What is it that you really want?


To clarify your aspiration means knowing exactly what it is that your spiritual life aspires to, not as a future goal but in each moment. In other words, what do you value most in your life—not in the sense of moral values, but in the sense of what is most important to you.” – Adyashanti


Most people do not know what they really want from life in general or contemplative practice specifically. In terms of life, people will tell you that they want a successful career, a new home, to find someone to love and be loved by, etc. but their actions suggest that they really want something else, power, a status symbol, a sex partner. In terms of contemplative practice, they will tell you that they want to be closer to god, understand themselves, become enlightened etc., but again their actions suggest that they really want to appear to others as a spiritual person, create a desirable self-image, add a major item to their spiritual resume.


Discovering what you really want requires contemplation and ruthless honesty with yourself. The best way to begin to investigate your true desires is very simple; just see where you invest your time and energy. Don’t think about your ideas about what are your aspirations. Rather simply look at what you do to truly reveal them. What you truly value is what you invest in your precious time in. So, look at that, but above all be honest with yourself.


If you spend a large amount of time simply watching TV shows or movies, or listening to music that’s perfectly fine. But ask yourself exactly why are you doing this? Is this for relaxation and entertainment or are you escaping from confronting or dealing with deeper and more important issues. What is it you’re trying to accomplish or not accomplish? Look at this deeply. If you spend a lot of time with friends, that’s perfectly fine. But ask yourself exactly why are you doing this? Do you do this out of love for them or do you do this to obtain their approval and love? Look deeply and honestly.


When there is a mismatch between what you say you want and what you do, it is a formula for unhappiness. In psychology it is called cognitive dissonance and it produces an uncomfortable state with a diffuse anxiety. This is why it is so important to clarify what you really want. There is no need to judge one aspiration as good and another as bad. That is counterproductive. What you want, is simply what you want, and it’s neither right nor wrong. But knowing it is the route to aligning your actions with your desires. This allows you to pursue your goals with direction and clarity. But more importantly, this signals that you’re seeing yourself as you really are and acting with coherence and integrity.


This seems to be such an easy question to answer, but it’s not. The ego is devious and clever in inventing seemingly reasonable and innocuous reasons and excuses to explain what you’re doing. So, spend some time with this issue. Don’t believe your minds first responses. Investigate them. See if they match up to what you’re actually doing. Then contemplate it further. It’s much harder than you think and may actually upset you as answers start to emerge that may not be exactly aligned with your beliefs about yourself. But, this is actually a good thing signaling an opportunity to grow and develop. The one prerequisite though is that you must be completely honest with yourself.


It is very important to understand that there are not right or wrong answers. Whatever you discover are just what they are and perfectly OK. But, identifying them is the start to actually satisfying these needs and desires. You may be surprised. If you are, that’s great. It means that you’ve spent some very productive time that can lead to a much happier life.


So, for life and general and for your contemplative practice invest in identifying what it is that you really want.


“When we take our attention off the chatter of our mind and put our intention onto developing our intuition, we learn to play with much subtler dimensions. Listening and moving from the heart instead of the intellect, we make wiser choices rather than smarter ones, which can serve us better in the end.” Lynn Newman


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Mindfully Control Inflammation


“I don’t think anybody would argue that fact that we know inflammation in the body, which comes from a lot of different sources, is the basis for a lot of chronic health problems, so by controlling that, we would expect to see increased life expectancy … but if we’re not changing those things and just taking ibuprofen, I don’t know if we’re really going to make any headway in that, I feel like there are probably a lot of factors that we could change without medicating with risk.”– Josie Znidarsic


The immune system is designed to protect the body from threats like stress, infection, injury, and toxic chemicals. One of its tools is the Inflammatory response. Its primary effect is to increase blood circulation around the infected area, dilating the blood vessels around the site of inflammation. It also produces gaps in the cell walls surrounding the infected area, allowing the larger immune cells, to pass. It also tends to increase body temperature to further fight infection. This response works quite well for short-term infections and injuries and as such is an important defense mechanism for the body. But when inflammation is protracted and becomes chronic, it can itself become a threat to health.


