“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” Rainer Maria Rilke

November 18, 2013

rilke_33A woman on the Triratna Buddhist Community’s Urban Retreat, which this year focused on the theme of cultivating lovingkindness, or metta, asked a question about how to deal with “strong emotion” — especially grief — that may arise during lovingkindness practice. For this person, grief tended to arise particularly while she was cultivating lovingkindness toward herself, and she wondered how to be honest with her experience but not dissolve into and become lost in it.

I offered her a few suggestions, which I’ll enlarge on here:

1. Stop considering grief as an emotion.

Is grief an emotion? Is “emotion” even a meaningful term, in the context of Buddhist practice?

Increasingly I find the word … Read more »

Could an awareness of the heartbeat be a vital component of empathy?

August 16, 2013

Corazon de PiedraAn awareness of the heart (the physical organ, not the metaphorical seat of emotion) and its role in empathy. Noticing the heart concerns a process called interoceptive awareness (IA), which is just a fancy term for how we monitor the body’s internal state. There’s evidence that interoceptive awareness is important for social cognition, including empathy.

Neuroscientists think we detect our own heart-beats via two routes. One is “somatosensory” — that is, we feel the movement of the heart’s beat through our sense of touch. The other route is via the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain down to the heart and beyond, and which carries electrical impulses in both directions.

The British Psychological Society … Read more »

Meditation’s effects on emotion shown to persist

June 23, 2013

Traci Pedersen, PsychCentral: Meditation affects a person’s brain function long after the act of meditation is over, according to new research.

“This is the first time meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state,” said Gaelle Desbordes, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and at the Boston University Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neural Technology.

“Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing…

Read the original article »

Is meditation supposed to make you happier?

December 31, 2012

Buddha statue at wat phasawangbun temple, ThailandRobert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of The Evolution of God, writes from time to time about his meditation practice, especially when he’s going on retreat, for example here and (most recently) here.

Wright has found, as many people have, that meditation improves his life. He talks of the “sharp, even cold, clarity” he gains from sitting, as well as the “warm and fuzzy” feelings that arise from that clarity.

Surprisingly, to my mind, Wright finds himself in the position of having to “defend” finding that meditation makes him happier. One commenter said, for example:

Well, if you’re talking about Buddhist meditation, I’m sorry to say that

Read more »

Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers

April 27, 2012

A new University of British Columbia study finds that analytic thinking can decrease religious belief, even in devout believers.

The study, which will appear in tomorrow’s issue of Science, finds that thinking analytically increases disbelief among believers and skeptics alike, shedding important new light on the psychology of religious belief.

“Our goal was to explore the fundamental question of why people believe in a God to different degrees,” says lead author Will Gervais, a PhD student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. “A combination of complex factors influence matters of personal spirituality, and these new findings suggest that the cognitive system related to analytic thoughts is one factor that can influence disbelief.”

Researchers used problem-solving tasks … Read more »

Be happy so that others may be happy

January 20, 2012

Saddhamala wrote the other day about how we “catch” emotions from others. As she points out, this happens when you’re hanging around someone who is negative, and it brings you down, and that it even happens when we watch a movie!

So this is definitely a part of our experience.

You may not have realized, though, just how infectious our emotions are. The effect of one person’s emotions — whether negative or positive — can be measured as they ripple outward through our friendships and contacts.

Let’s deal with the negative first.

An important study by University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo showed that lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. He uncovered … Read more »

Learning to love the flaws

November 17, 2011

As I wrote in my most recent book, Living as a River:

Relating to someone as a “self”—on the basis of how we see them right now—is like seeing a video reduced to a single frame, or seeing a ball hurtling through the air in a freeze-frame photograph. It’s life-denying. It’s a static way of seeing things. In taking a snapshot of a thing we lose its sense of trajectory, the sense that it’s headed somewhere. We’re disconnected from the reality of change and process. But imagine if we could consistently see a person not as a thing but as a process—if we could, at least in our imagination—see that person evolving towards wisdom

Read more »

Fill the hole in your heart

November 10, 2011

As we grow up and then move through adulthood, we all have normal needs for safety, fulfillment, and love.

For example, children need to feel secure, adolescents need a growing sense of autonomy, and young adults need to feel attractive and worthy of romantic love. When these needs are met by various “supplies” — such as the caring of a parent, the trust of a teacher, the love of a mate-the positive experiences that result then sink in to implicit memory to become resources for well-being, self-regulation, resilience, self-worth, and skillful action. This is how healthy psychological development is supposed to work.

But it doesn’t always go this way, does it? In the lives of … Read more »

How to live without causing fear

August 8, 2011

We evolved to be afraid.

The ancient ancestors that were casual and blithely hopeful, underestimating the risks around them – predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind – did not pass on their genes. But the ones that were nervous were very successful – and we are their great-grandchildren, sitting atop the food chain.

Consequently, multiple hair-trigger systems in your brain continually scan for threats. At the least whiff of danger – which these days comes mainly in the form of social hazards like indifference, criticism, rejection, or disrespect – alarm bells start ringing. See a frown across a dinner table, hear a cold tone from a supervisor, get interrupted repeatedly, receive … Read more »

New research: Sadness and depression with the brain in mind

November 19, 2010

Imagine if you were sitting in your living room and when you turned on the television the movie Terms of Endearment came on. It wasn’t just any part of the movie, it was the moment where the mother watches her daughter who had been struggling with cancer pass away. If you don’t know this movie, it’s one of the greatest tearjerkers of all time.

Earlier this year, Farb and colleagues (2010) conducted research called Minding One’s Emotions: Mindfulness Training Alters the Neural Expression of Sadness that did a variation of this with two groups of people, those trained in mindfulness meditation and a waitlisted control group in order to see any different activity in their … Read more »