Train Your Brain

Train Your Brain

good evening everyone welcome to the JCC
in Manhattan. This is such an exciting evening evening for us and i’d like to welcome everyone that’s
here and I don’t know whether any of you know but we have about 4,000 people out
there that are listening to this evening via live stream so to the people that
are here by magic we also welcome you tonight i’m Susie
Kessler I’m the director of a program here called Macomb which is our program
for meditation and spirituality and we have a full and wonderful program of
meditation and mindfulness here at the JCC so if you’re local please check out all our programs and
come and visit us I’m thrilled to welcome our guest
tonight Dan Harris who was here in May and is
making a return appearance so we’re thrilled to have him back and
doctor ..there’s a lot more information about down on your on your programs and also
on the website and Dr. Richard Davidson who’s here from the University of
Wisconsin and we’re thrilled to welcome him for the first time here so I’d like
to just say how the evening is going to go we’re going to have a wonderful
conversation between these two amazing human beings and after the conversation
we’ll have a little time for questions and answers so you can start to think
about what you might want to ask or comment on following that we’re going to
have a small reception and a book sale and Dan and Richie will be here to sign
books after you purchase them so we hope you’ll stay a little longer after the
program ends and everything will be sort of concluded by 9pm I’d like to just
take a moment to thank my two co-sponsors this evening are the Garrison Institute
and there’s information on the Garrison Institute all around tonight so please
have a look at this wonderful organization and also the center for
investigating healthy minds from University of Wisconsin and you’ll hear
more about that I’m sure about their amazing work during the course of the
evening and there’s also information out about them and now i would like to
present my co-presenter partner friend and the publisher of mindful magazine
happen to have a copy for all of you right here you see Richie is on the
cover and there’s an article about Dan in the magazine as well for any of you
that are interested in meditation and mindful ness this is a must-have subscription both in
print and also online so I would like to welcome Jim Gimian the publisher of
mindful>>yeah seems to be going around I think after that there’s nothing
really left for me to do but to add my welcome to in addition to all of you to the
thousands who are watching live tonight and the many more thousands who will be
watching the video in the coming weeks as part of various study programs and
company programs who have heard about this and are interested in including it
in their programs for both their staffs and their clientele so we want to
welcome all of you here tonight and all of you in the future will be enjoying
this conversation. So mindful revolution that’s what time magazine proclaimed in January and the cover of that magazine and it’s September now and it seems like
the pace is just increased in the rate in which mindfulness compassion kindness
gratitude are being integrated into our lives everywhere you turn and are being
used to address some of the major challenges of our time businesses and organizations hospitals
and therapists soldiers and first responders bankers and venture
capitalists I mean where where will it end I was thinking it reminded
me that great line that Yogi Berra said about the very popular New York
restaurant it’s so crowded nobody goes there
anymore and it’s mindfulness that has kind of gotten like that and we’re glad but
there is indeed a lot of anecdotal evidence that all these various forms of
mindfulness are good for you they’re good for your health good for
your performance at work good for your relationships and they can make you
happier and that’s that’s a good thing too and right now Dan Harris is one of the
leading spokespeople for how those practices integrated into his life have
helped him in all those ways and he will be sharing that with us tonight as a matter of fact I think talking to
him it sounds like since your book ten
percent happier came out that this is been like a second job for you talking
about with all sorts of groups across the country and internationally about
mindfulness practices so a great champion in leading spokesperson of how
it can help but if mindfulness is going to be more than another passing fad if it’s really going to enter the
mainstream as it seems to then it’s got to be tested it’s got to be researched and in our
society that’s the job of science and right now
it’s the neuroscientist who are leading that work on all of our behalf and
nowadays Dr. Richard Davidson is the leading
spokesperson for the science of mindfulness not just in his own lab at
the center for investigating healthy minds but also interpreting a lot of the
research done by other scientists to see what’s really supporting the the
efficacy of these practices and what maybe we have to research more and look
at a bit more more carefully so we have a
very big treat in store for us these two good friends a conversation
between the two of them that we’ll get to watch now and in the future about how we
can train our brain to have mindless help us and how we can all bring that
into our lives so then Richie thank you>>so I just want to add a quick thanks
to Susie I love coming to the JCC not least there are a lot of reasons but one
of them is is that I live three blocks away so it’s super convenient and also a
big thanks to Jim, Mindful magazine is fantastic you should all be subscribing
and Jim and his team have really put themselves at the center of this
revolution whatever you want to call it and have
been instrumental in making connections for lots of people helping me make sure
my book didn’t suck which was really really useful some
people don’t think they succeeded so a big thank you to Jim and Susie
and to Richie for making the trip here so i think the way we’re going to
do this tonight i’ll say a few words Richie’s going to say a few words then my wife and I compiled a list of
obnoxious questions for Richard so I’ll interrogate a little bit and then we’ll open it up
for Q&A and I’d like to leave a lot of time for Q&A because I think that’s always
where we get to the fun stuff so some of you may have heard my story so
for you, you should maybe think about something else for the next couple
minutes because I’m going to tell it again If you had told me just a couple years
ago that I would end up being a wandering evangelist for meditation I would have coughed my beer up through my nose this is not something I ever thought was
in the cards for me really for me it all started with a
panic attack on national television which happened almost exactly 10 years
ago in June 2004 I was anchoring the with the
news updates on good morning america a lil’ show some of you may have heard
about and I had done this job before this is the person who comes on at
at the top of each hour to read the headlines I had done this before so I didn’t
really have any reason to foresee what was about to happen but a couple of
seconds into my spiel i was overtaken by this irresistible bolt of fear and my
heart was racing my mind was racing my palms are sweating my mouth dried up my
lungs seized up i just couldn’t breathe couldn’t talk and I had to quit in the
middle which I had never done before after gasping for air for a few stories and I
tossed it back to the co-host of the show Charlie Gibson a dinosaur as you might
imagine this was extremely embarrassing and also really really scary because i’m
a masochist I actually later asked the research department to find out how many
people were watching according to the Nielsen ratings 5.0 19
million people well so you know no big deal there’s a little bit of a back story to
the panic attack let me just say this is a panic attack ended up in a
you know sort of weird and windy way improving my life but let me just tell
you the back story because it’s key to this I think at the root of it is something a
lot of a share which is desire be great a desire to be great at what we do i
arrived at ABC News at age 28 I sometimes do a power point where i
show the picture that they took me on my first day at the job i looked terrified
and barely post-pubescent and actually a friend of mine has joked that if you
take a wide shot a wider shot of my security photo that they took my first
day I’m it looks like i might be holding a balloon so I arrived at ABC which by the way is
right near here and i was working with these giants like Peter Jennings and
Diane Sawyer Barbara Walters and i was very green aware that I was green and
self-conscious and my way of coping with with that was to become a workaholic i
just threw myself into the job and not long after i arrived 9/11 happened and I
raised my hand to go overseas and cover whatever happened next frankly without thinking much about the
psychological consequences and ended up spending a lot of time excuse me a lot of time in places like
Afghanistan Pakistan Israel the West Bank Gaza made six or seven trips to
iraq and when I came home after one of those trips to iraq after being there
for five or six months this is in the summer of 2003 right as the insurgency was getting going and I came home and I got
depressed and I actually didn’t even know I was depressed although i was exhibiting when I now
know to be some of the the classic signs i was having trouble getting out of bed
I was had felt like I had a low grade fever all the time and i did an
extremely dumb thing which is that i started to self-medicate with cocaine
cocaine and ecstasy before you get too worried it wasn’t like the wolf of Wall Street
it was reasonably sporadic not when i was working and definitely not when i
was on the air as i like to say I was stupid but not that stupid after the panic attack i went to a
doctor who was an expert in panic and he asked me a series of questions to try to
let me just ask Jim a quick question can I swear on this — I
lot when I’m not on television and this about to be a swear, Anyway so i went to a
doctor and he asked a series of questions to try to get to the root of
the panic attack one of them was ‘do do drugs’ – which I sheepishly responded yeah I do and he leaned back in his
chair and gave me a look that said ok asshole mystery solved that was a really big
moment for me I realized very powerfully what a moron I’ve been and I made two big decisions in that
moment ones that quit doing drugs which is kind of a no-brainer and two I agreed
to go see the shrink once or twice a week indefinitely then a whole bunch of weird
stuff happened over the coming it wasn’t like some clean Hollywood story where I
just started meditating and you know my life is a non-stop parade of unicorns
and rainbows it took a little while I’m not going to
give you the whole spiel because you should read my book available at fine
book stores everywhere and but as several years later I ended up
stumbling upon meditation which I frankly thought was only for hippies and
freaks and weirdos and gurus and people who live in a yurt and are really into
aromatherapy and John Tesh and Kat stevens and wear little finger cymbals
and make dream catchers and put them up on the wall and use the word namaste unironically and I’m going to be honest actually that’s I wasn’t entirely wrong though so then I did some research when the idea of meditation was presented me I rejected it
reflexively but then I did some research and I found out about guys like Richie I
found out that there’s been a really interesting little explosion of
scientific research into meditation and the results are still in their
embryonic stage but they’re strongly suggestive of a long list of health
benefits from lowering your blood pressure to boosting your immune system reducing
the release of stress hormone cortisol and somehow helping with everything from
irritable bowel syndrome to psoriasis and and then things get really sci-fi we
start talking about this guy’s work where scientists are peering into the
brains of meditators and finding that essentially it’s a kind of — Richie
probably to take issue with this — is kind of like you’re doing a little bit of a
neurosurgery on yourself you’re rewiring key parts of your brain that regulate
self awareness compassion and stress and among others and then I learned that meditation does
not require sitting in a funny position unless you want to be clearing your mind
joining a group paying fees believing in anything wearing special outfits none of that, in fact it’s actually
simple secular brain exercise, I’m not gonna make you guys do it but for those of you
don’t know how to do it assuming I’m preaching to the choir here
but here the three steps just because I i found this to be a really compelling
when I heard or reassuring i should say when I heard that all it involved at least
for beginners were these three steps one sit with your spine straight and your
eyes closed two focus your full attention on the feeling of your breath coming in
and going out usually your nose your chest or belly
and then the third step as we all know is the biggie as soon as you try to do
this your mind is going to go nuts you’re gonna start thinking about what
am I gonna have for lunch why i say that dumb thing to my boss why did
Dances with Wolves beat good fellows for best picture in 1991 you know why the celebrities only marry
other celebrities whatever it is you’re just gonna go nuts and the whole game is to
just notice oh I’m off my mind is wandering and I’m
now going to return my attention to my breath and you just do that over and
over and over and it is essentially a bicep curl for your brain and it shows
up on the brain scans and it is also a radical act because for
that little nanosecond when you’re able to wrestle your mind into focusing on
what’s happening right now you are breaking yourself out of this
fog in which we live most of our lives a fog of projection into the future and
rumination about the past ok so after I learned all that i decided
to do it and i started with five minutes a day which is by the way what i
recommend for beginners and and by the way i checked that out with people who
actually know what they’re talking about so you don’t just have to take my word
and I’ve noticed that after a little while pretty quickly three benefits I
started to see three benefits in my own life one it boosted my ability to focus I don’t actually have any evidence for
that claim there is some evidence that meditation does boost one’s ability to
focus but I’m just it it seemed to me to help but i didn’t get my brain scan
before and after so I can’t you know you’ll have talk to him for like real
evidence of anything but we all exist now in the age that has been described as the
info blitzkrieg or the age of omni connectivity and my boss and my job is
particularly crazy i actually have other people yelling it directly into my ear
through an earpiece and the pace of news and world events is very fast and I’m
constantly being pulled away by the latest tweet status update text phone
call whatever and i found that after doing this exercise of trying to focus
on one thing getting lost starting over getting lost starting over it helped me focus when I needed to in a
very hectic environment the second benefit i started to see was
just a — I can’t prove this one either — a greater degree of calm in my life taking
myself out of the traffic for 5-10 minutes a day just infused my life with
just a little bit more calm which was nice the third benefit is the biggie it is
this word mindfulness boring sounding word but it’s actually a
game-changing proposition because the truth is we all have a voice in our head
by which i’m not referring to schizophrenia or hearing voices i’m talking about the inner narrator
that chases you out of bed in the morning and has you constantly wanting
stuff not wanting stuff judging other people comparing yourself
to other people criticizing yourself and here’s one of the hallmarks thinking
about the past or remembering — thinking about the past or think about
the future to the detriment of whatever is happening right now my friend sam Harris I’m not related to
he’s just written a book about meditation he and i were giving a talk recently and
he said that when he thinks about the voice in his head he thinks that he’s
been hijacked by the most boring person alive it just says the same shit over and over
and over and it’s mostly negative and ceaselessly self-referential and that
the fact of the matter is you’re laughing cause it’s funny because it’s
true right and and when you’re unaware of this non-stop
conversation it yanks you around it’s why you’re reaching into the fridge when
you’re not hungry or losing your temper when it strategically unwise or
checking your email when someone’s trying to talk to you so back to mindfullness mindfulness is– it’s an extremely
rich word with lots of definitions but here’s one serviceable definition it’s
the ability to see what’s happening in your mind right now without getting
carried away by it, I’m going to say that again just because its so important it’s the ability to
know what’s happening in your head at any given moment without necessarily
taking the bait and acting on it so just think about how useful this
could be you’re online at starbucks somebody cut you off what happens
normally you just think to yourself I’m pissed and then what happens you immediately
reflexively habitually inhabit that thought you actually become pissed with
a little bit of mindfulness on board were you know after you’ve done some
meditating and you’re you’re you’re able to
kind of see the nature of the voice in your head that you might notice my chest is
buzzing my ears are turning red i’m having a starburst of
self-righteous thoughts I’m getting angry but with mindfulness you might not have to take the bait and act on it and yell at that person in
front of your kids or ruin the next half hour of your life is doing and
this skill that I’ve just described plus the science is what’s
driving the adaptation of this ancient practice in some really interesting
really interesting quarters. Before I talk about that I’m just going to say some of you
may be thinking don’t I deserve to get pissed sometimes
to which I would say yes probably less than you think –the
the the argument of mindfulness isn’t — the proposition here isn’t that
you should become a lifeless non-judgmental blob it’s that you should develop the ability
and this is the one meditation cliché that I really like
you should develop the ability to respond wisely instead of reacting
blindly and that is a game-changing proposition and that notion plus the science that Richie has really
pioneered is why we’re now seeing people in executive suites at fortune 500
companies in Silicon Valley where they where Wired magazine referred to
meditation as the new caffeine by the way I just think there’s a
delicious irony in the fact that the people who are developing the
technologies that are destroying our ability to focus our now like doing this
thing that helps them focus elite athletes are doing it’s a the seattle
seahawks who won the superbowl have a meditation coach entertainers are doing
it the lead singer of Wheezer Katy Perry 50 cent who I hasten to add got shot
nine times and deserves some peace of mind and most compellingly we’re now
seeing it being done by the the US Army and the US Marines, we are
spending millions of dollars to research whether meditation can make more
effective and more resilient troops which is all of which is why I now
believe in that I’m going to make a prediction here nut
before I make a prediction we add a little cavea,t my powers of
prognostication are historically weak in the early two thousands i convinced my
younger brother to co-invest with me in the company that makes the palm pilot
and didn’t work so well but I say the following with with a lot of confidence
nonetheless which is that I think we’re looking at that meditation as the next
big public health revolution in the nineteen forties if if you
told somebody you were going running they would have said who’s chasing you
what happened is people like Richie came in proved that it’s really good for you and
now we all exercise and if we don’t feel bad about it I hasten to add however it’s not going
to solve all of your problems I can tell you from personal experience
it won’t regrow your hair or you know fix everything in your love life or help you win the lottery which is why i wrote a book and I called it
10-percent happier which is of course like everything else
I’ve said tonight completely made up and it’s an absurd unscientific figure but it’s
true enough and i like it because it’s you know it
sounds like a pretty good return on investment there are couple more things I could say
but I want to close out let me just close by saying if my wife were
here but she’s seven months pregnant so she didn’t feel like leaving the house
tonight and she heard me say this speech a million times and is tired
of it if my wife were here she would give you the
ninety percent still a moron speech and my younger brother the one who I
convinced to invest in the Palm Pilot wanted me to name the book from deeply
flawed to merely flawed oh ok so my argument isn’t that it is going
to solve all of your problems my argument is that it can it can have a
dramatic effect on your life and that we all should be doing it and that five
minutes a day is enough to get you started and here’s my little tagline if it can
work for a fidgety and skeptical news man, it can work for you thank you so now we’re gonna hand it over to
somebody who actually knows what he’s talking about and take it away
Richie>>thank you Dan well let me just start by
saying that you mentioned focus and there is a study that was published in
2010 by some friends and colleagues of mine at Harvard who use smartphone
technology with thousands of people and they texted people out in the real world
and they asked them three questions one question was what are you doing
right now the second question was where is your
mind right now is it focused on what you’re doing or is it focused elsewhere
and the third question was how happy or unhappy are you right now and what they found is that the average
american adult spends forty-seven percent of his or her waking life not paying
attention to what they’re doing we can do better, when they’re not paying
attention to what they’re doing they also report themselves to be chronically
unhappy when I was a graduate student in
William James Hall even though wasn’t assigned to me I
actually read William James and one of the things that he wrote was this
two-volume tome in 1890 called the principles of psychology and he has a
chapter on attention in that book and he said in that chapter on intention and
this is a quote from William James he said the faculty of voluntarily bringing
back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment
character and will and he went on to say that in education which should improve this
faculty would be the education par excellence but it is easier he said to
define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about I think if William James had contact
with the contemplative traditions he would have instantaneously seen that these are methods that in fact can
educate attention and can help us in this way in terms of the scientific research we are living in an amazing time in
science and there are four themes in modern science that are occurring which
I think have provided an important foundation for the kind of work that we
and others are doing to go forward so I’d like to just describe those
themes briefly the first is neuro plasticity the idea that the brain can
change in response to experience now this is what the brain does the
brain is built its the organ built to change in response to experience and our
brains are constantly changing wittingly or unwittingly and I think
most of the time for most people our brains are being changed unwittingly and the invitation in this
work is that we can actually take more responsibility for the shaping of their
own brains to cultivate wholesome and virtuous qualities of mind which also
will have beneficial effects on the body the second theme is the equivalent of
neuroplasticity in the realm of genomics and this is what we call epigenetics and
this is just wild for those of you who don’t know about
this let me just say a few words we’re all born with a fixed complement of base
pairs which constitute our DNA but each gene has what we can think of is a
little volume control that goes from low to high and that volume control is
highly dynamic and how we are in the world our demeanor the activities in which we
engage our emotional lives all affect those volume controls and can regulate
our genes so we may have a disposition for anxiety we may have a disposition
for panic attacks but that doesn’t mean that those jeans will necessarily be
expressed the genes themselves can actually be modulated and we published a
paper in 2014 showing that if we bring long-term meditation
practitioners into a laboratory and have them meditate for eight intensive hours
we can actually show a change in gene expression over the course of just these
eight hours and what we find for example is the
genes involved in inflammation which is at the root of many chronic health
conditions those jeans are downregulated their expression is turned down over the
course of this eight hours of practice and we had a control group come into the
lab for a day of leisure where they had an equivalent amount of sitting time an
equivalent amount of walking time the same diet for the day and they did not
show any of these changes so the second theme is epigenetics the
third theme is that there are massive bi-directional highways between the
brain and the body and this enables changes that occur in the brain to
affect the body it also is responsible for why changes in the body may impact our
minds and brains it suggests or it it is the mechanisms through which why
sitting in an upright posture may be helpful why certain bodily oriented practices or
bodily oriented therapies might have beneficial effects in the way they do as
our bodies change they will modulate the activity in the brain and vice versa the four theme is probably the most
controversial of all the four themes but in many ways I think probably the most
interesting to me these days and one where there is growing scientific
evidence and the fourth theme is that human beings are born with innate basic
goodness I’ll say it again human beings are born
with innate basic goodness and what I mean by this is that if a young person, an infant, is given a
preference as to whether they wish to participate or observe a
cooperative and altruistic warm-hearted encounter compared to an encounter that
is selfish and aggressive the infant will actually prefer the
warm-hearted cooperative interaction compared to the selfish interaction and
this can be shown in infants as young as six months of age how do we know this well you can ask
them and how do you ask a six-month-old baby while the way we can ask a
six-month-old baby is we can actually monitor using very precise measures we
can monitor their eye movements we can monitor where they’re fixating and if you
present video clips that depict these kinds of interactions the
six-month-old baby shows more looking toward the warm-hearted altruistic
