Because Zen makes sense

Archive for the category “mindfulness”

Mindfulness and the Brain

A podcast from Oxford University. Professor Mark Williams and Danny Penman



Mindfulness, arousel, adrenaline and diuresis

HPA_Axis_Diagram_(Brian_M_Sweis_2012)Last night I got an upsetting message (sms). But I did not feel upset when I read it. I just noticed it and started thinking about it. Although there was no need to answer it, I must admit that I had the message in mind for quite a long time. But I did not feel upset, anxious or restless, as far as I manage to know myself. I had gone to bed for the night, and sort of reflected upon the message.

The something strange happened. For the next three hours I had to visit the toilet six or seven times to urinate. And it was not something like a nervous bladder. I produced impressive amounts of urine, and although I had eaten cabbage and consumed coffein earlier, that could not fully explain what was happening.

The only explanation seems to be that I was indeed stressed in some way. When my adrenaline levels goes up, so does the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), meaning that the re-absorption of water in my kidneys went down. That is a common effect of a rise in adrenlin, and also a common effect of stress. We all have experienced that, and while it is often attributed to a nervous bladder, the explanation above is always a part of it.

The interesting part of this is that while my trained brain, through meditation, handled this rationally, my visceral body acted emotionally. What we know is that the anterior cingulate cortex (dealing with arousal) actually fire in the same way when we experience something unpleasant and surprising whether we meditate or not. But while most people keep that level for a prolonged time, the activity in the cingulate cortex drops to a more basic level quite fast among meditators. At the same time the activity in the amygdala (one of the places where negative feelings arise), also drops, while the activity in the prefrontal cortex (our rational mind) increase. Those effects are among the most common effects of what we call “mindfulness”.

How ist it then, that I have had an elevated level of adrenaline, if my amygdala fires less? An important structure involved in a stress-reponse is the para-ventral nucleus (with projections ending in the piutary gland, secreting adrenaline). The PNV is influenced not only through tha amygdala (my highlightning):

If the PVN plays such an important role in the modulation of the stress response, how is this accomplished? The exact answer to this question is not known, but the afferent and efferent connections to the PVN provide some clues. The PVN receives an important input from the amygdala. The amygdala receives multimodal input from all sensory modalities; therefore the PVN receives indirect sensory input. Stress signals can also activate the PVN via the lateral hypothalamus, which receives input from secondary (higher) sensory cortical areas, and via inputs from the locus coeruleus, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus (memories of stressful things!). In addition to releasing CRH into the portal system and inducing ACTH release, the PVN has strong projections to brain stem autonomic ganglia – i.e. the preganglionic neurons in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (dorsal motor X) and sympathetic preganglionics in the lateral column of the spinal cord (T1-L2).


So it is possible that I have had a visceral stress response regardless of a possible “control” of my amygdala. The massage received ws definately coupled to memory (Hippocampus), and that may have been a pathway. The second explanation is, of course, that I actulla was more stressed than I was aware of, and that my stress-reaction was a result og a high activity in the amygdala. I prefer to think that this is not the explanation.

Anyhow, the interesting thing in this experience, was that although i did not feel stress, my body expressed s stress-reaction. Mindfulness may bolster negative feelings, but my visceral stress-reactions may still be present. But my mindfulness also implied another victory: I was aware of what was going on, so that I could avoid further distress and anxiety.

Illustration: Wikipedia


Life is unpredictable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd we have to live with that fact. We make plans, we try to foresee what’s gonna happen. Sometimes we succeed, but all to often the future becomes something quite different than we could imagine. And the reason is as simple as this: In all predictions in life there are to many variables we ny no means can control. And since everything is interconnected, every factor influence all other factors. After all, the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can spur the formation of a tornado in Texas. The cascade of events is unpredictable to a large degree.

My wife, active, and in good physical condition, slipped on some spilled cherries in a supermarket, with a a broken hip as result. After surgery she has has now returned home. 6 weeks without any weightbearing on the broken leg, and then a slow rehabilitation periode. To her this is a radical change in life, at least for some time.

