Meditate

Meditate

Can you come home to yourself?

The Practice:
Meditate.

Why?

Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.

Studies have shown that regular meditation promotes mindfulness (sustained observing awareness), whose benefits include decreased stress-related cortisol, insomnia, symptoms of autoimmune illnesses, PMS, asthma, falling back into depression, general emotional distress, anxiety, and panic, and increased immune system factors, control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, detachment from reactions, self-understanding, and general well-being.

In your brain, regular meditation increases gray matter (neuronal cell bodies and synapses) in the:

  • Insula – Handles interoception (sense of your own body); self-awareness in general; empathy for the emotions of others
  • Hippocampus – Key role in personal recollections, visual-spatial memory, establishing the context of events, and calming down both the amygdala (the alarm bell of the brain) and production of stress hormones like cortisol
  • Prefrontal cortex (PFC) – Supports the executive functions, self-control, and guiding attention

Regular meditation also:

  • Increases activation in left PFC, which lifts mood
  • Increases the power and reach of very fast, gamma range brainwaves, which promotes learning
  • Preserves the length of telomeres, the caps at the ends of DNA molecules; longer telomeres are associated with fewer age-related diseases (This was found in a three-month retreat, and may not apply to meditation in general.)
  • Reduces cortical thinning due to aging in the insula and PFC

Meditation is the quintessential training of attention. Since attention is like a vacuum cleaner – sucking its contents into your brain through what’s called “experience-dependent neuroplasticity” – getting better control of your attention is the foundation of changing your brain, and thus your life, for the better.

The research summarized above just scratches the surface of the benefits of meditation. It is you saying to the world (and yourself): I’m going to step off the hamster wheel now. This time is for me. It is a way to center in being rather than doing (what a relief!). And a way to see the mind streaming along, transient and insubstantial, an unreliable basis for lasting happiness, not worth chasing after or struggling with.

The minutes I spend meditating are usually the best ones of my day. They feel like coming home. It’s good to be home.

How?

The best meditation of all is . . . the one you will do. So find what you like and will stick with. There are tons of books, talks, even videos about meditating, plus great teachers all over the place. Here I’ll offer a summary.

Relax. Rest. Intend to meditate. Come into a sense of presence with yourself. Know whether you are meditating in relationship to something transcendental (such as in prayer) or not. (I’ll describe a “secular” meditation here.)

Find something to anchor attention, such as the sensations of breathing, a word or phrase (e.g., “peace”), or an image. Use an anchor that is stimulating enough to keep yourself present; feel free to do walking meditation or use an audio program to guide you. Meditating with others can also help you stay focused.

Start by giving attention fully to the anchor, letting go of everything else. Center in it, becoming absorbed in it, even for just a few breaths or few minutes.

Then, with an ongoing awareness of your anchor, let your attention widen to include your body . . . thoughts . . . feelings . . . wants . . . and overall mental atmosphere. You’re not trying to make your mind blank. Let things come and go, just don’t jump on board of them. Without stress or strain, gently open to relaxing and quieting, and to an increasingly stable presence as experiencing, being a body breathing in peace.

Meditate for as long as you like. Even one minute is good – and ten, twenty, or even forty-five minutes could be even better. I suggest you join me in being committed to meditating every day for at least one minute.

Toward the end of meditation, let the benefits sink into you.

If you tend toward dissociation or getting flooded with painful feelings when you relax into yourself, then you may need to build up more inner resources before meditating. Also, try to not be self-critical; this is not a performance test! Meditation is a skill and like any other, you’ll get better at it over time, and its benefits for you will grow.

Most of all, find the enjoyment in meditation. Follow that enjoyment home.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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