A recent study showed that participants in a three-month shamatha meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado had an increase in their telomerase length. Telomerase decrease has been associated with aging (Cawthorn et al (2003), so an increase in telomerase length would correspond to an increase in longevity. Although of course we'll have to wait quite a few years to check whether this really is the case, and although the statistical significance for these effects is weak, I think these results are quite interesting.
Currently Sogyal Rinpoche is conducting a retreat in Amsterdam called "How to be Happy." We started yesterday with a very powerful teaching that seamlessly blended integration instructions with a deep teaching on meditation. What struck me in particular was how Rinpoche taught on how we can work without stress. We can work hard, yet we have to not create stress. And when do we create stress? Rinpoche mentioned two ways: one is when you bang your head against the wall, you keep forcing yourself to go on when your at a dead end. Sometimes it is then better to take a short break, so you'll feel better, and often in that break you'll see a new solution.
The spiritual teachings tell us that meditation can help us find true happiness. It is a small hobby of mine to collect quotes and post them on my twitter account! So here are my favorite quotes on happiness:
About three weeks ago I blogged about how happiness can increase longevity. So in this post we can look at study that shows that people who spend more time living in the moment are happier than people who are lost in thoughts and day dreams.
Many times I have heard my meditation teachers talk about how the mind we discover through meditation is like the sky. All kinds of clouds can cover up the sky, but the sky itself is never harmed by them. In the same way, although all kinds of thoughts and emotions appear in the mind, and cover it up, ultimately the true essence of our mind can never be harmed by them. Furthermore through the practice of meditation, we can begin to see that our mind (or its essential nature) is really free of all the emotions that arise within it and find true and lasting contentment as a result.
There is a fascinating study, it is part of a broader research project dubbed “The Nun Study”, in which the lifespan of grumpy nuns is compared to happy ones.
When I started meditating several years ago, it became pretty obvious after a while that meditation had a very positive effect on my general well-being, health and management skills at work. But I had little idea why it really worked. As a scientist (I specialised in theoretical Quantum Physics), that was quite some problem for me. After all, meditation is a subjective experience, whereas science is focused on objective measurements and reproducible results, so I was naturally running into a clash of paradigms.
People told me that meditation was a way to train or tame my mind, to finally gain control over my busy monkey mind, rather than being a victim of patterns and habits and always falling prey to what I thought and felt. But what is this mind after all? Buddhism and other spiritual traditions provide lots of answers, yet my scientific appetite was not yet satisfied. To cut a long story short, I couldn't find any convincing scientific explanation of what mind really is. The best I read was about a ‘non-local coherent superposition of quantum states in the brain’ (ok, I liked that as it sounded somewhat familiar to me).
Unsurprisingly, most scientific approaches indicate a connection between the physical brain, which can be measured and experimentally investigated by neuroscience, with the non-physical mind (have you ever seen, tasted or smelled your mind?), so they claim that it should be possible to get at least some idea of how meditation works if you study its effects on the brain.
There is a wide range of articles on experiments that have been carried out on people while they are meditating. One of the most prominent and fascinating people who have been wired up in the laboratory so far is Mingyur Rinpoche, a young Tibetan meditation master whose readings when he was meditating were off the charts. The following interview is taken from View magazine, Rigpa’s online journal.
It was on a bright summer afternoon that I tried it for the first time. I was a teenager looking for states of rapture and mystical revelations, self-assured that those were within my reach.
I still remember it vividly: The family had gone out and I found myself a quiet spot on the living room carpet. I placed my new book in front of me and got ready to pick a method and finally do it.
It had taken me a few years to actually find instruction on how to do it, and just today I had stumbled upon this book in the bookshop. I had bought it, rushed home with it and had read the introduction. Getting more excited by the minute, I had skipped ahead to the second part which included a variety of methods that one can try. Meditation methods, that is.
So now I was ready: I picked the simplest method, got in position and… well…