I seem to be surrounded by people who are committed to a path of meditation. Friends, family, teachers, colleagues – all of them having some sort of regular practice of sitting in silence, following the breath, centering. But not me. While I’ve done my share of silent meditation retreats (and, incidentally, benefited greatly from them), I have never maintained more than about a month of committed daily practice. Nevertheless, I know that meditation practices improve physical, psychological and spiritual health, and would be good for me to integrate into my life. But I don’t.
So, if you are like me, you might be interested in this little book I recently stumbled upon – Just One Thing, by Rick Hanson, PhD. Hanson, a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, has done a valuable thing by creating a book of buddhist based practices that anyone can do, anytime. Anywhere. No formal sitting practice required. Hanson uses neuroscience to explain the value Buddhist practices can have on our mental well-being. The short version is this: There are “simple things you can do routinely, mainly inside your mind, that will support and increase your sense of security and worth, resilience, effectiveness, well-being, insight, and inner peace.” He gives a quick lesson on the fact that how we use our mind actually changes the structures of our brain. Thus, if we learn to use our minds well – that is, our awareness –we can positively change our brains. We can build up the physical substrates in the brain that support resilience and well-being.
Hanson provides 52 simple exercises with easy instructions and clear explanations of their benefit. And while they are simple, they are not exercises that simply aim to bypass our inner struggles and replace them with positive thoughts. Affirmations might help build up the positive thoughts, but you also need practices that help you bear inner demons without being destroyed. I think this book offer both in balance.
This week, I have been working with Exercise Number 4: Relax. It is a simple process of exhaling slowly to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms down the fight or flight response. I do this while I’m driving, waiting in line, or when I notice myself getting wound up. At Hanson’s suggestion, I am keeping this practice in mind daily and will try it for a week or so. Not so hard.
Other practices include Find Beauty, Use your Will, Take in the Good, Nourish Your Brain, and Respond, Don’t React. If you find this interesting you might try it out. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
To read more about Rick Hanson’s work, visit Rick Hanson