Breath by Breath: moods

image

.
.
.
Emotions also filter the knowledge that is available to us.
.
.
When we are in the grip of an emotion, I have proposed that we are in a “refractory period,” during which we can only remember information that fits the emotion; we can only interpret others in a way that fits the emotion.
.
.
Often a refractory period is very short-lived, and when that is so, it can be helpful, by focusing our attention.
.
.
For moods, a refractory period can last a whole day, and all of that time we are misperceiving the world.
.
.
We do not have access to everything we know, only to what fits our mood. .
.
.
That is why, as a Darwinian, I believe that moods must be a byproduct of something else.
.
.
They are a plague for us, distorting how we see the world and respond to others.
.
.
People have heard me say I want to banish moods and have asked me, What about a good mood?
.
.
But in a good mood, we are not sensitive to potential problems; we are in a deluded state.
.
.
We enjoy it, but just because we enjoy it does not mean it is really useful.
.
.
.

I, me, mine

image

.
.
.
Beings think “I” at first and cling to self;
.
.
They think of “mine” and are attached to things.
.
.
—Chandrakirti, Introduction to the Middle Way, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group
.
.
.

Stephen Handel: Mindfulness benefits!

image

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875)
.
.
Research into mindfulness has really picked up over the past few decades. Here are some of the benefits we are just beginning to discover:
.
Improving Attention
One of the most obvious benefits from meditation is that it improves our attention. One study has shown that just 5 days of 20 minute training can show significant improvements in our ability to focus and concentrate. The fact that mindfulness meditation can improve our attention is one of the most well-documented benefits. And the practice of staying focused on our breath can build concentration that often spills over into many other activities.
.
Improving Cognition
Another interesting study showed that just 4 days of 20 minute training showed significant increases in cognitive functioning, especially memory and learning. Other related research indicates that meditation can help slow down Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some of this may in part be due to our increased attention, but it seems meditation also acts on other parts of the brain more directly related to learning and memory, such as increasing gray matter in the hippocampus.
.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
Meditation has also been shown to reduce gray matter in the amygdala, which is a part of the brain commonly associated with stress, anxiety, and emotional processing. This demonstrates why meditation does so well in relieving stress and increasing relaxation. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of The Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, is one of the leading teachers and researchers in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Here you can find a wonderful lecture he gave to Google summarizing a lot of the research demonstrating how effective mindfulness meditation is for reducing stress and improving medical outcomes.
.
Improving Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
In light of meditation’s ability to reduce stress, it has also been reported to lower your blood pressure and heart rate. This particular study followed 200 participants for 5 years who were at a “high risk” for heart attacks and strokes. They found that those who practiced meditation regularly reduced their risk for heart attacks and strokes by almost 50%.
.
Reducing Pain
Mindful breathing has also been discovered to reduce pain, according to a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience. After just four 20 minute mindfulness sessions, participants did better at reducing unpleasant sensations (such as 120 degrees of heat, a temperature that most people find painful) than those who did not receive mindfulness training. Researchers theorize that mindfulness trainees have an easier time keeping their focus directed toward their breathing and thereby ignoring the discomfort caused by the heat. It’s likely that mindfulness can show similar effects on other types of pain as well.
.
Overcoming Depression
Surprisingly, mindfulness meditation is said to be on par with antidepressants in preventing depression relapse. According to researchers, mindfulness prevents excessive rumination (a common cause of depression) by teaching individuals how to reflect on thoughts and emotional states in a non-judgmental and non-attaching way. Instead of clinging to “negative” thoughts and feelings – and feeding into them – mindfulness teaches us to sit back and watch these emotions and thoughts without needing to overreact or feel guilty about how we feel. This makes it a lot easier to fully experience these passing thoughts and emotions, and then let them go.
.
Overcoming Fears of Death
Another recent study published earlier this year found that mindfulness can also ease fears and anxieties related to death. Mindful people tend to be more accepting of their limited time while alive. They also tend to be less dependent on fantasy-filled beliefs and desires for self-preservation or immortality. They understand that death is not the opposite of life, but a necessary part of it. Thus, they accept the reality of their demise, instead of being defensive.
.
Changing Bad Habits
There is a particular technique in mindfulness training that helps individuals overcome addictions and other bad habits. It’s called urge surfing, and it’s a popular tool in some psychotherapies to help individuals quit smoking or stop obsessive eating. The main goal of the meditation is to “ride out” your desire to do certain negative habits, but not act on them. Mindfulness teaches you that many of these desires are impermanent, and if we just sit back and watch them, it is very likely that they will subside and go away (without us necessarily needing to smoke another cigarette, or eat that slice of cake).
.
Changing Brain Structure
In addition to many of the benefits mentioned above, it has also been shown that 8 weeks of mindfulness training can cause long-term changes to our brain structure. While this isn’t necessarily a “benefit” in-and-of-itself, it is evidence for just how powerful mindfulness training can be. For more on this you can also check out my article Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity.
.
Conclusion
These are just about all of the main benefits I know of that are associated with mindfulness, but I’m sure there are countless others. Mindfulness can be such a fundamental skill to living that it truthfully affects just about all areas of our life..
.
.

