Friday, June 03, 2011

Check Out My New Place

It’s time to better integrate my mindfulness site and my blog. I hope you’ll visit my new Squarespace site at That’s a lot of letters to type, but I’m working on it. I’ve got several variations that will eventually all be aimed to the same location.  

Click on DISCOVERIES to find all the content from the Learning to Stay blog along with new things I find. The STRATEGIES area contains essays and instructions I’ve written and plan to write on developing the skills of attention through mindfulness practice.

It’s a work in progress. I look forward to your feedback and the continuation of this exploration.

May you be safe, happy, and healthy. May you feel at home in your life, just as it is right now. 

~ Daron


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seeing Clearly What Is Happening

Mark Williams from “Mindfulness is Happiness,” WealthWise Magazine, May 16, 2011:

Mark Williams Mindfulness simply means being aware — seeing clearly what is happening in our minds and in the world, from moment to moment, bringing a sense of kindness to our experience rather than getting caught in judging it.

The methods used to cultivate mindfulness were first recorded over two thousand years ago. It has long been central to wisdom traditions in Asia, particularly the Buddhist tradition, but the art of cultivating inner silence has been a central part of all religious traditions across the ages.

Mindfulness meditation is a secular form of this tradition that anyone can learn. It trains us to pay deliberate attention to our experience, both external and internal. We learn to focus on what is happening from moment to moment with full intention and without judgment. Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through such training, and the skill of developing and sustaining that awareness.

Modern mindfulness-based approaches in healthcare began in the USA. From the late 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering research into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR1) found remarkable effects on chronic pain and stress. With colleagues John Teasdale and Zindel Segal, we have reasoned that mindfulness training might have powerful effects in preventing future recurrence of depression, even if taught when people were well.

To test this hypothesis, we have created the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy program. Six research trials have evaluated the power of MBCT to prevent depression. The results are striking. In the most seriously ill patients – those with three or more previous episodes of depression, MBCT reduces the recurrence rate over 12 months by 40-50% compared with the usual care, and has proved to be as effective as maintenance antidepressants in preventing new episodes of depression.

…Mindfulness is “skills training” rather than traditional type of therapy, so anyone can try it without feeling that they have to go over old ground, or talk through their problems yet again.  Those already in therapy report finding treatment easier if they are more able to be mindful, and to see their thoughts and feelings with greater distance and perspective.

Oxford Unversity Professor Mark Williams, talks about stress and its impact for the Be Mindful campaign.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Travel Safely

You’ll Be Bright
by Craig Minowa

All the things you'll love,
All the things that may hurt you,
All the things you shouldn't do,
And all the things you want to,
They're calling your name — travel safely.

Every first kiss, every crisis,
every heartbreak and every act of kindness,
They're calling your name — travel safely.

Every empire, every monument,
every masterpiece and every invention,
They're calling your name — travel safely.

I found stars on the tip of your tongue.
You speak Poltergeist, so do I. So do I.

What comes will come.
What goes will go.

The wind will blow where the wind is blowing.
Let go of where you think you're going.
We'll never know why it flows where it's flowing.

We've always been what we will always be.
I'm so convinced we have to get there, we can part the sea.
So bring the dead to life, turn your blood to wine.
All your life you have waited for this moment to arrive.

And you'll be bright.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Acquiring Skills

“I want to see wave riding documented the way I see it in my head and the way I feel it in the sea. It’s a strange set of skills to acquire and it’s only achievable through time spent riding waves.”

~ Mickey Smith

[Thanks, Kit!]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Prayer About Everyone and Everything

Roger Ebert, from “A Prayer Beneath the Tree of Life,” Chicago Sun Times, May17, 2011:

Terrence Malick's new film is a form of prayer. It created within me a spiritual awareness, and made me more alert to the awe of existence. I believe it stands free from conventional theologies, although at its end it has images that will evoke them for some people. It functions to pull us back from the distractions of the moment, and focus us on mystery and gratitude…

Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer ‘to’ anyone or anything, but prayer ‘about’ everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine…

What Malick does in The Tree of Life is create the span of lives. Of birth, childhood, the flush of triumph, the anger of belittlement, the poison of resentment, the warmth of forgiving. And he shows that he feels what I feel, that it was all most real when we were first setting out, and that it will never be real in that way again.”

See also: Metacritic

The Self as Both a Thing and a Process

Excerpt from “Psychological Self vs. No-Self,” by Ron Crouch, Buddhist Geeks, May 19, 2011:

psych-self The self in Western psychology is viewed as that function of the mind that helps us to organize our experiences. It takes raw sense data, memories, and other cognitive functions and turns them into recognizable narratives. It is critical for everything that we do. Without a strong sense of self, we literally could not make sense of anything that happens to us.

What is fascinating is that in the western psychological view, the “self” or the “executive function” is actually a process and not really a thing. It waxes and wanes all the time, goes into the foreground and background of awareness depending on how much we need it, disappears when we sleep, is not the same as it was when we were little, much less the same as it was last year, and is even subtly different than it was last week.

So far, this should make a lot of sense to both psychologists and meditators. But here is where things get interesting: we all know that processes are not solid and change all the time, yet in this particular process there is a nagging sense that there is a solid permanent “me” hiding in that process somewhere. As if the process itself were a real solid thing in the same way that a table or chair is.

It is this unshakable sense of a solid “me” in the midst of this process that is the “self” that is referred to in the Dharma. When we talk about “no-self” in Buddhism, we are pointing to this sense of a solid self in and calling it an illusion. The process of “selfing” is real, the belief that it is somehow a permanent “me” is not.

To help understand how important this illusion is imagine that another mental process had this same illusion tied to it. Take memory for example. When we experience a memory we know that it isn’t “real” in the sense that it does not have a reality outside or our mental functioning. We know that memories come and go, are subject to change and can be forgotten. But what if every time you remembered something you assumed that the memory itself was “real” in the same way that a table or chair is real. That it was substantial and lasting. Even though you could not literally see or experience the memory with your five senses, you still had the unshakable belief that it was a real and solid thing that is supposed to last. Wouldn’t this be a set-up for frustration? Memories slip and slide out of consciousness and like every other mental function they are subject to dramatic change. If we expected them to never go away and always be there, we would constantly be in distress. This is exactly what is happening with us in terms of the self-process.

While the self-process creates narratives that organize our experiences into something recognizable, the illusion of self is inserted as a main character into all these narratives. We expect the character to be the same all the time, to never change or go away, to be “real.” And yet each moment we are running into a stark reality: the self is not as real as we believe it to be, and it certainly does not last. Over time this sense of solid “me” becomes the most salient feature of all of our experience and our greatest source of anxiety. The fact that we see this constantly changing process as a solid “me” creates endless problems for us because it sets up a never-ending fight between us and reality (and reality never loses).

What is odd is that according to psychology, this sense of a solid self is not an issue. In fact it is not really addressed at all. One part of the psychological literature explains that the self is a cognitive process like any other, and then another part of the literature goes on about protecting and promoting a healthy “self.” The fact that we are taking a process and turning it into a solid thing in our minds is simply not addressed.

In psychology, this point may have been missed because of the bias to study and theorize about pathology rather than health. The illusions and problems inherent in a “normally” functioning mind just don’t get a lot of research lab-time. So most theory in psychology works to get damaged selves back to “normal functioning.” Buddhism on the other hand, starts with the assumption that normal functioning is full of suffering caused by a false sense of self, and works to get people from a state of “normal” to enlightened.

Read entire essay here…

A Little Tolerance for Ourselves and Others

Duality of Mind “Instead of waging war on himself, it is surely better for a man to learn to tolerate himself, and to convert his inner difficulties into real experiences instead of expending them in useless fantasies. Then at least he lives, and does not waste his life in fruitless struggles.

If people can be educated to see the lowly side of their own natures, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and to love their fellow men better. A little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results in respect for our neighbor; for we are all too prone to transfer to our fellows the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.”

~ Carl Jung, from Two Essays on Analytical Psychology

We Will Protect What We Fall In Love With

“I've been filming time-lapse flowers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for over 35 years. To watch them move is a dance I'm never going to get tired of. It fills me with wonder, and it opens my heart. Beauty and seduction, I believe, is nature's tool for survival, because we will protect what we fall in love with. Their relationship is a love story that feeds the Earth. It reminds us that we are a part of nature, and we're not separate from it.”

~ Louie Schwartzberg, from “The Hidden Beauty of Pollination,” TED, March 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let’s Not Speak

Deer Haven. May 15, 2011

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda, from Extravagaria

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reasoning Is Suffused With Emotion

Excerpt from “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” by Chris Mooney, Mother Jones, April 18, 2011:

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience. Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

Illustration by Jonathon Rosen

We're not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn't take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that's highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation—a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information—and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. "They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs," says Taber, "and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they're hearing."

In other words, when we think we're reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers. Our "reasoning" is a means to a predetermined end—winning our "case"—and is shot through with biases. They include "confirmation bias," in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and "disconfirmation bias," in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.

That's a lot of jargon, but we all understand these mechanisms when it comes to interpersonal relationships. If I don't want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else—everybody who isn't too emotionally invested to accept it, anyway. That's not to suggest that we aren't also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It's just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one's sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.

Read entire article here…

It’s The Movement Toward Something Or Away From Something That Stops

Deer Haven. May 14, 2011

Excerpts from Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti:

Ego [the perception of a self] is a movement. It’s a verb. It is not something static. It’s the after-the fact movement of mind that’s always becoming...

The sense of “me” is always becoming, always moving, always achieving. Or else it is doing the opposite—moving backward, rejecting, denying. So in order for this verb to keep going, there has to be movement. We have to be going forward or backward, toward or away from...

So the verb—let’s call it “egoing”—is not operating if we are not becoming. As soon as a verb stops; it’s not a verb anymore. As soon as you stop running, there is no such thing as running—it’s gone; nothing is happening. This ego sense has to keep moving because, as soon as it stops, it disappears, just like when your feet stop, running disappears...

As long as we try to do what we think is the right spiritual thing by getting rid of ego, we perpetuate it. Seeing that this is more of the same egoing will allow stopping without trying.

You could find a hundred oak trees and each would have a personality but no ego. So the stopping of this verb called ego has nothing to do with the personality stopping. It has nothing to do with anything we could put a finger on: not a thought, not a feeling, and not ego. If we had to stop or the world had to stop in order for us to be free, we would be in big trouble. It is the movement of becoming, the moving toward something or away from something, that stops.

A different dimension of being starts opening up when this verb ego is allowed to run down. Just by watching, we can start to see that nothing that arises has an egoic or “me” nature. A thought arising is just a thought arising. If a feeling arises, it has no “me” nature and no self nature. If confusion arises, there is no “me” nature in the arising. Just by watching, we see that everything arises spontaneously, and nothing has an inherent nature of “me” in it. Egoic nature comes only in the afterthought.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Origin of Change

Deer Haven. May 14, 2011

Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction
by Wallace Stevens


Two things of opposite natures seem to depend
On one another, as a man depends
On a woman, day on night, the imagined

On the real. This is the origin of change.
Winter and spring, cold copulars, embrace
And forth the particulars of rapture come.

Music falls on the science like a sense,
A passion that we feel, not understand.
Morning and afternoon are clasped together

And North and South are an intrinsic couple
And sun and rain a plural, like two lovers
That walk away as one in the greenest body.

In solitude the trumpets of solitude
Are not of another solitude resounding;
A little string speaks for a crowd of voices.

The partaker partakes of that which changes him.
The child that touches takes character from the thing,
The body, it touches. The captain and his men

Are one and the sailor and the sea are one.
Follow after, O my companion, my fellow, my self,
Sister and solace, brother and delight.

I Will Be Who I Will Be

Excerpt from “Exodus: Cargo of Hidden Stories,” Being,  April 14, 2011:

Krista Tippett: Let's talk about also the very mysterious name of God when Moses encounters God in the burning bush. He says, "Who should I tell them I saw?" And the name that comes back now, or the way it's often translated in English is, "I am who I am." I've also heard it translated, "I am becoming who I am ehyeh-asher-ehyehbecoming." How do you read what is said? And say it for me in Hebrew as well, if you would?

Avivah Zornberg: Yes. It's Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, and literally it just means, I will be who I will be. And I think there's just no getting around it. Some of these translations are just mistranslations.

Ms. Tippett: Right, yes. And they don't help, do they?

Dr. Zornberg: They really don't because, actually, God is being evasive. God is saying, “I'm not giving you a handle.” You want a handle of some kind to hold on to, to say, "Now I've got him." That's a name. And instead he answers, "I am the very principle of becoming, of allowing the possible to happen."

Listen to the unedited conversation…

Beyond the Mind

Excerpts from Emptiness Dancing by Adyashanti:

The mind can’t fathom that there can be a true intelligence, a transcendent intelligence, that isn’t the product and outcome of thought and conceptual understanding. It can’t fathom that there could be wisdom that’s not going to come at you in the form of thoughts, in the form of acquired and accumulated knowledge.

The true spiritual urge or yearning is always and invitation beyond the mind. That’s why it’s always been said that if you go to God, you go naked or you don’t go at all. It’s the same for everybody. You go in free of your accumulated knowledge, or you are forever unable to enter. So an intelligent mind realizes its own limitation, and it’s a beautiful thing when it does.

When you stop holding on to all the knowledge, then you start to enter a different state of being. You start to move into a different dimension. You move into a dimension where experience inside gets very quiet. The mind may still be there chatting in the background, or it might not, but consciousness is no longer bothering itself with the mind. You don’t need to stop it. Your awareness just goes right past that wall of knowledge and moves into a very quiet state…

…Once your conceptual world of knowledge gets put in its rightful place, it is transcended. You see that you are eternal consciousness now appearing as woman or man, this or that character. But like every good actor, you are not what you are appearing as. Everything that exists is consciousness appearing as, or God appearing as, or Self appearing as, or spirit appearing as. The Buddha called it no-self. When that’s seen, you see Unity. There is only God. That’s all there is: God appearing as floor, as a human being, as a wall, as a chair.

No knowledge, no statement of the Truth touches what’s eternal, what you really are. And no statement about how to get there is true either, because what gets one person there doesn’t get another person there. A mind that likes to look for the one truth path cannot find it. Of course, the mind doesn’t like that. “No right path? Nothing that could be said or read that ultimately, in the end, could be true? The most enlightened being can’t speak the Truth?”

No. It’s never been done, and it never will be done. The only thing you can do is to put a pointer on the way that says, “Look that way.” A false spiritual arrow is one that points to the wall and says, “Look this way.” A true arrow is one that points beyond the wall of concepts.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Quickly, Before I Forget

by Jennifer Michael Hecht, from The Next Ancient World

The reason you so often in literature have a naked woman
walk out of her house that way, usually older, in her front garden
or on the sidewalk, oblivious, is because of exactly how I feel right now.

You tend to hear about how it felt to come upon such a mythical beast,
the naked woman on the street, the naked man in a tree, and that makes
sense because it is wonderful to take the naked woman by the hand

And know that you will remember that moment for the rest of your life
because of what it means, the desperation, the cataclysm of what it takes
to leave your house naked or to take off your clothes in the tree.

It feels good to get the naked man to come down from there by a series
of gentle commands and take him by the elbow or her by the hand and lead
him to his home like you would care for a bird or a human heart.

Still if you want instead, for once, to hear about how the person came to be
standing there, naked, outside, you should talk to me right now, quickly,
before I forget the details of this way that I feel. I feel like walking out.

Paying Attention to Attention

Excerpts from "Redesigning Zen," a Buddhist Geeks interview with Taiun Elliston (Mar. 28, 2011):

My view of Zen is it can impact every field; medicine, it can impact education, on and on and on, I see no limit to it. But in terms of design, art, music, the plastic in performing arts, dance and so forth and martial arts, of course. Zen, I think you could say, is the heart of creativity. It might seem that there is nothing more stupid than just sitting still doing nothing but simplicity is the highest value in the Zen aesthetic as well as the design or art aesthetic. Simplicity is the highest value, but it’s the most difficult to obtain. So in design for instance we are introduced to this idea in classics of simplicity such as the bobby pin that are ubiquitous and so worked for so long nobody even remembers who designed them. So if you look up at Zazen sitting in Zen meditation and what it actually is—it’s the simplest possible reduction of method to a simple sitting posture, paying attention to the breath, and paying attention to attention itself…

Meditator by Yeachin Tsai Now Zen meditation is like design in that it’s an immersion process so that in design or art painting in sumi ink or even oil painting, watercolor, that kind of dialogue ensues between the consciousness of the artist and the medium itself. You cannot make a medium do things that it will not do—can not do physically. So we have what are called forgiving medium and unforgiving medium. Watercolor is said to be a very unforgiving medium. Painting sumi ink on silk [is another example] which we do to paint our formal certificates on huge pieces of silk about five feet long and a foot and a half wide, a very tiny brush, and painting a continuous red bloodline. If you stop or go back over the line, it immediately bleeds into the silk so they’re very, very unforgiving.

Zen meditation is a medium, you might say, or a technique to approach the medium of consciousness itself. Your consciousness may be a very unforgiving medium, other people may be more flexible but when you begin to sit in Zen meditation you find it is different from the other forms of meditation. In fact it’s not technically actually a meditation. The reason for that is because it becomes objectless and at the greatest depth of artistic creativity it also becomes subjectless, objectless, the individual becomes merged with the medium. So there’s no conflict, there’s no resistance—this is by the way the holy grail of jazz—when the musician gets to the point that everything he can hear—and Charlie Parker is the person who’s always pointed to for this—everything he hears comes through the instrument with no resistance...

If you sit still then you begin to see great action. So Zen meditation is different from other meditations in that it involves the eventual transcendence of subject/object and becomes objectless so it’s not truly a meditation, there’s no subject meditating upon an object. In that same transcendence is the transcendence of the duality of mind and body, self and other. So it becomes consciousness contemplating consciousness through consciousness. The subject, the predicate, and the object are just one.

Listen to the conversation here...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So Much More Than Nothing

Excerpt from This is a Book by Demetri Martin (New Yorker, Feb. 28, 2011):

Who am I? That is a simple question, yet it is one without a simple answer. I am many things—and I am one thing. But I am not a thing that is just lying around somewhere, like a pen, or a toaster, or a housewife. That is for sure. I am much more than that. I am a living, breathing thing, a thing that can draw with a pen and toast with a toaster and chat with a housewife, who is sitting on a couch eating toast. And still, I am much more.

I am a man.

And I am a former baby and a future skeleton, and I am a distant future pile of dust. I am also a Gemini, who is on the cusp.

I am trustworthy and loyal, but at the same time I am no Boy Scout. No, I am certainly not. I am quite the opposite, in fact. And by opposite I do not mean Girl Scout. No. I mean Man Scout. And by that I do not mean Scout Leader. In fact, I am not affiliated with the Scouts at all. Let’s just forget about the Scouts and Scouting altogether, O.K.?

I am concepts and thoughts and feelings and outfits. And I am each of these all at once, unless I am in the shower. Then I am not outfits, because that would be uncomfortable.

To some I am known as Chief. And these are usually people who work in Radio Shack or try to sell me shoes. To others I am known as Buddy. These are people who dwell in bars and wonder if I’ve got a problem or what it is that I am “looking at.” And to still others, who are in that same bar, standing just off to the side, I am “Get Him!”

I am everything and I am nothing. I am just kidding; I am not everything and nothing. That would be ridiculous. I am just everything.

I am what I eat. And I am this especially when I bite my nails.

I have been called Hey, You! and Get Out of the Way! and Look Out! And then, some time later, Plaintiff.

Read more…

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Frequent Intermittent Rewards

Excerpt from "Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else," by Perri Klass, M.D., The New York Times, May 9, 2011:

Is a child’s fascination with the screen a cause or an effect of attention problems — or both? It’s a complicated question that researchers are still struggling to tease out.

The kind of concentration that children bring to video games and television is not the kind they need to thrive in school or elsewhere in real life, according to Dr. Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. “It’s not sustained attention in the absence of rewards,” he said. “It’s sustained attention with frequent intermittent rewards.”

The child may be playing for points accumulated, or levels achieved, but the brain’s reward may be the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Children with A.D.H.D. may find video games even more gratifying than other children do because their dopamine reward circuitry may be otherwise deficient.

Indeed, at least one study has found that when children with A.D.H.D. were treated with methylphenidate (Ritalin), which increases dopamine activity in the brain, they played video games less. The authors suggested that video games might serve as a kind of self-medication for these children.

So increased screen time may be a consequence of A.D.H.D., but some researchers fear it may be a cause, as well. Some studies have found that children who spend more time in front of the screen are more likely to develop attention problems later on.

In a 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics, viewing more television and playing more video games were associated with subsequent attention problems in both schoolchildren and college undergraduates.

The stimulation that video games provide “is really about the pacing, how fast the scene changes per minute,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis , a pediatrician at the University of Washington School of Medicine who studies children and media. If a child’s brain gets habituated to that pace and to the extreme alertness needed to keep responding and winning, he said, the child ultimately may “find the realities of the world underwhelming, understimulating.”

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Live It Yourself

May 8, 2011

“My mother should love me—is that true? This is the death of a dream. Can you see one good reason to keep the story that anyone should love you, ever? Have you ever tried to love your perceived enemy? It’s hopeless. Who would you be without this story that your mother should love you? You’d be you, without all the efforting. Without the mask, the façade. It feels like freedom to me.

