Hi there and yes welcome to cowthepodcast.online
This week exploring mindfulness,
what is it?
why is everybody doing it?
and what can it do for you?
Can it heal my body?
Heal my mind?
Well, here’s the thing
declaring an interest.
I do meditate,
and I recommend you try it,
but here we’re going to take a brief look at some of the science behind it.
Take a look at what it can and can’t do for you.
How’s that sound.?
Before we do…
If you are a regular listener and you’re feeling generous,
thinking maybe this podcast could use my support
you can find out how to go about doing just that
Thank you to those who are supporting us right now
without you we couldn’t do this.
I’m Ant Biggs and I’ ll be your host for the next 20 – 30 minutes or so.
Taking you on a trip into the strange and wonderful landscape of this here podcast.
Stay with me…
If you just want to come by and comment or just say hello
See you there
One comment I recently had
about what I’m doing here,
was that whatever it is,
I’m not giving away any practical advice,
not helping anyone make a difference.
Yes its bad, and OK to say
It’s bad out there
but what can we do about it?
Of course, there are things I do,
in the way I go about my life,
that help me cope,
Yes I could share that,
and yes that might work for others,
But they’re nothing special,
they are no a secret…
And I’m conscious that
just because they work for me
doesn’t mean they’ll work for anyone else.
Heaven forbid my choices
might not have been
even the best choices for me.
Who am I?
to say – give your job up,
do not comply,
rely on your true self,
go live in the desert etc.
That’s not what this is all about.
This is up to you.
It’s up to you to
find your own way.
Just like I’m still looking,
the point is to keep doing so.
Doesn’t mean we’re on our own tho’
Me and you, sharing the path for a moment.
Let’s see where it goes?
Whatever you want to call it.
Whatever we’re going to call it,
the main point is
It’s a journey that has to remain,
a personal journey.
And As far as I’m concerned,
everything I’m putting out there,
It’s there already,
Always a hint as to where to turn next.
It’s nothing new…
Because whatever you are seeking,
whatever your call to adventure,
and your goal –
They are, ultimately
to be found in your own consciousness.
In your own awareness,
The point is,
that if you know who you are,
and you own that,
then no one can take that away from you.
And that’s cool…
Ha! Maybe that’s it!
Just be cool,
and everything will flow
So practical help you may well ask?
The only way through is with your own effort,
under your own steam,
Build your inner strength
your inner self.
Unearth your own understanding of what is going on
Find your spirit,
get exercising it
developing it –
Take it to the gym!
And the game changer – is meditation
Meditate… do it,
There’s real scientific evidence that it slows aging,
its exercise for your brain.
Now, last week’s podcast
covered the link between language and thought,
between our belief systems and our behaviours.
and I pointed out my belief in a need for a mindful approach to our use of language.
And if there is a point to all of this
then that would be it.
That We must be Mindful,
From mindfulness flows a feeling of self-determination,
a sense of free-will,
and of well-being and health…
benefits that are at least beginning to be recognised by WEIRD science these days.
But more than that it really is key…
that we are able to engage our logical brains,
to step outside of the everyday vortex of white noise
and step out of the hormonal tides and eddies
so that we’re no longer getting pushed and bumped downstream.
so that we can become the observer
We can see stuff coming,
We can take control of our feelings
and we can take control of our behaviour.
It is Meditation will give you this superpower…
To understand what’s going on here I’m turning to science.
In a Ted Talk called
You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions – your brain creates them | Lisa Feldman Barrett
You can find the link on the web page
Lisa Feldman Barrett a scientist tells us that
Jurors do not, and cannot detect remorse or any other emotion,
not in anybody, ever.
Neither can I,
and neither can you.
Emotions are not what we have believed them to be,
We have misunderstood them for a very long time.
And over the last 25 years scientific research
into facial expression,
into the physiology, and neurology
consistently shows that while it may feel to you
that your emotions are fundamental to your experience
and that they are triggered
in response to external conditions
so that we may react to them –
they are not uncontrollable, hard-wired features of existence.
This isn’t the way it works.
It may feel that we have emotion circuits which
have been with us since birth,
providing some sort of objective guidance
guiding us in what we do,
making us react to situations in predetermined ways
but there are no such thing as emotion circuits.
Science can’t find them.
This isn’t what happens…
As in the work of Jonathan Haidt in regard to our innate moral frameworks
yes we are born with a pre-wired emotional framework.
But this handles only the simplest of our feelings.
Feelings linked to our physiology. Rage, Temperature, Hunger, pain etc
And this stays with us throughout our lives
monitoring our physical state like a barometer,
but these are primitive indicators
lacking the detail which we need
in order to direct our actions as modern humans.
So our brain makes predictions
that link these bodily sensations
to our external landscapes.
emotions are not built into your brain at birth.
They are just built.
They are constructed by your brain,
in the moment,
by billions of brain cells working together
to create nothing more than a best guess as to what might be happening to you.
Or what might be there…
She illustrates this with a demonstration of how our brains work.
How we search for meaning in a black and white blob picture.
Whilst you have no idea what the image represents,
you are in a state known as experiential blindness,
your brain keeps working, firing neurons like crazy,
sifting through all of your previous experience for any data idea
as to what might be being represented there.
Importantly, the brain is not asking “what it is?”
Your brain is asking “what is it most like?”
It’s not trying to decode the black and white blob…
your brain seeks through that layer
for anything that it recognises.
The blob picture by the way, I won’t tell you what it is.
But once seen it becomes instantly recognisable.
It is quite amazing how quickly the pattern has been assimilated. or Learned.
And your brain is now able to construct an image of this thing for you, even tho it is not truly there.
Sure It’s sure as hell is most likely, but it’s not for sure.
Foraging, for example. another thing. Try it.
But If you are out in the woods, and it’s mushroom weather. Keep an eye out.
There is something strange about the process of mushroom hunting.
Almost as though the mushrooms come up only when you are ready for them.
How long does it take you to find that first mushroom?
But once you’ve found that first one they seem to appear everywhere…
It as though the thing that represents a mushroom,
the shape, the pattern held in your mind can’t be seen at first,
can’t be recalled,
That shape just blends in as is part of the background chaos,
the beautiful chaos that is the pattern of the forest floor,
the fallen leaves, the rotten stumps and the moss and twigs of the forest floor.
It takes time.
There’s a process that requires you get your eye in…
Consider walking into a bakery though… predicting the smell of warm bread, so the brain starts preparing for eating the bread, and your stomach might churn. If it turns out the prediction is right, the smell greets you and the bread is waiting for you.
Then your brain has set you up with the tools you need. You’re hungry.
But it’s the same hungry stomach,
or churning stomach, that you feel
before a driving test, on a date, in combat…
and put down to nerves.
In a different context the same triggers result in a totally different experience.
What if you can control that?
These predictions, these recalled and constructed representations of reality
which our brains create in response to selected stimuli
are how we make sense of our world,
And these predictions are how we make sense of others
in the court room, the classroom, the boardroom and the bedroom.
They are how we read facial movements, expressions, body language, and hear what people say.
But we need to realise that those emotions that we see are not intrinsic to the behaviours we’re decoding,
Research shows they are not built in to physical movements
and they can be misread.
Crying means sad?
Or could it be happiness, maybe…
A smile means contentment, or defeat?
Because this isn’t simply about our emotions.
Consider for a moment where all of our thoughts come from,
Now we know don’t choose them,
that they are predictions,
it’s got to be clear that we don’t decide what to think about.
We’ve been hijacked!
How can we make a conscious decision to think about a cup of tea for example
if the idea of the tea isn’t there in the first place?
The process, by definition is that
our thoughts come to us from our subconscious.
