As part of our commitment to mind body science we would like to highlight a few of the speakers from the recent (AMR) 2015. This 2 day conference held at Memorial Sloan Kettering brought scientists and clinicians from around the world to share cutting edge research in meditation and mindfulness. This first blog will share Thursday night’s discussions with Bob Thurman and Zoran Josipovic.
Buddhist Enlightenment – Western Enlightenment: Medicine today
Robert A. F. Thurman is recognized worldwide as an authority on religion and spirituality, asian history, world philosophy, Buddhist science, Indo – Tibetan Buddhism, and his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Robert Thurman is an eloquent advocate of the relevance of Buddhist ideas to our daily life. In doing so, he has become a leading voice of the value of reason, peace and compassion. He was named one of the time magazines 25 most influential Americans.
Bob starts by introducing all of us to The Heart Sutra – which represents the “full knowing of the nature of reality” http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/heartsutra.html
The next 40 years of mindfulness in science and health care: There will be a revolution in science that will involve the overthrow of scientism, and there will be an introduction of “mind” as a force in nature.
Thomas Nagel “Mind and Cosmos”
The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.
Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such.
Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic.
In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility.
Bob talks about a science that is trained in shamatha and vipashyana – the 2 kinds of meditation. First the one pointed shamatha (peace to be located in a place – standing in peace and what most people think meditation is). The second brings in more control of mind – to see critically is vipashyna – not quietistic, but a way to find the “deeper reality” – vipashyna is how the Buddha discovered the nature of reality.
The revolution of health care will consider age old natural medicines; mind body remedies – bring the mind into medicine – consider the placebo effect – train physicians in compassion instead of commercialization of medicine and treat medicine as a war on disease –embodying Hippocrates true teachings. Buddha said the only motivation is compassion to eliminate suffering and disease.
Should ethics be taught in mindfulness education?
Mindfulness is just a heightened or alert state of being. Any kind of empowering of the person to control their mind with their own mind – is really excellent! Once one develops mindfulness….you can begin to pick and choose thoughts that are good and not so good – the more you become self aware of your mind ….the more you become aware of sections of your mind that are not helpful to you or others around you. A natural part of the mindfulness revolution – not depending on outside authorities…. but take in hand and deal with your own health through lifestyle and diet
Is Meditation Enough? Buddha put the path of realizing freedom from suffering as 3 higher educations:
- Ethics what is harmful and helpful for others
- Mind and mindfulness
- Super knowing/Wisdom what is real in the world and the mind
Meditation is like a gun, powerful it shoots a bullet; but without a target it is pointless You can meditation on bad things and get worse. How it is aimed is critical.
Zoren Josipovic PhD is a research scientist at the Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab, NYU School of Medicine, and an adjunct faculty in the Psychology Department, New York University. He is the founding director of Nonduality Institute, an independent center for science and practice of nondual meditation. His research interests are the nature of consciousness as understood in nondual contemplative traditions and the effects it may have on the global and local organization in the brain. – See more at: http://www.scienceandnonduality.com
Finding Nonduality in clinical settings: love and compassion meditation
http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_in.htm for a deeper understanding of what love and compassion meditation is and how to do it
Scientific research into the neural correlates of nondual realization can further our understanding of the nature of consciousness, and of the brain’s functioning in optimal states of wellbeing. It can demystify this aspect of human potential and help make the awakening to nonduality more accessible to a growing number of people throughout the world.
Under Zoran Josipovic, PhD, the research program at Nonduality Institute aims to explore the nature of nonduality through a multifaceted approach that looks both at the nature of nondual awareness, and at the ways in which it can influence cognitive, affective and somatic dimensions of our experience.
Some of the questions we seek to answer are:
- What aspect of our consciousness realizes nonduality?
- What are the characteristics of nondual embodiment?
- What is the relationship between nonduality and authentic subjectivity?
- How does abiding in nonduality affect our relationships?
Our research is focused on these areas:
- Neural correlates of nonduality and the dynamics of global networks in the brain.
- Phenomenology of nondual experience and the impact it has on our mind and body.
- Clinical applications of nondual realization.
- The neural correlates of contemplative practices and the impact they have on cognitive, affective and somatic processes.
Research modalities we use are EEG, MEG and fMRI, in addition to a variety of psychophysics and self-report tests.
“Today I am going to talk about a nondual approach to looking at love and compassion meditation training. This meditation training is being used more and more in clinical setting…. and then I will show some of the research we are doing.”
