The other day I had a great opportunity to attend a talk by Dr. Amit Sood, a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Chair of Mayo Mind Body Initiative, and a former TED speaker. The talk was to center on ‘training your brain to be happy.’
Initially, I bristled at the subconscious suggestion that I needed to WILL my brain to be happy. I was pretty happy already, right?
The talk was brilliant and won me over from my initial hesitation, mostly because he focused not on changing your life and making it happier and better through goal-setting, affirmations in the mirror, and using your willpower to propel yourself to a happier and better state of being. Not a bit of that was mentioned.
The message was instead focused on being a more compassionate and present person, and that in building relationships, more thankfulness and more love, therein you will find the happiness you yearn for. True contentedness. He had little tips and tricks for doing so throughout the day, like focusing on 5 people in your life that you are grateful for in the morning before getting out of bed; trying to notice something new everyday to keep curiosity alive; and practicing “Kind Attention” in your awareness of other human beings rather than “Judgmental Attention” – which is our base mode, the mode of sizing everyone up and geared towards the survival mindset. In practicing “Kind Attention,” you wish others a silent internal “I wish you well” rather than fall back on your automatic judgment processing.
All of this requires conscious effort, of course, since if left to it’s own devices, our brains are hardwired not for happiness and peace, but for safety and survival. Your brain does not care if you are happy, only that you are alive. We alone can drive our lives and our brains with intention.
At the end of the talk, there was a question from the audience regarding meditation, and whether or not this also serves as an effective tool in creating more happiness and peace in our lives. Dr. Sood acknowledged that he had practiced meditation, and advised patients to do the same, but that finding the time for this was difficult in our modern lives. He even noted that His Holiness the Dalai Lama told him he often could not find time to meditate!
He then noted that his small tricks, or habits, of focused attention throughout the day on love, gratitude and compassion for others WAS meditation – but an external meditation as opposed to internal. He noted that instead of focusing on emptying the internal self of external worries and extraneous thoughts, he would rather focus his active attention outwards on love, wisdom and relationships. He then noted that in our modern times, we have more perceived internal threats than external, so it is easier for us to focus externally.
Is the internal self within so daunting and scary? I guess for many it is, and that instead we can spend small moments of focused thinking ruminating on compassion, kindness, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness and love instead of the strange stew of random thoughts that enter our brains when on zombie – or ‘default’ – mode throughout the day.
I had never before heard of the term ‘External Meditation,’ but to me it sounds very similar to how I think and compose some of my writing while walking to and from work every day, and also of reflective journaling and stream-of-consciousness writing. Setting the intention, and letting the thoughts wander and flow in that one topic. Kind of like a waking meditation. Source Point was a blog entry that I originated in my mind while walking to and from work one day, thinking about whether or not all people are one with God. (I know, what a topic to think about before work!)
After letting the term ‘External Meditation’ really sink in, I have fallen in love with it. Set the intention on more love, wisdom and building relationships with others, and we will not stray from our desire to be truly happy and wholehearted humans.