The animated default network

Some days I think I must live in the golden age of teaching, because I am spoiled for choice in most of my demonstrations. Pop over to YouTube, enter a few search terms, and find an incredible assortment of possible videos to show, many of which have surprisingly high production values. My most recent find…

Obstacles to meditation in the college classroom

Imagine, if you will, this scene: just under two dozen first-year college students have, somehow, dragged themselves out of bed at the near-crack of dawn, eschewed changing out of nightclothes in favor of shoving bare feet into flip flops or possible Uggs, and slouched into a third-story classroom. They rest their heads on their tables…

Meditation may not be for epileptics

In epilepsy, a seizure begins with just a few neurons that – for reasons that still elude medical professionals –  get overstimulated. That excess stimulation then gets passed through the synapses to other neurons, which become overstimulated in turn, and the spread of that intense chaotic activity produces the behavioral features of a seizure. These…

Meditate to increase your gray matter

Most of my previous explorations of how meditation changes the brain have been based on what’s called functional MRI, which look at the activity in the brain in a given scenario: how meditators’ brain activity when they’re resting is different from non-meditators, or how deciding to be altruistic is correlated with more activity in regions like…

Meditation alters your brain’s default settings

One of the more recent discoveries of neuroscience is that when you stare into space, gather wool, daydream, or otherwise let your mind wander, the “default-mode network” of your brain starts to rev up into high gear. This network has quite naturally captured the fancy of meditation researchers: meditation is a practice of being mindfully present,…

Keeping Past and Future at a Distance

One day a few years ago I asked my students to meditate with their hands on the desk in front of them. They were to designate one hand to represent the past, and the other hand to represent the future. Whenever they noticed their attention had drifted away from their breath, they would note whether…

In meditation, does 3 x 5 = 15?

A few years of following contemplative science research has given me a feel for many of the benefits of meditation, some of which I anticipated (improvements in attention and changes in the emotional processing) and some of which would never have occurred to me (light hallucinations and improvements in balance). Once we’ve settled on a benefit, the…

One Meditation Session to Let the Past Go

Here’s a conundrum I’ve encountered on quite a few trips to nice restaurants: I anticipate a delicious meal, followed by some wonderful chocolate-and-ice-cream concoction I could never possibly make at home. The meal is in fact delicious, so much so that I eat quite a bit of it. My dessert arrives, and is also delicious…but…

Let There Be Meditating Light

What do you see when you meditate? Is it the back of your eyelids, a boring spot on the floor just a few feet in front of you? Or is it perhaps something more startling, like little pinpricks of light, or a sense that the world is glowing? If you have seen those lights, don’t…