psychology and meditation

Bend PD turns inward

wildmind meditation newsClaire Withycombe, The Bulletin: As Bend Police Department approaches the launch date for a new mental health crisis team, the department is also turning inward to the mental health of the officers on the force.

Combined with regular midday yoga classes, which the department started offering last year, the department wants to incorporate more training in mindfulness — an increasingly popular practice of self-awareness and stress reduction. Together with the Bend Fire Department, the agency is also seeking a behavioral health specialist to provide day-to-day mental health support.

The stresses of police work can have significant long-term effects: late-night shifts, physical demands and seeing criminal …

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Is mindfulness meditation safe?

wildmind meditation newsCharles Francis, Psych Central: There has been some growing concern recently about the safety of mindfulness meditation. Some claim that the practice can have severe side effects, such as panic, depression, and confusion. Are these concerns well founded? Maybe.

The main study cited by opponents of meditation is a British study of the effects of mindfulness meditation on a group of prison inmates. The inmates participated in a 90-minute weekly meditation class for 10 weeks. The study found that the inmates’ moods had improved and they had experienced a lower stress level, but remained just as aggressive as before the intervention.

I fail to see …

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The way you talk to yourself matters–tips for kids and adults alike

wildmind meditation newsGoZen!:

I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I locked the keys in the car. What am I going to do now? How am I going to get home? I can’t even call my husband because my phone’s in the car and my purse!! I’m totally stuck. I have no idea what to do. I am hopeless!”

I’d like to say that this is a purely fictional situation: that I have never locked my keys, purse and phone in the car, and that, moreover, I would not address myself in such a negative way. But, unfortunately, I cannot.

Firstly, I have found myself in …

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Meditation trickles down to ‘regular’ people

wildmind meditation newsKathleen McLaughlin, The Bulletin: When Kevin Meyer picked up Transcendental Meditation in 1971, the practice was sweeping college campuses. The Beatles had made a pilgrimage to India a few years earlier, so meditation was cool, but it also required some pretty big life changes.

“It was a struggle because you couldn’t drink or smoke pot for 30 days before the training,” Meyer said. In that way, he said, meditation was like a “counter-culture to the counter-culture.”

Meyer, 63, has been meditating off and on since his days at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, mainly because of the calming effect it has on his everyday life. Meditating first thing …

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Empathy is actually a choice

wildmind meditation news Daryl Cameron, Michael Inzlicht and William A. Cunningham: New York Times: One death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic.

You’ve probably heard this saying before. It is thought to capture an unfortunate truth about empathy: While a single crying child or injured puppy tugs at our heartstrings, large numbers of suffering people, as in epidemics, earthquakes and genocides, do not inspire a comparable reaction.

Studies have repeatedly confirmed this. It’s a troubling finding because, as recent research has demonstrated, many of us believe that if more lives are at stake, we will — and should — feel more empathy (i.e., vicariously …

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After meditation, self-critical people ease up

wildmind meditation newsAnn Lukits, Wall Street Journal: Self-critical people were significantly kinder and more compassionate toward themselves after practicing lovingkindness meditation compared with a control group, according to a pilot study in Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. The technique, rooted in Buddhism, may help to reduce symptoms of depression, the researchers suggest.

Lovingkindness is a form of meditation designed to cultivate feelings of warmth and kindness to all people, including oneself, the researchers said. Practicing the technique may activate a soothing-caring regulation system that is probably deficient in chronic self-critics, they suggest.

Self-critical perfectionism is implicated in a number of psychological conditions, such as eating disorders …

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Mindfulness is a capitalist grift: How faux enlightenment maintains our status quo

wildmind meditation newsKali Holloway, Salon: I stumbled across mindfulness, the meditation practice now favored by titans of tech, sensitive C-suiters, new media gurus and celebrities, without even really knowing it.

A couple of years ago, I was deeply mired in an insane schedule that involved almost everything (compulsive list-making at 4am, vacations mostly spent working, lots of being “on”) except for one desperately missed item (sleep; pretty much just sleep). A friend suggested I download Headspace, a meditation app he swore would calm the thoughts buzzing incessantly in my head, relax my anxious energy and help me be more present. I took his advice, noting the app’s first 10 trial sessions — to be done at the same time over 10 consecutive days — were free. When I found the time to do it, it was, at best, incredibly relaxing; at worst, it barely made a dent in my frazzled synapses. When I didn’t find the time (because again, schedule), the effort to somehow make time became its own source of stress. In the end, I got an equally hectic yet far more satisfying career, took up running and forgot Headspace existed.

