Mindfulness and Anxiety

Last week’s discussion was organized around how stressful contemporary life is, compared to the largely agrarian cultures that characterized the earliest centuries of what is now called Buddhism.  The results of culturally induced stress in this consumeristic era were emphasized.  This week’s topic was the prevalence of anxiety (18% of Americans were diagnotically anxious in 2007, the latest data found on the internet while preparing this talk; this was before the economic stress of 2008 and beyond!).  Peter described the Buddhist perspective on anxiety, again related to the first and second noble truths, that is, stress and how craving and clinging bring about stress.  This was followed by quotes from a recent peer reviewed research article, “Neural Correlates Of Mindfulness Meditation-Related Anxiety Relief”, published in 2013, which correlated the difference between “state” and “trait” anxiety and the neurological processes that occur.

Suggestions were offered regarding how the regular practice of mindfulness of breathing meditation can reduce the frequency, intensity and duration of anxiety.  Peter also described the varieties of clinical anxiety, which are reviewed in this document:  ANXIETY FROM A BUDDHIST PERSPECTIVE

Next week’s discussion will focus on depression from a Buddhist perspective.

Why We Should Meditate

During this talk, the development of meditation as an evolutionary process was reviewed.  The first images of a person in a meditative position dates from about 5,000 years ago.  The initial motivation likely was to find a way to appease the forces of nature, typically a god, to promote good fortune.  The Buddha radically transformed this conceptual process towards personal responsibility rather than appeasement through the emphasis on ethical guidelines for relief from the stresses of life.  In the current era, scientific empiricism has replaced the gods–not necessarily in an atheistic way, but to place responsibility for salvation in the hands of individuals, and, by extension, the dynamics of cultural values.  Meditation practices foster the ability to be responsive in ethical ways to modern consumer culture. This talk prompted discussion about the personal implications of committing to regular meditation practice.

Next week the discussion will explore what modern research reveals about how the brain operates and how regular meditation practice changes the structure of the brain in ways that support a more personally, socially and ecologically responsible world citizen.

Benevolent Effort

This dialogue initiates several discussions of the practice of Right Effort on the Eightfold Path.  During this talk, Peter described the classical rendering of the Four Noble Efforts, placed into the context of 21st century neuroscience.  He quoted the statements of Dr. Dan Siegal, who describes the importance of integrating different neural pathways-emotional, cognitive and behavioral-in the process of transforming “energy into information”.  Peter then described the characteristics of the five hindrances of classical Buddhist teachings in the context of neural “dys-integration” as a way to understand the nature of suffering.  Next week’s planned dialogue focuses on revisiting the Buddhist precepts with contemporary terms such as “commitment”.