Is Meditation a Fountain of Youth?

Cellular DNA methylome in serum was analyzed to estimate Intrinsic Epigenetic Age Acceleration. Middle-aged controls showed more advanced biologic aging than meditators. Those who meditated the most number of years showed the least aging.

Chaix, R. et.al. (2017) Epigenetic clock analysis in long-term meditators. Psychoneuroimmunology 31:85, 210 -214.

Thank you for your contribution to science.

Corroborating years of research on the epigenetics of meditators, this study also found meditation to be associated with health and longevity at the genetic level. To date, there is little research defining the explanatory mechanisms enabling meditation to influence genetics. Research is needed that measures changes in meditators’ genetic markers and their relation to chronic illnesses and longevity.

 

Koan Seventeen

Meditation for Happiness, Health, and Self-knowing: Now  (Amazon Kindle) has an addendum loaded with koans. Solutions to these conundrums will be posted on this blog.

If you have not yet read it or thought of a solution, do so prior to reading each solution. The following is an acceptable solution to the seventeenth koan.

Roshi:  (Lifting a sack of pine cones, he closed his eyes, reached inside and held one in his hand.  Then he opened his eyes and studied it with full attention while rotating it.  Then he tossed it on the floor.  He did this until the sack was empty.  He held it open so the monk could see it to be empty.)

Monk:  The sack is the mind and each pine cone is a thought about self, e.g. identification, conflict, judgment, belief, attachment.  Your eyes being closed when grasping each indicates each was not selected but automatically appeared on the surface.  Your eyes being open while holding each shows that it is viewed until completely comprehended.  Casting each aside shows that thoughts which are understood are no longer carried.  This leaves a mind that is empty of ego and free to see things as they are.

The roshi replied by casting aside the empty sack. This shows that the tendency of ego to hijack the mind into serving as a fortress for ego has been relinquished. Then there is “no mind” – as a tool of the ego. What remains is free awareness.

Alcohol addiction and meditation

At the end of the program, 26 weeks after inception, 72% of alcoholics continued to practice meditation and reported that it helped them to attenuate addictive tendencies.

Zgierska, A. et. al. (2017) Maintaining treatment fidelity of mindfulness-based relapse prevention for alcohol dependence. Evidence-based Complementary Alternative Medicine {E pub}

Thank you for your contribution to science.

Decades ago, some of  the non-empiric (theoretical) literature viewed meditation as another addictive escape from learning to live more effectively. Thus, it was conceptualized as the “opium of the people.” However, the empiric scientific literature has quite consistently shown that meditation curtails substance addictions. Meditation is a way of understanding the self and being free from habits, delusions, beliefs, and dependency.

 

 

 

Koan Sixteen

Meditation for Happiness, Health, and Self-knowing: Now  (Amazon Kindle) has an addendum loaded with koans. Solutions to these conundrums will be posted on this blog.

If you have not yet read it or thought of a solution, do so prior to reading each solution. The following is an acceptable solution to the sixteenth koan.

Roshi:  (He pointed to a leaf in his hand, relaxed the hand and they watched the leaf float to the ground.)

This koan, an obvious oxymoron, asks how something may be done using a certain approach or method. A more fundamental question is whether other approaches are more likely to be effective.

This is answered by the Roshi’s gesture. Before using the ego, with its primitive reflexes of fixation, separation, and attachment; consider approaching a task without egocentricity. This applies to learning, scientific experimentation, relationships, art (performance and appreciation), problem solving, house cleaning, construction, etc.

The most important application, however, is studying the self and discovering its essential nature. Only those who have discovered this may enter into sane relationships that are free of destructive games. This applies to relationships with individuals, career, families, nations, and the biosphere.

 

 

 

Aphasia and Meditation: Say What You Think or Say That You Can’t

After psuedo-random assignment to “mind-wandering” or meditation groups, aphasia victims were provided with 5 days of group instruction. Immediately following the practice of meditation, fluency improved. Yet, this was not maintained at one week followup. There were no changes in attention or physiology for either group.

Marshall, R. et. al. (2017) Brief mindfulness meditation group training in aphasia International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders (Epub)

Thank you for your contribution to science.

