A lot of us have heard about mindfulness and its possible benefits. Recently I have learned a few interesting things about the brain that have made the benefits of mindfulness meditation even clearer to me.

Meditation produces a thickening of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the cerebral hemispheres above and behind the eyes. The prefrontal cortex increased in size massively during our evolution into human beings and it may hold the key to our human potential.

Bodywork practices like somatics, kum nye and somatic meditation utterly depend on the vigorous activity of the prefrontal cortex. These explorations depend on bringing into conscious awareness my thoughts and emotions, sensations and feelings in a way that allows me to observe them dispassionately. I can then choose to engage with them or not. I have a choice. Choice is a function of the prefrontal cortex.

This ability to observe kindly and dispassionately doesn’t come easily. It needs to be trained.

My life is an expression of my thoughts and emotions, feelings and sensations. Much of this activity is unconscious and hence not really lived by me as a conscious person.

Much of my life is lived on remote, in a reactive way. My body-brain complex may be infinitely complex and beautiful in its activity but it has been conditioned into healthy and unhealthy activity and reactivity during my life. The lives of my parents and their parents has also been conditioned into me. 

Maybe my destiny, the destiny written into me through my prefrontal cortex, is to wake up to this unconscious conditioning, know it and heal what needs to be healed. My destiny is surely to be a conscious participant in my life. I can be creative, free and intelligent. 

It is the activity of the prefrontal cortex that allows me to wake up my unconscious experience. This is done through focused mindful attention. I can begin to open to the direct experience of who I actually am, of what is actually going on in my body and my life. This experience of waking up can feel like a new birth, a new life, my life. 

The imperative to wake up, I now realise, is encoded in my prefrontal cortex. The drive to liberate myself from unconscious habits is built into me. This attentive prefrontal cortex has beautiful qualities of acceptance and kindness as well as spaciousness and freedom. It is a magnificent part of my brain.

The more of my experience I can bring into conscious awareness, the richer my life can be and the more flexible and resilient I can be in my responses to myself and others. 

Mindful attention needs to be cultivated. Like any other skill it needs practice and this is what meditation does. It may be the most important skill to cultivate of all, which is why it is finding its way into schools and healing therapies. 

Mindfulness practices cultivate the quality of bare attention, an open awareness that is unconditioned. This is a mind that is free to make choices. Maybe this is what human freedom means.

In mindfulness practice we cultivate the clear open presence of our fundamental nature, the ability to be present with whatever arises and to hold it gently. We become more alive to everything about our lives. We start to recognise the different impulses, thoughts, feelings and emotions that make us up. We develop the ability to accept what arises with kindness and equilibrium. 

As we train ourselves to abide in this still unconditioned part of the mind we start to see clearly. Now we can make good choices and become conscious creators of our own lives. 

It is the development of the prefrontal cortex that makes this possible.

Tibetan Buddhists say that all humans are destined for freedom. Now I understand why. We all have a prefrontal cortex. 

Dyana Wells, October 2019

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