Five Minutes of Mindfulness (Step to the right...)

I am almost finished reading Jill Bolte Taylor's amazing book My Stroke of Insight. (Click on the title to watch her Ted Talk video.) I first saw it about 5 years ago, made a copy of it and have watched it several times. It is the story of her personal experience and simultaneous observation of herself, a Harvard-trained brain scientist, having a severe stroke as a result of a massive hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain. She observed the left brain function of her brain shutting down over a period of four hours while she drifted in and out of a state of deep peace, euphoria and oneness- which she now believes resides in the right brain and is accessible to all of us if we choose to make a conscious effort to access it.  Over an 8-year period of recovery she consciously chose what parts of her left brain activity she wanted to resurrect and those aspects of its abilities and tendencies that she wished to leave behind (nit-picking, replaying negative tape loops, holding on to anger, etc.). It is a powerful and illuminating story.

In 2006 I had a head injury, a severe blow to my right temple. I am grateful to be reminded of what I learned during that time. The primary lesson for me was that I had a choice about how I thought and what I thought about. I did not have the mental energy to step out of the present for several weeks if not longer, and it was an incredible gift. My head hurt so badly in the beginning and it literally was too exhausting for my brain to think so my mind became very quiet- the deepest quiet and strongest experience of presence that I can remember having in this lifetime.  The defining moment that stayed with me was a little over two weeks after the initial injury. I was receiving an Ayurvedic treatment called shirodhara. I lay on a massage table with warm herbal-infused oil streaming onto my forehead and I had a thought. Up to that point my mind had been silent for some time- not unaware, in fact very present, but very quiet. So in this moment, as I observed myself having a thought, I saw in my mind's eye a water strider on the surface of a pool of water. The water strider represented my thought and I knew in that moment that I could follow it as it skittered across the surface of the water (the pool of my mind) or I could dive beneath the surface to where it was completely quiet and peaceful.

That awareness stayed with me for a long time and in fact became a practice as my left brain began to reengage more and more. I could either follow a thought and engage in it to whatever level was comfortable or, if it was uncomfortable on any level, I had the option to simply dive beneath the surface and let it go. As time has gone by, although I always remember this, I would say that I have become to some extent lazy in engaging the ability to make a conscious choice on how I expend my mental energy and I am so grateful to be reminded of the possibility- adn as Jill Bolte Taylor puts it, the I can "step to the right and bring my thoughts back to the present moment." It is a conscious choice.

It makes me think of how many times I have heard myself and others say, "I can't stop thinking about..." blah, blah, blah- whatever it is. Yes, in fact I can. It is a conscious choice and it requires a certain amount of exercise. 

Which takes me to the next point. Yesterday I heard a great interview on NPR with Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head... Basically he is a proponent of a simple meditation technique: 5 minutes... sitting... bringing the attention to the breath... and every time you notice the mind wandering, bringing it back to the breath... again and again and again. And, as he puts it, every time you do this "it's a bicep curl for the brain"- which I love! Between listening to his talk and reading My Stroke of Insight I have decided to turn to a practice of 5 minutes of mindfulness at least twice a day and preferably more. We'll see how that goes. I already know from past experience (years when I did a lot of meditation) that meditation on the breath is one of the most powerful meditation techniques there is because the breath is always available to us and every time we notice the breath in that moment we are present.

In Jill Bolte Tayor's book she talks about how she changes her mind if her left brain activity is not being cooperative (that voice that is like a petulant child who sometimes just refuses to be quiet!)...
1) remembering something that she finds fascinating that she would like to ponder more deeply
2) thinking about something that brings her great joy
3) thinking about something she would like to do

I would add to this list "listening to music." Music immediately engages the right brain and pulls us back (or forward!) into the present. It can drop us into a state of peace, joy, motivation with no effort on our part- all we need is to remember that we have a choice

The bottom line is- we have the power to change our minds, to choose what we engage in. We simply need the willingness and the discipline.

True learning is constant, and so vital in its power for change that a Son of God can recognize his power in one instant and change the world in the next. That is because, by changing his mind, he has changed the most powerful device that was ever given him for change.
~A Course in Miracles, Text: Chapter 7, Section 5 (Paragraph 7)~