How Mindfulness Meditation Benefits The Brain

This talk and discussion continues exploring last week’s review of what research is revealing about what happens in the brain to manifest consciousness and a sense of self.  The focus of the current night was on what happens in the brain when Buddhist mindfulness of breathing training is applied to strengthen the neurological functions to manage self-awareness and self-regulation, fostering the process of awakening from greed, aversion and ignorance.

The intention of the explanation is to increase understanding that there are two processes that mindfulness effectively cultivates: a “top-down” function that becomes aware of distorted and dysfunctional self-talk and substitutes more adaptive and functional internal narratives (equivalent to modern cognitive psychotherapy), and a “bottom-up” function that focuses on the feeling tone generated by the emotional and motivational structures of the limbic brain system, disregarding any self-talk, to just experience “feeling as feeling” to decrease impulsive reactivity, as described in the second foundation of mindfulness.  This second function is more in line with traditional Buddhist teachings on the path to awakening.

This was followed by discussion among those present for clarification and sharing of how this applies to lived experience.

Weekend Meditation Retreat Day 1

This recording was made during the first night of the weekend retreat at the Franciscan Center, a delightful retreat facility on the Hillsborough River in Tampa, Florida, from December 5th to the 7th.  This recording is extraordinarily long, almost 95 minutes.  The first part is Peter’s introduction to the practice of anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing.  Included in the talk is a description of the “three refuges”: “I take refuge in the Buddha…I take refuge in the Dhamma…I take refuge in the Sangha.”  Peter described the Buddha as the reality of awakening, not with an emphasis on nirvana, but on the release each person can experience from the burdens of craving and clinging.  The Dhamma was described as the principles and practices described in the Buddhist tradition that foster awakening, from the perspective of what is called “Secular Buddhism”, that is, the Westernized approach that is relatively free from traditional rites and rituals, and draws on scientific research that validates the important insights of mindfulness meditation practices.  The Sangha was presented as the community of “truth seekers” who gather for the practices leading to awakening.

The last 45 minutes of the recording involves a guided mindfulness of breathing meditation session that provides useful periodic comments to foster “noticing distractions, disregarding them and returning to the practice of aiming and sustaining attention to the in- and out-breath”.

This posting is accompanied by a recording from December 6, during which Peter described the different levels of intimate breath awareness that can be acquired with diligent attention to the in- and out-breath.

The Third Noble Truth on Retreat

This talk advances a developing theme for this year: How to cultivate a dhamma practice that is relevant to the core of the Buddha’s teachings that is adaptive to our 21st century culture.  As Buddhism has evolved through the ages, each time it enters a culture, the terms and concepts have been affected by the culture it enters.  For example, the changes induced as Buddhist teachings entered China, influenced by Confucianism and Taoism, becoming Chan, then being further modified into Zen in the Korean and Japanese cultures.  We have an obligation to the liberating values of Buddhist principles and practices in mastering what has been given to us, then adapting it to our times, without losing the precious core of the teachings.

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