Meditation, Genetics, Conditioned Response to Life

Mind colours photoNot so long ago modern psychology defined a split between how we perceive our world; between flexible conditioned responses to stress, and our  genetic inherited traits, the latter then considered as immobile and concrete.

At that time, researchers seemed confidant that our genetic predispositions were locked in genetic codes; that the only route to therapy lay within modifying conditioned responses.

But recent evidence from the University of Wisconsin, and the Institute of Biomedical Research, Barcelona, showed that experienced meditators practicing mindfulness turned down the activity of genes and enzymes related to inflammation of the body’s cellular structure. If not changing the genes, then as a by-product of meditation, changing the messages that genes send is possible, flexible, and provable.

As we have seen in previous posts on this site, mastering the mind comes through freeing it from automatic mental conditioning of life experience which we frequently become stuck in. After all, life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to live through. Where people fail is when they elect a state of mind, usually pleasant and ego- driven, to remain in. This avoidance of displeasure, becoming stuck, is a kind of death.

But meditation offers a freedom from suffering due to being stuck. This is accomplished, in varying states of success, by assuming a comfortable posture, controlled breathing, and a progressive yet passive wish to halt the inner mind-chatter that occupies much of our waking days.

University of Toronto clinical psychologists showed 14 years ago that six months of mindfulness practice, coupled with cognitive therapy, reduced the relapse rate of chronic depression patients by 40 per cent over the following year. With today’s brain monitoring instruments, researchers are discovering how and why this works.

I offer this information to new meditators who may be unsure of their progress, or have become discouraged by the influence of friends who elect to be stuck in their own lives, and feel threatened by we who choose a process of becoming, of experimenting in the human condition.




Mindfull Body

Meditator man copyWe can take a simple step toward better physical and mental health if we are mindful of the effects that our daily living is having on our bodies and minds.

Consider spending a few non-judgmental every day not to worry about your body, or push it harder at the gym, but simply to be in it.

Find a comfortable position, so you feel supported and relaxed.

Close your eyes, or if open, attain a soft, unfocused gaze.

Rest for some moments, becoming mindful of the natural rhythm of your breathing.

When body and mind settle, become aware of the entire body. Be aware of your body resting, being supported by the chair, mat, or the floor.

Now, begin to focus attention on a particular area of the body, or proceed in sequence: toes, feet, calves and thighs- pelvis, abdomen-  lower back, upper back-  chest, shoulders- arms and hands- neck, face, and scalp.

Spend several minutes focussed on each body section, as you notice the various sensations the body transmits.

The moment you notice your mind has wandered, return your attention to the last part of the body you remember.

The body scan practice helps you to anchor where you are in the here and now.

It can also help you become more attentive to bodily signals from stress, fear and anxiety. Noticing this, you can take steps to relieve the tension before it presents as a mental or physical problem.

Letting Go of Results

Tightrop walker woman copyIn Europe and North America we are results driven people, this proven by the paradox that we likely come to meditation and mindfulness practice because of pain, anger, depression or fear, with avoidance of these symptoms as the goal.

The “goal” paradox is, that the benefits of meditation/mindfulness appear when we deliberately unfocus on fixing problems. When a student says they are interested in being more relaxed, enlightened or pain-free, what they really say is, “Right now, I am not okay, I can’t accept where I am at”.

But with practice, we discover that eliminating the drive for results can yield something like what we want; better awareness of our natural psychic balance, despite the unbalance. Acceptance becomes a key that unlocks the door to enlightenment.

If we are teaching meditation and mindfulness it is essential to embody this concept of natural innate balance in the face of students who come to us results driven, wanting to get somewhere, anywhere, other than where they are at right now.

But befriending ourselves right now is prelude to an enlightenment that germinates naturally, without force, flourishing under the right conditions that meditation and mindfulness create.

The teacher’s own practice and talk should embrace the knowledge and confidence that a willingness to accept all student’s innate ability for mindfulness creates a global climate that conducts growth and inhibits scepticism, doubt or inhibition.

Chants, Rants and Trance

Chant monk copyThere’s no doubt that concentrating on rhythmically repetitive sounds and motion from a group in unison can induce a trance like state, often quickly and to nearly everyone. But are these extra sensory experiences enlightenment, entertainment or self-illusions?

Contrast chanting with a silent, motionless meditator, who, rather than loudly chasing after and trying to induce bliss, is breathing to a pattern, waiting for the right conditions where bliss develops spontaneously. To a North American or European observer, the ease of this meditation is deceptively difficult, the results neither quick nor observable. It’s difficult to brag about this type of meditation.

If you are focused primarily on provable results that can be seen, discussed at a party, boasted and documented on video, then chants are the way. A visit to a public Buddhist centre might loudly confirm this suspicion. But what do the monks do when no visitors are watching?

Fixing attention on the meditative breath develops awareness of the present moment, or “Right Concentration“, coupled with a parallel depth of understanding. This, instead of trying through volume and repetition to force conditions causing a lost track of time, space or consciousness.

Through breathing mediation we can learn to stay in reality, not seek hallucinations or illusion. By awareness of this moment, this time in reality, we can take guidance from the past and provide for the future. But it’s less impressive than chanting!

Meditation for Beginners

Culturally, we expecasian-home-gymt a certain result or predictable outcome from our efforts, so it is difficult letting go of expectations for meditation.

Also, disappointment of expectation can bring suffering, and isn’t that what we are trying to eliminate?

Understanding that each meditation will probably yield different results, and that regular time and place practice leads to better outcome, then here is a beginner’s meditation checklist;

As much as possible-

  • Choose a regular time – free of interruptions, distraction, noise- where possible. People with small children, demanding pets or dependent relationships may encounter challenges. Do the best you can. Set a timer for 5 to 10 min. at first.
  • Choose a comfortable space –  but not so comfortable that you fall asleep!
  • Relax your posturescan the body, looking for pools of tension; focus on letting go of the tension location by location. I start at my toes, moving up through the body.  Sit with a straight spine, arms and legs relaxed.
  • Begin to focus on your breathing. Some like to focus on the sensation of breath in the nostrils, some prefer the belly, others the chest – You use what works best.
  • Let go of your day… Let go of yesterday… Let go of future plans… Focus on this time, this moment.
  • Focus now completely on the sensation of breathing. Ideas, thoughts will come- when they do, refocus to the sensation of the breath.
  • Don’t rush back into your day when the timer ends your practice. Enjoy your efforts. Allow an interval to reengage into life.

For more detailed beginner’s instructions  comes highly recommended.

Try not to become agitated if you discover people and events seem to be interfering with your meditation plans or practice. This is showing our human reluctance to change.

I will be writing more about dependency and its relation to personal growth in future articles, so please stay tuned.

Peace and abundance to all.