October 10, 2008

Latest News on the Benefits of Meditation

"For thousands of years, Buddhist meditators have claimed that the simple act of sitting down and following their breath while letting go of intrusive thoughts can free one from the entanglements of neurotic suffering." [from a quote at The Buddhist Blog {link}]

In Mark Epstein's book Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, I found the following which suggests meditation as a means of addressing "emptiness" or the "oppressive feeling of the self":

Psychotherapy, while conventionally seeking to eradicate the debilitating sense of emptiness, can also serve as a forum for authenticating and encouraging a capacity to bear the unknowability of the self. ... [T]here are healthy ways as well as unhealthy ways of dropping the oppressive feeling of the self. While people tend to turn first to the unhealthy way, such as using drugs or alcohol, there are actually much more fulfilling ways of losing oneself, of which meditation is a good example.
Serendipitously, James of The Buddhist Blog in his new post called "The Science of Meditation" first quotes an article from Miller-McCure, reposted in the digest Buddhist Channel, "Think on This: Meditation May Protect Your Brain" that tells us of the brain enhancing qualities of meditation that have been discovered in recent years. Here just a snip:

...researchers reported last year that longtime meditators don't lose gray matter in their brains with age the way most people do, suggesting that meditation may have a neuro-protective effect. A rash of other studies in recent years meanwhile have found, for example, that practitioners of insight meditation have noticeably thicker tissue in the prefrontal cortex (the region responsible for attention and control), and that experienced Tibetan monks practicing compassion meditation generate unusually strong and coherent gamma waves in their brains.
James, who suffers from attention deficit disorder [ADD] goes on to report on his own benefits from practice, both while in a state of meditation and afterward. Here, James's words on how he feels after meditating:

... I’ve noticed that once I emerge from meditation that my mind is sharper, better able to concentrate without interference and better able to hold my attention a good period of time later. After meditation it also helps me feel more patient and less overwhelmed with stimuli because I am continuing that thought processing used while meditating. Of course it never lasts all day but the more I practice the longer I can go without too much interference and stress from all the stimuli. It is much like learning a language in a way, the more you practice the more your mind rewires itself. And so no wonder the great teachers all refer to meditation as practice.
All this is great news, for long-practicing meditators and for anyone thinking about taking up meditation or who has an attention problem or who in other ways is entangled in neurotic suffering or is oppressed by the nattering self.

In the Homeless World, there are a lot of folks snared by drug or alcohol abuse. In Sacramento, and surely it is the same nationally, homeless folk with substance dependencies wait greedily for money they receive at the first of any month, or a few days thereafter. Here, some call them "happy checks" -- which most often come from Social Security in payment for a disability or as GA, aka general assistance, from the welfare office. When the payment days come, a great number of homeless Sacramentans start living large -- renting motel rooms for sex or other partying and buying lots of the drug or beverages of choice. The population that shows up at Loaves & Fishes decreases substantially, and the competition for beds at the mission evaporates completely such that many beds go unutilized.

Thanks to news in the article James cites, reasons for taking up meditation are heightened. I hope that substance-abuse programs in my metropolis -- and everywhere -- make meditation instruction an important part of what is provided to the people they serve. Let us lessen suffering in the world using the healthy benefits of meditation, y'all!


They call him James Ure said...

I like the new blog and the name is great. Thanks for the nod. :)

Tom said...

Thanks, James. It is always an honor to associate my writings with your premier Buddhism blog.