A typical mindfulness-based stress reduction course takes eight weeks, hence the inspiration to do this blog in eight parts. So, here we are on Part 8, and I feel good calling this the end. After all, the best forms of entertainment are often the ones that understand when to end and how to end. For example: Breaking Bad. For not example: Lost.
I saved the best science fact for the end: You can train your brain to do things that it wasn't originally meant to do. "Neuroplasticity" is a relatively new scientific term, but its understanding has served as the bridge between science and contemplative studies. If you keep up with your mindfulness practice, you can begin to literally change the way your brain works. This kind of control is exciting to me, especially when I feel like so many things are out of my control.
To make this change happen, keep practicing. If you want your body to be more physically fit, you have to be continuously aware of the number of calories going in and the number of sit-ups going out. If you want your mind to be more mentally fit, you have to be just as diligent and disciplined about your routine. Our culture is very concerned about obesity. But, we also have a name for when people don't exercise their mind; it's called stress. And unfortunately, society is much more fearful to learn how to care for this problem. Perhaps that's why we're quick to show concern when someone says they're in physical therapy, but we're quick to judge when someone says they're in mental therapy.
So, I leave you with a few final ways to begin a mindful life that go beyond reading this blog.
1. Make minor adjustments to your day
Do you make blindly hitting the snooze button worthy of being an Olympic sport?
Try waking up the first time. Sit up in your bed and use those extra few minutes to get in a round of purposeful breathing.
Do you spend one hour making dinner and one minute eating it?
I know I do. Every meal is like a contest that I'm determined to win. I now try to eat more slowly and make sure I really taste the food that I'm lucky to be eating.
Do you spend your showers in random thought?
The shower is a perfect opportunity to be in a mindful state. Focus on your breath, notice the feel of the water, and be thankful for the warmth. Oh, also, clean yourself.
Do you browse through every form of social media before you go to sleep to ensure you are fully updated on everybody's current emotional state?
Try browsing through your own mind and check in on your emotional state.
2. Read a book on mindfulness.
There seems to be a new trend in writing about life. Do a search for books on mindfulness; perhaps find one that breaks an eight-week mindfulness course into chapters. If you see a book written by or forwarded by Jon Kabat-Zinn, its a keeper. He's like Zeus in the world of mindfulness.
3. Download a mindful app.
Try an app that times your meditation or simply plays soft sounds in the background. One option is the app "Headspace," which has received a lot of attention due to its consistent success. And they're not even paying me to say that.
4. Take a mindfulness course
Check out the medical schools and hospitals that are near you to see if any mindfulness courses are offered. There are also several meditation centers that offer daily courses and retreats. UMass Medical School (where Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was born) offers a nice listing of retreat centers here.
5. Say "neuroplasticity" in conversation at least three times this week.
You will appear smarter than the people around you. So, even if none of the meditation stuff interests you, at least you got something out of reading all of this.
While you're exploring, my hope is that you find someone along the path that you can talk with about your thoughts, emotions, mindful trials and successes.
If you can't find a friend, I would be happy to be that person for you. Shoot me an email at email@example.com. I know it may seem like an odd offer, but we really need to get this conversation started. Using mindfulness to address our everyday mental health can be a weird topic to bring up in conversation, so I hope we can begin making it the new normal. To do that, perhaps we can move beyond writing blogs and books about life in our 20s and begin building bonds with each other. Shame can be a thick blanket to hide under. Finding another human who can relate to life's troubles can make it easier to come out from under the covers.
And then stay tuned for my next blog series, which will probably be called, Lessons in Your 20s: Never Share Your Personal Email on the Internet.
Much peace to you,
(Part 8 of a crash course on mindfulness in your twenties. Click here for the last post.)