Improve the Self-Concept with the Mindful Self

Improve the Self-Concept with the Mindful Self

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness is about living with intention and awareness which creates the mind body connection towards a whole self. When we feel disconnected or fragmented from ourselves, others and what was once important to us we become open to a multitude of problems in life.” – Naila Narsi

 

Most people strongly believe that they have a self, an ego. Reflecting this, our language is replete with concepts that contain self; oneself, myself, himself, herself, ourselves, self-concept, self-esteem, self-love, self-regard, selfless, selfish, selfhood, selfie, etc. But, particularly note the term self-concept. It directly states that self is a concept. It is not a thing. It is an idea.  This is important, as most of us think that there is a thing that is the self, when, in fact, there is not. A concept is a way to summarize a set of phenomena that appear to have common properties, such as fruit, or more abstractly, attention. But, note there is not a single entity that is fruit. It is a set of things that are grouped together by common biological factors. The idea of attention is not a thing. Rather it refers to a set of processes. This is also true of the concept of self.

 

The self is a concept and is created by thought. In other words, there’s a process involving thinking that creates the concept of a self. This is a verb. We are not a self, we are producing a self, we are selfing! This suggests that the self can change and grow with circumstances. One that appears to have profound effects on the idea of self is mindfulness training. In today’s Research News article “The Mindful Self: A Mindfulness-Enlightened Self-view.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01752/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_433120_69_Psycho_20171024_arts_A, Xiao and colleagues explore the literature and theorization regarding the effects of mindfulness practice on the self-view.

 

They posit that mindfulness training “is a way of looking deeply into oneself in a spirit of self-inquiry and self-understanding.” This can alter the way the individual thinks of the self, a form of re-perceiving the self. The published research indicates that mindfulness training can produce improvements in self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-perspective change, self-consciousness, self-concept, self-deconstruction and reconstruction, and self-referential processing. So, with mindfulness training the individual becomes more compassionate and accepting toward self and others and less self-focused; able to step outside and observe experience from a distance. In other words, mindfulness changes the components that make up the self-concept and in essence change the individual’s idea of their self.

 

Xiao and colleagues label this new perspective and idea of the self, created by mindfulness training, as the “Mindful Self.” This is viewed as a more authentic and true self and is similar to the highest level of psychological development, as visualized by Abraham Maslow, called self-actualization. The “Mindful Self” Is a balanced self-identity with a detached awareness, an understanding of interdependence, greater compassion and acceptance of self and others, empathy, and a desire for the cultivation of happiness; and growth, including a consideration of the development of the self and others.

 

The published literature supports the idea that mindfulness training produces a marked improvement in how the individual conceptualizes the self. It moves the concept of self toward a more authentic and integrated whole that is more connected to others and the environment. This “Mindful Self” is constructed by altering less mature ideas of the self with focused and relaxed attention on what is actually happening both inside and outside the individual. This is a great step in maturation, leading to a more accurate and integrated notion of the self. This, in turn, leads to improved interactions with others and greater overall happiness.

 

So, improve the self-concept with the “Mindful Self.”

 

“We all have a sense of self. Whether that sense of self is positive or negative is based upon our experiences in life and our perceptions and assessment of ourself. . . .However, the problem is that our perception of ourself is often distorted.” – Monica Frank

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Xiao Q, Yue C, He W and Yu J-y (2017) The Mindful Self: A Mindfulness-Enlightened Self-view. Front. Psychol. 8:1752. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01752

 

Abstract

This paper analyzes studies of mindfulness and the self, with the aim of deepening our understanding of the potential benefits of mindfulness and meditation for mental health and well-being. Our review of empirical research reveals that positive changes in attitudes toward the self and others as a result of mindfulness-enabled practices can play an important role in modulating many mental and physical health problems. Accordingly, we introduce a new concept—the “mindful self”—and compare it with related psychological constructs to describe the positive changes in self-attitude associated with mindfulness meditation practices or interventions. The mindful self is conceptualized as a mindfulness-enlightened self-view and attitude developed by internalizing and integrating the essence of Buddhist psychology into one’s self-system. We further posit that the mindful self will be an important intermediary between mindfulness intervention and mental health problems, and an important moderator in promoting well-being. More generally, we suggest that the mindful self may also be an applicable concept with which to describe and predict the higher level of self-development of those who grow up in the culture of Buddhism or regularly engage in meditation over a long period of time.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01752/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_433120_69_Psycho_20171024_arts_A

Improve Seeing Others as Like the Self with Loving Kindness Meditation

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. . . . this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. . . . it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.”” – Christine Carter

 

Humans are social animals. This is a great asset for the species as the effort of the individual is amplified by cooperation. In primitive times, this cooperation was essential for survival. But in modern times it is also essential, not for survival but rather for making a living and for the happiness of the individual. This ability to cooperate is so essential to human flourishing that it is built deep into our DNA and is reflected in the structure of the human nervous system. Empathy and compassion are essential for appropriate social engagement and cooperation. In order for these abilities to emerge and strengthen, individuals must be able to see that other people are very much like themselves.

