Monday, August 1, 2011

A path to Happiness - Meditation

At the recent Happiness and its Causes conference in Brisbane, the former scientist, now Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard (who is often described as the happiest man in the world), spoke about how the mind can be transformed from being agitated and anxious to a state of focused calmness, if we train it systematically. (Wiki bio here) Anxiety will be reduced, loving kindness and compassion will be increased and life is worth living because we find more meaning in it.

The unfocused, agitated mind can be trained in focused attention
We are unable to control the outer world, but we can train our mind by sitting quietly and focused, to decrease stress and improve our sense of well-being and fulfillment.

“It was only in 1998 that neuroscientists discovered that new neurons are continually being generated in the adult brain” the term that is being used is brain plasticity – great news for those of us who had believed that we were on a downhill trajectory after the age of about 25.

But it also means that just because you've been stressed, hypersensitive, or lived with ADD or ADHD all your life, it doesn't mean it has to stay that way for ever - you can start today to create positive change.

Using brain imaging and behavioural tests it’s possible to look at the inner workings of a meditator’s brain, using Western research techniques, to begin to understand the beneficial mental states achieved through meditation.

Photo of Matthieu Ricard by Waisman
Brain Imaging Lab,
University of Wisconsin - Borrowed from here
Put simply, it means that scientists can point to the parts in the brain to show that meditation works to create a happier person.

Genuine happiness results from the deep fulfillment that arises from a healthy mind; it enables us to deal with whatever comes our way. We hear of people who appear to live in paradise, but are miserable - we know that what happens outside us doesn’t necessarily make us happy.  By adopting a few achievable techniques from the 'super meditators' like Matthieu Ricard, we learn to become less vulnerable to the vagaries of negative life events.

Highly regarded doctors, psychologists, scientists and others have been systematically gathering evidence for many years that practicing techniques such as Mindfulness Meditation, can have profound effects on our psychological health, general wellbeing and overall happiness.

Throughout the conference it was emphasized that successful meditation rests on discipline, not wishful thinking. But, most encouragingly, it is completely unnecessary to trade in your day job to become a Buddhist, or indeed any kind of monk. Just a few minutes of sustained voluntary attention each day as you pause from your regular chores is powerfully beneficial. That’s great news for those of us for whom meditation seems awkward and somewhat alien.

Interesting article about Matthieu Ricard and meditation here


Anonymous said...

i can't say I've ever had much luck with meditation. I have tried over the years but generally end up falling asleep sitting up. Maybe I'll try again.

walk2write said...

You don't have to sit still all tangled up like a pretzel. Sometimes the best meditative moments come while walking, gardening, massaging... said...

That is great news. I tend to use time (lack thereof) as an excuse to not meditate. Alas, there is no legitimate excuse.
Thanks, Sue.

sue said...

Delores, it's something I've also struggled with until recently. I'm working on a post with some ideas about different kinds of meditation, but in particular, Mindfulness.

w2w, that's what I forgot to include! You are totally right, and I'll go back and edit that in, thankyou so much :)

Robyn, for me the joy of Mindfulness is that there is no set time or place required. You simply relax into the present moment (when you remember) and be.

Anonymous said...

I like to work in the yard. That's the best medicine for what's ailing me. That, and wine.

sue said...

Stephen, I think I see a theme emerging!

Gardening can be wonderful medicine can't it, followed by a crisp, preservative free, pinot grigio (not sure of the spelling). The thought of that makes me look forward to spring :)

jan said...

I'm a great fan--and practitioner--of mindfulness meditation. I find it a path to universal empathy. If you haven't tried it, check out "tonglen" meditation with Pema Chodron. Thanks for this post.

Malachi said...

Very helpful info, much thanks for your post.
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