The new issue of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science’s journal *Science* (Vol. 324. no. 5926) includes an article:
“Neuroscience: A Quest for Compassion – Guided by a passionate leader, a
new research institute hopes to draw lessons from Buddhism to study
altruism and make the world a better place” by Greg Miller.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Back in 2000, James Doty was living the high life.

<snip>

At 45, he was planning to retire, donate a large chunk of his fortune to
charity, and divide his time between his three idyllic homes while doing
medical volunteer work in developing countries.

Last month, Doty was standing behind a lectern at Stanford University in
Palo Alto, California, explaining how he’d lost it all in the dot-com bust.

“Within 6 weeks, I was $3 million in the hole,” he said.

<snip>

But he decided, against the advice of friends and family, to follow
through with stock donations that he’d promised before the crash to a
handful of universities and health charities.

(By holding on to the stock until the market recovered, the recipients
ultimately received nearly $30 million.)

Doty says that losing his material wealth made him more reflective.

“Becoming completely detached from something you think you need is an
interesting exercise,” he said, his voice catching with emotion.

“What you realize is … it doesn’t define you as a person.”

His face flushed, he seemed unable to continue.

<snip>

It was an unusually personal speech for an academic conference, but it
was also an unusual conference.

The audience included psychologists, philosophers, economists,
neuroscientists, and theologians who’d gathered for 2 days to inaugurate
a new center at Stanford for the scientific study of compassion.

(more…)

Take some time today, and another day, and another.

Take some time today to find yourself.  Sit quietly. Do nothing. Turn your attention to yourself, inward. Just be. Feel what you feel. Think what you think. Receive the sensations of your body. Drift away, and come back to yourself. Feel into your worries and preoccupations. Feel into your body into those places that get tight with excitement or dread. Feel into your body where sadness condenses like November rain clouds. Hear the voices of your fears and judgments. Feel the release and the peace if that comes. Be with it all. Your fullness and emptiness. Your wisdom or confusion.

Don’t try too hard. Being with yourself has no specific goal. Don’t worry about trying to do something right.  For now, no need to figure it out. Just be.

Take some time today to be quiet and to discover who you are beneath the plans you have woven and the busyness you have committed to.  Beneath the person you want yourself to be. Or that others want you to be. Be yourself for a little while.

Take some time today with yourself. To be.

Brian Grady 25 Mar 09

The University of Montreal issued the following news release about a
study published in *Psychosomatic Medicine* and funded by the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research, the Mind and Life Institute Varela Grant
(J.A.G.), & the Fonds de la recherche en sante du Quebec:

Study finds Zen meditation alleviates pain
University of Montreal pain management study in Psychosomatic Medicine

This release is available in French.

Montreal, February 3, 2009 – Zen meditation – a centuries-old practice
that can provide mental, physical and emotional balance – may reduce
pain according to Universite de Montreal researchers. A new study in the
January edition of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that Zen meditators
have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state
compared to non-meditators.

Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology, co-
authored the paper with Pierre Rainville, a professor and researcher at
the Universite de Montreal and it’s affiliated Institut universitaire de
geriatrie de Montreal. The main goal of their study was to examine
whether trained meditators perceived pain differently than non-meditators.

“While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients
to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain
processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first
step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain
perception.” says Grant.

Meditate away the pain

For this study, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators with a
minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain test and contrasted
their reaction with 13 non-meditators. Subjects included 10 women and 16
men between the ages of 22 to 56.

The administered pain test was simple: A thermal heat source, a computer
controlled heating plate, was pressed against the calves of subjects
intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees
Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each
participant’s sensitivity. While quite a few of the meditators tolerated
the maximum temperature, all control subjects were well below 53 degrees
Celsius.

Grant and Rainville noticed a marked difference in how their two test
groups reacted to pain testing – Zen meditators had much lower pain
sensitivity (even without meditating) compared to non-meditators. During
the meditation-like conditions it appeared meditators further reduced
their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus
an average of 15 breaths for non-meditators.

“Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may
influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state.” says Grant.
“While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain
are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as
well as the emotional response, is different in meditators.”

The ultimate result? Zen meditators experienced an 18 percent reduction
in pain intensity. “If meditation can change the way someone feels pain,
thereby reducing the amount of pain medication required for an ailment,
that would be clearly beneficial,” says Grant.

