Awakening, daily life, freedom, neuroscience

New neuroscience research on the lasting benefits of meditation

 

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Dan Goleman and Richie Davidson are both well-known names in the fields of psychology, science journalism and neuroscience, and they have recently co-authored a book laying out their most recent research on the benefits of meditation.

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body

Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, published September 2017

To begin with, the authors make an interesting distinction between meditative states, and meditative traits.

“… beyond the pleasant states meditation can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting traits that can result. An altered trait—a new characteristic that arises from a meditation practice—endures apart from meditation itself. Altered traits shape how we behave in our daily lives, not just during or immediately after we meditate.”

They discuss new data that appears to confirm how with practice – and particularly, with intensive retreat practice – deep and lasting transformations do occur.  There’s a clear development from meditation as a method of experiencing pleasant states, to one that results in lasting changes, or traits.

They also distinguish between the “wide path” of practice: the mainstreaming of meditation techniques into mindfulness apps, for example; and the “deep path,”

“… which has always been the true goal of meditation. As we see it, the most compelling impacts of meditation are not better health or sharper business performance but, rather, a further reach toward our better nature. A stream of findings from the deep path markedly boosts science’s models of the upper limits of our positive potential.

The further reaches of the deep path cultivate enduring qualities like selflessness, equanimity, a loving presence, and impartial compassion—highly positive altered traits. … Now we can share scientific confirmation of these profound alterations of being—a transformation that dramatically ups the limits on psychological science’s ideas of human possibility.

The very idea of “awakening”—the goal of the deep path—seems a quaint fairy tale to a modern sensibility. Yet data from Richie’s lab, some just being published in journals as this book goes to press, confirm that remarkable, positive alterations in brain and behavior along the lines of those long described for the deep path are not a myth but a reality.”

Most people reading this post will already know this, and may not need any more proof of the benefits of meditation!  Still, this book should be a useful resource to those who might be newer to meditation practice – or to anyone surrounded by hard-core sceptics – because their research debunks some of the pseudo-scientific hype that has been used to sell meditation as a mainstream cure-all.

” … we bemoan how the data all too often is distorted or exaggerated when science gets used as a sales hook. The mix of meditation and monetizing has a sorry track record as a recipe for hucksterism, disappointment, even scandal. All too often, gross misrepresentations, questionable claims, or distortions of scientific studies are used to sell meditation.”

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this book, as an antidote to some of the wilder misrepresentations of meditation that seem to becoming more and more widespread.

 

Podcast interview with Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, by Dan Harris

For more information, check out this recent interview between the book’s authors and Dan Harris (of 10% Happier fame)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1087147821

Episode 98

 

ponga fronds

compassion - karuna, daily life, Kindness - metta, Wisdom - pañña

Brene Brown on shame, vulnerability and compassion

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Australian echidna not enjoying having its photo taken

Recently I’ve offered a couple of retreats and courses exploring the theme of “Transforming Poison into Medicine – working with the mind’s difficult energies.”   That phrase about “poison and medicine” was borrowed from a chapter in a book by Pema Chodron, an American nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition who has written many inspiring books about transmuting life’s obstacles into resources.  The titles of her books say it all:

The Wisdom of No Escape
Start Where You Are: How to accept yourself and others
When Things Fall Apart
The Places that Scare You
Comfortable with Uncertainty
No Time to Lose …

There’s definitely a theme there!  And perhaps she (and we) need to keep coming back to that theme because it IS so counter-intuitive that “the way out is through.”  Even to hear or read words such as shame and vulnerability can send some of us scurrying back into our “wombat holes,” to borrow a phrase from a recent course participant.

But in case we need any further convincing, there’s a growing body of research that’s starting to come to similar conclusions.  For example, Brene Brown, who is a professor of sociology at Houston University, has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame, and although (as far as I know) she is not a meditator, the conclusions she comes to sound a lot like this alchemical process of transmuting poisons into medicine.   In one of her latest interviews, she even quotes Pema Chodron.  Here is a short extract from that interview:

If you have a petri dish and you have shame in there, this pervasive feeling of not being good enough and not being ‘whatever’ enough—thin enough, rich enough, popular enough, promoted enough, loved enough. It only needs three things to survive in this little Petri dish and actually to grow exponentially and creep into every corner and crevice of your life and that is secrecy, silence and judgement. If you have the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and you douse it with some empathy, you share your story with someone who can hear you and look back at you and say you’re not alone, shame dies. 

Pema Chödrön … defines compassion as knowing your darkness well enough that you can sit in the dark with others. …

Which is why, it’s so ironic to me that people think that vulnerability is weakness, when really, letting ourselves fully soften into feeling is one of the most courageous things we do. I mean it’s ballsy to let yourself feel. I don’t know if there’s an emotion more vulnerable than joy. I think it is one of the most difficult emotions to feel. Emotions won’t kill you but not feeling them will. Our fear of emotion can absolutely kill us. Pain won’t kill us but numbing pain kills people every single day. We’re the most obese, in debt, medicated, workaholic, addicted adults in human history. Pain won’t kill you, numbing pain kills people every minute of every day.

So what’s the antidote?

To increase our tolerance for discomfort … you practice being uncomfortable.

Because to lean into joy is to lean into discomfort.

 

The whole text of the interview is available here: http://www.dumbofeather.com/conversation/brene-brown-is-a-grounded-researcher/