Amélie Nothomb, The Character of Rain
I’ve discovered there are only two modes of the heart. We can struggle, or we can surrender. Surrender is a frightening word for some people, because it might be interpreted as passivity, or timidity. Surrender means wisely accommodating ourselves to what is beyond our control. Getting old, getting sick, dying, losing what is dear to us, is beyond our control. I can either be frightened of life and mad at life – or not. I can be disappointed and still not be mad. Stopping being mad – when I can – translates, for me as being compassionate – to myself as well as to other people.
Sylvia Boorstein, That’s Funny you don’t look Buddhist
But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me.
There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied.
When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks — when you hear that unmistakable pounding — when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming—then row, row for your life toward it.
Mary Oliver Prose Poem
The MBSR Programme and Mindfulness practice seems to promote a “left-shift” in the brain. This means that there is increased activity in the left frontal activity of the brain after MBSR training. This change in function seems to reflect the development of an “approach state,” in which we move towards, rather than away from, a difficult external event or difficult internal thoughts and emotions. The development of this approach mentality, or an openenss to be aware of difficult emotions, seems to be related to emotional strength and resilience.
A second effect which is being noticed is an improvement in immune function. Not only is general resilience developed, but the body’s ability to fight infection is improved. I have already written about the studies which have seen this in HIV cases.
Thirdly, the MBSR Programme is related to participants expressing a greater internal sense of stability and clarity. This is certainly my experience in the Programees we have run here in Geneva. However, it has been studied in a pilot study at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center by Daniel Siegal. He found that adults and adolescents with attentional problems achieved more executive function improvements sustaining attention, diminishing distractibility) than are accomplished with justmedications for this condition. This research links in with the work done by Alan Wallace, Richie Davidson and Amiji Jha who have also found significant improvements in attentional regulation in those who have had mindfulness meditation training, such as enhanced focus.
Hopkins says it well. Spring fills us with joy and with the energy of life. He believes it is because we link back to the freshness of life in the Garden of Eden, when everything was optimistic and without deceit or disappointment. Maybe. It certainly gives one a new energy as all around we see nature reawakening. We know we have to leave the Garden. But moments there refresh us. We will not spoil it by thinking ahead.
NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)
Increasingly research is showing how the mind plays a significant part in how our body feels. This is of interest to us who are working with stress. It also helps us understand how mediatation, simply sitting and observing the mind, can be an effective way of working with difficult emotions and events.
For example, research has shown that the body responds to abstract thoughts as if they were real. Work done at the University of Aberdeen found that when participants were asked to recall the past or imagine the future, their bodies acted out the metaphors contained in the words. So when asked to remember, they leaned slightly backward; when imagining the future, their bodies moved forwards. Though these shifts amounted to just a few millimeters, the results were consistent enough for researchers to conclude that they could ‘take an abstract concept such as time and show that it was manifested in body movements.’
Nils B. Jostmann of the University of Amsterdam observes: “How we process information is related not just to our brains but to our entire body. We use every system available to us to come to a conclusion and make sense of what’s going on.” This is consistent with the way stress manifests itself in the body as headaches or heart conditions. It can also be seen when we have had a difficult encounter and we go around with a knot in the stomach. It supports the approach of Mindfulness meditation in its focus on the mind as a part of a whole body response to life’s stresses.