“The mind has exactly the same power as the hands: not merely to grasp the world, but to change it.” – Colin Wilson
The mind is powerful. It senses and interprets our world, plans for the future, solves problems, and even writes these words. The mind can even adjust itself depending upon the environment. We know, for example, that practicing almost anything can result in the nervous system changing to make it better at the task in a process called neuroplasticity. This is even true with meditation, where practice changes the nervous system (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/01/this-is-your-brain-on-meditation/).
But, can the body adapt to the mind? Can our minds change our senses just by thinking about it and not actually practicing it? Meditation can make the brain more efficient at processing sensory information (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/03/make-the-brain-more-efficient-with-meditation/). Meditation can also improve our sensitivity to internal sensations, interoceptive awareness (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/05/feeling-feelings-getting-in-touch-with-the-body/). So, is it possible that meditative focus on a sense solely can improve the sensitivity of that sense?
In today’s Research News article “Enhanced tactile acuity through mental states”
Philipp and colleagues explore the question if meditative focus without any overt action can change sensory sensitivity. Participants in a four day Zen meditation retreat were either asked to engage in open-monitoring meditation during the retreat (control condition) or for three days to be completely aware of the spontaneously arising sensory perception in their right index finger and then engage in open-monitoring meditation for the last day (sensory focusing condition). They found that at the end of the retreat only the sensory focusing group showed improved tactile sensitivity in the right index finger.
These results are quite remarkable. Neither group practiced feeling with the finger. The entire process was done in the mind by just focusing on the sensation. Yet, sensitivity increased without practice just based upon a mental focus. So, the mind can change the body, even without actually doing anything except thinking about it.
It can be speculated that the mental focus actually produces increased activity in the neural areas responsible for tactile sensation (the post-central gyrus) which in turn results in a neuroplastic response growing the brain area and increasing its connectivity. This would then make the individual more sensitive to the appropriate tactile stimulation. It will remain for future research to establish whether this is indeed what happens.
Regardless, focus the power of the mind on what you want improved.
“The human body is a machine which winds its own springs.” ~Julien Offroy de la Mettrie, L’Homme Machine
“Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.
Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.”
~William Shakespeare, Othello
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies