Dispatch by Dr. G…. back speaking at the Mind and Its Potential Conference
At the recent Mind and Its Potential conference, famed neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran went tete a tete with revered Buddhist scholar B. Allan Wallace — egged on by ABC Australia science reporter Natasha Mitchell — over the role ‘robust, first person reporting,’ can and should play within or along side of neuroscience research to unravel the mysteries of the human mind, human consciousness and psychological well being.
Image Credit: VS Ramachandran, neuroscientist, MIP conf.
Image Credit: B. Allan Wallace, Buddhist scholar and teacher, SBICS
Ramachandran’s response gave yours truly another chance to reflect on the decades of neuroscience research and cultural dialogue focused on the relevance of ancient meditative practice for modern day use. It was my 1998 interview with “Rama” after all, that finalized my blueprint for GGI’s inception. And no longer are the gamut of transplanted Asian meditation and mind/body integration practices seen by the global scientific community as West Coat ”wujiwuji.”
A lot has changed since the early days of my graduate studies, a time when I struggled to make sense of Orientalist claims made by visionary UCLA professors regarding the power of meditative breath to transform creative, choreographic thinking. Frankly, while I was intrigued by the references to a glittering noble Asian past, it was the cognitive neuroscience or more aptly put, the comparative art / science / theraputic intervention stories shared in our program, that enabled me to trust my experience that was both profound and life transforming. Yep, somehow seeing pictures of reticular activation and hearing Candace Pert discuss neuropeptides made more sense to me than American attempts at reinterpreting the Lotus Sutra.
Today, I am not alone in advocating for the growing relationship between contemplative practice and neuroscience research, nor is GGI the only game in town when it comes to offering mindfulness or sensory awareness training. Seems like every day there is a new ‘mindfulness” blog or seminar sprouting up around the planet. No doubt Social Media fuels practice and research efforts with what seems like weekly references to the whysand hows of “non judgmental awareness,” attention modulation, emotional intelligence and brain growth. Now with more than thirty years of scientific advocacy under its proverbial belt, contemplative neuroscience journals and conferences lead the way to assure research and shared dialogue (See schedule for the first International Symposia for Contemplative Studies held in April 2012.)
Still, why should you care?
The beauty of contemplative neuroscience and new theoretical foundations enables us to move away from an atomistic science, philosophy and language of mind. Life is complex and so is our lovely brain working in correlation and in concert with our lovely minds. Indeed we are in an age increasingly equipped to cultivate the subtle dynamics of our neurobiology in order to tap our mind’s potential — the point of the 2012 Mind and Potential conference! And tap we must if we wish to flourish in spite of all the pressures, all of the norms of cultural mediocrity. (In other words, no more doti in the cave schtick.)
For those of us who have taken the responsibility to transmit and test ancient teachings of attention, awareness and loving kindness in modern forms, our new contemplative neuroscience nudges us away from using an “essence” centric language and work toward richer forms of systems thinking about thinking itself.
Finally, then, for science theory buffs, check out the following study reporting a theoretical leap in how we think about the actual cognitive operations of ”mindfulness.” Dave Vago and David Silbersweig demonstrate a systemic neurological paradigm that moves us from presuming practices of contemplation, e.g. mindfulness is simply about “attention” or non judgmental awareness to recognizing the complexity of the neural processing.}
Heady stuff for those working in the trenches.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty implications of bringing contemplative practices into lab, clinical and educational settings.
1. A must read!), a new and significant study, focusing in on African American adults, noting the positive impact of Transcendental Meditation upon the risks facing coronary heart disease patients.
2. New research pointing to the positive impact “mindfulness” practice plays in boosting immunity and countering loneliness in senior citizens.
3. Research confirming effectiveness of mindfulness for adolescents and their parents.
4. For more “hard” evidence for your educational or clinical report: Check out the up to date NIH “meditation” page for research and complementary medicine.
Yes indeed, It’s time to follow the oxygen. Follow the network. Enjoy the process of watching your breath rise, fall, rise…