Imagine that I bought you a brand new car, filled it with a full tank of gas [petrol in the UK, as I am writing this from a wonderful retreat center near Canterbury owned by my friend Louise, founder of Mindfulness at Work] and handed you the keys. While you may have driven a car before, you are not too familiar with how automobiles work or how to really take care of them. Excited with this surprise gift, you soon head out on a long road trip. After you drive a few hundred miles, a warning light comes on in your dashboard with a graphic indicating that you are running low on gas. So you look for a gas station, pull in and fill up.
You continue driving until the warning light comes again and you fill up your car once more with gas. You reach your destination and feel very good about your new car. A few days later, you drive back home and are thrilled with the newly found m0bility and are so excited about the future. So you continue this behavior for several months and drive thousands of miles more. As the miles keep adding up, your car seems to behave a little different. While there don’t not seem to be any visible sign or problem, the car seems to sluggish. So, you check the gauges and nothing seems really odd and you continue. Finally, one day you start seeing smoke in your rear view mirror. You panic and take your car to the auto mechanic who asks you when you last changed the oil and you look puzzled and ask, “What oil?”
This seems very similar to how most of us view our body and mind. We feed our body when we are hungry, much like we fill gas when the warning light comes on. Most people don’t even think about their mind or the organ behind it, the brain. So, how many do you think make the effort to nurture their mind or brain?
Those who are aware of the need to take good care of themselves, seem to take better care of the bodies than their minds. In reality though, they need to take good care of both their bodies and their minds. Eating healthy food and a balanced diet is a great way to nourish your body. Getting enough sleep everyday is a great way to not only rest your body, but also rest your mind. The only caveat here is that sleep does not necessarily rest your mind the entire time that you are asleep and if you’re restless, it could be a lot worse.
A great way to nourish your mind is to engage in some kind of contemplative or reflective exercise that involves paying close attention to something like walking, breathing, a sound and other appropriate element. When your mind wanders or a thought distracts you and grabs your attention away, all you need to do is to gently divert your attention back to your contemplative activity. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It’s fairly simply way to give you mind a rest.
Consider what would happen to you if you never slept. After a few days, you simply could not function. The brain on the other hand can go on much longer, but eventually does get fatigued. So, if you can function fairly well for a significant length of time without consciously giving your mind a break, imagine how much better you could be if you had a well rested mind.
For all these wonderful reasons, I urge you to consider taking even a few minutes a day and give your mind a break. We are now learning through Neuroscience that just a few minutes of a contemplative practice can impact the structure of the brain in a very positive way. Just like your car needs both gas and oil to run well, we need to care for the body and the mind to live well.
Be well and happy,