Jul 18, 2014
On my son Narayan’s sixth birthday, I gave him an ant farm. He spent hours watching with fascination as the little creatures magically created their network of tunnels. He even named several, and followed their struggles and progress closely.
After a few weeks, he pointed out the ants’ graveyard, and watched with wonder as several of them dragged the bodies of their dead comrades and deposited them there. The following day, when I picked Narayan up after school, he was visibly distressed: on the playground, the kids had made a game out of stepping on ants. My son couldn’t understand why his classmates were hurting these friends he so admired.
I tried to …
Jul 18, 2014
What kinds of things do we get up to when we are meant to be meditating, but have become distracted? Most people will say they “think” or “fantasize,” but that’s not very specific. What kind of thinking is going on? What kinds of desires drive our fantasies?
There are five traditional hindrances to meditation. Speaking very non-technically, what we tend to do when we’re distracted is one of the following:
- Getting annoyed about things we dislike
- Fantasizing about things we like
- Worrying and fidgeting
- Snoozing and avoiding challenges
- Undermining ourselves with stories about what we can’t do
These are the five hindrances in very non-technical language. Each of them is a form of …
Jul 16, 2014
Last night, stressing about undone tasks, I glanced in a mirror and saw my t-shirt, with its picture of a galaxy and a little sign sticking up out of its outer swirls, saying “you are here.” A joke gift from my wife, I’ve worn this shirt many times – yet for once it stopped me in my tracks. In William Blake’s phrase, the doors of perception popped open and it really hit me: yes we are actually here, off to the edge of a vast floating whirlpool of stars, alive and conscious, walking and talking on a big rock circling a bigger burning ball of gas. Here, now, nearly fourteen billion years …
Jul 09, 2014
We know that before Shakyamuni became a Buddha (waking up to the truth of reality) that he tried extreme self-discipline that included abstaining from all forms of indulgence, which was called the practice of asceticism. His self-mortification included eating just one grain of rice a day, and sometimes walking around with one arm in the air for weeks. In his search for an end to suffering, Gautama became like an addict to asceticism. Like today’s addicts, he had learned how to master pain, or so he thought. He grew as thin as a skeleton, and did not budge from his addiction. Still he did not find an end to suffering. …
Jul 08, 2014
The major brain regions that support emotional processing include the limbic system – particularly the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus – and the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), nucleus accumbens, and insula. Technical note: there are two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere of the brain; the same for the two amygdalae, ACCs, and insulae. Following common practice, we’ll mainly use the singular form.
By the way, as an interesting evolutionary detail, the limbic system seems to have evolved from the olfactory (scent) neural circuitry in the brain developed by our ancient mammal ancestors, living around 180 million years ago. They seem to have used their advanced sense …
Jul 01, 2014
Meditation means settling the mind, but if you try it you’ll quickly find that this is easier said than done. Our minds are often busy and like to keep thinking about the things that stimulate and interest them. So what are our allies in settling the mind?
Settling is a process. You can’t sit down after you have been rushing around and expect to be calm and quiet straight away. So, if it’s possible for you, take time to prepare for meditation. Make sure the place you are sitting is tidy and beautiful. Light a candle, perhaps. Then spend time carefully setting up your meditation posture. Notice how it feels …
Jul 01, 2014
It’s kind of amazing: right now, what you think and feel, enjoy and suffer, is changing your brain. The brain is the organ that learns, designed by evolution to be changed by our experiences: what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that each one of us has the power to use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better. To benefit oneself and other beings.
Using this internal power is more important than ever these days, when so many of us are pushed and prodded by external forces – the economy, media, politics, workplace policies, war on the other …
Jun 25, 2014
Once your intentions are clear, the next question is: How to express them?
There are many ways, including:
- As thoughts in your mind
- As an image
- In writing
- As a collage with words and images
- Through physical expression, posture, movement, dance
- As a sense of being
When you think intentions, you know them to yourself. Putting them in explicit words is usually helps create real clarity in your mind. Some intentions co-exist as equally vital, but many times it’s important to establish what your top priorities are. It’s kind of like filling a bucket: you want to get the big rocks in first, then the pebbles, and last the sand. Your most important aims are …
Jun 18, 2014
Linking of mind and brain has three important implications.
First, as your mind changes, your brain changes. Your brain changes both temporarily, millisecond by millisecond, AND it changes in lasting ways because – in the famous saying of the Canadian psychologist, Donald Hebb – “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
The fleeting flow of experience leaves behind lasting marks on your brain, much like a spring shower leaves little tracks on a hillside.
For example, the fine motor areas of pianists are measurably thicker than those of non-pianists. Similarly, the portions of the hippocampus that are responsible for spatial memory are discernibly thicker in experienced London taxi drivers compared to when they started their training. …
Jun 14, 2014
Not many people like their bodies. The typical reaction from looking at oneself naked in the mirror lies somewhere on a spectrum from mild disappointment to outright revulsion, with a bit of disbelief thrown in (how did I get so old? where did those wrinkles come from? where’s my hair gone?)
I had a little epiphany the other day, though. I’d been talking with my girlfriend, who I adore. She’s beautiful. Really beautiful. And she’s also afflicted by doubts about her attractiveness. So when we were talking she was going over some of the things she didn’t like about her appearance (wrinkles, etc) …