Archive for December, 2017

Happy New Year 2018

December 31, 2017

Let us resolve to build healthier memories by building growth mindsets and via meditation and mindfulness that not only foster healthier memories, but also make us better human beings. Visit or revisit the websites http://joinaforce4good.org/learn and https://centerhealthyminds.org.

Advertisements

Getting Rid of Negative Stereotypes About Aging

December 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Judith Graham in the Health Section of the 7 November issue of the Washington Post. Here is the key opening sentence: “Seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer than other seniors.”

According to reports from the “Reframing Aging Initiative,” although people may hope for good health and happiness, they tend to believe that growing older involves deterioration and decline.” Unfortunately, dismal expectations can become self-fulfilling as people start experiencing changes associated with growing older such as aching knees or problems with hearing. If these negative stereotypes have been internalized, confidence may be ended, stress responses activated, motivation diminished (“I’m old, and it’s too late to change things”) and a sense of efficacy impaired (“I can’t do that”).

Studies show that older adults who hold negative stereotypes tend to walk slowly, experience memory problems, and recover less fully from a fall or fracture. But seniors whose view of aging is primarily positive live 7.5 years longer than other seniors.

Positive images of aging can be enhanced and the effects of negative stereotypes can be reduced. At a recent meeting of the National Academies of Sciences’ Forum on Aging Disability and Independence the following suggestions were offered:

Become aware of implicit biases such as the sight of an older person using a cane triggering associations with dependency and incompetence. To identify implicit bias, pay attention to your automatic responses. For example, if you become upset at the sight of wrinkles when looking into a bathroom mirror, acknowledge this reaction and ask yourself, “Why is this upsetting?”

Replace stereotypes. Instead of assuming a senior with a cane needs your help, you might ask, “Would you like assistance?” This question respects the individual’s autonomy.

Embrace new images. This involves thinking about people who don’t fit the stereotype. This could be older athletes and older people who are doing something you admire.

Individualize it. The more we know about people, the less we’re likely to think of them as a group characterized by stereotypes. What unique challenges does an older person face? How are these challenges coped with day to day.

Switch perspectives. This involves imagining yourself as a member of the group you’ve been stereotyping. What would it be like if strangers patronized you and called you “sweetie” or “dear” for example.

Make contact. Interact with the people you’ve been stereotyping. Visit and talk with that friend who’s now living in a retirement community.
The following recommendations come from HM. Belie these stereotypes by the way you live. Don’t be a physical or cognitive couch potato. Stay physically and cognitive active. Learn new information, master new skills. Continue to grow. Meditate with the theme that you are not growing older, you are growing better.

You might also want to visit the following website: giaging.org

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We’ve Finally Seen How the Sleeping Brain Stores Memories

December 29, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post by Jessica Hamzelou in the 7 October 2017 issue of the New Scientist. To do this research needed to find volunteers who were able to sleep in an fMRI scanner. They needed to scan 50 people to find the 13 who were able to do so. These volunteers were taught to press a set of keys in a specific sequence. It took each person between 10 to 20 minutes to master this sequence.

Once they learned this sequence they each put on a cap of EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of their brains, and entered an fMRI scanner, which detects which regions of the brain are active.

There was a specific pattern of brain activity when the volunteers performed the key-pressing task. Once they stopped, this pattern kept replaying in their brains as if each person was subconsciously reviewing what they had learned.

The volunteers were then asked to go to sleep, and they were monitored for two and a half hours. At first, the pattern of brain activity continued to replay in the outer region of the brain called the cortex, which is involved in higher thought.

When the volunteers entered non-REM sleep, which is known as the stage when we have relatively mundane dreams, the pattern started to fade in the cortex, but a similar pattern of activity started in the putamen, a region deep within the brain
(eLife, doi.org/cdsz). Shabbat Vahdat, the team leader at Stanford University, said that the memory trace evolved during sleep.

The researchers think that movement-related memories are transferred to deeper brain regions for long-term storage. Christoph Nissen at University Psychiatric Services in Bern Switzerland says, “this chimes with the hypothesis that the brain;’s cortex must free up space so that it can continue to learn new information.

The title of this post is identical to the title of a post by Jessica Hamzelou in the 7 October 2017 issue of the New Scientist. To do this research needed to find volunteers who were able to sleep in an fMRI scanner. They needed to scan 50 people to find the 13 who were able to do so. These volunteers were taught to press a set of keys in a specific sequence. It took each person between 10 to 20 minutes to master this sequence.

Once they learned this sequence they each put on a cap of EEG electrodes to monitor the electrical activity of their brains, and entered an fMRI scanner, which detects which regions of the brain are active.

There was a specific pattern of brain activity when the volunteers performed the key-pressing task. Once they stopped, this pattern kept replaying in their brains as if each person was subconsciously reviewing what they had learned.

The volunteers were then asked to go to sleep, and they were monitored for two and a half hours. At first, the pattern of brain activity continued to replay in the outer region of the brain called the cortex, which is involved in higher thought.

When the volunteers entered non-REM sleep, which is known as the stage when we have relatively mundane dreams, the pattern started to fade in the cortex, but a similar pattern of activity started in the putamen, a region deep within the brain
(eLife, doi.org/cdsz). Shabbat Vahdat, the team leader at Stanford University, said that the memory trace evolved during sleep.

The researchers think that movement-related memories are transferred to deeper brain regions for long-term storage. Christoph Nissen at University Psychiatric Services in Bern Switzerland says, “this chimes with the hypothesis that the brain;’s cortex must free up space so that it can continue to learn new information.

Regular Walking May Help Older Adults Live Longer

December 28, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Rachael Rettner in the Health Section of the 24 October 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

A new study finds that regular walking may help older adults live longer, even if they don’t walk enough to meet exercise guidelines. Adults up to age 64 should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week. But only half of those adults, and 42% of people ages 65 to 74, meet these recommendations.

This new study was based on data from nearly 140,000 US adults in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and followed them for 13 years. The respondents were asked how much time they spent exercising per week and which types of activity they engaged in.

