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Mindful : December 2017
active, weaving together thoughts, emotions, hopes, and dreams into a cohesive self-narrative. Meditation disrupts that process, training us to notice when our mind wanders and bring it back into focus. By doing that repeatedly, researchers speculate, we strengthen the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the default mode, and that quiets down the self-obsessed mind. “We all carry around in our heads a narrative about ourselves that is asso- ciated with specific brain circuits,” says Davidson. “On one extreme, you can talk about someone with clin- ical depression who may really be ensnared by this narrative and take it at face value. But what we’ve learned with certain kinds of meditation prac- tice is not to get rid of the narrative, but simply to change our relationship to it, to make it our friend rather than our enemy. That allows us not to get ensnared by the narrative so that we can develop a healthier sense of self.” The research bears this out. In a Yale study, researcher Judson Brewer and his colleag ues discovered that the default mode networks of highly experienced meditators (averaging 10,500 lifetime hours) were far less active than those of beginners, par- ticularly when the former did lov- ing-kindness practice, which shifted their focus away from themselves. In another study, Brewer’s team discovered that seasoned meditators were more likely than beginners to report experiencing “undistracted awareness” and “effortless doing.” In the final stage of letting go of self-ref- erencing, Goleman and Davidson contend, the relationship to the self changes and is not so “sticky” any- more. “The same sorts of thoughts can arise in your mind,” they add, “but they are lighter: not so compelling, with less emotional oomph, and so float away more easily.” In his studies of Mingyur and other long-term practitioners (averaging 27,000 lifetime hours of practice), Davidson was impressed by their extraordinary gifts for emotional regulation. This was particularly true 60 mindful December 2017