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Lions Roar : July 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2011 84 We can’t be sure what’s down the road. But at Prentiss Smith & Company we believe that a disciplined investment approach, and attention to each client’s individual situation, can take an investor a long way. For a brochure that includes our performance record please call. TOLL FREE 800 -223-7851 The Long Run. PRENTISS SMITH & COMPANY, INC. Portfolio management for the socially conscious investor since 1982 Offices in Brattleboro & Burlington, Vermont • www.socialinvesting.com of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia before and after an eight-week mindfulness-based training course. The class was designed to teach students to use meditation to manage stress, enhance com- munication, and cultivate empathy. (I also worked on this research and designed and taught the meditation course.) After only eight weeks of training, testing revealed that the stu- dents who were taught to meditate could intentionally direct and focus their attention more quickly than a matched group of un- trained students. Another study used similar tests to investigate the effects of a monthlong intensive group meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado. These participants had considerably more practice experience than the students, and practiced for eight to ten hours each day during the retreat. Interestingly, the more experienced retreat participants did not demonstrate the increase in capacity to direct and fo- cus attention that was seen in the novice meditators; they were pretty good at that when the retreat started. Instead, the retreat participants had a change in the nature of their atten- tion. Their awareness became much more open and alert. This finding seems to describe the transition from focused mind- fulness to broader and deeper insight and awareness described in traditional meditation teachings. As expected, the retreat participants also had substantially less mental wandering, and more insight into wandering and distraction when it occurred. Other testing from Jha’s lab has demonstrated that meditation improves working (or short-term) memory as well as the ability to resist distraction. This has very significant implications for im- proving our ability to accomplish our goals in everyday life. She has found that even very short periods of regular practice, as little as twelve minutes a day, are associated with significant improve- ments in working memory. More practice is associated with better results, including both improved accuracy and reduced wandering. A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE OF THE SELF Another recent stream of research on meditation has explored the way that practice affects the experience of the self. One recent set of reports from the University of Toronto explores the way medi- tation affects the way we construct a self out of our experience and the relationship between the narration we use to create a self and our direct moment-to-moment experience. Two distinct neural networks in different parts of the brain contribute to our experi- ence of a “self.” Activity in one region is associated with a descrip- tive narrative: thoughts about what is happening and how we are. The other region is associated with a more direct experience of sensation and emotion in the present moment. The two areas are linked so that activity in the “present- moment” awareness region activates the storytelling region. So a shift away from more direct sensory awareness into thinking is not just random; it is literally built into the nervous system. This might explain why the experience of nonconceptual mindfulness and awareness is often so fleeting. A moment of nonthought jump- Your Brain on Mindfulness continued from page 48