The results showed that those who reported walking regularly but not enough to meet the exercise guidelines were less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t get any physical activity. The researchers found that those who didn’t get any exercise were 26% more likely to die during the study period than were those who walked less than two hours per week. The findings held even after the researchers took into account factors that could affect the link, such as smoking, obesity, chronic conditions (including diabetes), and time spent sitting.

The researchers wrote in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “…doctors should encourage patients to walk, even if less than the recommended amount, especially as they age, for health and longevity. Walking has been described as the ‘perfect exercise’ because it is a simple action that is free, convenient, and does not require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age.”

Not surprisingly the study also found that walking for a length of time that meets or exceeds physical activity guidelines was linked to even more benefits. Those who walked 2.5 to 5 hours a week were 20% less likely to die of any cause, 30% less likely to die of respiratory disease and 9 % less likely to die of cancer during the study period, compared with those who walked for less than two hours a week.

The researchers concluded, “This study shows that engaging in walking is associated with increased longevity and has the potential to improve the public’s health significantly.

And HM reminds you that it also fosters healthy memories regardless of age.

Smartphones and Teen Suicides

December 27, 2017

This post is based on an article written by Jean Twenge titled “As smartphones spread among teens, so did suicide,” in the Health Section of the 21 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. The article summarizes the research she and her colleagues published in Clinical Psychological Science. The research found that the generation of teens called “iGen”, those born after 1995, is much more likely to experience mental-health issues than their millennial predecessors. Increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background: more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities, and in every region of the country.

According to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50% threshold in late 2012, right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73% of teens had access to a smartphone. The research found the teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71% more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Two studies followed how people spend time. Both studies found that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more study. An experiment randomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for week, vs. continuing their usual use. The group that avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.

The finding is that iGen folks spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest sources of human happiness. Teens who spent more time on average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012 teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).

Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely than others to not get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep is a major risk factor for depression. So if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Clearly restricting screen time, to two hours a day or less, is needed.
Twenge is professor of psychology at San Diego State University.

Addicted to Tech? A Brain Chemical Imbalance May Be to Blame

December 26, 2017

The title to this post is identical to the title of a News & Technology piece by Timothy Revell in the 9 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist.

Hung Suk Seo at Korea University and his team scanned the brains of 19 teenagers who answered in surveys that their tech usage was detrimental to their lives, and compared the results with 19 others of similar age who said that had no problems with tech. The initial scans showed that those who said they were addicted had more of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which slows signals and is thought to help regulate anxiety, but less of a chemical glutamate, which caused neurons to become electrically excited.

Of the 19 tech addicts they examined, 12 undertook a course of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) designed to reduce the amount of time spent using technology. These participants then underwent a second scan. The relative amounts of GABA and glutamate converged to more normal levels after CBT. The amount of time spent using technology also moved to more normal levels.

Although the direction of cause and effect is unclear here (whether the abnormal levels caused the abnormal use, or whether abnormal use caused the abnormal levels) is not really important. What is important is that CBT can bring technology use to normal levels.

Although the term technology addiction is predominately used, and technology companies use insights from psychology to increase usage, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder task force, which is used in the United States has yet to include internet addiction as a diagnosis for fear of mislabeling many of the 3 billion people around the world who are attached to their smartphones.

What is important is how the individual feels about their own technology use. Unless they feel that they are addicted, it is doubtful that they will free themselves of their perceived addiction. However, we all would do well to objectively consider if we are suffering adverse effects from technology use and respond accordingly.

Merry Christmas 2017

December 24, 2017

The day that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ who taught us to love and have compassion for our fellow humans.

How the Cognitive Reserve Works

December 22, 2017

There have been many previous healthy memory posts informing its readers that there are people who die with brains filled with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, but who never exhibited any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. About one-third of the people who die without cognitive problems have had the plaques and tangles that define Alzheimer’s Disease. It is believed that intellectual stimulation builds this cognitive reserve. HM has advanced the notion that it is specifically Daniel Kahneman’s System 2 processing that largely builds this cognitive reserve.

The question is what is the cause or causes of this cognitive reserve? Jeremy Herskowitz at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his colleagues studied brain samples from 41 people. They had either beta-amyloid plaques but not symptoms, plaques and symptoms, or no plaques or symptoms. The team took close-up pictures of the samples, then used software to trace the physical shape of the brain cells and their connections or synapses. This technique allowed the team to visualize the first neuron of a pair that make up a synapse. This neuron sends out small buds known as spines which connect with projections from other neurons. Each synapse exists where a spine links to a projection. The spines of people who were Alzheimer’s resistant were longer than those from the other groups (Annals of Neurology, dos.org/cgfx).

Synapses are where signals pass from one neuron to another. Herskowitz says “the longer spines might make the synapse more effective in this role. Or new spines might be growing outwards to generate more synapses to replace those destroyed by plaques and tangles.” Herskowitz goes on to say,”It’s possible that the spines are reaching out to maintain the synaptic connections. They are putting themselves out there to catch a new one.”

Michael Valenzuela at the University of Sydney says that this finding may not be the only explanation. Brain imaging studies suggest that people who are resistant to Alzheimer’s may compensate for damage by using different parts of their brain. It should also be noted that these explanations are not mutually exclusive. They could both be operative.

The news here is that we have reasonable explanations as to what accounts for this cognitive reserve. However, it has long be expected that this cognitive reserve is built by cognitive activity. HM further postulates that it is System 2 processing of Kahneman’s ilk that is primarily responsible for the cognitive reserve.

So live a healthy lifestyle, stay cognitively engaged, and foster growth mindsets for a health memory.

This post is based on an article by Claire Wilson titled “Elongating your brain cells could ward off Alzheimer’s in the News & Technology section of the 25 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Who is the Greatest Liar?

December 20, 2017

Psychologist Bella DePaulo has spent the first two decades of her career studying liars and their lies. She thought she had developed a sense of what to expect from them. Then along came President Trump, She says “His lies are both more frequent and more malicious than ordinary people’s.

