Last week, I listened to a great podcast with immunologist Esther Sternberg, where she discussed a certain way of thinking about healing and states of health, and ultimately the mind.

To paraphrase:

In general, all living things are engaged in a permanent battle with damage and decay from natural forces.  There are outside elements like pathogens and radiation, and the metabolism of the body itself, which of course uses up resources and demands constant replenishment and repair.

One tidy way to think of a state of health, then, is when the body’s healing and repair mechanisms are able to keep pace with the natural wear and tear and inevitable environmental assaults that comprise being a living thing.

A disease state, by contrast, is when the damage is occurring faster than the body can repair it, so the net result is decline.

In terms of the body, it’s an easy idea to digest.   We all understand that we need to nourish and care for our bodies, sleep well, eat well, and exercise to maintain a state of health and to make ourselves more resilient to those inevitable assaults.

We’re less inclined, as Sternberg points out, to think that way about the MIND, however.

Whatever your exact definition, the mind is also a living thing.  And no matter how well you insulate yourself, it is exposed to stress from both the inside and outside.  Even the mind of the most isolated monk, in a cave in Tibet, is not safe from natural stresses (and that is presumably why he works so diligently).  If you do not care for the mind by giving it rest, and helping it heal, repair, and strengthen itself, it will also decline over time–which is exactly what happens to most people as they age.

This is ultimately one of the best arguments for mindful practices.  Done regularly and attentively, mindful practices are some of the strongest healing, recovery, and strength building practices for the mind.  Science continues to demonstrate this, and many of ancient traditions of contemplative practice explicitly discuss the healing power of their practices.

S.N. Goenka, the teacher of the Vipassana tradition that I personally practice, often refers to the core 10-day course as “surgery” for the mind, to heal major wounds.

The next question is, how do you form the habit?

Just like any other health habit, it takes time.  Start small.  Try just a few minutes a day.  Sign up for a class.  Read up on it if that what feeds your interest.

Or try Mindful Power Happy Hour this coming Sunday 🙂