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Psychic development

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Awareness in our technological world PDF Print E-mail
Meditation - Meditation

Technology brings a world of spiritual knowledge to our fingertips. But immersing ourselves in a world of gadgets may also distance us from more authentic connections with teachers, family, and friends. Guest blogger Justin Whitaker takes a look at the double-edged sword of our hyper-connected world.

Since you are reading this, presumably on a computer or other high-tech device, you owe a thing or two to technology. Nearly all of us in the Western world and a fast-growing number in the East live in a world molded and directed by technology. We have lived amidst changes that could scarcely be imagined just fifty years ago. We wake up, push a button or two for coffee, assemble our morning meal from plastic containers in the refrigerator, and flip open the laptop to start our day. Whether we are aware of it or not – and our goal is to be aware – technology shapes our life. Thus in practice, we need to recognize not only how we individually use or do not use technology, but also how technology affects whole communities and future generations.

 Today we face countless distractions, a ‘hedonic treadmill’ of chasing the next newest thing, and a virtual black hole for time spent waiting for computers to boot up, web pages to load, etc  

What exactly is technology? It is any human creation that has been put out into the world, thus affecting our lives, from the ancient technologies of iron tools and grain bins to the cutting edge world of nano-gadgets and skyscrapers. On the one hand all of this has allowed humanity to grow and flourish as it has. Today we enjoy extraordinary efficiency, easy travel, and abundant leisure. On the other hand we face countless distractions, a “hedonic treadmill” of chasing the next newest thing, and a virtual black hole for time spent waiting for computers to boot up, web pages to load or files to download, and so on.

Modern technology has brought countless pages of ancient texts to our computer screen and untold hours of audio and video to download to our iPods and MP3 players. It might seem that there is no need to leave one’s home to find great teachings, and, when one does have to venture out, one can have those teachings pumped into their ears the whole time. Not only do we not need to find a teacher or a community of practice, but we don’t have to sit down to read texts or set aside time devoted solely to hearing great teachings. This is great, right?

Not so fast. How do we grow in awareness at the grocery store when we’re trying to pick out the best apples, remember the three other things we need, and listen to a discourse on the Four Noble Truths at the same time? When we’re in the grocery store, shouldn’t we just be in the grocery store. Shouldn’t our full awareness be with the sights and sounds around us? When we’re driving, hiking, etc, shouldn’t we just be in that activity?

Many observers our culture describe a rise in narcissism, a decline in attention span, the disappearance of traditions, and even a loss of basic civility, all at the hands of our modern conveniences. Many people are losing touch with friends and loved ones in real life and substituting them with virtual networks and television. One study recently showed that the relationship centers of peoples brains, those that become active when we enjoy time with friends and family, were also stimulated when regular TV watchers put on their favorite sitcom. With a touch of irony, the sitcom used in the study was “Friends.” What is going on?

 I can only guess what the Buddha would say if he wandered into my cluttered house today, let alone if he used his ‘higher knowledges’ to wander into my equally cluttered mind.  

It is said that Socrates lamented the advent of the book, the cutting edge technology in his day. To him it signaled a shift from wisdom, which was a virtue that could only be embodied in a person, to knowledge: facts about the world that could be recorded and studied in books. He worried that people would stop deeply learning things and instead rely on external hard drives, as it were. At that time, roughly the same time that the Buddha was teaching in India, one had to go find a teacher with whom to study. This was often difficult, but it forged the virtues of resolution and dedication. Years and often lifetimes were spent under a single teacher perfecting one’s understanding and practice, the key ingredients for wisdom.

Simplicity, too, was a virtue of years gone by. The Buddha often scorned household life as stifled and filled with impurity and praised the monastic life for its peace, quiet, and lack of possessions. I can only guess what the Buddha would say if he wandered into my cluttered house today, let alone if he used his “higher knowledges” to wander into my equally cluttered mind. The simple pace and simple activities of the past, albeit usually much more physically demanding than today, have all but disappeared.

It is too simplistic to see technology as simply a tool, one that we can use skillfully or unskillfully, or not use it at all. The technology of the last fifty years has radically changed the way that most of us interact with the world. We need to become aware of the broader societal impacts of technology itself. As material wealth has grown, levels of life-satisfaction have not. What is missing? Or, rather, what have we lost?

