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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 45 While the brain-mind conundrum is likely to remain a koan and a Buddhist metaphysical contemplation, if people develop more positive states and traits, does it really matter whether we can pinpoint the mind on our Around Me app? In his new book coming out in March, The Emotional Life of Your Brain, written with Sharon Begley, Davidson counsels using your mind to train your brain. To oversimplify, the pathways carved in the brain take you quickly to places you need to go, but they can also take you quickly to less desirable places, like anger, jealousy, depression. Through training, you can use the power of your mind to change the pathways in your brain. As you follow those new pathways, it has beneficial effects on your mind, such as greater composure and a combination of attentiveness and relaxation. Mind and brain form a virtuous circle. THE BRAIN IMAGING and behavior laboratory is a Franken- stein-like lair of lab benches, booths, wires, screens, and dials. The list of high-end measuring devices would require a treatise to explain: a 3T MRI scanner; visual, auditory, and gustatory stimulation capabilities with online eye tracking during MRI scans; a PET (positron emission tomography) scanner; a micro PET scanner; a scanning simulation room with a mock scanner; a tandem accelerator to support the PET scanners; a 256-channel EEG facility for stand-alone and combined electrical and hemo- dynamic imaging studies; and dedicated computing facilities. This machinery, Dr. Antoine Lutz tells me, has been blessed by many meditation adepts, including, most famously, the Dalai Lama. Both Matthieu Ricard and Mingyur Rinpoche underwent studies of their brain activity there. Lutz, who began his studies in Paris working with Francisco Varela, a pioneer in the study of con- sciousness using first- and third-person methods of investigation, has long focused on experts. In psychology, he says, an “expert” is someone who has devoted at least ten thousand hours to develop a specific skill (playing a violin, hitting a baseball, knitting). In the case of meditators, many of the people he has studied have com- pleted the traditional Tibetan three-year retreat. We look first at the fMRI facility. A study participant lies down and enters the MRI tube. Researchers on the other side of the glass might show participants images that appear on the inside of goggles. How do their brains react to a gory image, a pleas- ant one, a neutral one? What brain pattern emerges when they’re asked to move a thumb? Or think about moving a thumb? They might ask participants to do some compassion practice. The fMRI is expensive to run and maintain, so meditators are not being fed through it right and left. Time in the machine must be scheduled and prepared for. By the time someone goes into the machine, the researchers know exactly what they will ask the person to do. After collecting the data, they spend months Antoine Lutz in the control room of the fMRI scanner