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This is Your Brain on Zen

This is Your Brain on Zen

A modern take on mindfulness and meditation that actually (mostly) makes sense.

You may have heard of this trend of mindfulness or being present to the moment in recent years or seen it portrayed in the media somehow, but what’s the first thing that comes into your head when you hear the word mindfulness or better yet “meditation”?

An old Zen monk sitting with his legs crossed and eyes shut atop a mountain for 4 days? A west coast hippie spreading the love with a PETA sign outside your front lawn? Or maybe even just your everyday happy-go-lucky neighbour who’s always a little too happy to see you and decided the live the “good life” by taking up the practice.

Although we don’t want to discredit the people out there like this, we want to help you bust the myth of the Zen stereotype. Simply put, as long as you have a brain and a relatively busy life, living more mindfully is for you. You can still continue to be the same person that got out of bed this morning, no personality changes necessary.

Mindfulness does not require a strict life of practice, never getting upset, being incredibly nice to everyone, shaving your head and always talking with a gentle soothing voice.

Although sometimes a few personality tweaks may be for the better, the point I am trying to make is that the Zen lifestyle is not as serious as you may think it to be. The most important aspect to maintain as you go about it (as with almost anything in life) is consistency.

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So why do people get into it in the first place, what’s the point? To put it straight, it declutters your mind from the non-stop onslaught of thought that we are normally used to.

Try it yourself, take some time to step back and notice your thinking patterns throughout the day - you’ll quickly realize that almost all the time your mind is somewhere else, worrying about the next thing coming up, dwelling on something that already happened, or painting a beautiful picture of what you would like your future to look like.

Kinda shocking when you first realize it but don’t worry, this is actually completely normal. Everyone does it but what we may not realize is that this constant stream of thought bombards the thinking pathways in our brains causing us to be less focused in what we’re currently doing. Less focus = more stress.

Not only that, but if the thoughts are negative (which a lot of the time they unfortunately are) your brain reinforces these negative thoughts in your head through repeated use, leading to a negative general attitude towards life - not exactly something you want.

So you can look at the practice of mindfulness as emptying your mind’s trash can. Thoughts build up in your head and fill your thinking mind up with mental garbage over time.

Meditation (or mindfulness, these words can sometimes be used interchangeably) is a way to flush all these thoughts out for you to be able to go back to the clean slate of mind you were born with.

Thoughts will always find their way back in, which is why it is important to maintain consistency as previously mentioned; you can’t just put the trash out on the street once in your life and expect your home to be clean forever. It is a daily practice that over time will become second nature. Like riding a bike but for your brain.

That Sounds Pretty Cool, How Do I Get in on This?

Now take it easy there, not all at once. Before getting into full on meditation practices, it’s a good idea to start with the first step. Begin with taking notice of your thoughts from time to time throughout the day. Don’t need to do anything about it, just be aware of what you're thinking about and the general pattern your thoughts follow on a daily basis.

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Mentally pull yourself out of whatever you’re doing and note your thoughts, you may be surprised with what you find out, or it may be exactly what you expected.

Next time you brush your teeth, eat dinner, drive to work or whatever you do take note of exactly what is going through your head, because chances are it’s not what’s currently in front of your eyes.

The foundation of more mindful living is being aware - you can’t spell mindfulness without awareness (well you can but you get my point!).

Try this out for a few days and see how you feel; I’ve done this for a while now and personally I can’t live a day without stepping back and taking note of my thoughts like this throughout. It can be addicting but well, this is your brain on Zen.


Filip Zieba

Executive mind wellness enthusiast from Toronto, Canada making sense of mindfulness and Zen culture for the modern world.