They’ve been described as Olympic meditators – Tibetan monks who spend hours each day perfecting a contemplative practice that has proven to improve both mind and body. Although their accomplishments have yet to garner any medals, the lessons they teach about the importance of a mind swept clean of anger, fear, and depression are slowly but surely working their way around the globe and into the arena of modern medicine.
It all began back in 1992 when the Dalai Lama met with University of Wisconsin neuroscientist, Dr. Richard Davidson.
“When I met the Dalai Lama for the first time in 1992,” said Davidson in a 2011 interview with American Public Radio’s On Being with Krista Tippett, “[he] challenged me… in a very direct way and said that, you know, you’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study qualities like depression and anxiety and fear and disgust. Why can’t you use those same tools to study qualities like kindness and compassion?”
“And there really was no good answer… other than that the study of kindness and compassion is hard. And so I made a commitment to the Dalai Lama… that I was going to do everything I could to put compassion on the scientific map.”
And that’s exactly what he’s done.
In 2008 Davidson founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rather than taking the traditional psychological approach to adjusting what’s wrong with a patient’s mind, they’re focused instead on nurturing life-enriching practices – like kindness and compassion – that serve to “rewire” minds and invigorate bodies.
According to the CIHM web site, “This work can provide novel insights into relations between brain and body since some research is beginning to suggest that contemplative practice may be potentially helpful for some neurological, psychiatric, and health conditions including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, depression, hypertension, and asthma.”
One thing Davidson and his colleagues have discovered is that compassion, like language, is something we all have the capacity to express; that it’s as much a skill as it is a trait and that it can be enhanced through training. They also recognize that not everyone is the same and that there’s more than one way to achieve a healthy mind.
That’s in sync with what nineteenth century medical reformer, Mary Baker Eddy, found to be the key to a healthy mind and body: the recognition that rather than there being many minds at work on many bodies, there’s only a divine Mind governing one and all. “Any attempt to heal mortals with erring mortal mind, instead of resting on the omnipotence of the divine Mind,” she wrote in her seminal work, Science and Health, “must prove abortive.”
Whether it’s the “many minds, many bodies” theory, the idea of a singular divine Mind, or some other approach that helps to make the mind-body connection a practical component of your health care, there is at least one significant point of agreement between them all: human consciousness is a decidedly dynamic phenomenon, forever subject to improvement and inextricably linked to our physical well-being.
“Change is not only possible, but change is actually the rule rather than the exception,” says Dr. Davidson. “And it's really just a question of which influences we're going to choose for our brain.”
Eric Nelson is a Los Altos resident. His articles on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local, regional, and national online publications, including The Washington Times. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. This article shared with permission by Communities @WashingtonTimes.com.