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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

I want to try meditation,...

I want to try meditation, but I don’t know where to start. Can you really learn from a book? What about guided audio programs? Are there reputable places to learn meditation in a group setting? What flavors of meditation are best (Buddhist, hippy/new age, non-denominational)?

I would again cite Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind as a good place to start learning how to meditate. He gives specific instructions as to seating, posture, breathing and state of mind. The teachings are in the Zen Buddhist tradition, but you can adopt his suggestions without having to swallow Buddhism whole.

What's best depends on what suits you best. You can try different flavors and see what you like. From what I've read, the basic approach to meditation is fairly similar from tradition to tradition, and you can be wholly secular and ecumenical in your philosophy regardless of where you find guidance.




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