Chronic inflammation can produce autoimmune diseases such as colitis, Chron’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, increased cancer risk, lung disease, sleep disruption, gum disease, decreased bone health, psoriasis, and depression. Needless to say chronic inflammation can create major health problems. Indeed, the presence of chronic inflammation is associated with reduced longevity. So, it is important for health to control the inflammatory response, allowing it to do its job in fighting off infection but then reducing its activity when no external threat is apparent.


Contemplative practices appear to relax the physical systems of the body including the immune system, reducing inflammation. Mind-body techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi and meditation have been shown to adaptively reduce the inflammatory response (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/inflammatory-response/). In today’s Research News article “Mind-body therapies and control of inflammatory biology: A descriptive review”


Bower and colleagues review the published research literature on the effects of mind-body practices on the inflammatory response. They found mixed and inconclusive results for circulating and cellular markers of inflammation but consistent findings for gene expression inflammatory pathways. These studies consistently demonstrated that mind-body practices including tai chi, yoga, and meditation produced a decrease in inflammatory gene expressions and does so in diverse populations of practitioners.


Bower and colleagues suggest that mind-body practices alter gene expression through their well-documented effects on the neuroendocrine system. These techniques are known to reduce the activity of the activating portion of the peripheral nervous system, the sympathetic system, to reduce the release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and to lower perceived stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/).  Mind-body practices are also known to improve emotion regulation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) and reduce depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/), and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2016/01/02/distress-produces-less-stress-with-mindfulness/). All of these effects occur via alterations of the nervous system by mind-body practices. The reduced activation and heightened relaxation then reduce the inflammatory response.


Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that mindfulness practices reduce potentially harmful inflammatory responses. So, mindfully control inflammation.



“The mindfulness-based approach to stress reduction may offer a lower-cost alternative or complement to standard treatment, and it can be practiced easily by patients in their own homes, whenever they need.” – Melissa Rosenkranz


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Antisocial Prisoners Lack Mindfulness


“There are only two kinds of people in this world; those who have a conscience and those who do not.” ― P.A. Speers


Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a problem not only for the individual but also for society. Individuals with this disorder tend to demonstrate a “disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or for sheer personal pleasure, intense egocentrism, sense of superiority and exhibitionism, recurring difficulties with the law, repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation, child abuse or neglect, hostility, significant irritability, agitation, impulsiveness, aggression or violence, lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others, unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviors, poor or abusive relationships, irresponsible work behavior, and failure to learn from the negative consequences of behavior” (Mayo Clinic).


Needless to say that this disorder is found to be quite prevalent in prison populations. As much as 80% of male and 65% of female prison inmates exhibit signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. But, it is also common in the general population. Around 3.6% of adults in the United States, equal to about 7.6 million people, have antisocial personality disorder affecting about 3% of adult males and 1% of adult females. To make matters worse, APD is very difficult to treat as it frequently does not respond to psychotherapy and there are no drugs that have been approved to treat it.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness moderates the relationship between aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder traits: Preliminary investigation with an offender sample”


Velotti and colleagues investigate the relationship of mindfulness to aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) with 83 imprisoned violent offenders. They verified the positive relationship between APD and aggressive behavior including physical and verbal aggression, anger, and hostility. But they also found a strong and significant negative relationship between APD and the mindfulness facets of describing, acting with awareness, and non-judging. That is high APD was associated with low mindfulness. In addition, mindfulness was negatively related to physical aggression, anger, and hostility. This was particularly true for acting with awareness. In other words, the lower the level of mindfulness, particularly acting with awareness, the greater the levels of aggressive behavior.


