July 29, 2018

Meditation Powers On The Brain

Art by dandingeroz
I am currently reading (among, possibly, 20 other books...yeah, I need to work on that) Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality, and though I'm still quite at the beginning, I already have so much food for thought!

The book talks about the science behind how our mind and thoughts can alter physical reality, starting with our own brain. As part of the intro on this topic, it brings up an article written by Tang, Hötzel, & Postner in 2015, which I'll partially transcribe down here for you.

The article talks about an astrophysicist/journalist, Phillips, who decided to check how meditation would affect his brain, and test it medically (to convince his skeptical self should there really be any major effects):

By Robert Voight/Adobe Stock
"After just two weeks of practicing mindfulness meditation, Phillips felt less stressed and more able to handle the challenges of his job and life.;He reported that he 'notices stress but doesn't get sucked into it.'
Eight weeks later, he [went back] for testing. ... They found that he was better at behavioral tasks, even though he showed diminished brain activity. ... [H]is brain had become more energy efficient. ... His memory tests also improved.
His reaction time to unexpected events had been cut by almost half a second. (...)
One of the brain regions the researchers measured the hippocampus, ... and the part of [it] responsible for regulation emotion in other parts of the brain. ... They found that the volume of nerve cells in th[at part of the hippocampus] had increased by 22.8%.
...Such brain reconfiguration is occasionally seen in young people whose brains are still growing, but it is rarely seen in adults. (...)
[There is an] accumulation of a large body of evidence [that has] identified neural growth in 'multiple brain regions...suggesting that the effects of meditation might involve large-scale brain networks.'"

So reading this, I of course totally want to try it out (especially if meditation will allow me to get less angry at, say, loud neighbors that keep me up all night, or help me stay focused on my writing). Despite being terrible at sitting for long periods of time with nothing to do but focus on my breathing and whatnot.

BUT...

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli
Meditation is a double-edged sword.

Indeed, meditation can exacerbate problems instead of helping us overcome them, particularly if we are already suffering from certain mental or personality conditions.

So instead of calming us down, meditation could instead "trigger anxiety, depressive episodes, or flashbacks to past traumas," and turn one more aggressive. In worse cases, it can truly make you lose your mind entirely, lose yourself and your identity entirely as "the boundaries of [your] ego dissolve," and push you towards suicide.

So, yeah. There's that too.

All of this does prove that meditation changes your brain, but whether it's for the better is not necessarily a given. And with my kind of writer's mind, I think I need to be careful. So for now I think I'll stick to what I know works for me, which is what I like to call "active meditation" or exercise (which I definitely don't do enough of, quite frankly).

Still, it is fascinating to see how much of an influence our thoughts have on our body, is it not?

Additional Sources:
When Mindfulness Goes Wrong
What Mindfulness Gurus Don't Tell You: Meditation Has a Dark Side

June 18, 2018

King Arthur Podcast Episode

The Legendary Sword in the Stone of San Galgano

Just found out (thanks to a colleague of mine) about this really cool podcast channel called Stuff You Should Know. I don't know if you're already familiar with it, but there was a recent episode on it that was all about "Was there a real King Arthur?"

In it, the two hosts, Josh and Chuck, try to piece together what could be real facts from the Arthurian myths we've inherited.

And it was actually quite entertaining. You get to learn things like what Avalon meant (answer: the Land of Apples), or that some theorize that the name 'Arthur' is derived from the nickname 'Arth,' which means bear (and therefore could refer to any man of imposing stature and physical prowess--so more like the cousins Gareth and Gauvain, than our Arthur in the Morgana Trilogy).

Anyway, I don't know whether you enjoy podcasts at all (I find them really great when I'm working on repetitive projects), but thought I'd share this with you. Enjoy!

June 11, 2018

On Productivity - Making Grand Gestures


I've been reading a really interesting book lately, called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Found out about it because I realized I was having major concentration issues (partly due to my lately-discovered gluten allergy, but not only to that).

The book states that a key to advance in any worthwhile project (including at work), is to have the ability to get into the zone and do some deep work for long stretches of time. This entails detoxing from immediate reward activities such as going through my emails, surfing the Internet, checking out Amazon, twitter, or browsing Instagram... Yeah, easier said than done.

Other things just as crucial, but harder to control, including going to *cough*lock yourself up in*cough* a quiet space, one where people aren't likely to distract you. That's basically impossible in an open work space like the one at my current job (yes, I do have a regular job, as evidenced by my long absences on this--and other--forums).

Anyway, Deep Work is a really interesting read for anyone who wants to get things done, and also includes tips and tricks for people with varying types of jobs and activities.

Here's an excerpt I found particularly interesting to me, since it mentions the mighty J. K. Rowling, and her struggle to write the final book of her awesome Harry Potter series (I cannot compare myself to her, but the struggle to finish my Morgana Trilogy is definitely quite an arduous journey for me too):

   In the early winter of 2007, J.K. Rowling was struggling to complete The Deathly Hallows, the final book in her Harry Potter series. The pressure was intense, as this book bore the responsibility of tying together the six that preceded it in a way that would satisfy the series' hundreds of millions of fans. Rowling needed to work deeply to satisfy these demands, but she was finding unbroken concentration increasingly difficult to achieve at her home office in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

"As I was finishing Deathly Hallows there came a time where the window cleaner came, the kids were at home, the dogs were barking," Rowling recalled in an interview. 

It was too much, so J.K. Rowling decided to do something extreme to shift her mind-set where it needed to be: She checked into a suite in the five-star Balmoral Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Edinburgh.

"So I came to this hotel because it's a beautiful hotel, but I didn't intend to stay here," she explained. "[But] the first day's writing went well so I kept coming back...and I ended up finishing the last of the Harry Potter books [here]."

Interesting tidbit I actually wasn't yet aware of (shame on me). However much I wish I could do the same, my own life doesn't permit me to make that grand a gesture towards focusing on the editing/writing of Curse of the Fey (apparently the hotel costs $1,000 a night). But I try to do something similar whenever I can: go to a cafe (hopefully quiet--I'm not usually very lucky in this department, though), rent a cabin for a weekend (that one turned out to be quite fun and productive), go to my aunt's and uncle's place where I'm lucky enough to have full use of their office...

The Balmoral Edinburgh suite where J.K. Rowling stayed to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

What about you, what kind of grand gesture do you find yourself doing to be able to get your important projects done?