Marieke van Vugt
I am a neuroscientist studying memory and decision making using neural activity and computational models. In my free time, I am a dancer. I have been a student of Sogyal Rinpoche since approximately 1998. I am fascinated by the human mind and brain, and like to study it both from the first-person perspective (my own mind) and the third-person perspective (other people's minds).
A little while ago I had a radio interview with the Dutch Buddhist Broadcasting company, and one of the things I talked a lot about with the interviewer was the relation between my meditation practice and my passion for ballet. Then when I read the wonderful book Confessions of a gypsy yogini by fellow blogger Marcia Dechen Wangmo, where she wrote about her passion for dance, I decided it was time to blog about it.
A little while ago I had an interesting experience at work, where the things I learnt in my meditation practice surely came in helpful. The situation is that I am very lucky to be mostly surrounded by some of the most interesting, kind and open-minded people. As a result, I pretty much never get angry. I always used to think I am just "not that kind of a person that gets angry". It turned out, I was wrong. I just hadn't met the people to make me angry.
One of the major interests of the meditation research community has been the study of the brain's default mode functioning. What is the default mode and why should we care? Scientists studying the default mode look at what networks in the brain turn on and off in a coordinated fashion.
Last weekend we had a visit in Groningen by Maureen Cooper, a senior instructor in the Rigpa Buddhist sangha. She taught a very inspiring weekend about how to bring the Buddhist teachings on meditation and compassion into busy city life. They helped me a lot to re-inspire myself to bring the sanity in my crazy life.
Last weekend I listened to teachings from my teacher Sogyal Rinpoche about how happiness is in our own hands. Although we are not the creator of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we do have a hand in how we react to these circumstances.
In my research I have been thinking a lot lately about the power of habits, which was stirred by David Neal, who visited our institute and gave a talk about this topic. He showed how we think we are in charge of our lives and in control, and how we do what we want to do. But actually, we spend most of our time performing habitual actions (Wood & Neal, 2007)). This is why it is so difficult to kick our habit of distraction, for example.
Although it sounds silly, I find that noticing these feelings of guilt and going through these conceptual exercises helps me to have a "better" meditation practice (whatever that may be).
It occurred to me it might be fun to describe how meditation plays into the life of us bloggers, who have been trying to "live meditation" for a number of years. So let me describe a typical day.
Yesterday I heard a teaching by Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who taught about the speed and agression of the modern world. Although I have heard these kinds of teachings before, they always really hit me. Maybe because I am particularly prone to this hurried syndrome, being a pretty ambitious person in a competitive world...