“WHAT!? LET’S STOP IT!” you might be saying... but here’s the thing: it works.
Why? Mindfulness is basically just a form of biohacking. Don’t know what biohacking is? Ever heard of Tim Ferriss? That’s biohacking. It is understanding the body’s biological system, noticing subtle shifts in the system, and manipulating parts of the system to procure a desired result.
I’m sure you have been here: your mother/father/sibling/boss/spouse/annoying friend says something to you that pisses you off. What happens to your body?
You probably already know the answer if you have been alive for at least... 6 years. Your fists clench, your heart rate skyrockets, your face becomes flush, you blurt out a curse at them - whatever. Someone who is mindful is able to notice those subtle shifts in their physiology, and can make adjustments to arrive at a more favorable state - perhaps they use breathing (a common, powerful calming tool) to calm their body’s response and react in a way that preserves his or her peace of mind and stress-freeness for the day, week, year, or for never-ending eternity.
Why do things like mindfulness, meditation, compassion, empathy, (the list goes on), which on a surface level seem to have absolutely zero science or rationality to support their worth, actually make such a fundamental difference in a person’s ability to live an engaged life?
Well, first let me answer a question with a question - why are we always focused on what is rational, what makes logical sense to us? Most of what our body does - let’s say around 95% of it - is not endowed with reason or logic... meaning it’s irrational. The reptilian brain - that part of your brain that is the most basic, elementary part that developed with the first vertebrates on the planet - is not a thinking brain, it is a programmed brain. You don’t have to think for your heart to beat, your eyes to work, your stomach to digest food, or your reproductive systems to be ... turned on - so it is all irrational. If all of that stuff is irrational, then FOR GOD’S SAKE PEOPLE, open your hearts up to the possibility that things that seem irrational can work - or more, be transformative for a modern human being who is disconnected from their body in many other ways. At least run a self-experiment to see if they work for you!
Second, let me address the scientific perspective: we just don’t know that much yet. Let me give you an example from the scientific realm that we have actually figured out a mechanism for - meditation. For many years of my life, I refused to give something so hippy-dippy and spiritual as meditation - a practice that has been developed over thousands of years - a shot. It wasn’t until I started to look into some of the emerging science behind the practice that I gave it any credibility... it turns out that meditation can drastically affect a persons heart rate (through breathing). We have recently learned that the heart has a small but now measurable electromagnetic field around it that surrounds the body in a doughnut-like shape, and this electromagnetic field can be sensed by the brain. Studies have now proven that the brain will mirror a similar pattern to that of the heart rate, and when someone is meditating this pattern is an alpha-brainwave pattern. The alpha-brainwave pattern, as you might guess, is associated with the brain being in a state of relaxed super-focus and recovery. No wonder meditation is so effective at reducing stress and increasing bodily awareness!
For me, once I discovered the science that now proves a hippy-dippy practice that has been around and working for people for thousands of years, I was able to open my heart and mind to the fact that other practices may be effective for reasons that our scientific prowess just can’t measure yet. I am open to it all, now.
At the end of the day, mindfulness isn’t about becoming a hippy or being spiritual at all. It’s about creating awareness of your body and mind. The challenge is becoming aware of mental and physiological processes that are currently unknown to us. For thousands of years, that’s where mindfulness and spirituality have come into play. In today’s world, we may be able to scientifically explain more of the processes. Hopefully, this will lead more and more of us towards the contented life. It’s certainly guiding me there.