Paul J. Mills, Tiffany Barsotti, Meredith A. Pung, Kathleen L. Wilson, Laura Redwine, and Deepak Chopra Gratitude, along with love, compassion, empathy, joy, forgiveness, and self-knowledge, is a vital attribute of our wellbeing. While there are many definitions of gratitude, at its foundation, gratitude is a healing, life-affirming, and uplifting human experience that shifts us […]
The benefits of meditation can’t be called new. For decades the practice has been endorsed, even by mainstream medicine, as a proven means to reduce stress and produce relaxation. In fact, if it were not for “the relaxation response,” a sanitized version of Eastern meditation that was popularized thirty years ago, it is doubtful that a secular society could be persuaded that meditation is real. Until recently, code words like “peacefulness” and “serenity” went about as far as anyone could go without seeming to bring religion in through the back door.
The short period of time needed to produce benefits surprised everyone. Brain scans of Buddhist monks had already shown dramatic alteration of gamma waves in the prefrontal cortex, a region associated with higher cognitive responses as well as moral feelings like compassion. But learning that a life-long meditator produced gamma waves at 80 cycles per second instead of the usual 40, although fascinating to neuroscientists, still kept meditation far out of reach of busy, secular Westerners. Now we can say, without fear of seeming “too Eastern,” that meditation sharpens the mind and produces benefits everyone would want. The old bugaboo that navel gazing makes you passive and “too peaceful” can be banished once and for all.
If you back away and look at the bigger picture, what you see is startling. There is a direct path that begins in the mind — with meditation, mindfulness, or more basic things like beliefs and emotions — and then the path leads to the genes, where signals are sent that modify the brain cell, which in turn sends its own signals in the form of neurotransmitters to every cell in the body. The reason that eight weeks is enough to cause significant changes in the brain is that the underlying circuitry that connects mind, genes, and brain operates every second of our lives. Ultimately, I’m confident that the results will spread even farther. We will discover that a person’s awareness balances and controls almost any bodily process you can name. The old phrase, “biology is destiny,” will have to be seriously re-examined. A good replacement would be “consciousness is destiny,” which is the guiding reason that meditation arose in the first place. I foresee enormous opportunities for personal freedom here. Instead of being dictated to by your genes and chemical processes in the brain, it may turn out that you are the author of your own life, capable of change, healing, creativity, and personal transformation. Who wouldn’t want to be free to write the program that runs brain and body? Such has been the spiritual promise for thousands of years. It’s time that modern society woke up and realized that the promise still holds good.
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