skill

The Immense Capacity within Us All

The Immense Capacity within Us All

"When blind people learn to see, sighted people seem inspired to want to learn to see their way better, more clearly, with less fear, because this exemplifies the immense capacity within us all to navigate any type of challenge, through any form of darkness, to discoveries unimagined when we are activated."

~ Daniel Kish

Benefits Before Mastery

Benefits Before Mastery

Mindfulness meditation is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it isn't easy to perform. True mastery might require special talent and a lifetime devotion to the task, and yet a genuine transformation in one's perception of the world is within reach for most of us. Practice is the only thing that will lead to success.

~ Sam Harris

Qualities of Mind are Skills We Can Cultivate

"Evidence for the connection between happiness and attention is found in neuroscience: attentional control is located in the pre-frontal cortex. Those with a weak pre-frontal cortex also have an inability to inhibit their limbic system (to control their emotions).  Most major mental health conditions are associated with a weak pre-frontal cortex.

Neuroscience has also found evidence for 'experience-dependent neuroplasticity.'  In other words, our brains change with experience.  We get good at (and grow thicker neuronetworks to support) the mental activities we engage in repeatedly. The most powerful way to change your brain is not medication, but behavior, and in particular, mental behavior.

With physical exercise, we can tell which muscles have become the strongest through exercise. Our strongest mental habits are the ones most easily activated, that are quickly and effortlessly available to our consciousness...the good news from neuroscience is that positive qualities of mind such as attention, kindness, and compassion are skills we can cultivate through practice and training. Contemplative studies point to an array of these practices to grow new mental habits."

~ Carrie Heeter, from "Why A Neuroscientist Would Study Meditation," Jan. 12, 2014

See also: Britton Lab

Mature Wisdom

Topiary Park, November 4, 2012

"Wisdom, the Buddha says, starts with a simple question: What actions will lead to my long-term welfare and happiness?

The wisdom here lies in realizing that your happiness depends on what you do, and that the pursuit of happiness is worthwhile only if it’s long-term.

The test of how far your wisdom has matured lies in the strategic skill with which you can keep yourself from doing things that you like to do but that would cause long-term harm, and the skill with which you can talk yourself into doing things that you don’t like to do but that would lead to long-term well-being and happiness.

In other words, mature wisdom requires a mature ego."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from "Hang On To Your Ego," Tricycle Magazine, Summer 2007

The Fundamental Building Block of Learning

Excerpts from Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan's talk on mindfulness from Mindfulness.org:

"Mindfulness can be a great opportunity for us as a country, for all of us to develop this skill in some way, improve our performance… but there’s some fundamental things that are essential to that, and it’s the ability to concentrate, to relax, to be aware, and to cultivate and develop these skills; they’re going to improve your performance, regardless of what you are trying to do. And mindfulness, in my estimation, doing a lot of work in Congress, and travelling a lot, and playing sports, and all of these things… there’s something fundamental underneath all of those activities, and paying attention, and being aware, and having a reduced stress level, helps in all of those situations. And I think this is going to have transformational effects on our education system.

A Mindful Nation by Tim Ryan"I don’t care how much money we spend on education, it doesn’t matter what programs we’re trying to teach our kids… if they don’t have the fundamental building block of learning, which is being able to control your attention span, all the rest is not going to be effective. And mindfulness teaches these kids how to pay attention. It teaches them how they are connected to other people, and how to be kind to other people, and to see the problems that other people may be dealing with, and then understand that in a more compassionate way.

"So mindfulness, I believe, is already having transformational effects in classrooms in Youngstown, in Northern Ohio, and all across the country, but we need to ramp it up, [the understanding that] this fundamental skill of paying attention is essential to us transforming our education system...

"And once I had the personal experience myself at an extended five-day silent retreat, and you practice and meet people who are implementing mindfulness programs in the military, in our education system, in our healthcare system, for our veterans, for our family caregivers. And seeing these programs have a profound effect on people who are working in very high levels of stress burnout in their jobs – if they’re nurses, or firefighters, or police officers—and [that] this is able to reduce their stress, and improve their performance. When I saw all this, and had a personal experience myself, I felt like I would be derelict in my duty as a United States Congressman if I didn’t try to push this stuff out into society...

Our country is going through too much right now. Our soldiers are suffering too much. Parents and teachers, all down the line, and now is the time for us to implement this. It’s not the 99% against the 1%, it’s about the 100%, all of us together. And when we all move in concert in the same direction we have success as a country. And we have quality of life, and a higher standard of living, and more happy citizens. And so, to me a 'Mindful Nation' is a nation where we are connected, and we care about each other, and we’re willing to do what it takes to help our neighbor."

See also: Creating a Mindful Society 2011

To Experience the World Directly As It Really Is

Excerpt from The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi:

The physicist Werner Heisenberg once said that what scientists observe "is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." When it comes to trying to understand the brain, researchers start with a strongly biased question: "What is wrong with the brain?" We need to abandon the biased view of the human central nervous system as somehow genetically and chemically flawed and the belief that a growing number of powerful drugs, whose mechanisms and long-term effects remain disturbingly unknown, will fix us. Instead we need to ask what is right with the nervous system and how we can enhance it by reducing operator errors. The best treatment tool for many, in my view, is attention training. The misuse and rigidity of attention get most of us into the chronic problems of anxiety, depression, and pain, and the effective use of attention skills can get us out. Flexible attention may not fix everything, but it can do far more than most imagine.

Humans were never meant to see the world through a lens of chronic fear or other negative emotions. We were meant to experience the world directly as it really is. We were meant to form deep connections to other human beings. With attention training at work, school, or home, we can open our hearts, experience the fullness of our senses, and reconnect with forgotten parts of ourselves. We can experience moments of unity and transcendence and find the world has been reenchanted. It will be a watershed moment in human evolution when we are able to pay attention to how we pay attention, control our attention, and take personal responsibility for the creation of our own realities. This is a truly profound realization, a revelation. It's time to learn to use the way we pay attention to create a more vibrant reality.

Noise-Canceling Life's Din With Meditation

Noise Canceling, Without Headphones
by Roni Caryn Rabin
The New York Times
May 2, 2011

Stephanie Nash's Posture-Pedia

Studies have found that meditation helps prevent the recurrence of depression, perhaps by producing changes in parts of the brain associated with learning and anxiety. A new study suggests that meditation may modulate brain waves called alpha rhythms, which help regulate the transmission of sensory input from the surrounding environment.

Harvard researchers randomly assigned 12 healthy adults to an eight-week course of training in meditation-based stress reduction or to a control group whose participants did not meditate.

At regular intervals, researchers used an imaging technique called magnetoencephalography to measure electrical currents in an area of the brain that processes signals from the left hand. During the tests, each participant was asked to direct his attention to his or her left hand or left foot.

After eight weeks, the brain scans showed that alpha rhythms changed more quickly and in a more pronounced way in participants who had been meditating.

“If you’re reading something in a noisy environment and you want to be in a bubble, you might use your alpha rhythms like a volume knob, to turn down the volume on neurons that represent sound from the outside world,” said Catherine E. Kerr, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the report, published April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin. “We all do this to some extent, but it turns out that meditators become much more skilled at it.”

See also:

 

Seeing Stuff that Makes Real Change in the Real World

 

“You know, all I wanted to do was draw pictures of horses when I was little. My mother said, Well let's do a picture of something else. They've got to learn how to do something else. let's say the kid is fixated on Legos. Let's get him working on building different things. The thing about the autistic mind is it tends to be fixated. Like if a kid loves race cars, let's use race cars for math. Let's figure out how long it takes a race car to go a certain distance. In other words, use that fixation in order to motivate that kid, that's one of the things we need to do. I really get fed up when they, you know, the teachers, especially when you get away from this part of the country, they don't know what to do with these smart kids. It just drives me crazy…I get satisfaction out of seeing stuff that makes real change in the real world. We need a lot more of that, and a lot less abstract stuff.”

~ Temple Grandin, from “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds," TED Talks (February 2010)

Developing Our Human Qualities

Excerpt from “Matthieu Ricard: Meditate Yourself Better,” by Curtis Abraham, New Scientist (Feb. 3, 2010)

Matthieu Ricard (Photo: Angeles Nassar) “Experiments have indicated that the region of the brain associated with emotions such as compassion shows considerably higher activity in those with long-term meditative experience. These discoveries suggest that basic human qualities can be deliberately cultivated through mental training. The study of the influence of mental states on health, which was once considered fanciful, is now an increasing part of the scientific research agenda.

Twenty minutes of daily practice can contribute significantly to a reduction of anxiety and stress, the tendency to become angry and the risk of relapse in cases of severe depression. Thirty minutes a day over the course of eight weeks results in a considerable strengthening of the immune system and of one's capacity for concentration. It also speeds up the healing of psoriasis and decreases arterial tension in people suffering from hypertension.

Why should we bother to meditate? The answer is that we all have the potential for positive change, which largely remains untapped. That's a great pity, because we know the virtue of training and learning. We spend years going to school and training in things like sports, but for some strange reason we don't think that the same need applies to developing and optimizing our human qualities.”

[Thanks Alex!]

Happiness Not as a Trait But as a Skill

Computer monitors display imaged data in the control room of the fMRI scanner at the Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior.
© UW-Madison University Communications  (
Photo by  Jeff Miller) “Now we mostly have monks and other religious figures preaching about these ideas [compassion training]. It's quite another thing to have a hard-nosed neuroscientist like me suggest that such training may have beneficial consequences for how we act toward others as well as promoting health. Most people accept the idea that regular physical exercise is something they should do for the remainder of their lives. Imagine how different things might be if we accepted the notion that the regular practice of mental exercises to strengthen compassion is something to incorporate into everyday life…I've been talking about happiness not as a trait but as a skill, like tennis. If you want to be a good tennis player, you can't just pick up a racket—you have to practice."

~ Richard Davidson, from “This Is Your Brain on Happiness,” by Penelope Green, O, The Oprah Magazine (March 1, 2008)