Meditation can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions

“Lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behaviour Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement said: “Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.

The research, published today in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analysing how the behaviour of our genes is affected by different MBIs including mindfulness and yoga. […] When examined together, the 18 studies — featuring 846 participants over 11 years — reveal a pattern in the molecular changes which happen to the body as a result of MBIs, and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health.

“Meditation is awareness”

I have some bad habits and a couple of good ones. Perhaps my best habit is daily mindfulness meditation. I sit on a cushion for 30 minutes (sometimes as long as an hour) and concentrate on my breathing. That’s it. That’s my meditation practice. It’s the best half hour of my day.

And I haven’t missed a day for the last 271 days, tying previous record. My longest streak is 371 days. I’ve been practicing meditation for years but didn’t start keeping track of my sessions until November, 2014, when I started using an app called Equanimity. It times my session and keeps a simple log.

That first streak (371 days) was broken due to a bout with pneumonia. I started over and made it 271 days before I missed while out of town at my 50th high school reunion. So now I’ve set my sights on 371. If I can make it to September without missing a day, I’ve not a new streak. And I will have only missed two days in the last 1,000.

I can’t control the quality of my meditation sessions but I do have control over whether or not I sit every day. Which is important to me.

Title quote from Meditation Now or Never by Steve Hagen

Meditation: 271 Days

After 271 consecutive days of meditation practice, I missed on Saturday. I was attending my 50th high school class reunion and just spaced it off. My previous streak of 371 days (starting on December 4, 2014) ended during a bout with pneumonia (December 5, 2015). I don’t get hung up on the quality of my practice or the duration but I do try to be consistent in sitting every day, if only for 10 minutes. Which is the only reason I keep track of my sessions. As I’ve noted previously, missing once a year might not be a bad thing if it keeps me from focusing on the string instead of today’s session. So today is two in a row!

Silence

In the future, people will be prepared to pay for the experience of silence.

I extremely fortunate in this regard. I have a lot of silence in my life. I live at the end of a gravel road, surrounded by woods. No screaming children in my life (at least none I can’t avoid). Barb doesn’t need me to entertain her so I can experience hours of silence if I choose. I don’t take this for granted. The flip side is I have less tolerance for noise than I once did. From the article below (This Is Your Brain On Silence):

“Two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses. […] The growth of new cells in the brain doesn’t always have health benefits. But in this case, Kirste says that the cells seemed to become functioning neurons.”

“There isn’t really such a thing as silence,” says Robert Zatorre, an expert on the neurology of sound. “In the absence of sound, the brain often tends to produce internal representations of sound.

“If you want to know yourself you have to be with yourself, and discuss with yourself, be able to talk with yourself.”

I do a good bit of this kind of introspection and, occasionally, wonder if it’s good for me. The article says yes. Shhh.

500 Days (minus 1)

I try to avoid talking about meditation. (Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.) I’ve been meditating for years. I started listening to guided meditations but for several years now simply sit (30-45 minutes) each day, “following the breath.”

A simple app (Equanimity) helps put me on the cushion every day. Had something of a streak (371 days) going last year when a bout with pneumonia caused me to miss a day. But that’s okay, the only day that counts is today. Today is 500 consecutive (almost) days on the cushion.

I bring this up for those who might have thought about this practice. It’s the best half hour of my day. Here are a few books (and some quotes) I’ve found helpful.

Books on Meditation

  • Living As a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change – Bodhipaksa
  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind – Shunryu Suzuki
  • Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice – Kosho Uchiyama Roshi
  • Meditation Now or Never – Steve Hagen
  • Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation – Alan Watts

Quotes

  • Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at the bottom is about _not_ trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.
  • (We meditate to realize) “…that things are already perfect.”
  • Meditation is about deeply seeing what’s going on within your own mind.
  • At the heart of meditation is the intention to be awake. (To experience) Reality as it is,before goals, ideas, or desires sprout. … Meditation is never a means to an end.
  • Meditation is a matter of zero or 100 percent. Either you’re present or you’re not. There are no in-betweens.
  • Meditation is awareness.
  • The desire of one who is awake is simply to be awake.
  • Meditate just to meditate.
  • Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed. Meditation is a technique for waking up.

Meditation: 371 Days

After 371 consecutive days of meditation practice (starting December 4, 2014)… today I forgot. Battling pneumonia. Since I was getting a little too focused on my “string,” this is a good thing. The only important practice is the one I do today. I’ve been sitting for years but started keeping track with the help of an app called Equanimity.

Ten Books

  • Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharishi
  • I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaja
  • The Tao of Zen (Ray Grigg)
  • The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (Alan Watts)
  • The Way of Zen (Alan Watts)
  • Tao – The Watercourse Way (Alan Watts)
  • This is It: and Other Essays of Zen and Spiritual Experience (Alan Watts)
  • Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation (Alan Watts)
  • The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle)
  • God’s Debris (Scott Adams)

Still the Mind

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at Tue, Oct 7, 10.59.49 AMExcerpts from Alan Watts’ Still the Mind (An Introduction to Meditation)

We fail to distinguish between the way things are and the way they are described.

One’s actual organic being is inseparable from the universe.

I found out that unless one has something to give people, there is nothing one can do to help them. Just because I thought I ought to help, it didn’t mean that I had anything to give.

The whole energy of the universe is coming at you and through you, and you are that energy.

You can only know what you can compare with something else.

What we call the past is simply the traces, the fade-outs trailing away from the present. Continue reading

Tao: The Watercourse Way

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at Mon, Sep 22, 2.13.57 PMExcerpts from Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts.

The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal (or regular) Tao.

Our organisms have ways of intelligent understanding beyond words and conscious attention.

The supposition that knowing requires a knower is based on a linguistic and not an existential rule.

Alphabetic writing is a representation of sound. A sign for a sound which is the name of a thing.

Li is the pattern of behavior which comes about when one is in accord with the Tao, the watercourse of nature.

We and our surroundings are the process of a unified field, which is what the Chinese call Tao. #

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.

It is the great and imaginary terror of Western man that nothingness will be the permanent end of the universe. We do not easily grasp the point that the void is creative, and that being comes from nonbeing as sound from silence and light from space.

I find it impossible to conceive any form whatsoever without the component of relatively empty space. […] I cannot get away from the sense that space and my awareness of the universe are the same.

How would you know that you are alive unless you had once been dead? How can one speak of reality or is-ness except in the context of the polar apprehension of void.

There is something in us which may be called upon for a higher wisdom than can be figured out by logic.

The nervous system can integrate more variables than the scanning process of conscious attention.

It is a matter of realizing that oneself and nature are one and the same process. […] The whole cosmos is implicit in every member of it, and every point in it may be regarded as its center.

There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains, so if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens. # Tao is just a name for whatever happens. […] Yet the Tao is most certainly the ultimate reality and energy of the universe, the Ground of being and nonbeing.

Tao cannot be defined in words and is not an idea or concept. #

Verbal description and definition may be compared to the latitudinal and longitudinal nets which we visualize upon the earth and heavens to define and enclose the positions of mountains and lakes, planets and stars. But earth and heaven are not cut by these imaginary strings.

It is basic to the Taoist view of the world that every thing-event is what it is only in relation to all others.

Nature has no “parts” except those which are distinguished by human systems of classification.

The Tao is the pattern of things, but not the enforced law. […] The universe is a harmony or symbiosis of patterns which cannot exist without each other.

Just as every point on the surface of a sphere may be seen as the center of the surface, so every organ of the body and every being in the cosmos may be seen as its center and ruler.

As the universe produces our consciousness, our consciousness evokes the universe.

The only single event is the universe itself.

Pantheism: The idea that the universe, considered as a mass of distinct things and events, is simply God by another name.

