Free Your Mind by Seeing "Free the Mind"
The brain’s first job is to protect us from danger. Sometimes it gets overloaded and fear takes up residence in our bodies. Trauma afflicts and limits. How can we understand these phenomena? How can we free ourselves from the negative effects of trauma? These questions are explored in the new film, “Free the Mind” by acclaimed Danish filmmaker, Phie Ambo.
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The film has a powerful contemporary classical musical score by Johan Johannsson that is expansive, lyrical, and poignant. Phie also does the cinematography for the film. She captures the sense of confinement that fear brings and the spaciousness that mindfulness promises. The film also features custom animation that captures the chaos and fluidity of the brain. These images are gripping and inspired by actual neuroscience images but are artistic renditions that add dimensionality to the film.
The film will likely be an integral part of the Mindfulness Revolution. Just as the PBS series Healing and the Mind that featured Jon Kabat-Zinn was a boon to the movement twenty years ago, this film will increase the public profile of mindfulness. It lets us know in a compelling and gentle way that mindfulness can help with fear. It can help us to move from the imprisonment of our memories to the openness of breathing.
I had an opportunity to speak with both Dr. Davidson and Phie Ambo about the making of the film. Dr. Davidson, or “Richie” as he is affectionately known and I spoke about the voluminous research currently being conducted at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. He directs sixty staff who are engaged in dozens of neuroscience research projects that are investigating the basic science of mindfulness, including how meditation may affect gene expression as well as ongoing investigation of the functional and structural changes of the brain linked to meditation. Other studies are looking at how meditation may impact inflammation in a beneficial way. There are large studies being conducted with mindfulness for children, from preschool through middle school. That study is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The research featured in Free the Mind is one of the several studies investigating veterans. The particular study shown in the film was a seven consecutive day intervention that featured yogic breathing (pranayama). Other studies are looking at more traditional length (that is, eight weeks) mindfulness-based programs. These programs include a martial arts component that is not part of the typical MBSR course. It is not yet known what the optimal format is and the data will be available in about a year from now.
The integration of martial arts for the veteran population is an example of upaya—skillful means. Upaya is an adaptive approach that seeks to make the benefits of mindfulness available. We see it happen in this work with veterans and with kids. There is a long tradition of upaya, stretching all the way back to the Buddha’s original teaching. He was known for his ability to tailor his message to the audience receiving it, whether farmers or kings. He often used metaphors, parables, and stories to illustrate his teachings. To find out more about Dr. Davidson’s work, you can visit the Investigating Healthy Minds Website.