2 = Take Notice
Updated: Mar 19
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” Pascal
We’ve all been there. We’ve arrived at our destination and we don’t remember the drive home at all. It’s actually scary, thinking that your brain drove home on autopilot while you thought about what you’re going to have for dinner, what time you have to get up in the morning and what you are going to do on the weekend. Constantly imagining ourselves in the future. The detrimental effects of this kind of thinking are now coming to life.
We now live in a society where our brains are being trained to take in thousands and thousands of pieces of information a second. Whether it is absorbing the bright lights of Times Square or scrolling though your Instagram newsfeed, we are unconsciously training our brains to need overstimulation. But then we get annoyed when we can’t do that assignment or task because we are constantly procrastinating. Mindlessness. Asking our brain that is continuously overstimulated to do one task is the equivalent of asking a billionaire CEO to clean one glass in an office kitchen. Due to the lack of stimulation, it is almost insulting to the brain. And procrastination is not the worst outcome of this process. This also means that we find it very difficult to listen. I’m sure we can all refer to a time when our friend has been talking to us and we were thinking about something completely different while we stared at their mouth moving. Mindlessness. But the worst outcome of this new age of thinking is the epidemic of worry. Anxiety symptoms are now the most common manifestations for child and adolescent mental health service referrals. Mindlessness. This zeitgeist of overstimulation may then also explain the surge in ADHD among children, We are teaching our brains to constantly seek more information in the future but the majority of it is irrelevant. The complexity of the prefrontal cortex is amazing and it has given us humans the ability to imagine (the only animals in the world that can do so). While imagination has resulted in some of the most important creations in society today, we are now using it for the wrong reason. We are imagining problems and living in the future in order to feed the overstimulation of our brains and this is resulting in us wasting time, losing the ability to listen, which is destructive to connection and living lives that are governed by anxiety. This is taking notice: the second way of well being.
If you had asked me about meditation during my psychology undergraduate degree, I would have said it was a load of nonsense. It was something hippies were trying to push to show that they are making an impact on the world. A pseudoscience. A irrelevant practice. A lie. Fortunately for me, research into meditation exploded over the past few years and to my dismay, mindfulness meditation is now a very popular treatment for several mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. However, please note that this should be taken with caution as mindfulness has been found to be effective in combatting stress and so, it is emphasised as a form or rehabilitation and avoidance of relapse as opposed to treating a mental illness single handedly. Researchers such as Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, Dr. Stephen McKenzie and Dr. Craig Hassed have completely transformed the public’s idea behind meditation. I would also like to note that these are medical doctors. Not psychologists. They understand meditation as one of the main mediums targeting the link between the body and the mind. With advancements in our ability to view the brain in different states, research has become more accurate in seeing the effects of meditation on the brain. EEG, fMRI and ERP neuroimagery studies all show the same thing. A brain that is in a meditative state has a positive transformation of blood flow. A study by Kabat Zinn found that mindfulness increased rate of antibodies, meaning that it benefits our immune system. And finally, meditation has been found to be a strong intervention for teens with with behavioural problems. There are also hundreds of other papers showing similar results and applicability. I no longer see it as hippy propaganda. It is a science based practice.
Now society is starting to realise the importance of meditation. The problem is they don’t know why it is important. When we ask parents, teachers and students, they all say the same thing. We meditate to relax. However, this is false and this is a prime example of the dangers of lack of psychological education. Schools all over the world are now taking on meditation in schools but this generally just involves asking the children to sit in silence for five minutes. But with no instruction, this is just leaving the child alone with their thoughts about the future. As they sit in silence, they will also begin laughing and giggling as their brain tells them they need to be stimulated by something. In some cases, children are then punished for this and a problem has been created from ‘meditation’. If you want a child to do something, you ahem to explain why you are doing it. Meditation is seen as stupid to many children and that is understandable. Because sitting in silence is not beneficial, even if it makes you relax. Relaxation is an outcome of meditation but that is not why we meditate. The reason we meditate is to train our brain to stop seeking overstimulation, to train our brain to stop wandering, and to train our brain to focus on one thing. The present. Taking notice. Anything in the past and anything in the future is irrelevant. And how can we convince children of this? Well tell them the benefits. If they practice and train their brain like any other muscle in the body, then over time, they will be able to do their homework quicker because they won’t be procrastinating, they will able to be better friends because they will be able to actively listen and most importantly, they will stop worrying so much. Another appeal is sport. We explain to some of the sporty children that all the top players are trained to just focus on the penalty or free to stand a better chance of scoring. Ronaldo over a free, Taylor when she steps in the ring, Sexton over a penalty, Cluxton or Canning when taking frees. Then you have got their attention.
So how can we meditate? I strongly recommend guided meditations to help you through the first few. There are hundreds of apps now. Two great ones are Headspace and Calm. There are also lots of different types of meditation you can do. In my opinion, the most effective and the one we do in our workshops is the body scan. However, there are also mantra meditations, positive imagery meditations, breathing meditations and loads more. The type doesn’t matter. Pick the one you find most effective. And again, remember you are training your brain and starting off, you will probably be terrible at it. But practice makes progress. And this progress is proof that you’re taking more control over your brain. Another misconception is that meditation is about clearing your mind and thinking about nothing. It is in fact, the opposite. The practice of meditation is getting distracted by thoughts or the outside world but showing awareness of this distraction (which we would not generally notice) and being able to bring your focus back to whatever meditation you are doing. The more you can do this, the better you get. This again, is taking notice. And I understand that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Meditation won’t be for everyone. And I am not demanding that everyone should do it. However, everyone can and should take notice in everyday life. And the way to do this is easy. Just stop multitasking. Stop eating dinner while being on your phone while watching Netflix. If you spur your brain to do all this, then you won’t appreciate any of it. Society fed us false advice that multitasking is essential because it allows you to work faster. However, we are not robots, It's better to do one thing well than three things below average. Our brain needs time to consolidate information so it’s important that we also slow down. And we all have five useful tools to help us with this. The first is our ability to listen. Think about the amount of sounds happening around you that you are not even aware of. It might be birds singing, cars driving past outside, people talking. Take notice. Secondly, we are our vision. Realise the spectacular spectrum of colours in front of you and notice how we live in a world where animals fly in the sky while insects work in the sky. Take notice. Then, we have our taste. Next time you eat, notice the explosion of different tastes in your mouth. Take notice. We then have our smell. Our oldest sense. Candles, air freshners, perfume. We want everything to smell nice but we don’t even notice it ourselves. Take notice. And finally, we of course have our touch. Your feet in the sand, the feel of new bed sheets and the embrace of a hug. Take notice. If we always think and live in the future, then we’re not really living, Remember, we are human beings, not human will beings. Put down the phone. Use your senses. Take notice.
“We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now” Jon Kabat Zinn