Most of us probably assume that scientists have little time for the mysteries of Eastern spirituality and meditation. And until just a few years ago that assumption might well have been true. But in recent years the emerging field of contemplative science has been having a real effect on the perception of meditation in the scientific community, a shift that might be the start of a new scientific revolution.
David Vargo is an instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and has held the position of Senior Research Coordinator for the Mind and Life Institute, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to fostering dialogue and research at the highest possible level between modern science and the great contemplative traditions. In this episode of the Buddhist Geeks podcast he gives a cogent overview of the state of scientific research in to meditation.
Mindfulness is the concept that science is taking seriously. Whereas meditation is often perceived as a means of relaxing, or bringing obout altered states of consciousness, mindfulness is simply about paying full attention to the present moment. And most importantly, being aware of your own thoughts as they arise. Sounds easy, right? Sounds like you do it all the time? Not according to mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat Zin, whose teaching on the subject points out how much time most people spend lost in their own thoughts, fantasies and delusions.
Jon Kabat Zin talks about mindfulness as a way of ‘tuning the mind’. We tune instruments before playing a concert, and we train our bodies before running a marathon. So why don’t we think more about tuning and training our mind, by paying more attention to our own thoughts? This is the idea that scientists like David Vargo are now applying across disciplines including psychology and medicine, but also less obviously connected areas like physics, business and even sports. We live in a world of technology and science, but our minds are still stuck in the stone age. Is mindfulness the key to upgrading our own psychological firmware?