Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Mixing Meditation and Magic Mushrooms?

In recent years psilocybin has become the focus of a new wave of research. Neuroimaging and behavioral studies show that psilocybin-assisted therapy may help to ease mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and enhance forgiveness, acceptance and gratitude.  In the past, even Harvard University had a Psilocybin Project, where famed researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (more commonly known as spiritual teacher Ram Dass) conducted experiments (sometimes on themselves) to test its effects.

Now, in a new study from the University of Zurich published in NeuroImage, scientists explore whether combining meditation with psilocybin—the chemical in magic mushrooms—may impact brain function and alter self-consciousness even after the high is gone.

In the University of Zurich study, 38 experienced adult meditators were randomly assigned to either a psilocybin or placebo control group. They then participated in a five-day, silent group meditation retreat. On day four, each received either a dose of psilocybin or a placebo (lactose). 

Before and after the retreat, members of both groups completed questionnaires about their experiences and perceptions, and underwent an fMRI brain scan. During the scan they were asked to perform three different types of meditation with their eyes closed–resting state, focused attention and open awareness. Each type of meditation was practiced for seven minutes. Four months later they filled out a survey about changes in their attitudes, moods, behavior, and social experiences.

What is even more remarkable is that experienced meditators in the psilocybin group reported better social functioning four months later.  

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Three Practices to Shake Up Your Routine

On the daily grind, life can get bland—downright boring, when you think about it. Boredom is a sign that we’ve become habituated. When we get stuck on autopilot, we lose touch with actual experience—which can always be interesting if we bring our curiosity to it.

For a moment, stop thinking and drop into your senses instead. By helping us shift our state of mind from thinking to sensing, these practices invite us to rediscover interest, beyond our expectations.

Linger on each step for at least three minutes. Once you’ve got the hang of dropping into each sense in turn, try opening to all of the senses together at moments of so-called boredom in life, such as when washing up, standing in a queue, or stuck in a long meeting. Can you offer a full, embodied interest to the people and places around you, as well as what’s going on in your mind and body?

1. See with new eyes

Take a familiar object from your home (such as a mug you’ve owned for years, an old photograph, a piece of clothing, or furniture) and examine it as if you’ve never seen it before.

Let your thoughts about the object drop into the background as you offer it your full attention. Is there something you’d forgotten or never noticed before, or is your experience or reaction altered by your interest?

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Three Ways to Raise Empathic Kids So They Become Compassionate Adults

In this series of articles, we have been examining how mindfulness can sometimes inadvertently reinforce the self-centeredness and self-absorption of our current times and how we may counter this through compassion in action. We need to remind ourselves that the true roots of mindfulness and compassion are intended to relieve the suffering of others as much as ourselves.

In exploring the ways that we can direct compassion to others, what better way than to consider children. Endeavoring to raise an empathic child who is attentive to others helps build a better community and counters the “me” culture that is so prevalent today. Further, considering how to make the children in our lives better people helps us reflect on how we ourselves can be more compassionate.

Considering how to make the children in our lives better people, helps us reflect on how we ourselves can be more compassionate.

Michelle Borba is an educational psychologist and expert in parenting, bullying, and empathy, and author of many books on character development in children, the most recent being UnSelfie: why empathic kids succeed in our all-about-me world (Simon & Schuster, 2016).  In her  work, she outlines current research on empathy in children and how we might cultivate kindness and caring in kids at different ages. She cites studies that show teens score 40% lower in empathy and are 58% more narcissistic than 30 years ago. Along with this, research shows increases in school and internet-based cruelty and bullying along with more cheating and less moral reasoning. Borba talks about the “Selfie Syndrome” as a form of growing narcissism in children and teens characterized by self-preoccupation, entitlement, difficulty taking responsibility and criticism, and feeling above the rules. This syndrome appears to be at least partially tied to our high pressure, media-saturated, high-tech culture. 

Teaching Kids Emotional Literacy

If empathy is feeling another’s suffering and compassion is the desire to alleviate it then empathy is the gateway and what may be the antidote to the Selfie Syndrome (in our children and ourselves). And encouraging empathy begins with the development of emotional literacy: recognizing, labeling and managing both our own and others’ feelings. This core skill is especially important for boys who, in our hyper-macho culture, show lower levels of emotional literacy than girls.

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Caring for Yourself While Caring for Another

Lisa, whom I had just met at a conference, tearfully described to me her agony as sole caregiver for her disabled husband for 33 years. As I listened, her pain made me think of the burden that 34 million Americans caring for loved ones with dementia, disabilities, and other enduring illnesses carry. Most caregivers report significant stress, and that’s certainly consistent with my experience over the last seven years serving as the chief caregiver for my wife, Susan, who has Alzheimer’s.

The stress of caregiving is hard to bear. It leaves many of us heartbroken, overwhelmed, disoriented, and feeling inadequate. Even more sobering is the fact that this intense stress can spiral downward into burnout, marked by utter exhaustion, social isolation, despair—even hypertension, heart attacks, and death. 

Our biggest threat isn’t the constant stress, but rather the burnout we can inadvertently manufacture ourselves.

“Jerry, if you don’t care for yourself,” my wife’s physician warned me, “you’ll likely die before Susan.”  

Caregivers seek ways to stay alive, and self-care is the usual recommendation. But all too often our first impulse is to control our painful feelings, which can sidetrack self-care and make a hard job harder. It’s like scratching the itch of poison ivy, which can transform an irritation into a nasty wound. Similarly, we get hooked on self-defeating habits, which can transform stress into burnout. Surprisingly, our biggest threat isn’t the constant stress, but rather the burnout we can inadvertently manufacture ourselves. 

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Using Mindfulness to Befriend All of Our Emotions

Stephanie Domet:  Barry I’m so glad you chose to write about emotions for the October issue. As a fiction writer, I feel obsessed with feelings and how we react to them or act on them, our own feelings and the feelings of others. What made you want to write about emotions this time out?

Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce: When you said feelings I’d heard that old song in my head. Feelings feelings were in, remember that?

Stephanie Domet:  Whoa whoa whoa feeling, that one?

Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce:  Exactly. It’s the cliché cheesy song, it’s the ultimate cheesy song right. Feelings is a go-to for mindful. When we did our Getting Started series in 2014, it was very important to us that. Very early on we addressed working with emotions. You know we’ve always felt it’s really important to let people know that emotions are a key area of investigation for mindfulness. It’s not just about attaining some never changing kind of way of behaving and thinking and acting. Mindfulness turns its lens to the full range of emotions that we have. So I’ve been meaning to do this Point of View for quite a while, because it’s just so important.

Stephanie Domet: Because we can’t expect to stay in that space of equanimity, things happen and we feel something about them. 

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