At the University of Virginia she asked 77 college students and 70 people from the nearby community to keep diaries of all the lies they told every day for a week. They handed them in with no names attached. The researchers categorized each lie as either self-serving (told to advantage the liar or protect the liar from embarrassment, blame or other undesired outcomes), kind (told to advantage, flatter or protect someone else), or cruel (told to hurt or embarrass someone).

The Fact Check at the Washington Post has been tracking every false and misleading claim and flip-flop made by Trump during his first year as president. The inclusion of misleading statements and flip-flops is consistent with the definition of lying the researchers gave to their participants: “A lie occurs any time you intentionally try to mislead someone.” She notes that in the case of Trump’s claims, though, it is possible to ascertain only whether they were false or misleading and not what Trump’s intentions were. And while the subjects of her research self-reported how often they lied, Trump’s falsehoods were tallied by The Post.

Dr. DePaulo categorized the most recent 400 lies that The Post had documented through Mid-November in the same way the researcher had categorized the lies of the participants in their study.

The college students in the previous research told an average of two lies a day, and the community participants told one. A more recent study of the lies 1,000 U.S. adults told in the previous 24 hours found hat people told an average of 1.65 lies per day; the authors noted that 60% of the participants said they told no lies at all., while the top 5% of liars told nearly half of all the falsehoods in the study.

In Trump’s first 298 days in office he made 1,628 false or misleading claims or flip-flops by The Post’s tally. That’s about six per day, far higher than the average rate in the previous studies. Of course, reporters have access to only a subset of Trump’s false statements—the ones he makes publicly. That rate has been accelerating starting in early October. The Post’s tracking showed that Trump told a remarkable nine lies a day, outpacing even the biggest liars in previous research.

Dr. DePaulo notes that the flood of deceit is not the most surprising finding about Trump. Usually people lie to make themselves appear better. These lies are self-serving. Sometimes people lie to be kind. That is they do not want to hurt or offend the recipient of the lie. And sometimes people lie to be cruel and hurt people.

Here is how these different types of lies break down for Trump, Community Members, and College Students.

Self-serving Trump (64.8%) Community Members (56.7%) College Students (45.5%)
Kind Trump (9.8%) Community Members (24.4%) College Students (25.7%)                    Cruel Trump (50.2%) Community Members (2.4%) College Students (0.8%)

More than half of Trump’s lies are to hurt people or to get back at them for some perceived wrong. More than 90% of this lies are self-serving or vindictive.
Some of Trump’s lies are both self-serving and vindictive. For example, “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged me’ to endorse him for reelection in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out.

Polls have reveal that fewer than 40% of Americans see Trump as honest. This roughly corresponds to what is regarded as Trump’s base. Remember that the default we humans have is to believe. This is a reasonable default to believe unless there is reason to not believe.

How can Trump’s base still believe in him? As has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts these people are System 1 processors virtually exclusively. System 1 processing is fast, can be regarded as intuitive, and is highly emotional. System 2 processing is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes. One of the roles of System 2 processing is to detect errors in System 1 processing, which is something that does not happen in Trump’s base.

Less than 40% should not be something to worry about, Unfortunately due to gerrymandering and the electoral college, the will of the majority of Americans is ignored. Remember that Trump lost the general election. Trump is not a true Republican; still too many Republicans support him because they like to have power. Were these Republicans to value Country first rather than Party first, the country would not be in its present danger.

Dr. DePaulo’s research was taken from her article titled “I study liars. I’ve never seen one like President Trump.” in the Outlook section of the 10 December 2017 issue of the Washington Post.

What makes Trump especially dangerous as President is that he has been diagnosed as having a delusional disorder. The delusional disorder is a “stealth” disorder because such individuals can seem perfectly normal, logical, high functioning and even charming as long as the delusion itself is not challenged. Having the delusional disorder Trump is not aware that he is lying. He exists in an alternative reality wherein he is infallible and what he says is true. If he was hooked up to a lie detector, his lies would not be detected, because he does not believe he is lying. Someone with such a disorder should not be the president. The quickest way this could be done is with the Twenty-fifth Amendment. The Republicans would have to do this, but if they recognized that he is not a true Republican and that they need to be country rather than party first, this hazard could be quickly removed.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Study: Richest 1% Own 40% of the Country’s Wealth

December 19, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the titled of a Wonkblog piece by Christopher Ingraham in the 7 December 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Here is the current breakdown of wealth in the United States

Population    % of Wealth
Top 1%             40%
Next 4%           27%
Next 5%           12%
Next 10%         11%
Second 20%      8%
Middle 20%      2%
Fourth 20%       0%
Bottom 20%     -1% (negative net worth)

In 2010 Michael Norton and Dan Ariely surveyed more than 5500 people to find out how they thought wealth should be distributed in the United States

Population    % of Wealth
Top 20%         32%
Second 20%   22%
Middle 20%   21%
Fourth 20%   13%
Bottom 20%   11%

Now here is a summary of how wealth is distributed around the world. It shows how much of their domestic wealth the top 1% owns in their respective countries,

Country            % of Wealth
United States       40%
Germany               25%
France                   18%
United Kingdom 18%
Canada                  16%
Finland                  12%

So the distribution of wealth in the United States is frighteningly unequal.
It is both unhealthy and dangerous.
The next tax bill exacerbates this problem.

Here is a relevant simile.

Money is like manure. It needs to be spread around.

The Quality of Life Lessons We Should Learn from the Allegations Against Paul Manafort

December 18, 2017

This post is based on an article by Michelle Singletary titled “The financial lessons we should learn from the allegations against Paul Manafort in the 1 November 2017 issue of the Washington Post. Ms. Singletary notes that the American economist Thorstein Veblen, in his book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class” coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to describe wealthy people who broadcast their wealth and attempt to boost their reputations by purchasing things. He wrote, “conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen of leisure.”

Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were living very comfortable lives. But they risked their comfortable lives to achieve even more wealth and apparent prestige. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 Million. Here’s what his indictment says:
“Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income. Manafort, without reporting the income to his tax preparer or the United States spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services on himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to United States vendors. Manafort allegedly withdrew money from offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties. Some of his spending also allegedly included the purchase of four Range Rovers that cost a total of $210,705 and a Mercedes-Benz for $62,750; landscaping at a Hamptons property; and improvements to a house in Palm Beach, FL. Manafort also allegedly spent $934,350 on antique rugs at a store in Alexandria, VA; close to $850,000 on clothing at a men’s store in New York between 2008 and 2014; and another half-million dollars at a clothing store in Beverly Hills, CA.”

Ms. Singletary notes a Princeton University economics researcher, Ori Heifetz, who examined the need for people to flaunt their financial status. In a 2004 paper he wrote, “In the signaling game we call life, when deciding upon a course of action, we consider not only the direct effects of our choice, but also the indirect (or social) effects resulting from society observing our choice. Ms. Singletary elaborates on this point, “It matters to man it signals they’ve arrived at some destination point of social standing. It’s a sign of success. People like to tell themselves their BMWs, Mercedes, or Range Rovers are far superior to other vehicles. But on the Consumer Reports 2017 list of the 10 most reliable cars, half are priced under $30,000.”

Perhaps the most obvious examples of conspicuous consumption are Rolex watches. There was a time when one could justify spending a large amount on an Accutron watch, because it kept better time. But a Rolex is bought to impress, as it is no more accurate than inexpensive watches. However, to a cynical psychologist like HM, a Rolex watch reveals an underlying sense of inferiority, and perhaps, an unconscious desire to be mugged.

This post makes the same argument as the preceding post, “It Should Be Life Quality Not Household Income.” Ms. Singletary quotes from the Book of Proverbs, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” Eudaemonia and ikigai provide a road to true happiness that hedonism does not.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It Should be Life Quality Not Household Income

December 17, 2017

Being at the forefront of the baby boomers, HM becomes extremely agitated when he reads of how bad the more recent generations have it. The argument usually consists of adjustments of median income, and that this is not keeping up with previous generations. Monetary income is used to quantify life quality. This is extremely shortsighted and wrong.

Do any of these new generations wish they could have been in the good old days of the baby boomers? If they do, then they are fools. Personal computers were not available to say nothing of the internet and mobile computing. Would anyone in these new generations be willing to part with their smartphones? Medical care, automobiles, and other technologies have markedly improved.

Many baby boomers had to register for the draft and fight in the Viet Nam war. They had the privilege of possibly having their names added to the wall on the Mall. Of course, if one was wealthy, it was quite possible to find a physician who would provide the basis for a medical deferment.

Unfortunately, dollars are equated with happiness and life satisfaction. The Gross Domestic Product is the most common means of assessing life satisfaction, if not happiness. A healthy economy requires the GDP to grow. We are placed on a treadmill to continue working to buy more material goods. This is the rat race that is only occasionally mentioned.

There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the expectations HM was given when he was in elementary school. He learned that advances in technology would allow a large increase in leisure time. At that time women with children rarely worked. Now everybody is working longer hours. Why? There is a fear of technology taking away jobs. Why? Why can’t technology be used to increase leisure time and to make life more enjoyable?

A previous post, Flourishing, described what Aristotle and other wise people, both ancient and contemporary, wrote about what constitutes the good life. Rather than hedonism, the goals should be eudaemonia and ikigai, having a purpose in life other than having a job to earn money to engage in a futile effort to achieve happiness. Follow the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and go to http://joinaforce4good.org/learn.

There are metrics for Gross National Happiness that are more relevant to happiness than are gross domestic products. (Enter “Gross National Happiness” into the search block of the healthymemory blog to find relevant posts.)

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on the Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 16, 2017

That is from the book written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman, “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.” Five healthy memory blog posts have already been written. Several more months could be spent on posts summarizing more wisdom from the book. Instead chapter titles and headings from the remainder of the book will be written here in the hope that they will persuade to you read the book on your own.

The first two parts, that have been reviewed are titled Part One: A World Citizen and Part Two: Looking Inward.

Part Three is titled Looking outward
Representative titles and headings follow;
Compassion Takes Action
Constructive Anger
The Strength of Altruism
The Empathy Gap
Structural Unfairness
Impeccability
Economics as if People Mattered
Rethinking Economics
The Secret of Happiness
Action for Happiness
Doing Good While Doing Well
Care for Those in Need
Helping People Help Themselves
Self-Mastery
Women as Leaders
Barefoot College
Heal the Earth
Radical Transparency
Trade-offs, Innovations—and Education
Rethinking Every Thing
How Did That Get Here?
A Century of Dialogue
Beyond Us and Them
The Power of Truth
Harmony Among Religions
Toward a Century of Dialogue
Put-Ups and Win-Wins
Educate the Heart
Mind Training
Reinventing Education
Social and Emotional Learning
A Call to Care
Part Four is titled Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The Long View
Are Things Getting Better or Worse?
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Thinking in New Ways
A Theory of Change
Plant the Seeds for a Better World
Act Now
Take It to Scale
The Human Connection
Think, Plan, Act

Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

December 15, 2017

With the Dalai Lama’s encouragement Richard Davidson founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM). Part of its mission is to study the best routes to compassion. A kindness curriculum is being tested at a preschool there. Preschoolers recite together a kindness pledge: “May all I think, say, or do not hurt anyone and help everyone.”

If the children do something kind for someone, they earn a “seed of kindness” planted on a big poster of a “kindness garden.”

They have a practice they call “belly buddies.” Children put a favorite stuffed animal on their bellies, then lie down and quiet themselves by paying full attention to the buddy rising and falling as they breathe in and out. The kindness curriculum includes a variety of methods like these, all aimed at helping the preschoolers learn to be more calm and quiet. This exercise should also prepare the children for the meditations they will do when they are older.

These preschoolers, four- and five-year-olds, are at the cusp of a development phase when kids are known to become more selfish, self-focused, and egocentric. In a test of the kindness program’s effects, the preschoolers were given a challenge after a semester.

