Brain scans show that Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard has the largest capacity for happiness ever recorded
This French man used to be a genetic scientist, but forty years ago he went to India and has been a Buddhist monk ever since.
So did he always have this amazing capacity to be happy, or did the meditation help him to become this way? The answer is that many other scientific studies on happiness have also shown that meditation can increase your ability to be happy and to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life in a better way.
How does Meditation help us?
After a lot of meditation time, the brain structure has been shown to actually change. A study done by Harvard neuroscientists showed that the brain structure changed after eight weeks of doing (on average) half an hour of meditation a day. Among the changes noted by the scientists was that areas of the brain that deal with learning, memory, emotion and looking a thinks from a perspective had grown. Meditation can alter the brain and improve people's happiness in the same way that lifting weights puts on muscle.
Emotional well being
The practice of meditation helps us to watch our thoughts and to get some space from negative emotions. Ricard (the happy monk) says:
'You can look at your experience like a fire that burns. If you are aware of anger you are not angry, you are aware. Being aware of anxiety is not being anxious it is being aware.'
By being aware of these emotions you are no longer adding fuel to their fire and they will burn out.
During meditation be aware of any negative feelings and perhaps saying to yourself in your head, “ Right now I am feeling angry” or “ I am feeling bored and I want to move”, (or what ever it is you are feeling at the time) ,but despite these feelings, you keep still and just be aware of them. Then go back to listening to your breath, to the sounds around you and being in the present moment again. Once you've got used to this idea in meditation, you can use the same technique to develop qualities such as kindness, or dealing with disturbing emotions.
Feeling complete bliss
Most people at some point have felt the wonderful feeling of complete bliss in a moment, but (according to studies) it usually lasts for only about 15 seconds. You can hold on and nurture this vivid feeling by focusing on it in meditation. If you feel it becoming vague you can consciously bring it back again.
So the more you develop this skill, the more useful it will become as a skill to deal with your emotions, so that you can have more of the good, happy ones and will be able to detach a little from the bad emotions. You will still feel them, ( it's not healthy to deny feelings or to push them away), but you will find that you spend less time dwelling on these bad feelings, which are in the past, and more time living your life in the present moment.
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
― Ekhart Tolle, The Power of Now A Guide to spiritual Enlightenment
Living in the now, being with what is going on at that moment, rather than letting anxious thoughts dominate our minds, can be useful because it reminds you that the although the problem may be still something that needs to be resolved, you can still enjoy being in the present, you can notice the details around you use your senses to explore the moment, you can notice your breathing and this takes your mind away from the worry.
Someone to talk to
Safety Net recommend that every child should aim to have at least four adults (as well as the adults they live with) who they could talk to if they needed to perhaps about something that was upsetting them. These adults could be teachers at school, family friends, or relatives that don't live with you, someone who runs a club you go to, even organisations like Childline could be on your helping hand list, or mind. But most importantly they need to be someone who you feel comfortable talking to and who you feel would be able to listen and perhaps give you some advice, sometimes it's not always easy to talk, you might prefer to contact an organisation via email.
Safety Net call this the 'helping hand' as the four people are like the four fingers and the adults at home are the thumb. It is good to think about who would be on your helping hand, if you needed to talk to an adult about something, it doesn't have to be your parents or carers.
The peaceful stream
There is a place where I sometimes meet my father for a walk, it is a pretty part of Ashdown Forest. We walk over hills and through woods at lunchtime we like to stop and eat our sandwiches in the valley next to the stream where the Romans used to come to collect clay. It is so lovely when the sun is flickering through the trees, the stream flows along and we watch the little leaves and bits of stick go floating by over the stones. We think about the Romans coming to collect their clay, all the different people, all with their own thoughts, perhaps worries, or excitements which seemed so important to them at the time. The stream quietly flowed along calmly beside them then as it still does now. I remember my father remarking that when we have finished our lunch and we continue our walk up the hill, the stream will still be flowing on regardless. When we have finished our walk, whatever we are doing in our lives, however we are feeling, the stream will still be calmly flowing on, as it did when the Romans came.
Sometimes I remember that stream if I am feeling bad, the thought of it is calming to me. It is similar to the feeling of separating from your thoughts and seeing them from an outside perspective, observing your anger rather than staying stuck in feeling anger. This can also help you to think more rationally about what you might be able to do to change the situation that has caused the anger.
"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it." ~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
This seems like a strange thought at first, but stop and have a think about what it means. Everybody sees things in different ways, something which you love, someone else might hate, something you find extremely stressful someone else might love. These reactions come mostly from our previous experiences, but also our nature, the personality we were born with. Imagine I suffered from Arachnophobia , if I could step into the brain of a person who loved spiders, I would no longer have a fear of spiders. I'm not saying that meditation would stop someone from having a fear of spiders, or that it will make you step into other people's brains, but I am using this as an example of stepping outside your normal patterns of thoughts.
We may not always be able to control the events that happen to us, but we can control the story we tell ourselves about those events, and that gives us the key to controlling their effect on us. In the first story that we tell ourselves we may be the victim, but with time we can aim to change that story to emphasize how we've overcome and what we've learnt from the experience, instead of how we've been wronged. In your new story ou can cast yourself as the hero instead of the victim. Victims and heros both have difficulties and challenges, they just deal with them differently.
If we can develop the ability to see our reactions to situations from an outside perspective, this will be help us to deal with our emotions in a calmer and more 'emotionally mature' way. We can still get excited about things, we will still feel the full range of emotions, but we can learn to stop getting stuck with bad thoughts and feelings going round and round in our minds and instead find that place of stillness and happiness that is deep inside all of us.
When something goes wrong, or you make a mistake, if you hear yourself saying, 'Oh I always do that wrong...I'm no good at it.....I'll never be able to get it right' or something along those lines, try remembering that it is only one problem, you have done it wrong, so what, it doesn't mean that you will always do it wrong, be a bit more kind and forgiving to yourself.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
"A fight is going on inside me", he said to his Grandson." It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."
"This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."explained the Grandfather. The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,Which wolf will win? The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
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