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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mindfulness of body

The Buddha's first foundation of mindfulness is the body. Know when you're breathing in; know when you're breathing out. Know when you're sitting or standing or walking or resting. Locating awareness in the body is a way of connecting with the present moment and letting go of thoughts.

A new study indicates that those sensations also can give us clues about our mood. A team of Finnish researchers worked with 700 people in three countries to map where emotions are expressed in the body. They found remarkable similarities among people about where emotions manifest in their bodies.

Neuroscientist Antonio Dimasio, who was not involved in this study, told NPR he's "delighted" by the findings. He's been suggesting for years that each emotion activates a distinct set of body parts, and the mind's recognition of those patterns helps us consciously identify that emotion.
"People look at emotions as something in relation to other people," Damasio, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, says. "But emotions also have to do with how we deal with the environment — threats and opportunities."
The next foundations have to do with how we assign meaning or act on what we find in our bodies -- mindfulness of feeling tones (like it/hate it/don't see it) and thoughts. The body, though, is the first sensor.

The sensation maps were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can even take the experiment here and color your own sensation maps. And remember those maps the next time you notice yourself clenching your jaw,

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Joy of Missing Out comes from being present

Are you thinking about making a resolution to live more mindfully in 2014? You're in good -- and trendy -- company, according to global advertising and marketing company JWT, which named "Mindful Living" among its Top 10 trends for 2014. 

Ann Mack, the company's director of trend spotting, points to the Slow Food Movement, the rise of digital detox camps where you go to disconnect from social media, and meditation programs in major companies like Google and General Mills.
The mind-calming, mind-blowing concept goes like this, according to Mack: “You’re enjoying what you’re doing in the here and now and not on social media broadcasting or seeing what everybody else is doing.”
The trend-spotter offers a name for it: Joy of Missing Out, or JOMO (for which she gives credit to tech blogger Anil Dash). It follows 2013's Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO, which bred anxiety among Instagram users who envied the meals, vacations, and life events posted by people they follow on the photo-sharing app.

Of course, there are less snappy names for it. Mindfulness, taught by the Buddha and countless secular psychologists and therapists, is a kind, non-judgmental awareness of what's happening in the present moment. By keeping our attention on what's happening now we can avoid the stress that rises from ruminating on the past or worry about the future.

Right now I'm breathing and aware, which means I can choose how to respond to what's happening in my life. Meditation is a great way of developing that awareness and of finding some peace amid the chaos of thoughts in our minds.

Rather than focusing on what's missing, you notice what's present. And you relax with it instead of measuring it against some standard. Joy arises when you can simply be present.

So maybe the resolution for 2014 is just to be there for it, not looking ahead or back.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mindful gene changes

The study compared a group of experienced meditation who took part in a day of intensive mindfulness meditation to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.

A new study has found specific molecular changes from a day of mindfulness meditation. Researchers believe it's the first study to find rapid alterations in gene expression from mindfulness meditation.

"Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs," says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain, where the molecular analyses were conducted.
Read more here

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mindfulness and empathy

Even as mindfulness is becoming ubiquitous -- popular with businesses, physicians, and stressed-out average joes -- empathy is declining.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof cites the work of a Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske, who found that when research subjects look at photos of the poor and homeless, brain imaging shows they often react as if they are seeing things, not people. Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion.

Instead of seeing the similarities -- there but for the grace of God go I -- we look for differences, for explanations to reassure ourselves that whatever led to other people being in difficult circumstances won't happen to us.

Mindfulness, though, should lead us in the other direction. Seeing how we want to be happy, to be safe, to live at peace and how many of our thoughts are about that and how we can secure it opens us up and lets us know how much others also want that.  Mindfulness -- kind, non-judgmental, present-moment awareness -- lets us see how we suffer. It's only a small step to see that others also want what we want and suffer when they don't have it. All we have to do, really, is to extend kind awareness to others.

And when we see the world through the lens of mindfulness, we also are more clear about how we can reduce suffering, our own and others'.

When mindfulness is equated with bare attention, it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from the truth. 
- B. Alan Wallace
We should be courteous to the poor as well as to the powerful. We should avoid attachment to relatives and animosity toward enemies, ridding ourselves of all partiality. But let us be especially respectful towards poor, humble people of no importance. Do not be partial! Love and compassion should be universal toward all beings.

Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche