Episode 153 :: Heinz Hilbrecht :: Meditation and the Brain: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science

| January 26, 2013 | 19 Comments

Heinz Hilbrecht

Heinz Hilbrecht joins us to speak about his book in German Meditation und Gehirn, or in English Meditation and the Brain.

There seems to be an attitude prevalent in our contemporary society, that ancient ways of trying to understand the world are in conflict with scientific findings. And in many cases, this is correct, the world isn’t flat, and the sun doesn’t revolve around it. But when we dismiss them out of hand because they are old, or because we have an aversion to the context in which the idea grew, we may be missing some early attempts at understanding that may have a very real grounding in how our minds work.

Heinz Hilbrecht received his MA and PhD in geology and paleontology from Free University Berlin, worked at ETH Zürich for 12 years and became a freelance journalist in 2000. Heinz has a regular meditation practice since 1977, with his roots in secular Theravada and philosophical Daoism. He is married to a medical doctor, shared many lectures with her at the university as a basis for his interest in human psychology and neurobiology. In his German book “Meditation und Gehirn” Heinz tracks the way of the meditator described by the Buddha, based on modern scientific knowledge. He claims the jhanas and stages of meditation reflect increasingly deeper access to usually unconscious processes in the mind and the body.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Black Forest Berry tea.

Web Links

Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Lady of the Snow” from his CD, Shakuhachi Meditations.

Category: Book Reviews, The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (19)

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  1. Candol says:

    What a fascinating talk. I hope the book will be available in English soon. Certainly i have to agree that there needs to be more research done on understanding the experiences of deep meditation in scientific terms because the spiritual explanations for the likes of secular buddhists are just not satisfactory.

    I would have liked to hear more about those buddhist teachers he refers to? Who are they? As they are in Australia, i’d love to know who they are since i live here. Its the first time i’ve heard of tibetan buddhist teachers advocating secularism to anyone.

    i found it strange that your martial arts teacher picked you out to teach meditation. A few unanswered questions come up there.

    With regard to what you’ve said about the amygdala and loss of fear, well this is the second time i’ve heard this but i have also heard about how jhana meditation can trigger a lot of fear. So it would have been nice to hear that part explained. Maybe Heinz can come back and comment.

    What he says about dopamine makes sense in terms of what i have repeatedly said about schizophrenics and about endorphins. What i usually say (knowing that its just speculation but based on my experience of both runner’s high and what i know about how schizophrenics view reality) is 1. the weird things that occur in meditation must be some sort of stress response. I have presumed that the long sitting with mind in a non-discursive state causes the a release of brain chemicals such as endorphins that make one experience the bliss that is often talked about. I figured that other brain chemistry reactions must occur or strange neuron firing events occur as a result of the “stress” and this is why people start experiencing weird things.

    I also say that its a mistake for people to describe these experiences as any sort of knowledge of objective reality – other than the reality of one’s own subjective experience which has no bearing on the nature of the world. But that is what meditators get taught and the professionals seem to believe. Its what the buddha believed. But you can forgive him for that since the days were pre-science.

    I also say that those experiences then get interpreted by the meditator but its a mistaken interpretation but because it feels so real, just like schizophrenics, they are so convinced of the reality of their own experience. Unfortunatley, most people i say this to, think i’m suggesting that they people are not well when they have these experiences. Most people who hear me say such things are so disturbed by my connecting meditative experience with psychotic experience that they can’t even take in what i’m suggesting and consider it rationally. I know that most people do not have much experience with schizophrenics and that’s why they find the idea of what i’m saying undigestible. The thing is i’ve had plenty to do with schizophrenics and so to me what i’m saying is perfectly reasonable.

    So yes why aren’t more scientists doing studies of the kind that Heinz describes. Heaven’s there are millions being spent on meditation these days. And i suppose that most of those studies will be utterly pointless and useless.

    What does he mean by chinese meditation. Is it jhana or something like that. It would be good to have that part of the talk explained by either Heinz or Ted. How is chinese meditation different from jhana, zen or vipassana. What is chinese meditation exactly? I”ve never even heard it mentioned as something different before.

  2. Heinz Hilbrecht says:

    Hi Candol,
    thanks for yor comments.

    Please allow me to keep my buddhist teachers anonymous. They exist in Australia, but they have to hide from the conservatives to avoid trouble. The Tibetan Buddhists have to be aware of politics, you know? These friends appreciated my teacher and myself. They helped me to find my way, not just the way advocated by their own tradition. This happens in the Tibetan thinking, if people really remember the teachings of the Buddha. 🙂

    The martials arts became a substantial part of my life after my teacher taught me meditation. I have learned them in a very traditional way, which means, you can’t do martial arts without meditation. You need to chnage your awareness, your inner attitudes toward the world, before you can actually do martial arts. Yes, meditation comes first, then the martial arts in a traditional training.

    Meditation can trigger fear. Yes. If you look at the science, meditations is good for about 60 percent of the beginners. Many people have a fear of relaxation, and/or absorption (how science calls it). So meditation can be a really nasty experience for some people. They will skip it in short time. For these people techniques like Qigong may be a better choice.

    The stress response in meditators is not really reported in the right sense by science.
    1. Only about 50 – 60 % of the meditators reduce their stress response through meditation.
    2. Meditators alter their stress response. They reduce adrenaline and cortisol, which are destructive on the long run. They increase dopamine and get control on noradrenaline (norepinephrine)released by the kindneys (because it can be measured in the urine). This means, meditators alter their stress response. They reduce the destructive components, and increase componets that cause awareness, alert and attention. That’s why you don’t fall asleep during long meditation. Meditation triggers stress, but not in its destructive fashion. Meditators broaden their stress resonse (resilience), they don’t reduce its amplitude. That’s why meditators can become angry or silent, but their range for these reactions and emotions is much broader than in other people.

    Sorry, but the Buddha was pefectly right. I would have to write a few pages of text for explanations. Keywords are “deprivation” during deep meditation. But most important is the access to unconscious parts of the mind. You can really experience processes happenning in the amygdala (emotional content of faces), intuitive processes derived from live-long experince (which takes a few decades of meditation), accelation of sensual recognition, and much more. Many of these things are regarded to be “impossible” by science, except for meditators (example: attentional blink, microexpression).

    These experiences are objective. They can be measured by science. Your comparison with schizophrenics ist definitely wrong.

    Yes, most meditation research is done to establish a market, for money. You are right.

    Daoist (chinese) meditation emphasizes the non-observer. You just let it happen. You concentrate on your breath and guide it across your chest down to the mid of your stomach (“Dan Tien”), from there between your legs up your spine, back to the nose, while you breathe out. You stop to think (much like in Zen), let things happen and concentrate on your breathing. It takes about one year until you get control on your “Qi flow”. Your stomach gets extremely hot. Your mood becomes very happe. This is the time when you get control on your dopamine and niradremaline, which trigger blood flow (the heat), positive emotions and focus.

    Vipanassa works in a similar direction, but in more mild ways. Vipassana emphasizes the observer, but also in a non-evaluating way. The daoist meditation takes you to the unconscious in youself in a more direct way (a “mystic” method). Vipassabna takes you more to your body, hence, to your relations with other people. If you wish to explore yourself (including mystic experiences, which are not at all esoteric, better desribed as a journey into your unconscious realm), you may choose the daoist method or Zen.

    Candol, You asked a lot of interesting questions. I bow my head and appreciate your curiosity. Many thanks !


  3. Candol says:

    Hi Heinz

    Thank you for your response. I think i have not made myself clear. For example, a clear example, if the buddha is right in all things that he saw, then according to you there is rebirth. This is what i was getting at. Well one of the things. The other thing was that the buddha directly saw (according to Goenka at least) that all things are just bunches of molecules and stuff. Nothing is really solid. Well we know now that this is true but i don’t believe for a minute that the buddha could discern that. That i would consider impossible.

    As for the things you desccribe, I am not denying any of those things. But these are not so much the things that the traditional buddhists talk about anyway, as far as i’ve seen. I certainly have no difficulty accepting that meditators can see more than ordinary people because of more acute perception. I have already noticed this myself – that i have already noticed i can discern more after long periods of meditation in my own physical processes.

    My concerns in my comments above are all to do with what we secular buddhists refer to as supernatural experiences. Of course i accept that meditation alters the brain and is beneficial.

    However, on the other two points i was trying to make – first of all the question of fear. I understood that it was not fear that came up in new meditators but those who had started to experience the jhanas. I took my response from what i read in Jack Kornfields book on fear. Also there’s another well known teacher who talks about fear but i can’t remember who it was. I think the idea was that you have to work through it, not give up. I got the impression that giving up would leave you with the fear unresolved.

    Again a misunderstanding about what i was saying about stress but that is clearly my fault because i am using the word stress in probably the wrong way. I am using the word stress becuase i don’t know a better word for it. I certianly don’t mean mental stress. The feeling of stress. What i mean is bodily stress. I mean this because the body and mind are working on what i consider an extreme level of function. To my mind this is an inherently stressful thing to do. I do not necessarily mean it would produce stress hormones. In fact i would be surprised if it did. I wish i knew a more accurate word instead of stress.

    But in sticking with stress. We know that when people are going through stressful life events, they can often experience strange mental events. My own grandmother had one after the death of her husband. She saw him in the room. This is a hallucination and i expect any hallucination has similar mechanism. This is why i refer to schizophrenics. Schizophrenic or psychotic episodes in those who are mentally ill or go on to develop a mental illness are also triggered by stress. What i mean by the similarity between meditators and schizophrenics is that the processes must be similar. Certainly their experience of things being real is the same.

    Take for example the experience of the dissolution of self where one feels profoundly connected to all other things and beings. There is of course a real sense in which this is true. But the experience that meditators have of it, i think is not an accurate representation of reality. There is a barrier between us and everything else. Its not an artificial barrier. Its a barrier of perception. If i touch you, i can’t feel what you feel. If i touch a tree, i can’t feel what the tree feels. This melting away of the sense of self, seems to me to be a false experience of reality – because we do indeed have a sense of self – even if we are denying a permanent sense of self such as is described in buddhism. To deny any significance in the sense of self we have, seems to me much the same as saying I don’t have two legs or two eyes. The sense of self is real. But people going through this experience, lose that sense of self as a distinction between themselves and others. I know someone who has had this experience. I know how tightly he holds this experience. Of course its quite a useful experience because it makes one more selfless.

    I also recently a woman who was only brand new to meditation. She described a period in her life of a few years when she had this deep feeling of connection with others such as one feels in the dissolution of self experience. She said it really affected her. Made her feel spiritual. Then suddenly the feeling left her. It made her feel deflated and a bit depressed. I believe this experience is in no way a reflection of reality but more a reflection of that so-called religious spot in the brain having been triggered.

    Anyway enough.

    Ok no worries about the buddhist teachers you mention.

    Your description of chi sounds very much kundalini. Thanks for responding to all my points.

  4. Heinz Hilbrecht says:

    Dear Candol,

    that’s an interesting discussion. Thank you for your contribution.

    The subject of rebirth is tricky. First let us strictly discriminate between “rebirth” and “reincarnation”. Reading through the early parts of the Pali-Canon you will find aggressive statements by the Buddha, rejecting ideas of a soul (Atman) and reincarnation. This was directly opposed to the Brahman religion of this time, the ancestor of Hinduism. Reincarnation was not his teaching. But rebirth was. You can find sentences like “We are dieing in every second and are reborn.” So rebirth, according to the Buddha, happens permanently, not only once after physical death. This sounds strange, but with science in the background it is an astonishingly deep insight to the nature of human beings.

    A few words in advance. Through meditation I went through all mystical experiences described in the literature. One of them ist the experience of the “big emptyness”. That’s the experience of the profound memory we carry in our brains, where things are stored in connection with each other, the “engrams”. In this “world” there is no dualism. The thinking happens under the influence of the short-term memory, which marks time-spans of six to seven seconds. This is well known in science. It’s the underlying reason why movie-makers cut scenes no longer than six seconds. The short-term memory consists of two parts. The first has a duration of about three seconds. In this phase the information is stable, you decide (unconsciously) if it is important or not. Then the information starts to decay, beginning with less often used or old information. In the “big emptyness” you can stabilize the information through attention for it. If you don’t direct attention to it, the memory decays and disappears as if it had never existed.

    This is total annihilation. You may know “there was something” but the thought is gone forever. This is “mental death” in a way that I fail to describe. New thoughts make you feel as if a new world starts to appear. In the “big emtyness” you have access to your whole life’s experience with objects in the world, including all possible emotions linked to them and how you would use your body if you wish to handle them. It’s an enormous amount of data.

    Our life happens in the intervals dictated by the short-term memory. If you are sensible for it, you can actually feel it. It’s a scientifically well known fact. If you give a talk or write a text, don’t build sentences longer than six seconds, if you wish to be clearly understood.

    If we stop thinking we can reset the short-term memory. So long-term meditators can even decide when they wish “to die” and start from scratch, with their mental processes. This deletes emotions, expectations, prejudices. If you experience this it feels like rebirth, I don’t have a better expression for it.

    So much for now. The evening has started, I have to care for my family. Your other questions are not forgotten. I’ll be back tomorrow.

    Best wishes!

  5. Candol says:

    Thanks again for your response Heinz. I won’t too much because i don’t want to interrupt the inclination to respond to my earlier post however after i posted my last one and looked (again) into schizophrenic experiences, i realised that perhaps i should be saying hallucinations rather than schizophrenic because i am not trying to suggest that a person is ill when they have any of the experiences that occur in meditation. I’m just trying to suggest that there may be similarity in the mechanisms of the brain where the experiences are similar.

    As to rebirth, reincarnation. Whatever. I am well acquainted with the differences as described in the different traditions. But people keep pointing out to me to use the word rebirth or reincarnation. Everyone gets sidetracked by the meaning of these words rather than stick with the bigger point about some bizarre continuation of a single life. I cannot believe in either version whatever anyone says they may experience. If you have a memory of a ton of past lives, i will tell you its not possible and that you are mistaken. Your mind is playing tricks on you. You are interpreting all those memories as real things but they are not. That is what i would say. Also for rebirth as in just a flicker of consciousness being carried from one life to the next with the karmic remainder, if that is all it is, how can anyone possibly remember. Memory is not consciousness. Anyway that’s what i think and i doubt anything less than a few scientific studies and probably also my own experience could convince me otherwise. Besides now i’m reading a book by Alex Rozenberg which informs me of a whole lot that i didn’t really know before. I keep forgetting the title which is less than 3 seconds lol but it has the words atheist and reality in it.

    Thank you for sharing your experience ” In the “big emtyness” you have access to your whole life’s experience with objects in the world, including all possible emotions linked to them and how you would use your body if you wish to handle them. It’s an enormous amount of data.” Not even Ajahn Brahm described an experience like this. Its sounds utterly fascinating. I hope you write more about that in your book. Did you ever read Ajahn Brahm’s book Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond. He writes in detail about going through the jhanas. It would be interesting to know your thoughts on this book. I suspect you have different experiences. Reason being i have heard and accept that people tend to experience different things according to their teachings. Perhaps they are similar but still a bit different because when talked about different things are emphasised. For example, the zen people tend emphasise a lot non-dualism. I don’t care any more what this term means. Its not something i strive for. Its not really talked about much in theravada though perhaps its still an issue. I admit its the obsure way its talked about that doesn’t appeal to me. Its always stated as if everyone knows what it is. No one ever writes about it in a compelling way. I have read enough but nothing i’ve ever read has grabbed my interest.

    So i gone a bit longer than intended. I am really interested in knowing about brain chemistry and events when a mind is in deep meditation. I don’t know how one can really know these things but i am hopeful that one day we can know these things. Certainly neuroscientists seem to be able to understand the chemistry and so on of brain conditions – illness and injuries. I guess meditators are less inclined to let their brains be opened and measured and observed than people who are already at the mercy of doctors.

  6. Heinz Hilbrecht says:

    Dear Candol,
    to make things very clear:

    “Reincarnation” is a religeous speculation about a soul that is reborn in a body after the physical death. I don’t see any evidence for reincaranation.

    “Rebirth” as used in the Pali-Canon happens during LIFETIME, in every second and every minute. After physical death, there is nothing, emptiness, according to these teachings.

    The experiences I describe belong to the upper stage of meditation. The jhanas belong to the lower stage of meditation, with a middle stage between the two.

    You asked questions about fear, the hallucibation of your grandmother and profound connection between meditators and other living and physical objects of the world. I wish you coulkd read my book. We need to get an English translation of it. I would have to write a long text here, and its all described in the book in great detail. Which publisher would like to care for an English edition?

    Hallucinations are a very complex field. In meditation there are basically two types of hallucinations.

    The first is caused by deprivation. This means, the mind is cut off from sensual perceptions through relaxation. In this situation it starts to produce illusions that can be very realistic. This experience is very well known. Just stay in a perfectly dark room with open eyes. After some time you will start to see things: Colors, shapes and maybe even real objects.

    The second type of hallucinations in meditation is a form of thinking in the unconscious mind. We are familiar with the thinking in words. But below this level, the brain doesn’t use words for thinking. If you approach these levels in meditation you will see realistic situation, like with actors in a theater. This is also well known to science. It’s a simulation of the world, we need to make predictions and for analysis of situations. Basically, this is the root for intuitive thinking and intuition.

    At an even deeper level you approach the thinking of the Self, the very root of the processes of our thinking. First you encounter the hallucination often described a “ner death experiences”. That’s the issue with the tunnel, bright lights, encounters with people who may be long dead, and this. Again this is a form of thinking, a visualization of the thinking in the “big emptiness”. Again you can calm down this thinking (like you can calm down the thinking in language). If you manage to do this, you may have access to the “big emptyness” in its real form. That’s where the “Self” happens, where you have access to your whole live’s experience. The information the is stored in engrams, non-dualistic, “wholistic”. At this level, even emotions and physical actions of the body are handles like any other thought. You can actually think in emotions there or in movements of your hands and it will trigger new thoughts.

    These things are in fact widely known. Mysticism deals with them. However, for a lack of knowledge, Mysticism has produced a lot of religeous interpretations for these experiences. We are probably the first generation which can step back from this thinking. Mysticism describes processes of the very deep unconscious mind. They are enormously big and powerful. That’s where the spark of illumination is, that every human being has, according to the Buddha.

    The hallucinations of your grandmother after the death of her husband are pretty normal. Many people experience such hallucinations after they have lost very close relatives or partners. They demonstrate the power of expectations on our recognition of the world. Everybody has such hallucinations, or “negative hallucinations”. Remember: You had lost your keys somewhere in the house. You were searching everywhere, they seemed to have evaporated. Then you gave up and suddenly you see the keys on the kitchen table. They are lying there, open, perfectly visible. But you haven’t seen them, even after you examined the kitchen table for three times.

    You didn’t see the keys because the didn’t really have an expectation for keys on the kitchen table. Because, usually, you don’t put them on the kitchen table. We see what we expect. That’s a “negative hallucination”. In a “positive hallucination” we see what we urgently expect to see. This happened to your grandmother and it happens to many other people who lost loved-ones. It is not at all the expression of “disease”.

    By the way: The major breakthrough of neuroscience was technology that allows to study brains and brain activity in non-destructive ways. Keywords are PET, fNMR (fMRI). Wikipedia has articles on that. The other progress happend through biochemistry. They need a little blood to understand a lot, that happens in us. Nobody opens a living brain for such studies. 🙂

    Best wishes

  7. Mark Knickelbine says:

    This was a great conversation! So much of the research we hear about regarding meditation concerns fMRI, and brain chemistry is not discussed very much at all. I hope more will be done with the PET scans regarding chemical changes in the brain.

    RE: Paucity of research on long-term meditators, Richie Davidson’s book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain, details some of the reasons for that. One was difficulty getting enough long-term meditators to participate (when Davidson started there were none outside of Asia), but there was also the problem of defining clearly what they wanted to study (how does one define meditation, after all?) and second was making sure that the effects you were studying were the result of meditation and not something else (like predisposition, for instance). The foundations for this research appear to be slowly but surely being laid, and I think we will see more research on long-term meditators in the future.

  8. Candol says:

    Heinz, thanks so much for taking the trouble to share your understanding. This all seems like old knowledge to you. But for laypeople, its never discussed. Not even, it seems to me, in most books on meditation. I haven’t read too many books about neuroscience so i don’t know if these things are discussed there. I think because you are german and probably read german books, you get a different perspective on things than us english readers. Although no doubt you read the english ones too. But i’ve never heard of there being anything beyond the jhanas. There are 8 jhanas. 4 material and 4 immaterial. I think what you describe is in the immaterial jhanas cause that’s where one is supposed to see past lives i think. Nevermind though. Its been all very interesting hearing about your knowledge and ideas.

    Of course some of what you say is familiar to me.

    I’ll let you know go now. Not that i haven’t got any further questions but never mind. I don’t mind which publisher you go with but it should be a big one. If its american the book will be cheaper for us Aussies where books are very expensive commodities. 🙂

    About rebirth, you know that most traditional buddhists don’t understand it the way you describe it. That seems to be a modern take and still controversial. That and/or most traditional buddhists still believe that the buddha taught reincarnation though they call it rebirth and distinguish it from reincarnation. But nevermind. We don’t have to revisit that old issue here again. Many of us even here on this site still believe that the buddha taught the transmigration of souls. But there are some who are convinced otherwise. There seems to be no end in sight to this debate. The problem lies in the Pali Canon to which we can’t get to the bottom. Your brain and knowledge is better used not engaging in this debate with us here.

    • Heinz Hilbrecht says:

      Candol, your questions and our discussion are no trouble at all. Your questions are an inspiration and I am learning like (I hope) you are learning. The illusion of individuality, this is true. You are cordially welcome.

      Concerning German or English books: English is the language of science. You publish in German if you wish to hide your results from the scientific community (imagine a smile). My knowledge comes from publications in English. But the front of science happens in journals. But there the language and ways to present the science need a lot of prfessional background, a lot of vocabulary sharde by the scientists. The professional language is hard to understand for laypeople. Please don’t be frustrated. Science is a world on its own. It needs to be communicated to the people in their language. But even for this, English is the language.

      Just look at this paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2267490/. That’s how science is communicated to scientists. It’s a very famous paper. It deals with brains of long-ternm meditazors. But don’t you feel it needs translation for the laypeople? I have the medical background, I am a scientist, and a long-term meditator. So I think it’s my responsibility to translate the science to ordinary words, to the subjective experience, to people like you. It’s a pleasure.

      And the reincarnation debate happens in Germany as everywhere in the world. Religion is a very strong force. It is simple, easily understood. So people stick to it. “Rebirth” during lifetime, however, is a difficult process. It’s not easy to imagine, to die while I feel alive. “Take you a few decades of time”, as my meditation teacher told me. Just meditate and live and learn. Don’t try to explain everything. This opens the gateways to progress. Speculations about a soul or reincarnation can be a strong attachment, an obstacle on your way to enlightenment. So forget it. It’s not worth mention, and not worth thinking about it. 🙂

      Thank you Candol. I sincerely hope to become involved in further discussions with you. Your questions are simple, and thus extremely valuable.

      I bow my head in front of you and send my best wishes

      • Heinz Hilbrecht says:

        Candol, I just found this video. It transmits the essentials of Zen. Look at it. Get yourself the cookies and the glass of milk. Take you time, maybe a few decades. You won’t find your answers in the books. 🙂

        • Candol says:

          Hi Heinz

          I just had a quick read of the article. Yes its not impossible to understand but of course its nice to have them translated into something less detailed for ordinary readers. Just don’t forget to include the parts that persuade there’s something behind the assertions.

          Here is a link i’ve used recently to share how the brain is changed in meditation. I used it in an article i had published in the paper about mindfulness meditation. You see i’m starting a meditation centre here locally and wanted to cut through a few misconceptions that public may have about meditation. http://www.nmr.mgh.harvard.edu/~britta/SUN_July11_Baime.pdf

          I presume you know that the link is from sesame street. I know enough about zen. My teacher is a zen practitioner. However i don’t get to spend a lot of time with him. I don’t go on long zen retreats. I tend to vipassana. All that’s missing in books about meditation is a good description of experiences, though i’ve read about a number of experiences to satisfy me. That said, its great to have you share about your experience with memory. I haven’t read an account of that before.

          • Heinz Hilbrecht says:

            Dear Candol,
            the link to the cookie monster video was intended to inctroduce some humor to our conversation. The massage of the video is very much like Zen. You learn from experience and reflection, not from books. 🙂

            Thanks for the link to the paper you sent. The scientists in the group of Sarah Lazar do a lot of important research on meditation.

            Best wishes

  9. Candol says:

    So it was as i thought. However, since you bring it up, i think this is the weak point of zen. Learning from experience is all very well but better learning is done from a combination of books and experience. People left up to learning from experience may never learn the lesson if not given the help of some words as well. Of course that is not to say that i think learning from books is the right way. I just think books are an important i would say vital way to learn. Especially when not everyone has regular access to a teacher to ask questions of.

  10. lesmoore says:

    Insight meditation can trigger fear, in particular, previously resisted (feared) material may be exposed as the mind is opened up, if that type of conditioning remains. In terms of vipassana and the Progress of Insight, fear is the 6th nana, which is saying that it has been mapped out as a familiar part of the territory and is to be expected. Meditation provides a great method to work through these kinds of areas.

    But that’s vipassana. In terms of jhanas triggering fear, nah, I don’t really get that. Closest you could get to it would be around 3rd jhana, but it’s still so relaxing. Jhanas are more like relief, albeit temporary. But no fear there, for me, nor have I heard of it. Not saying it couldn’t happen, but it seems contrary to the direction the jhanas incline. FWIW I have access to 8 jhanas, looking forward to a few more.

  11. Heinz Hilbrecht says:

    Dear lesmoore,
    thanks for your thoughts and your comment.

    Fear is subjective. We need to address it from the subjective level, not from “impossible” or not. There is research that claims, about 30 to 40 % of people react with fear, when they relax. The simple relaxation of the body can cause fear in a substantial number of people.

    The access to unconscious processes in the mind can be “violent”. For example, if you get access to the activities of your amygdala, you will encounter the system that determines emotional content of faces. This system starts with extremely bad emotions, call them satanic faces. I have met meditators who experienced sincere crisis after these experiences. Some were even unable to do their job, they experienced depression, got fired and continued to work in jobs much below their actual abilities (a mathematician, for example, who works as a secretary now). I know, the netative effects of meditation are, somehow, a taboo-zone. But they are real, people suffer from them. One of these problems is fear.

    May I invite you to adopt a general view? The sentence “I have not experienced any bad, so everybody should not experience any bad” is subjective, and thus not valid for everybody. We should build “statistics” on the experiences of many people. But fopr the statistics on the negative side, we need to encourgage meditazors to talk about their negative experiences. They should not feel like exemptions, therefore, not feel “guilty”. Meditation is wonderfull, but it does not work in a positive way on everybody.

    I am not familiar with the abbreviation: FWIW. Please give me a hint. I will then be glad to address your comment a little deeper.

    Best wishes

  12. Candol says:

    FWIW – For what its worth.

  13. Heinz Hilbrecht says:

    Thank you Candol. 🙂

  14. Heinz Hilbrecht says:

    I promised to provide more information about fear in meditation. This article reports on research “Why Some People Are Afraid To Relax”.


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