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03/29/2013 11:03 am ET Updated May 29, 2013

Depression, Desire, Addiction: Is Meditation the Answer to Changing Your Brain?

Sky of Mexico City from a bridge. Deutsch: Sky...

Sky of Mexico City from a bridge. Deutsch: Sky Mexico City von einer Brücke. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does the discomfort of discontent, longing, envy, jealousy, anger, compulsion, and anxiety contaminate your life, tighten your body and constrict your heart? Feeling out of control, impulsive and addicted is a tyranny, a prison in which there is no real peace or freedom. Is it possible that cultivating awareness and a kind and generous heart through time-tested meditation practices could be the path to freedom from addiction, craving and unhappiness? Might generosity, open heartedness, peace and contentment cultivated through mindful awareness practices replace our angst?

Our modern materialistic, dehumanizing, time- and task-driven life fuels our sense of lack and cravings for such things as shopping, food, work, drugs, alcohol, sex, high-risk sports and even the Internet. Where is real peace to be found? How are we to get off the wheel and come home to our tender-hearted selves?

According to Dr. Stephen C. Hayes, "Mindful awareness facilitates greater awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions and leads to greater capacity for self-regulation and self-control." Advances in brain research tell us that our brains, our emotional habits and responses are all malleable, that we are not stuck with our current self-limiting patterns, but that surprisingly simple techniques can actually change our brain and our lives. We are plastic. Like clay, we can reshape our brain, our thoughts, our emotions.

Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. states:

You're not stuck with the brain you're born with. By changing your brain, you can change your life. With simple breathing and awareness techniques it is possible to quell anxiety and panic, calm inner turmoil and fight depression by learning how to short circuit automatic negative thoughts, conquer impulsiveness, obsessiveness and anger, develop focus and stop obsessive worrying.

Joan Halifax Roshi, Abbot of Upaya Zen Center is part of a group of scientists and Buddhist teachers who have been meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over 20 years. These meetings, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute endeavor to bring modern science and traditional Buddhist practices together to explore how meditation transforms our hearts and minds, our brain, our bodies, our behavior and emotions, even our communities and our world.

At Upaya Zen Center, she and Dr. Al Kaszniak, a research psychologist and Zen teacher who has studied consciousness both on and off the cushion, host a program called Zen Brain, Zen Mind. The next in a series of Zen Brain, Zen Mind retreats, Greed and Generosity, The Neuroscience and Path of Transforming Addiction, focuses upon the challenge of addiction, greed and desire and the possibility that Buddhist Meditation Practices and Buddhist Perspective and Philosophy combined with modern brain science offer a compassionate, effective and skillfull means to addressing these problems at the level of the individual, the family and the community, and most importantly the heart and mind.

Amidst the beautiful arroyos and mountains of Santa Fe, New Mexico, one can experience firsthand how simple meditation and awareness practices combined with modern knowledge of brain science can heal and transform. Here, you can engage in reflection and discussion, turn inward and explore the path to freedom from greed, compulsion and desire. Whether you struggle with addiction and desire, counsel, teach or study, sit down, rest on the breath, come home to your own tender heart. Perhaps this is where you will find the end of addiction and the seeds of enduring inner peace and an open generosity with which to meet your life.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

References

Amen, Daniel: http://www.tedxorangecoast.com/videopick/daniel-amen-change-your-brain-change-your-life/

Brewer, J.A, Elwafi, H.M., Davis, J.H. (2102, May 28) Craving to Quit: Psychological Models and Neurobiological Mechanisms of Mindfulness Training as Treatment for Addictions, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Advance Online Publication doi:10.1037/a0028490

Buddhist Recovery Network: http://www.buddhistrecovery.org/

Carlson, Bonnie, Larkin, Heather - Meditation as a Coping Intervention for Treatment of Addiction, Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought Vol. 28, Iss. 4, 2009

Cardaciotto, L., Herbert, J. D., Forman, E. M., et al. (2008). The assessment of present-moment awareness and acceptance: The Philadelphia mindfulness scale. Assessment, 15(2), 204. [link]

Feldman, G., Hayes, A., Kumar, S., et al. (2007). Mindfulness and emotion regulation: The development and initial validation of the cognitive and affective mindfulness scale-revised (CAMS-R). Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 29(3), 177-190.[link]

Hoffman, W, Van Dillen, Lotte, Desire:The New Hot Spot in Self Control Research, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2012 21:317 DOI 10.1177/0963721412453587

Kraus, S., & Sears, S. (2009). Measuring the immeasurables: Development and initial validation of the self-other four immeasurables (SOFI) scale based on buddhist teachings on loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Social Indicators Research, 92(1), 169-181.

Neff, K. (2003). Self-Compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Papies, E.K., Barsalou, L.W., & Custers, R. (2012). Mindful attention prevents mindless impulses. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 291-299.

For more by Dr. Nalini Chilkov, click here.

For more on meditation, click here.

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