Okay, so nobody knows what consciousness is. Doesn’t really matter, so long as we use the consciousness that we have—whatever the heck it is—wisely. Which includes training the brain.
In TIME’s “How the Brain Rewires Itself,” Sharon Begley presents some encouraging research that overthrows the depressing notion that “the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function, so that by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty much stuck with what we are.”
She goes on to say:
But research in the past few years has overthrown the dogma. In its place has come the realization that the adult brain retains impressive powers of “neuroplasticity”—the ability to change its structure and function in response to experience.
One way the brain can rewire itself is through meditation. Begley cites a study that involved Buddhist monks, some of whom have spent more than 10,000 hours of their lives in meditation.
Hey, that’s nothing.
I’ve spent over 20,000 hours in meditation (though if you subtract the time I spent dozing or letting my mind ramble, it’d likely be closer to 2,000; maybe less). So it’s nice to know that researchers are finding that all that sitting in a dark place with my eyes closed, mostly repeating a mantra, probably has altered the structure and function of my brain for the better.
After putting the Buddhist monks through their meditation paces in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, neuroscientist Richard Davidson considers this to be a viable hypothesis: “That we can think of emotions, moods and states such as compassion as trainable mental skills.”
So the brain is turning out to be a lot more flexible than was previously believed. It’s interesting that meditation, which usually involves focusing or concentrating awareness, leads to more looseness in the psyche.
Maybe reducing the amount of useless cognitive crap that floats around the brain in the form of meandering thoughts and unrestrained emotions frees up space for more positive relations with reality.
Whatever, it’s clear that meditation can lead to changes in how our consciousness functions, opening up possibilities for fresh insights and new understandings. It’s healthy to shake up the branches of our brain’s neuronal tree. Fruits never before tasted may drop onto our plate of awareness.
I’m not surprised that all those hours of meditation I’ve put in have helped me become the person I am now. More agnostic, skeptical, non-dogmatic, irreligious, open-minded.
I’m still as committed to meditation and the possibility of directly experiencing a “mystical” state of consciousness. I just don’t want to be confined inside any sort of rigid conceptual framework during my exploring of plastic possibilities.
It’s not strange when long-time meditators find their approach to spirituality becoming more flexible. What’s strange is the belief that someone could seriously study the nature of their own consciousness for years or decades and not find their spiritual beliefs changing.
It's so hard to understand even our own so-called understanding or lack there-of. And then to comment on "someone" who has seriously studied the nature of their own consciousness for years and have not found their spiritual beliefs changing? How can we know about another's change or not? And if we try to judge only by their words or actions, we're still groping and feeling in the dark.
I agree completely with the "cognitive crap" you refer to. The desire is to yell "shut up" to our own internal junk. But still we reach out, like you do in your blog and I do by commenting. . we continue to plan and worry and organize and remember and imagine and make ourselves think that our useless churning of thoughts and visions will bring us satisfaction. and they do... for a moment. and then it's off to the next idea, creation, surge of energy that deliver an injection of purpose and pleasure to sustain the body/mind for another sliver of time. like the rats in their cages with the wheel on which they keep running, the impulse to project their/our essence onto our surroundings. to touch/experience a rebound from our own chaotic passions
but then, what else to do in our blind/deaf/dumb condition but to continue to exist.... awash in tears....
Posted by: Pam | January 26, 2007 at 07:21 PM
You are really only speaking about yourself rather than others. Yet you peak for others.
So why do you presume to speak for others?
In your comment: You used the word "we" 5 times. You used the word "our" 6 times. And you also used the word "us" once.
That is a quite fair amount of of "we", "our", and us" in such a brief comment which is clearly all about YOUR own thoughts, views and opinions.
Posted by: tao | January 26, 2007 at 11:24 PM
Elegy for One’s Self
You did not embarrass me with
the apricot corsage, bottle of
How much you spent for dinner
and your screams at night
I know won’t suffice.
The litho posters
are stuck to photographs; odd
haircuts and teeth
in a head no longer yours.
Who helped to cart
the rental truck,
you are. And you left
without the Egyptian
pipe cutting tools,
school papers and spools of wire and thread.
You never did this side of the bridge,
this after that island was home.
There are double yellow
traffic lights and
where there was only snow,
for a moment I am climbing an oak,
there you are,
Posted by: Edward | January 27, 2007 at 08:18 AM
Meditation, as imperfect as my own practice probably is, I think, what has allowed my perspective to shift - allowed my mind to appreciate the mystery of what I thought I knew and the beauty in what I thought was ordinary. I also believe that meditation frees my mind to be present when I am using it.
I am also "thrown in" to a meditative state of sorts spontaneously, the more I seem cultivate regular planned meditation.
Brian, your thoughts made me step back and observe the ways that my consciousness evolves. Edward, your thoughts opened my mind to the beauty of the moments when I allowed my consciousness to expand due to loss and to the relinquishing of my own desires and dreams.
What an honor to be offered such beauty. Thank you.
Posted by: benandante | January 28, 2007 at 09:03 AM
Posted by: Pam | January 29, 2007 at 05:40 PM
Krishnamurti on meditation. It is a 1 hour program.
Posted by: Jayme | January 19, 2009 at 09:48 PM