The most important meditation method is one you never heard of; nondual compassion

Despite eighty years of meditation research, science is still trying to understand what nondual meditation is.

It’s a wrong view to consider nondual compassion merely a method; it is really an entire approach to lived experience. Thus from the outset, we need to define what we mean by nondual. You will find many different ways of thinking about the ‘nondual’ in Western academic literature, but traditional forms of meditation use the term to describe one of three primary states of human consciousness. As the name implies, ‘nondual’ consciousness exists in relation to the ‘dual’, and as every new generation of nondual practitioners ‘discovers’ this means nonduality is part of a binary system. This binary system of dual and nondual describes human consciousness. Most humans spend their entire waking (and sleeping) experience fluctuating between the dual and nondual without ever realising. All Buddhist (spiritual?) meditation challenges the belief that the most common configuration of consciousness, the dual, is the only or most important way to experience life.

A happy mind in a healthy body

Several Buddhist schools have developed meditation (mind-training) methods that explicitly reduce our dependency on dualistic consciousness. Many of these nondual approaches are linked to permanent and enduring states of happiness which also have profound health benefits. What’s more, there is clear but preliminary evidence from neuroscience that the dominance of the brain network responsible for dualistic experience is linked to poor health. Unfortunately, because neuropsychology and neuroscience see the world from a dualistic perspective, only a handful of scientific studies demonstrate the importance of nondual meditation.

Many people find this subject challenging, but altering consciousness is actually the point of meditating. The way we see the world, reduce stress, increase happiness, create less damaging psychological habits are all linked to the dual-nondual relationship. There is almost nothing you can do to explain what nondual consciousness is to someone rooted in dualistic thinking (most of us). Several crucial Buddhist texts describe this problem through abstract teachings and metaphors. But as helpful as these guides are, they can take a considerable time (years) to master. However, one naturally occurring human mental state that we use every day can help us resolve the dual-nondual dichotomy; it is compassion.

Most Buddhist practices cultivate compassion, not just because it leads directly to a reduction in suffering but also for its potential as a nondual teaching aid. From both Buddhist and scientific perspectives, we know that compassion has the potential to be active in the dual and nondual brain networks. Over time this can increase the nondual experience of life. This state offers a wide range of mental and physical health benefits but can also lead to rapid spiritual development. Unfortunately practising the method alone will not necessarily develop nondual compassion, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Similarly, meditation is mainly in the mind, so the method alone won’t guarantee positive results without the correct approach and motivation. This is one of the main reasons why a reliable teacher is essential. When we begin these practices, we can easily mistake the experience of dualistic compassion as our goal, and by concentrating on this form, we create new barriers to nondual consciousness. The danger of getting stuck in dualistic meditation is why many experienced practitioners recommend finding a reliable teacher before committing to a specific meditation practice.

Free online compassion meditation

How to practice compassion meditation, an explanation of how it works and a description of its benefits.

Some of the greatest health benefits come from compassion.

If you are looking for an introduction to compassion meditation but don’t know where to start, you might benefit from this brief guide. I recorded the video during the first lockdown in 2020. I created it for people who are newcomers to compassionate meditation or who want a primer to nondual methods. Although this practice is based on Buddhist mind-training, I have adapted it as a modern secular practice. In common with all the meditation methods I teach, it is consistent with reliable teachings and supported by the latest evidence from neuropsychology.

This is an introductory training video as well as a guided meditation. Here I offer explanations of what the practice is, how to start and what to expect. If this is your first time, listen to the whole explanation, when you are confident with the method, you can simply follow the meditation and cut out the preamble. Please note; for brevity, I have edited out long sections of my meditation. If you want to use this resource as a guided meditation, you can go straight to the meditation and pause the clip when the practice begins; restarting when you come to a natural break in your own meditation. To get the full health and wellbeing benefits of the method, you will need to develop a clear insight into how the mind training works.

From my personal experience and the accounts of my students, this can be a life-changing practice. But its full effects take time to emerge, three times a week, over three months is a productive medium-term meditation goal. However, you should get immediate short term wellbeing benefits from just one focussed twenty-minute session. Expect to feel uplifted, happier and calmer from the first practice.

As a nondual meditation, this is a preliminary practice; once the results are obtained you may wish to seek, more complex methods to develop further.  Always use reliable methods and the guidance of an accomplished teacher.

Early benefits that my students or I have experienced as a result of this practice are:

  • Significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure and a general feeling of increased well being.
  • Lower levels of stress and anxiety
  • Boosted energy levels, movement away from passive activities and lifestyle.
  • Perception of positive relationships and interconnectivity with others
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased self-efficacy, less uncertainty in professional and personal matters
  • Improved concentration and focus
  • Greater tolerance
  • A stronger sense of happiness and a more fulfilling experience of life

The key to compassionate meditation is to remember mind training is all about your mind. How you sit and breathe, where you meditation and who with are all secondary. The practice is about creating new and improve compassionate function and structure in your brain; you can’t fake it. A good teacher and/or method are essential. As always email us if you have any concerns. You are welcome to post your thoughts and experiences below.

Does compassion meditation work?

There is growing interest in compassion based meditation and mind training, but what is it and does it work?

Can compassion training support your health and wellbeing

From the perspective of cognitive psychology, the term compassion is poorly defined and chronically under-researched. So at the outset, a priority is to explain what is meant by ‘compassion’. For many years I have been using a popular definition linked to Buddhist meditation from the Tibetan traditions:

Compassion: may all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

This explanation fits my understanding, my meditation goals and is consistent with what I have learned for the cognitive and neuropsychological evidence. A second clarification; I only practice the nondual forms of compassion meditation. There are other (dualistic) approaches that may be more appropriate or desirable for beginners. In this narrow context, and thinking in relative terms, nondual compassion is the wish that all (self and other) don’t suffer. The majority of medicalised meditation methods are dual, primarily focussed on self or other. I have extensive experience of compassion for other practice, with a reliable method and teacher they can be very beneficial. Meditation based on compassion only for self (self-compassion) is an approach I don’t have direct experience with, and it’s not something I would personally recommend.

In common with many meditation systems studied by psychology (including mindfulness), the scientific evidence for compassion meditation is mixed. However, this weakness reflects theoretical and methodological limitations in the way we understand meditation rather than the utility of compassion-based mind training. A recent strategic review of the evidence found that compassion meditation increased feelings of compassion, self-compassion, mindfulness and well-being. It also reduced the sense of depression, anxiety and psychological distress.1

From a personal perspective, I have experienced (and expect to see in my students) several changes related to regular (nondual) compassionate practice.

  • Lower levels of stress and anxiety often reflected in physiological changes such as lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and a general feeling of increased well being
  • Increased energy levels and a greater sense of one’s potential
  • Awareness of positive relationships and interconnectivity with others
  • Improved sleep patterns (not necessarily longer but definitely better)
  • A greater sense of self-efficacy in professional and personal matters
  • Better levels of concentration and focus
  • Increased tolerance towards and concern for others
  • A greater sense of proportion, unimportant matters tend not to increase stress and anxiety
  • A stronger sense of happiness and a more fulfilling experience of life

The key to compassionate meditation is to remember mind training is all about your mind. How you sit and breathe, where you meditation and who with are all secondary. The practice aims to create new and improve compassionate function and structures in your brain; you can’t fake it. A good teacher and/or method are essential.

As always email us if you have any concerns. And please post your thoughts and experiences below.

Notes

  1. Kirby, J. N., Tellegen, C. L., & Steindl, S. R. (2017). A meta-analysis of compassion-based interventions: Current state of knowledge and future directions. Behavior Therapy, 48(6), 778-792.

Meditation for self-isolation: overcoming coronavirus fear with compassion

Meditation expert recommends compassion meditation as a way to tackle Coronavirus linked fear and anxiety. Use compassion to support wellbeing during social-isolation.

Rock tower
Meditation to support self-isolation, generate wellbeing through compassion.

Follow this link if you’re looking for the online compassion meditation or other relevant resources. However, read on for more information about why compassion is essential at this difficult time.

Humans have all the necessary tools to overcome challenges, that’s self-evident from looking at our history. Not that we should underestimate the threat from Coronavirus, we must take appropriate precautions. But excessive stress and anxiety will not help us deal with difficult situations. In fact, fear is likely to undermine our ability to make good choices and may weaken our mental and physical health.

A growing body of scientific evidence supports claims that pro-social behaviours such as kindness and compassion are linked to reduced suffering. Compassion is an enduring quality present in almost all societies. Traditional meditation practices, particularly in Buddhism, are built on the foundations of kindness and compassion. This suggests that one of the worst things we can do in a time of threat is to turn inwards, to ignore the needs of others, the bigger picture.

As support for people self-isolating or anxious about the current situation, I’ve recorded a simple compassion meditation. It’s one I teach regularly and is based on a well known, traditional practice. It has been secularised so is suitable for almost everyone. It contains two of the cognitive elements central to successful meditation methods, compassion and a non-dual view. Put simply, it increases compassionate feelings for self and others.

We will be posting more free resources during these difficult times, contribute your comments below or send any questions to us here. Feel free to share our resources with anyone who is likely to benefit from them. People who feel alone, vulnerable or are self-isolating may find this kind of meditation particularly beneficial.

Compassion is the key to happiness: Just follow the science

Its seems increasingly likely that compassion meditation influences brain functions and structures able to increase happiness.

Kindness wins
Why is there an enduring link between kindness and happiness?

We live in materialistic times, many people find it hard to understand the enduring nature of compassion and kindness. Last January I saw a woman buy a young homeless guy a cup of coffee. I didn’t know either of these people although this happened close to my home. A passer-by, about the same age as the homeless man, cat-called ‘loser’ from the other side of the street. The homeless man responded with a few expletives, but the passer-by was quick to point out ‘not you, her’. It was the act of compassion that had provoked the insult!

It raised the question in my mind, why are humans compassionate, why do so many of us care about strangers, even if there is no profit to us? I don’t mean my own feelings, I worked out the benefits of compassion to me years ago. Although we all can have a bad day, at some point almost everyone feels compassion for another. People in diverse cultures from all periods of history have been shown to value altruism, it’s a universal human characteristic. The answer has to be that our brains are hard-wired towards helping others. If compassion is an enduring quality, present in different societies we can assume we’ve evolved like this.

person standing on hand rails with arms wide open facing the mountains and clouds

As humans, we can train our minds to increase or decrease our underlying mental states. Altruism and selfishness are not constants, if you watch any film or browse a website you can observe these emotions rise and fall in response to what you see. The whole social media culture of ‘liking’ and ‘not-liking’ feeds into these mental traits. The point of compassion meditation is to train those networks linked to the way we see ourselves and others. These practices have been associated with increased happiness for thousands of years. And the scientific evidence is now starting to show us why.

New psychological and neuroscience studies have found that altruism (selfless acts) are strongly correlated to reduced experience of suffering, even in cancer patients. Leading economist Richard Layard also claims, based on decades of research, that it is altruism that underpins our happiness. Although he also points out that not all forms of mindfulness or meditation may actually generate altruism. The bottom line is that considering the needs of others alongside your own, seems to make people happier. One note of caution, you can’t trick your brain. Our happiness originates in brain networks, you need to actually generate compassionate thoughts and feelings.

“If I could only do one thing to support my mental and physical health it would be compassion training. That training underpins and enriches every part of my life. It supports my relationships, my diet, my freetime my work. In the past selfishness reduced me to an army of one, competing against everyone else on earth. Compassion extended my circle of friends to include every living creature.”

Stephen Gene Morris

How to cope with Coronavirus, fear, you and meditation

Sustained fear and anxiety is the enemy. Use meditation to cope with Coronavirus

Fear, meditation and Coronavirus
Fear is the enemy, how to cope with Coronavirus

From time to time, we are faced with challenges and threats. These can become significant problems to deal with if we get them out of proportion. However, when the danger is global, like climate change or the Covid-19, virus it’s hard to maintain an even keel. Everywhere you look, you will find references to the danger from Coronavirus, even here in Britain where there are (at the time of writing) a relatively small number of cases. The first point to make is that when we are frightened, we make bad decisions, our perspectives become distorted. I don’t suggest that blind optimism is the answer to fear, just pretending that bad things don’t happen. But thousands of years of human experience have shown that brain training systems such as meditation offer great practical help in times of crisis.

pexels-photo-225017.jpeg

My experience as a meditation teacher and scientist converge when it comes to fear. The evidence from cognitive psychology and neuroscience is that sustained periods of fear or stress harm the brain and the body. When we worry or experience stress, our body produces chemicals such as cortisol that help us deal with a short term crisis. When fear or anxiety is prolonged, the effect of these chemicals becomes harmful. There is a considerable body of evidence that supports this basic idea. So when we enter a period of ‘global panic’, how can we establish an appropriate response?

I (and many of the people I taught) came to meditation because of problems with fear and stress. Over the years, I have experienced and seen how compassion-based meditation balances our perception of self and other (intrinsic and extrinsic neural networks)—allowing us to respond to real-life problems in a balanced and sustainable way. Threats to our health are always going to be present; they become more significant as we get older. But building compassion for ourselves and others is one of the most reliable methods for keeping things in perspective. Compassion meditation isn’t merely wishing away stress, it’s a tool to reconfigure our way of understanding the world. So that fear is kept proportionate to risk.

“The most useful health practice I have experienced over my lifetime is the compassionate view. That when I encounter any situation likely to provoke fear, I make the silent wish that no being may suffer; me, you, everybody. It has protected me from anxiety and stress for decades.”

Stephen Gene Morris

Canterbury Meditation Classes

Canterbury meditation classes every Wednesday.

Brain Renewal Meditation – Compassion based mindfulness designed to improve wellbeing and maintain cognitive function for all ages.

Canterbury meditation classes
Canterbury meditation classes

Meditate in Canterbury

Classes are currently being run through Teams and Zoom, email us for more details.

FAQs

Is it suitable for non meditators?

Many people attending are likely to be new to meditation or have limited experience.

Will I be able to do it?

Almost everyone can do it, it is a form of mind training so it may require some concentration but it is appropriate for adults of all ages.

Is the teacher qualified or experienced?

Our teachers tend to be among the most qualified and experienced of any meditation teachers. The Canterbury class is run by a trained cognitive psychologist/neuroscientist with extensive experience of traditional and contemporary meditation systems.

Are discounts available for advanced bookings?

Yes as we teach relatively small groups we cut down on a lot of admin time if people book several weeks at a time. We pass these savings on to our meditators. Significant discounts are available for bookings of 3 weeks, 5 weeks or 10 weeks. Contact us for more details: stephen@brainrm.com

I can’t get to a class but I want to practice

We also run online meditation classes and 1 to 1 sessions, get in touch for more details.

Are there minimum age requirements to enter the event?

This is an adult meditation class so it is open to everyone over the age of 18.

What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?

There is very limited parking at the venue, a range of public car parks are within walking distance. Canterbury can be accessed through a range of public transport options.

What can I bring into the event?

Just yourself, no special clothing or equipment is necessary

What’s the refund policy?

Cancel within 24 hours for a full refund

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

That’s up to you

Is my registration fee or ticket transferrable?

Yes anyone over the age of 18 can use the ticket

Is it ok if the name on my ticket or registration doesn’t match the person who attends?

No problem

Terms & conditions

  1. If you have any special requirements let us know in advance.
  2. The basic cost of a lesson is £10, buying your ticket through Eventbright or using the PayPal service attracts a small surcharge.
  3. You can always pay at the venue before the class begins.
  4. We offer discounts for advanced bookings of 3, 5 and 10 classes.
  5. Concessionary tickets of £7 are available for people not in paid employment.
  6. Online training and 1 to 1 instruction is available, confirm the availability of the teacher before booking.

Notes

Header photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Anxiety in middle age linked to higher risks of dementia

#Anxiety in middle age linked to higher risks of #dementia. If you suffer from moderate or high levels of anxiety act today!

Anxiety in middle age linked to higher risks of dementia
Could anxiety in your middle years make you more vulnerable to dementia

Anxiety in middle age linked to higher risks of dementia

It is no surprise that anxiety at any age is not good for you, anyone that has experienced strong feelings of anxiousness knows how unpleasant they can be. But the recent revelations that there is a proven link between anxiety in middle aged and late onset dementia is shocking news. Details of research published at the BMJ Open website describe how over an interval of a decade, midlife anxiety is linked to increased risk of dementia.

“The main point is to protect yourself from increased risks of developing late stage dementia”

Stephen Gene Morris

smiling man holding woman s left shoulder
Choose happiness, why not?

There are three issues that jump out of the report for me. Firstly that medium and strong forms of anxiety are dangerous, they should carry government health warnings. If you suffer from anxiety don’t let this report worry you further, take it as a sign that it’s time to do something. Secondly I don’t like the ten year interval between the reported anxiety and a diagnosis of dementia. It suggests that day to day living doesn’t return brain function and structure to ‘normal’ after strong bouts of anxiety, we don’t automatically recover from the wear and tear. But on a more positive note the study describes anxiety as a ‘modifiable risk factor’. That means you can probably do something about it!

Anxiety is not the only lifestyle or behavioral factor associated with dementia but the science shows it does matter.  So if you suffer from anxiety what can you do? Firstly take action to roll back the behaviours that lead to medium and strong forms anxiety. As someone who has suffered with this condition I know that is easier said than done, but at least acknowledge that you need to do something. Meditation was the intervention that worked for me, compassionate meditation! It might seems strange I know, but by generating compassion I gradually dissolved almost all of the strong anxiety I had. The main point is to protect yourself from increased risks of developing late stage dementia. Your solution doesn’t have to be linked to meditation, but if you only do one thing today plan to reduce your levels of anxiety.

 

Stephen Gene Morris is a meditation teacher and trained scientist, he has taught meditation to hundreds of students of all ages. If you’d like to attend a class or take part in an online session get in touch.

 

Notes

 

Meditate your way to a younger, smarter brain

Meditate your way to a younger, smarter brain
Meditators can have brains years younger than non-meditators

Meditate your way to a younger smarter brain

Several features in the media this week have giving some clear indications about the science behind keeping our brains in the best possible shape. Some of the advice falls into the generic wellbeing wisdom which now seems to be be associated with most health messages;

  • eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, consume less processed meat
  • take regular exercise
  • give up smoking
  • stay socially engaged
  • keep active
  • avoid stress, relax and sleep the right amount
  • keep the brain working with appropriate activity and brain training

The last item on this wish list is unsettlingly vague given that it probably has the most significant impact on brain health. For example how can we define brain training (as almost everything we do can train the brain)? What is an appropriate level of activity and which parts of the brain should we focus on?

“In one study the brains of regular meditators were found to be years younger than non meditators”

In today’s Guardian, attention was drawn to a key finding of the MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging; that typically lifestyle and environment are more influential in our quality and length of life than genetic factors. This is also the general direction that brain science seems to be moving in with regards neurodegeneration. That although there are many questions left to be answered, limiting cognitive decline and reducing the risk of dementia may rest largely in our own hands.

close up of a man

Returning to the question of brain training, the big issue is to establish what kinds of intervention bring the greatest overall benefit? It is becoming increasingly apparent that narrow single task training such as Sudoku or word searches have a limited effect. Whereas maintaining high levels of brain activity and cognitive challenge are likely to keep a much broader area of the cortex young and healthy. The same principle needs to be applied if meditation systems are being used to maintain cognitive function. That the meditation or mindfulness method should be broad based and able to tap into both the intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (task or external) networks. Activity in and between different neural networks is a key element in brain health and one frequently overlooked and poorly understood. To illustrate consider tonglen meditation, it combines compassion, nondual awareness and mindfulness, it allows the meditator to work with our internal visualisation and empathy systems. In addition it engages the important connectivity between introspection and external awareness.

Given what we know already about neurodegeneration, it seems likely that long term protection against cognitive impairment can be found in meditation methods built on  nondual compassionate approaches.

Notes

header photo by Kelvin Valerio on Pexels.com

Smash dementia; why and how

Dementia has to be challenged on three levels. It presents challenges to current and future societies

Meditation, mindfulness
Does the stigma of dementia reflects unhealthy attitudes towards the elderly?

Dementia is much more than an illness

The slogan smash dementia is both dramatic and provocative but it contains three important messages that cannot be ignored. At first sight ‘smash dementia’  might appear not to make sense, dementia is a syndrome, a collection of symptoms, so how can they be smashed? The key is to think of the challenge of dementia on three different levels, firstly the current suffering caused by dementia, secondly the conditions that give rise to dementia and thirdly the concept that links old age to inevitable cognitive decline.

Smash the suffering caused by dementia

adult aged baby care

It is important to acknowledge that some people diagnosed with dementia can live long and fulfilling lives, but this is not always the case. In its advanced form dementia can lead to great suffering, both for patients as well as their friends and family. This is the aspect of dementia that requires immediate and urgent action. If you search the academic literature you will find hundreds of thousand of publish studies about or linked to dementia, and yet there is still much that is not known. More worryingly what is known is not always being communicated. Although some general ideas about how to reduce cognitive decline are shared with the wider community, the advice often lacks  detail and authority.

“In 2015 over 110,000 people died of Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD) in the US, it is the sixth leading cause of death. Deaths from AD increased by 123% in the fifteen years following 2000. In contrast mortality rates linked to stroke and heart disease fell.”

Smash the conditions for dementia

Dementia is set to become one of the defining health concerns of the 21st century. In the next twenty years we expect to see the total number of people living with dementia worldwide increase three fold to 150 million. The human and economic costs of this scenario are without precedent, huge efforts are needed if society is going to cope, let alone provide appropriate levels of care. We have a conveyor belt with increasing numbers of people in cognitive decline ready to join the ranks of those already diagnosed with dementia. There is almost no information being offered to people in their 40s about what they can do to improve their brain health and lower the risks of serious cognitive impairment. What are we waiting for? We need to attack dementia, not simply upon diagnosis but at the point the syndrome begins its destructive path.

Smash the negative stereotypes of old age

Day 194 - West Midlands Police - Royal Diamond Jubilee Visit (7555521830)
Queen Elizabeth II, 92
When my late mother was in her early 60s, she started to describe any lapses in memory or cognitive function as ‘senior moments’. Around this time she started to use a computer and demonstrated no observable indications of cognitive decline, and yet she carried and communicated the idea that her brain was starting to become less reliable. I’m concerned that we label older people as inferior generally and that the stigma linked to dementia is a results of negative stereotypes. As a society we don’t value older people enough, we don’t recognize their skills, experience and capacities. And yet there is evidence all around us that people over the age of 65 can make significant and meaningful contributions to society. For example President Trump is 72, Bruce Springsteen 69, Queen Elizabeth II is 92 and the Emperor of Japan, Akihito is 84. This isn’t a denial of the aging process, rather a rejection of the assumption that older people can’t make valuable contributions to society.