July 2-3 people from around the world gathered for the World Culture Festival in Berlin for what seems like a powerful celebration of global diversity.

I was especially intrigued by the video just posted to give a glimpse into the group meditation by 70,000 people, focusing on world peace:

In this January 2011 study led by Sara Lazar of Mass General Hospital, the striking findings were that meditation changes not only your stress response, but also the very underlying structure of your brain–especially areas related to sense of self, stress, and empathy.

I can’t help but wonder what small-scale evolutionary steps we humans are taking when 70,000 of us meditate together.  In the big picture of the human project, what are we about here?

Are we using meditation to program our brains for world peace?

If so, what location should play host to the next gathering of 70,000?

In the next decade, will parents “immunize” their children against the stresses of life by teaching them meditation?

By 2021, will it be seen as irresponsible of parents to not fortify their children in this way?

This metaphor of meditation as immunization is an interesting one, and I anticipate we’ll see more of this kind of conversation moving forward.  Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests this metaphor in the following short video clip.

For a more lengthy experience of Jon’s work, see my recent post about of his interview with Krista Tippet.  The metaphor they use for that discussion is to think of meditation as a spiritual technology.

A couple of other highlights of this short video:

  • Physiology of meditation:  meditation works on the chromosomes, cells, brain, and organ systems (including the immune system), emotional regulation etc.
  • Meditation & brain plasticity:  with meditation, the real estate of the brain is being recruited in service of greater compassion, equanimity, clarity & wisdom

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Thanks to Jean Hagan, for bringing this video to my attention!

In Krista Tippett‘s most recent interview for On Being, she unpacks “meditation as a spiritual technology” together with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, HealthCare and Society at UMass.

(Yes, he is the son of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States).

Highlights include discussion of:

  • meditation as a spiritual technology that can be a key to sane living in this world without having to abandon our worldly path
  • the distinction between thinking versus true attention and awareness
  • mindful parenting:  “living with children as a powerful spiritual practice” on which Jon & his wife wrote a book
  • Jon’s mindfulness facilitation at Google’s HQ in 2007
  • relationship between time and awareness
  • relationships, immune system, body & brain changes resulting from mindfulness
  • how (presumably non-spiritual) technology can be addictive
  • how stress dampens empathy
  • mindful leadership & Obama

The segment closes with this poem:

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the others’ welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Studies of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are taking off, with the recent addition of a study to be published in Neuroimaging today.  Will more people be nudged to meditate if they can measure and visualize the impact on their physical and emotional well-being in increasingly compelling ways?

Here is an accessible description of the research from Friday’s New York Times titled “How Meditation May Change the Brain” by Sindya Bhanoo:

The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

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Note:  Also posted on the IFTF blog, FutureNow