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Mindful : June 2018
notches closer to reality than what you hear so often in popular depictions. What I think we can add to that pic- ture, though, is that a very large pro- portion of the information processing we are doing is unconscious yet intelli- gent. It’s awe-inspiring to appreciate that we function with most all of our processing of the world below the level of conscious awareness. We open our eyes and we just see, without having to consciously construct what we see. Barry Boyce: What’s your view on using brain measurement equipment to assess meditation, to detect when we’re in a good meditation zone? Saron: These attempts present big problems for me. There was a plan for a program in Taiwan whose mission was to find brain signatures for com- passion and then measure how well participants in a contemplative train- ing program were achieving that. To rely on neuroimaging to assess what is essentially our humanity is preposter- ous and scarily misg uided. I also find research using scans to assess meditation quality similarly suspect. Who decides exactly what is impermissible in meditation? How do we know which forms of mental activity in an individual are deleteri- ous and which are not? Let’s say the machine deter- mines you’re having self-referential thoughts. If that is true, perhaps you internalized many different repre- sentational stances toward reality— ways you think about yourself to yourself —and because there’s noth- ing to do as you sit on your medita- tion cushion, these thought patterns start bubbling up into awareness. All the ways you’ve avoided psycho- logical issues in your life start to emerge in consciousness. You have a memory, and that memory causes associations. Do we now label that bad meditation? Or is it merely a part of the introspective terrain being traversed in that sitting session? When you give yourself over to the full depth of the intention behind your meditation practice—what motivated you to do it in the first place—it’s not likely about scoring points for being on your breath. A rich view of the “pres- ent moment” encompasses the ways we work with the temporal and spatial aspects of experience: times and places that are not in our immediate sensory field but are nonetheless very significant for our sense of well-being and connection to the world. Jha: We’re nowhere near to under- standing the many facets of the suite of practices we are all introducing to people. The investigation has only just beg un, and the tools we have— while advanced compared to decades ago—are still too primitive to serve as definitive measuring sticks for achievement in mind training. Fur- thermore, we don’t have any way of positing a “mindful brain.” We don’t have brain signatures for something called “mindfulness.” There are just too many processes at play to have one simplistic label. That doesn’t mean we can’t use current neuroscience to help people get some insight into processes in the brain that may be problematic for them. The goal is not to see what a mindful brain looks like but to deter- mine how information processing (e.g., within systems like attention) may be altered and perhaps improved by training in mindfulness exercises over days, weeks, or years. Saron: Why do we need empirical validation for meditative experi- ence, any way? When it comes to the benefits of stopping and pausing, why The investigation has only just begun, and the tools we have, while relatively advanced, are still too primitive to definitively measure achievement in mind training. 52 mindful June 2018