“Non-duality simply ‘is a way of being’ – in which we are not fragmented in these polarities of subjective, objective, good, bad, in group, out group –we take things that are innate and unavoidable …aspects of experience …and we realize the nature of our mind or the true nature consciousness. The way we experience reality, is in a way that is undivided. The background of this awareness ‘the nature of consciousness’ then encompasses all our experience and we return to our authentic being – we return to who we are naturally – naturally here means not biological but authentic in that we are not constructing an artificial reality.”
This authentic being or unconstructed natural abiding has certain dimensions:
- Emptiness being space like empty and unconstructed all encompassing and all pervading
- Luminosity – clear cognizant self knowing or reflexive, clear light
- Responsiveness – non referential love and compassion : empathetic open intuitively cognizant
“The other features of non-duality is that the mind is unitary or single. Even though we are talking about these different dimensions… we are actually talking about one single presence…and in the sense that we are a single conscious aware presence, we can say we that this authentic being is our real self. Within this authentic being is a great deal of bliss, ecstasy and pleasure…. which is there to experience. The nature of reality, life, of who we are is ecstatically blissful…. if we allow it to be what it is. The reason we are not always experiencing this blissful awareness, based on ancient traditions, is because we are trapped in a made reality – which is made on the duality of subjective and objective self, I and other.”
“Constructed in a destructive manner … we live in a defended state which we simply call “who am I as a person?” This is not necessary. There are survival advantages to this and some say biologically this is driven by functions of the immune system; but even the immune system works better when we relax the division!”
How do we approach using contemplative practices in life and in the clinic?
“We can be constructing ourselves with these practices; essentially we are still operating in a dualistic manner but we are improving ourselves…. there is some gradual improvement”
Here is a Metaphor: if the ground of being is our authentic reality…. than our usual experience is like a hole in the ground. When you are way down in the hole and someone tells you that there is big open space above you – it is hard to believe– it could be good to do some constructing to get up to the surface level. However, sometimes we get too attached to these constructing practices and we need to look at the deconstructing practices.
“There is another groups of ancient practices that are very important to consider. These are the practices that deconstruct – or understand the constructive nature of experience. In these practices you experience this duelist identity as a person….. it is just a mental pattern…. and when that relaxes, you arrive at your natural being , who you actually are.”
How can we help our clients arrive at their own authentic being place more efficiently?
“Because the non duality has different dimensions, we can access through any of these dimensions. A most powerful way to access it is through “Love and compassion” Composed of cognitive and affective components –the approach it to train different aspects of compassion like empathy, sympathy non judgment ”
“We can see love and compassion simply as the energy of ‘who we are’ expressing itself. This is a much more spontaneous and effortless way to manifest.”
“Its not that you have to train compassion but that ….Compassion and love are spontaneous in your nature … once you remove the things that are dampening it down. From a non dual perspective our experience of life is all together shut down, we experience much less of what is available to us than we could. That applies to all levels of our being cognitive, affective, perceptual, and sensory. We are educated into gradually shutting down our experience.”
“Another very interesting way to understand what “love and compassion” does is to see it as an impulse of your authentic being to find itself again. Something inside of us wants to become free – that impulse is really non referential love and kindness – consciousness inside you wants to know itself ….self recognition”
A study by Sharp 2012 shows differences of how pleasure is organized by an ordinary person vs a person who does inner yoga meditation.
If we repeat certain experiences and they give us pleasure we naturally become addicted- these mechanism are very known in the brain. However we can be doing meditation practices that are intensely pleasurable- yet not be addicted. What is the difference? The differences is that the intense state of pleasure is our “natural state” What is actually occurring is that we release the inhibition that we have put on our state–
…..by practice mediation we return to the authentic experience of pleasure. Because it is our authentic self, it will not cause addiction.
A research pilot study is presented where Zoren and his team teach love and compassion meditation to epileptic patients. In epilepsy, the temporal lobe produces loud regular patterns on intracranial EEG. The electrodes can be placed to find the location of the seizure and the patient can do experiments while being monitored. In this pilot study the patients underwent pre testing, they then did a short meditation and underwent post testing.
The result that Zoren is very excited about is that there is a significant reduction in epileptic hyper synchrony pre / post meditation. Hyper synchrony drops out in mediation and persists after mediation.
For more research by Zoren and the nonduality institute visit; http://www.nondualityinstitute.org/Research.html