Notic­ing mood can change the world Mind­ful­ness Man Martin Ste­pek

Sunday Herald Life - - NEWS -

THE core sci­en­tific ba­sis of mind­ful­ness is neu­ro­plas­tic­ity. Al­though the idea was sug­gested by many sci­en­tists and thinkers the term was coined by Pol­ish neu­ro­phys­i­ol­o­gist Jerzy Konorski in the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury. It’s prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant think most peo­ple don’t know about them­selves.

It means that your way of think­ing, re­act­ing, and be­hav­ing is sub­ject to change at any and at all times. This hap­pens through pri­mar­ily ex­ter­nal events. In ev­ery­day terms we can think of it as on­go­ing cause and ef­fect. Some­one says some­thing un­pleas­ant about us and we be­come sad. We think of this as a one-off in­ci­dent; it hap­pened, now it’s gone. But in fact the ex­pe­ri­ence has em­bed­ded in your brain and in some sub­tle, un­con­scious way, changed you. It may be that you now like that per­son a lit­tle less, or you feel a tiny bit less con­fi­dent about the sub­ject of the re­mark. The ul­ti­mate ef­fect is that you are now a dif­fer­ent you as a re­sult of a sin­gle re­mark.

This flow and flux of causes and ef­fects, rip­ples that bump into you as life ex­pe­ri­ences, has been hap­pen­ing to you since the mo­ment your brain started to func­tion be­fore you were born. It’s still hap­pen­ing. You’re be­ing af­fected by the very fact of read­ing this col­umn.

But rip­ples aren’t things that just hap­pen to you and to ev­ery­one else. They are also cre­ated in turn by each of us. Ev­ery sin­gle thing you ei­ther think, feel emo­tion­ally, say, write or do causes ef­fects, rip­ples. Some of these rip­ples af­fect only our­selves. So a pleas­ant thought about how nice the weather is on a cold but clear and sunny win­ter’s morn­ing is not only pro­duced in our mind but the very fact of it be­ing pro­duced it­self af­fects your mind for the fu­ture. All the other forms of ac­tiv­ity you do usu­ally af­fect other peo­ple, in­clud­ing even our in­vol­un­tary fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

What does this tell us? That we’re sus­cep­ti­ble to change even if we don’t want to be, and more­over we are sus­cep­ti­ble to harm­ful or un­help­ful forms of change even with­out our aware­ness that this is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. It also tells us that we ca­pa­ble, wit­tingly or not, of hurt­ing other peo­ple and chang­ing how they per­ceive life, them­selves, oth­ers.

Given that this can and does hap­pen in virtually ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment, let’s look at an ex­treme ex­am­ple. Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand of Aus­tria is as­sas­si­nated in June 1914. A month later Aus­tria-Hun­gary de­clares war on Ser­bia. Four years later, 40 mil­lion peo­ple have been killed as a di­rect re­sult of that de­ci­sion to de­clare war. Other di­rect ef­fects are: Rus­sia has had a world-chang­ing rev­o­lu­tion lead­ing to the first com­mu­nist state, the Aus­trian and Ger­man em­pires have been de­stroyed, Poland re-emerges and Cze­choslo­vakia is cre­ated. The fur­ther ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this war leads to the Sec­ond World War in 1939.

What if the Aus­tri­ans de­cided not to go to war but in­stead to try to build bridges with Ser­bia? We can’t know the ef­fects but for hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple over the next cen­tury a dif­fer­ent fate would have re­sulted. All be­cause of one de­ci­sion.

This is why mind­ful­ness mat­ters so very much and why in my view ev­ery­one should learn to prac­tise it. It en­ables one to have a much bet­ter chance of notic­ing what’s go­ing on in each mo­ment. The more aware we are of the po­ten­tial of ex­ter­nal ef­fects on who we are, the bet­ter chance we have or gently let­ting them fall away with­out the ef­fect on us be­com­ing a re­al­ity. And the more aware we are of our own thoughts, moods, feel­ings and im­pulses, the more likely we’ll be of per­ceiv­ing that cer­tain ones are de­struc­tive or hurt­ful. Our mind­ful re­sponses may not pre­vent two world wars but they may help you not be­come a less happy ver­sion of your­self and may help you make some­one’s day brighter rather than darker. Martin Ste­pek is founder of Ten­forZen, of­fer­ing guided mind­ful­ness ses­sions in handy, 10 min­utes a day, au­dio cour­ses. Au­thor of four books, he is fre­quently asked to speak on mind­ful­ness, his re­mark­able fam­ily her­itage, and on busi­ness. See ten­forzen.co.uk and www.mar­tin­ste­pek.com or email martin@ten­forzen.co.uk

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