They well up, they rise, they seem to appear,
from who knows where?
That myriad complex
of a million interconnected sparks and pathways,
all firing in response
to a billion years of evolution
and memories our first day at school,
the smell of fresh coffee,
the slight chill of an open window on your arm!
It is then that we become conscious of them.
Then that we pick them out of the mist.
And normally we define our selves
in this fusion of self and thought…
We confuse this white noise of brain activity
this mechanical process of prediction
with the sense that this is who we are.
Neurologists call this cognitive fusion
and its activity
in the default mode network of the brain
has been measured.
Its activity is inversely related to attention, to flow
and directly related to stress.
And Buddhists refer to this state of mind as
the monkey brain,
This monkey brain is always ready to jump in and take over,
in less time than it takes to click your fingers
In our default state, whilst in our monkey brain
we grab at these thoughts chaotically,
we follow them as they arise.
Here hunger, there close the window, now read the mail, now clean the window…
and this is who we think we are, slaves to the monkey.
that seem to happen to you,
they are made by you…
That mind racing distraction,
that waking dread,
that impossible set of demands
keeping you strung out.
That is the mind struggling for an explanation of the physical feelings your body is going through.
Could be you are just tired or hungry?
But this Monkey brain, this default state
is not the only state our minds are capable of.
By being mindful
we become the observer…
We recognise the charges and the triggers
that would normally have control of us.
We feel them, recognise them,
and Brushing them away maybe
we get to choose how we react.
The upshot here is that you have more control over this than you think you do.
If this is true then
can you transform emotional distress of physical pain into mere physical discomfort?
could you watch your fears disappear as you wait to give that public lecture?
This isn’t to say that anxiety and depression can be banished by a click of the fingers but
By training ourselves today we can predict a different outcome for tomorrow.
We can learn how to dial down the emotional distress by becoming the architects of our own experience.
Lisa Feldman Barrett says
Get your butterflies, flying in formation
And yes there may be many ways of doing this, but meditation works.
There is though a major importance in recognising a difference
between what it means to be mindful,
and what it means to be into “mindfulness”.
And OK there’s a sentence could mean absolutely nothing,
so to break it down…
Wherever a label is introduced,
Yoga, Physics, Music, Mindfulness there is a vast difference between
1. being the thing itself and
2. consuming the idea of that thing.
On one level this is about the authenticity
with which the self is going to get involved.
But I’m going to turn to Semiotics, the studying of signs,
to structuralism for illustration…
Let’s say I’m a musician, for example, and I know
there’s some would argue that (lol)…
Well, am I, What makes me a musician,
or am I just wearing the badge?
Buying into social signposts for outward appearance sake,
because of what the badge says about me…
because of what it says about who I am.
Why do I drive a BMW, or a Jeep?
Why do I shop in Waitrose or Lidls?
Why do I play golf, or not?
I don’t by the way…
The point is that
these differences are statements of other things,
social signposts, camouflage, ritual adornments
made to illustrate hierarchy, status, group-belonging.
And to recognise this is a great step forward.
Says something about your state of awareness,
and about how you experience self.
About how your being is expressed,
And this is hot stuff,
because it makes a difference to your health.
Sam Harris talks to
Psychologist and Award winning Journalist Daniel Goleman
and Richard J. Davidson
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry
with over 300 papers on Neuro-imaging
MRI, EEG and Meditation work to his name.
They discuss the current state of the science…
in their book Altered Traits
revealing how meditation alters your mind, your brain, and the body.
They suggest how the original stigma with studying meditation has gone.
How the history of introspection in E and W culture has been so different
and how recently there has been more collaboration between Buddhism and W Science.
Its not perfect of course.
They tell the story of hiking high up into the mountains to meet some isolated monks
at the suggestion of the Dalai Lama.
Off they went successfully transporting hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of highly delicate equipment to these hidden caves…
only to be told no. No testing here mate.