Wanting your mother to love you is like being in a straightjacket. It’s like being a dog on the floor just crawling and begging, with your tongue hanging out: ‘Love me! Love me! I’ll be good! I’ll be good!’ Make a list of everything you want her to do for you, then do it for yourself, and do it now. This is the real thing. You want it from her? Turn it around and live it yourself.”

~ Byron Katie, from Question Your Thinking, Change the World

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Direct Contact

May 7, 2011

From “Purpose and Method of Vipassana Meditation,” by Shinzen Young:

The essence of this practice can be stated as a simple formula: ordinary experience plus mindfulness plus equanimity yields insight and purification. In this formula, each term is defined very precisely. Ordinary experience is defined as hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, the feeling body and the thinking mind. Mindfulness is defined as specificity in awareness, clarity in awareness, continuity in awareness, richness in awareness, precision in awareness. Equanimity is defined as not interfering with the flow of the senses at any level, including the level of preconscious processing.

When sufficient mindfulness and equanimity are brought to bear on ordinary experience, we arrive at purification and insight. And, as a result of the purification and insight, our intrinsic happiness, our true birthright and spiritual reality, gets uncovered and we discover that what we thought was the world of phenomena—the world of time, space, and matter—turns out to really be a world of spiritual energy, and that we are in direct contact with it moment by moment. Because, when the senses become purified, when the inner conflicts—at all levels—have been broken up, the flow of these ordinary senses turns into a prayer, a mantra, a sacred song, and we find that, just by living our life, we are in moment-by-moment contact with the Source. In the Christian contemplative tradition this is called the "practice of the presence of God." In the Jewish mystical tradition it is called briah yesh me ayn—the experience of things (yesh) being continuously created (briah) from no-thing (ayn), that is, from God.

For most people the senses are opaque. A window is opaque if it is covered by soot; light can't come through. The soot is craving, aversion, and ignorance. When that's cleared away, the ordinary senses become literally transparent. It is very hard to describe what this is like. Hearing returns to being part of the effortless flow of nature, seeing returns to being part of the effortless flow of nature, and likewise with smelling, tasting, the body sensations whether they are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, they all go back to being part of "God's breath" so to speak.

Even the thinking process returns to being part of this effortless flow. At the beginning stages of meditation one is very concerned with overcoming the wandering thoughts in order to develop enough calm and concentration to be able to practice mindfulness. But when you get further along in the process there will be no necessity whatsoever to have a still mind because the ordinary flow of thought will be experienced as not different from the activity of the Source.

Read more…

One’s Own Perception

From “Ratmechanics,” by Katy Bowman:

We humans may not whisk, but we do have a very similar system in our body. It’s called the proprioceptive system.

Proprioception means “one’s own perception.” No, it’s not like your opinion or anything like that, but it is the ability for one part of your body to know where it is relative to the other parts. Unlike the rat, who is using the deformation of its whiskers to create an image of what is external (similar to a dolphin using sonar to “see” shapes in front of it as it is swimming), we use our proprioceptive system to create an image of what is internal, or inside the skin. Propriception works in the same way as the whiskers though. The deformation of the joints and muscles sends information to the receptors (proprioceptors) within the moving muscles and their joints. That information about a change in skeletal position then travels via our neurons to the brain to create an image.

Read more…

See also:

[Thanks, Kit!]

We Create the World

"When you have an awareness of anything internally, you perceive that externally. We really do, I believe, create the world that we live in. The word ‘eye’, in its Sanskrit and Hebrew root, means fountain. In other words, this is not an organ that's receiving vibrations from what's out there going through the brain and being interpreted. It's a projector."

~ Hubert Selby, Jr., from Memories, Dreams & Addictions. Interview with Ellen Burstyn. Special feature on Requiem for a Dream, Director's Cut DVD release. (2001)

See also: A List of Indignities

Friday, May 06, 2011

Blessing the World

Sylvia Boorstein lead a impromptu loving-kindness exercise during her recent conversation with Krista Tippett, "What We Nurture," about loving and teaching children in our complex modern world.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Spring Out

What I most want is to
spring out of this personality,
then to sit apart from that
leaping. I've lived too long
where I can be reached.

~ Rumi

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: Hear Out Daily Workout

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Body Building for the Brain

Excerpt from “Management as Meditation,” by Dominique Haijtema, Ode Magazine, Spring 2011:

More and more businesses and managers are becoming interested in meditation, according to Rob Brandsma, founder of the Dutch Institute for Mindfulness and Management. The word no longer conjures images of vagueness or flakiness, but is increasingly seen as a practical method for stress reduction. And that’s hardly a luxury in these times of recession, job insecurity and economic turmoil. Many employees and managers fear for their jobs, or for their company’s survival, and those who are still employed are confronted with increasing workloads and increasing stress levels.

Many view meditation as a way to keep calm, cool and collected in uncertain times. According to Time magazine, 10 million people meditate daily in the U.S. No hard figures exist on the number of businesses that offer meditation. However, organizations such as Google, Deutsche Bank, AOL Time Warner and Apple let workers meditate. Meditation’s role in maintaining physical and mental health is also increasingly backed up by scientific research. According to researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, meditating regularly results in lower blood pressure and less insomnia. Using MRI scans, neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School found that meditation boosts the immune system, lowers heart rates and improves circulation. Golf star Tiger Woods and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson claim meditation is partly responsible for their sporting accomplishments.

Interest in the practice in countries like Norway, Australia and the U.K. is picking up, too. According to research from the Identity Foundation, even in conservative Germany, 10 percent of managers consider it “body building for the brain”; whereas sports train the body, meditation trains the spirit.

