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The Dalai Lama, neuroscience (and a plug for meditation)

NPR : The Links Between the Dalai Lama and Neuroscience

Morning Edition's Jon Hamilton on The Dalai Lama's new-ish book and some controversy regarding his addressing a meeting of neuroscientists on the topic of meditation:

Richard Davidson, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin, is one of several scientists who will present research on meditation at the neuroscience meeting. He says there's nothing flaky about the idea of studying whether a mental activity like meditation alters the brain's circuitry.

"Most Americans now realize that if they go to the gym or exercise several times a week, they will observe systematic changes occurring in their body," Davidson says. Meditations, he explains, is "exercising the mind in a particular way."

Some small studies have suggested that meditating on compassion can affect parts of the brain associated with positive thoughts. The Dalai Lama's talk will discuss meditation as a way to promote well-being and compassion.

My own experiences with meditation are recent, relatively shallow, and would yield little to contribute to the world of science, but I do know it can bring remarkable effects -- even in fairly short-term use. Looking forward to seeing where it takes me, and I'm not surprised at all to hear anecdotes of its effect on thinking over longer-term practice.

I really love Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are (yeah, it's an unfortunate title), which is plain-spoken, readable, and makes a great case for the intrinsic value of trying to "be in the moment." A very approachable and inviting introduction to mindfulness -- even if you're the sort of person who thinks this stuff is just for goofy people from Northern California.

For a free (and excellent) intro to give yourself the flavor of mindfulness meditation, start with "Mindfulness in Plain English."

Merlin's picture

Mike: There’s some effects that...

Mike: There’s some effects that are really obvious and others that are quite subtle. Feeling a bit more relaxed and less scattered isn’t surprising — that’s printed right on the tin. :)

What I was surprised and delighted to get from reading about (and trying to practice) mindfulness is something much more profound. I’ve become more aware of how much time my brain spends dwelling on the past and fussing about the future, and how that leads to strange behaviors and a really unfulfilling daily experience.

Once you start doing it, it seems incredibly obvious, but mindfulness teaches you to always acknowledge that “This is it.” Seriously. Everything else is memories and hopes, and you have no actual experience of anything but now. This very nanosecond. That’s moving stuff once it really starts sinking in.

If this stuff appeals to you, don’t miss Alan Watts’s The Wisdom of Insecurity—a terrific book recommended to me by a reader on this post.

Bo: Maybe so. Between you and me? There’s so many connections between the problems people come to 43F to solve and what you can learn from mindfulness in particular and meditation in general. I deliberately don’t talk about it much here because it riles the trolls and enflames the “Stop talking about other things and just tell me how to do GTD!!!!” crowd. :)

Clever marketing by anyone aside, this stuff “sells” itself for the same reason it always has; it works, it’s simple, and it encourages you to stop tearing ass around the discotheque of your life for ten minutes and just sit still, being yourself. Has that been your experience?




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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