 

Unfortunately, there is very little understanding of the factors that lead to and improve empathy and compassion. One method that appears to be able to increase these capacities is Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM). It has been shown to amplify positive emotions, altruism, and compassion. This suggests that LKM may reduce the perceived difference between the self and other people. This is difficult to study, however, as these capacities are not easily measured and require length, indirect, paper and pencil, tests for assessment.

 

An alternative assessment technique is to measure the electrical response of the brain (electroencephalogram, EEG) as an indicator of empathy and compassion. This can be done by investigating differences in the brains processing of stimuli related to the self, relative to those related to other people. Upon presentation of these stimuli differences in the brain’s response can be seen called the evoked potential (ERP). The P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) occurs between 3 to 6-tenths of a second following the stimulus presentation. It is a positive change that is maximally measured over the central frontal lobe. The P300 response has been associated with self-processing. It is larger in response to stimuli such as one’s own name, face, or information about the person’s history. So, the P300 response is often used as a measure of the processing of information about the self, with the larger the positive change the greater the self-processing.

 

In today’s Research News article “Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1441662135857708/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

Trautwein and colleagues employ the P300 response in the evoked potential (ERP) in response to pictures of the self or a close friend to investigate the effectiveness of Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) to improve empathy and compassion in humans. They recruited adult long-term practitioners of LKM and a group of age, gender, handedness, and education matched non-meditators. The participants were asked to press a button every time a picture of either themselves of their friend was presented amid a series of other stimuli. This occurred on 20% of the time. They measured performed this task while wearing scalp electrodes to measure the EEG and the P300 response to these stimuli was recorded.

 

They found that, as expected, the LKM practitioners reported experiencing more compassionate love for strangers and all of humanity than control participants. They also found that, as expected, the P300 response in the parietal lobe of the brain was greater to the picture of the self than the friend. As a measure of the degree to which the participant viewed the self and other as similar, they measured the difference in the ERP response to the self vs. friend picture. They found that the smaller the difference between the self vs. friend P300 response the greater the levels of self-reported compassion. Importantly, they also found that the greater the amount of LKM practice the smaller the difference in the P300 response to self and friend.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) improves empathy and compassion by altering the brain’s response to self vs. others. In this way, individuals perceive other people as more like themselves, making them more compassionate and empathetic. It should be noted, however, that there was not a comparison group of meditators who did not practice LKM. So, it cannot be concluded that the effects were due to LKM practice specifically. It could be that any form of meditation practice would have similar effects. But, it is clear that meditation alters the brain’s response to self vs. others.

 

So, improve seeing others as like the self with Loving Kindness Meditation.

 

“The practice of LKM led to shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe. These shifts in positive emotions took time to appear and were not large in magnitude, but over the course of 9 weeks, they were linked to increases in a variety of personal resources, including mindful attention, self-acceptance, positive relationships with others, and good physical health…They enabled people to become more satisfied with their lives and to experience fewer symptoms of depression.”  – Barbara Fredrickson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, José Raúl Naranjo, and Stefan Schmidt Decentering the self? Preliminary evidence for changes in self- vs. other related processing as a long-term outcome of loving-kindness meditation. Front. Psychol., 21 November 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785

 

Research in social neuroscience provides increasing evidence that self and other are interconnected, both on a conceptual and on an affective representational level. Moreover, the ability to recognize the other as “like the self” is thought to be essential for social phenomena like empathy and compassion. Meditation practices such as loving-kindness meditation (LKM) have been found to enhance these capacities. Therefore, we investigated whether LKM is associated to an increased integration of self–other-representations. As an indicator, we assessed the P300 event-related potential elicited by oddball stimuli of the self-face and a close other’s face in 12 long-term practitioners of LKM and 12 matched controls. In line with previous studies, the self elicited larger P300 amplitudes than close other. This effect was reduced in the meditation sample at parietal but not frontal midline sites. Within this group, smaller differences between self- and other-related P300 were associated with increasing meditation practice. Across groups, smaller P300 differences correlated with self-reported compassion. In meditators, we also investigated the effect of a short LKM compared to a control priming procedure in order to test whether the state induction would additionally modulate self- vs. other-related P300. However, no effect of the priming conditions was observed. Overall, our findings provide preliminary evidence that prolonged meditation practice may modulate self- vs. other-related processing, accompanied by an increase in compassion. Further evidence is needed, however, to show if this is a direct outcome of loving-kindness meditation.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01785/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w48-2016

