In Eastern traditions mind was deeply studied and researched since ancient times. This led to revelations that it’s mere a bundle of thoughts. These thoughts are produced as we desire for something due to our feeling of incompleteness. However if one looks beyond mind, our true nature is bliss. But due to outward projection of mind we keep looking for happiness in material world which leads to more misery as there is no end to desires. As soon as one desire is fulfilled next one props up. To get out of this vicious circle of ongoing desires and restlessness, one should watch his/her thoughts attentively. The method to do that is called meditation/mindfulness.
When people start meditating, they get surprised and shocked to notice the amount and variety of thoughts constantly running in their head. This realisation is a big opening in their life. This is the first time they start to realise that there is something beyond mind and thoughts which is witnessing all this. One can call it beingness, consciousness, awareness or true self.
In initial days of meditation it can be very frustrating as hardly one is able to watch these thoughts but gets lost with them similar to a dog without leash who gets lost in following a scent! However with constant practice and patience one starts getting the glimpses of that awareness in period of silence between the thoughts. Gradually this gap increases and one stays in that awareness beyond period of meditation.
With less number of intruding thoughts, you get more clarity of the given situation. Your decision making improves as the wisdom dawns in.
Recently there is big interest in meditation research and how it can help in health and disease. In last 25 years there has been tremendous amount of evidence that meditation can benefit in various diseases ranging from mental health disorders to cancer. On recent search on PubMed (online medical search engine) there were more than 6000 articles on mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation helps in reducing the stress levels which is both a cause as well as component of most of the diseases. Stress leads to impaired immune response which can lead to various metabolic syndromes, autoimmune disorders or even cancer.
With recent advent of various tools to study brain neuroscientist are now able to unravel some mysteries of Brain and how it functions in different states.
In Jan 2015 joint study of researchers from UCLA and ANU, Canberra found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” It supports to the hypothesis that meditation is brain-protective and associated with a reduced age-related tissue decline .
The mind is compared to a Mad Drunk Monkey in ancient text. Therefore to control and tame mind is not that easy. Since mind-wandering or day dreaming is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future one needs to dial it down. Mind-wandering is not only a common activity present in roughly 50% of our awake life, but is also associated with lower levels of happiness as proven. Moreover, mind-wandering is known to correlate with neural activity in a network of brain areas that support self-referential processing, known as the default-mode network (DMN) or Me centre! This network has been associated with processes ranging from attentional lapses to anxiety to clinical disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact some studies have demonstrated that increased connection and activity in parts of the DMN are correlated with major depression and other mental illnesses. The network activates “by default” when a person is not involved voluntarily. Many philosophical and contemplative traditions teach that “living in the moment” increases happiness One potential way to reduce DMN activity is through the practice of mindfulness meditation. One of the most interesting studies published in 2011, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN). Further studies have again prove that meditation, through its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. This provide a unique understanding of possible neural mechanisms of meditation.
While scientific community keep gathering evidence in support of good effects of meditation we should not wait for it. Pick up a time every day to sit for few minutes to meditate and tap the bliss from your inner source. One thing is sure there is no ill effect of meditation and so there is nothing to loose!
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Active areas in brain depicting Default Mode Network.
By A/PROF SANJAY RAGHAV
MBBS, MD, DM, FRACP