One of the biggest stumbling blocks to establishing a mindfulness practice is, well, ourselves. Our mind believes and responds well to the words we tell it, especially negative ideas. Negative thoughts such as, “I can’t do this,” “I can’t stop thinking,” “I’m doing this wrong” serve to only keep us from getting the most out of the practice. But, let the frustration flow and go because almost without fail those ideas will arise at some point in your practice.
One way to understand how we can get caught up in old ways of thinking/actions while also having hope that possibilities exist for a different way through mindfulness practice is to image our brains like a super highway.
When we have a thought neurons fire in the brain creating a pathway. Over years of thinking and acting in a certain way we strengthen the path so that more and more neurons can gain easier access through our brain. Very much like a super highway, roadways are created so that cars can pass. Highways are developed to let more cars gain easier access to get to where they need to get to more quickly.
While these super highways can be beneficial in many ways they can also serve to make doing something new or our ability to break a pattern of thinking/behavior somewhat challenging. However, no matter how small the change in our thinking or actions does make a difference. Trying to think or act differently automatically develops an on off ramp for the super highway running through our brain. This new pathway is small compared to the well established path we have used for years. When we encounter the next situation our neurons want to take the easiest, fastest path (the super highway). It takes intentional effort to redirect the neurons to the off ramp.
Practicing mindfulness helps us develop new pathways in the brain. Our thoughts will surely try to follow the super highway that has been laid again and again. The task is to continue to come back to the new pathway. Over time what was once a small rut in the road, will become a dirt road, then a two lane highway, and finally, if we persist with the practice of mindfulness over years we will develop another super highway which may overlay the old pathway. This gives our neurons an alternate route to process information and helps shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world in a new way. Ultimately, there is hope in consistent effort and kindness toward oneself. A little mindfulness practice each day goes a long way in creating a positive super highway through our brains.