[I would say mindfulness practice develops the skills of attention and intimate familiarity with sensory experience which together foster well-being that is less dependent on the constantly fluctuating conditions of life. ~ Daron]

The cliché image of Indian hippies and incense persists, according to Susanne Hauptmann, a German meditation teacher and yoga instructor who works with businesses, but once people give mindfulness a try, they’re usually convinced. “The positive effects, like relaxation, are quickly noticeable,” she says. Managers in particular report that meditation helps them achieve greater insights and make better decisions.

Read more…

[Thanks, Kit!]

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Daughter and a Sister

I am
by eight-year-old Ava Schicke from Omaha, Nebraska

I am a daughter and a sister.
I wonder when I will die.
I hear the warm weather coming.
I see stars in the day.
I want to learn my whole ballet dance.
I am a daughter and a sister.

I pretend to be a teacher at home.
I feel like I am a teacher.
I touch hands that are growing.
I worry that I will never change.
I cry when something or someone dies.
I am a daughter and a sister.

I understand that teachers work hard for students.
I say that I don’t like bullies.
I dream about me not moving while trying really hard to run.
I try to become a good friend.
I hope that there is no more dying or killing.
I am a daughter and a sister.

Benefits Beyond Relaxation

Excerpts from “How Meditation Might Ward Off the Effects of Ageing,” by Jo Marchant, The Guardian,  April 24, 2011:

The assumption that meditation simply induces a state of relaxation is "dead wrong", says Charles Raison. Brain-imaging studies suggest that it triggers active processes within the brain, and can cause physical changes to the structure of regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and cognitive processing.

The question of how the immaterial mind affects the material body remains a thorny philosophical problem, but on a practical level, "our understanding of the brain-body dialogue has made jaw-dropping advances in the last decade or two," says Raison. One of the most dramatic links between the mind and health is the physiological pathways that have evolved to respond to stress, and these can explain much about how meditation works.

When the brain detects a threat in our environment, it sends signals to spur the body into action. One example is the "fight or flight" response of the nervous system. When you sense danger, your heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly, and your pupils dilate. Digestion slows, and fat and glucose are released into the bloodstream to fuel your next move. Another stress response pathway triggers a branch of the immune system known as the inflammatory response.

These responses might help us to run from a mammoth or fight off infection, but they also damage body tissues. In the past, the trade-off for short bursts of stress would have been worthwhile. But in the modern world, these ancient pathways are continually triggered by long-term threats for which they aren't any use, such as debt, work pressures or low social status. "Psychological stress activates these pathways in exactly the same way that infection does," says Raison…

Meditation seems to be effective in changing the way that we respond to external events. After short courses of mindfulness meditation, people produce less of the stress hormone cortisol, and mount a smaller inflammatory response to stress. One study linked meditators' lower stress to changes in the amygdala —a  brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

Read the entire article here…

See also: Shamatha Project

Sunday, May 01, 2011

No Idea

“To know how good you are at something requires the same skills as it does to be good at that thing. Which means, if you’re absolutely hopeless at something, you lack exactly the skills that you need to know that you’re absolutely hopeless at it. And this is a profound discovery, that most people who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing have absolutely no idea that they have no idea what they’re doing. It explains a great deal of life.”

~ John Cleese

British writer, actor and tall person John Cleese discusses the importance of creating boundaries to foster creativity (Creativity World Forum).

Before & After: My Imperfection is My Nature

Photograph by Amy Arbus for The New York Times

From “Last-Minute Doubts, New York City,” interviews by Joanna Miller, The New York Times, May 1, 2011:

ANNA MEDVEDEVA, 24: The photo was taken the night before my breast-augmentation, chin- and neck-liposuction surgeries, and I was very confused and was thinking, What are you doing with yourself, girl? I spent all that day at home preparing for surgery. I was alone with my fear that night, and I was thinking that I wanted to change my decision. So I tried on the bandage that I would have to wear on my face after the surgery. I felt scared and called my best friend, who really helped me so much. My friend and I talked as Amy took pictures of me. In some, I was nude, and when the light went through the window from the street and I saw myself, I thought, I’m already perfect. My imperfection is my nature. Now, after everything is done, I love it so much. I look to the mirror, and I’m like: “Wow, you’re so sexy. I want you, girl.”

AMY ARBUS: A week before this photo session, Anna told me she was having plastic surgery, and I asked to do before-and-after pictures. Toward the end of this shoot, she started getting nervous about the surgery, and I said, “You can still change your mind.” She was on the phone a lot with her girlfriend, and when we were done, she was looking to see if she had heard back, and that’s when I took that picture. It was the last one I took.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Coping with Chaos by Categorizing

Excerpt from “Chaos Promotes Stereotyping,” by Philip Ball,, April 7, 2011:

A study shows that messy surroundings also make people more likely to stereotype others.

Diederik Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, social scientists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, asked subjects in messy or orderly everyday environments (a street and a railway station) to complete questionnaires that probed their judgements about certain social groups. They found small but significant and systematic differences in the responses: there was more stereotyping in the disorderly areas than the clean ones…

Study subjects sat further away from someone of another race when the train station was a mess.

In one experiment, passers-by in the busy Utrecht railway station were asked to sit in a row of chairs and answer a questionnaire for the reward of a chocolate bar or an apple. The researchers took advantage of a cleaners' strike that had left the station dirty and litter-strewn to create their messy environment; they returned to do the same testing once the strike was over and the station was clean.

