Despite our fascination with meaningful, a-causal co-incidences, we tend to overlook or dismiss linguistic synchronicities – and what we might learn from an anagram or pun. Thus, the fact that ‘prescience’ can be aptly written out as ‘pre-science’ often escapes our notice or, if noticed, our ascription of significance.
Yet, 1000’s of years and many millions of dollars after ancient sages attested to the health-giving benefits of meditation, Science – the slower, younger brother of the mystical arts – can now verify technologically that meditation actually changes the brain in ways that make us better people.
Sixteen participants in an eight-week study conducted by Harvard neuroscientists practiced mindfulness meditation for an average of just under 30-minutes a day for eight weeks. At weekly meetings and then at home through audio recordings, the participants were guided into nonjudgmental/non-reactive awareness of body sensations, passing thoughts and emotions.
Magnetic Resonance (MR) scans were taken of their brains two weeks before they began the program and two weeks after they completed it. Scans were also taken of a control group to make sure that any observed changes in the brains of the meditators could not be ascribed simply to the passage of time.
What the researchers found in the images taken at the end of the eight week period was an increase in ‘grey matter’ in the areas of the pre-frontal cortex related to empathy and compassion, memory and a sense of self. At the same time, there was a decrease in the density of the amygdala – the primitive area of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response.
The study was conducted in conjunction with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness – where 20,000 people have completed the 8-week meditation-training program since 1979.
Previous studies had revealed significant differences between the brain structures of long-time meditators and those of non-meditators. However, there was no way to definitively attribute such differences to their meditative practice until now. And while no changes were detected in the ‘insula,’ a structure related to self-awareness, the Harvard researchers believe that such changes would likely come over time.
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” Britta Hölzel was quoted as saying. She was first author of the paper and is a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. This comment echoes one made many years prior to the study by physicist/futurist Peter Russell, a long-time meditator and author of ‘The Global Heart Awakens. ‘For the first time,’ he said, ‘evolution is in the hands of the evolutionary material.’
So what is it within us that we must evolve if our species is to endure? Again, we can return to the curious wisdom in linguistic synchronicities for an answer. By noticing the anagrammatical relationship between the words Earth and Heart, our perception of life’s ultimate purpose may immediately shift from the competitive notion of ‘getting ahead’ to the inclusive solution of ‘getting a heart.’ This then makes it clear that the necessary prerequisite for developing effective strategies to address ‘global warming of the Earth’ would have to be a concomitant global warming of the Heart.
Given that meditation increases the part of the brain related to compassion, and the effects of meditation show up throughout the day in more compassionate interactions – even with strangers – perhaps meditation should be widely encouraged as an important form of mental/emotional hygiene because it makes us more socially responsible. Meditation may even be an evolutionary strategy that could give our species the necessary impetus to make the ultimate, life-saving leap from Humankind to HumanKindness.
Based on the results of the Harvard Study, ladies and gentlemen, let us all now grab our mediation cushions and, at the sound of the gong, sit down and watch the crazy movie of our minds with a practiced equanimity. We might then be far more fit to find ways to turn the nightmare of our collective, external insanity into a life’s dream that awakens us all to the better angels of our nature.
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News Summary by Laurel Airica, creator of WordMagic: An Enchanted Literary Entertainment (check-out Laurel’s YouTube channel for more WordMagic)