It's interesting when something that's thousands of years old becomes trendy. What relevance do ancient teachings have today?
If the teachings end on their own merits, then they're timeless. They must contain some element of truth that appeals to people. Continents and millennia do not dull the spark of a truly useful idea.
Speaking of ancient and popular ideas, have you heard about mindfulness?
Mindfulness is one of those ideas that sounds too simple to work. It involves bringing your attention, without judgment, into the present moment.
Big deal, right? Do not people do that already?
Well … if you've spent much time meditating, you know the answer to that.
One of the great powers of the mind is casting itself back through memories or projections of the future. You can think of the past and plan for what comes next. These thoughts are so vivid that they can pull you in. You lose yourself in your memories and imagination as hours roll by.
This is not a bad thing. Learning from the past and anticipating the future are useful, even essential. But if mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment, then why is it so beneficial?
The problem does not come from thinking of other times.
It comes from dwelling on them.
If something traumatic happens, some people fixate on it for decades to come. They think back on it in their quiet moments.
This is natural. The brain wants to learn as much as it can from dramatic events. Knowing what happened can prevent it from happening again.
The problem is that it comes at a cost … one that grows steeper over time. The first hour of reflecting teaching you a lot. So does the second. A year or ten from then, though, you are not learning much. All you¡¯re doing is reactivating the emotions surrounding the experience.
You train yourself to feel a certain way through repetition. The more you can focus on the positive, instead, the better you'll be.
Does that mean dwelling on happy memories is okay? In small doses, sure – reliving a pleasant event is fantastic exercise for the mind. But, again, there are diminishing returns. Have you ever thought of a good memory you'd forgotten about? The emotional rush can be intense. When you think of it an hour later, the glow is a little bit weaker. Occasionally, that reward becomes not worth the cost.
When you think of the future, you're either worried or fantasizing. The same rules apply as with remembering. If you think about a great future, it inspires and elevates you.
The problem with remembering and imagining is that you pay a price. You think of other times at the expense of now. The present moment is the only thing you can control and take action. The past is gone and the future is not here yet, but now is present.
There are many things happening in the moment. The world buzzes with sensory experiences, so experience them. If you cast your mind away, then you miss what's happening now. And, since your mind constructs memories and imagination, what happens now is the only thing that's real.
This is the value of mindfulness. It grounds you in reality. When you choose to think of other times, you maintain yourself through the experience.
Unreal emotions can not seduce you away from your moment of power.
This is what makes mindfulness and meditation such a potent combination. When you learn to open up to the experiences of the moment, it teaches you to think and be in new ways.