In the questionnaires, participants were asked to rate how much certain social groups — Muslims, homosexuals and Dutch people — conformed to qualities that formed part of positive and negative stereotypes, as well as qualities unrelated to stereotypes. For example, the 'positive' stereotypes for homosexuals were (creative, sweet), the 'negative' were (strange, feminine) and the neutral terms were (impatient, intelligent).

As well as probing these responses, the experiment examined unconscious negative responses to race. All the subjects were white, but when they were asked to sit down, one chair at the end of the row was already occupied by a black or white Dutch person. In the messy station, people sat on average further from the black person than the white one, whereas in the clean station there was no statistical difference…

Stapel and Lindenberg say that stereotyping may be an attempt to mentally compensate for mess: "a way to cope with chaos, a mental cleaning device" that partitions other people neatly into predefined categories.

Read the rest of the article…

See also: Broken Windows Theory

Friday, April 29, 2011

Daybreak in Alabama

by Langston Hughes, from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

When I get to be a composer
I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.

[Thanks, Poem-a Day!]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fear is a Natural Reaction

Excerpt from When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön:

Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.

See also:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011



“Paradise may be the time when we finally turn to our past and see that its beauty was there despite our being there. In fact, its beauty can finally be seen because we aren't there.”

~ Fanny Howe

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Life In Itself Is Nothing

West 2nd Ave., April 24, 2011

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Aesthetically Pleasing Balance

See also: Desperately Seeking Symmetry

The Psychology of Belief and Compassion

“I think that these three habits of mind, animisms, creationism, dualism, are present in all of us. They're not biological adaptations, they're accidents. But I think they're what make religious belief attractive and plausible and universal.”

~ Paul Bloom, from “Hardwired for God?Big Think, Dec. 22, 2009

“When people are less focused on self and the problems of the self, there is a kind of alleviation of stress.  There’s nothing like reaching out and contributing to the lives of others to give a person, first of all a sense of significance and purpose.”

~ Stephen Post, from “The Science of Compassion,” Big Think, April 24, 2011

Searching for Heaven

"Heaven and earth don’t exist anymore. The earth is round. The cosmos has no up and down. It is moving constantly. We can no longer fix the stars to create an ideal place. This is our dilemma.

It is natural to search for our beginnings, but not to assume it has one direction. We live in a scientific future that early philosophers and alchemists could not foresee, but they understood very fundamental relationships between heaven and earth, that we have forgotten…North, south, east, and west, up and down are not issues. For me, this also relates to time. Past, present, and future are essentially the same direction. It is about finding symbols that move in all directions.

My spirituality is not New Age. It has been with me since I was a child. I know that in the last few decades religion has been made shiny and new. It’s like a business creating a new product. They are selling salvation. I’m not interested in being saved. I’m interested in reconstructing symbols. It’s about connecting with an older knowledge and trying to discover continuities in why we search for heaven."

~ Anselm Kiefer, from “History of Our World

The Mountain from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Three Lilies
by Brooks Haxton, from Uproar: Antiphonies to Psalms

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in
            the morning. Psalm 30

Before dawn, under a thin moon disappearing
east, the planet Mercury, the messenger
and healer, came up vanishingly
into the blue beyond the garden where
three lilies at the bottom of the yard
arrayed white trumpets on iron stalks
under a slow, slow lightning from the sun.
I stood on a rotten step myself,
and smelled them from a hundred feet away.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


“There are many doors to the spiritual and they don’t all have a big sign over them saying SPIRITUAL.”

~ Shinzen Young, from Working with the Dying


Have Mercy

by Franz Wright, from God’s Silence

at the foot of the universe

I ask

from this body
in confusion

and pain (a condition

which You
may recall)

Clothed now in light
clothed in abyss, at the prow
of the desert
into everywhereness —

have mercy

Mercy on us all

Finding New Ways to Speak

"It is human nature to look at someone like me and assume I have lost some of my marbles. People talk loudly and slowly to me. Sometimes they assume I am deaf. There are people who don't want to make eye contact. It is human nature to look away from illness. We don't enjoy a reminder of our own fragile mortality.

That's why writing on the Internet has become a life-saver for me. My ability to think and write have not been affected. And on the Web, my real voice finds expression. I have also met many other disabled people who communicate this way. One of my Twitter friends can type only with his toes. One of the funniest blogs on the Web is written by a friend of mine named Smartass Cripple. Google him and he will make you laugh.

All of these people are saying, in one way or another, that what you see is not all you get."

~ Robert Ebert, from “Remaking My Voice,” TED Talks, April 2011

To Cultivate Attention

Excerpts from "Buddha Nature: Living in Attention," by Ken McLeod:

"It seems to me that the intention of all these practices is to cultivate attention, either by practicing attention directly or by removing what prevents attention from developing. Once attention is present, appropriate action, skillful means, bodhicitta, everything else flows quite naturally. There is no need for minute dissections of Buddhist ethics or philosophy. The phrase ‘Be there or be square’ acquired a new meaning for me. Very simply, attention reveals buddha nature and enables it to manifest in our lives...

Once I shifted my effort to paying attention to what was arising, doors started to open. I began to see a little more clearly what was going on. I'd had to let go of old ways of looking at things, some that I had learned in the course of my training, others going back much further to family patterns. The patterns became apparent. The function and purpose of the patterns also became apparent...

Bring the attention to what is arising and we know, directly, what needs to be done. This changed not only my own practice but how I tried to teach others. The source of that knowing is buddha nature. And the practice is very simple in principle: strip away whatever prevents it from manifesting.