But my practical life has also changed. I have to dedicate more of my time to her and her needs, and since we run a home together, call it a joint venture, more duties shall be added to those I ususally have to deal with. She is bound to stay home. Me not so much, but my usual freedom to spend hours in office or on travel (my job is a combination) has suddenly become restricted. Happily I can work from home, I can organize my own work, and I can cancel all appointments that do not have the highest priority. My team of good colleges cover up for me. Actually it is no big problem to me, but, of course, a bigger problem for my wife.

Point is: This sudden change in life could never have been foreseen. This is what life is about: Things happen, things change, and we are affected in ways we never would have imagined. Life is fundamentally only change. And Zen is to ride this wave of change. For what else could we possibly do? But to often we try to change what can’t be changed, to cling to what we know shall pass, to crave for what we shall never have, and to wish for another time, another situation, or another condition. Zen is the opposite. Zen is to accept whatever happens, with an open mind and curiosity. For whatever that arises, good or bad, shall ultimately also always pass away. To be part of that eternal change, and of those never ending transitions, is life itself. There is nothing we can do to change that fact.

So the consequences of this hip fracture is rather interesting; The way this accident influence us, how we shall manage the situation, how I manage to combine work with my new duties, how empathic I manage to be during this periode of unusual stress, how I find practical solutions, how I shall react over time to the fact that I down-prioritize my work, and to observe what I actually can learn from this.

Thanks to an unpredictable life, I may get more insight, and perhaps even end up wiser?

Coffee Meditation


Yes, my coffee is also mindfulness practise. Coffee is often part of my formal meditation, where it can subsitute my focus on the breath during the time it takes to emty my cup, but drinking coffe also functions as small moments of focused and mindful pleasure in a hectic day.

Into a New Year

Life is a continuing learning process. The day I stop learning, I become dead, even if I am technically still alive. So what I have learned in 2014 worth bringing with me into 2015? It is to much to mention it all. Something is worth emphasizing, though.

1. I must try to avoid working so much. This autumn in special has been overloaded with work according to my preferences. I can not blame anyone else but myself. Trouble is that I can turn almost everything I am interested in into tasks and missions. My boss and my colleges encourage my initiatives, but they also make it clear that my workload is my own responsibility. So in 2015 I shall have to kill some of my darlings to be able to mindfully focus better on choose tasks. At least that is what I am hoping to do.

2. I have had a naturist year. I have never been shy, but in 2014 I mindfully explored naturism and my own limits. I liked the feeling of being nude in nature, feeling both the vulnerability and the connectedness to the environment surrounding me. I am wondering why the most natural of all, namely our own bodies, should be hidden behind clothes even when nudity seems to be more comfortable. I accept that others have different social norms, so I tried not to provoke anyone with my naturism. My partial naturist life shall continue in 2015, but I must admit that, with minus 15 degrees Celcius outside, keeping warm is more of a challenge than nudity for the moment being.

3. I shall finish my book on mindfulness. This is a book I have started on several times, but never finished. This time I have found a format that suits me better, so the project is actually moving forward. Much is already written about mindfulness, so many shall question the need for another book on the topic. My reason is that while there are many books, I find that most of them do not have the necessary critical and scientific approach to the topic. Mindfulness is not the answer to every aspects of life. But used in the right way, it may create a big difference to the quality of life.

4. I started working seriously with ecology as a basic understanding of human life. Not the least I shall highlight the ecology of mind, the interconnectedness of all beings, and the need for harmony with the Tao. Since I work with brain functions, psychology and addiction, I shall try to better put all these phenomena into a framework of ecology. The implications of such an understanding is immense in the field of anthropology, development and treatment of addiction and psychological distress.

5. While I am used to communicate the need for mindfulness and harmony with Tao, I myself have a long way to go regarding both mindfulness, insight, harmony and loving kindness. Meditation and training shall continue to be an important part of my life also in 2015. Curiosity and exploration shall hopefully be a framework around my life in the year to come.

I do not have any special expectations in front of a new year. I have to accept whatever 2015 brings. Nevertheless a mindful review of 2014 is useful, and thoughts about 2015, could be a guideline for how I prefer to conduct and prioritize the next year.




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