Three years ago I found myself traveling to Madison, Wisconsin, to be a part of the brain research being conducted by Richard Davidson, the neuroscientist who heads up the Center for Investigating Healthy. I had been identified as a “long term meditator” and asked to participate in some of the extensive research projects being conducted there to better understand what happens to the brain when you meditate. Over the next year and a half I was examined on three separate occasions in a sleep lab and in a Functional MRI machine using neuroimaging techniques that show which brain areas are involved in a task, a process, or an emotion. I was asked to respond to a wide variety of pictures and scenarios while being “stressed” by conditions such as heat applied to my arm and giving a speech or undergoing an interview with very stern looking people.
I just listened to a fascinating interview where Richard Davidson talks about some of his findings in his new book co-authored by Sharon Begley called “The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live-and How You Can Change Them.” The book outlines six categories of Emotional Style:
1. Resilience: How slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
2. Outlook: How long you are able to sustain positive emotion.
3. Social Intuition: How adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you.
4. Self-Awareness: How well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions.
5. Sensitivity to Context: How good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
6. Attention: How sharp and clear your focus is.
If you’re interested in emotion, how different emotions map onto the brain, and how you can change your emotions by changing the way your brain functions, then this would be an interesting read (comes out December 24). While the “what do you do once you know this information” part of the book might be a bit slim, we do know from Dr. Davidson’s and other research that meditation can change our brain structures. Due to neuroplasticity of the brain, we can change. We just need to work at it.
The payoff for meditating? More resilience, better outlook, more social intuitive, greater self- awareness, better regulation of your emotional responses, and better attention. Those all sound pretty good to me.