Aphasias are language disorders. The 2 kinds are expressive (fluency) and receptive (comprehension). Etiologies include drug abuse (e.g., alcohol), cerebral vascular accident (stroke), CNS neoplasm or infection, dementia, and head trauma.

Meditation is a state of being free from the constraints of language. Using language to engage in deliberate thought is specifically prohibited. Upon letting go of language-filtered perception and information processing, the mind rests in the clarity of effortless awareness itself. How, then, could a non-linguistic practice influence expressive or receptive language skills?

Like other cognitive functions, language skills are regulated by the brain. Research has shown that meditation spurs neuroplasticity (e.g., increase in both grey and white matter) and improves both linguistic and non-linguistic cognitive functioning. It also improves scores on standardized scholastic tests, which are heavily weighted with verbal skills assessment. Furthermore, it improves psychometric measures of attention – the core processing alacrity that is the basis of each cognitive function. And nearly all studies have shown that meditation significantly influences physiology.

The results of the above experiment are inconsistent with the stream of published research. The probable reasons for this are that the dose (amount of instruction and practice) of meditation was negligible and the total number of subjects was tiny.

However, this is the first study I have encountered on aphasia victims. Further study of this population is warranted using more sophisticated methodologic rigor. Administering a battery of aphasia tests at the beginning, end, and followup would be an improvement. A statistically adequate number of subjects is required.  An amount of meditation instruction and practice comparable to that used in other research on meditation is also necessary. Also, to enable meditative skills to permeate daily functioning, 3 stages of instruction are to be provided: (a) accessing a meditative state while resting in quiet circumstances, (b) maintaining the meditative state while using primitive linguistic functions, (c) maintaining the meditative state while reading, listening, and conversing.

 

Koan Fifteen

 

Meditation for Happiness, Health, and Self-knowing: Now  (Amazon Kindle) has an addendum loaded with koans. Solutions to these conundrums will be posted on this blog.

If you have not yet read it or thought of a solution, do so prior to reading each solution. The following is an acceptable solution to the fifteenth koan.

Roshi: Nothing.  Into this bowl place some beginning, self, darkness, cold, ignorance, depression, and slowness.  Into the other bowl place some, ending, non-self, light, heat, wisdom, bliss, and speed.

Things appear to be unique. By using an  electron microscope and other measuring instruments one may see that no two things are exactly alike. The perception that each thing has a unique quality that is independent from all other things is an illusion.

We can verify this by analyzing, testing, and dissecting each thing into its components. What remains when each constituent is identified? Nothing. Each thing is empty of a unique intrinsic identity that holds together and organizes the pieces.

And science has demonstrated that all phenomena are interdependent. When 2 or more people are interacting, the feelings of one affect the feelings of others. This concept is referred to as the fluttering butterfly being one of the contributing causes to a hurricane thousands of kilometers away. In physics, it is referred to as action at a distance.

Instead of focusing on appearances, the roshi is referring to essence. That essence is more than existence. Being is empty of a unique organizing identity and it is interdependent.

Though the temperature today and yesterday was 73 F, to one individual it felt warmer and to another it felt colder.  When various witnesses to an accident convey their understanding to the jury, their perceptions often vary significantly. When hearing the teachings of religion H and religion Q, one individual may label one as good and the other as bad. These examples show that our conditioning/subjective states influence our perception of things.

Because things are not essentially unique and independent, they all have the properties of emptiness of uniqueness and independence. Being of one is the same as the being of another. The being of the many is the same as the being of one.

Do humans have the above characteristics of things? Indeed. That implies that the sense of self, to which each of us cling firmly, is valid in the world of appearances. Yet, it indicates that there is no essential identity that may be found within the mind/body/personality/personal memories. Think of the implications of this. What affect does it have on your meditation practice and relationships?

Hundreds of books have been written about this for over 20 centuries. These may help you to sort it out.

Chronic Low Back Pain and Cortisol

Patients were assigned to a meditation group or a wait-list control group. At the end of the program and at 5 month follow-up, only those in the meditation group, on average, had significantly less pain, improved quality of life score, and increased evening salivary cortisol levels.

The latter is noteworthy because those with chronic LBP have abnormally low cortisol levels. This indicates malfunction of the adrenal cortex, hypothalamus, or pituitary gland. In response to acute stress, cortisol increases. After many months of ongoing stress, the adrenals “burn out” and become exhausted, decreasing their cortisol output.

