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Thread: Attention regulatation

  1. #1

    Attention regulatation

    Here's an interesting article on a study into meditation
    http://brainimaging.waisman.wisc.edu/~l ... s_2008.pdf

    My clutch cable just became a perfectly snapped cable today and the blackthorn in blossom on the way back from the garage was perfectly blossoming. My bank account is also perfectly empty :lol:

    Kev

  2. #2

    Re: Attention regulatation

    Looks very interesting, I'll have to save that for later.

  3. #3

    Re: Attention regulatation

    Totally cool, Kev!

    I liked how the author differentiates samatha vs. vipassana (I suppose shikantaza would be in this category). It seems interesting that both forms of meditation improved people's concentration but They are also interested in metta meditation and suggests its different from both samatha and vipassana but say there's not enough research on this. I could swear I read something recently about the frontal lobe and metta meditation in a group of experienced vs. novice monks. Does this ring a bell with anyone? I'll try googling it later but I need to get my butt on the zafu here. :mrgreen:

    Also interesting from the article was that both groups did well in tasks that required sustained attention. However, the vipassana group performed much better in these tasks when the stimulus was unexpected. I guess that means they can focus attention easily on something new. I'm not sure how this relates to shikantaza where we're really not supposed to focus on anything individually. Another interesting part of the article was that vipassana people had a better ability in conflict resolution.

  4. #4

    Re: Attention regulatation

    interesting. thanks Kev.

    G,W

  5. #5

    Re: Attention regulatation

    Hello Fellow Research Guinea Pigs,

    It took me a couple of days to read this article, so I am just responding now. You know, I once read a similar report by neurological researchers on the act of swallowing a drink of water. I could not make head or tails of half the lingo in that either, and all the graphs reporting which sectors of the medulla oblongata are involved, but I sure know how to drink water!

    Swallowing movements are produced by a central pattern generator located in the medulla oblongata. ... This review focuses on the brain stem mechanisms underlying the generation of sequential and rhythmic swallowing movements. It analyzes the neuronal circuitry, the cellular properties of neurons, and the neurotransmitters possibly involved, as well as the peripheral and central inputs which shape the output of the network appropriately so that the swallowing movements correspond to the bolus to be swallowed. The mechanisms possibly involved in pattern generation and the possible flexibility of the swallowing central pattern generator are discussed.

    http://physrev.physiology.org/cgi/content/full/81/2/929
    All that for drinking a sip of water on a hot day! Anyway, you get the point.

    As best as I can figure the article, "Just Sitting" Shikantaza would be primarily a practice of "open monitoring" (OM) meditation, as we are focused on "everything and nothing" without judgment. However, there are also aspects of "focused attention" (FA) to our practice, as when beginners "focus on the breath" for a few weeks or months to settle the mind (the article does say, in the first sentence of the box on p.2, that OM usually begins with FA for a time to calm the mind and reduce distractions), or when we do Samu work practice, or tea drinking, as the one and only action in the whole universe in that moment.

    I am a big supporter of this research on Zazen and the Brain (I have had the pleasure to meet Richard Davidson, one of the researchers from Wisconsin, and I have tried to raise some funds to support the research), and I think that it will lead to a better and better understanding of what we are doing in crossing the legs and straightening the back, facing the wall.

    However, I did want to comment on something that Tracy wrote ...

    I liked how the author differentiates samatha vs. vipassana (I suppose shikantaza would be in this category). It seems interesting that both forms of meditation improved people's concentration but They are also interested in metta meditation and suggests its different from both samatha and vipassana but say there's not enough research on this. ...

    Also interesting from the article was that both groups did well in tasks that required sustained attention. However, the vipassana group performed much better in these tasks when the stimulus was unexpected. I guess that means they can focus attention easily on something new. I'm not sure how this relates to shikantaza where we're really not supposed to focus on anything individually. Another interesting part of the article was that vipassana people had a better ability in conflict resolution.
    I do not think that the terms "samatha" and "vipassana" correspond one-to-one with the "FA" and "OM" in the article. Also, I do not think that Shikantaza is vipassana alone. "Just Sitting" is samatha, vipassana and (I hope) even some good 'ol metta meditation!

    First off, let me define some terms: What I believe the good doctors are describing in the article as "FA" would be, for example, meditators who sit focused on a mental image of a Buddha or Bodhisattva in their mind, or a Mandala, or on a Mantra like "OM" (not to be confused with "OM" as used in the article!), or on a phrase from a Koan such as "MU!". As I said, the "open awareness" of "Just Sitting" is, I think, on the "open monitoring" side ... we are focused on the whole universe and nothing at all, without judgment.

    That is not the same as "samatha" and "vipassana".

    Traditionally, forms of Zazen in Buddhism have been divided into those meant to cultivate "samatha" and those to cultivate "vipassana". Now, "samatha" is sometimes translated as "concentration", but it can also be rendered as "calm" or "being present". Vipassana is "insight" (into such matters as how thoughts and emotions arise, impermanence, the nature of "self", the nature of reality ... all those Buddhist ways of seeing). Most teachers of Shikantaza would say that "Just Sitting" allows both "samatha" and "vipassana" to naturally arise. Usually, shamata comes first, for if there is no calm, there will be no insight. The calm of the "calm monkey" (see yesterday's discussion) allows the monkey to realize many many things about the nature of monkey mind, cages and the bars that seem to confine.

    We also believe that Compassion naturally arises from "Just Sitting", especially when guided and molded by the Precepts, so that it is even a practice of "Metta" ("loving-kindness"). (I do, however, also like to add to our Soto Practice some "Metta Chanting").

    I hope that is helpful.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6

    Re: Attention regulatation

    Yes, that's helpful. Thanks, Jundo.

    I was equating concentrated attention practices (what the researchers termed FA) just as you were...chanting, mendalas, etc. So where you're saying I'm wrong is by restricting the definition of samatha to a type of practice as opposed to a state achieved in practice. Samatha = calmness/concentration/in the present. Vipassana = insight. Yes, it makes sense that Shikantaza be comprised of both.

    Regarding metta, I found the article (below). It would be interesting to observe the differences in people practicing Shikantaza vs. a specific metta practice. They could be the same. Just like what you said, I'm sure that once you are better at feeling reality, you can sustain a better state of equanimity. Then metta comes more naturally. I need all the help I can get so I do it all! ops:

    Science News
    Compassion Meditation Changes The Brain

    ScienceDaily (Mar. 27, 2008) Can we train ourselves to be compassionate? A new study suggests the answer is yes. Cultivating compassion and kindness through meditation affects brain regions that can make a person more empathetic to other peoples' mental states, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    This study was the first to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to indicate that positive emotions such as loving-kindness and compassion can be learned in the same way as playing a musical instrument or being proficient in a sport. The scans revealed that brain circuits used to detect emotions and feelings were dramatically changed in subjects who had extensive experience practicing compassion meditation.

    The research suggests that individuals - from children who may engage in bullying to people prone to recurring depression - and society in general could benefit from such meditative practices, says study director Richard Davidson, professor of psychiatry and psychology at UW-Madison and an expert on imaging the effects of meditation. Davidson and UW-Madison associate scientist Antoine Lutz were co-principal investigators on the project.

    The study was part of the researchers' ongoing investigations with a group of Tibetan monks and lay practitioners who have practiced meditation for a minimum of 10,000 hours. In this case, Lutz and Davidson worked with 16 monks who have cultivated compassion meditation practices. Sixteen age-matched controls with no previous training were taught the fundamentals of compassion meditation two weeks before the brain scanning took place.

    "Many contemplative traditions speak of loving-kindness as the wish for happiness for others and of compassion as the wish to relieve others' suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion are central to the Dalai Lama's philosophy and mission," says Davidson, who has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. "We wanted to see how this voluntary generation of compassion affects the brain systems involved in empathy."

    Various techniques are used in compassion meditation, and the training can take years of practice. The controls in this study were asked first to concentrate on loved ones, wishing them well-being and freedom from suffering. After some training, they then were asked to generate such feelings toward all beings without thinking specifically about anyone.

    Each of the 32 subjects was placed in the fMRI scanner at the UW-Madison Waisman Center for Brain Imaging, which Davidson directs, and was asked to either begin compassion meditation or refrain from it. During each state, subjects were exposed to negative and positive human vocalizations designed to evoke empathic responses as well as neutral vocalizations: sounds of a distressed woman, a baby laughing and background restaurant noise.

    "We used audio instead of visual challenges so that meditators could keep their eyes slightly open but not focused on any visual stimulus, as is typical of this practice," explains Lutz.

    The scans revealed significant activity in the insula - a region near the frontal portion of the brain that plays a key role in bodily representations of emotion - when the long-term meditators were generating compassion and were exposed to emotional vocalizations. The strength of insula activation was also associated with the intensity of the meditation as assessed by the participants.

    "The insula is extremely important in detecting emotions in general and specifically in mapping bodily responses to emotion - such as heart rate and blood pressure - and making that information available to other parts of the brain," says Davidson, also co-director of the HealthEmotions Research Institute.

    Activity also increased in the temporal parietal juncture, particularly the right hemisphere. Studies have implicated this area as important in processing empathy, especially in perceiving the mental and emotional state of others.

    "Both of these areas have been linked to emotion sharing and empathy," Davidson says. "The combination of these two effects, which was much more noticeable in the expert meditators as opposed to the novices, was very powerful."

    The findings support Davidson and Lutz's working assumption that through training, people can develop skills that promote happiness and compassion. "People are not just stuck at their respective set points," he says. "We can take advantage of our brain's plasticity and train it to enhance these qualities."

    The capacity to cultivate compassion, which involves regulating thoughts and emotions, may also be useful for preventing depression in people who are susceptible to it, Lutz adds.

    "Thinking about other people's suffering and not just your own helps to put everything in perspective," he says, adding that learning compassion for oneself is a critical first step in compassion meditation.

    The researchers are interested in teaching compassion meditation to youngsters, particularly as they approach adolescence, as a way to prevent bullying, aggression and violence. "I think this can be one of the tools we use to teach emotional regulation to kids who are at an age where they're vulnerable to going seriously off track," Davidson says.

    Compassion meditation can be beneficial in promoting more harmonious relationships of all kinds, Davidson adds. "The world certainly could use a little more kindness and compassion," he says. "Starting at a local level, the consequences of changing in this way can be directly experienced."

    Lutz and Davidson hope to conduct additional studies to evaluate brain changes that may occur in individuals who cultivate positive emotions through the practice of loving-kindness and compassion over time.

    This research was published March 26 in the Public Library of Science One.

    Adapted from materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 204236.htm

  7. #7

    Re: Attention regulatation

    Tracy

    I'm sure that once you are better at feeling reality, you can sustain a better state of equanimity. Then metta comes more naturally. I need all the help I can get so I do it all!
    I'm sure. Maybe. Possibly...ummm perhaps. :cry:

    You sound pretty busy there Trace


    G,W

  8. #8

    Re: Attention regulatation

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    You sound pretty busy there Trace G,W
    Mettamettamettamettamettamettamettametta :mrgreen:

  9. #9

    Re: Attention regulatation

    :lol:

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