The Power of Meditation

Mastering Your Own Mind
Distracted? Angry? Envious? There's growing evidence that attention, emotion regulation—even love—are skills that can be trained through the practice of meditation. Perhaps it's time for you to become a high-performance user of your own brain.

 
Practiced Buddhist meditators deploy their brains with exceptional skill. Drawing on 2,500 years of mental technology—techniques for paying careful attention to the workings of their own minds—they develop expertise in controlling the flow of their mental life, avoiding the emotional squalls that often compel us to take personal feelings oh, so personally, and clearing new channels for awareness, calm, compassion and joy.
 
Their example holds the possibility that we can all choose to modulate our moods, regulate our emotions and increase cognitive capacity—that we can all become high-performance users of our own brains.
 
"What we're talking about is a long-term strategy for cultivating the heart and mind to fully draw forth the beneficial capacities of the human mind," says B. Alan Wallace, founder and president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies.
 
A Buddhist scholar who examines the interface between science and religion, he believes that much of human suffering is our own doing. Our feelings contract around threats to our sense of self and cloud our sense perceptions. We end up reacting, as if we had no other choice.
 
Meditation alters what we tend to think of as stable mental traits—anxiety, for example, or anger. Practitioners discover that feelings are events that rise in the psyche like bubbles off the bottom of a pot of boiling water. "They learn to de-identify with their emotions, making it easier to let them go," says neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
 
As the result of an extraordinary convergence of scientific research into interior states and new understanding of an ancient spiritual tradition, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the pioneering Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, "Buddhist meditation is leading to an expansion of the science of what it means to be human."
 
Ten Million Americans Can't All Be Wrong
 
Some 10 million Americans say they practice some form of meditation. Buddhism is unique among spiritual traditions in its emphasis on psychology.
 
Its core teachings encourage practitioners to shake off suffering and discover happiness. The very concept of self-improvement informs bhavana, the Sanskrit word commonly translated as "meditation," though it literally means "cultivation." "It has exactly the same connotation as when we say we 'cultivate a garden,' " says Wallace.
 
It remains a radical notion in the West that benevolent states of mind such as concentration, kindness and happiness can be developed with practice. Apart from a growing "positive psychology" movement, many of whose leaders are in fact strongly influenced by Buddhism, Western scientists are still largely oriented toward healing the mentally ill, rather than improving the lives of the functionally OK.
 
Recollect Freud's humble goal: to transform hysterical misery into common unhappiness. Western science is content to believe that each of us has a more or less genetically determined set point for well-being—and that happiness and love happen to us.
 
The Buddha framed things differently. He taught that our default mode may be to suffer, but only because of ignorance. We can transcend our lot by learning to quiet the mind in meditation—not merely to relax and cope with stress, as the popular notion of Buddhism holds, but to rigorously train oneself to relinquish bad mental habits. Rather than being an end in itself, meditation becomes a tool to investigate your mind and change your worldview. You're not tuning out so much as tuning up your brain, improving your self-monitoring skills.
 
"You stop being always projected outside. You start looking in and seeing how your mind works, and you change your mind, thought by thought," explains Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, scientist and French interpreter for the Dalai Lama.
 
"The French intellectuals don't like this. They say, 'Let's be spontaneous; passions are the beauty of life.' They think that making an effort is not nice—a silly old discipline—and that's why we're such a mess. But many modern people understand the notion of getting fit with physical training." So the idea of developing mental skills with meditation is gaining ground.
 
Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)
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