Your alarm clock rings early in the morning, but besides your effort you cannot open your eyes. You fall asleep again and after one second in your mind, but one hour in reality, you wake up in panic because you’re late. No time for shower or breakfast. You put your clothes without thinking and brush your teeth thinking about everything you have to do today. You leave and go almost running to work. Your stress level increases as the transport issues arrive in your way. You keep thinking about the passing time and your to-do list. Everything you see or listen reminds you about something you have to do and that you’re late!
You finally arrive at work and you’re already exhausted. You start to work on this important report, but you realize that, paradoxically, you have lots of thoughts but you’re unable to bring out your ideas. You insist because it’s important and you have to finish it before lunch. Suddenly you surprise yourself remembering this person you love, and you make the effort to bring your mind back to work. But then you realize you’re hungry, and you wonder out loud: “ok, let’s finish it fast and go eat!”.
You send the report and go for lunch. You feel relieved and happy for a while, till you realize you didn’t review your report and you wonder if there were no mistakes. You feel stressed again and you cannot stop thinking about that. You spend all lunch time trying to review it in your mind.
Coming back from lunch, all you can feel is the need of a nap. But you have all the afternoon to work on your large to-do list. So, you take some coffee and put yourself at work. You spend the rest of the day, answering emails, phone calls, messages. You spend the afternoon trying to focus, but always realizing that you’re dispersed by something or someone you remember, or by the anticipation of everything you need to do after.
By the end of the day, you are so exhausted that you go back home and give up on your physical activity and the diner with your friends. You take a shower, grab something to eat and go to bed. You’re so tired, but you take a while to fall asleep because you have still all these thoughts, images and ideas that pop up in your mind unbeknownst to you.
And then, your alarm clock rings again…
Is this story, totally or in part, familiar to you? Well, you’re not alone!
Our brain has an intense activity, so that the mind tends to disperse. The brain is constantly busy capturing ideas, evoking memories, making comparisons, associations, etc. All this unconsciously, automatically. The brain chooses “all alone” the information that will be considered important and therefore, treated and kept in memory, and those that will be rejected. Such unfocused mental activity means that, in most cases, we are overwhelmed by a multitude of external information and disconnected from us. We become passive thinkers, unable to guide our thinking.
Indeed, our brain is a magical instrument, able to accomplish, without the knowledge of our consciousness, more than 95% of everything we do, whether we are awake or not. Almost all of our mental life is a mixture of conscious and unconscious processes that reinforce each other, especially when motivation comes into play. Our conscious brain (mind) uses a lot of energy and is slower than our unconscious or automatic brain. For this reason, our brain works most of the time by avoiding, as soon as possible, to use its conscious part, so it cans save energy and act more quickly. Thus, even if we think we are very rational, our behavior and our decisions are rather guided by our automatisms.
Can we act on this unconscious part of our brain? Is there any interest in consciously stopping this whirlwind of thoughts that guide us, despite ourselves? The answer is “yes”, through the training of concentration and meditation, in other words, sustained attention and no thinking (saturating thought on one thing).
Currently, there are many behavioral studies that show, in electrography and neuroimaging, the importance of research on states of meditation. These works show that contemplative practices have a positive impact on both physical and mental health and cognitive performance.
At the physical level, these practices lead to a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as in the balance of the lipid profile. This has a beneficial effect on the protection of the cardiopulmonary system and on the strengthening of the immune system with anti-inflammatory effects.
At the mental level, the contemplative practices favor the attenuation of the conditions of pain, in particular the chronic pains. The level of stress and anxiety is greatly reduced by meditation, through an impact on emotions regulation.
Finally, at the level of cognitive ability, meditation training leads to a strengthening of cognitive processes and an improvement of selective and sustained attention, as well as working memory. Moreover, it increases perception and creativity, as well as interoceptive and self-awareness, as well as self-control.