The newest brain science is demonstrating that the ancient technique of mindfulness meditation, practiced just twenty minutes a day, can act like a neurosurgeon’s scalpel to carve the brain into a better-working, better-loving masterpiece.
More than you might expect, the wiring of your brain for relationships is determined by some of your very earliest experiences in childhood. The good news is that you can re-wire your brain for better relationships, using simple, 2,500-year-old mind-training techniques that are as sure as a neurosurgeon, but without all the mess.
The newest brain science is demonstrating that the ancient technique of mindfulness meditation, practiced just twenty minutes a day, can act like a neurosurgeon’s scalpel to carve the brain into a better-working, better-loving masterpiece. Hard-core research institutions including Harvard and UCLA have conducted studies showing that this particular form of meditation can result in measurable, observable differences in the structures and connections in the brain which are crucial in how we do relationships.
Many of us started out with brain hardware and software installed very early on – in the first year or two of life – which was less-than-ideal for creating maximum happiness, relationship, and health potentials. Your brain is largely wired through your experiences – if you’re a cab driver in New York City, your brain wiring and structures get amped up in areas responsible for information like maps and navigation. The changes in the brains of cabdrivers can actually be seen when looking at their brain scans.
So, when we’re little babies dependent upon our relationships for our very survival, our experiences of love and attachment are the life-and-death equivalent of the cabdriver’s wired-in maps. The brain areas which develop in response to our very earliest relationships are the same bits of wiring and structures which, when we grow up, very powerfully direct how emotional connections with others are understood and responded to — often in an “under the radar” way. If your experiences of love and relationships start out tangled, the wiring in your brain about being in relationships gets tangled. Those wiring tangles can continue to affect how you do relationships for many years to come.
As you continue to grow, you have more and more complex experiences, and your brain continues to develop in response to them. Other relationship experiences come in and further shape your brain’s abilities and style in trusting and bonding.
As we grow, our relationship “wiring tangles” also get compounded as our language and thinking skills increase. We rely more and more heavily on our words and our intellects – essential for many things we do in life, but words and intellectual understanding are also part of what makes undoing those relationship wiring tangles so difficult: Your early relationship wiring isn’t readily accessible through the usual thinking, problem-solving, and attempts at behavioral change.
The good news is that you can give yourself a second chance for relationship brain wiring – you can access it, just not in the ways you’ve been trying with that thinking, problem-solving brain of yours. You can’t go back in time and do your early life over, but you can amplify the same circuits that would have been powered up by optimal, early experiences of love and connection.
You can do this by using mindfulness meditation to “heavy up” the essential wiring. Your brain gets better at making sense of incoming emotional information without jumping to conclusions, reacting out of old habits, or getting stuck in emotional dead-ends like worry or grudges.
With practice, your brain is wired better to do the right stuff with the incoming information, helping you to better evaluate what’s happening in the moment, and what’s your “old stuff” getting in the way. And it can then allow you to respond to others in balanced, mindful ways that support solid, healthy relationships.
As if that weren’t enough, the changes seen in people who practice mindfulness meditation support well-being in a multitude of other ways as well, from enhanced immune function, to improved intuition, to slowing the effects of aging on your brain.
Many people are aware that their childhood has something to do with the adult issues they face. Unfortunately, this has often led to one of two life-limiting ruts for most people: Getting stuck in blaming your parents for your problems and abdicating responsibility for creating your life, or feeling “broken” and lost about what to do in the face of it. You might come to understand, intellectually, what it is you keep doing wrong, but you keep falling back into the same patterns of relationships, and the same habits of blaming either yourself or your parents.
Here’s where the big shift is, using the neuroscience of mindfulness meditation: By understanding that your brain wiring is a large part of what keeps you stuck in your old patterns and habits, you can free yourself up. You can fix the problem, by actually rewiring your brain and breaking lifelong, unproductive habits of how you perceive and respond to the stuff of relationships.