That is, until the term “mindfulness” reached a tipping point of near ubiquity. As it turned out, what I’d regarded as just a digitized form of guided meditation was actually a “mindfulness technique,” part of a bigger, buzzy, Buddhism-derived movement toward some version of corporate enlightenment. As long ago as 2012 …

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The psychology of mindfulness, digested

wildmind meditation newsChristian Jarrett, Research Digest: Right now, mindfulness is a hot topic in psychology and beyond. In 2012, 40 new papers on mindfulness were published every month, a number that has probably risen since. Last September, the Guardian journalist Barney Ronay noted that a staggering 37 new books had been released on the topic that very week. There are numerous conferences devoted to mindfulness around the world, multiple organisations and even dedicated science journals and magazines. And yet, a dissenting voice in this chorus of enthusiasm, a new book out last month – The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? – warned that mindfulness is not harmless. …

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What a bicycle can teach us about changing our habits

In the video below, Destin Sandlin, creator of the Youtube channel “Smarter Every Day,” demonstrates an interesting paradox: that we can know something and yet find it hard—even impossible for a while—to act on that knowledge.

The bicycle he’s showing off has been rigged so that the steering operates in reverse. Turn the handles right, and the front wheel turns to the left; turn them left, and the front wheel turns to the right.

One one level, learning this is easy. You can take in the simple fact: “turn the wheel the opposite way of the way you want to go when riding this bike” in jut a few seconds.

With that knowledge in mind, most of you probably think, “Hey! I could do that!” After all, you have all the knowledge you need, right! Not so fast. You wouldn’t be able to pedal this bike more than a few inches before you ground to a halt. In fact it took Destin eight months of practice to learn to ride it properly.

Intellectually we know what’s required to ride the bike. But learning how to physically interact with the world isn’t intellectual. As we learn how to ride a bike, ancient parts of the brain lay down pathways involving coordination, movement, and balance. It takes months of practice in the first place for most of us to learn this, and you’re reinforcing the brain’s pathways every time you get on a bicycle. These abilities are deeply carved into the brain.

When you try to apply the knowledge, “turn the wheel the opposite way of the way you want to go when riding this bike,” you’re having to develop entirely new habits, and are attempting to lay down new pathways. It’s not even easy to get started on this, because your previous learning is actually getting in the way of the new learning. As soon as you get on a bike your existing habits (turn the handles in the direction you want to go) kick in automatically, and there’s no way to switch them off.

Destin’s son, by contrast, was able to master the bike more quickly, because his bike-riding neural pathways haven’t been so deeply reinforced.

This explains a lot about learning practices such as mindfulness and lovingkindness. You may want to be continuously aware of your experience—for example when you’re paying attention to your breathing—but it’s very hard to do this because you already have behavioral pathways carved into the brain, and those kick in as soon as you sit down and close your eyes. You may want to behave more kindly toward other people in your life, but habits of reactivity, criticizing, and anger are similarly wired into the structure of your neuronal network.

So there’s a long period of working with two competing sets of habits as we do spiritual practice. We’re learning one set of habits while unlearning another. Essentially this goes on all the way to awakening. But there are tipping points. At a certain point you’ll find that you’re mindful enough that mindfulness starts to predominate over unmindfulness in your life. At a certain point you’ll find that enough of you is aware of the disadvantages of anger compared to kindness that kindness starts to flow more naturally than anger.

As you can see with the example of the bike, our old habits (or the neural pathways that support them) don’t exactly disappear when we reach the tipping point. They’re still there, but aren’t accessed. It’s no longer natural to be grossly unmindful or unkind. Given the right circumstances those older pathways can still be accessed. It’s harder for that to happen, but it still can.

There are two habits that support our progress toward these tipping points that I think are particularly key. One is emotional resilience. We need to be able to deal with frustration in order to train ourselves. Emotional resilience contributes to persistence. If we can’t deal with frustration, we give up. This happens to the majority of people who take up meditation. In order to be able to deal with frustration, it’s helpful to have the habit of self-forgiveness. In order to be able to forgive ourselves for messing up, it’s helpful to remember that learning isn’t easy. We should expect to mess up, and should learn to see our mistakes as an inevitable part of learning.

The other habit is more cognitive and imaginative, and it’s the ability to keep in touch with our goals. In Buddhism this is called shraddha, or “faith.” Unless we’re able to keep a sense of the long-term benefits of the habits we’re learning (whether that’s the joy of mastering a backwards bicycle or the peace and fulfillment of living mindfully and with kindness) we’ll find it hard to stay motivated. Being part of a community helps here, because if we lose our confidence we can find it again through others.

In essence a whole bunch of traits, habits, skills, and conditions come together to support and augment each other, helping us, in the long term, to change our lives radically.

There’s a lot we can learn from watching people trying to master the art of riding a backwards bike! I could say something about the Buddhist teaching of non-self (anatta) in relation to this, but I’ll save that for another post!

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Is mindfulness actually good for you?

wildmind meditation newsLynne Malcolm, Radio National: Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn became interested in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness more than 35 years ago. With the scientific community skeptical, the at the University of Massachusetts Medical School professor decided to develop a more secular approach in the hope of opening the minds of people in the west.

By 1979 he’d designed a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which today is one of the world’s most well-respected secular mindfulness programs.

That was only the beginning of scientific interest in mindfulness, though. Psychiatrist Dr Elise Bialylew has practised mindfulness for …

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