Mindfulness meditation decreases pain, stress and self-centeredness
Here is an interesting 3 minute video clip by David Sillito of the BBC.
Sillito and a friend go through brain scans after completing an 8 week MBSR program. The MRI scans show a calming of the pain network during meditation and decreased activity in the area of the brain that is associated with self-centeredness. Although this clip shows the results of only two meditators’ brain scans, these findings are consistent with a much larger body of research.
Taming the Monkey Mind
Psychologist and Cambridge meditation teacher Larry Rosenberg recommends:
1. When possible, do just one thing at a time.
2. Pay full attention to what you are doing.
3. When the mind wanders from what you are doing, bring it back.
4. Repeat step three several billion times!
5. Investigate your distractions.
Living Well, Dying Well
Over the past decade, researchers Paul Ekman and Daniel Siegel have taught us that we are evolutionarily wired to pay attention to the negative. It follows that from a survival standpoint, we are going to pay a lot of attention to anything that could lead to our death, or that of a loved one.
Yet, the quality of attention that we bring to the issue of death is perhaps less helpful in terms of our quality of life. Most of us find our attention skittering away rather quickly from contemplating our own death. And if we are not denying or avoiding, we may be stuck in vague, fearful ideas about the whole thing. After all, no one has really come back to tell us just what to expect! We don’t really have a lot of practice with it… Or do we?
More than one meditation teacher would argue that we actually have multiple opportunities to prepare for death, because life is nothing but many deaths. Like it or not, everything is changing, moment by moment.
But why would we want to spend time preparing for our death? Longtime hospice workers Stephen and Ondrea Levine found that many people went through an extraordinary, sometimes transformative experience when they were told that they had only a few months or a year to live.
While many lamented that they felt completely unprepared for death and wished they had more time, they also felt they had a second chance at growth and inner healing. Witnessing a powerful renewal in these individuals led the Levines to experiment with trying to live as if this year were their last.
Stephen describes the experience in his poetic guidebook, A Year to Live. In living as if this year was his last, Levine’s most profound influence was an increase in courage.
Daniel Gilbert, who wrote Stumbling upon Happiness, reports that when people are prepared for a shock, the negative impact is lessened. And so it is that through mindful reflection, we can come to really accept and understand impermanence. Deeply accepting that everything changes helps us to really let go. And letting go of the intensity of our grasping and worrying brings freedom.
A conscious practice of reflecting on death helps us to experience gratitude and forgive ourselves and others for less than perfect actions. Sogyal Rinpoche, author of Living Well, Dying Well, cautions us against beginning our life review at the end of life. “It can be very painful,” he says. “You may have a lot of regrets.” Contemplating what little time remains helps us to find meaning, set priorities and embrace more and more moments of living — right now!
You can learn more about the Year to Live course on the Course Descriptions page.
Thanks & be well,
Marian & Brett