By Richard Daley
In his book Mindsight, Dr. Daniel Siegel mentions an “approach state.”
He defines this state as one which allows us to move toward, rather than away from challenging situations. This is not only in relation to external circumstances, it is also connected to our internal mental operations. This approach state is considered by Dr. Siegel to be the neural basis for resilience.
Resilience is the quality of an individual that allows them to get back up after being knocked down.
This trait enables one to look at stress as an opportunity, not as something to fear. Research has identified some components that support resilience. Among those traits are a positive attitude, optimism and the ability to regulate emotions.
Techniques can be utilized to stop, breathe, perceive the impact of the outside world and relate to our own inner experience. A few well-known methods are yoga, meditation, tai chi or exploring nature. Scientific studies have shown that people who train in these types of disciplines have a shift in their brain toward an approach state.
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the now world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction—MBSR—Clinic. Dr. Kabat-Zinn drew inspiration from the traditional elements of meditation and mindfulness found in Buddhism, and created a secular program to assist people with a range of conditions and challenges. Using a combination of techniques including mindfulness, meditation, body awareness and yoga, this training has shown enhanced left frontal brain activity in the participants following completion.
This electrical variation is thought to be correlated to the development of the aforementioned approach state.
What the studies show about some of these techniques
1. Fifth-grade girls who did a 10 week program of yoga and other mindfulness practices were more satisfied with their bodies and less preoccupied with weight.
2. After fifteen weeks of practicing MBSR, counseling students reported improved physical and emotional well-being, and a positive effect on their counseling skills and therapeutic relationships.
3. A prison offering Vipassana meditation training for inmates found that those who completed the course showed lower levels of drug use, greater optimism and better self-control, which could reduce recidivism.
By practicing awareness exercises we can develop resilience through the investigation of negative thoughts or trying circumstances. Working toward recognizing the impermanence of all physical and mental events is a key factor on the path. Focusing our energy on situations that we have control over will have a big impact on achieving the approach state. Spending too much time focusing on uncontrollable events—internal or external—can result in feeling lost.
The truth is that we are able to take action, and with the right intention we can develop skillful behaviors and practices that will bring us more happiness, and give us the techniques to face the ups and downs of life.
Simple breath meditation instruction
Find a comfortable sitting position and begin the practice.
Breathing in, know that you are breathing in.
Breathing out, know that you are breathing out.
Breathing in a long breath, know, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’
Breathing out a long breath, know, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.’
Breathing in a short breath, know, ‘I am breathing in a short breath.’
Breathing out a short breath, know, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’
Stay focused on the breath, and if something else comes to mind, take note of it, and refocus on the breath and continue the practice. Practice for as long as you like.
Maybe you already have an awareness practice, or maybe today is the day to consider developing one. We are always in the position to start (or restart) working toward the approach state. The more we practice and develop, the more we build up our resilience.
The more we build resilience, the easier it becomes to live a happier, fuller life.
Richard’s writing draws inspiration from Buddhism, psychology, neuroscience, and sometimes his passion for plant life and bonsai. Some of the central principles in Buddhist practice are compassion, wisdom, meditation and equanimity. Richard attempts to integrate these principles into his content, and share ways that we can analyze, and make sense of our experience in an uncertain world.See more about Richard here on his website.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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