Chronic pain is  stressful. However, masochists may disagree!

This study suggests that meditation may be somewhat effective  for restoring glandular functioning in those who have hypocortisolism due to stress. It is important to rule out secondary causes e.g., infection, autoimmune disorders, cancer, or Addison’s disease. If these are not present, meditation is most likely to provide relief. As cortisol levels are normalized, symptoms of fatigue, weakness, decreased activity, loss of appetite, muscle atrophy, nausea, hair loss, lightheadedness, and depression usually decrease as stress-coping resilience increases.

Ardito, R. et. al. (2017) Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program on Chronic Low Back Pain Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine May 24, (Epub)

Thank you for your contribution to science.

 

Koan Fourteen

Meditation for Happiness, Health, and Self-knowing: Now  (Amazon Kindle) has an addendum loaded with koans. Solutions to these conundrums will be posted on this blog.

If you have not yet read it or thought of a solution, do so prior to reading each solution. The following is an acceptable solution to the fourteenth koan.

Thought about self.  Descarte declared, “cogito ergo sum”.  Self thought creates and magnifies ego.  (During impersonal and objective cognition, e.g., mathematics, egoism is not fortified. Afterward, if one feels proud of their mentation prowess and superior to others, that magnifies egocentricity.)

Does this prohibit self-knowledge? No. When the ego is understood, one ceases to use experience to find the self. Then one may attend to the world with greater clarity.

In the unawakened mind, ego is the default mode of orientation. This mode dominates both meditation and activity, though it is easier to be aware of it during the former. This is why it seems that ego becomes more vigorous during meditation.

Ego is understood by watching it in action. Understanding includes awareness of its reactions to events, without being enslaved by these reaction tendencies. As one awakens, these reactions subside. Even after decades of practice these reactions continue to ripple the calm waters of the core of the mind – distorting perception. Letting go of these reactions, without pushing back, is a learnable skill. When reacting ceases, the genuine self operates.

The genuine self is not a paradigm, belief, collection of recollections, name, label, or number. It is life itself that is universal and animates all forms of life.

Meditation is No Match for ADHD

Studies to date are plagued with bias and pallid methodologic rigor. Thus, the efficacy of meditation for ADHD has not yet been proven.

Evans, S. et. al. (2017) Systematic review of meditation-based interventions for children with ADHD. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Epub)

Thank you for your contribution to science.

Note that meditation and apparently-similar practices were studied. Some of these may be effective.

Proven treatments for ADHD include medication and EEG neurofeedback. Each increases activation and alertness of the central nervous system. This essential signature feature of meditation is usually not emphasized in “meditation” instruction. Most people who learn meditation do not have their EEG monitored. Thus, it is unknown whether whatever they are practicing is generating CNS activation that replaces pathologic slow-wave abnormalities during waking activities.

Electroencephalographic neurofeedback measures EEG before, during, and at the conclusion of treatment. The goal is to show clients how to normalize abnormal patterns in their waking EEG that accompany dysattention. This is first done while receiving EEG feedback. Later, clients learn how to feel EEG abnormalities and correct them – in the absence of EEG biofeedback.

 

Koan Thirteen

Meditation for Happiness, Health, and Self-knowing: Now  (Amazon Kindle) has an addendum loaded with koans. Solutions to these conundrums will be posted on this blog.

If you have not yet read it or thought of a solution, do so prior to reading each solution. The following is an acceptable solution to the thirteenth koan.

Roshi:  Picks up a paper cup full of water, pours the water into the koi pond, shows the monk the empty cup, and then tosses it in the recycling bin.

Water remains in the pool of pan-human egotism even after the container has been recycled. Water symbolizes commonly-shared paradigms, fears, desires, and beliefs that the ego-forming energy uses to feel like a being separate from all others. The cup is the attachment to ego perpetuation. After the cup has been recycled, one ceases to cling to the paradigms. Then one may continue to view the pool of paradigms without the mind being infected with them.

There is no ego hardware. Though there are many genetic and central nervous system mechanisms that are self-protective, these are not intrinsically egotistical. The ego-forming energy identifies with the paradigms, imprisoning the individual. This impairs cognitive functioning and impedes happiness.