In light of the machinery of survival-based, emotional reactivity, let’s look more narrowly at what Daniel Goleman has called “emotional hijacking.”
The emotional circuits of your brain – which are relatively primitive from an evolutionary standpoint, originally developed when dinosaurs ruled the earth – exert great influence over the more modern layers of the brain in the cerebral cortex. They do this in large part by continually “packaging” incoming sensory information in two hugely influential ways:
Liat Clark, Wired: Different types of meditation illicit different types of physiological response, and can vastly improve cognitive skills.
A team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) explored four types of meditation practiced by Buddhists, from two main branches of the tradition, Vajrayana (Deity and Rig-pa) and Theravada (Shamatha and Vipassana). From each tradition, one style of meditation was designed to relax and another to arouse the senses.
The Singapore team points out in a paper published in PLOS ONE that prior research has focused on Theravada meditation mainly, and its ability to induce relaxation and heighten alertness. Coauthors Maria Kozhevnikov and …
(Emotional) life is great when we feel enthusiastic, contented, peaceful, happy, interested, loving, etc. But when we’re upset, or aroused to go looking for trouble, life ain’t so great.
To address this problem, let’s turn to a strategy used widely in science (and Buddhism, interestingly): analyze things into their fundamental elements, such as the quarks and other subatomic particles that form an atom or the Five Aggregates in Buddhism of form, feeling (the “hedonic tone” of experience as pleasant-neutral-unpleasant), perception, volitional formations, and consciousness.
We’ll apply that strategy to the machinery of getting upset. Here is a summary of the eight major “gears” of that machine – somewhat based on how they unfold in time, … Read more »
Michael Taft, Huffington Post: I love espresso. But I remember sometimes “waking up” suddenly and finding myself right in the middle of a shuddering caffeine meltdown. I’d been writing on my laptop at a coffee shop, focused on work. Starting out with a latté early in the morning, I’d just kept ordering and drinking triple-espresso drinks all day long while happily typing away. This caffeine intake had all been in the background, unconscious, until my slapping heartbeat and thundering jolts of anxiety crashed violently into the foreground. I would stop then, but I — and my friends and partner — were left to cope …
Do you express the intention as a goal or as something already realized?
This gets at a recurring question, even a debate, in Buddhism (and also in psychology and in some religions): Is it about progressing toward an enlightened state, or is it about uncovering the enlightened condition that has always been present? I can’t do justice here to the nuances of that consideration, but I can say what many wise people think is at the marrow of the matter: both are true. (Darn that middle way.)
In other words, it is powerful to focus on intention both as an aim toward a target, and as something that is already the case. The phrasing, “May … Read more »
Deborah Becker, WBUR: As much of the country grapples with problems resulting from opioid addiction, some Massachusetts scientists say they’re getting a better understanding of the profound role the brain plays in addiction.
Their work is among a growing body of research showing that addiction is a complex brain disease that affects people differently. But the research also raises hopes about potential treatments.
Among the findings of some University of Massachusetts Medical School scientists is that addiction appears to permanently affect the connections between areas of the brain to almost “hard-wire” the brain to support the addiction.
They’re also exploring the neural roots …
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 of smell to hunt at night, while those … Read more »
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 side of the world, the … Read more »
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. … Read more »
Matthew Jenkin, The Guardian: Buddhists have practised mindfulness for more than 2,000 years, but the technique of focusing on the present moment has long been dismissed by scientists as new age mumbo jumbo. Now, though, the West is finally waking up to the benefits of Eastern meditation and schools are discovering a daily dose of silent reflection can not only calm a classroom but may improve academic performance.
In recent years, medical science has discovered the extent to which mindfulness can help treat a range of mental conditions, from stress to depression. While most studies have focused on adults, new research shows mindfulness can …