Each child received some “cool” stickers (kids at this age are passionate about stickers) and was asked to allot the stickers to several envelopes: one with their own picture on it, one with a picture of their best fiend, the third with a child they did not know, and the fourth with a sick child.

Over the semester, a comparison group of preschoolers who did not participate in the program became more selfish in their sticker allotments—but not the kids in the kindness curriculum. So this usual trend in five-year-olds toward selfishness can be offset. Moreover, this shift toward a warmer heart is not just for children.

https://centerhealthyminds.org/about/founder-richard-davidson

The website for this center is provided above. It is certainly worth checking out.

Partnering with Science

December 14, 2017

The title of this post is identical to a chapter in “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. The Dalai Lama sees science as but one way of grasping reality, limited by its methodologies and assumptions, like another way of knowing. The Dalai Lama said, “Scientists themselves have emotions that create problems. If we get helpful finding from science about how to create greater well-being and lessen destructive emotions, it’s more convincing and it will also help the scientists.

When Goleman was a pre-doctoral traveling fellow in South Asia, he studied a fifth-century text that provided a sampling of “ancient Indian psychology.” He was amazed at the precision with which this text delineated specific methods to shift our emotional and mental states (not to mention achieving transcendental states, which even today are largely off psychology’s map in the West.) So it is not only the Buddhist religion that offers relevant practices for western psychology, but eastern psychology itself has valuable science for the west.

The Dalai Lama has met many distinguished scientists on his visits to the West, and there have been many western scientists who have traveled to India to meet the Dalai Lama.

When Kiley Hamlin, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia was showing the Dalai Lama a video of a three-month-old preferring a nicer triangle (the triangle was shown as being nicer in the video) to the mean square (which was shown as being a meanie in the video). She concluded, “The very young already like goodness and enjoy being helpful and compassionate.”

Although pleased the Dalai Lama did not take this presentation uncritically. The Dalai Lama responded, “Thinking in terms of statistics, you’ve shown only one child. That is the average response?”

Hamlin reassured him that this test had been replicated with hundreds of children and in cultures around the world.

The Dalai Lama nodded in approval—but still queried, “And was their economic level taken into account?

Hamlin confirmed that they had found the same in children from poorer families and from wealthy ones.

In addition to his travels to meet scientists in the west, regular conferences are held at the Dalai Lama’s residence in India where scientists present their research to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama says that he’s collecting “ammunition,” findings to support his message in his public talks—and with the press.

The Dalai Lama’s Approach to Religion

December 13, 2017

To be sure, the Dalai Lama’s understanding of the power of compassion comes from his deep spiritual reflections of human suffering and relief from that suffering. However, as a world leader, the Dalai Lama puts aside religion, ideology, or any faith-based belief system in seeking a foundation for this compassionate ethic. He notes that, for centuries, religion provided an ethical base—but with the spin-off of philosophy from theology, postmodernism, and the “death of God.” many people have been left with no absolute foundation for ethics. Moreover, so often the talk about ethics polarizes people who get hijacked by extreme voices, particularly when the discussion revolves around religious belief.

Those who cause the troubles we hear about in the daily news all too often invoke as justification one or another religion—whether Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or any other. The Dalai Lama says, “then there are those narrow-minded believers who say all creatures are the same but emphasize their own faith, forgetting the larger perspective.”

He observes that “their actions show that ‘deep inside’ they do not take their own religion’s moral values seriously and so distort or carefully select some textual sources while ignoring others, to serve their own needs. If we lack basic conviction in the value of compassion, then the effect of religion will be quite limited.”

Religions have had thousands of years to promote ethics—and have often failed, he says. Besides, while selflessness and kindness are ideals found in most faith-based teachings, these virtues also exist in nonreligious ethical systems. He continues”there are countless people in the world who are concerned for all humanity and yet who do not have religion. I think of all the doctors and aid workers volunteering in such places as Darfur or Haiti or wherever there is conflict of natural disaster. Some of them may be people of faith, but many are not. Their concern is not for this group or that group but simply for human beings. What drives them is genuine compassion—the determination to alleviate the suffering of others.”

He seeks a morality of compassion that all agree upon: “My concern is the seven billion human beings alive now, including one billion nonbelievers.”

A Force for Good

December 12, 2017

The Dalai Lama envisions a force for good. That force begins by countering the energies within the human mind that drive our negativity. To change the future and not repeat the past, The Dalai Lama tells us, we need need to transform our own minds—weaken the pull of our destructive emotions to strengthen our better natures.

Absent that inner shift, we remain vulnerable to knee-jerk reactions like rage, frustration, and hopelessness. These only lead us to the same old forlorn paths.

With a positive inner shift, we can more naturally embody concern for others—and so act with compassion, the core of moral responsibility. The Dalai Lama says that this prepares us to enact a larger mission with new clarity, calm, and caring. We can tackle intractable problems, like corrupt decision-makers and tuned out elites, greed and self-interest as giving motives, the indifference of the powerful to the powerless.

By beginning this social revolution inside our own minds, the Dalai Lama’s vision aims to avoid the blind alleys of past movements for the better. He cites the message of George Orwell’s cautionary parable “Animal Farm:” how greed and lust for power corrupted the “utopias” which were supposed to overthrow despots and help everyone equally, but in the end re-created the power imbalances and injustices of the very past they were supposed to have eradicated.

The Dalai Lama sees that the seeds we plant today can change the course of our shared tomorrow. Some may bring immediate fruits others may only be harvested by generations yet to come. But our united efforts, if based on this inner shift, can make an enormous difference.

The life journey that led the Dalai Lama to this vision has followed a complex course, but we can pick up the final trajectory to this book from the moment he attained a sustained global spotlight.

That global spotlight began when the Dalai Lama earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He was a new breed of celebrity. He was neither thrilled by fame and money nor overly eager for exposure in the world press. His very being seems to tell us you are not the center of the universe—relax your anxieties, drop your self-obsession, and dial down those me-first ambitions so you can think about others too. He immediately gave away the cash award that goes with the Nobel Prize. His main concern was who would be the most worthy recipients.

He refuses to be sanctimonious about himself and laughs at his own foibles. He flavors compassion with joy, not dour and empty platitudes.

Goleman notes that these traits are no doubt grounded in the study and practices the Dalai Lama has immersed himself in since childhood and and still devotes himself to for five hours each day (four in the morning and another hour at night). “His self-discipline in cultivating qualities like an investigative curiosity, equanimity, and compassion undergird a unique hierarchy of values that gives the Daily Lama the radically different perspective on the world from which his vision flows.”

The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

December 11, 2017

Previous posts on the Dalai Lama have focused primarily on the benefits of different types of mindfulness and meditation. Their focus has been primarily on science. “A FORCE FOR GOOD: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for our World” has been written for the Dalai Lama by Daniel Goleman. It outlines the Dalai Lama’s ideas on how to improve this world. This vision is worthy of your attention and the following posts will try to extract his ideas within the limitations of blog posts. You are strongly encouraged to read the book itself. There is also a website associated with this book,
http://joinaforce4good.org/learn. It is certainly worthy of repeated visits.

The following is taken from the Introduction to the book, which is written by the Dalai Lama:
“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can. I am also a Buddhist monk, and according to my experience, all religious traditions have the potential to convey the message of love and compassion. So my second commitment is to foster harmony and friendly relations between them. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan, and although I have retired from political responsibility, I remain concerned to do what I can to help the Tibetan people, and to preserve our Buddhist culture and the natural environment of Tibet—-both of which are under threat of destruction.

The goal of happier human beings living together and supporting each other more fully in a more peaceful world is, I believe, something we can achieve. But we have to look at it taking a broad view and a long-term perspective. Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry; it will take time. But if we don’t make the effort nothing will happen at all. The most important thing I hope readers will come to understand is that change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or at the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves sided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense. While reading this book, please keep in mind that as human beings, equipped with marvelous intelligence and the potential for developing a warm heart, each and every one of us can become a force for good.

Loving Kindness Meditation

December 10, 2017

Loving-Kindness meditation falls into the class of analytic meditation. Although for many readers Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response will be sufficient, if you want to try a type of analytic meditation, HM strongly recommends loving-kindness meditation. There are several reasons for this. One is that HM finds this meditation personally fulfilling. Another is that researchers have been astounded at the recordings and images of the brain from highly experienced meditators while they are doing this meditation. The third reason is that the world is much in need of love and kindness. Loving-kindness is wanting others to be happy. You should be comfortable doing the relaxation response before trying loving-kindness meditation.

This is taken from Kathleen McDonald’s “How to Meditate.” Be comfortable. Relax your body and mind and let all thoughts and worries subside. Mindfully observe your breath until you are calm and your awareness is focused in the here-and-now. You should think that you are doing this meditation for the benefit of yourself and others: to generate more positive, loving energy in your mind and to send it out to others, to the world.

Start by imagining living beings around you: your mother is on your left, your father on your right, and other relatives and friends are around you and behind you. Visualize in front of you those who dislike or who have hurt you. And extending in every direction, right to the horizon, are all other beings. Feel as if they are there, all in human form, sitting quietly, like you. If it is difficult to visualize all beings, think of as many as you can comfortably. Stay relaxed—don’t feel crowded or tense, but imagine that a sense of harmony and peace pervades everyone.

Consider how nice it would be, for yourself and others, if you were able to love all these beings. Contemplate that everyone wants to be happy and to avoid suffering, just as you do. They are all trying to make the best of their lives, even those who are angry and violent.

Now generate a feeling of love in your heart. You can do this by thinking of someone you love and letting your natural good feelings for this person arise. You might like to imagine your love as a warm, bright light, not physical, but pure, positive energy glowing in your heart.

Before you can love others you need to love yourself as you are, with your personal faults and shortcomings, and recognizing you have the potential to free yourself from all your problems. So, really wish yourself all the happiness and goodness there is. Imagine the the warm energy in your heart expands until it completely fills your body and mind.

Now meditate on your love for others. Start with your family and close friends sitting near you. Say in your mind words such as “May you be happy, may all your thoughts be positive and all your experiences good. May your lives be long and peaceful . Continue in this manner. Imagine the warm luminous energy generating from your body touching them and filling their bodies and minds, bringing them the happiness they wish for. Don’t worry if you don’t actually feel love; it’s enough to say these words and think these thoughts. In time the feeling will come.

Then think of some people you are not so close to and extend the same wishes as before.

The hard part comes last. Turn your attention to the people in front of you, those you are having difficulty with or for whom you have extreme dislike. Contemplate that they also need and deserve your love. Wish them to be free of the confusion, anger, and self-centeredness that drive them to act the way they do. Really want them to find peace of mind, happiness, and finally enlightenment. Think and try to extend the same wishes as in the case of the preceding groups.

Conclude the session by thinking that you definitely have the potential to love everyone, even those who annoy or hurt you and those you don’t even know. Generate a strong wish to work on your own anger, impatience, selfishness and the other problems that prevent you from having such love. Keeping your mind open and trying to overcome ego’s prejudiced attitudes will leave much space in your heart for pure, universal love—and thus happiness for yourself and others—to develop.

Kathleen McDonald likes to dedicate her meditations. In this case, she says, “Finally, dedicate the positive energy of your meditation to all beings, with the wish that they find happiness and enlightenment.

For another version of the loving-kindness meditation, go to the healthy memory blog titled, “SPACE.”

Analytical Meditation

December 9, 2017

This is the advanced deep path meditation. Usually stabilizing meditation (see previous post) is preliminary to analytic meditation. This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things. Analytical meditation brings into play creative intellectual thought and is crucial to our development: the first step in gaining any real insight is to understand conceptually how things are. This conceptual clarity develops into firm conviction which, when combined with stabilizing meditation, brings direct and intuitive knowledge.

It is doubtful that most readers will want to get into this level of meditation, and fortunately, there are many benefits to just using the relaxation response. However, others might want to try this and see if it is for them. This can lead to retreats and a high level of involvement.

Should you be interested in exploring analytical meditation a good book is “How to Meditate by Kathleen McDonald. In addition to covering the basics, here is what she covers:

Meditations on the Mind which include meditation on the breath, meditation on the clarity of the mind, and meditation on the continuity of the mind.

Analytical Meditations which include Meditation on Emptiness, Appreciating our Human Life, Meditation on Impermanence, Death Awareness Meditation, Meditation on Karma, Purifying Negative Karma, Meditation on Suffering, Equanimity Meditation, Meditation on Love, Meditation on Compassion and Giving and Taking, Dealing with Negative Energy.

Visualization Meditations which include Body of Light Meditation, Simple Purification Meditation, Meditation on Tara, the Buddha of Enlightened Activity, Meditation on Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, Inner Heat Meditation.

And should you be interested in Prayers and Other Devotional Practices
Prayers, Explanation of the Prayers, A Short meditation on the Graduated Path of Enlightenment, Meditation on the Buddha, Meditation on the Healing Buddha, Meditation on the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, Prayer to Tara, Vajrsattva Purification, The Eight Mahayana Precepts, Prostations to the Thirty-five Buddhas.

P.S. HM finds parts of this post, which were taken from Kathleen McDonald’s book disturbing. “For example, This type of meditation is for the purpose of developing insight or correct understanding of the way things are, and eventually to attain special insight (Sanskrit: vipashyana) into the ultimate nature of all things.” Readers of this blog should be know that HM advises never be 100% certain of everything. For critical thinking there always needs to be room, however small, for doubt. So to claim eventually to attain special insight into the ultimate nature of things is a bit of an overshoot. So to meditate to develop insight or correct understanding of the way things are can be an aspirational goal. It is important to understand that there are different ways of knowing, and it is a mistake to pursue only one way. Science is a way of knowing. Contemplative practices of religions are a complementary way of knowing. These are two ways of knowing that complement each other. Unfortunately too many fail to realize this. HM thinks that the Dalai Lama is the first religious leader to use science to inform religious beliefs. He sends his priests to learn about science as he thinks this is essential to effective religious leadership

Stabilizing Meditation

December 8, 2017

This type of meditation is used to develop concentration and eventually to achieve calm abiding, a special kind of concentration that enables one to remain focused on whatever object one wishes, for as long as one wishes, while experiencing bliss, clarity, and peace. Concentration and calm abiding are necessary for any real, lasting insight and mental transformation. In stabilizing meditation, we learn to concentrate upon one object, the breath, the nature of one’s own mind, a concept, a visualized image—without interruption.

Dr. Herbert Benson’s relaxation response is an example of stabilizing meditation. Here is the protocol:
Step 1:  Pick a focus word, phrase, image, or short prayer.  Or focus only on your breathing during the exercise.
Step 2:  Find a quiet place and sit calmly in a comfortable position.
Step 3:  Close your eyes.
Step 4:  Progressively relax all your muscles.
Step 5:   Breathe slowly and naturally.
Step 6: Assume a passive attitude.  When other thoughts intrude, simply think, “Oh,                          well,” and return to your focus.
Step 7:  Continue with this exercise for an average of 12 to 15 minutes.
Step 8:   Practice this technique at least once daily.

Amazing benefits can be achieved with this type of meditation. Read the healthy memory blog “An Update of the Relaxation Response Update” to review some of the benefits.
Stabilizing meditation must first be achieved before going into deep path meditations.

Lists of Paramitas

December 7, 2017

Paramitas means completeness or perfection. Lists of paramitas are virtuous traits that mark progress in contemplative traditions. Among the paramitas of the yogi’s discussed in “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body” are generosity, the giving away of material wealth or of oneself, and ethical conduct, not harming oneself or others and following guidelines for self-discipline.

Additional traits are: patience, tolerance, and composure. These imply a serene equanimity. The Dalai Lama told an MIT audience, “Real peace is when your mind goes twenty-four hours a day with no fear, no anxiety.”

The authors note that there are intriguing dovetails between scientific data and the ancient maps to altered traits. An eighteenth-century Tibetan text advises that among the signs of spiritual progress are loving-kindness and strong compassion toward everyone, contentment, and “weak desires.” The authors note that these qualities seem to match with indicators of brain changes that have been tracked: amped-up circuitry for empathic concern and parental love, a more relaxed amygdala, and decreased volume of brain circuits associated with attachment.

A Tibetan tradition proffers a view that we all have a Buddha nature, but we simply fail to recognize it. In this view, the nub of meditative practice becomes recognizing intrinsic qualities, what’s already present rather than the development of any new inner skill. According to this perspective, the remarkable neural and biological findings among the yogis are signs not so much of skill development, but rather the quality of recognition.

This is an interesting question to ponder. The authors point to an increasingly robust corpus of scientific findings showing, for example, that if an infant watches puppets who engage in an altruistic, warmhearted encounter, or ones who are selfish and aggressive when given he choice of a puppet to reach for, almost all infants choose one of the friendly ones. They say this natural tendency continues through the toddler years.

HM wonders if these same results are found with infants who are unloved. And if it occurs through the toddler years for unloved toddlers.

The authors note that historically meditation was not meant to improve our health, relax us, or enhance work success. They note that although these are the kinds of appeal that has made meditation ubiquitous today, over the centuries such benefits were incidental, unnoticed side effects. This was unfortunate, because the benefits that have made meditation popular today are very real, and can be achieved using the relaxation technique espoused by Dr. Benton for only 20 minutes a day.

What the Yogi’s are able to accomplish require many thousands of hour of meditation in the deep mode.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Two Remarkable Yogis

December 6, 2017

Two remarkable yogis receive considerable attention in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Matthieu Ricard is not only a remarkable yogi, but one who also holds a Ph.D. in Biology. Initially yogis were reluctant to serve as research participants in Dr. Davidson’s lab. But once Matthieu assured his peers their participation might be of benefit to people, a total of twenty-one yogis agreed. Matthieu helped design the experimental protocol for the lab.