The University of Missouri-Columbia issued the following news release:

Selflessness, Core Of All Major World Religions, Has Neuropsychological
Connection

All spiritual experiences are based in the brain. That statement is
truer than ever before, according to a University of Missouri
neuropsychologist. An MU study has data to support a neuropsychological
model that proposes spiritual experiences associated with selflessness
are related to decreased activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain.

The study is one of the first to use individuals with traumatic brain
injury to determine this connection. Researchers say the implication of
this connection means people in many disciplines, including peace
studies, health care or religion can learn different ways to attain
selflessness, to experience transcendence, and to help themselves and others.

This study, along with other recent neuroradiological studies of
Buddhist meditators and Francescan nuns, suggests that all individuals,
regardless of cultural background or religion, experience the same
neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences, such as
transcendence. Transcendence, feelings of universal unity and decreased
sense of self, is a core tenet of all major religions. Meditation and
prayer are the primary vehicles by which such spiritual transcendence is
achieved.

“The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences,”
said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of
Health Professions. “We studied people with brain injury and found that
people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported
higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.”

This link is important, Johnstone said, because it means selflessness
can be learned by decreasing activity in that part of the brain. He
suggests this can be done through conscious effort, such as meditation
or prayer. People with these selfless spiritual experiences also are
more psychologically healthy, especially if they have positive beliefs
that there is a God or higher power who loves them, Johnstone said.

“This research also addresses questions regarding the impact of
neurologic versus cultural factors on spiritual experience,” Johnstone
said. “The ability to connect with things beyond the self, such as
transcendent experiences, seems to occur for people who minimize right
parietal functioning. This can be attained through cultural practices,
such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that
impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our
study suggests that ‘selflessness’ is a neuropsychological foundation of
spiritual experiences.”

The research was funded by the MU Center on Religion and the
Professions. The study – “Support for a neuropsychological model of
spirituality in persons with traumatic brain injury” – was published in
the peer-reviewed journal Zygon.

“Our research focused on the personal experience of spiritual
transcendence and does not in any way minimize the importance of
religion or personal beliefs, nor does it suggest that spiritual
experience are related only to neuropsychological activity in the
brain,” Johnstone said. “It is important to note that individuals
experience their God or higher power in many different ways, but that
all people from all religions and beliefs appear to experience these
connections in a similar way.”

“The worst thing that can happen to a person who is already divided up into a dozen different compartments is to seal off yet another compartment and tell him that this one is more important than all others, and that he must henceforth exercise a special care in keeping it separate from them. That is what tends to happen when contemplation is unwisely thrust without warning upon the bewilderment and distraction of Western man.

The first thing you have to do, before you start thinking about such a thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and simple whole, and learn to live as a unified human person. This means that you have to bring back together the fragments of your distracted existence so that when you say “I” there is really someone present to support the pronoun you have uttered.”

The Toronto *Globe & Mail* includes an article: “Meditating through
mental illness” by Anne McIlroy. 15 Aug 08.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

The patients are sitting still, their eyes closed, meditating, on the
floor of a group therapy room at the Centre for Addiction and Mental
Health in Toronto.

It is the fifth week of an eight-week training course in mindfulness
meditation for people recovering from depression.

Their goal is to treat any troubling thoughts or emotions with the same
detachment with which they monitor the breath flowing in and out of
their bodies.

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is growing rapidly in popularity, and
these patients are part of a $2.5-million clinical trial to assess
whether it can prevent relapses as effectively as antidepressant medications.
(more…)

Prozac Nation No More?

In a new book, psychiatrist James Gordon explains why he believes there’s a more effective and drug-free way to treat depression and anxiety.
Anne Underwood
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Updated: 8:56 AM ET Jul 8, 2008

Do we really need Prozac? James Gordon, founder of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., says there’s a better way to treat depression—through diet, exercise and meditation. Roll your eyes all you like. He’s used the approach for 35 years with a wide range of patients, from runaway children and middle-class adults in Washington, D.C., to victims of war in Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel and the Gaza Strip. This week, Gordon is heading to flood-stricken Iowa to see if he can be of assistance there. About 10 percent of American women and 4 percent of men now take antidepressants (according to a 2004 CDC report). Gordon’s new book, “Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression,” outlines a treatment program he believes can be an alternative to medication. NEWSWEEK’s Anne Underwood spoke to Gordon about his recommendations and how he’s implemented them around the world. Excerpts:
(more…)