Meditation is exercise. Just like our bodies need to exercise to some degree to process the calories and nutrients we intake every day, we also have to do this with the other four “bodies” of well-being. This article specifically will focus on Mental Exercise and what that means for our intellectual well-being.
Our mental “body”, or intellectual well-being is something that is often lumped into many other concepts. The basis we will be working from though, is that our mental body is where our thoughts and ideas happen. The emotionless aspects of thoughts as they pop into your head. A thought is not your emotion or your spirit, and clearly not your body. It’s an event of the mind. As we go throughout our day our attention and mind are constantly fighting to stay focused on whatever it is that is in front of us. Advertisements on the radio, billboards, social media, all of these things and more are begging to steal a second of your mental energy. Try to look somewhere without seeing “branding” or “Marketing”. Each of these tiny aspects fights for even the tiniest spec of your thoughts and attention, and if we are not careful, they can take over our thoughts entirely.
If we move from one advertisement, to another, one cry of attention or call to action to another, our mind becomes weak and incapable of producing its own original and impressive thoughts because it spends its existence processing the thoughts of others. It’s an addictive mind-state to be in. It seems easier to process other thoughts than to process our own. To be told what and how to think as opposed to developing your own thoughts, doom-scrolling our lives away. Our minds weaken without us realizing. For these reasons it is important that we as humans embark on some sort of mental exercise. Not simply “brain games” on your phone or computer, but something a bit more intimate. My suggestion, and I believe the most direct answer, is meditation. Meditation comes in many different forms. In fact as we move on from our mental body in the future, we will discuss topics of “emotional meditation” or “Spiritual meditation” but a basic meditation practice has to come before those.
Which Type of Meditation?
Of the many forms of meditation, my favorite for beginners is a type mindfulness meditation(there are many). This practice involves simply sitting quietly and observing thoughts as they stumble into your mind. It seems easy, but it is far more difficult than it appears. At first it is simple to acknowledge “I think that” or even “A thought I’m having is this”, but that is not the end of meditation. You must then be able to process that thought and allow it to leave. This is the part that is troublesome, or at least was for me. In the beginning my brain, like so many others, would spring from this initial thought into a chain of linked thoughts, and before I even remembered I was supposed to be observing them, I had gone through fifteen different thoughts that didn’t even seem related. It is easy for our brain to ride this frequency, jumping from one thought to the next. No regard to why the thoughts arise, only how they impact our immediate circumstances. When we are able to slow down, ask ourselves what we are thinking, where it came from, and how to let it go? Once we do this we start to feel the power of our mental well-being streaming back into our bodies.
This feeling is empowering. We begin to feel control over our thoughts, instead of being controlled by them. We become more knowledgeable of who we are, and what we are becoming. The oracle of Delphi said that to “To know oneself, is to know God” and even though that was written nearly 2600 years ago, the weight it holds is just as heavy as the day it was said. By sitting with our own thoughts, and observing them openly and freely, we begin to know ourselves as deeply and openly. There are many different guided meditations and incredible information on the internet about how to practice mindfulness meditation, so I won’t dive too deep into direction. I will however explain the process that works for me.
My Mindfulness Meditation:
- Sit or lay comfortably. Spine as straight and body fully relaxed as you can manage. We do not want to fall asleep, but we have to be free of tension that will draw our focus while meditating.
- Close our eyes and just breathe for a minute to get into the rhythm. Sometimes it helps to focus on our breath in and out if the mind is racing too fast to observe
- As our brain begins to slow, ask ourself simply “what am I thinking” either aloud or quietly. This at times even becomes a mantra.
- When you realize you are having a thought, anything, no matter what it is, observe the thought by mentaling saying (I am thinking:) followed by that thought.
- Let that thought fade out, just as it faded into your head, and transition back to “what am I thinking”, repeat steps 4-5 for the duration of the meditation.
As you continue his practice, the verbal, and even mental “mantra” become less necessary as it becomes easier to observe your thoughts and let them go without needing to guide them in and out of your head-space. This is the basis for how I began practicing mindfulness meditation. It is not a deep dive into everything mindfulness is, but it was a great place to start for me because it showed me that, just as I am not my body, I am also not my thoughts, my emotions, or my spirit. I am all these together and apart. Each is an aspect of me, not the human identity.
It is my hope that this short article might inspire others to reach into their own mind and practice some form of meditation to exercise and strengthen their mental well-being. It is easy to fall out of practice with, but every single time I return I am reminded of why humanity needs meditation, just like we need food, exercise, or connection. The practice of meditation strengthens and balances our air element by focusing on our mental well-being and strengthening our connection to the intellectual aspect of ourselves. On top of this, meditation can also be used in connection with other emotional or spiritual aspects of our life and health, and because of this is incredible for our general mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I guarantee if you enact a single month of dedicated meditation practice, even just 10 minutes a day, you will see a measurable change in your life.