Janice Lindsay-Hartz, Ph.D., P.A.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Miami, Florida
Mindfulness: Scientific Footprints Along a Spiritual Path, continued

Page Two

You can either read over the following instructions, and then pause for five minutes
and do you best to follow the instructions.  Or, you can have someone read you the
instructions, pausing for a good minute whenever pauses are indicated.  


“If you care to, allowing your eyes to close, or leaving them open a crack so that
you can see vaguely a spot in front of you.. .   Allowing your awareness to rest in your
breathing, feeling your breath wherever you feel it most distinctly in your body.  It might
be the flow of air in and out of your nostrils, it might be feeling your chest rising and
falling, or it might be feeling the gentle expansion and contraction deep in your belly.  
Pick one spot, and seeing how refined you awareness can be.  You don’t have to do
anything to your breath, or make it slower or deeper, simply feeling the natural,
uncontrived breath, making space for the breath.    Noticing as best you can, all the
sensations that are part of the next out breath, right here... and the next in breath,    
.... right now.....  As best you can, riding the waves of your own breathing.. . .
Sooner or later, you may notice your mind wandering – thinking about future plans,
questioning or judging something– ‘I like this’- or ‘I don’t like it’, or mulling over a past
memory, or reacting to some sound or bodily sensation.  Whenever you notice that
your mind has wandered away from the breath, celebrate that you can notice that, and
gently bringing your awareness back to this breath, right here. . . .     If the mind
wanders 1,000 times, it doesn’t matter.  The act of gently noticing where the mind is
and bringing it back to the breath, again and again, is the art of meditation. . . . .
All that busy mind stuff you may notice– thinking, feeling, remembering,
questioning, judging, is all your energy – scattered.  Meditation involves gathering up
all the energy, all of your own energy and bringing it back and concentrating it.
When you feel ready, opening your eyes, and again noticing how your breathing
feels in this moment, noticing how your pulse is, and what your body feels like; and
noticing if there are any differences from when we started.”


It’s very humbling, seeing how busy and scattered our minds can be.  Just because
you decide to pay attention to your breath, it does not mean that your mind will
cooperate.  Most people don’t know this about their minds.  If I asked John Doe on the
street, “Does your mind wander?”, he would probably answer, “Oh no, I know where
my mind is.  I have control of it.”    Any meditator will tell you a different story.  
Thoughts are like secretions of the mind.  Our minds will not stop thinking, anymore
than our hearts will stop beating.  For much of life, we are dragged around by
compulsions or distractions, scenarios for the future, rewriting or reviewing the past,
etc.

Meditation involves mind training.  Over time, it gets easier to focus on the breath,
but thoughts still abound, and the mind can easily still wander.  However, we do learn
to focus the mind better.  Meditation involves learning how to think, when we need to
think, and to plan when we need to plan, and to remember and review when it’s wise to
remember; and it’s also about learning how not to get lost in thought when we choose
not to, or do not need to.    We need our legs to help us get around.  And we need
them to move.  But can you imagine how it would be if our legs kept going, even when
we did not need them to be moving.  How strange it would be if while you sat there, not
needing to move, your legs kept marching.

Meditation also helps us to cultivate a state of relaxed alertness, which many of us
are not used to cultivating.  We tend to get into a relaxed state, and then zone,
watching TV or getting into the Lazy Boy mode – too loose.  Or, we get into a state of
being excited, seeking stimulation, alert, but on the go, very busy, focused on the next
thing to be doing, and the next, multi-tasking.  Too tight.  Meditation is about being in
a different zone, a natural state of being relaxed and alert, that often gets lost along
the way.  Just like a musician cannot play a violin if the strings are too loose, they
hang over the side; and if they are too tight, they also sound terrible, and may snap
and break.  But tuned just right, the strings enable the violinist to play beautiful music.

This point is one where the scientific footprints are very helpful.  The “too tight” state
is what is known scientifically as the fight, flight or freeze state.  The revved up state,
the up-regulated state, from the mild anxiety one might feel when someone gets angry
with us, to the terror of finding oneself in the middle of an armed robbery.  When we
are in this state, our amygdala (a fear and strong emotion center in the brain) is very
activated, and shows up “hot” on functional MRI’s.   Also our right pre-frontal cortex, is
dominant over the left side.  When we are “too loose,” we get sleepy.  Our brain waves
slow; and we are not alert.  

It turns out that people are born with a tendency to have either right side dominant
pre-frontal cortexes, and then they are more prone to feeling depressed and anxious.  
Or people are born with a tendency to have left side dominant pre-frontal cortexes, and
then they are prone to feeling more positive, optimistic, and resilient.  But this innate
emphasis can be changed.   It is not our destiny.



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