Omega 4 enzymes in the brain are controlled by the vagus nerve. Meditation may slow brain functioning… and ease pressure on the nerve
“How would you choose to travel across the world to begin your journey?” says the monk, watching softly through the glass. “Could you do it in a day?” The meditator nods.
Meditation is not new, but many newer meditators adopt a style of positive self-care in which their focus is always on themselves and their heart. By consciously transcending the world, meditators are using the breath, emotions and memories to explore the potency of their inner self. In Yin-Yang Science, a compelling meditation book from New York University Press, this journey of self-discovery, outlined, can be translated as: “How do I fare in my inner world?”.
Two years ago, I found myself sitting quietly with a sense of contentment, as if something switched on inside me. It was the first time I had sat still for many years, and the next day, a tear came to my eye. My son, who has been four years old for two years and a half, was falling asleep next to me. What was I doing? That night, after supper, I struggled with the thought of making a choice between my daughter and my baby. How could I do that?
Can you meditate like the Dalai Lama? (With his wife, Tracie.)
Is it an intention to become a kinder, gentler person? Is it a way of training the brain to make better judgments and decisions? The truth may be that meditating reduces all three. The very act of focusing a heart-side attention on one’s self can bring into a person’s interior life fear, doubt, loss and other pressures, challenges and troubles. So meditating temporarily reduces these negative emotions and forces them into the virtual place that the mind puts them, outside of ourselves. The process of meditation itself may also bring in other data: messages, suggestions and feelings that expand the stream of consciousness, supporting even as it diminishes in its core.
A Chinese proverb says: “Meditation once passed through many channels. The mind was sharpened; there was mercy and love. But the stomach of the body was unslipped in haste for everything was connected.” The lesson here is that the meditation process has its root in our relationship with the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves connecting the brain’s subcortical structure to our autonomic nervous system. It has a special role to play in our health and mental well-being. We may even adapt it, because it controls one of the four heart-side energy centres and the brain’s fMRI sensor can be used to image how the vagus nerve processes mindfulness. Indeed, Chinese and American scientists are working on experiments to document a resting brain circuit with the active intention of meditation. In meditation, our vagus nerve inverts and shifts inward from the face of the stomach, in an effort to become a more active participant. A powerful reaction to true or imagined pain.
In my daily life, I cannot look at my daughter or husband without going through an emotional struggle that is for me being present. At times, the anxiety I feel is so overwhelming that I can’t even imagine the moment. I seek out ways to unblocking these energy channels, but what gives me the most depth and resonances is the meditation, also known as visualisation. (Imagine myself meditating for ten minutes, each night.) Perhaps I am constantly meditating, but as in the Zen doctrine, I would like to believe that meditation is not only about meditation, it is about perfection, bliss, spaciousness, beauty, contemplation, gratitude, peace and clarity. In that moment, all the other practices in life are incidental. It is almost like watching a movie. It is always about the things that take place in my brain and heart. If this sounds like a lot to sit through in the real world, sometimes meditation can provide an alternative way of being in the ordinary world too.
A mindfulness meditation for empathy shown here, where holding hands, opening eyes and taking an air breath, a few times a day, immediately boosts the individual’s empathy.