These pointers are from the article: Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st-Century View of Meditation by Rick Hanson, PhD in which he answers a question about ways to shift the neurobiologic habit of the mind from going to negativity. He is talking about how to use mindful attention to rewire our brain so we can rest our attention on what is useful and away from fear and desire
He says, “the untrained mind is continually scanning for either something to want or something to fear – in other words, for a problem to solve.” These are ways to turn that tendency of the mind to shift to being present.
The following five steps are a synthesis from the article and you can find the complete question and answers, from which these were taken, below.
1. Bring your awareness to the sensations of breathing and set an intention to stay with the object of your attention while doing the practice.
2. Relax. Take some long exhalations, longer than your inhalations, and take care to relax your tongue.
3: Feel as safe as you reasonably can.
4. Open to feelings of simple well-being.
5. Get a sense of your awareness being like boundless space.
You can include these steps in formal meditiation or mindfully refer back to them throughout the course of your day.
According to Dr. Hanson, “The point here is to use mindful attention to rest our awareness on what is useful to us and then work skillfully to get those neurons firing together so that they wire together wholesome tendencies inside ourselves.”
The following is the segment from the original article from which this was taken. It’s a good idea to read it to get familiar with the longer explanation to have a deeper understanding of how to do the process.
Vieten: You talk about practical neuroscience and training so that we can begin to shift that habit of mind. What are some of the ways we can begin to do that?
Hanson: First, to contextualize it, there are thousands of years of methods of attention training that work if people really do them. People sometimes describe contemplative practitioners who have a lifelong practice of hours a day as the Olympic athletes of mental training. What neuroscience has added is scientific evidence of the value in these methods, and by studying what happens in the brain when it is stably mindful, we learn targeted ways to nourish the neural substrates of attention in people who do not live in a monastery but are dodging cars in Manhattan or something like that.
For example, here’s a basic practice made of five steps, or suggestions. Anyone can do any one of these to whatever extent he or she wants. But don’t do this while driving, and if you start to feel uncomfortable, feel free to stop. You can practice these suggestions with your eyes open or closed, though it might be simpler to do with your eyes closed.
To begin, bring your awareness to the sensations of breathing. If there’s anything about paying attention to your breathing that makes you uncomfortable, which is the case for some people with a history of trauma, rest your attention instead on something you find mildly pleasant or simply neutral, such as the sensations in your feet or a phrase such as “May I be happy” or “May my family be well.”
Now, set an intention to stay with the object of your attention for the next few minutes while doing this practice. Whether it’s your breath or a phrase or anything else, set the intention in your mind to stay present with that object of attention. You could either set this intention top down by using words such as “I’m going to stay attentive here” or set your intention from the bottom up by getting a felt sense inside yourself of mindfulness.
The second step or suggestion is to relax. Take some long exhalations, longer than your inhalations, and take care to relax your tongue.
The third suggestion is to feel as safe as you reasonably can. Sometimes this can be a challenge because it can make us nervous to lower our guard, and if so, take a moment to recognize that wherever you are is probably a protected and comfortable place. Get a sense of the good people who support you in your life, as well as a sense of your own strengths that enable you to deal with whatever life brings. With this basis, explore lowering your guard and being less braced against life.
Moving on to the fourth suggestion, open to feelings of simple well-being. Without straining or forcing anything, encourage gentle feelings of happiness and gratitude. For example, forests make me happy, and I am grateful for the smell of oranges. Whatever works for you, allow a sense of positive emotion to fill you. There may well be other feelings, even negative feelings; don’t resist them. Let them come and let them go, as you keep bringing your attention back to feeling as good as you can in the moment.
The fifth suggestion is to get a sense of your awareness being like boundless space. Notice that awareness has no edges, no bounds. In a sense, it is infinite, like the sky or space. In that vast space, different experiences come and go, and you now have a panoramic sense of experiences arising and passing in the vast space of your awareness. You have a kind of bird’s-eye view of thoughts, sensations, sounds, feelings, desires, memories, whatever, coming and going in boundless, open space. Feel free to enjoy whatever is worthwhile in whatever you’re feeling.