The Mind, Explained (2019) s01e04 Episode Script

Mindfulness

When Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was a child living in Nepal, in the shadow of Mt.
Manaslu, he had terrible panic attacks.
I have lot of fear about the snow storm and when the thunder comes, and I fear for strangers.
One day my father said, "Oh, you want to learn meditation, right?" The first meditation training is he asked me to watch my breath.
So, I watched my breath.
That’s a common mindfulness exercise.
And soon, Mingyur was a mindfulness meditation prodigy.
Decades later, he built this monastery in Bodh Gaya, India, the place where the Buddha famously achieved enlightenment while meditating under a tree.
He spent four years wandering the Himalayas, practicing mindfulness and growing a beard.
And then, scientists invited him to Wisconsin, so they could look at his brain.
They found that although he was 41, he had the brain of a 33-year-old.
When they had him go in an fMRI machine and cultivate a sense of compassion by meditating, the activity and his empathy circuits shot up seven to 800 percent.
One of the researchers later wrote, “Such an extreme increase befuddles science.
The closest resemblance is in epileptic seizures, but brains are seized by seizures in contrast to Mingyur's intentional control of his brain activity.
" Mingyur Rinpoche had somehow induced a prolonged attack of compassion in his own brain.
When researchers studied the brain waves of a whole group of long-term meditators, they found similar results.
The moment meditation began, there was a sudden rush of activity.
Meditation causes big changes in the minds of experts.
But when beginners meditate, not much happens.
These observations seem to back up a long-held claim that meditation can make you a master of your own mind.
Early Buddhist texts say this can help end suffering.
Modern headlines are a bit more clinical, claiming mindfulness may cure anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other health problems.
So, what is real and what is hype? How can this simple practice of watching your own breath change the way your brain works? And can that change your life? Bring your full attention to the ingoing and outgoing breath.
Expansion on the in breath.
Simply notice you're breathing in.
- Contraction with the out breath.
- Releasing all tension.
Now, withdraw your attention from the external things and relax.
There's many many different styles of meditation.
Literally, hundreds of different forms of meditation.
The word "meditation" you can liken to sports.
There are many different kinds of sports, there are many different kinds of meditation.
And strictly speaking, most of them are not mindfulness.
There's Transcendental Meditation, which The Beatles got into while writing the White Album.
The idea here is to repeat a mantra, a word or sound, until you transcend thought entirely.
Then there's Dynamic Meditation, which is supposed to break old thought patterns.
You may recognize it from coverage of the Rajneeshpuram community.
Most religions have some kind of practice that could be called meditation, quietly contemplating scripture or forms of ritual prayer intended to bring you closer to God.
Some of the oldest forms of meditation come from early Hinduism.
According to tradition, around 500 BC, the Buddha studied these techniques, but then, he added his own spin.
He systematically developed a new meditation technique that is called the Satipatthana Meditation.
This is the traditional form of "mindfulness meditation," one step on the eightfold path to enlightenment that the Buddha taught his followers.
The goal isn’t to get closer to the divine or to empty your mind, it’s to pay attention.
"Sati" means "attention.
" "Upa" means "inside.
" And "thana" means "to keep.
" Satipatthana simply means "to keep your attention inside.
" Most of the time, most people actually don't know what their minds are doing.
We are pulled by all kinds of forces around us, and we do stuff that we're just not aware of.
Things happen and we react.
And so part of the practice of mindfulness is bringing awareness to what it is that our minds are actually doing.
To explain this technique, Buddha told a story.
One day, Mr.
Turtle and Mr.
Fox met in the forest.
Mr.
Fox thought, "I'm going to have a good food today.
" And Mr.
Turtle thought "Oh, my goodness.
My enemy is out there.
Shall I run? I'm not fast enough.
" So, he went inside his shell.
Mr.
Fox paced round and round Mr.
Turtle, but eventually he got tired of waiting and went away.
Every time you see a real fox in your life, like stress, tension, depression, anxiety, sadness, worries you should be like Mr.
Turtle.
That doesn’t mean running away from your problems.
It means observing your reaction to those problems instead of engaging with them, appreciating that these feelings are passing products of your own mind and you can control your relationship to them.
You can make friends with other emotion, the difficult situation in our life.
You don't need to fight.
You don't need to surrender for the problem.
Make friends.
You can bring this quality to anything.
Whatever we do throughout the day, it has to be done with mindfulness.
According to one text, the Buddha told his followers to be aware of their minds and bodies while looking around, eating, drinking, chewing, tasting, walking, standing, sitting, even when obeying the calls of nature.
Mindfulness meditation is just a way to practice this skill.
Slowly, slowly train our mind, like going to gym.