Read the entire essay...

[Thanks, Kit !]

Silence No One Hears

Poem with No Speaker
by Franz Wright, from Earlier Poems

Are you looking
for me? Ask that crow

across the green wheat.

See those minute air bubbles
rising to the surface

at the still creek's edge—
talk to the crawdad.

of the skinny mosquito

on your wall
stinging its shadow,

this lock
of moon

the hair on your neck.

When the hearts in the cocoon
start to beat,

and the spider begins
its hidden task,

and the seed sends its initial
pale hairlike root to drink,

you'll have to get down on all fours

to learn my new address:
you'll have to place your skull

besides this silence
no one hears.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Uncoupling Negative Emotional Reactions from Behavior

From the abstract of a recent study looking at the impact on meditation practice on the decision-making process:

“Human decision-making is often framed as a competition between cognitive and emotional processes in the brain. Deviations from rational processes are believed to derive from inclusion of emotional factors in decision-making.

Here, we investigate whether a group of experienced Buddhist meditators are better equipped to regulate emotional processes compared with controls during economic decision-making in the Ultimatum Game.

We show that meditators accept unfair offers on more than half of the trials, whereas controls only accept unfair offers on one-quarter of the trials…

In summary, when assessing unfairness, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.”

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See also:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Darkness Flooded in Light

The Avett Brothers

There was a dream
One day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage 
I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I scream till I die 
Or the last of those bad thoughts to find me now

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what's right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it

[Thanks, Dara!]

Poetry Doesn’t Need Music; Lyrics Do

Green Finch and Linnet Bird
by Stephen Sondheim, from Sweeney Todd

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
How can you jubilate,
Sitting in cages,

Never taking wing?
Outside the sky waits,
Beckoning, beckoning,
Just beyond the bars,
How can you remain,
Staring at the rain,
Maddened by the stars?
How is it you sing
How is it you sing?

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
Whence comes this melody
    constantly flowing?
Is it rejoicing or merely halloing?
Are you discussing
Or fussing
Or simply dreaming?
Are you crowing?
Are you screaming?

Ringdove and robinet,
Is it for wages,
Singing to be sold?
Have you decided it's
Safer in cages,
Singing when you're told?

My cage has many rooms,
Damask and dark.
Nothing there sings,
Not even my lark.
Larks never will, you know,
When they're captive.
Teach me to be more adaptive.

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
Teach me how to sing.
If I cannot fly,
Let me sing.

*     *     *     *     *

"Lyrics, even poetic ones, are not poems," states Stephen Sondheim in the introduction to Finishing the Hat, a collection of his lyrics from 1954 to 1981. "Poems are written to be read, silently or aloud, not sung. Some lyrics, awash with florid imagery, present themselves as poetry, but music only underscores (yes) the self-consciousness of the effort…Poetry is an art of concision, lyrics of expansion…Poetry doesn't need music; lyrics do."

"Green Finch and Linnet Bird," sung by the character of Johanna in Sweeney Todd, may not be a poem, but to read it without its haunting, angular melody is to "hear" it slightly differently.

~ From Knopf’s Borzoi Reader Poem-a-Day from today. Visit the site to hear actress Kate Levy reading Sondheim’s lyrics.

Feeling Emotion Conveyed by a Performer

Chopin’s Étude Op. 10 No. 3, Tristesse,
performed by Derek Wang (11 years old).

The Musical Brain

The brain processes musical nuance in many ways, it turns out. Edward W. Large, a music scientist at Florida Atlantic University, scanned the brains of people with and without experience playing music as they listened to two versions of a Chopin étude: one recorded by a pianist, the other stripped down to a literal version of what Chopin wrote, without human-induced variations in timing and dynamics.

During the original performance, brain areas linked to emotion activated much more than with the uninflected version, showing bursts of activity with each deviation in timing or volume.

So did the mirror neuron system, a set of brain regions previously shown to become engaged when a person watches someone doing an activity the observer knows how to do — dancers watching videos of dance, for example. But in Dr. Large’s study, mirror neuron regions flashed even in nonmusicians.

Maybe those regions, which include some language areas, are “tapping into empathy,” he said, “as though you’re feeling an emotion that is being conveyed by a performer on stage,” and the brain is mirroring those emotions.

Regions involved in motor activity, everything from knitting to sprinting, also lighted up with changes in timing and volume.

Anders Friberg, a music scientist at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, found that the speed patterns of people’s natural movements — moving a hand from one place to another on a desk or jogging and slowing to stop — match tempo changes in music that listeners rate as most pleasing.

“We got the best-sounding music from the velocity curve of natural human gestures, compared to other curves of tempos not found in nature,” Dr. Friberg said. “These were quite subtle differences, and listeners were clearly distinguishing between them. And these were not expert listeners.”

Dr. Daniel Levitin’s project found that musicians were more sensitive to changes in volume and timing than nonmusicians. That echoes research by Nina Kraus , a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, which showed that musicians are better at hearing sound against background noise, and that their brains expend less energy detecting emotion in babies’ cries.

Separately, the Levitin team found that children with autism essentially rated each nocturne rendition equally emotional, finding the original no more emotionally expressive than the mechanical version. But in other research, the team found that children with autism could label music as happy, sad or scary, suggesting, Dr. Levitin said, that “their recognition of musical emotions may be intact without necessarily having those emotions evoked, and without them necessarily experiencing those emotions themselves.”

Read the entire article here… 

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See also: