While hard work gets us ahead, there appear to be limits. It's often the times of rest and recovery that provide us with the energy we need to work hard. In today's ultra-connected worlds of iPhones, email and Twitter, it is often hard to get even a few moments to oneself.
The constant feeling of connectedness and activity might lead some people to become anxious and stressed. Possibly it is the constancy of the connectedness rather than the connectedness itself that is making the difference.
A February 5, 2008 news release from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago cited a study by Dante Chialvo, Professor in the Department of Physiology, on a related topic: "People with unrelenting pain don't only suffer from the nonstop sensation of throbbing pain. They also have trouble sleeping, are often depressed, anxious and even have difficulty making simple decisions."
The study indicates that in a "healthy" brain, there is a state of equilibrium between the different regions in the brain, with regions quieting down when others are active. However, for those in chronic pain, a front region of the cortex mostly associated with emotion "never shuts up."
This constant state of being on the go could cause permanent changes in the brain. "We know when neurons fire too much they may change their connections with other neurons or even die because they can't sustain high activity for so long," he explained. Chialvo went on to note the impact that this permanent change in wiring might have on a chronic patient's daily activity, saying it "may make it harder for you to make a decision or be in a good mood to get up in the morning. It could be that pain produces depression and the other reported abnormalities because it disturbs the balance of the brain as a whole." Chronic means never ending or always present. This study shows that ceaseless pain does not allow the sufferer's brain to take a break.
While most of us, thankfully, are not in chronic pain, many of us are chronically distracted. Might this too affect how our brains function? Without the mini breaks that were once common in daily life, our brains have become switched to a constant go provoked by unending stimulus.
Indeed, we often go in several directions at once, multi-tasking in an effort to get items off of our "to-do" lists and onto our "done" lists. Seldom do you see people just driving, they are often also talking on the phone and possibly even emailing or texting as well, trying to get it all done.
There might be a simple way to combat this constant state of turning off the mind. Though this may seem simple to accomplish, it is not. The good news is that, according to "Train your Mind, Change Your Brain"," by Sharon Begley, (Ballantine Books, 2007) our brains have the ability to not only grow based on mental training, but we can alter how our brains work and connect based on mental training through meditation. This means that we can train our brains and thereby affect our emotions.
According to Begley, mental training through meditation focusing on love and compassion increases happiness and contentment. Rather than reacting constantly to what happens to us based on our outer environment, meditation literally rewires the brain, providing us with the ability to more easily summon calming, happy thoughts and remain in control.
Begley cites studies indicating the longer the training, the bigger the impact. Signifying that, perhaps, our ability to be happy reflects how often we have practiced having calm, happy thoughts. This falls in line with the chronic pain study's findings. It makes sense that if chronic pain can impair brain operation, then chronic meditation might have a profound healing influence.
After all, as Aristotle said, "Happiness depends on ourselves." And "we are what we repeatedly do."
In meditation, a mantra is repeated. Possibly if we can slow down and repeat thoughts of love and kindness for others as well as ourselves, we can provide our brains with the rest they need, which will in turn change our outlook on life. Take time this spring to take a break and meditate.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.