encounter compared to the selfish and aggressive encounter and there’s more
and more evidence to suggest this so one of the things that we learned from the
contempt of traditions is that the word meditation in Sanskrit
one of its meanings is familiar ization we actually have the opportunity to
become more familiar with the basic nature of our in mind and it may well
be that at its core the basic nature of our own mind is one that has these
qualities of clarity and in a goodness which modern research is beginning to
to show are apparent so let me just say a couple of other
words about the state of the art in terms of research in this area the theme of neuroplasticity has clearly
been a very important one in enabling this work to go forward and one of the
things that’s exciting is we’re seeing now the insights from the basic research
laboratory being brought out into real-world contexts into real-world
settings outside the laboratory where we have the potential of making a real
difference and there are a number of such settings where this work is growing in
influence I just came today from Baltimore where over the last two days i
participated in a symposium at John Hopkin’s university on contemplatively
practice and learning where the application of these methods in
education was being considered we in our Center have developed a
curriculum for preschool kids that we call the kindness curriculum and actually Sharon Salzberg who’s
here in the audience has been extremely helpful and a collaborator in helping us
develop this curriculum the curriculum is being taught in public
schools in the Madison metropolitan school district and it’s a curriculum
that teaches kids at this age simple practices of mindfulness and kindness and
we’re teaching this curriculum in the context of serious
randomized control trials we’re randomizing kids by classroom to assess
the impact of this kind of curriculum now why did we pick preschool kids well
it turns out that this is a period when the brain shows particularly increased
plasticity it’s why kids at this age when there are
three to five years of age if you teach a kid a second language at
this age it’s much easier for them to learn it’s why kids this age have a much
easier time learning to play a musical instrument it turns out that the brain also shows
this kind of plasticity for the kind of social and emotional and attentional skills that are
cultivated by these contemplatively practices Jim headman who’s a Nobel laureate in
economics at the University of Chicago based on some hard nosed economic
analysis has has determined that for every one dollar we invest in preschool
kids with high quality curricula there’s this return of seven dollars on that
investment by the time the kids are age 30 this is a moral obligation that we have
in this culture to do what we can in kids this age so that we can help them
set off on a more positive trajectory and our data so far and we have a paper
that’s just coming out for publication very soon it will be our first
scientific report of the impact of the kindest curriculum shows clear evidence
for benefits of certain kinds but this is still very early on and the work is
is really in its infancy and one of the messages that I’d like to convey this
evening is that we’re all excited about this scientific work it’s helped propel
this field forward but really we actually know very very little and
there’s much more work to be done and let me just end these initial remarks
with another applied domain where I think this work is going to have
enormous impact there’s some reason to believe based on
the kinds of things that you’ve said Dan and that we’ve studied that it’s true these practices are certainly not going
to cure illnesses and there’s a lot that they won’t touch but there’s some
reason to believe that health care utilization that prescription drugs the use of prescription drugs would go
down among individuals who regularly engage in these kinds of practices we
need a study a serious major study to investigate the impact of the regular
practice of these methods on health care utilization on health care
costs on prescription drug costs I was recently shown data from the
madison public school district on health care costs
that they have to pay for their employees and I looked particularly at
the single class of prescription drug costs for anti-depressant medication for
the staff and that number was astronomical and I’m not someone who’s
anti medication I believe that medication in certain
circumstances judiciously applied can be very helpful but I’m also convinced that
we can do better and that we can make that number go down and if we find that
people who engage in the regular practice of these meditation methods
show decreases in healthcare cost decreases in prescription drug costs and
if this is really shown in a robust study that’s going to be a game changer
and it’s going to be like gay marriage and the world is going to change
overnight so we need to do that kind of study and
we need to do it soon>>all right what would this world you’re
talking about where everything’s changed what does that look like to you
when you picture a world where — is it everybody’s meditating and
everybody’s like less of an asshole what does this
look like?>>You know it’s a great question i don’t think that it’s necessary for
everyone to meditate I also think that one size does not fit all and you described a particular kind of
meditation practice I think it’s very important for people to understand that
there are hundreds of meditation practices meditation is kind of like the word
sports it comes in many different forms in many varieties I and the practice that you described is
a practice that’s taught a lot in the United States but it’s it’s certainly
one of many many many different kinds and one size is not going to fit all and
it may be that these methods are not appropriate for all but one of the cool
things is people often come to me for advice about research designs and they
don’t have a lot of money and they’re using just questionnaires and I tell
them instead of giving the questionnaire to the person who is meditating give it
to their significant other let their significant other report on them and
you’ll get the straight poop in a way that is potentially more valid>>that sounds like a terrible idea but having knowing your wife she’s
also very kind. >>Doesn’t meditate though.>>And so the you know let me tell you a
little story in March of this past year I had a personal dream which was to
invite the Dalai Lama to speak on the campus of the national institutes of
health as scientists who gets funding from the national institutes of health it was something very significant for me
to try to do this and through my role in the mind and life Institute about eight
years ago we tried and the kibosh was put on that circumstances changed the
current director of the National Institute of Health Francis Collins is
really an extraordinary scientist he was the former director of the human genome
project he also is a an evangelical Christian
and wrote a book about science and spirituality and he’s a beautiful guy
and he’s very humble and and to meet a humble geneticist is like really rare
and so–>>More rare than a humble news man?>>But so Francis was game – – and engage with me in a dialogue and
he asked to see videos of the Dalai Lama’s speaking other academic
institutions and we had some back and forth and he agreed that that this would
really be a great thing to do on march seventh of 2014 the Dalai Lama gave a
major address on the NIH campus he gave an address in the natural
auditorium Francis Collins has been on the NIH campus for 20 years and he said
he’s never seen every seat in the natural auditorium filled before but
there was an hour before his talk where Francis Collins the director of
NIH was going to show him labs at NIH this has some of the most
advanced biomedical labs in the world and Francis asked me what labs that I
think his holiness would be particularly
interested in seeing and I said you know his holiness has seen lots of labs he’s
seen lots of machines and frankly I’m not sure that would be the best use of
his time there is a hospital on the NIH campus where people with rare diseases
are treated with experimental treatments some of these many of these people are
quite seriously ill and I suggested to Francis that rather than seeing a lab why doesn’t his holiness go through the
hospital and let’s have the patients come into the doorways they consider in
wheelchairs or be with their beds can be wheeled out so that they’re partially in
the hall and let’s just have his holiness walk down the hall and greet
the patients and Francis initially thought that this was a really crazy
idea and and asked me several times whether I really thought this was a good
thing to do and I said I really did I thought it was a great thing to do and
so that is what we did and in the entourage walking with his holiness was
about 15 people many of them NIH Institute Directors some of them my good
friends some of them who have ridiculed my interest in meditation at points in
the past and they walked with the Dalai Lama down that hallway and by the end of
that hallway took us about 45 minutes to go down that hallway His Holiness held every patient touch
them half the patients probably didn’t know
who he was and by the end of that walk every one of the people in the entourage
15 people we all had tears just flowing down
our face they didn’t meditate but it didn’t
matter because the impact of his holiness’ practice was so powerful and
so transformative that they totally got it>>I get this question a lot what is the
least amount of meditation I can do that will give me all the
benefits that you’re talking about?>>I love it I think then your advice is
is wonderful to start with really short periods of practice and there are
studies in the scientific literature that show that eight minutes of
meditation among people who have never meditated before actually produce
discernible benefit we know from other research that the that the structure of
the brain the actual physical structure of the brain can change in an hour and a
half of practice so the idea that our brain somehow the
structure somehow fixed is just our brains are constantly being shaped very
dynamically so I would say that really short amounts of practice could make a
difference and from a scientific perspective we don’t know what the
optimal dosing is if you will and my own suspicion is that what’s optimal for one
person is not going to be optimal for another person and we need to I think
really look at this in a very broad way and a very open way and acknowledge
these differences among people but i would say that even really short amount
of practice and practice sprinkled throughout the day ideally can be
helpful.>>Right – it’s such an incredible idea i think most of us assume
consciously or subconsciously that happiness our happiness depends on
external factors like the quality of our childhood did we marry well we got a
promotion of late but what we’re talking about here is that happiness is
a skill one that you can practice and train just the way we train our bodies
in the gym and that is a really liberating and powerful and empowering
note there was a record store
back when record stores existed in Boston where I grew up that I used to go to all the time in the
head they had a like a whiteboard hanging over the door and it listed all
the upcoming records and at the top it said all dates can change so can you. It reminds me of that and
it’s a really cool thing but just to get back to your point so you think that if enough people start
meditating it kind of radiates out into the world
dalai lama style maybe on lower levels and that– do
you imagine a world in which meditation is embraced in a robust way
throughout the society and that our behavior is somehow different in an
accumulative fashion>>you know the analogy that you
used earlier is one that i often use with physical exercise you know we go back to the nineteen
fifties and many fewer people regularly engaged in physical exercise i envision
a time when mental exercise will become as regularly practices physical exercise the kinds of mental exercises
that we’re talking about one of the schools that we’re working with one of
the public elementary schools in Madison which is in one of the poorest school
districts where seventy percent of the kids qualify for food stamps we’ve seen a total change in the culture
of the school after working at that school now for about five years that school used to have the highest
suspension rate i was amazed that there are even suspensions in elementary
school, it had the highest suspension rate in Madison and in the last couple of
years the suspension rate has gone down to zero. The whole culture of the
school has changed because the staff are all practicing one of the things that we do is before
we bring a curriculum out to the kids we have the the teachers go through a
10-week training so they have an interior sense of what it is that we’re
doing with the kids and I mean part of it was a visionary principal who
also embraced it but the the whole culture of the school change and you can feel it when you walk
through the school now you know I think if you measured the
decibel level in the halls when the kids were walking there’s probably been a discernible
change over the course of that period of time so i think that these things can
really make a difference and I think in terms of of healthcare and both
psychological well-being as well as physical well-being I think this
this could really be enormous just enormous.>>What if I’m not a kid and
just say like a really ambitious hard-charging professional and and got
you may know some people like that and and i’m interested in being calmer more
focused less yanked around by my emotions happier is there any scientific evidence to to
suggest that I can achieve these things through meditation? part 1 and part 2 if i do that if i do meditate and do get
some of these things am I going to lose all my edge and my
drive and become you know ineffective?>>Yeah those are great questions well with
respect to the former question first my dear friend Jon Kabat-zinn who was
with over the last two days in Baltimore one of the things he wants it is that as
soon as you feel the urge to tell someone to go meditate put yourself put your butt on a cushion and sit
yourself.>>Can I just interrupt you because there is a great
New Yorker cartoon that addresses this issue it depicts somebody saying I’ve been
gluten-free for 15 minutes and I’m already annoying so as a personal rule i find that I have
no problem like getting in front of a mic and say you should meditate but
doing it one on one is a horrible idea and as i said earlier my wife doesn’t
meditate because well first she would kill me if I lectured about the
benefits for her specifically but it’s really annoying to have somebody say
that one on one. Anyway carry on>>Yes it is very annoying so having said
that you know i do think that the evidence does suggest that someone who
is hard driving whose unfocused and who is emotionally hijacked can derive
benefit the data show that in the domain of attention the data’s really strong there are many aspects of attention
which were improved by meditation there are many constituents of attention
one is the ability to selectively attend to decide to focus in one particular
area and not to focus elsewhere that kind of quality can improve the ability
to notice small changes in our environment there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in
our environment of which were unaware and it’s it’s actually hard to even talk
about this because given that we are unaware of it were just completely blind
to it yet we can show in the laboratory that stuff that you’re unaware of
actually gets under the skin gets into the brain and can hijack your emotions
you can actually be jerked around if you will by negative events in the
environment it can color your perception of other things and you may be
completely unaware of why you’re in a crappy mood and it’s all of those
unconscious stimulae which — it turns out that becoming more aware of
them through meditation can actually help regulate your emotions
and can enable you to recover more quickly from adversity to cope better
with the slings and arrows of everyday life so the data on those things are really –I
think at this point quite strong, and so I would definitely say that yeah that
person can improve.>>What are the data on whether it’s going to turn you
into an effective blob>>yeah so with respect to that second
question you know i like to use certain examples like the Dalai Lama I think that you know he practices 4-5 hours a day I don’t think it’s really taken off his
edge i don’t think it’s slowed him down very much and I don’t think it has doled
his capacity to discern but>>you know just to stop you there and the Dalai Lama is great but most of us in the West don’t look at him as the guy that
we’re aspiring to be per se you know — anyway you know
what I’m saying so are there are others who you would
point to as like this is more achievable you could do this>>Yeah so I you know there’s no evidence
to suggest that it leads to decreases in motivation or drive or discernment, there’s no evidence at all I mean it may lead to a shift in one’s
priorities that one is working on other things and it may lead to
re-evaluation of that kind but there’s no evidence of which i’m aware that it
really leads to a decrease in one’s motivation or ones drive to do
things you know I think that it actually can have the reverse effect i think it
can sharpen our ability to focus it can call in to relief our goals and enable
us to pursue them with less conflict in my experiences for which there is
no data to support my personal experiences that yeah I found that I i still think that
worrying and stress and plotting and planning there’s a certain amount of
that that you need in order to do anything to get anything done it’s just that we we tend to make or at
least I did and still do make our suffering worse than it needs to be so I
found that the meditations really helped me figure out where is the line between
what i call constructive anguish and useless rumination yeah well that has
made a huge difference yeah I think that’s a great it’s a great
insight with respect to that whole issue there’s a bit of science that could be
helpful here, we as human beings have a capacity to reflect on the past and
anticipate the future in a way that no other species does and it’s because the
real estate up in the front of our heads this real estate is the prefrontal
cortex it is what enables mental time travel it’s what enables us to be able to
recollect in the past and to project into the future and the
prefrontal cortex has grown over the course of evolution and the mass of the prefrontal cortex is
much greater in humans than it is in any other species and is responsible for for
this unique human capability with this capability also comes the kinds of
problems and and it can ensnare us in the way it does by taking us out of the present moment I
think it’s fair to say that there’s the the incidence of psychiatric disorder there’s no data on this but this is one
of the acclaim that has very little data that I’m very confident in making and
that is that the incidence of psychiatric disorders i think is much higher in humans than it
is in any other species although>>although cats and dogs do go nuts they do but not not to the same extent
you don’t they don’t commit suicide in the way that humans do.>>That’s true.>> and it’s because
of the of the prefrontal cortex which can ensnare us in these ways but we
rarely –one of the things i do talk about to scientists in training is that the
invitation in this kind of practice is not that we don’t think and not that we
don’t take our thoughts seriously when we want to but when I mean for scientists we need to think
and one of the things i talked to graduate students and postdocs about is
you should build into your daily routine a time for you to just
think and actually to pay attention to your thoughts not to have them occur
in the background and to catch them randomly when you can but to do it intentionally and if you
have some event which is occurring in the future for which you need to plan
you can actually have that as your focus of attention and you can actually pay
attention to that and engage in that as an intentional purposeful activity we
rarely do that and I think that again one of the
byproducts of these practices is an increased
likelihood of using your prefrontal cortex in those constructive ways rather
than in the destructive ways which can ensnare you.>>Just want to check the time we…whoo we went longer than I thought let’s open it up for Q&A we have
somebody with a microphone got somebody right here there’s a working one
coming your way>>As a scientist I know that you like to
be very specific in what you say>>Sometimes. >>But it’s also obvious that
you’re a man of vision so I’m wondering if you could answer this from both parts
of you and two parts of the question too, One: is how much of your data do you think is attributable to simple
stress reduction vs changes in the brain and the other is do you think that any
of the data might be generalizable to other practices that bring the
practitioner to a similar state of mind or do you think it’s specific to
mindfulness technique>>well with regard to the first question I’m not really sure I fully understand
the distinction between stress reduction in the brain if they’re really if a person is changing her or his
relationship to stressful life events we as neurosciences would say
that there’s got to be a change in the brain that is occurring that is at least
associated in some way with that change in the person’s relationship to her or
his stress to the stressors in the environment.>>So would wouldn’t the
down-regulation of the stress hormones for example happen faster than brain
changes or no>>Well they won’t happen faster than
functional changes in brain in fact will happen more slowly
than functional changes in the brain changes and stress hormones occur on the
order of minutes changes in brain function occur on the orders of
milliseconds so it’s on a totally different time scale the changes in the
brain happened much more quickly our brains are constantly changing folks
every millisecond your brain is different I it’s it’s you know it’s amazing that
we actually think a self exists that it really that it’s somehow solid because
if you actually look at what’s going on inside not only is the brain constantly
changing functionally but the the actual physical structure of the brain we’re
adding new brain cells every day and they’re replacing old cells so the very
very physical stuff of which the brain is made of is changing and so
the study of the brain is really a study of impermanence so your second question was about
other strategies and whether they produce changes that are similar to mindfulness I think that there are probably a number
of practices which produce changes that are similar to the practices that
mindfulness kinds of practices produce but one of the you know when we sit down
on a cushion and meditate in many of the traditions that Dan and that I’ve been
talking about one of the things that we invoke is that when we sit on the
cushion we’re actually doing it not just to calm our own minds and open our
hearts but we are doing it to benefit others so we’re not just doing it for ourselves
but we’re doing it for others and in that way putting your butt on the
cushion is a radical act of generosity and you know some people ask me well
does does playing sports or does practicing the violin intensively have
the same effects well it might have some of the same effects on attention but we
don’t normally when we go out and play sports we don’t
normally say to ourselves I’m going to go play golf for the
benefit of others or I’m gonna go practice my musical instrument for the
benefit of others and I actually think this is an area where there’s no
scientific research and scientific research critically needs to be done but
the very act of invoking that kind of intention may itself produces important
changes that are part of the package of the salubrious changes that we’re
describing.>>This gentleman right here has a question Mic will get you quickly there we go I think what we should say it into the
might just because there are people at home watching so thank you very much I appreciate it
so first of all I love your book fantastic>>thank you>>And I think for anybody
who’s thinking about meditating it’s really a great introduction, fantastic so thank you second of all I think you’re good
looking enough to be a national ranker.>>Thank you appreciate that
>>That was in the book – a couple of my own experience
quick quickly, I mean I’m not anybody but I meditate and I found that
I am more effective by meditating I also find that when i move the energy
from the front of my brain to the middle when i’m actually meditating i find
i’ll literally stop thinking as much so I really appreciate your saying that and now here’s my question: what you’re
talking about is what the Buddha taught however many years ago right and I’m
fascinated by the things you’re saying but it seems to me like science is just
dissecting what the Buddha taught however many years ago so
and i’m asking this because not to be a cynic but to try to understand why
this study of the brain is so important when the lessons of meditation have been
around forever and I’m not really i really i’m
honestly not being cynical I’m trying to understand this so I hope it’s coming
across probably>>yeah well especially the part about me being a good looking guy well I didn’t hear anything else after that>>I think it’s a great question
and really important one and and there are many different answers to it one is
that it is true that the Buddha has laid this out and and we have this amazingly
rich fast tradition from which to draw on there are I think important reasons
for doing this science one is that science is a very powerful currency in
our modern culture and if we actually think that these practices may be
helpful in a variety of contexts one of the ways to facilitate their
penetration into different sectors of our culture is through scientific
research and I think that today we’re actually seeing that we’re seeing in a
very direct way the benefits of this that’s why people like the Dalai Lama
are so interested in hanging out with scientists and encouraging this kind of
work the second reason is that I actually
think science has something unique to contribute that wasn’t already
discovered if I can be so bold as to say that and that is that– first of all I don’t think that one size
fits all and I think that we could do a better job of helping people find
practices that are most beneficial given who they are when they show up at the
door often people go through a whole series
of things before they they find a home if you will before they find something
that sticks that really works with them I think we can actually help facilitate
that process using scientific methods we can assess people’s cognitive and emotional styles and we can fine tune
what sort of practices may be most beneficial for which people at which
points in time third thing and I’ll say something this
is something really different the most well-established using modern
scientific methods most well-established empirically method for increasing neuro
plasticity in the human brain non-pharmacologically is through aerobic
exercise on the data from that are very very strong very very clear and very
robust ah i had an opportunity recently to sit
with the Dalai Lama when we talked about one of the relatively
few monastics that I know who engages in physical exercise on a regular basis and
we started talking about it and the Dalai Lama told me that one of the
things he does when he does his physical exercise is he does certain
meditation practices as he’s doing his physical exercise and it
suddenly struck me neuro plasticity in and of itself is not
good or bad it’s neutral if you fill your mind with
unwholesome thoughts while you’re increasing brain plasticity it actually
has the potential of making things worse it can help congeal and consolidate gunk
if you think about the average American gym where people are working out and
then filling their minds with the gunk on television at a prescription for
disaster there is a new field which is about to
be born called contemplative aerobics>>Is that true, really? >>As if working out wasn’t already annoying.>>So I think this is another area where
you will hear in the future from science and that wasn’t in the original Buddhist
cannon and I think it needs to be part of this whole equation>>I completely
agree that the science is what opens the door I mean nobody continues to meditate
because you think maybe your prefrontal cortex looks different but you need to
get people in the door and science is the most powerful way to do it in
this culture they would have a couple more questions somebody has the micro hi.>>In regards
to the treatment of anxiety I’ve always heard a lot about cognitive
behavioral therapy as quote the evidence-based treatment for anxiety and
I’m wondering what your thoughts are on cognitive behavioral therapy and in
relation to meditation and mindfulness yeah the data show that in terms
of non-pharmacological treatments clearly cognitive behavioral therapy has
the most empirical support of any non pharmacological treatment for anxiety
having said that there is a a wonderful development that’s occurred over the
last number of years called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and
it’s a melding of the basic principles of cognitive therapy with mindfulness
practices and that has been shown to be especially beneficial in helping
people to not take negative thoughts so seriously not take the worry the kinds
of voices in one’s mind that Dan referred to as seriously and can be
potentially very helpful to certain kinds of people so again meditation is not going to cure all ills
and I think it’s very important not to come away with that but there are
interesting developments that are blending together the the kinds of treatments that you’re
referring to with mindfulness practices>>Another question we’ve got somebody right behind you in a
blue shirt right behind you right there yes yeah there you go um I wanted to ask you
more about what you’re saying about epigenetics and i’m curious if the
changes that you’ve seen is similar to like you present a fearful stimulus and
the amygdala acts up and then you take away the stimulus and the brain goes back to
normal you know this hour and a half to 8 hours is something that’s permanent does it go
back to its original state or how long does it take for this to then become
sort of a permanent change yeah those are great questions and we
don’t know i mean we don’t know the answer to them it’s not like the amygdala activating
the amygdala is a little structure that’s the temporal lobes are on the
side of her head and buried within the medial portion of each temporal lobe on
each side is a structure called the amygdala and it is a a region that
participates very importantly in different kinds of emotional processes it’s not like the amygdala firing to a
fearful stimulus it’s more enduring than that but just how enduring we don’t know
there are epigenetic changes that happen regularly to all people and when you go
to sleep at night there are hundreds of genes that are
downregulated and other genes that are upregulated in every person every night
so the t alteration in gene expression is something that is part of our biology we know that epigenetic changes that
occur early in life for example the way a mother behaves toward her offspring
can induce epigenetic changes in the offspring and those changes tend to
persist so a mother who is very nurturing toward
her offspring actually induces changes in a whole set of genes that are
implicated in stress neurobiology and those epigenetic changes last and in
fact there’s some evidence very very recent evidence these come
from studies in non-human species that suggests that
some of these epigenetic changes are actually passed down to at
least one or two generations so if this sounds Lamarckian it is
and it’s real and so there’s really good evidence
for this at this point in time but in the domain of meditation we don’t know
it’s it’s it’s really totally open virgin territory at this point>>Right
behind you this gentleman will be wearing a hat yeah>>How effective do you think
neurofeedback is>>Neurofeedback if we knew what parameters to actually
feedback it potentially could be effective my own personal view is that it is a
bit of hubris to think that we actually know what the right parameters are one
of the things that I like to do in our own center with with the sciences
there is have periodic humility inductions we actually know so friggin
little about what’s going on and to think that we actually can isolate one
particular neural change and say that if we regulate this either by increasing or
decreasing it we’re going to actually help things along at this point in time i think is way too
premature>>Richie almost sweared come down here we got one last question
in the front row I actually went and did this
neurofeedback thing recently and I was really depressed afterwards because it
showed that whatever I was doing is completely wrong and then I was having
dinner later that day with Joseph Goldstein who is an eminent meditation
teacher and he had done the same thing and had the exact same results so potentially hubris.>>I’m
curious because you — >>By the way, should we say, this is Richie’s daughter.
‘I think all of your research is bullshit’>>This is one of the first talks I’ve been to in a long long time. You know that
kind of folks who came back to the west Sharon is here and Joseph and Jack
brought back a particular type of meditation that you talked a lot about
which is inside oriented and attentional meditation on the breath and i know you
ventured more recently into some Tibetan practices that have a more embodied
quality and given the research that you’re talking about the robust research
on aerobic exercise I’m wondering sort of if there are plans in the
works and how I know there’s been some research at least with the breathing
with the veterans if you could just talk a little bit more
about practices that might speak also to your question of other practices that
actually don’t look like the type of meditation you’re talking about that
look totally different but could be considered a contemplative practice. You
know sufi practices possibly even are things that are dancing yeah
dancing things like that>>I learn from my daughter all the time
it’s wonderful such a treat to have you here so and my
sister is here too so I certainly think that there is an enormous opportunity with more bodily
oriented practices to to further our understanding of how these practices
work and what benefit they may have we just published a study with veterans who
have come back from Afghanistan and Iraq who are suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder and one of the intuitions that motivated this
study is that the kind of mindfulness practices that we’ve been talking about
may actually not be the right kind of practices to help them calm their mind
at least initially and one of the things that we
investigated is more explicit breathing practices that come from yogic traditions that have in my view
and some scientific research shows this a much more immediate effect on the
autonomic nervous system, much more immediate virtually instantaneous effect
on the autonomic nervous system and that it may be that one needs to have certain
changes occur in the body before the mind can practice these kinds of
mindfulness practices in certain kinds of individuals and so you know i think this is just
something waiting to be mined and there has been a tradition of
research on a yoga although it’s still in in very early stages and as you
mentioned some of the Tibetan practices do involve explicit manipulations of the
body in ways that science has not yet investigated and so there’s a lot to
stay tuned for so thank you>>Absolutely so as we wrap up Richie and I
will sign some books also Richie’s sister and daughter will be available for
embarrassing stories about Richie anywhere in this room thank you
very much for coming tonight>>Thank you So once again everyone you are invited to just give us
a couple minutes we’re going to bring out the books and we’re going to bring
out a little bit of food


