Click to watch Dr. Willoughby Britton talk to the Dalai Lama about her research on the negative effects of meditation. He responds that problems can occur when the practice is decontextualized and is not grounded in tradition, knowledge, ethics, and morality.
So often today we see people blithely stripping off the practice from its tradition and using meditation for be-here-now, anything-goes, feel-good benefits while not including important components such as ethics and ignoring context. The Dalai Lama told the story of being shown the blueprints for a new meditation center. He looked them over and said, "Where's the library?" Knowledge of the tradition, and of the roots and principles of mediation, is critically important.
What are some of the pitfalls of viewing meditation simply as a process of bare attention? When mindfulness is equated with bare attention, it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Pali Abhidhamma, where mindfulness is listed as a wholesome mental factor, it is not depicted as bare attention, but as a mental factor that clearly distinguishes wholesome from unwholesome mental states and behavior. And it is used to support wholesome states and counteract unwholesome states.
Respected brain researcher Amishi Jha brings a fascinating exploration of findings from cutting-edge neuroscience on the profound and positive effects of mindfulness practices on the brain, psychological health, wellness, and resilience. These practices are finding broad application in corporate, medical, educational, and military settings.
Amishi Jha, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, is an award-winning and widely published researcher and director of contemplative neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. (www.amishi.com)
Enjoy her presentation. In addition to being a noted researcher, she is an excellent speaker.
Both photos were taken by me at the Naropa event. The second one includes Jane Carpenter who co-presented with Dr. Jha on the second day.
Neuroscientist Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph D, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center, presents at Berkeley Law on the ways meditation can improve the well-being, concentration, and emotional intelligence of lawyers. In addition to reviewing recent studies in neuroscience and psychology, Simon-Thomas highlights results of pilot studies on Berkeley Law students demonstrating these benefits among participants in mindfulness-in-law courses. Hosted by the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law (law.berkeley.edu/mindfulness.htm).
Below is an article with a good overview of a skill and habit that is helpful, probably essential, to both parties in dispute and conflict professionals: focusing a mind that's wandering. The article also explains some of the neuroscience underlying focus and wandering. From "How to Focus a Wandering Mind" (DailyGood.org):
Reading all this might make you think that we’d be better off if we could live our lives in a constant state of laser-like, present moment focus. But a wandering mind isn’t all bad. Not only can we leverage it to build focus using FA [focused attention] meditation, but the capacity to project our mental stream out of the present and imagine scenarios that aren’t actually happening is hugely evolutionarily valuable, which may explain why it’s so prominent in our mental lives. These processes allow for creativity, planning, imagination, memory—capacities that are central not only to our survival, but also to the very essence of being human.
The key, I believe, is learning to become aware of these mental tendencies and to use them purposefully, rather than letting them take over. Meditation can help with that.
Because scientists don't have a sophisticated knowledge of meditation, they have defaulted to measuring meditation expertise by the number of hours a person has practiced, says Dr. Willoughby Britton. This way of defining expert meditators is both misleading and skews research results. She then quotes the old adage: Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect. One of problems she cites that results from this lack of understanding is the benefits of meditation are being "way over-hyped."
In this entertaining video clip, she also talks about the Blobology Effect: If we see something explained or proven by a colorful blob on a fMRI scan, we tend to think it is true, even if preposterous. The fMRI becomes a marketing opportunity, and the Blobology Effect underscores how impoverished our self-knowledge is if we need to look to technology to read how we are feeling in our minds and bodies.
In this TEDxTalk, Professor Willoughby Britton tells us that happiness is not about getting what you want. She discusses our mental qualities as habits we practice and she sheds light on an important link between neuroscience and contemplative studies.
2. DO YOU SPEAK VISUAL?: We’re shifting to a visual vocabulary that relies on photos, emojis, video snippets and other imagery, largely supplanting the need for text. “Visual” is a new lingo that needs to be mastered. [Our category here is "Drawings and Images."]
And . . .
10. MINDFUL LIVING: Consumers are developing a quasi-Zen desire to experience everything in a more present, conscious way. Once the domain of the spiritual set, mindful living is filtering into the mainstream, with more people drawn to the idea of shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment. [Our category is "Mindfulness."]
Watch for more posts on each topic as the year unfolds, including, of course, more about the neuroscience of visual communication and of mindfulness. Keep coming back; doing so will keep you hip and cool.