It is interesting that the key component of mindfulness that appears to be deficient in individuals with APD is acting with awareness. This facet involves paying attention to one’s current activities. It’s deficiency in APD implies that these individuals are lacking in awareness of what they are doing while they are doing it. In other words, as they are engaged in hostile, aggressive, and even violent activities, they may be acting without conscious thought. Rather they may be responding reflexively to immediate situations and the emotions produced. This further suggests that training to improve real time awareness of actions may be effective in treating APD.
Personality Disorders in general including APD are notoriously resistant to treatment. So, Velotti and colleagues’ findings are potentially important. They suggest that increasing mindfulness may be a way to treat Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). Although there have not been controlled clinical trials training individuals with APD in mindfulness, mindfulness training is included in Dialectic Behavior Therapy which has been shown to be helpful with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). There are a number of overlapping characteristics in common to both APD and BPD. So, it is possible that mindfulness training may be important in treating Personality Disorders in general. Obviously more research is needed.


It should be kept in mind that Velotti and colleagues obtained their findings with prisoners who were convicted of violent crimes. It will be important to also study non-violent APD patients to determine the general applicability of the results. Regardless, it appears that at least in violent prisoners, that mindfulness, especially acting with awareness, is a clear deficiency in Antisocial Personality Disorder.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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”



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


Meditate to Improve Attention by Changing the Brain


“meditation may increase our control over our limited brain resources. To anyone who knows what it’s like to feel scattered or overwhelmed, this is an appealing benefit indeed. Even though your attention is a limited resource, you can learn to do more with the mental energy you already have.” – Kelly McGonigal


Meditation practice has many psychological, cognitive, and physical benefits. It has been shown to improve attentional abilities so that we can better maintain our attention when needed and reduce the strong human tendency for mind wandering (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/attention/), the enemy of focused attention. This allows us to better attend to the present moment, what’s happening now, rather than be dominated by thought, memories, and plans for the future.


In the last few decades, scientists have discovered that the brain is far more malleable than previously thought. Areas in the brain can change, either increase or decrease in size, connectivity, and activity in response to changes in our environment or the behaviors we engage in. This process is referred to as neuroplasticity. Alterations in the brain can be produced by contemplative practices. The brain appears to change in response to meditation and other contemplative practices. Indeed, mindfulness practices have been shown to not only alter how we think and feel but also to alter the nervous system (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/neuroplasticity/).


In today’s Research News article “Increases in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreases the rostral prefrontal cortex activation after-8 weeks of focused attention based mindfulness meditation”


Tomasino and colleagues investigate neuroplastic changes to the brain when individuals who have no experience with meditation engage in an 8-week meditation program. The participants’ brain activity during meditation was measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (f-MRI) before and after the meditation training. They found that at the end of training the participants showed greater activation of the right middle frontal gyrus and the left caudate/anterior insular cortex. They also found that the practice decreased activation in the rostral prefrontal cortex and in right parietal cortex. They further demonstrated that these altered brain activities were produced by the focused meditation component and not a body scan component of the practice.


The increased activity observed in the prefrontal areas makes perfect sense as meditation is an attentional practice and the prefrontal areas have been previously shown to be associated with attention. So, practicing attention alters the brain areas responsible for attention. The decreased activity observed in the rostral prefrontal cortex also makes perfect sense as focused attention is antithetical to mind wandering and the rostral prefrontal cortex has been shown to be involved in the “default mode network” that is activated during mind wandering. So, practicing attention also decreases activity in the brain areas responsible for its opposite, mind wandering. So, meditation practice was found to strengthen the activity of the exact areas of the brain that are known to be increased by attentional activity and reduced activity of the areas known to be increased during mind wandering.


Hence, meditation practice by naive individuals appears to alter their brains to better maintain attention and restrain mind wandering. The fact that the brain has been changes suggests that the improved attentional ability will be maintained even when the individuals are not actively meditating. This make the practice far more useful as it has more long-lasting effects.


So, meditate to improve attention by changing the brain.


