When you’re lost in thought, your senses aren’t alive. You aren’t hearing the sounds if sirens and babies and dogs and traffic or trees or music or the quiet your life, you aren’t seeing the smiles and the tears or colours or the critters; you aren’t tasting water, salt, sugar, bitter greens, vanilla or chocolate; you aren’t feeling your feet on the ground, or the brush of a kiss on your cheek or fabric against your skin, you aren’t smelling coffee, rain, trees, urban life, the beach or love, or even aware that you are so lost in thought that moments of your life slip by without you noticing because you are lost in thought.
—Not exactly a quote, but inspired by something Tara Brach said in a recent talk about how being lost in thought affects the senses and therefore affects being present….
Fantastic New York Public Library conversation with Malcolm Gladwell on tolerance, criticism, and the importance of changing your mind on a regular basis
Malcolm Gladwell's spectacular conversation with Paul Holdengräber at the New York Public Library.
Another way to put the above: "Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind."
Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.
—Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems (via theantidote)
[A team of neurobiologists found that] “if social conformity resulted from conscious decision-making, this would be associated with functional changes in prefrontal cortex, whereas if social conformity was more perceptually based, then activity changes would be seen in occipital and parietal regions.” Their study suggested that non-conformity produced an associated “pain of independence.” In the study subjects the amygdala became most active in times of non-conformity, suggesting that non-conformity—doing exactly what we didn’t evolve to do—produced emotional distress. From an evolutionary perspective, of course, this makes sense. I don’t know enough neuroscience to agree with their suggestion that this phenomenon be titled the “pain of independence,” but the “emotional discomfort” being different—i.e., not following or conforming—seems to be evolutionarily embedded in our brains.
Good solid thinking is really hard to do as you no doubt realize. How much easier is it to economize on all this and just “copy & paste” what seemingly successful people are doing?
It turns out that being a nonconformist requires an active and distressing deconditioning of our evolutionary wiring.
And yet, and yet: Eleanor Roosevelt put it best when she wrote:
When you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity. You become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.
Also see Norman Mailer on conformity and the instinct of rebellion and How To Be a Nonconformist, a charming vintage satire written and illustrated by a high school girl.
(HT The Morning News)
Mindfulness. Zen. Acem. Meditation drumming. Chakra. Buddhist and transcendental meditation. There are countless ways of meditating, but the purpose behind them all remains basically the same: more peace, less stress, better concentration, greater self-awareness and better processing of thoughts and feelings.
But which of these techniques should a poor stressed-out wretch choose? What does the research say? Very little – at least until now.
Nondirective or concentrative meditation?
A team of researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Oslo and the University of Sydney is now working to determine how the brain works during different kinds of meditation.
Different meditation techniques can actually be divided into two main groups. One type is concentrative meditation, where the meditating person focuses attention on his or her breathing or on specific thoughts, and in doing so, suppresses other thoughts. The other type may be called nondirective meditation, where the person who is meditating effortlessly focuses on his or her breathing or on a meditation sound, but beyond that the mind is allowed to wander as it pleases. Some modern meditation methods are of this nondirective kind.
“No one knows how the brain works when you meditate. That is why I’d like to study it,” says Jian Xu, who is a physician at St. Olavs Hospital and a researcher at the Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging at NTNU.
Two different ways to meditate
Fourteen people who had extensive experience with the Norwegian technique Acem meditation were tested in an MRI machine. In addition to simple resting, they undertook two different mental meditation activities, nondirective meditation and a more concentrative meditation task. The research team wanted to test people who were used to meditation because it meant fewer misunderstandings about what the subjects should actually be doing while they lay in the MRI machine.
The results were recently published in the journal “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience”.
Nondirective meditation led to higher activity than during rest in the part of the brain dedicated to processing self-related thoughts and feelings. When test subjects performed concentrative meditation, the activity in this part of the brain was almost the same as when they were just resting.
A place for the mind to rest
“I was surprised that the activity of the brain was greatest when the person’s thoughts wandered freely on their own, rather than when the brain worked to be more strongly focused,” said Xu. “When the subjects stopped doing a specific task and were not really doing anything special, there was an increase in activity in the area of the brain where we process thoughts and feelings. It is described as a kind of resting network. And it was this area that was most active during nondirective meditation.”
Provides greater freedom for the brain
“The study indicates that nondirective meditation allows for more room to process memories and emotions than during concentrated meditation,” says Svend Davanger, a neuroscientist at the University of Oslo, and co-author of the study.
“This area of the brain has its highest activity when we rest. It represents a kind of basic operating system, a resting network that takes over when external tasks do not require our attention. It is remarkable that a mental task like nondirective meditation results in even higher activity in this network than regular rest,” says Davanger.
Most of the research team behind the study do not practice meditation, although three do: Professors Are Holen and Øyvind Ellingsen from NTNU and Professor Svend Davanger from the University of Oslo.
Acem meditation is a technique that falls under the category of nondirective meditation. Davanger believes that good research depends on having a team that can combine personal experience with meditation with a critical attitude towards results.
“Meditation is an activity that is practiced by millions of people. It is important that we find out how this really works. In recent years there has been a sharp increase in international research on meditation. Several prestigious universities in the US spend a great deal of money to research in the field. So I think it is important that we are also active,” says Davanger.
Over the past few years, meditation has evolved from an of-the-moment fad to a legitimate health craze, as research has linked the practice …
a useful infographic the highlights some of the research findings on the benefits of a meditation practice (recognizing that there is more to meditation than science…and the science is SO not there yet.)
We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.
—– Alan Watts