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His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been instrumental in forging a close relationship between Buddhist teachers, Rinpoches, monks, and Scientists. Scientists across multiple disciplines have started to take note of the possibilities for investigating positive human qualities and the effects of types of practices that can influence our minds and our physical nature in an adaptive fashion. A new center has opened in Wisconsin called:
It is a center for studying not one way of developing a healthy mind, but the many factors and that can potentially influence the mind towards developing a particularly health-promoting disposition. Richie Davidson and his lab have been pioneers in this emerging field of contemplative neuroscience. There has been an explosion of research since 2004 in this area and the opening of such a lab (and there are now many others as well), is indicative of the times….a revolution of sorts for humanity. It is no longer sufficient to study biopsychosocial models of disease and dysfunction, but to investigate the explicit factors and specific practices that reduce the risks of developing mental disease and related physical ailments. Essentially, how do we weather the storms of life, while also focusing beyond ourselves!
Excessive focus on the self clearly contributes to psychopathology (e.g., see Northoff, 2007). In the laboratory, we are now beginning to see physical benefits of less self-focus, compassion and empathy for others. The Dalai Lama noted in the talk today with Richie Davidson and Dan Goleman that deeply rooted Self-confidence apparently reduces fear, mistrust, and decreases hostile behavior. On the other hand, primary self-focus alone is likely to produce insecurities that further lead into selfish behavior leading to mistrust, increased fear, and more hostile behavior. Therefore, taking care of others well-being will directly benefit your SELF.
One example of research in this area is in one study where people were give $50 and asked to spend it on either one self or on other people. They were then asked the subjective level of happiness. Those individuals who were asked to spend it on themselves were found to be less happy than those individuals who spent the money on others.
So…I gather you will go out today and tip your Barista a little more or give that extra dollar to the homeless guy…because truly this selfless action is what will be preventing you from developing a form of depression or psychopathology later.
How do we cultivate a thriving human? Is is happiness? Material or Spiritual gain? Health? Can we all thrive as humans while death and disease remain throughout the world?
As researchers, we know that the brain can be trained to dwell in a constructive range: contentment instead of craving, calm rather than agitation, compassion in place of hatred. Medicines are the leading modality in the West for addressing disturbing emotions, and for better or for worse, there is no doubt that mood-altering pills have brought solace to millions. But one compelling question the research [with meditators] raises is whether a person, through his or her own efforts, can bring about lasting positive changes in brain function that are even more far-reaching than medication in their impact on emotions. – Dan Goleman
Unlike depression, which often sends us into a tailspin, positive emotions create an upward spiral “by building resilience and influencing the ways people cope with adversity” – Matthieu Ricard