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  • Written by  Ian Ives
  • // Saturday, 24 November 2012 18:50
Ian Ives

How Quickly Can You Change Your Mind?

A few days ago I saw a power point presentation on you-tube about a recent study on the effects of meditation and compassion practice on the brain. While there have been more and more studies of this kind in the recent years and months, what struck me most about this study was that it showed just how easy it is to change our minds (or at least our brains) with such a little amount of time and effort.

The study, published this year in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, examined brain activity in three groups of people over a period of eight weeks. One group practiced mindfulness mediation for an average of ten minutes per day, the second group trained in loving-kindness/compassion practice for a similar amount of time, and the third group—the control group—met each day to discuss issues of human health (in other words they didn’t engage in meditation or compassion practice).

Comparisons, based on FMRI measurements made on individuals in all three groups, revealed among other things, a decrease in activity in the region of the brain generally associated with fear and anxiety in those who had done meditation, compared to those who did not. For those who practiced compassion training there was a significant decrease in activity associated with depression when compared with those who hadn’t done any compassion practice.

In short, this study seems to suggest that individuals who practice just a little bit of meditation and compassion each day become less fearful, happier people.

Now just think for a moment about what this might imply.

For a start consider how much effort people in the world go through each day to try to feel happier or avoid fear and anxiety. Just think of all the money, medicine, activities and other resources that are directed towards this goal, and how often getting good and reliable results proves to be extremely challenging.

Yet, what this and other similar studies seem to suggest, is that the sources of happiness may be extremely achievable for each and every one of us. They are so close in fact, that we may have missed them in the process of pursuing something grander and more expensive!

Meditation and compassion are something that all of us can very easily learn, and if the evidence is correct, we don’t even have to spend much time on it before we see noticeable results.

Just imagine, for example, if children were educated to train their minds through mindfulness and loving-kindness in school. What better tool for living a productive, harmonious and happy life could they obtain? What if this was a skill that a majority of people in society had; like the ability to read, drive a car, or do simple arithmetic? What would be the impact on health, crime, or even international politics?

It’s not every day that such a cheap, easy and multi-purpose solution for human well-being is found, and it certainly wouldn’t be wise for humanity to ignore it.

One other thought about the implications of this study, slightly more sobering, is this. If our minds can so easily be changed by adopting a new habit for such a short period of time, what does this suggest about the many other habits and experiences we engage in and go through all the time. How might these be shaping or have already shaped our minds, and therefore our lives and our world? The mind seems, on the one hand, to be extremely flexible, powerful and resilient, but on the other hand quite fragile, sensitive, and susceptible to influence. It just might be in our interest to spend at least 10 minutes a day paying attention and taking care of it.