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Scientific American Just put out a decent summary of the current neuroscience research on meditation written by friends, Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz, and Richie Davidson. I enjoyed reading the article and thought I’d share it here with some commentary. The article uses the same distinctions in meditation practice we outlined in our S-ART paper – That is Focused Attention, Open Monitoring (or Mindfulness), and Loving Kindness or Compassion (or ethical enhancement practices).
Essentially, they describe the act of meditating during Focused Attention similarly to the model below – A practitioner starts with the intention, orients attention and engages on object (Breath) – the mind becomes distracted and enters the mind-wandering default mode network – it realizes there is distraction (through decentering) and activates a salience network. Reorientation of awarenesss than involves dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior inferior parietal lobe. I would further argue that the larger frontoparietal control network (including nodes of the salience network and lateral frontopolar cortex and even the lateral cerebellum) all contribute to the decentering, monitoring, and reorientation process. the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex concurrently helps with response inhibition.
Interestingly, the article also points out some of the morphological changes noted in a recent meta-analyses done by Kiran Fox HERE. The study found the frontopolar cortex and anterior insula were 2 brain regions with neuroplastic changes most often found in such studies of meditators.
Just a short note about the economics of Happiness. The topic has been very popular lately, more so than previously apparently. The short story is that Happiness is good business. It’s good business for your body. It’s good business for your family. It’s good business for your boss. It’s good business for your boss’ boss. It’s good business for your neighbor and your neighbor’s dog that poops on your lawn. Happiness is good business for every sentient being on our planet. Now that the trivial has been stated, is there any ‘being’ that can not benefit from happiness?
As a clinical researcher, I find legitimate biological reasons for the benefit of happiness. But I will make the strong caveat that if you try and define happiness for yourself, you’ll find two things:
1. It is easy to define happiness
2. It is difficult to define happiness
If anything, I do find that happiness is wonderful in itself. The concept before it is defined. The letters as they are perceived and the processing power, time, and space in your brain that is utilized while reading the word on this blog or on the title of a book recommended for you on amazon, Here…Here…or HERE. Just reading the word is good business for YOU. Even better, is the fact that reading the word subconsciously as it becomes a word/concept/image/meme that is prevalent in the social world around you is good business. It’s all good business, because it gives YOU and the 6 billion 818 million humans a chance of experiencing it also…and even better than recently….it gives YOU the chance to experience it right NOW. This is extraordinary.
Experience Happiness. It’s good business.
I also wanted to give a shout out to the WISDOM 2.0 conference and how HAPPINESS is going viral! A lot of great people participated in this conference including the wise Roshi Joan Halifax. There was a great blog written by Maia Duerr in response to this event and I wanted to share the link with you… HERE. The tagline for the conference was, “how we can live in greater balance with, and more successfully use, the great technologies of our age.”
Here are a few links for research supporting the claim that Meditation increases empathy.
2. Tania Singer: a. The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading: Review of literature and implications for future research; NaBR, 2006 article HERE; b. Empathy for Pain Involves the Affective but not Sensory Components of Pain – Science, 2004 article HERE
Tania states: “We propose two major roles for empathy; its epistemological role is to provide information about the future actions of other people, and important environmental properties. Its social role is to serve as the origin of the motivation for cooperative and prosocial behavior, as well as help for effective social communication.”
3. Hein and Singer: I feel how you feel but not always: the empathic brain and its
CLARIFICATION NOTE: Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another’s state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. It is important to note that empathy does not necessarily imply compassion. Empathy can be ‘used’ for compassionate or cruel behavior.
Emotional Contagion: The tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. One view of the underlying mechanism is that it represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994). see WIKI
Sympathy: the recognition of another’s suffering; making known one’s understanding of another’s unhappiness or suffering
Compassion: Profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism
From Wiki: “Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha’s teachings. He was reputedly asked by his secretary, Ananda, “Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice? To which the Buddha replied, “No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindess and compassion is all of our practice.” See WIKI
Schadenfreude: Enjoyment taken from the misfortune of someone else
Tania and her imaging lab has been looking at these components of emotion in experienced, long-term meditators like Matthieu Ricard