Can empathy and compassion meditation help reduce stress? This was the focus of a study published last year by researchers at Emory University in the US.
Sixty-one healthy students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group participated in six weeks of twice-weekly classroom training in a secular compassion meditation while the other group (the control group) spent a similar amount of time in health discussions.
To my mind, some of the most convincing evidence that meditation has a serious impact on one's functioning is how serious long-term practitioners deal with pain. One example is a story relayed by Matthieu Ricard of a lama who was tortured by the Chinese for many years, and when after his release the Dalai Lama asked him what he was most afraid of, he said it was of losing his compassion for his torturers. Similarly, Garchen Rinpoche, during his visit to Lerab Ling said that he did not suffer at all during his time in prison camp. Clearly they have a different way of dealing with pain than we do.
Over the years I have heard Sogyal Rinpoche say that as result of meditation practice, we will make better decisions. Well, here is some really interesting new research that shows that meditators not only make a more rational decision than the control group, but that meditators may actually be using a different part of the brain to make decisions!
Recently I caught up with Dominique Side, who is holding the What Meditation Really Is: Meditation and Health workshop in France next month. I had a camera in tow and Dominique answered some questions about the connection between meditation and health, what meditation really is and what meditation is not.
See the videos after the jump. Workshop space is limited, but you can still register here.
Researchers used biofeedback for many years to help people improve their health or mood. Some of these used different brain imaging techniques, such as EEG. Now there is a new way to see what kinda thoughts you are having, and correct them on the spot. Researchers at the University of British Columbia resently published their research on how to eventually help people combat depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders. The general idea is not at all different from meditation: watch your thoughts, and realise they are just thoughts. Then let them go. But the tools to help this process is something that yogis in the Himalaya perhaps never even dreamt of - an MRI machine connected to a screen.
Read more in the Vancuver Sun
The view that the urge to destroy, to compete, profit and come out on top, no matter what the price is simply human nature is a very commonly held belief. We might not find extreme selfish behaviour or ‘evil’ justifiable, but it is to be expected, because we assume it is what we are. In this climate, the idea of developing an attitude of love and compassion towards the world and its inhabitants can seem hopelessly idealistic.
Does it actually matter what society feels about whether the human potential for evil is inherently part of our nature, or whether we are more naturally disposed love and compassion? Personally, I believe a society with a pronounced disposition towards love and compassion would be far more likely to do its best to alleviate poverty, famine, drought and violence of all kinds. Maybe there’d be fewer wars. It might even be able to bring people together to tackle the damage we are doing to our environment and the climate. Members of a society with a focus on the common good might even be prepared to lower their standard of living somewhat in order to achieve these aims. So yes, it does matter, because it could change the future.
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.
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.