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Mindful : August 2014
34 mindful August 2014 Until recently, I thought of meditation as the exclusive province of bearded swamis, unwashed hippies, and fans of John Tesh music. Moreover, since I have the attention span of a six-month-old yellow Lab, I figured it was something I could never do anyway. I assumed, given the constant looping, buzzing, and fizzing of my thoughts, that “clearing my mind” wasn’t an option. which can be trained the same way you build your body in the gym. This is radical, hopeful stuff. In fact, as I discov- ered, this new neuroscience has led to the flowering of an elite subculture of executives, athletes, and Marines who are using meditation to improve their focus, curb their addiction to technology, and stop being ya nked around by their emotions. Meditation has even been called the “new caffeine.” I suspect that if the practice could be denuded of all the spir- itual preening and straight-out-of-a -fortune-cookie lingo such as “sacred spaces,” “divine mother,” and “holding your emotions with love and tenderness,” it would be attractive to many more millions of smart, skeptical, and ambitious people who would never otherwise go near it. So how exactly did this skeptic learn to love meditation? The hard way. According to the Nielsen ratings, on June 7, 2004, 5.019 million people saw me lose my mind. I was on the set of Good Morning America, wearing my favorite new tie and a thick coating of makeup. My hair was overly coiffed and puffy. I Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, you’ll find—as I did once I realized my preconcep- tions were misconceptions—that meditation is sim- ply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. It’s not a miracle cure. It won’t make you taller or better-looking, nor will it mag ically solve all of your problems. In my experi- ence, meditation ma kes you 10% happier. Once you get the hang of it, the practice can cre- ate just enough space in your head so that when you get angry or annoyed, you’re less likely to take the bait a nd act on it. There’s even science to back this up—an explosion of new resea rch, complete with colorful MRI scans, demonstrating that meditation can essentially rewire your brain. This science challenges the common assumption that our levels of happiness, resilience, a nd kind- ness are set from birth. Many of us labor under the delusion that we’re perma nently stuck with all of the difficult parts of our personalities—that we are “hot-tempered,” or “shy,” or “sad”—a nd that these are fixed, immutable traits. We now know that many of the attributes we value most are, in fact, skills,