Jon Kabat-Zinn, the wonderful scientist, who has made meditation and mindfulness household terms gives a lecture here on this youtube video that takes place at Google.
In it he covers lots of scientific studies of the healing nature of meditation. There is no mysterious religious dogma here—what he presents has been studied clinically.
A couple of notes from my viewing of it.
Meditation is about paying attention and it has nothing to do with Buddhism (or it need not, in any case.)
It is attention for the sake of awareness. Awareness balances out thought in ways that are profoundly creative and we don’t learn this sort of awareness in our culture and certainly not in our schools.
He also suggests that if you change your perception of stress through meditation you can change the rate of bodily (physical) degradation. Stress actually causes illness. But in the process of changing our perception of stress we heal. Physically and mentally. He presents one study where in just 8 weeks of practice people with psychiatric disorders improve dramatically. Imagine what a life time of daily practice can bring us.
An inspiring idea he mentions—there are no positive or negative emotions—all emotions have information. If you know how to handle the information it can be very useful. And therefore one should not run away from any emotion. He recites Rumi’s Poem at this point:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Rumi ~
His overall message is in keeping with pieces I’ve posted on the neuroplasticity of the brain and the work that the Dalai Lama has done with neuroscientists. It turns out Jon Kabat-Zinn is part of that work with the Dalai Lama as well.
Kabat-Zinn says about neuroplasticity—in paraphrase—our brains are always synthesizing new neurons until we die. The restructuring of brain and healing happens through repetitive practice. Meditation is that repetitive practice in this instance. The brain is not static but is continually morphing itself. The brain can be restored!
This is a long video. I watched it over the course of the day in small bits. It was well worth it. Hint— the questions and answers at the end are fascinating.
If you want to experience more of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s teaching you can go here. I’ve read one of his books and have a couple of his guided meditations. His is a very user friendly introduction to meditation and mindfulness.