Elsewhere though, just as recently, it has been proven that experienced practitioners of meditation
have different brainwave characteristics to us mere mortals.
They show an increase in amplitude and duration in gamma waves.
One of the researchers explains that these gamma waves are used to link areas of the brain.
They travel quickly and appear momentarily, usually in response to a sudden insight or awareness.
He gives the example of an apple, When you can see the apple, smell the apple, feel it in your hand, and the crunch, and the taste,
you will likely experience maybe half a second of gamma activity.
Then it will back to the white noise of the monkey brain, back the default mode network.
In a state of meditation these gamma waves last, and are stronger.
The monks display these waves even when they are not in a state of meditation.
The point to this is that when the gamma waves are present
the alpha activity of the default mode is suppressed.
The mind is quiet.
Now, it had been thought, despite evidence, that this kind of activity would normally be quiet when we sleep anyway
but this was found to be untrue, hence the name default mode.
It appears that it is necessary to override this default mode with concentrated activity,
like being in the zone, either physically or mentally, experiencing or through acts of meditation and mindfulness.
Its not a simple on off arrangement but in the main as we have explained it is the default mode network where we define self.
It is active when the individual is thinking about others, thinking about themselves, remembering the past, and planning for the future.
Most of your day you are using your attention to focus on the monkey brain. Practicing a kind of meditation,
a meditation of distraction.
Distractions now are so invasive.
And a wandering mind is an unhappy mind…
People have no idea that their minds are caught up in this white noise of world view.
And to see this from a Buddhist perspective is to see totally pathological behaviour,
And there is no ability to question this.
In the same way the monks are changing their state you are changing yours, but with a different outcome.
Neuro-plasticity is happening to you now. You have no insight or control, whilst you let it run away with you,
you are so distracted that you believe this noise to be your self.
but Mindfulness is put forward as the cure.
In addition it has been shown that practitioners of meditation have some control over the amygdala.
This is part of the brain that has the bad press of being in charge of aggression and fear but is also responsible for regulating empathy and compassion, and many other emotions. It functions as part of the limbic system to release control hormones. This appears to be regulated itself by changes in the brain of the practitioner.
Through meditation it has been seen that the brain can be trained to release less of the stress hormones, allowing us to cope better with stressful events for example, while at the same time being more able to process emotions of compassion and empathy etc. The implied moral framework is amplified in response to the actions of the amygdala.
This is all fully researched but we are in the early stages here. No more than 30 years ago there were less than 6 scientific papers on the subject of meditation.
There has also been research into the curative benefits of meditation.
There’s no doubt that mindfulness in conjunction with cognitive behaviour therapy can help reduce the effects of recurring bouts of certain types of depression. And there is research to show that mindfulness can help to reduce the anxiety caused by pain. There are things it won’t do though. Don’t forget meditation was never designed to fix health in the ways that Western society defines it.
Meditation is also not about making a good person out of you.
Being the best practitioner in the world doesn’t guarantee moral conduct.
Meditation has always been about deconstructing the self, and coupled with the pursuit of the happiness of others.
My belief is that the ability to reduce stress, in combination with such a moral framework
has hidden superpowers.
Imagine walking through the door, late back from work again…
Contrast the stressed, angry, frustrations of work, being frightened by this roller-coaster of hormonal soup,
Contrast that with the calm observer of these emotions, balanced, in control,
And extend that to include a compassion for others,
be they political opponents, your partner, fellow road users maybe, the kids.
As soon as you are able to become the observer
You can take charge, take responsibility for this
and that is where you find the pay off…
Time is running out again
Look don’t go expecting to do 5 minutes of meditation and the whole world is fixed,
and don’t go worrying you’re not doing it right.
There’s loads out there – have a look around and find something to suit –
and go easy on yourself. It is OK!
Comment, sign up, support COW – the podcast.
I’ve been Ant Biggs, thank you for listening…