When you go to the gym and you do exercise, develop your muscle, you become more fit.
So, mind become more healthy and developed.
You can think of a mindfulness session as a training ground.
Every Tuesday evening at six o’clock, at the Moran Medium Security Prison, a group of inmates gather in room eight.
Mindful of this moment, I feel as light and free as the clear blue sky.
Awakening here, now, in room eight I smile.
I was definitely skeptical about it.
You couldn't tell me that meditation by breathing, that it's going to help you.
Breathing in, I know that I'm breathing in.
Breathing out, I know that I'm breathing out.
Then, within a few seconds, their mind will begin to wander.
Our teacher said that's the nature of the mind at the beginning.
At the beginning, I just felt like my mind is just racing a million miles an hour.
When your mind wanders like this, it’s usually time traveling.
I'm thinking about what happened in the past.
Oh, I'm thinking about the future.
And we can see that activity in brain scans, lighting up something called the Default Mode Network, or DMN.
It's what allows us to call up memories or imagine the future, but it also lets us endlessly ruminate about regrets and fears.
It's what some Buddhists call the “monkey mind.
” If your mind goes out a million times, be mindful and kind enough to bring it back to the present moment a million times.
You can tame the monkey mind.
That noticing of distraction, of noticing that your mind is lost, is so important because it's a moment of awakening.
In that moment, when you direct your attention back to your breath, a part of the brain lights up, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
It’s one of those brain regions that sets us primates apart from other animals, part of the control center that helps us focus.
Meditation strengthens its connection to the DMN, and in brain scans of expert meditators, their DMNs are less active.
This could be the mental muscle that meditation sessions develop.
We are simply practicing the quality of paying attention over and over again.
Today, thousands of schools in dozens of countries are offering mindfulness classes to students.
I just want you to be aware of your breathing.
The corporate world has embraced it too.
There are mindfulness rooms on all 61 floors of the headquarters of the company Salesforce.
After construction was completed, Salesforce's CEO explained his reasoning.
I think this is really important to cultivating innovation in your company.
We’re in this always-on economy.
Here we are on a panel, you’re gripping your phone.
But that phone, it turned out, was also a vehicle for mindfulness.
- I have a mediation app here.
Headspace.
- Okay - Well, that's amazing, isn't that - Yeah, I do it every day.
The Headspace app offers ten-minute mindfulness sessions.
As you breath out, just watching the body soften.
More than a million people around the world subscribe to that, and the Calm app, its competitor, has attracted another million subscribers.
In 2019, the two companies were valued at 320 million and one billion dollars.
But mindfulness only took off in the West after almost disappearing in the East.
By the time Marco Polo visited China in the 13th century, Buddhism has spread to almost every corner of Asia.
But mindfulness meditation had mostly fallen out of practice.
Most Buddhists never meditated.
It was just for especially dedicated ascetic monks.
That changed when the British invaded.
A passionate monk named Ledi Sayadaw saw this occupation as a threat to Buddhism’s very existence, so he encouraged everyday people, everywhere, to practice mindfulness meditation.
Ledi Sayadaw taught many students and inspired other Buddhist teachers who taught more students, including a few from Europe and the United States.
In the East, mindfulness was quickly spreading.
But it took decades to gain purchase in the West.
For many Americans, this 1993 Bill Moyers special was their first glimpse of mindfulness meditation.
Fully present with the breath with the body.
This guy is Jon Kabat-Zinn.
And he’s not at a monastery, he’s at a hospital.
Kabat-Zinn had studied Zen Buddhism while getting a molecular biology PhD.
He also learned from several ambassadors of the Burmese School of Meditation.
He re-branded those teachings to appeal to a secular Western audience with a program called “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
” Years later, he wrote, “I bent over backward to avoid being seen as Buddhist, New Age, or plain flaky.
" He explained his reasoning in that breakout episode with Bill Moyers.
We had no idea, and this had never been tried before in a medical center, whether mainstream Americans would go for meditative disciplines.
"Give me a break.
What are you talking about, meditation?" But Kabat-Zinn made a tantalizing promise right there on the cover of his book.
Mindfulness could help you cope with stress, pain, and illness.
It sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
And it probably didn’t hurt sales that Hollywood in the 90's was getting really into Buddhism.
His holiness the Dalai Lama would like to meet you.
The 14th Dalai Lama.
To learn is to change.
That’s Keanu Reeves playing Buddha.
In real life, the Dalai Lama had become a celebrity face of Buddhism.
He was so popular he was invited on Larry King, where he discussed one of his life-long interests: neuroscience.
I think the modern science about brain, about nerve system, and about human psychology seems now just is starting, beginning.
In the fall of 1992, I first met His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
He invited me and asked me to bring a few other scientists.
