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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."

Mike's picture

Meditation is indeed "hard," but...

Meditation is indeed "hard," but the gurus urge you not to judge your efforts against any particular yardstick. The gist isn't not to think, but to detach yourself from your thoughts. The comparison I particularly like: you're trying to observe your thoughts float by as if they were fish in a stream, and you're trying not to catch one.

I've enjoyed Thich Nhat Hahn's writings on mindfulness, as well as Shunryu Suzuki's "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," which gets fairly technical but has useful advice about the imperfection of meditation practice, and the importance of imperfection.

Merlin: I agree that the constant realization that "This is it" is the key. The benefits of mindfulness go far beyond meditation practice -- you can apply them to every aspect of everyday life. And life becomes much richer for it.




An Oblique Strategy:
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