The next yogi to come to the lab was Mingyur Rinpoche, who was also the one with the most lifetime hours of practice 62,000 hours when he entered the lab. When he meditated on compassion there was a huge surge in electrical activity in his brain recorded by EEG. The fMRI images revealed that during meditation his circuitry for empathy jumped in activity by 700 to 800 percent compared to its level at rest. When he left the lab and went on a retreat as a wanderer for four and a half years the aging of his brain slowed. He was 41, but his brain resembled the norm for 33 year-olds.

It is appropriate to remember here what the goal of Siddhartha was on his way to becoming Buddha. His concern was how to deal with human suffering. Ultimately his finding was simple. Suffering is a matter of how the mind interprets conditions. Meditation is a set of techniques for controlling the mind so that one finds peace and rarely suffers.

Mingyur Rinpoche wandered for four and half years. He controlled his mind so that he wandered in a state of bliss. He did not suffer, was content and enjoying his existence. This was the goal that Buddha succeeded in achieving. And the techniques are there for all who want to use them.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Meditation as Psychotherapy

December 5, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of Chapter 10 of a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson. The subtitle is “Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. Meditation was not originally intended to treat psychological problems. However, in modern times it has shown promise in the treatment of some disorders, particularly depression and anxiety disorders. A meta-analysis of forty-seven studies on the application of meditation methods to treat patients with mental health problems found that meditation can lead to decreases in depression (especially severe depression), anxiety, and pain. They were about as effective as medications, but had no side effects. To a lesser degree, meditation can reduce the toll of psychological stress. Loving-kindness meditation may be especially beneficial to patients suffering from trauma, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Mindfulness as been melded with cognitive therapy to produce Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBCT has become the most empirically well-validated psychological treatment with a meditation basis. This integration is having a wide impact in the clinical world. Empirical tests of applications to an ever larger range of psychological disorders are underway. Although there have been occasional reports of the negative effects of meditation, the findings to date point to the potential promise of meditation-based strategies. The enormous increase in scientific research in these areas makes for an optimistic future.

Mind, Body, & Genome

December 4, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” None of the many forms of meditation studied in this book was originally designed to treat illness. Nevertheless, today the scientific literature is replete with studies assessing whether these ancient practices might be useful for treating illnesses. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; see the healthy memory blog post “Improving Selective Attention” for more information) and similar methods can reduce the emotional component of suffering from disease, but not cure the maladies. But mindfulness training— as short as three days—results in a short-term decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are the molecules responsible for inflammation. With extensive practice this seems to become a trait effect, with imaging studies finding in mediators at rest lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, along with an increased connectivity between regulatory circuitry and sectors of the brain’s self system, especially the posterior cingulate cortex.

For experienced meditation practitioners, a daylong period of intensive mindfulness down regulates genes involved in inflammation. The enzyme telomerase, which slows cellular aging, increases after three months of intensive practicing of mindfulness and loving-kindness (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation).

Long-term meditation may lead to beneficial structural changes in the brain. Current evidence is inconclusive as to whether such effects emerge with relative short-term practice, like MBSR, to only become apparent with longer-term practice. Taken together, the hints of neural rewiring that undergird altered traits seem scientifically credible, although further studies for specifics are needed.

Lightness of Being

December 3, 2017

This post is based on a chapter in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson titled, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” When we let our mind wander, we hash over thoughts and feelings (often unpleasant) that focus on ourselves, constructing the narrative we experience as our “self.” The default mode circuits quiet during mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation (Go to the healthy memory blog post SPACE to find a description of loving-kindness meditation). In early stages of meditation this quieting of self-esteem entails brain circuits that inhibit default zones. In later practice the connections and activity within those areas wane.

The quieting of the self-circuitry begins as a state effect seen during or immediately after meditation. However, with long-term practitioners it becomes an enduring trait, together with decreased activity in the default mode itself. This resulting decrease in stickiness means that the self-focused thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind have much les “grab” and decreasing ability to hijack attention. This is what is meant by “lightness of being.”

Attention

December 2, 2017

This title is the same as a title in a book by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, “Altered Traits:  Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.”  William James, the founder of American psychology wrote: “The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will; an education which should improve this faculty would the the education par excellence.”

At its root meditation retrains attention, and different types boost varying aspects of attention. MBSR strengthens selective attention, while long-term vipassana (analytic meditation will be described later in the series of posts) practice enhances this even more. Five months after a three-month shamantha retreat meditators had enhanced vigilance, the ability to sustain their attention. But the beginnings of this enhancement also showed up after just seventeen minutes of mindfulness in beginners. This was no doubt a transitory state for the newcomers, and a more lasting trait for the experienced meditators. The same practice-makes perfect maxim likely applies to some other quickie meditation: just ten minutes of mindfulness overcame the damage to concentration from multi-tasking—at least in the short term; only eight minutes of mindfulness lessened mind-wandering for a while. About ten hours of mindfulness over a two-week period strengthened attention and working memory. This also led to substantially improved scores on the graduate school entrance exam. Although meditation boosts many aspects of attention, these are short-term gains; more lasting benefits require ongoing practice.

Primed for Love

December 1, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in Goleman and Richardson’s book, “Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.” Learning about compassion does not necessarily increase compassionate behavior. From empathizing with someone suffering to actually reaching out to help, loving-kindness/compassion meditation increases the odds of helping. There are three forms of empathy: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and empathic concern. People frequently empathize emotionally with someone’s suffering but then tune out to soothe their own uncomfortable feeling. However, compassion meditation enhances empathic concern, activates circuits for good feelings and love, as well as circuits that register the suffering of others, and prepares a person to act when suffering is encountered. Compassion and loving-kindness increase amygdala activation to suffering while focused attention on something neutral like the breath lessons amygdala activity. Loving-kindness acts quickly, in as little as eight hours of practice; reductions in usually intractable unconscious bias emerge after just sixteen hours. The longer people practice, the stronger these brain and behavioral tendencies toward compassion become. The authors conjecture that the strength of these effects from the early days of meditation may signal our biological preparedness for goodness.

A description of loving kindness meditation can be found in the previous healthy memory blog post SPACE. More will be written about loving kindness meditation later in this series of posts.