But if, as is the case, the Tao is simply inconceivable, what is the use of having the word and saying anything at all about it? Simply because we know intuitively that there is a dimension of ourselves and of nature which eludes us because it is too close, too general, and too all-embracing to be singled out as a particular object.

Taoists do not look upon meditation as “practice,” except in the sense that a doctor “practices” medicine. […] Meditate for the joy of meditation.

“You” cannot go along with “things” unless there is the understanding that there is, in truth, no alternative since you and the things are the same process — the non-streaming Tao. The feeling that there is a difference is also that process. There is nothing to do about it. There is nothing not to do about it. […] In realizing that you are the Tao, you automatically manifest its magic.

As a way of contemplation, (Tao) is being aware of life without thinking about it. #

To be anxious to survive is to wear oneself out. […] If, deep down inside, you want most desperately to survive and be in control of things, you cannot genuinely take the attitude of not worrying about it. You must allow yourself the freedom to worry — to let the mind think whatever it wants to think.”

Hebrew, Islamic, and Catholic scholastics, as well as Protestant fundamentalists, are like tourists who study guidebooks and maps instead of wandering freely and looking at the view.

True knowledge can be encompassed only by instinct and by actual experience.

Waking Up

waking-upJust finished Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris. Amazon reviews here; more about Mr. Harris here. Ideas I found highlighter-worthy below.

Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind.

It is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determine the quality of your life.

Everything we want to accomplish is something that promises, if done, it would allow us to finally relax and enjoy our lives in the present. […] Each of us is looking for a path back to the present: We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now.

Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

Is it possible to be happy before anything happens, before one’s desires are gratified, in spite of life’s difficulties, in the very midst of physical pain, old age, disease, and death?

One one level, wisdom is nothing more profound than an ability to follow one’s own advice.

A true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at east in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time.

It is impossible for any faith, no matter how elastic, to fully honor the truth claims of another.

We manage to avoid being happy while struggling to become happy.

(Mindfulness is ) a state of clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness. […] Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves.

The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing we are thinking.

Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed.

Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the movie of our lives.

Meditation is a technique for waking up.

Investigating the nature of consciousness is the basis of spiritual life.

Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

If you shut your eyes at this moment, the contents of your consciousness change quite drastically, but your consciousness (arguably) does not.

Are we unconsciousness during sleep or merely unable to remember what sleep is like?

We are not aware of all the information that influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I’ve forgotten most of what has happened to me over the course of my life.

Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents. […] Reality vastly exceeds our awareness of it.

(I am) a continuum of experience.

The feeling of “I” is a product of thought. […] Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.

(Thoughts are) transient appearances in consciousness.

We tell ourselves the story of the present, as though some blind person were inside our heads who required continuous narration to know what is happening.

Even if your life depended on it, you could not spend a full minute free of thought. […] We spend our lives lost in thought. […] Taking oneself to be the thinking of one’s thoughts is a delusion.

One must be able to pay attention closely enough to glimpse what consciousness is like between thoughts — that is, prior to the arising of the next one.

We imagine that we are conscious of our selves within our bodies. We seem to be riding around inside our bodies.

(The self) is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience.

It may be that an awareness of other minds is a necessary condition for an awareness of one’s own.

Consciousness is the prior condition of every experience; the self or ego is an illusory appearance within it; look closely for what you are calling “I,” and the feeling of being a separate self will disappear; what remains, as a matter of experience, is a field of consciousness — uncontaminated by its ever-changing contents.

Consciousness is intrinsically free of self.

That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not fearful. Notice thoughts as they emerge and recognize them to be transitory appearances in consciousness. In subjective terms, you are consciousness itself — you are not the next, evanescent image or string of words that appears in your mind.

Consciousness is intrinsically undivided.

Nothing is intrinsically boring — boredom is simply a lack of attention.

We need not come to the end of the path to experience the benefits of walking it.

We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.

It is by ceasing to cling to the contents of consciousness — to our thought, moods, and desires — that we make progress.

There is experience, and then there are the stories we tell about it.

Consciousness is never improved or harmed by what it knows.