Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Self-administered brain growth
Well, I watched the BBC 2 programme last night on meditation, half-expecting the same result as when I, myself, meditate, falling asleep just when I think I am getting somewhere – or, actually, nowhere, that being the point of it! I’m glad I didn’t, not because Kathy Sykes, Professor of perspiring femininity and Doctor of divine dewy-lipped deportment (usually, jogging in tight vest and shorts) was at her most artfully wide-eyed, but because the last quarter of an hour raised something intriguing for this reader of popularised scientific research.
It was this. Meditation, in its various forms such as focus on breathing, focus on a small object, cognitive deep relaxation or transcendentalism, results in brain growth! Measurable. Significant. If we accept without demur all the strong, anecdotal evidence that it makes us more loving, compassionate and peaceable as well as curing physical ailments and move on – then, let us look at this one extraordinary fact. When a person meditates s/he changes the structure of her/his brain. The physical neural matter. Jugglers, for example, concentrating on learning how to fling their balls, beanbags and batons, show marked change after only three months.
Maybe, Reader, you are wondering at my effusive incredulity? Or you may be one step ahead!
This is my frisson, my philosophical flight of fancy: if, by meditating, I change my brain, is this ‘I’ who does this, part of my brain at the same time, bootstrapping itself to a higher order of neural processing? Is the brain a self-evolving entity that boots up to better things by deciding to adopt a state of deep quiescence? As we manage to contain and dissolve our atavistic, emotional chaos, bung full of anxiety, pain, jealousy and other forms of stress by shifting it all from right brain focus to left brain focus (another hypothesis in the programme) , who, exactly is the ‘we’, doing this? Is it something beyond the neuro-elastic brain, residing as a diffuse self throughout the molecules of our bodies? Is it a soul?
If the conundrum doesn’t bother you, fair enough. At least be practical and meditate for half an hour each day. Life will be rosier for you and people will love you for it. It’s not difficult. Sit comfortably. Look down your nose into the middle distance and concentrate on feeling and hearing your breath go in and out to the exclusion of all else.
See! Told you!