Great article in the New York Times called The Morality of Meditation about recent science research into the practice of Mindfulness Meditation.
Research done by neuroscientists and psychologists into the effects of Mindfulness meditation show
“mounting scientific evidence that the practice can enhance creativity, memory and scores on standardized intelligence tests,”
but more interestingly, this study demonstrated an increased compassionate response to other people’s suffering on the part of meditators after a simple 8 week meditation course. The implications are staggering.
This has been my own personal experience with both myself and people I have taught mindfulness meditation practice to. And what is great about this from the standpoint of dosha is that
Vatta dosha with its tendency to fear, its tendency to be affected more by situations that elicit fear in anyone, and by its cold, dry, stiff response to things that make it uncomfortable, is softened and calmed by the experience of compassion, where normally it cringes in fear and sets up barriers of space. And Pitta dosha, with its tendency to intensity, and with its tendency to response to things with firey anger and irritability and impatience, to be more affected by frustrating circumstances and people than the other doshas, is calmed and cooled by the experience of compassion, so that both doshas can now more skillfully respond to what life presents in ways that are both wise, useful, and or neccessary.
For self study, the best book I have found is Calming Your Anxious Mind. This book, written by an M.D., is simple the most well written, jargon free guide to mindfulness meditation that is authentically based on the Vippassana practice that mindfulness meditation is a part of, and yet, to avoid problems of religious bias, is completely free of any references that could be objectionable to people with their own religious belief systems. I even had a patient who is a Methodist minister using this book teaching her congregation how to become more Christ-like through meditation. How exciting.
In my San Diego acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda practice I am able to observe that
a great deal of the functional disorders I treat begin with the mind. Dosha in Ayurveda, which is translated as our Body-Mind type, in Sanskrit derives from the word for fault. Dosha is both your natural type and the manner you will become ill if your natural type is allowed to increase too much. And the thing is, it is in the nature of our nature to increase unless we take special measures of lifestyle and diet. Diet is relatively easy, you eat a diet appropriate to your dosha. Lifestyle involves things like not running in the sun at 2 pm in the summer if you are Pitta dominant; being careful not to overdo travel, getting enough rest, and avoiding cold wind like air-conditioning if you are Vatta dominant; or making sure you get enough hard exercise like digging ditches or mountain climbing if you are Kapha dominant.
In the east it is understood that part of mental culture, part of growing up into a healthy adult, is grappling with your human nature. In the west, especially in post 60’s USA with its emphasis on personal freedom and its revolt against hierarchy, this is less emphasized. In China and India people tend to live for their families and put personal needs second. But even having said that, east or west, you must sill always deal with your own personal unique strengths and weaknesses. And the natural tendency of our dosha, or nature, or fault, is to increase if left untended.
>Pitta dominant folk are characterized by intensity and fire, which, if left unchecked, develops into hyperintensity, anger, and issues of fire such as GERD, migraine, eczema, psoriasis, acne, and heart disease. Vatta dominants are characterized by vivacity, cheerfulness and quickness, like wind, which if left unchecked can develop into by nervousness and fear, and issues such as Anxiety, insomnia, constipation, arthritis, Kapha dominants are characterized by the solidity of earth and the smoothness of water, which, when combined in the right proportion can give the solidity and strength of earthen bricks and the patience and generosity of water, but when allowed to increase beyond healthy levels leads to inertia, withdrawal, darkness, excessive shade, and such issues of water and earth such as frequent colds and phlegm, laziness, couch potato syndrome, weight gain, and cystic acne.
The mental aspects of dosha and the mental aspects of disease formation are far more influenced by the mind itself than by food. You can worsen Vatta with caffeine, or Kapha with sugar, absolutely, but you dont create anger issues or fear issues with food, you create them with how our minds digest experience and how we cultivate or dont cultivate our minds. The mind is just as much a garden as the body.
So we must first recognize the role of the mind, and then take action to deal with it through meditative practices. In Vippassana practice of Theravada Buddhism, mindfulness meditation is part of the deal, but so is have the proper attitudes towards living.
What is great about mindfulness meditation is that it does not involve repression. By creating a comfortable, self nurturing space through mindfulness of the in and out breath, you develop the ability to observe and feel whatever arises in the field of clear consciousness softly, gently, and without judgement, as a scientist, and observer, not as a judge. For people in our culture, who have absorbed so many harsh messages of self loathing, who have learned to beat themselves up for each mistake, this is so very valuable, to develop some wiggle room around judgements and feelings, which itself cultivates a generous, Kaphic attitude towards oneself and others, which leads to a more peaceful accepting approach towards living and experience
That means that whatever dark thing arises, it could even be a cruel or violent fantasy, for example, you notice it without repression, just another thought, just another sensation, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and then it is gone. Thoughts, like the breath, rise and fall. They are not you and you are not them. There are, on a certain level, simple biochemical reactions in the brain with corollary nervous system reactions. This is how mindfulness practice helps you develop space between your experiences, your past, and your present. As you cultivate a non-judgmental clear, compassionate attitude towards your own thoughts, (note: we are discussing thoughts, not actions…of course there is a role for judging moral and immoral actions) you develop a greater sense of clarity and compassion towards others.