise session simply cannot match the dopamine response from doing anything else that is immediately mentally stimulating such as social media and browsing the internet, thus, the mind physiologically does not want to exercise or partake in activities that are less rewarding.
Meditation is one of many ways to combat this. In a world that always requires our attention and has an unlimited number of ways to get it, meditation helps our minds detach and make sense of what’s important and not important. Meditation and mindfulness practices then, are ways to help us manage what is perhaps the most important resource in the developed world: Our attention.