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Meditation & Mindfulness Toward Positive Transformation and Fulfilment

by Alex Montagu(more info)

listed in meditation, originally published in issue 276 - February 2022

We all exist in two different worlds. One is the external world; the other is our inner world. We tend to spend all of our time in the outer world but very little, if any, in our internal world. Yet, the only reason we care so much about things that occur in the external world is that even though most of us are unaware of how and why, they directly affect our inner world. We want to feel love internally, so, we go about seeking it in the outer world. If someone you desire says "I love you" or looks deeply into your eyes, you may feel love at that moment. Yet as anyone who has ever broken up with someone they once "loved" will attest, that feeling eventually dissipates. Sometimes it may even be replaced by hate and anger, leading to divorce and even violence. The same is true with everything else we seek in the external world – money, status, fame – we desire them because they make us feel good internally. Similarly, we strive to avoid the things that make us feel bad internally – think of job loss or someone you like ignoring you. 




The problem is that we have no control over the external world. The external world doesn't always cooperate with the internal feelings we are seeking from it. For example, you desire someone very much, but they have no interest in you. Or you find and interview for the perfect job, but you are one of two final candidates and you don't get the job. The other problem is that the external world is constantly changing. You may get the job you want, but the following year your company is taken over, and you are made redundant. 

Our efforts to hold on to external experiences that make us feel good internally are therefore bound to fail and indeed do so more often than we would like. We are so caught up in seeking to fulfill our inner world through the external that we are not even aware that we are doing this. The vast majority of us spend our whole lives in this pattern. This is why we alternate between two primary emotional states: The first is a feeling of lack, want, and insufficiency. There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with things as they are; the present moment is inadequate. "If only I had a better job" or" if only I had more money" or "if only I had a partner who understood me." The other state is fear – this happens when "things go wrong" – think of a job loss, a break-up, investment losses.

Behaviourally, we seek to escape this underlying malaise in different ways: some people constantly travel, others drink or take drugs, gamble, or compulsively shop for items they neither need nor can afford. Yet these strategies, even if they provide a brief respite, are counter-productive and, far from resolving the underlying issue, they often exacerbate it.

For most of us, there are moments in our lives when we perhaps realize that grasping for our desires in the external world hasn't worked out, that there must be another way. But our conditioned patterns are so deeply ingrained that we fall back into them and do not pursue an alternative path.

Why are we stuck in this pattern? The answer is that we have no awareness of how we are stuck. Plato recognized this and wrote of it in the “Parable of the Cave” where he asked us to imagine a cave in which men were chained from birth. They were separated from each other by large partitions so that they could only see the wall in front of them. Behind them burns a fire, which casts shadows on the wall in front of them of various objects that are being carried behind them by others. The prisoners mistake the shadows for real people and real objects. They do not know that they are in a cave and are only seeing shadows, not reality.

This is the pattern in which we are stuck. We do not know that we are in a prison of our own making, that our thoughts and judgments are, in fact, shadows and not reality. We see the world through the lens of our past experiences and traumas. If, as a child, you received a beating from a man who wore a particular cologne, it is possible that later on in life, you may fear or have an aversion for any man who wears that scent. For the rest of your life, you are confusing a shadow cast on the wall of your mind for reality. 

Therefore, the first step is to recognize that, like the prisoners in Plato's cave, we are stuck in a pattern in which we mistake shadows for reality. Gaining awareness of this invisible mental prison will free us from it. This recognition or awareness is "mindfulness," a word whose use in our commercialized culture has obscured its true meaning.

Mindfulness is a quality of awareness of the present moment's reality without the fears and distortions of the mind. Mindfulness is seeing the real objects rather than their shadows.  

Meditation is a practice that is designed to cultivate mindfulness. By continuously bringing the mind back to the object of meditation – whether through breathing exercises, a mantra, or something else – meditation trains the mind to begin to see reality as it is by shifting our focus away from the distorted lens of our conditioned mental patterns. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, training the mind in meditation is sometimes compared to training a wild horse by continuously bringing it back to the path it has strayed from.  

Science calls this neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to create new neuronal connections that transcend the conditioned patterns. To understand this, imagine you are standing in a vast desert. As far and wide as you can see, there is nothing but desert and sand. You notice there are some footprints in the sand, and you automatically follow them.  The footprints are akin to the neuronal pathways of your mind, which your past conditioning has formed. If you are insecure and jealous, your neuronal pathways have been conditioned to follow a pattern of insecurity and jealousy that will continually recur in your life. You are following footprints that travel the pathway of insecurity and jealousy.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to create new neuronal pathways; instead of following the same old prints, you make new ones. While the brain's neuroplasticity has been shown to be most significant in our youth, science has shown that you can create new neuronal pathways into old age.  

However, while you can create new neuronal connections, it requires work and a proactive approach. This is because the existing patterns are deeply ingrained in the mind, which also explains the power of habits and habituated behaviors and reactions. If your mind automatically travels down the pathway of insecurity and jealousy, it will not change unless you work proactively to create new neuronal connections, new footprints in the sand, as it were. 

Meditation is a practice that has been shown to help create new neuronal pathways. It is because of its ability to transform the existing structures of the mind that meditation has been shown to have a host of benefits, including the reduction of stress and anxiety, better quality of sleep, the reduction of what psychologists call secondary pain. If you bump your head against a wall, you experience physical pain – this is called primary pain. But then there are your thoughts about the pain: Why am I so clumsy? What if I did permanent damage to my brain? Research has shown that secondary pain is worse than primary pain! By lessening the secondary pain, meditation substantially improves the overall experience of pain.   

However, because of the deeply ingrained nature of the existing neural pathways, a consistent meditation practice is the key to altering the existing structures of the brain. If you are a beginner, start by setting aside 10 minutes a day to meditate. The importance of consistency cannot be sufficiently emphasized. One or two meditation sessions will not be sufficient.    

Over time, as you continue to practise meditation, you will gradually come to see your thoughts as thoughts rather than be pulled into their vortex. This will be the beginning of the end of worry and anxiety. These emotional states are caused by our thoughts, which travel down our conditioned pathways. Once you begin to see your thoughts as what they are – thoughts – and not confuse them for reality, you will be freed from worry and anxiety. Where once you panicked at the scent of a particular cologne because of the association with a past trauma, you will now realize that what you're seeing is just another man wearing cologne. You will see reality as it is, rather than through the lens of your past traumas and thereby you will be set free from your fears and anxieties.  This is the path that will lead you towards positive transformation and fulfilment.



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About Alex Montagu

Alex Montagu BA MA JD Founder is a certified Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher, accredited by the IMMA (International Mindfulness and Meditation Alliance) and CPD from the School of Positive Transformation, as well as the founding partner of New York-based Montagu Law. His comprehensive studies and unique insight on various Eastern and esoteric philosophies and how they may be practically applied by those in Western cultures into their own lives has proven beneficial to many in the legal as well as other professions. He has also conducted free courses on Mindfulness and Meditation at the Key Clinic in London. He is an active member of the New York City Bar Association Mindfulness and Well-Being in Law Committee and is the author of the novel “The Riddle of the Sphinx”, a historic thriller and semi-biographical journey of self-discovery. He received his J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School in 1991, a B.A. and M.A. in Law from the University of Cambridge where he received Double First Class Honours in 1989, as well as an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude in 1987. He may be contacted via  

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