“Meditation provides experiences that the mind can achieve no other way, such as inner silence and expanded awareness. And as the mind gains experience, the brain shows physical activity as well—sometimes profound changes. . . . the research has begun to show that meditation can also produce long-term structural changes in the brain. No longer is the “hard wiring” of neural circuits so dominant. The brain can alter its wiring in “soft” ways, thanks to a trait known as neuroplasticity, which allows new pathways and even new brain cells to appear.” – Deepak Chopra


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Reduce Discrimination Produced Depression with Mindfulness

“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; … he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving Goffman


Discrimination based upon race, religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. has been going on since the beginning of recorded history. Even though quite common it can have considerable negative impact for all who are involved but especially for the subject of the discrimination. General well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social relations can be severely impacted as a result of discrimination. This can, in turn, result in depression.


In the U.S. discrimination against African Americans is very common. In a recent poll, 51% of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments which was increased from four years ago, African-Americans comprise only 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but are 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America, and African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites for the same crimes. Discrimination against women is also common. Women on average earn 22.5% less than men, have to work for more years before receiving promotion, the greater the education level the greater the disparity, and minority women fare even worse. In addition, women are 10 times more likely to be exposed to high levels of domestic violence and are nearly 4 times more likely to be exposed to sexual harassment than men. As a society we should do everything in our power to fight against discrimination in any form. But, we also need to deal with the consequences of discrimination when it occurs.


Mindfulness practices have been shown to reduce prejudice (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/prejudice/). It has also been shown to reduce depression (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/depression/). Mindfulness has also is known to enhance positive emotions (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/) and positive emotions reduce the negative effects of discrimination. So perhaps mindfulness is related to the impact of discrimination on the individual. In today’s Research News article “Discrimination hurts, but mindfulness may help: Trait mindfulness moderates the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms”



Brown-Iannuzzi and colleagues analyzed responses on an on-line questionnaire of perceived racism, mindfulness, depression, and positive emotions completed by community participants.


They found that “the most common source of discrimination was gender (19.7%), followed by race or ethnicity (17%), body weight (14.4%) and age (14.3%).” They also found that high levels of discrimination were accompanied by high levels of depression while high levels of positive emotions and mindfulness were accompanied by low levels of depression. In addition, high levels of mindfulness were found to mitigate the effects of discrimination on depression. Participants high in mindfulness showed less of an increase in depression when exposed to discrimination.


Mindfulness has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/). So, mindfulness may reduce the negative impact of the stress produced by the discrimination thereby reducing depression. Mindfulness may also act by focusing the individual more in the present moment. Rumination about past discrimination and worries regarding future discrimination may well amplify discrimination’s impact on depression. Focusing on the present moment may make it easier to cope with the discrimination, isolating it and thereby decreasing its effects.


Regardless of its mechanism of action, it is clear the mindfulness is associated with lower depression and a lessened effect of discrimination on depression. So, reduce discrimination produced depression with mindfulness.


“One of the best ways you can fight discrimination is by taking good care of yourself. Your survival is not just important; it’s an act of revolution.” ― DaShanne Stokes
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Control Blood Pressure with Mindfulness

“A chronic state of arousal isn’t healthy. It causes hypertension, and it has been implicated in diabetes, asthma, and various gastrointestinal disorders. Part of the arousal response is to turn off the immune system, so you are breaking down instead of healing yourself.” ~ Erika Friedmann


High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) is an insidious disease because there are no overt symptoms. The individual feels fine. But it can be deadly as more than 360,000 American deaths, roughly 1,000 deaths each day, had high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause. In addition, hypertension markedly increases the risk heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease.  Hypertension is present in about 70% of first heart attacks, about 80% of first strokes, and about 70% of chronic heart failures. It is also a very common disorder with about 70 million American adults (29%) having high blood pressure and only about half (52%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control. Additionally, nearly a third of American adults have prehypertension, with blood pressure higher than normal, but not yet considered hypertension.


