Tuesday, May 3, 2011

10 Take-Aways from Workshop on Neuroscience, Meditation & Health

The other day, I had the pleasure of being able to attend a "Wise Heart and the Mindful Brain" workshop given by Jack Kornfield, a world renowned expert in Buddhist Psychology, and Dan Siegel, an authority on interpersonal neurobiology.

Both speakers were extremely eloquent and knowledgeable about their respective fields and they brought together the fields of neuroscience, psychology, Buddhism and healing in a most profound way.

The above is a brief video from another "Wise Heart and the Mindful Brain" workshop given by Jack and Dan.

I will share with you what I think were the key take-aways from the workshop that Jack and Dan presented.

Dan referred to three of his books during the workshop:

The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician's Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology)  The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

Learnings from Neuroscience:
  • Daily mindfulness meditation is recommended for all of us.
  • Mindfulness meditation leads to structural changes in our brain (neuroplasticity).
  • Mindfulness meditation leads us to have integration of separate parts; this, in turn, leads us to experience greater mental health, better, have a stronger immune system, be more resilient, have more compassion and greater empathy.
  • Mindfulness meditation has the ability to lead us to incredible transformation; as it moves us to health, we are presented with the vast open plane of possibility.
  • Mindfulness meditation practice is something that would also benefit children as well as people with attention deficit disorder; the structural changes that it makes in the brain will improve the ability to focus, improve emotional regulation and even reduce the occurrence of bullying in classrooms.

Below is a short video clip with Dan explaining about our brain's capacity to transform.

 Gems from Buddhist Psychology:
  • Practice of forgiveness and loving kindness: Jack quoted the following line from a poem: "to make injustice the only focus of our attention is to praise the devil" to make the point that we need to acknowledge the joys, the unbearable beauty of life. This is to see our potential, what the world really needs. To not do so, would be to diminish ourselves as human beings.
  • A key component is intention. For the short term, when something happens and you are close to "losing it" with someone, stop for 1-3 breaths and ask yourself: "What is your true intention?" Usually, there is a desire to connect or to love and once you realize this, you will respond differently. You will feel differently and respond in a different tone and voice than if you hadn't stopped and asked yourself this question.
  • For the long term, taking a vow such as "being committed to bringing well-being to everyone in this world" sets the purpose of your life. Taking such a vow helps you have a broader and more compassionate perspective; it helps you not to focus on the results but rather on the work itself.
  • Practicing forgiveness doesn't mean that you condone what has happened in the past. It means that you will not carry the bitterness of the past and carry it on to others. It means you give up all hope for a better past, you take that survival and plant a seed that you plant. It's a process. You keep on practicing (meditating the specific forgiveness meditation) until it brings you loving kindness.
  • Dan Siegel: This [meditation] gives you the capacity to start again, to let go. You can be made anew and whole. This is the result of neuroplasticity. You can change! You're given the opportunity to integrate internal and interpersonal processes to become healthy.
    The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology
    Aside from learning so much during the two day workshop, we also went through several meditations or practices. Click on the links below to see some examples of some of Jack Kornfield's wonderful meditations.

    Meditation on forgiveness
    Meditation on compassion
    Meditation on lovingkindness

    We had done the one on forgiveness and a variation of the compassion and lovingkindness practices. Our compassion version was one in which we did it together with a partner.

    As we were going through the various stages of the compassion version, I was looking into the eyes of a female woman who happened to be sitting next to me at the workshop and she, in turn, was looking into my eyes.

    Listening to Jack leading the meditation, I was experiencing the different emotions or states of mind he was describing: first love for her, then compassion for her suffering, then joy for her during the stage where she was supposed to be full of child-like free joy and then finally, a sense of interconnectedness at a point where she could be anyone, a friend, a parent etc.

    It was at this stage where I all of a sudden saw my partner as my dear friend who is battling cancer (as described in What Do You Do When a Loved One Has Cancer ) and instead of being overcome with fear and worry, I had this peaceful and calm sort of feeling that I would be connected with my dear friend even once he was no longer going to be here.

    It was quite extraordinary...It's almost like it gave me the feeling that one is able to be connected to someone once they pass away and I have no idea how this would be possible or how I got this feeling from this meditation but that is what I was left with and it was immensely comforting.

    My partner had a very different experience. She shared with me how she saw in me such sadness and how she was unable to see in me any joy or lightness of being during the childhood piece of the guided meditation. She went so far as to say that she saw so much sadness that it was unbearable and she had to turn away from my gaze.

    When I heard this, I apologized because my first reaction was to feel guilty and responsible for what my partner had seen/experienced but now upon reflection, I realize that what she experienced was not just as a result of what I was feeling but also as a result of what she was feeling in her own life...

    A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life

    Aside from this practice, there were many others that we engaged in during the workshop and each one left you with different feelings. With some, I think I was simply very tired and my end benefit was that I felt very relaxed and rested. With others, different emotions were stirred. It was such an amazing experience to engage in multiple meditations two days in a row in a theater with over seven hundred people.

    Finally, below are a few good books on the neuroplasticity and mirroring that Dan recommended:

    Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others
    The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books)
    Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves

    Have you ever participated in a workshop that included meditations and if yes, what was the experience like for you? What are your thoughts about meditation? Do the potential benefits of mindful meditation make you want to start engaging in this practice yourself?

    You May Also Enjoy:
    The Power of Meditation [Based upon How Psychotherapy Works with Dan Siegel]
    Jack Kornfield's Dharma Talks


    1. I also attended this workshop and thought it was beautiful! I especially liked that line: "to make injustice the only focus of our attention is to praise the devil." Actually, that is what I googled in order to find the name of this poem, and I happily came across your blog. Do you know who the poet was? I'd love to have the whole poem!

    2. I'm so glad that you also found this workshop beautiful :)

      How funny that it is that line of the poem that connected us...Unfortunately, I didn't manage to catch the name of the poet or poem but perhaps you could try asking Jack this question on his facebook page.

      If I happen to run into the name at a later point, I'll make a point of reaching out to you to let you know :)

      Thanks for visiting!

    3. Dorlee,

      I'm just green with envy that you got to attend that workshop. Those are books that are on my shelf right now! How wonderful. I've done the paired compassion meditation--and it is a powerful experience.

      Meditation is one of the tools that I share with clients regularly. It's such a powerful tool.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!


    4. Ann,

      I hope that things work out so that you get a chance to attend one of their workshops soon :)

      How wonderful that you incorporate meditation with your clients!

      I too had done this with many of my clients during my placement but I had no idea of how just how powerful their effects could be over time until I attended this workshop.


    5. Dorlee,

      I'm so happy you had the chance to attend this amazing workshop and benefit so profoundly. The synopsis that you provide here is so incredibly rich! There is so much to learn and reflect upon in this post alone.

      Meditation has transformed my mind and my life in so many positive ways. I'm especially interested in the connection between meditation and the brain and really appreciate the insights you have shared here.

      I just began refocusing on Loving Kindness for a 10 week period, which is truly an amazing practice. I will probably be writing a bit about it on my blog to.

      You are a wonderful writer. Thank you so much for this rich overview and list of resources.

    6. Sandra,

      It is so exciting to hear how you have already been practicing meditation and have felt the beneficial and transformational effects that it can have on your mind and ultimately its positive ripple effects on your whole life!

      Thanks so much for your very kind feedback and for sharing some of your experiences about meditation :)

      I look forward to reading about your experience of practicing Loving Kindness for a 10 week period on your lovely blog...

    7. Love the notion of practicing till it brings you loving kindness. A well stated article on a terrific topic. Thanks for saying it so well, Dorlee!!

    8. Yes, practicing helps us become not only more mindful but more compassionate toward ourselves and others.

      Jack actually has several specific guided meditations and his loving kindness one is beautiful but then I think they all are...

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and kind feedback, Ellen :)

    9. Hi Dorlee

      This sounds like it was a very, very valuable workshop. Mindfullness and heart-centered living are to me the core foundations of life - or at least a life based on peace and love.

      Everything I have experience in my own life is that when I approach things with mindfulness everything flows, and flows with ease and peace. Where as if we don't apply mindfulness all sorts of chaos can happen in our lives... we may feel like life happens to us, or that we are victims to who "things just happen".

      The benefits are so valuable and I am so thrilled for you that you took the chance to experience this workshop and then share it with others.

      Interesting too, I have never heard of that before --> to never define the mind. Awesome!

    10. Hi Evita,

      Thanks so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts and experiences with mindfulness.

      From what you are sharing, it sounds like you had already understood these concepts and have been living mindfully for some time...

      How beautiful and wonderful that is! That is a true gift not just for yourself but for all those around you :)

      Regarding the mind, you are now reminding me of how Dan shared his working definition of the mind in the workshop...hmm, I'm starting to think I should write a part 2 to this post...

    11. Hi Dorlee;

      This is an excellent and informative post...and it has so many different applications. I wish I had attended this. I guess I have to be more aggressive about finding out when/where these programs are being held.

      One of the things you talked about that really resonated was the piece about true intention. I am going to practice this more consciously...when someone is annoying me or I'm getting frustrated during a conversation, I will try to pause and ask myself: "What is your my intention?" It is a very powerful question.

      Jack Kornfield's book "A Path With Heart" has been on my top twenty list for years. It's a wonderful book.

      I could comment on so many pieces from this post...but I don't think people would want to hear my ramblings.

      Indeed, please write a Part II when you can!


    12. Hi Terry,

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and reactions.

      The true intention question is indeed a powerful one that could really change the way one feels and reacts to a loved one who is pressing a "button" and then ultimately the whole dynamic...

      If/when you have the time, I would love to hear your other thoughts or reactions...your comments are thoughtful gems.

      Yes, I agree - I think you would have really enjoyed this workshop and you would have had an advantage in that you would have come in already familiar with Jack's wonderful teachings.

      For me, most of the wisdom and knowledge shared was totally new and it was a lot to absorb over 2 days...

      I bought both Mindsight and The Wise Heart only after day 1 of the workshop...but now I am looking forward to reading them.

      By the way, I had learned about this event thanks to someone's tweet about it months ago. But perhaps visit the Omega Institute site to see when/if Jack and Dan will come to your neck of the woods to speak.

      Thanks again :)

    13. Wonderful description of the key points that you learned...I am so happy that you had that wonderful compassion experience regarding your friend, too.

      I've heard both Dan Siegal (at EMDR conferences...he's big in EMDR circle) and Jack Kornfield, but never together. That would be amazing! I went through a silent meditation retreat with Jack Kornfield at Omega Institute a while ago--it was a remarkable experience. Some day I would love to do that again--maybe more like a week.

      I've used mindfulness personally and professionally for many years. It's a very powerful tool for life change. Awareness--waking up and getting off automatic pilot--is the first step in any change process. We've been researching mindfulness as an adjunct to alcoholism treatment and are finding it really enhances people's recovery.

      I also think mindfulness is extraordinarily helpful for therapists, both for recognizing their countertransference (and providing the emotional space to respond therapeutically when it's triggered) and for becoming more aware of the therapy process, in general.

    14. How interesting...I had no idea that Dan Siegel is also active in the EMDR circle.

      And how wonderful that you had the opportunity to participate in a silent meditation retreat with Jack Kornfield... I would love to go on one of his retreats one day :)

      Thanks so much for your kind feedback and for sharing these illustrations of how you have used mindfulness both personally and professionally.