Anyone with even an amateur interest in psychology will quickly be able to impart that the brain is a fascinating organ. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that allows us to consider past memories and ponder what the future holds. It also imparts the ability to perform complex reasoning.
Aside from its gifts, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for enabling us to over-analyze and to retain emotional responses well past their time of potential usefulness. Paradoxically, the same part of the brain that has bestowed us with the means to think more has also given us the opportunity to blunder, worry, and fear. This not only affects our thought processes themselves, but our overall happiness.
Enter Madison University Communications Psychology professor Richard Davidson. Davidson’s journey to helping develop new tools for greater mental control and well-being began with a visit to the Dalai Lama. The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama exemplifies the Buddhist values of peace, compassion, collectedness, and happiness.
The Dalai Lama symbolizes wholeness despite his forced absence from his homeland. Davidson’s study subjects where handpicked by the leader. Davidson wanted to investigate how monks’ mental exercises and daily practices physically effected their brains. He was assisted with the help of several Tibetan Buddhist masters, all of whom had spent tens of thousands of hours meditating.
On those sections of the brain associated with emotional well-being, Davidson recorded remarkably high levels of activity. Brain activity was measured via MRI. After the study, Davidson trained a group of subjects to employ the monks’ tactics for mental control and maintaining day-to-day consciousness.
Davidson found that after only two weeks, significant changes had taken place in related brain areas. The professor continues to develop new studies to gain insight into the links between acknowledging and controlling our emotional excesses and brain activity. He organizes workshops and lectures to help people adopt those strategies the monks themselves have understood for ages.
© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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