Building Resiliency with Mindfulness

December 09, 2019

References: Resilient by Rick HansonGreater Good MagazineOpen Journal of Social SciencesFrontiers in Psychology,

Resiliency, one of the strongest correlates of longer, happier living is a vital component of thriving 100-year-olds. Rick Hanson lists 12 features of resiliency but mindfulness comes up first. He defines mindfulness as being fully in the present and not distracted or ruminating with monkey chatter in your brain. 

Just like the phrase, "You are what you eat", your brain becomes what you think. We have remarkable neuroplasticity in our brains and anything we do repeatedly sets up reinforcement. "Neurons that fire together, wire together." is the adage. Left to their own natural devices our brains wander from fear to fear ending up focusing on anxiety, and pain, protecting us from the world's assaults. That leads to depression and unhappiness. Can you focus your attention on what is nourishing, life-giving and joyful long enough to draw then into you and make your wiring of that sort? Can you teach your brain to be calm in a crisis? 

Our brains are crying out for a little help. It's easy to be mindful when you are sitting before a lake with beautiful sunshine. It's a little harder to be mindful when you are in an argument with someone you love. "Mindfulness holds your reactions in a spacious awareness that is itself never disturbed by whatever passes through it." Practice that.

Start by being mindful of being mindful. Notice the time you get lost in a reverie. Notice your moments of pleasure. Focus on the gift of a warm bath when you shower. Find simple tiny bits of nature, the squirrel bounding along, the welcome of a dog, the shape of the clouds. Let your brain settle on them and be aware of it. 
As that becomes more available, find a way to make that happen every day. Meditate in whatever fashion you will do every day. By meditation, I mean focusing your brain on one simple thought, be it your breath, the houses on your block, the favorite reading from your own religious tradition. Repeat it while being aware of repeating it. Again. Again. Your brain will wander. Brink it back without recrimination. Calm down the monkey chatter. Again. Again. Strengthen your ability to focus and stay focused.

Now, extend that into your inner refuges. A refuge is anything that protects, nurtures or uplifts you. Places, friends, churches, libraries, parks, pets, memories of Grandma's embrace or cooking. When you identify your refuge, spend time in it. Invite your friends over. Go to the library. Be aware of how delicious your refuge feels.

And then Be in the moment. Notice what your feelings are. Let go of the negative parts of the experience and try to take on that which feels good and nurturing. 
There is so much beauty to mindfulness that it is foolish to think that one simple column can cover it. It is worthy of being trained in it. It is worthwhile seeking out a coach who will guide you in it. It is so powerful, it will change your life for the better time and again, in every venue, for every one of us.

And this is the path to resiliency.

WWW: What will work for me. I stumbled into the world of meditation in medical school and practiced that form I learned then for about 20 years. I still do when I'm trapped in a place where I have no escape: a plane seat for take-off, a doctor's office lobby, arriving too early for an appointment. I think mindfulness is a bigger artform with more maturity to it. It really is there for you to use. I can feel the sense of good energy and vitality flowing into me when I am mindful of my being mindful. And when upset, it is a delicious tool to pull out to calm the monkey chatter of trivia and meaninglessness. And I am so mindful how grateful I am of the whole field of functional medicine, and how lucky I was to stumble into it before I got too old. I'm not too old yet!

Pop Quiz

  1. What is mindfulness? Answer: Staying present in the moment rather than being distracted or ruminating.
  2. Why is it important? Answer: It is one of the cardinal features of resilient people.
  3. How can you be mindful right now? Spend a few seconds enjoying the fact that you can read this column, take a comfortable deep breath and you have a whole new day ahead of you.
  4. What is the best way to build mindfulness? Answer: Practice whatever form of structured meditation you will do every day.