Meditating for Change

Contemplating change is quite difficult, as it generates many emotions (usually negative):

√  fear of the unknown,

√  unsure of the steps to begin changing,

√  concerned about what might be lost by changing and

√  knowing that change requires hard work.

How do we go about changing? Is there a process to make a successful change more likely? Recent research into the way the brain works has given some hints on how to make a permanent change through the use of meditation.

The brain builds pathways according to its experiences. The brain uses pathways to predict how we each react to an occurrence and the stronger the pathway the stronger the prediction and the resulting reaction. The more times you react the same way to an experience, the stronger the pathway in the brain. In addition, emotions attached to the event will produce stronger pathways.

Prediction is more efficient instead of having to experience the event and react to it each and every time. Seeing a car coming at you would trigger the pathway in the brain to signal the muscles to move you out of the way even before you can consciously think of moving.

The downside of this strong pathway is that trying to change the way you react to some event is very difficult; you are fighting a strong pathway that the brain will automatically and preferentially use. Many times, these are emotionally reinforced pathways, therefore making the change harder again.

To change the pathway, you have to build a new one by consistently changing how you react. The brain begins to build a new pathway based on these new reactions and deletes the old pathway as it becomes no longer useful.

In order for the brain to create a new pathway, it needs a clear new direction to follow. This means you have to react or visualise in the new way consistently over time. The brain needs time to build the new pathway which means it is not an overnight process but takes many, many repetitions for the new pathway to build.

So how does meditation help with this process? Meditation can help you build the new pathways and clip the old ones. Meditation affects the part of the brain that deals with emotions and therefore is a great tool for building new pathways generally, but especially those reinforced with emotion.

Meditation allows you to quiet your mind and to work on detaching emotions from the thoughts that do float through your mind. Instead you will just quietly observe those thoughts. This gives you distance from the emotional attachments. Giving yourself space and distance allows you to look at the thoughts more objectively and imagine the change that would occur without all of the accompanying negative emotions. Looking dispassionately at past experiences and current issues without the negative emotions attached, allows you to learn from those experiences and construct a change in your life will serve you better now and in the future.

Visualisation in meditation pictures how you want the change to look, to feel, to smell, to sound, and to taste. The brain does not differentiate between events sensed by the senses and visions. Both are equally real to the brain. Therefore, making new pathways is best when you make the visualisation as clear and as real as possible.

Developing your vision of how you want the change to be in as much detail as possible starts the brain preparing a pathway that will allow you to reach that vision. Preparing this vision is an intention; you are showing the brain what you want the future to look like with as much detail as possible.

Beginning the process of change through meditation requires you to:

  1. Strip all emotions (especially negative ones) from the thoughts that come into your brain as you begin to meditate.
  2. You can then review past and current experiences with more objectivity and plan future events with more clarity. Self-awareness and what you really want becomes clearer without self-judgement.
  3. Build your vision – your intention – and meditate frequently on that intention in every meditation session. The intention builds the pathways to create the changes you want to incorporate in your life.

Change is daunting but it is possible. Especially if you understand how the brain changes and how you can support that change with meditation.