Whether we're long-term meditators or just getting started, we invest time out of our day to meditate because we believe or have experienced that meditation has benefits. Some of us may experience this as increased focus, others as decreased stress. What we may not be aware of, however, is the extent of the benefits that meditation can have. Recent scientific research shows that it can improve both our physical and mental health in surprising and significant ways. Not only can it sharpen our attention skills and lower our stress - as we would expect - but it can also boost our memory, increase our feelings of happiness, make us more compassionate to others, strengthen our immune function and make us more resilient! It even has the capacity to change our brain structure in beneficial ways. Of course, many of us know there is a certain intangible aspect to meditation that research may never be able to fully capture. However, the growing field of meditation research provides sufficient data to keep us inspired to continue with our daily practice! Below is an info graphic that summarizes some of the benefits research is showing:
Sitting to meditate at home a few days ago, I found tears pouring down my face. Pouring. Flowing freely. Yet no distress. Just lots of tears.
I had just learnt that Mark, a delightful young doctor from Hong Kong had succumbed to the same cancer I used to have. So what were the tears? Common grief? Sadness? Despair? Self identification?
Maybe. But actually most came courtesy of a profound insight. An insight you may well also value.
But first, consider this
Of all the sad things I see
The worst of it
Is the fear of death
Clifford Saron, PhD at UC Davis, is a pioneer of Meditation Scientific research. His ambitious Shamatha Project where they randomly assigned 60 healthy people with prior meditation experience to an intensive 3-month meditation retreat or a control group.
What many people might not know is that Dr. Saron is a meditator himself. At the Buddhsim and Medicine Forum, I asked him if being a meditator influences him as a scientist. He proceeded to give a fascinating account of crucial events from his childhood up to the present day have contributed to his work.
In the fast paced world we live in, distraction is everywhere: TV, advertisements, billboards, mobile phones, tablets, magazines, computers, the internet, cereal boxes... EVERYWHERE!
In my case, if I don’t meditate first thing in the morning and leave it for later, that’s it, it just doesn’t happen.
“Ok, I’ll just check my emails quickly... Oh wait, I need to reply to that email urgently... What’s new on Facebook... Oh, look a funny video... I’m hungry now... I’ll just send that email, then I promise I’ll meditate... Wait, did I pay that bill... I just do this very quickly and then I will meditate 20 minutes...”
Many meditation retreats, such as the well-known 10-day vipassana retreats consist not only of sitting meditation but also include frequent periods of walking meditation. To the bystander these walking meditations look something like zombie apocalypse--making them not immediately suitable for practising them in daily life. But you can adapt these methods to make the times you are getting from one place to the other be moments of sanity in your otherwise busy day.
Born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1924 to Indian parents and raised in a devout Hindu household, Goenka was a successful businessman. In 1955 he met the Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin who he studied and trained under for the next fourteen years.
I just downloaded the new, absolutely free eBook, edited by Tania Singer and Matthias Bolz. Believe me when I say, you gots to get this! It’s called Compassion: Bridging Practice and Science it is the result of a workshop organized by Dr. Singer in the atelier of Olafur Eliasson and included some of the world’s top Buddhist scholars and teachers, scientists and representative from the best places doing compassion based training and research.
One interesting lecture during the International Conference on Mindfulness that I attended was given by Susan Boegels from the University of Amsterdam about mindful parenting. She talked about several things that are really interesting, even for a non-parent, which revolved to a large extent around dealing with triggers.
Doctors, Nurses and care givers of all kinds often report that they go through periods of apathy, hopelessness, anxiety and depression in response to constant exposure to human suffering. This is sometimes referred to as “Compassion Fatigue”. Even being exposed to lost of negative stories in the news can trigger symptoms in people. So what is going on?