High blood pressure, because it doesn’t have any primary symptoms is usually only diagnosed by direct measurement of blood pressure usually by a health care professional. When hypertension is chronically present over three quarters of patients are treated with antihypertensive drugs. But these medications often have adverse side effects. So, patients feel lousy when taking the drugs, but fine when they’re not. So, compliance is a major issue with many patients not taking the drugs regularly or stopping entirely.


Obviously there is a need for alternative to drug treatments for hypertension. Stress is known to be a contributing factor to hypertension. It acts in part by increasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system, the activating component of the peripheral nervous system and by increasing the release of stress hormones. So controlling stress would appear to be a reasonable non-drug approach to reducing high blood pressure.


Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs were designed specifically to reduce stress. They include meditation, body scan, and yoga practices. Meditation (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/21/control-blood-pressure-with-meditation/), and yoga (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/contemplative-practice/yoga-contemplative-practice/), and body scan (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/29/get-your-calm-on/)  have  been shown to be successful in reducing both the psychological and physiological responses to stress. So, it would seem appropriate to use these techniques as alternatives to drug treatment for hypertension.


In today’s Research News article “Effect of Group Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction Program and Conscious Yoga on Lifestyle, Coping Strategies, and Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressures in Patients with Hypertension”



Nejati and colleagues compared hypertensive patients randomly assigned to receive an 8-week MBSR program or no treatment. They found significant positive improvements produced by MBSR treatment including improved lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, health responsibility, stress management, interpersonal support, and self-actualization), coping strategies (problem-focused and emotion-focused), and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic).


These results are impressive, but need to be tempered with the fact that the control condition was a no treatment condition. Without an active control many potentially confounding variables are present. But the results reinforce previous studies that make a compelling case that mindfulness practices such as MBSR are excellent alternatives to medication for the treatment of hypertension.


So, control blood pressure with mindfulness.


“Meditation can help us in many aspects of our lives, whether it be physically or mentally. It is a discipline that when practiced daily significantly decreases stress related diseases such as high blood pressure while increasing a deep relaxation response and the feel-good factor.” – Zenlama
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Get more Spiritual with Mindfulness


“While the stillness and connecting with one’s inner self cultivated through mindfulness are certainly an important part of a spiritual practice, feelings of wonder and awe — the amazement we get when faced with incredible vastness — are also central to the spiritual experience. And according to new research, mindfulness may actually set the stage for awe.” – Carolyn Gregoire


Mindfulness practices developed primarily as spiritual practices. Contemplative practices developed millennia ago and were seen in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and many native (so called primitive) religions. They were used to heighten the practitioner’s experience with ultimate reality, whether that be a deity or seeing the nature of reality. By calming the mind and reducing the internal chatter contemplative practices are thought to open up a transcendent reality not otherwise attainable. So, mindfulness and spirituality/religion have been intimately linked. (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/16/why-are-we-spiritualreligious/).


It has only been in the last few decades that mindfulness has been practiced as a secular activity. This allowed it to flourish in a skeptical west which saw it as a heathen religious practice. As a result, mindfulness practices were employed for secular purposes such as improvement of health, psychological well-being, and cognitive development. But, now because their secular benefits have been firmly established by science, mindfulness practices have become accepted and firmly embedded in western life. The establishment of their acceptability, has led to a re-emergence of their initial purpose of the development of spirituality.


Adolescence is often a time of rapid spiritual development as the teens begin to seek deeper understandings of reality and life. But, there has been very little research into the emergence of spirituality and religious practice in adolescents. In today’s Research News article “Support for adolescent spirituality: contributions of religious practice and trait mindfulness”


Cobb and colleagues explore spirituality, religious practices, and mindfulness in 11 to 16-year old adolescents. They asked “two questions: (1) do different portraits of spiritual life exist for adolescents involving religious practice and spiritual experience and (2) might religious practice and trait mindfulness offer support for the development of spiritual experience.” They used statistical techniques to identify different clusters of activity and discovered four unique profiles of spirituality and religious practices: Highest Overall Spirituality, Spiritual Experience, Religious Practice, and Lowest Overall Spirituality.


The adolescents indicating Highest Overall Spirituality had a strong religious practice and strong spiritual beliefs and experiences. The Spiritual Experience group had a moderate-high level of spiritual experience and Spiritual Self-Discovery, but generally did not religiously practice. Religious Practice group was defined by moderate-high levels of private religious practice and religious identity and relatively low spiritual experience and values. Finally, the Lowest Overall Spirituality group had low levels of spiritual experience and low levels of religious practice.


Spirituality/religious practice groups and percentage of adolescents in each group.

High Low
High 28% 11%
Religious Highest Overall Spirituality Religious Practice
Practice Low 28% 34%
Spiritual Experience Lowest Overall Spirituality


Cobb and colleagues also found that the adolescents in the high spirituality groups had significantly higher mindfulness than those in the low spirituality groups regardless of the level of religious practice. This analysis implies that high mindfulness is associated with spirituality while religious practice is not.


The authors speculate that mindfulness is a “gateway” to great spiritual awareness and ultimately a more integrated spiritual life. That would certainly fit with the origins of mindfulness practices as means to attain spiritual development. But, their results do not demonstrate that mindfulness causes spirituality as there was no active manipulation of either. It is possible that high levels of spirituality cause high mindfulness or that some third factor such as familial spirituality might simultaneously increase both spirituality and mindfulness. Research is needed wherein mindfulness training is implemented and its effects on spirituality measured. In addition, it will be important to explore these relationships in older individuals to establish that the relationship of mindfulness and spirituality is not simply restricted to adolescents.


Regardless, it is clear that spirituality and mindfulness are intimately connected, that an ability to quiet the mind and look inside is highly associated with spiritual experience. So, get more spiritual with mindfulness.


“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” ― Albert Einstein
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Love thyself


“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” ~Malcolm S. Forbes


There is a widespread problem in the west that many people don’t seem to like themselves.  The term used to describe this in psychology is self-loathing, although this term is far too strong and is not an appropriate descriptor for the majority of people. In general, the dislike of self has a much smaller magnitude than the word loathing implies. As a result I prefer self-dislike.


The self-dislike sometimes means that the individual dislikes every aspect of themselves; but most frequently people only don’t like certain aspects of themselves. Often it is there physical appearance, their school achievement, their career, their social behavior, etc. Making matters worse, they tend to overlook their strengths and discount them, focusing instead in the parts that they find problematic.


The discounting and overlooking of strengths shows up in what psychologists call the Imposter Syndrome. Here very successful people do not appear to be able to assimilate their success and instead attribute it to luck. The esteem with which they’re held makes them feel like imposters. It is estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another.


When this issue of self-dislike was raised to the Dalai Lama he was totally perplexed and repeatedly asked for clarifications. Not liking oneself is unheard of in his culture. So, he was dumbfounded and without comment. Hence, the problem seems to be primarily one of western culture. This suggests that self-dislike is learned within a particular cultural context with western culture and its values particularly adept at producing it.


There are sometimes circumstances that underlie self-dislike. Abuse or bullying, belittling parents, learning disabilities, physical appearance or disabilities are apt to result in self-dislike. But, most frequently it originates from western culture’s tendency to promote unrealistic expectations.


Physical appearance is a good case in point where the media holds up extraordinarily attractive individuals as what we should strive to be. Very, very few people can ever measure up and so can end up disliking their appearance. Academic achievement is another case where for many anything less than an “A” is seen as failure. Once again few can measure up and most end up disliking their intellectual ability. Sports are another case where the media holds up professional athletes as role models. These are exceptional people and the vast majority of the population can’t perform anywhere near their level and thus feel inadequate. It is relatively easy to think of many other unrealistic expectations prompted by our hyper-success oriented culture.


What can we do to overcome self-dislike. Unfortunately, the self-dislike is usually deeply ingrained and becomes resistant to persuasion or evidence. No matter how successful the person becomes or how much praise is received the person cannot truly believe that he or she has value or worth. They believe themselves to be imposters.


Self-dislike is an indicator that the individual is unsatisfied with the way things are. There is a strong desire for them to be different and the individual believes that if one or more aspects of themselves changed, then things would be much better. This is in fact rarely true. An overweight person who loses a significant amount of weight doesn’t usually become happier instead it frequently produces depression. A far better approach is for people to learn to accept things, including themselves, just as they are.


Meditation is uniquely suited to promote accepting things as they are. So, it would seem appropriate for dealing with self-dislike. Meditation focuses on awareness of the present moment. As we’ve seen, self-dislike is often rooted in the past. By learning to focus on now, the past recedes in importance. When individuals learn to look closely at what is actually going on in the present moment they can begin to see that there is nothing wrong at all. In fact, there is tremendous good present. So, meditation can move the individual away from the past where the self-dislike originated and can then move forward in the present moment to develop self-acceptance.


Another method to address self-dislike is to employ what psychologists call counterconditioning where one behavior or belief is eliminated by replacing it with its opposite. Self-dislike can be eliminated by replacing it with self-love.  Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) is designed to do just that. We practice loving ourselves and wishing ourselves well. It seems overly simple, but experience and research has shown that it can have remarkable impact.


Self-dislike is deeply ingrained. It will not be changed overnight. It will take practice and patience to weaken and eventually overcome it. But, contemplative practice can help.


So, engage in contemplative practice and learn to love thyself.


You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love & affection.” ~Buddha


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Lower Aggression with Mindfulness

“There is no life to be found in violence. Every act of violence brings us closer to death. Whether it’s the mundane violence we do to our bodies by overeating toxic food or drink or the extreme violence of child abuse, domestic warfare, life-threatening poverty, addiction, or state terrorism.” – bell hooks
Aggression and violence are highly linked to substance abuse particularly alcohol. It is estimated that the proportion of violent offenders who are likely to be drinking at the time of the offense is up to 86 percent for homicide offenders, 37 percent for assault offenders, 60 percent for sexual offenders, up to 57 percent of men and 27 percent of women involved in marital violence, and 13 percent of child abusers. This relationship appears to have a causal connection to the effect of these substances on the nervous system with many drugs of abuse affecting the brain in such a way as to release aggressive tendencies. Obviously, there is a need to find methods to help deal with aggressive tendencies in substance abusers.


Mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of substance abuse and for relapse prevention (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/addiction/). It is also know to assist with emotion regulation and anger management (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/). So, it would seem reasonable to believe that mindfulness may be related to aggressive behavior in substance abusers.  In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Aggression Among Women in Residential Substance Use Treatment”


Shorey and colleagues investigated the relationship between mindfulness and aggression in women who were undergoing residential substance abuse treatment. They found that the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the levels of aggression in the women, including verbal aggression, physical aggression, and aggressive attitude.


It should be noted that these results were correlational in nature and as such causation cannot be determined. It is possible that high mindfulness lowers aggressiveness, or that low aggressiveness causes increased mindfulness, or that some other factor is related to both. It will require an active controlled test perhaps including mindfulness training to determine if mindfulness may be a useful treatment for aggression in substance abusers.


Nevertheless, it would appear that there is a negative, inverse, relationship between mindfulness and aggression in women in substance abuse treatment. There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship. Since mindfulness improves emotion regulation it may assist the women in reacting in a controlled and appropriate manner when anger and frustration arises rather than evoking aggressive behavior. Also, since mindfulness is known to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/) and attempting to control an addiction is stressful, it is possible that mindful women may be better at coping with stress rather than lashing out aggressively. Finally, since mindfulness appears to improve the response to substance abuse treatment it is possible that an improved ability to control urges for substances relaxes the women making them less aggressive.


Regardless of the explanation, the results suggest that mindfulness is associated with lower aggression.


“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” – Pema Chodran


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies