Posts Tagged ‘Contemplative Practices’

Thanks to Daniel Goleman

November 24, 2017

Fortunately Daniel Goleman’s graduate fellowship to Harvard, where he went to study clinical psychology included a year’s study abroad should his studies require it. He managed to extend the study abroad to two years where he went to India. India was the root source of the meditation practices he wished to study.

What he accomplished in India was remarkable. Here he was in a new culture, dealing with new languages, and with a topic that was complex and hard to penetrate. You need to read his book, “The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience” to appreciate the complexity of this topic, but he managed to build roadmaps routing the way between these complex topics. This book is not recommended unless you have an interest in eastern religions. They are complex and if not impenetrable, difficult to penetrate.

Fortunately, the technique most recommended in this blog is the Relaxation Response as developed by Herbert Benson, M.D. This involves focusing on your breath and a self-selected simple mantra. This builds focal attention and has both mental and medical benefits that have been discussed in previous blog posts.

Goleman reviews meditation as practiced in different religions to include Hindu Bhakti, Jewish Meditation, Christian Meditation, Sufism, Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, Indian Tantra and Kundalini Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, and Zen. As you can see not all religions that employ meditation are in the east. Contemplative practices have been employed in many if not most religions. All these religions recognize the proneness of humans to less than desirable thoughts and behaviors. The goal of these practices, regardless of the religion, is to bring humans up to a higher standard to behave well not only with respect to the individual, but also with respect to our fellow human beings.

The father of American psychology, William James recognized the importance of attention. He wrote in his Principles of Psychology the importance of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again as it is the very root of judgment, character, and will. It is essential. An education that would improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.

William James, who was the most prominent nineteenth century psychologist, was keenly interested in religion, both Eastern and Western. He befriended the Indian 
Swami Vivekananda who toured America after speaking at the First World Congress of Religions in 1893. Religion and the occult fascinated James. His book “Varieties of Religious Experience” is still a classic on the psychology of religion. Unfortunately, the scientific bent of modern psychology has lead the great majority of Western psychologists to ignore the teachings of their Eastern counterparts.

Fortunately, Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson are refocusing interest in these teachings of our eastern counterparts.

Buddha’s Brain

February 13, 2011

Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom1 is not a book proselytizing Buddhism. Its authors are Rick Hanson, Ph.D., and Richard Mendius, MD, who are a neuropsychologist and a neurologist, respectively. They address the intersection of three disciplines: Psychology, Neuroscience, and Contemplative Practice. In doing so, they avail us of wisdom from the East, wisdom that is not addressed by the West, in general, and by the Western educational system, in particular. Buddha’s Brain provides readers with a great deal of potential for cognitive growth and personal fulfillment.

Here are some basic facts from Buddha’s Brain. The brain consists of about 1.1 trillion cells, 100 billion of which are neurons. The average neuron receives about 5,000 connections, synapses, from other neurons. Chemicals called neurotransmitters carry signals across these synapses. A typical neuron fires from 5 to 50 times a second. The number possible neurons firing or not firing is about 10 to the millionth power (1 followed by a million zeroes). Now the number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be about 10 to the eightieth power. Conscious mental events, which represent a small percentage of brain activity, are based on temporary coalitions of synapses that form and disperse. Although the brain is only about 2 percent of the body’s weight, it consumes from 20 to 25 percent of the bodies oxygen and glucose. The brain is constantly working and uses about the same amount of energy whether you are sleeping or thinking hard. The brain interacts with the rest of your body and is shaped by the mind as well. Your mind is made by your brain, body, and natural culture as well as by the mind itself.

Buddha’s Brain covers the structures of the brain and neurotransmitters and explanations of what does what and how the different structures interact. More importantly, Buddha’s Brain explains how you can affect these structures and processes and mold your own brain and behavior. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know the importance of attention and selective attention to effective memory. Buddha’s Brain covers how to control and expand attention as well as how to control your emotions to lead to, as the title promises, happiness, love, and wisdom. People who are deeply into contemplative practices are able to control heart rate and blood pressure.

One prediction that I have read, and which I believe, is that within twenty years meditative practices will have become as frequent as aerobic exercising is today.

Some future blog posts will be based on excerpts from Buddha’s Brain, but they cannot do justice to the entire book. I strongly recommend its reading.

1Hanson, R., & Mendius, R. (2009). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.