He challenged me and he said, "Look, you've been using tools of modern neuroscience to study stress and anxietyand depression.
Why can't you use those same tools to look at a person and see what's right with them?" At the time, there were only a few dozen studies on meditation.
But Richie and his colleagues changed that.
Now, more than a thousand studies come out every year.
But not all of them are reliable.
One review of over 8,000 studies of meditation’s impacts on health found just 47 of them were designed well enough to trust the results.
And there wasn’t good evidence that mindfulness could affect substance use, eating habits, sleep, or weight.
Today, we see people using these practices to treat diseases, both psychiatric illnesses and medical illnesses.
And there isn't a whole lot of scientific evidence to suggest that it's useful in those ways.
But there is evidence that the turtle and the fox story has some truth to it.
Mindfulness seems to change how we relate to our own feelings, which in turn can change how we relate to the world.
Studies show that expert meditators have a higher tolerance for pain.
Experts still feel burning, for example, with the same intensity as beginners.
They just rate it as less unpleasant.
When the heat comes, I aware of heat.
Be aware of heat.
So for me, the heat sensation is very clear.
When most of us anticipate getting burned, our brains' pain centers react as if we were already suffering.
And this reaction is so strong, when the pain actually arrives, not much changes.
Once the pain is over, that mental anguish slowly subsides.
But expert meditators react much less in anticipation, then they feel the pain very intensely, and then activity falls much faster.
Something similar is seen in the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala.
Beginners have a lot of activation there when anticipating pain, but experts don't.
There's no kind of like rumination.
It’s as if long-term meditators view pain as a neutral event, not an emotional ordeal.
In 1963, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire to protest the ruling regime.
A reporter wrote, “As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound.
” When most of us see a disturbing image like this, our amygdalas light up and tell us this is something that we should focus on.
But a study found that the more meditation experience someone has, the less their amygdalas react to these kinds of images.
That could be because the connection between the emotional part and the regulatory part of the brain has been strengthened by mindfulness training.
Expert meditators, like all of us, can’t fully control what happens in their lives, but they have much better control over how they respond.
And that can be a powerful tool when tensions are high.
How can you have something happen and create enough emotional space to make a choice that isn't the reaction that's going to get them into trouble over and over again.
Breathing allows you to think about which way you want to handle this situation.
You need a job, things ain't going to be all happy hunky-dory.
The boss says something I don't like, you don't want to come in the next day pissed off or mad.
You gotta find a way to deal with these emotions.
Can I be aware of myself? Can I manage what's happening inside of me, so that I can manage my behavior? The possibility is to start to create a different vision of themselves.
Meditation may help you see your sense of self, your ego, as just another product of your mind, like pain or emotion.
What we're really talking about is decreases in the rigidity of the self.
After all, our sense of self mostly comes from thinking about our past and futures, the job of the DMN, which is turned down in expert meditators.
For people with depression and anxiety, the DMN is often turned up, which may be why mindfulness can help with these disorders.
When I was young, I had these panic attacks.
And my father said, "No, don't fight with the panic.
You have to say welcome to panic.
" I'm not going to get rid of my panic.
You can use anything as support for your meditation.
So, I use my panic.
I watch my panic.
"Hello, panic.
Welcome.
" So, in the end, me and my panic become good friend.
Some studies show that mindfulness doesn’t help as much as medication, but it could be an option for people who want to avoid side effects of drugs.
As meditation quiets your self-absorbed monkey mind, it might free you up to focus more on other people.
Another translation of the word “Sati” is “to remember”.
What is being remembered is the consideration of other human beings as having intrinsic goodness.
The consideration of other human beings as having the same wish to be happy and to be free of suffering.
The purpose of meditation is to make you kind.
Mindfulness by itself is insufficient.
Before practice of meditation, there is one step.
That is called morality.
If people can benefit from meditation in a secular way, that is also fine, but it's not going to give you the complete freedom.
There are guys in here who certainly are just taking this class because they might get a few days off of their sentence.
But even those guys, I think get a little bit of something out of it in terms of just, "Oh, right.
I can take a breath here.
" This is the way in.
It's the only way in.
Ultimately, you're sitting with yourself in your cell.
If you're not happy in here, you're not going to be happy on the outside either.
So, how do you figure out how to be happy in here? It's not about fixing anything, it's simply about helping them change their relationship to their circumstances.
I mean, it's a lot of things, different, simple things that you notice.
I notice the air.
You know, I look into the sky.
If I'm on the phone in the yard, I tell my family, or whoever I'm on the phone with, my loved ones, "It is beautiful out here.
" And that's not things I used to do, 'cause I didn't really notice it.