It is now being proven scientifically that a happy and healthy outlook to both ourselves and to life affects our mind in many noticeable ways. We do not get such a mindset by ignoring or denying negative feelings and pretending to be happy. Rather, we do it by becoming a good gardener, methodically and carefully removing the weeds of discontent while cultivating beautiful flowers.
Qualities such as kindness, compassion and forgiveness are the seeds we want to plant in order to cultivate a beautiful garden. But the self-centered ego's need for grasping, gaining and selfishness easily buries them. We are all capable of losing our cool, getting caught up in hot emotions and causing harm. When we only focus on our own concerns and problems we become too self-engrossed to really acknowledge anyone else's issues. These are the weeds we need to pull up, as are moments of closed-heartedness or anger, self-doubt and insecurity. We can bring mercy and tenderness to those places, to the wounded parts, so the fight within us can come to an end. And when we step beyond ourselves, then the ability to cultivate kind and caring qualities becomes possible.
When Ed was going through a difficult patch in his life he realized that he was stuck in his mind, which felt like being stuck in a paper bag. He had nowhere to go, just caught up in his own issues. It was like his mind was overcome by weeds, with no flowers to be found. He finally realized that our true mind is like the sky. Just as the sky has storms, wind, rain, and tornadoes, but is not affected by these things, so our true mind has worries, upsets and fears, but need not be affected by them.
In our recent book, BE THE CHANGE, we interviewed over 100 inspired people in all walks of life who verify the importance of transforming anger and self-negation into acceptance and generosity. Among them is scientist Richard Davidson who, along with the Dalai Lama and psychologist Daniel Goleman, has opened the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here, a team of researchers will study such qualities as kindness, compassion and forgiveness, and how they affect the brain. The fact that such brilliant people have established this center highlights the importance of developing positive thinking versus maintaining negative thinking, such as self-dislike, anger and hatred.
Meditation is hugely important in this. In fact, kindness and compassion are such clear outcomes of meditation that there is now an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation stimulates the circuits in the brain associated with contentment, happiness and the feel-good factor. Dr Davidson has scientifically studied Buddhist monks while they were meditating. When asked to focus on compassion, their brains reflected a remarkable generation of clarity and intensified kindness. The center is probably the only place in the world where there is a meditation room next to the lab!
"By training the mind, we can actually change the brain toward greater contentment," says Dr. Davidson in Be The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. "There is certainly evidence to show that meditation practices designed to cultivate compassion and loving kindness change the brain in many positive ways."
A regular practice of meditation can produce discernible changes in the brain in a matter of just eight weeks, which indicates that we can quite purposefully and systematically develop qualities such as kindness and compassion. 'Be Good and Do Good' is a great mantra for this!
To feel the difference in yourself try the practice below, or one of our meditation CD's.
Pulling Weeds Meditation
Find a comfortable and upright place to sit. Take a few deep breaths, then watch the flow of your breath as it enters and leaves.
Now bring your focus to your heart, and as you breathe in feel as if your heart is opening and softening; as you breathe out, release any tension or resistance.
Now visualize yourself walking in a beautiful but overgrown garden. All sorts of colorful flowers surround you, but among them are numerous weeds.
You find a place to sit amidst the plants and with awareness you mindfully begin to remove the weeds. Each one represents a negative aspect of yourself or your life. Name it as you remove it, and watch it leave your mind as you discard.
The more weeds you remove the lighter you feel, as if a weight is being removed from you. As you do this, the flowers are growing stronger and brighter.
Stay here as long as you like. You may not have time to pull up all the weeds, so before you leave promise that you will be back again to remove some more.
When you are ready, silently repeat three times, "May I be happy, may my mind be like a beautiful garden." Take a deep breath and let it go. Then fill the rest of your day with kindness and smiles.
What weeds do you need to pull out of your garden? Do comment below. You can receive notice of our blogs every Tuesday by checking Become a Fan at the top.
You can learn more in our award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, or from our three meditation CD's.
Enjoy our Friday weekly blogs on Oprah.com/spirit
Our latest book won the 2010 Nautilus Gold Book Award: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie, Dan Millman, Michael Beckwith and others.
Our 3 meditation CD's: Metta--Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi-Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra-Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: www.EdandDebShapiro.com
Follow Ed and Deb Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/edanddebshapiro