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Marieke van Vugt

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).

Thursday, 24 October 2013 00:00

Mind & Life's first European Symposium

In addition to the First Mindfulness conference in Europe that I blogged about a little while ago, this year hosted another first: the European Symposium for Contemplative Studies organized by Mind & Life in Europe. This symposium took place in Berlin and its theme was the role of contemplative practice in relieving suffering for individuals and society.

Thursday, 14 November 2013 00:00

Taking a bite of mindfulness

Eating is a very touchy topic in our society (see also this recent article on WMRI). There are enormous social problems associated with addiction to food (listen for a discussion of this to Upaya's podcasts about Zen Brain). In fact, for many of us, food occupies a significant portion of our moment-to-moment thoughts. Can we bring some of our meditation wisdom to bear on this aspect of our lives?

Thursday, 31 October 2013 00:00

Non-silent interaction meditation

If you are anything like me, you spend a good deal of time interacting with other people. Is it possible to integrate meditation in your interaction with others, and if so, what does it feel like? The attitude cultivated in meditation is one of openness, softness, and spaciousness. You can focus on the other person just like any other focus of meditation. This means that you are not focussing on something else, which is actually exceedingly rare these days. This in itself is already a large gift to the person you interact with, because we really see the other person, and don't we all spend a large portion of our time trying to be seen?

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.

Saturday, 21 September 2013 00:00

Don't let the trigger trigger you!

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.

Wednesday, 04 September 2013 00:00

Curling yourself up into your suffering

I was this past weekend at a retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche. One of the most striking things he said was that we tend to load a lot of suffering upon ourselves by identifying with our suffering, our doubts, our pain. And meditation practice is designed to really help you let go of this tendency. It helps you to dare to let be, to hang loose, because in some sense that is the essence of meditation. How does this work?

Thursday, 15 August 2013 21:32

An update on mindfulness research in Europe

I just attended the First International Conference on Mindfulness in Rome. It is quite amazing to see how mindfulness research is thriving in Europe, and how many studies are being done. While the quality of the presented research varied, the range of presented topics was just as large, and included mindfulness in business situations, mindful tango, mindfulness for different kind of psychiatric conditions, and computational modeling of meditation (which was my contribution).

One of the most important things of meditation is not the meditation practice itself, but rather bringing the mindful attitude in our daily life. I found that this is relatively easy when interacting with another person, because you can listen to the person with a mindful attitude, using the words of the others as an object of your meditation. Or you could walk, using the movement as a meditation, being aware of your surroundings. But what do you do when you, like I do, work on your computer most of the day? I spend most of my day reading, writing, e-mailing, computing things, etc. How can you bring meditation to working on the computer? How do I use the computer as the object of my meditation?
I was very lucky to attend the recent Mind & Life meeting between the Dalai Lama and neuroscientists. The theme of the meeting was stress, which indeed seems a pretty timely topic in today's challenging world. In fact, as I continue on the path of meditation I am starting to be more aware of just how much stress I have in me every moment.
Sunday, 18 November 2012 02:22

Making peace with being stuck in a crowd

Despite the fact that a lot of scientists these days talk about the wisdom of crowds, which refers to the idea that together, a crowd of people will tend to converge to the right answer for most problems, I tend to dislike being in crowds. This really struck me recently because in Summer the town where I live is fairly empty, but now the academic year has started, it is very full again with students. As I was waiting for the traffic light a few days ago, I really felt quite antsy being surrounded by something like 60 other bikers. But then something hit me: why should I focus so strongly on how these people are in my way? They too are people like me, they try to be happy, and they try to get to their destination on time. As soon as I started to see these people as different "me"s, I felt much calmer and happier.
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