 

Self is a verb

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The falling away of self is the most significant, bewildering, and liberating spiritual event in one’s entire life, and perhaps the least understood.” – Adyashanti

 

 “What is fascinating is that in the western psychological view, the “self” or the “executive function” is actually a process and not really a thing. It waxes and wanes all the time, goes into the foreground and background of awareness depending on how much we need it, disappears when we sleep, is not the same as it was when we were little, much less the same as it was last year, and is even subtly different than it was last week.” – Ron Crouch

 

Most people strongly believe that they have a self, an ego. Reflecting this, our language is replete with concepts that contain self; oneself, myself, himself, herself, ourselves, self-concept, self-esteem, self-love, self-regard, selfless, selfish, selfhood, selfie, etc. But, particularly note the term self-concept. It directly states that self is a concept. It is not a thing. It is an idea.  This is important, as most of us think that there is a thing that is the self, when, in fact, there is not. A concept is a way to summarize a set of phenomena that appear to have common properties, such as fruit, or more abstractly, attention. But, note there is not a single entity that is fruit. It is a set of things that are grouped together by common biological factors. The idea of attention is not a thing. Rather it refers to a set of processes. This is also true of the concept of self.

 

A simple self-exploration can verify this. Spend some time looking within to find the self, to find anything that comprises the self. You will discover that you can’t find it. That’s because it’s a concept not a thing. Now quiet the mind for a brief time, even if for only a few seconds, and you’ll note that when you’ve eliminated thinking, the self disappears. In other words, self only appears when you’re thinking about it. This is clear evidence that self is a concept and is created by thought. In other words, there’s a process involving thought that creates a self. This is a verb. We are not a self, we are producing a self, we are selfing!

 

As another exercise, write down a set of responses to “I am ______.” You may have answered, a man, an engineer, an academic, a father, a cyclist, a Buddhist, etc. In other words, you would list of a set of labels that you believe are essential to your idea of yourself. These labels come from our minds summarization and categorization of a variety of experiences and memories. Thinking now goes to work using these labels in its construction of the self. Note these are not the self itself, but rather the remembered characteristics of the individual. These are now employed in producing the self, in selfing.

 

Webster’s dictionary defines self as:

“1a :  the entire person of an individual

b :  the realization or embodiment of an abstraction

2a (1) :  an individual’s typical character or behavior

(2) :  an individual’s temporary behavior or character

  b :  a person in prime condition

3:  the union of elements (as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person”

This definition suggests that the “self” consists of a set of components including physiology, behaviors, personality, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, memories, etc. It is not a single thing rather it’s a set of things that in their entirety are considered a self. The self itself is thought to define one’s individuality. But, note that the definition indicates that self is an embodiment of an abstraction. In other words, the dictionary defines self as a concept, not a thing.

 

Each of these components of a self are themselves processes. To create a self, we recall memories, stories about us, that exemplify our nature. The active process of memory retrieval and review is part of selfing. We incorporate beliefs about ourselves in the self. These include ideas such as outgoing, intelligent, unlovable, overweight, etc. But these beliefs are produced by thoughts that are fueled by memories and prior learning. They are an active construction, a part of selfing. We include our emotions as components of our constructed selves. These include happy, afraid, loving, etc. But emotions are changeable moment to moment. We only include what we consider stable patterns of emotions. But this requires memory and thought, reflecting on our past emotional states, and is thus an active construction, part of selfing.

 

We also include what we consider our personalities in our constructed self. Personality is itself a constructed concept. There is no single entity that comprises a personality. Personality is thought to be composed of a set of relatively permanent and stable characteristics that mark our individuality, such as the so-called “Big Five” personality traits, openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. But, once again these are not things, but concepts. They are actually constructed from consistencies of the answers to a set of standardized questions such as I am interested in people, I think a lot before I speak or act, I get stressed out easily, I pay attention to details, I have a vivid imagination. These all refer to the “I” (self) and refer to how you act or feel. But, note that these questions cannot be answered without reference to our memories of how we’ve acted or felt in the past. So, we address each question by constructing an answer based upon a review of memories, an active process. Hence, our personality is also constructed. It also is a process. If self is in part composed of personality then it also is constructed, part of selfing.

 

We think of the body as our self, with the skin physically separating us from the outside world and others. But is this actually true? The body is constantly changing. Every cell in the body is different than it was a few years ago. The body actually changes from moment to moment. It is constantly incorporating things from the outside, air, food, and water and contributing to things outside through breathing, sweating, and elimination. Hence, the body is not constant and it is not something separate from the environment. So, how can something so fluid and impermanent be a self? It is only our ideas and perceptions and beliefs about our bodies that are actually what we think of as a self. It’s a construction produced by thought. It is just one more component of selfing.

 

Buddhism teaches that there is no self. This is an unfortunate term as it implies no existence. A good example of what is really meant is contained in this story. A student came to his Zen teacher stating that he had a breakthrough. That he experienced no self. The teacher raised up his stick and hit him on the back of the head, then asked “now tell me who felt that?” The story emphasizes that no self does not mean that there isn’t an experiencing entity. Rather, that there is no enduring thing that is the self. The Buddha refused to answer whether a self-existed or not. He taught that we should not dwell on thoughts like these but rather to view everything as impermanent, arising and passing away. He taught that we should then look at the self in this way and investigate where this perception of self originates. So, the Buddha taught that what is important is to not think about a self but rather investigate the process of selfing.

 

The great Zen master Dogen wrote “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things.” This well states the view that we need to investigate the process of selfing, study the self, but then realize that it’s just a lived experience and not a permanent thing; forget it, and stop looking at the world through a lens of self. There is indeed a lived experience. It would be a mistake to deny it. But, what the idea of no self points to is that it is only an impermanent experience, nothing more, nothing less.

 

So, self is simply a natural process of the mind. It is constructed. A solid self is an illusion. The idea of self may be useful in helping us navigate everyday existence, particularly during development, but has no true existence. We can’t really eliminate the idea of self as it is a lived experience. But, we can recognize it for what it is, a process and not an entity, and no longer make it central to our existence. Getting it out of the center is helpful as it destroys many delusions. That is the key to the teaching. Let self be experienced, see it for what it is, a process, and give it no dominant place in our lives. Let what is experienced in the present moment define what we are.

 

“Everything we think has self-nature, actually doesn’t. Buddha called it anatta or no-self where nothing has self-nature. That means, you and I and all of us are not really this thing called a self, or me. This is strange because it’s almost impossible for the Western mind or the human mind to think of itself in any terms other than self. The mind doesn’t even know where to begin how to do this. But, with deep insight this orientation toward self, collapses. We see that—wow—none of this has self-nature in it!” – Adyashanti

 

“Suffering exists, but no sufferer can be found.

Actions exist, but no doer of actions is there.

Nirvana exists, but no one who enters it.

The Path exists, but no traveler can be seen.” – Visuddimagga, 513
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

Making the Ego Go Away is a Mystical Experience

 

psychodelics-ego-dissolution2-nour

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“When subjected to a scientific experiment, these characteristics proved to be identical for spontaneous and psychedelic mystical experiences.
1.
 Unity is a sense of cosmic oneness achieved through positive ego transcendence. Although the usual sense of identity, or ego, fades away, consciousness and memory are not lost; . . ., so that a person reports that he feels a part of everything that is, or more simply, that “all is One.”  – Walter N. Pahnke

 

The core experience that has been found to be present in spiritual awakenings is a loss of the personal self. What they used to refer to as the self is experienced as just a part of an integrated whole. People who have had these experiences report feeling interconnected with everything else in a sense of oneness with all things. Although awakening experiences can vary widely, they all contain this experience of oneness.

 

Millions of people worldwide seek out spiritual awakening by engaging in practices, such as meditation, yoga, and prayer. Others use drugs such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, ayahuasca and

psilocybin to induce spiritual awakenings. The experiences produced by the drugs have many characteristics which are unique to the experiencer, their religious context, and their present situation. But, the common, central feature of these drug experiences is a sense of oneness, that all things are contained in a single thing, a sense of union with the universe and/or God and everything in existence.