Life and death

image

.

.

.

Breath is life.

.

.

—Sogyal Rinpoche,

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying edited by Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey

.

.

.

Focused and Fearless: abandon only what is not yours

image

.
.
Some people fear that letting go could diminish the quality of their lives, health, abilities, achievements, or personal property.
.
.
To this, the Buddha said, “Whatever is not yours, abandon it; when you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time.”
.
.
This invites a profound reflection on what one can authentically claim as one’s own.
.
.
As we discern the impermanent, conditioned character of all material and mental processes, we eliminate perceptions, sensory experience, and material things as fields for possession.
.
.
On the surface it seems like we are asked to give up everything, but simultaneously comes the realization that there is actually nothing possessed and consequently nothing that can actually be given up.
.
.
The great abandonment is to let go of the concept of ownership.
.
.
Letting go in meditation is the relinquishment that involves no loss.
.
.
Recognizing impermanence leads to the realization of the pure and ungraspable nature of things.
.
.
Knowing this basic fact of things, one has nothing to fear.
.
.

.

“Emotional Awareness”: Dalai Llama and Paul Eckman; Moods

image

.
.
.
Emotions also filter the knowledge that is available to us.
.
.
When we are in the grip of an emotion, I have proposed that we are in a “refractory period,” during which we can only remember information that fits the emotion; we can only interpret others in a way that fits the emotion.
.
.
Often a refractory period is very short-lived, and when that is so, it can be helpful, by focusing our attention.
.
.
For moods, a refractory period can last a whole day, and all of that time we are misperceiving the world.
.
.
We do not have access to everything we know, only to what fits our mood. .
.
.
That is why, as a Darwinian, I believe that moods must be a byproduct of something else.
.
.
They are a plague for us, distorting how we see the world and respond to others.
.
.
People have heard me say I want to banish moods and have asked me, What about a good mood?
.
.
But in a good mood, we are not sensitive to potential problems; we are in a deluded state.
.
.
We enjoy it, but just because we enjoy it does not mean it is really useful.
.
.
.

“Breath by Breath” : A Mirror

image

.
.
Mindfulness is often likened to a mirror; it simply reflects what is there. It is not a process of thinking; it is preconceptual, before thought.
.
.
One can be mindful of thought.
.
.
There is all the difference in the world between thinking and knowing that thought is happening, as thoughts chase each other through the mind and the process is mirrored back to us.
.
.
The only time that mindfulness can happen is in the present moment; if you are thinking of the past, that is memory.
.
.
It is possible to be mindful of memory, of course, but such mindfulness can only happen in the present.
.
.
Mindfulness is unbiased.
.
.
It is not for or against anything, just like a mirror, which does not judge what it reflects.
.
.
Mindfulness has no goal other than the seeing itself.
.
.
It doesn’t try to add to what’s happening or subtract from it, to improve it in any way.
.
.
It isn’t detached, like a person standing on a hill far away from an experience, observing it with binoculars.
.
.
It is a form of participation—you are fully living out your life, but you are awake in the midst of it—and it is not limited to the meditation hall.
.
.
It can be used on a simple process like the breathing, or on highly charged and unpleasant emotions like fear or loneliness.
.
.
It can also follow us into the ordinary life situations that make up our day.
.
.
.

%d bloggers like this: