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.




Managing Strong Emotions

flooded riverManaging our stream of strong emotions is like having charge of maintaining and channeling a powerful river.

If we fail to look after the river by clearing away debris and removing obstacles to the natural flow of water, then over time there will be log jams, overflow of the riverbanks, and uncontrollable flooding that destroys or hurts the surrounding environment.

Like the river, if we fail to manage our daily flow of emotions, if we allow them to accumulate by repressing or denying their troubling nature, if we distract ourselves from painful emotions with television, video games, drugs or alcohol, then eventually the buildup threatens to overflow our boundaries or banks.

Like the neglected river, our emotions then overflow, breaking the banks and  log jams we have allowed to accumulate through neglect or denial, causing suffering to others, and compounding our own frustration, fear and anger. Like being the diligent custodian of a river, Meditation has proven to help manage the flow of our emotions and it does this in a two-stage aspect.

We have learned that meditation involves primarily pausing the mindlessness of our distracting lifestyle for a period. Because this aspect is what most people have difficulty achieving, yoga and mediation teachers have strived for ways to impart a method to their students to achieve this. Controlled breathing is often cited as a prelude to this state of mindfulness, so I offer my own samples to method on this Link.

The second aspect of mediation involves looking deeply while in the state of mindfulness. This state brings with it enough energy to discover the true nature and origin of the thoughts, emotions and feelings that we experience during mindlessness. By discovering the truth, we are able to direct those troubling thoughts and feelings toward  love, compassion and understanding of ourselves and others.

The trouble with emotions and feelings is, some of them are so powerful we think we can’t survive them, so we deny (or repress) them until they explode, causing hurt and suffering to ourselves and others.

Simplified, emotions come, stay for a while, and then leave. Prolonging the “stay” interval through resentments and obsessing, or through distraction or denial, causes a logjam of needless suffering that will eventually overflow unmanageably, but if we practice looking deeply while mindful, we can uproot the sources of painful emotions.

If we know how to breathe our way to mindfulness for periods of 20 minutes or so, then the chaos will roll away, leaving us with awareness that we can survive the storm.

If we practice emotional maintenance, we can experience surviving strong emotions and we can rest assured that the next time they come, we can survive them again.


Meditation on Main Stream Media

Brain actiivyt copyLong a proponent of meditation to relieve suffering and promote wellness, I was delighted this week when I hear a Canadian Broadcast Corp. (CBC) short program on my favourite subject – mindfulness.

Too often these shows are a turn-off to beginners, citing stuffy statistical analysis, dry academic theories of instruction, with lotus sitting, incense laden methods difficult for neophytes, but not this program.

Professor David Levy of Washington University has been instructing his students in meditation since 2005, and he spoke recently in a 10 minute Podcast to Norah Young on CBC radio’s “The Spark” on how mindfulness can improve how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives. Here’s the Link.

Near the eight minute mark Levy explains in simple language a study he conducted proving meditation eased the intuitive use of E-mail, Facebook and multitasking of those in the group. “Now that’s going to hook some new listeners”, I thought. We often suffer from “What’s in it for me?” when considering something new, so I was pleased David was appealing to modern productivity to gain interest.

The topic was chosen for a Podcast by “The Spark”s  producers after David was awarded an academic fellowship by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society to create a course exploring how contemplative practices might serve as a lens to observe and critique current information practices, and to investigate problems such as information overload, the fragmentation of attention, and the busyness and acceleration of everyday life.

Peace and abundance to all. (P.S. In reading the text version of Norah Young’s article in the Link above, I noted with chagrin that Young misspelled meditation as “mediation”; something that I do more frequently than I like to admit. Thank you all for your understanding.)

Mindfulness, Resentment, and the Inner Child

temple bellAs infants we were instinctively aware that we could not survive without our caregivers. This produced “original fear”. Even as we grow from infant to child, we were aware of the feelings of needing someone to protect us, defend us and nurture us. We were dependent.

As we mature, our bodies and minds change and develop from new experiences and education. We learned in childhood how to cooperate with our caregivers in exchange for protection and attention, setting the stage to deal with groups and adult situations, to live with what presents toward us, to live in the present. As we become independent of caregivers, we begin take care of outer selves.

But within each of us the original fear leaves strong memories, and if we are not mindful to educate and advance the inner child, the fearful infant inside can awaken old feelings in new situations.

We have learned that recalling a past suffering without awareness or mindfulness, causes the same feelings again – a resentment– for us to suffer again, despite that the painful event occurred only one time.

Mindfulness reminds us when presented with resentments, that it’s possible to be in the here and now. Mindfulness reminds us that the present moment is always available to us; we don’t have to live resentments over and over again.

Because it is so easy to be resentful of past events, it’s helpful to have a reminder to stay in the present moment. Monasteries and retreats have a proctor ring a bell at random times, reminding all to practice breathing in and out mindfully, thinking; “As I listen to the bell, it brings me to my true home – the here and now. The past is not my true home.”

You might want to say to the infant inside, the infant of the past, “The past is not our home; our home is here, where we live our life. We can get all the nourishment and healing we need here, in the present moment.”

Some of our original fears persist because the inner child hasn’t been liberated. Mindfulness and controlled breathing can, with practice, help this child realize that she is safe with you, the adult, and by degrees she can be freed.

Mindfulness’ Role in Resentments

Pondering childSubconcious mindTo understand “original fear” (from a previous post) with resentment, we must first understand resentment, which is the replaying in our minds of a past event. Resentments cause suffering but why can’t we just let go?

Understand resentment;  “re” means again, “sentment” comes from sentimental – emotions from the past.

Resentment comes from our subconscious brain that stores all the memory of experiences of our lives, like a continually running video recorder. Incredible, but science proves it’s true.

Resentments are linked to powerful experiences. Common events, like combing our hair, aren’t resented because combing  is not as important to our survival as running from danger.

But when confronted with a stressful persons or situations that cause real or perceived threats to survival, our bodies release powerful hormones: epinephrine, dopamine norepinephrine, and glucose, into our blood stream. This comination  spreads instantly to the brain, center of memory, sensitizing it to imprint a strong “survival” recording of what is happening right now. This, when similar conditions arise, we unconsciously, automatically and instantly awaken a defence mechanism imprinted on memory telling us to react to insure our continued survival.

This is how humanity survived threat. It is automatic, unconscious and it is still with us today, though in modern times, without mindfulness, can cause great personal suffering.

Mindfulness is capable of disarming resentment. Mindfulness can “re-mind” us that the resented event has passed, “It only happenned once!”.

Without mindfulness, resentment can trick us into experiencing resentment as if it is happening again, for the first time. Mindfulness asserts that the resented experience occurred only once, regardless of what memory tells us!

Allowing memory to replay the resentment without mindfulness causes the body to release the identical hormones from the first event, causing the same emotions, but now with panic, “Oh no! It’s happening again!”.

The brain becomes overdosed- imprinting, this time, the resentment, overtop of the original memory that is closest to the truth. The truth becomes bent, even lost in the re-imprinting.

The hormone rush creates panic. Panic causes  overload, disorder, faulty memory. Mindfulness soothes the panic, preserves the truth.

We see that resentment without mindfulness causes bent truths and suffering, but here is a caution of resentment with mindfulness;

Resentments that cause a release of hormones can overpower the will of mindfulness. If you notice frustration during mindfulness, this is likely what is happening; the hormones are causing a conflict between memory and truth. 

Always stay with the truth.

Now that we understand resentment, we can look forward to the next post:  Resentment and Original Fear



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.

The Ties that Bind Us

knotEveryone has internal stores of pain, anger and frustration caused by our judgments toward others who have been unkind or insulting to us. Taking these slights personally causes internal formations that are like ropes that bind us and obstruct our freedom.

If we don’t know how to cut these internal ropes and transform them, a knot will form that tightens every time that we meet someone who is unkind or insulting. Over time, the knot begins to crystallize into a hard lump of irritation. We might try drugs, alcohol or mental diversions to relieve the pain of these irritations. This complicates the issue, causing ropes and knots of addiction.

But through mindfulness, we can find these knots, and through meditation we can experience transformation by untying them.

Be aware that formations caused by pleasure can cause suffering and lost freedom.

The pleasure of falling in love is a huge internal formation. When falling in love we are not free – we can all think only of our beloved – we cannot study, we cannot work, we think only of the object of our love. When falling in love becomes an internal knot we become unstable.

When we taste, hear, or see something pleasant, then that pleasure can become a strong internal knot. When the object of pleasure disappears, we miss it, we search for it, expending much time and energy to re-experience it.

If we consume alcohol, go to the casino, view pornography or violence, and begin to like it, the liking starts an internal formation in the body, in the mind, due to the sensations caused. We begin to look for more of the substance or act, and become very anxious when we see it running out or it is gone. We are not even finished with the first one, and already we are thinking of ways to get more. The knot crystallizes.

Pleasant or unpleasant, internal formations remove our liberty.

The first step in untying the knots is admitting we have them.

Prayer and Meditation can help us accept how they were caused.

Mindfulness can prevent new knots from forming.

Elusive Mindfulness

Blank canvasWe forget that people are so naturally creative and observant that they can perceive the truth and create new truths within their own experience, if they are willing to observe it. Creating a blank canvas or framework for the truth, and having some faith in the process, is all that is required, but that is a tall order for most of us.

Mindfulness can elude us because we have been conditioned that enlightenment is a commodity that others hold, that mindfulness is earned or worked for, or we pay others to dispense it as therapy at a tropical retreat, or as room service, in appealing flavours.

Seeking mindfulness can imply work in a temple or with a guru, of turning every stone, using mental cunning, devising trickery, creating illusions or visions, impersonating something or someone else, as if we can attract the spirit though self deprivation, suffering or hard toil.

We are conditioned to believe that “working hard” and “sacrificing” is what yields concrete results and benefits in material terms. No Pain, No Gain, has become the modern catchphrase.

But the elements of mindfulness are not a state achieved by a trick or technique; mindfulness is a way of being, especially away from the guru, at home after the retreat and in the world outside of the temple.

With this concept, we can be people of faith in learning to use mindfulness to create a psychic clearing, or a blank canvas, on which the divine can bring action toward truth. Seeking, we will find, but it is our own responsibility to be observant and seize the opportunity of happiness.

We know that universally, Nature abhors a vacuum. Creating a blank canvas for mindfulness to appear creates a sort of vacuum, wherein Nature works to fill the empty space with possibility for transformation and healing. It is up to us recognize and nurture possibility into ability, which leads to growth.

By setting an anchor or still point within each practice, we create a reference or pause, from which we can gain energy for the next steps of the journey.

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.