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Lions Roar : September 2005
4 0 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 Among other findings, Davidson’s work has shown that meditators can regulate their cerebral activity, yielding more focus and composure. By contrast, most untrained subjects asked to focus on an object cannot limit their mental activity to a single task. The monks who had practiced the longest showed the greatest brain changes, leading Davidson to think that they may have effected permanent changes. His most intriguing results have come from observing advanced practitioners med- itating on compassion. The brain changes observed during this practice seem to show that intensively generating goodwill pro- duces indicators of an extreme state of well-being. While the sources of all kinds of disorders and dysfunctions have been studied extensively, there is almost no literature on what these scientists sometimes call “healing emotions.” PAU L E K M A N , unlike Davidson and Kabat-Zinn, has had no long-term interest in meditators or meditation. Ekman, who recently retired as the head of the Human Interaction Laboratory at the University of California at San Francisco, studied the emotions for fifty years. He more or less stumbled into his recent involvement in studying meditators. “It all started with the meeting in Dharamsala,” he recently told me. “I only went to the meeting because my daughter had lived in “What these extraordinary meditators can do,” Paul Ekman says, DRM.PHELPS&DRJ.MAZZIOTTAETAL/NEUROLOGY/SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal and was very moved by the cause. I thought it would be a great treat for her to meet the Dalai Lama. Now, having met the Dalai Lama myself, I’ve developed an interest in what he’s doing, for what I can learn both as a person and as a scientist. “When I completed my training 45 years ago, my supervi- sor said, ‘If you can increase the gap between impulse and action, you will benefit your patient.’ He didn’t know that’s a straight Buddhist view: the spark before the flame. That may be a place where through practices of one kind or another, it may be possible to do what nature did not intend for you to do, to become a spectator of yourself and decide whether you want to go along with it, and if so in what fashion.” Some think this convergence of neuroscientific thinking and Buddhist teachings is extraordinary. In the abhidharma (sometimes called “Buddhist psychology”) one is said to solidify experience through a chain of twelve mental events known as the nidanas. Some masters teach that the chain can be broken at the moment between “craving” and “attach- ment,” and unconditioned, open experience can occur in that gap. Ekman says that “Increasing the gap between impulse and action is very unusual emotional behavior, but based Positron Computed Tomography (PCT) scans of the brain, comparing three levels of visual stimulation.