We are all alike, and there is a scientific reason. Human beings are an emergent species in the “flow of life” so, our brains, with their motives, emotions, and competencies are products of evolution, designed to work in certain ways. We have minds, and bodies developed as a result of millions of years of evolution. Unfortunately or luckily, evolution has given us brilliant brains, but extremely “tricky”.
Originally, before we evolved to Modern humans, we had an “Old Brain” which was driven by primary motivations:
Eat, survive, reproduce. Then, through evolution, a new part of our brain developed the “New Brain”, which, has incredible potentials as Imagination, fantasy, look back and forward, plan, ruminate and so on. However, when the “Old Brain” and the “New Brain” enter in conflict, it is very “BAD”, and we get stuck in unhelpful loops.
To better understand this concept I will use a Mindfulness comparison, which in my opinion, is quite explanatory. A Zebra when attacked by a Lion start to run, she runs as fast as possible. And, if she survives, she keeps going on with her life without left over (“Old Brain” – survival instinct). On the other hand, if we, human beings, escape to a dangerous situation, on the contrary, we continue to ruminate on it. Let me give you an example. Helen was distracted crossing the road and didn’t see a car approaching. Luckily, she escaped in time, before the car knocked her down. She survived, like the Zebra, but instead of keeping on with her life she started to ruminate, creating projections of the worst outcome, self-criticizing herself. “What if the car hit me?” “I am so stupid.” “ I should be more careful.” “My kids could be left without Mom.”
“Old Brain” Survival +“ New Brain” rumination= unhelpful loop
Once, I read a beautiful Zen story that opened my eyes. And, I believe it explains more than thousands of words. Two Monks were in pilgrimage, and during their journey, crossing a river they met a Beautiful, wealthy woman. She was afraid to cross the river and so asked for help. Without hesitation, the older Monk took the woman on his shoulders and let her down on the other side of the river. Then, they resumed their trip. The old Monk was peaceful and equanimous while the young one tormented. After a while, The Young Monk couldn’t keep it quiet anymore and shouted: “Brother, we are taught to avoid contact with women, and there you were, not just touching a woman, but carrying her on your shoulders!”. The older Monk looked at his brother with a loving smile and answered: “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river; you are still carrying her in our journey.”
Probably, at this point, we have a clear idea of what it is compassion and why we should apply it to our day to day life. But, how? Knowledge isn’t enough. We need to learn new skills; we need to be more Mindful, instead of Mind-Full.
Personally, I had many headaches trying to understand. So, I suggest you drop off any expectations before you start, and prepare to sit down and relax, nothing else required. With some Mindfulness techniques is possible to slow down our “Tricky” brains. Mindfulness is the ability to direct our attention and awareness, being in the moment and fully experiencing whatever is happening right now. I am not saying is easy, but is possible. With daily practice of a few minutes, one breath at the time, you will be more present. So, let’s try now with the “Spotlight attention Exercise.” You can do this practice wherever, and whenever you need to.
Sit in an upright, comfortable position, relax your hands on your laps, close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Breathe in Love, Breathe out peace. Then, move your attention to the sounds in the room. Don’t force it, let the sounds come to you. After a few moments return to your breath and open your eyes.
The first time I tried this exercise, I discovered my lack of awareness of the world around me. Perhaps it would happen to you too. Another way to remind yourself to come back to the “here and now” is trough triggers. You can use whatever you want. A bell, a memo. Etc. Personally, I use my lucky number 15. Every time I see it, I take a deep breath, and I remind myself to listen to sounds.
Hopefully, you will be inspired to live a more Mindful life.