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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."

Evan O's picture

I was so happy to...

I was so happy to see this post here at 43. I have been meditating daily for a few years now and studying and teaching the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and always fear that the Western view on meditation is "just let go" or "be with the flow" or something of that tone. But it seems from all these comments that people in the west are getting it. It is about single-pointed concentration on an object not spacing out. And what can happen with proper training is remarkable and, as stated in a previous comment, profound.

I think this ties in very closely with the myth of multitasking. The same meditation traditions (Buddhist) also teach that the mind can only hold one object at a time, meaning multitasking is indeed toggling from one object to another very quickly. This can actually be harmful to concentration.




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