We have often pointed out, maybe even emphasized, how easy it is to learn techniques that are helpful in resisting and recovering from stress.
The techniques are not only easy, but are typically pleasant and comforting. Most resilience training methods make you feel somewhere in the range of good to very good.
Unfortunately, too many people practice for a while, but then get embedded in the demands of ordinary life and never get to see how rich the benefits might be if they continued over the long term.
Take deep relaxation as an example. A large majority of people who try basic methods of deep relaxation find the states they induce both useful and pleasant.
They should consider persisting at least a little longer. For some methods of relaxation and calming, there is evidence that practice can continue to improve, even over many years.
A striking example is the work of a Japanese researcher, Tomio Hirai. He studied changes in brain waves that take place when people practice Zen Meditation. (It is called “Zazen” and is essentially identical to the currently popular “Mindfulness Meditation”).
Zazen involves sitting in a stable posture and attending to your breathing. The goal is to do that and nothing else.
Beginners count their inhalations and exhalations from one to ten; then they go back to one and start over again. If you try this for a while you will find yourself counting numbers like “42”, indicating that your mind has wandered without your noticing it. When this happens you just calmly go back to one.
As time goes on, brain wave patterns shift from fast to slow (an indication of calm, deep relaxation, the antithesis of a stress response, a “relaxation response”).
Hirai found that even after decades of practice meditators are still improving.
But their commitment to meditation is not just to deal with life’s frustrations. As part of a Buddhist tradition, it is done to achieve some form of “enlightenment”, a profound and highly beneficial readjustment of their perceptions of themselves and of the world.
Zen masters recognize and accept that many people who practice Zazen, do so in order to function better in their ordinary lives. The term “Bompu Zen” is used for this more basic approach.
What resilience training normally aims to achieve is at the level of Bompu Zen. This does not meant that it is merely bompu Zen. We, for example, include the most effective techniques from a wide variety of traditions and other sources, as long as their effectiveness is robust enough to be empirically confirmed.
It appears that “the sky is the limit” when it comes to how far you can go with your training. Whether you reach for the sky depends on your ultimate goals. It depends on whether you seek a radically new perspective on the world and your life or just want to deal more effectively with life’s familiar demands, which is, incidentally, the humble goal we have chosen for this blog.