With our mind on these questions it is helpful to study the lives of men and women of the past. They have accomplished our goal of happiness or awakening without the aid of computers, cell phones, and even basic conveniences like books and MP3 players. There’s little chance for many of us actually living as they did, but we can wonder what it might be like to go without our favorite gadget now and then, to consciously cultivate more face-to-face time with people as well as more simplicity and silence when we are alone.

These little things help form the very foundation for our practice. They have been taken for granted for so much of human history and have clearly been eroded in recent years. But, with awareness and determination, it is well within our power to bring them back to the center of our lives.

Justin Whitaker holds a Masters degree in Buddhist Studies from Bristol University, England and is currently a Ph.D. student in Buddhist Ethics at the University of London. He has practiced in several Buddhist traditions including the Western Buddhist Order in Missoula, Montana and Bristol, England. He currently lives in Missoula, where he works for the Center for Ethics, leads the University sangha, and meditates regularly on Missoula’s mountains and rivers. His personal blog is americanbuddhist.blogspot.com.

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Weight Loss Research PDF Print E-mail
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Johns Hopkins Intensive Meditation and Migraine Study PDF Print E-mail
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Johns Hopkins is currently recruiting participants for a research study. If you are interested, and have at least 4 migraines per month, you may be eligible. Johns Hopkins is also interested in those who have chronic daily headaches.

Men & women 18 years and older are eligible.

Learning meditation can require a significant amount of personal training to be effective. Some people have more time than others to devote to this type of personal project. Our training begins with a 12 day retreat that helps you get started. We have a couple of retreats, one about a 2 hour drive from Baltimore and another about a 7 hour drive from Baltimore. During the retreat you would train for about 10 hours each day. Participants are not expected to have any experience in meditation beforehand.

The first day begins with a seminar that introduces you to the concepts and technique of meditation. Then the group practices meditation (wearing comfortable clothes and seated in a comfortable position) in hour-long blocks while listening to pre-recorded voice guidance. At the close of each day there is another seminar discussing the steps for how to train the next day. After the training, you would practice on your own daily. You would also get together weekly with others to practice meditation for an hour or two. It does not involve religion or any religious practices. It is not inconsistent with any religious beliefs.

Your involvement in the study will last 12 months. During this time, we will be doing 24 hour monitoring of your heart rate and blood pressure periodically. We will also be doing periodic evaluations of your headaches and general health. Regardless of the effects of Vipassana Meditation on your headaches, you would gain a thorough grounding in how to meditate, as well as learn a tool that some believe is helpful for coping with stress and pain.

The next retreats are:

September 23 – Oct 4 (Chestertown, MD)
Spring to be determined (April or May, 2010)

Johns Hopkins is currently recruiting participants for this research study. If you are interested, and have at least 4 migraines per month, you may contact them at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Meditation pilot for city school PDF Print E-mail
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BBC: Cardiff schools could introduce a pilot Transcendental Meditation (TM) programme to relieve stress on pupils.

One unnamed secondary school is to give it a trial on a voluntary basis.

It followers say TM is a means of clearing and resting the mind through a series of chants and relaxation exercises which anyone can learn.

Freda Salway, Cardiff council’s executive member for education, said anything to lessen the load was a welcome addition to the curriculum.

TM hit the headlines in 1967 in Wales, when the Beatles met the movement’s founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on a retreat in Bangor.

According to south Wales instructor Helen Evans, however, the 60s left a legacy of mixed blessings, with TM becoming more widely known and associated with the era of psychedelia and the Woodstock generation.

“Sgt Pepper and the like probably put back serious scientific research into the benefits of TM by about 10 or 20 years,” said Ms Evans.

“But experiments in US schools have found that it can have a dramatic effect on reducing violence and bullying in the classroom, as well as improving concentration and self-esteem.”

Ms Evans said: “Most meditation systems will tell you to blank your thoughts out, but I don’t think that’s realistic. As soon as someone tells you to think of nothing, then something will pop into your mind.

“The thing that’s different about TM is that it teaches you to cope with the feelings that you do have rather than trying to get rid of them.

“It’s about relaxing, giving your mind the space to rest and allowing your subconscious to come to terms with problems without the clutter that’s normally there.”

She said modern life could be “highly stressful because there’s so much about our lives which we can’t control ourselves”. She added: “If you can find a way, not of changing your emotions, but of coping with them and accepting them for what they are, then you can be a much more relaxed and contented person with better self-esteem”.

Ms Salway said: “It’s not going to work for everyone, but it’s certainly not going to do any harm.

“Like anything, you can’t ram it down people’s throats – it’s entirely up to students and their parents to decide if it’s something they’d like to try.

“But today’s children face more stress than any generation before them with exams and peer-pressure and problems in the home.

“So if TM can provide an outlet for even a small percentage of them, then it’s something worth offering.”

Multi-cultural areas

Several schools in England are already in the process of introducing TM to staff and pupils, with funding from a foundation set up by cult film director David Lynch.

A common objection from parents, especially in highly multi-cultural areas, has apparently been a perception that TM is closely associated with Buddhism and Hinduism, and is therefore incompatible with other faiths.

But north Wales instructor David Hughes said TM had a strictly non-denominational approach.

“Yes, TM has its roots in India, and there are some overlapping features with Buddhism and Hinduism, but fundamentally it’s a technique, not a belief system,” he said.

“It’s practiced by millions of Muslims, especially in the Middle East, and it’s no more true to say that TM is Buddhist than it is to say that singing is Christian.”

“It’s something which comes naturally to some people – elite athletes like Usain Bolt seem to slip into the zone without ever having been taught.

“But most people need a little bit of help to harness the mental powers we all have inside.”

If the pilot study is a success, it could be offered to students throughout Cardiff.

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Daily dose of meditation might boost flu shot PDF Print E-mail
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Commercialappeal.com: I feel like broken a tape recorder talking about the same stuff over and over: hand washing, cough etiquette and social distancing as ways to prevent getting the flu. So I was thrilled to find a 2003 research article from the journal Psychosomatic Medicine (not my usual bedside reading) on how meditation could help us in fighting the flu.

Meditation may seem like an Eastern concept, but in fact it is well grounded in Western religion in the form of prayer. In Joshua 1:8, God says to meditate on His word day and night. Rick Warren, in his book “The Purpose Driven Life,” writes, “Meditation is focused thinking. It takes serious effort … No other habit can do more to transform your life.”

Some Eastern gurus are more expansive. In lay language, meditation is “a simple process of watching your own mind. Not fighting with your mind. Not trying to control it either. Just remaining there as a choiceless witness.” So teach the Indian mystics. “In meditation there is no prejudice, and no judgment,” according to the meditation Web site osho.com.

Science also attests to the power of meditation. In the 1960s, a Harvard professor secretly brought Tibetan monks into his laboratory and conducted various physiological tests while the monks were meditating. His findings startled his scientific colleagues: Meditation altered the physiology of the body.

Through meditation, the monks were able to alter their skin temperature, oxygen consumption, blood pressure and heart rate. Today, studies show that a single session of meditation alters brain activity. Scientists have studied people who listened to a meditation audiotape and compared them to those who listened to a nonmeditation audiotape. The people listening to the meditation tape had greater reduction in “beta” electrical activity in the frontal part of the brains, which is consistent with increased relaxation.

These findings have led some researchers to describe meditation as the fourth major state of consciousness after ordinary waking, dreaming and deep sleep.

But what does all this have to do with the flu?

In the controlled study in Psychosomatic Medicine, 48 employees at a biotechnology corporation in Madison, Wis., were randomly divided into two groups. One group received eight weeks of meditation training, including three hours of classes per week, and one seven-hour silent retreat. The subjects were also asked to meditate on their own for one hour a day, six days a week, guided by audiotapes. The other group received no training.

Then the two groups were injected with the seasonal flu vaccine and subsequently the protective antibody response was measured. The meditators had a statistically significant greater immune response to the vaccine than the nonmeditators. It was almost as if the vaccine was more potent in the meditators.

How can meditation bring about such a profound effect? I suspect it has to do with stress reduction. We know when individuals eat a good diet, exercise, sleep well and have less stress (through meditation or other activity) their immune system is stronger. In the study the meditators had a brain pattern usually associated with a positive mood — as if they were more happy.

Though the sample size was small, I think this study is interesting — and timely — in light of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Memphis this week. The religious leader meditates for four hours a day. The most I can hold my attention is about four seconds — which I attempt few nights a week while putting my 10-year-old to sleep and chanting a religious hymn.

Maybe the Dalai Lama can do some training sessions for us to help make our city happier and more resistant to the flu.

Dr. Manoj Jain is an infectious disease physician and member of the Healthy Memphis Common Table Council. His other articles are at mjain.net.

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