Monday, July 26, 2010

Perceiving double

About a week ago I changed up my morning routine. Instead of rushing around the kitchen and then clicking around on the internet for a bit, I began sitting in my bed for 15 minutes to follow my breath and/or listen to myself saying a mantra.

After doing this, I can immediately perceive the changes in my consciousness. I don't end up losing any time, because I get ready for the day in a more mindful manner. I have an easier time concentrating at work, since concentrating on something interesting becomes easy compared with the obscure task of following the breath. Most importantly, I start to notice things. For example, I notice that a church the shuttle bus passes every day has an arch composed of superbly detailed angelic creatures. I begin to not only listen to every word people are saying, but how they are saying it. I start to notice what thoughts are creeping into my head.

In case you don't believe me, there's an amazing study I just discovered from the University of Wisconsin. It was published in 2004, and, according to Google, has been cited 307 times since then.

What the Wisconsin researchers did is measure brain activity, through an electroencephalogram (EEG), of two groups: Buddhist monks, who have logged tens of thousands of meditation hours over their life, and a group of college kids who spent a a week learning to meditate. They tested both normal, relaxed mental states and states of active meditation. They then compared something called gamma synchrony, which is "thought to reflect large-scale neural coordination."

What they found is astounding. The monks had levels of gamma synchrony which is "the highest reported in the literature in a nonpathological context." During meditation, the level of gamma synchrony in monks was over twice that of the control group. Even while, relaxed, the monks had consistently higher values of gamma synchrony.

What this means is that "the endogenous gamma-band synchrony found here could reflect a change in the quality of moment-to-moment awareness." In other words, meditation actually allows you to perceive the world more fully, to really see everything that is there.

It's like the difference between a flip-book with ten frames per second and a movie shown at 24-fps. I was blown away by this research.

The article is Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice by Lutz, et al.

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