  • bloomfullyever says:

    enjoyed it! great talks by both men

  • Sera Lee says:

    Thank you

  • rich soar says:

    He can say 52:50 that we don't know what we need to just let go of…?

  • miaplaco says:

    Thanks. Informative, entertaining and inspiring.

  • whymustInamethischannel says:

    How do you contact this guy?
    Dear Richard,
    Is the mechanism found here ( the same mechanism you found about: stronger amygdala-mvPFC connection -> less amygdala response?

  • Curtis Weber says:

    My human brain has been lively always because of this brain training game “nonu amazing only” (Google it). This game is a great addition to my daily routines that aim to make my brain effective even at an older age. It is really a fun-filled game. I always challenge myself to beat my previous scores. This game has a lot of aspects to teach your brain.

  • Olivera Brajanovska says:

    It sounds really great…but who is really practicing 8h meditation except Buddhist monks to have a good impact on their immun system and to have a good influence on the epigenetic?

    No one has the time for that, considering the job of 8h and the time is needed to prepare in the morning, the time you need to get there and the other daily activities like shopping, eating and pay attention to a family if you have one?

    For all these benefits is no enough time left!

    But 20 min. a day I thing everybody can take this time for himself 😊

    Greeting from Switzerland 🦋🐞🐌🐈

  • deBora cousins says:

    At the beginning of the interview the host mentioned that the troops are using meditation. How do you meditate when you are being trained to kill other human beings? what would you be meditating on? How to kill and still maintain your sanity? not being sarcastic, just don't understand how a method that teaches one how to bring peace and calm to the mind can be used by people who are trained to kill others be usefull. Decent answers please. Thank you.

  • superkb172 says:

    Key point here is to focus your mind to begin to help your awareness. Is simply to meet your soul via mind development. This is the key to getting to your true nature. Nirvana

  • Cody Jack Schwartz says:

    this guy dan harris is such an opportunistic dweezil, i can't believe the self-confidence of this nobody, but i guess that's par for the course

  • Alexandra Asbury says:

    Doesn't this man know the difference between cussing and swearing ("asshole" is a cuss word)?

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