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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."

MH's picture

I'm a pretty logical, practical...

I'm a pretty logical, practical guy, but I recognize that there is real value to the practice. Forget all that California hippy crystal fantasy crap; it is extremely practical and comes with real, tangible benefits.

My story is probably similar to Merlin's--some, but not a lot of experience, so the following describes mostly the observations of a beginner:

Effects I've noticed: Most noticably, after just a short period of meditation (15 minutes or so), a pervasive calm. I lke to think of it as a "neutral" emotion (the word "centered" has too many silly Hollywood hippy connotations) -- it tempers your otherwise out-of-proportion reactions to emotional stimuli. You find yourself more able to handle challenging situations, without your blood pressure going up. Of course, for me, since I haven't yet made it a routine, this effect only lasts a little while after you meditate.

While you're meditating, it's not uncommon to break down a bit: emotions that are bottled up have a tendency to come out when you are loosened up like this. I imagine over time this would subside.

Another effect I've noticed only once or twice is sensory--the consciousness changes so that things like proximity and scale become perceptively distorted or irrelevant. It can be a bit freaky, but in a good way :)

Oh, and another thing: meditation is HARD. Especially for us jumpy nervous multitasking ADHD information age types. Not-doing is one of the most difficult things you can do, especially when you are always on the go.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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