 

Hence, central to both practice induced awakenings and psychedelic drug experiences is a loss of self that is sometimes called an ego death or an ego dissolution. In today’s Research News article “Ego-Dissolution and Psychedelics: Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI).” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1358413174182605/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906025/

Nour and colleagues attempt to develop a psychometric scale measuring ego dissolution and its opposite ego inflation and compare the results on this scale for people who self-reported use of psychedelic drugs, cocaine, and alcohol. They recruited participants with on-line ads and obtained anonymous responses from 691 people. The ego dissolution inventory (EDI) contained 8 items; “I experienced a dissolution of my “self” or ego,”I experienced a dissolution of my “self” or ego,” “I felt at one with the universe,” “I felt a sense of union with others,” “I experienced a decrease in my sense of self-importance,” “ I experienced a disintegration of my “self” or ego,” “I felt far less absorbed by my own issues and concerns,” “I lost all sense of ego,” “all notion of self and identity dissolved away.” Items were rated 0–100, with zero defined as “No, not more than usually”, and 100 defined as “Yes, entirely or completely.”

 

They found that the ego dissolution inventory (EDI) had adequate psychometric properties suggesting reliability and validity of the scale. The scores on the EDI were extremely similar to the participant’s responses to unity experiences on the Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ) suggesting that ego-dissolutions were virtually identical to reported senses of oneness. Interestingly, they found that ego dissolution was highly related to well-being suggesting that loss of the self produces a sense of personal well-being. In terms of drugs, it was found that when psychedelic drug dose or intensity of experience was high, ego dissolution was also high. But, there was no such relationship with cocaine or alcohol, while when cocaine dose was high ego-inflation was also high. So, psychedelic use is associated with ego dissolution while cocaine use is associated with a heightened sense of self, ego-inflation.

 

The results demonstrate that the ego dissolution can be measured and that the EDI is a reliable and valid measure. They further indicate that ego dilution and unity experiences are virtually identical suggesting that they may be measures of the same experience. The results also show that psychedelic drug use, but not cocaine or alcohol are highly associated with ego dilution. All of this adds to the case that awakening experiences and psychedelic drug experiences are either extraordinarily similar or perhaps identical. Since psychedelic drugs alter the brain, the results further suggest that awakening experiences may be due to similar changes in the brain.

 

This study was strictly correlational and no causal connections can be determined. But, these interesting results strongly suggest that a double-blind clinical trial of drug effects on ego dissolution and inflation should be conducted. It is not possible to manipulate participants into having non-drug induced awakening experiences. But, the similarity between the two suggests that drug induced experiences may be an excellent model for the study of the neural changes that underlie spiritual awakening experiences

 

“Because the ego never actually exists, those who are most captivated by its illusion are still playing. They take it seriously and do not know that they are playing. By inducing ego-death and evolutionary perspectives, psychedelic drugs can counteract
the fear of death.”
– LSD Experience – Ego

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Nour, M. M., Evans, L., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2016). Ego-Dissolution and Psychedelics: Validation of the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI). Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 269. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00269

 

Abstract

Aims: The experience of a compromised sense of “self”, termed ego-dissolution, is a key feature of the psychedelic experience. This study aimed to validate the Ego-Dissolution Inventory (EDI), a new 8-item self-report scale designed to measure ego-dissolution. Additionally, we aimed to investigate the specificity of the relationship between psychedelics and ego-dissolution.

Method: Sixteen items relating to altered ego-consciousness were included in an internet questionnaire; eight relating to the experience of ego-dissolution (comprising the EDI), and eight relating to the antithetical experience of increased self-assuredness, termed ego-inflation. Items were rated using a visual analog scale. Participants answered the questionnaire for experiences with classical psychedelic drugs, cocaine and/or alcohol. They also answered the seven questions from the Mystical Experiences Questionnaire (MEQ) relating to the experience of unity with one’s surroundings.

Results: Six hundred and ninety-one participants completed the questionnaire, providing data for 1828 drug experiences (1043 psychedelics, 377 cocaine, 408 alcohol). Exploratory factor analysis demonstrated that the eight EDI items loaded exclusively onto a single common factor, which was orthogonal to a second factor comprised of the items relating to ego-inflation (rho = −0.110), demonstrating discriminant validity. The EDI correlated strongly with the MEQ-derived measure of unitive experience (rho = 0.735), demonstrating convergent validity. EDI internal consistency was excellent (Cronbach’s alpha 0.93). Three analyses confirmed the specificity of ego-dissolution for experiences occasioned by psychedelic drugs. Firstly, EDI score correlated with drug-dose for psychedelic drugs (rho = 0.371), but not for cocaine (rho = 0.115) or alcohol (rho = −0.055). Secondly, the linear regression line relating the subjective intensity of the experience to ego-dissolution was significantly steeper for psychedelics (unstandardized regression coefficient = 0.701) compared with cocaine (0.135) or alcohol (0.144). Ego-inflation, by contrast, was specifically associated with cocaine experiences. Finally, a binary Support Vector Machine classifier identified experiences occasioned by psychedelic drugs vs. cocaine or alcohol with over 85% accuracy using ratings of ego-dissolution and ego-inflation alone.

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate the psychometric structure, internal consistency and construct validity of the EDI. Moreover, we demonstrate the close relationship between ego-dissolution and the psychedelic experience. The EDI will facilitate the study of the neuronal correlates of ego-dissolution, which is relevant for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and our understanding of psychosis.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4906025/

 

Alter the Brains Self-Related Processing with Mindfulness

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Mindfulness and meditation are the two most effective brain trainers to support optimal prefrontal cortex functioning. The more you incorporate them into your daily experience, the more you will be training your brain to recalibrate, balance, and control. – Michele Rosenthal

 

The nervous system is constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. For example, the brain area that controls the right index finger has been found to be larger in blind subjects who use braille than in sighted individuals.  Similarly, cab drivers in London who navigate the twisting streets of the city, have a larger hippocampus, which is involved in spatial navigation, than predefined route bus drivers. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas.

 

There are two primary brain areas that appear to be altered by mindfulness training, the prefrontal cortex, including the orbitofrontal cortex, and what is termed the default mode network, which includes the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is involved in attention, decision making, and cognitive processes while the default mode network is involved in mind wandering and self-referential thinking.

 

Self-referential thinking is an important process that I prevalent when the mind is wandering and appears to be reduced by mindfulness training. In today’s Research News article “Medial orbital gyrus modulation during spatial perspective changes: Pre- vs. post-8 weeks mindfulness meditation.” See

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1204026446287946/?type=3&theater

or see below.

Tomasino and colleagues further investigate the neural process in self-referential thinking and the area of the brain that underlie them. They studied the effects of 8-weeks of meditation training on the brain responses to tasks that involve referencing the self or involve non self-referenced thinking. Brian activity was measured with functional Magnetic Imaging (f-MRI). They found that when processing the self-referential thinking task, there was significant activations of the left and right medial orbital gyrus. This activation was greater after the meditation training than before. In addition, after training response speeds increased on the self-referential thinking task. They also found that the magnitude of the signal change was negatively related to Self-Directedness, such that the higher the level of self-directed thinking the lower the activation.

 

The orbitofrontal cortex area is normally activated in high level thinking and with attention. It is thus not surprising that the orbitofrontal cortex would be activated by processing information necessary to make decisions. It is, however, surprising that the response would be greater for self-related tasks than for non self-related tasks. Meditation training is known to reduce self-referential thinking. So, it would make sense that that this intensified activation of the orbitofrontal cortex to self-referential thinking would be negatively related to self-directedness after meditation training.  But, it is surprising that the activation of this area by self-referential thinking would be intensified after meditation. It will remain for future research to disentangle these puzzling responses.

 

Regardless, alter the brains self-related processing with mindfulness.

 

“Meditation practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions.” – Alice Walton

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

 

Study Summary

Tomasino B, Campanella F, Fabbro F. Medial orbital gyrus modulation during spatial perspective changes: Pre- vs. post-8 weeks mindfulness meditation. Conscious Cogn. 2016 Feb;40:147-58. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2016.01.006. Epub 2016 Jan 25.

 

Highlights

  • We used fMRI pre and following a 8-weeks mindfulness training (MT).
  • During fMRI subjects solved a own-body mental transformation task.
  • The own-body mental transformation task (vs. non-bodily) in the post (vs. Pre-MT) significantly increased activations in the left and right middle orbital gyrus.
  • The signal change correlated with changes in a self-maturity scale.
  • A brief mindfulness training caused increased activation in areas involved in self related processing.

Abstract

Mindfulness meditation exercises the ability to shift to an “observer perspective”. That means learning to observe internally and externally arising stimulations in a detached perspective. Both before and after attending a 8-weeks mindfulness training (MT) participants underwent an fMRI experiment (serving as their own internal control) and solved a own-body mental transformation task, which is used to investigate embodiment and perspective taking (and an non-bodily mental transformation task as control).

We found a stimulus × time-points interaction: the own-body mental transformation task (vs. non-bodily) in the post (vs. pre-MT) significantly increased activations in the medial orbital gyrus. The signal change in the right medial orbital gyrus significantly correlated with changes in a self-maturity personality scale.

A brief MT caused increased activation in areas involved in self related processing and person perspective changes, together with an increase in self-maturity, consistently with the aim of mindfulness meditation that is exercising change in self perspective.

 

Meditate to Respond More Effectively to Self-Praise and Criticism

 

 “If you’ve ever felt too depressed to solve a problem, it might be because your brain is having a hard time regulating your emotions. One solution? Mindfulness training.” – Ruth Buczynsk

 

Meditation is known to improve the physical and mental health of practitioners. To some extent, it does so by improving emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/). This improvement involves fully experiencing emotions, not suppressing them, and responding to them in a rational and adaptive fashion. In other words, meditators appear to be able to feel and work with their emotions responsibly, non-judgmentally, and with acceptance, and not react in ways that are harmful to themselves and others.

 

Emotion regulation is in part improved in meditators by helping them to take things less personally. Meditation tends to reduce self-referential thinking (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/self/). Mindfulness tends to reduce self-critical thinking and their emotional aftermaths and improve self-esteem. As a result, meditation tends to reduce responses to self-related thoughts, ideas, and stimuli. This improved emotion regulation contributes to many facets of the individual’s mental health.

 

Meditation is also known to alter the nervous system. Actions that are repeated often tend to produce changes in the nervous system in a process called neuroplasticity and meditation is no exception. It tends to increase the size, activity, and connectivity of structures in the nervous system that are involved in attention and emotion regulation, frontal cortex regions, and decrease the size, activity, and connectivity of structures involved in mind wandering, self-referential thinking, and stress, the so called default mode network  (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/neuroplasticity/).

 

In today’s Research News article “Altered processing of self-related emotional stimuli in mindfulness meditators”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1155866777770580/?type=3&theater

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811915008794

Lutz and colleagues investigate emotional regulation responses in the nervous system of long term meditators (> a year of regular practice) in comparison to meditation naïve participants. As expected the meditators were higher in mindfulness especially in observing and non-reacting, self-compassion, and emotional awareness. The participants were then presented with personality descriptor adjectives that were either positive (attractive, handsome, funny) or negative (unattractive, unsightly, ugly) and recorded the responses of the nervous system to the stimuli.

 

Self-relevant items either positive or negative, but particularly positive, produced greater activation of the Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex in the meditators. The mindfulness component of non-reacting was positively correlated with activation of the Dorsomedial Prefrontal Cortex in the meditators but not the naïve participants. Finally, they found lower functional connectivity to posterior midline and parietal regions in the meditators compared to the naïve participants during both types of self-relevant items.

 

The meditators stronger activations of the frontal regions suggest that they have stronger self-awareness and focus on inner feelings. It also suggests that they have greater emotion regulation with non-reactive attitudes towards these experiences. Since the posterior structures of the default mode network in the nervous system are associated with self-referential thinking, the decreased connectivity to these regions in the meditators suggest that they have lesser self-focus than meditation naïve participants.

 

In sum, these results indicate that meditation produces changes in the brain that allows for greater emotion regulation and less thinking about self. These neural changes may in part account for the improved mental health in meditators. They are better able to cope with emotions and respond to them constructively and take everything less personally. So, meditation appears to change the brain making it better able to respond more constructively and less personally to emption laden events.

 

So, meditate to respond more effectively to self-praise and criticism.

 

“mindful attention does not inhibit initial evaluations insomuch as it limits the automatic expansion of initial evaluative reactions into activation of a broader set of implications about the self and the world.” – Norman Farb
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Think more Clearly with Mindfulness

“Typically, people want to see themselves in a positive light the majority of the time. Unfortunately, we may even do that at the cost of blaming others for things that may actually be our own fault. We want to believe we are responsible for good things, and someone or something else is responsible for the bad things. These wants cause the self-serving bias.” – Harmony A Robles

 

People in general tend to believe that they are rational and unbiased in their viewpoints, particularly in regards to themselves. But research has repeatedly demonstrated that this is not true. People are overly reactive to past experience, tending to act and think in the same way repeatedly even when a more accurate or productive mode is available. People tend to overreact to negative information giving it greater value in their thinking than positive information. People tend to believe that events are more likely to occur in the future if they have recent memories of their occurrence. If a belief is commonly accepted then it is more likely to be believed by the individual.

 

People generally fall prey to the gamblers fallacy believing that if an event hasn’t happened in a while that it is more likely to occur in the present. People tend to be wishful thinkers being over-optimistic and overestimate the likelihood of favorable and pleasing outcomes. People tend to overestimate the amount of influence they have over other external events. People also have a tendency to see themselves as less biased than other people. The list is much longer, but suffice it to say that our thinking is not as rational and unbiased as we tend to think it is.

 

Mindfulness has been shown to help correct some of their biased thinking. In particular, it’s been shown to help relieve individuals of being overly influenced by past experiences that is known as task sets (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/23/free-your-mind-with-mindfulness/). It’s been shown to improve decision making by improving reflective consideration of the information, ability to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information, reducing irrational behaviors, habitual tendencies, risky decisions, and overreacting to negative information See http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/12/make-better-decisions-with-meditation/). So mindfulness may be somewhat of an antidote for biased thinking.

 

In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Bias in Self-theories”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1118220854868506/?type=3&theater

Hanley and colleagues investigate the relationship between levels of mindfulness and biased thinking about the self. In particular they looked at whether the individual had an even or a biased view of the permanence or changeability of intelligence and personality. They found that more mindful individuals tended to have a more balanced and unbiased view of the self.

 

These findings provide additional support for the notion that mindfulness assists us in seeing things, including ourselves, in a more rational and unbiased way and as a result to reason better, solve problems better, and be more creative.

 

So, be mindful and think more clearly.

 

“The true means of being misled is to believe oneself finer than the others.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Losing the Center

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For most people the self is the center of their universe. It is seen as the center of all experiences, as the initiator of all actions, and as the center of what they believe it means to be human. We are a very self-centered species. This has been useful from an evolutionary standpoint as it has fueled self-preservation and the desire to better the self. This has led to constructive and adaptive behaviors that have furthered the well-being of the individual and the species.

 

But, the idea of a self, of a center, also has its dark side. Problems with the self-image or a weak self-concept can produce suffering and maladaptive behavior. It can also lead to selfishness. It even leads us to miss how interconnected we are to other people, the earth itself, and the entire universe for that matter. This has led to a lack of appreciation of the environment which has resulted in devastating environmental degradation.

 

One of the many problems with the self, the center, is that it can exacerbate rumination which fuels depression and anxiety. Rumination is a repetitive thought process usually involving some negative life event or situation from the past or repeated worry about some potential negative event in the future. Rumination is a characteristic of anxiety and depression which focuses on past issues and future potential problems. In rumination, the individual is normally at the center, with all the repetitive thoughts revolving around the self.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to decrease rumination and depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/15/spiraling-up-with-mindfulness/) and reduce worry, depression and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/stop-worrying/). One hypothesis for mindfulness’ effectiveness is that it reduces the individual’s tendency to see the self as the center of everything. It may be producing a decentering such that events are no longer seen as personal. Occurrences then can be seen as just things happening that do not necessarily either involve or reflect upon the self.

In today’s Research News article “A shift in perspective: Decentering through mindful attention to imagined stressful events”

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1115957915094800/?type=3&theater

Lebois and colleagues investigate whether mindfulness leads to decentering as evidenced by brain activity. They taught non-meditators a strategy for dealing with stressful events, mindful attention, which involved simply viewing events as fleeting experiences in the mind. They compared neural activity when imagining a stressful event between mindful attention and the normal self-centered process termed immersion. In general they found that immersion resulted in increased neural activity while imaging the stressful event, while mindful attention decreased neural activity. In other words, when the self was removed from the stressful event the nervous system became more relaxed, while when the self was the center of the stressful event the nervous system reacted more vigorously.

 

The systems in the brain that were activated differed between the mindful attention and the immersion conditions. In comparison to immersion, during mindful attention there was greater activation of brain areas that have been associated with changing ones perspective (Angular Gyrus), decision making and attentional control (Inferior prefrontal cortex), augmented inhibitory control (medial prefrontal cortex), and visual processing (inferior and middle occipital gyrus). In comparison to mindful attention, during immersion there was greater activation of brain areas involved when integrating visceral states, including the subgenual cingulate cortex, ventral anterior cingulate cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex/medial orbitofrontal cortex. These areas are associated with monitoring and processing reward, attending to feelings, and labeling stimuli as self-relevant. Thus, immersion appeared to engage stronger self, bodily, and affective responses than did mindful attention, consistent with engaging oneself in events physically, becoming immersed in them, and experiencing them as subjectively real.

 

These results suggest that mindful attention produced a shift in perspective that disengaged the sense of self from events, decentering. As a consequence, imagined events could be experienced as transitory mental states occurring in the present moment. These results further support the hypothesis that mindfulness reduces worry and rumination by removing the self from the evaluation of events. Hence, mindfulness’ effectiveness for anxiety and depression may be due in part to the removal of the self from one’s perspective on events, leading to a blunted impact of worry and rumination, leading to reduced anxiety and depression.

 

So, practice mindfulness and decenter.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies