I have heard it said that introverts energize by being alone and extroverts energize by being with others. By that definition, among others, I am an introvert. Although I can enjoy the company of others, my "natural state" is being alone — I am a loner by nature. Although not gregarious, I often aggressively seek out those who share my interests for discussion and collaboration on specific topics — not out of a general desire to be with others. Being with others is more work than being alone, which means that my workaholic nature can put me deep in the midst of people. But more often I am reading and writing, which are solitary activities except to the extent that e-mail is considered a social endeavor.
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At the age of 21 I experienced what was probably the most traumatic emotional experience of my life — an emotional crisis I experienced together with a large group of people. In the aftermath of that experience I spent several weeks in what might be called a vegetative state. I did little else but lie around all day, except for shopping trips and a few long walks.
Early in that period of hibernation I had a bizarre experience which resulted in something weird happening to my brain. Afterwards — and to this day — I have had a constant tinnitus (ringing in my ears) which I become aware of whenever I close my eyes and try to rest. The tinnitus has the character of a continuous, very high-frequency jingle. Associated with that tinnitus is a feeling of a magnetic-field-like force swirling within my brain. From the beginning, the tinnitus has been in both ears. Tinnitus secondary to auditory damage would likely affect only one ear. As with many who have tinnitus, my tinnitus is like a "phantom limb" — a phantom perception of sound not resulting from external sound, evidently due to spontaneous firing of neurons in the auditory region of my cerebral cortex. The magnetic-field-like swirling force feels intimately connected with the tinnitus.
The emotional stress which led to my hibernation experience caused me to begin a kind of meditation practice. I have only occasionally meditated with others or seen anything like meditation training, so my approach to meditation is entirely personal. I trust myself far more than I trust others to develop meditation practices that are most appropriate for me. The focus of my meditation is simply an attempt to relax my mind, analogous to the way I relax my body. My "mantra" was (and remains) simply the word "relax" (sometimes shortened to "lax"). By mentally repeating the word "relax" I would attempt to relax-away agitation and disturbing thoughts from my mind, while at the same time focusing my attention and effort on relaxing my mind and purging myself of stress. (Some meditators use concentration on breathing to achieve the same effect.) "Effort at relaxing" is indeed contradictory, so I would also attempt to relax the thing that is making effort to relax, relax that effort as well, etc. This can result in relaxation.
I went on retreats in British Columbia which entailed three days of solitude. One was Outward Bound. Some of the others in my Outward Bound group described the solitude as one of the worst experiences of their lives. I hardly noticed. The other solitude retreats were at the Cold Mountain Institute Resident Fellow Program on Cortez Island. One woman used some of the time to do cleaning chores, which I thought was not in the spirit of the exercise. I spent my time in my own form of meditation.
In the Vancouver network of "human potential movement" people I met a woman who had a "sensory isolation tank" that she would rent out on an hourly basis. Most others using her tank did not want to go for more than an hour, but she gave me the privilege of being in the tank for as long as I wanted so long as no one else had a booking in that time. I did not use the tank very often, but on one occasion I spent six hours there. The woman told me that no one else had stayed so long.
I have no memory of needing to pee, but I am sure I would not have peed in the tank. The tank certainly blocked-out light, and for the most part blocked-out sound, but lying in a solution of magnesium sulfate (epsom salt) is not sensory isolation (although it is more cushioning than lying on a bed). I still don't know whether virus can be sustained and transmitted in such "public" tanks, which is a concern I have about them — along with the effect of extended magnesium sulfate exposure on skin and inhalation. After my six hours in the tank I was in a very "stunned" condition. I had a hard time responding to environmental stimuli. I was in an extremely unreactive, spaced-out state. I have not had the same experience in meditating on a bed, despite the fact that I have done such meditation for periods exceeding six hours (excepting brief breaks for bathroom and water).
The demands of my work as President of the Cryonics Institute created a great deal of stress upon me, added to which is the stress added upon me by those who hate me. Being hated was an occupational hazard which caused me to practice meditaion for stress relief. I have been hated for who I am, what I have done, and what I stand for by other cryonicists as well as by those who hate cryonics. The fact that what I do in the world of cryonics is perceived as having life-or-death consequences, I can easily incur the wrath of cryonicists who were angered by me. Some of the anger was legitimate, and indeed I was often in a state of great anxiety over mistakes that I have made or worrying about things that could go wrong. I believe that I can relieve my stress & anxiety through exercise & meditation. I believe that increasing my inner peace allows me to deal more calmly with others who are in a state of hostile agitation. Stress associated with accusations and performance anxiety drove me to increased exercise frequency and meditation.
"A change is as good as a rest", and I believe that travel has been a way to re-direct some of my anxieties. Television and socializing may be more beneficial means of relaxation to others than they are to me. Classical music has known cardiovascular benefits [HEART; Trappe,H; 96(23):1868-1871 (2010)]. For me, meditation is an means of relaxation which is directly focused on achieving the goal of relaxation.
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I do not mediate sitting-up, as is standard practice in conventional meditation. My goal is to relax my mind and body as much as possible, which means me lying in a bed. Sitting-up may be a defense against sleeping, but I am not concerned if I sleep from time-to-time. I believe meditation is best done when the urge to sleep has been saturated. It was not my practice to meditate for an allocated period of time every day, but rather to periodically allocate the better part of a day to meditation.
I pulled two woolen tuques over my eyes and cover that with a towel to blot out all light — day or night. I also wear heavy-duty ear muffs that I bought at a gun shop. It mostly blots out all sound, but I can still hear the phone ring. All of this is exactly what I do when I go to bed to sleep. I have gotten used to sleeping with heavy-duty ear muffs on my head. I begin my sleep with my meditative attempts to relax my mind. If I awaken in the night and have periods of sleeplessness, I will repeatedly make meditation attempts.
Relaxing my mind is not independent of relaxing my body. In attempting to relax both, I will notice tensions in my muscles that I can then relax. Some muscle tension is unconscious until a focused effort at relaxation brings it to awareness, allowing for relaxation. Muscle tension in the head and neck can closely associate with psychological stress more than muscle tension elsewhere in the body. I often experience spontaneous twitching and relaxation of my scapula muscle.
When I was younger, contortions and popping of joints were frequent features of my stress relief. This has lessened with age, for some reason. When I was in my twenties I was able to pull on my hair and hear cracking in my skull. Now I only have minor cracking of joints in my spine and jaw. Stretching exercise was once part of my regular exercise routine, but I don't do this anymore.
I have heard that there are yogis who can slow their heart rate at will, but I am far from being able to do this. In my attempts at relaxation I am very aware of the pounding of my heart, which seems excessive for the state of relaxation I am trying to achieve. I like to think that my relaxation efforts are having an effect to reduce my blood pressure, but I don't experience much subjective change of my blood pressure or heart rate as a result of my meditative relaxation efforts.
I definitely distinguish between meditation and "woolgathering", "daydreaming" or musing. I don't discount woolgathering or attempt to suppress it at all times. My mind readily drifts from subject to subject, and I regard my woolgathering time as often being some of my most productive time. Things pop into my head as my thoughts drift in an unfocused manner. Occasionally, a problem will occur to me which I will need to think through in a focused manner.
I kept a notepad, pen, and flashlight by my bed. I draw a line across the middle of the page and make notes of thoughts about the meditation process itself on the top and notes about things I want to do on the bottom half. Attempts to meditate invariably result in a large "to-do list". Meditation evidently results in the emergence of thoughts of many tasks I would like to accomplish — thoughts that get repressed when I am concentrating on accomplishing other tasks in my normal (non-meditating) activities.
But woolgathering is distinct from meditation. The central purpose of my meditation is to relax my mind and relieve myself of stress, which means purging my mind of thoughts ("relaxing thoughts away"). In general, I love my mind as I love my life. There was a time when I could reach high levels of ecstatic enthusiasm associated with high levels of mental "activation". There is truth to the claim that a mind completely at peace may not remain a mind. I hate to believe that thinking must necessarily be associated with worrying & stress rather than with insights leading to problems solved, stress relief, and excitement. Nonetheless, when worrying & stress are grim realities, relaxing the mind can be of value against the worry & stress, and the goal of my meditation is to relax my mind — which means purging my mind of thoughts.
I should think that with practice I could retain my concentration on the swirling force, but always within a few minutes thoughts, memories, and distractions pop into my mind that carry me away until I remember my meditation task. At times it seems that I can spend hours attempting to meditate, while accomplishing only a few minutes of focused meditation due to distracting thoughts & feelings. (It is remarkable the emotional pangs I can feel in the present associated with long-past events.) If I think of tasks that I should do, I will write them down so that I don't have to carry them in my memory. This, of course, is a distraction and a disturbance from my meditation. In the extreme, I become full of restless energy associated with the urge to perform certain tasks. Another distraction is the urge to scratch. I suspect that small itchings increase their prominence & urgency when I have reduced other distractions.
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The mantra is essential in helping me to focus on the force when I am struggling against distractions. The greater my sense of peace, the smaller the irritant leading to distraction. Tiny itches demand scratching attention, and there is often an urge to reposition my body or blow my nose. There is something to be said, however, for finding optimal body positions for relaxation. I have adapted to the discomfort of ear muffs, even when lying on my side. Songs entering my head can be hard to stop. Thoughts, however, are by far the greatest distractions. I do not struggle against valuable thoughts, however, I welcome them and and write them down when appropriate. But many thoughts seem like clutter — needless recycling of memories or plans. I resist such thoughts in the same way when I am attempting to meditate as when I am attempting to sleep — with the "relax" mantra. The word "relax" reminds me of my purpose and helps displace the pointless thoughts & memories. My irritation over my failure to relax is itself a distraction — impatience at upset. At times I simply become "stir-crazy" expecially when I have thoughts that seem to demand immediate action. Writing-down the thoughts is only a partial aid to relaxing.
Aside from my "relax" mantra, my meditation is focused on the magnetic-field-like force swirling within my brain, which seems to be a constant source of mental stress. When my mind is purged of thought, and I am focused on the swirling force, my tinnitus becomes much louder, and the swirling force seems much stronger. The swirling force throbs with the throbbing of my heart. Trying to relax the swirling force is like trying to peel an onion that has an infinite number of layers. The force can seem like the center of me (my brain), or I can feel like I am outside of the force trying to "peel the onion" and "digest" the layers.
The swirling force seems strongest if I position my front teeth about a centimeter apart, with my bottom teeth more forward. The swirling force is concentrated in the front part of my head: in my forehead, behind my nose, and in my front teeth — although it can also be felt to some extent throughout my brain. As I succeed in removing (relaxing) a layer of the "onion force", I feel the effects of relaxation by small cracking sounds in my upper spine (ligaments breaking?) upon inhalation. Relaxing muscles in the head & neck is particularly important.
The tinnitus seems intimately related to the swirling force — as if the swirling force causes the tinnitus. Louder tinnitus accompanies a stronger feeling of the swirling force. When I am exercising on my stairmaster and I close my eyes, I cannot feel the swirling force, and I can barely hear the tinnitus. When I am not woolgathering, and am very focused on the swirling force, the tinnitus seems louder. A faint tingling of my incisor teeth feels associated with the tinnitus. Throbbing of the force & tinnitus (which I feel especially in my incisor teeth) accompanies the throbbing of blood through the blood vessels of my brain.
(As a child my right maxillary central incisor tooth grew sideways inside the gum area above my other front teeth. That incisor was surgically removed when I was five years ole. Although the smaller right maxillary lateral incisor grew somewhat to fill in the gap, I was gap-toothed until well into adulthood — to which I have attributed my disinclination to smile. The smaller right maxillary lateral incisor was eventually capped to look like the larger left maxillary central incisor. I feel as if the swirling force is strongest on the incisors, but particularly strong on the right maxillary lateral.)
Having a mantra is somewhat incompatible with relaxation, because reciting the mantra is effortful. Nonetheless, beginning with the mantra "relax" can start me on the path of focusing on the force and relaxing it. The mantra helps drown-out distracting thoughts and maintain my attention on relaxation. As I proceed deeper, I can sometimes maintain my focus on the force and on relaxation without the distraction of the mantra. But when feeling overwhelmed with the stresses of life, it is all I can do to repent my mantra in an effort to relax myself.
I can feel as if I am in a power struggle with the swirling force — like an arm-wrestling match — although I attribute no sentience to the swirling force. Nonetheless, it can sometimes feel like the force is a frustrated demon, struggling to escape or overpower me. Often I feel overpowered by the force, and that my efforts to relax it are ineffectual. I don't equate the swirling force with anxiety, despite the fact that the swirling force is an obstacle to relaxation. The swirling force is more like tension or "unrelaxation" (anti-relaxation). I can feel pushed-back, perhaps associated with giving it so much attention. I tense-up as it forces itself upon me. When I awaken, the force can feel very oppressive — and noticeably present in deeper regions of my brain.
My efforts with the force, however, are to relax it, not to overpower it. In that sense, my struggle with the force is to allow myself to surrender to it — to experience it fully so that I can "digest" it. "Digesting" is the opposite of repression or driving from awareness. I believe many thoughts or emotional upsets can be worsened (or not lessened) because of an attempt to repress or evade them, rather than to experience them fully. I aim to relax-away distracting thoughts and emotions, not to repress them. I believe that relaxing-into and allowing myself to fully experience emotions of psychological stress (anger, anxiety, and grief), is the way to "digest" those emotions.
If the swirling force is an on-going source of stress, my goal is to both maintain my focus on the force and to relax the force. These goals can be incompatible when relaxation causes me to lose focus. It has occurred to me that "focus" might be a better mantra than "relax". Except that I can better digest the force if I can relax — which requires focusing on it. I find it hard to distinguish between relaxing my attention and relaxing the force. Relaxing enables me to better focus on the force. My first priority is to focus on relaxation (assisted by my mantra), which can take me to the deeper priority of focus on the swirling force.
When I am able to reach deeper states meditation, I am not only focused on wordless relaxation of the swirling force, but on my abdomen, and a connection between the stress in my head and tension (anxiety) in my stomach. "Emotion is a visceral response" is a memorable phrase from a university physiological psychology class, of which I am very aware in seeking to relax my abdomen in connection with the swirling force. To the extent that I am focused on bodily functions, attention on the swirling force makes me aware of my throbbing heartbeat in my head, and attention on abdominal tension makes me aware of the movement of my abdomen with my breathing.
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I am not primarily motivated to meditate by the thought of the swirling force in my head. That may be a source of chronic stress — always there for me to attend-to — but I am hoping that meditation is empowering me to deal better with the stress of life. I want to be cool when dealing with hotheads. I need to deal with nasty people without becoming a nasty person. Low blows and "digs" by others make for extreme temptation to respond in kind, so it helps if I can relax & digest this kind of agitation within me.
Meditation requires an investment of time, and I want to see a return on that investment if I am to continue investing the time. On the other hand, it can feel extremely good to relax. Even when considerable effort is required to relax, the relief from pain of strain justifies the effort.
When I feel under attack, overwhelmed with frustration, churned-up with animosity, pumped-up with adrenalin, deeply hurt & wanting to hurt back, I try to enter my meditative state. Thoughts and feelings of the attacks and ways that I can counter-attack are high in my mind — and extreme distraction from the meditative state. My effort is focused on relaxing while digesting the hostility and stress. Being well-relaxed while aware of upsetting thoughts is a "mindfulness" non-judgmental state of detachment that can lead to calm clarity for me.
When issues of immediate emotional relevance are not dominating my awareness, I can be struck by acute feelings of hurt, anger or shame over past events. I imagine that these thoughts and feelings affect my general emotional state, and I can imagine that relaxing or digesting them impacts my general emotional state. Recent events are more often associated with anxiety, hurt & anger, whereas memories from the past are more often associated with shame & regret (especially lost opportunities with women due to my pressures, paranoia, and exhaustion). Assimilating the former seems more productive — regret seems more futile.
Although I often treat thoughts as distraction during meditation, I can also appreciate the clarity and inspiration that meditative relaxation induces. Ceasing to concentrate attention on specific matters allows me to become aware of things that are being pushed-out of my consciousness. Mine is not a "mindless meditation" that is determined to obliterate all thought. Calming worries, upsets, and preoccupations seems to open a spigot of good ideas and plans that I welcome. In my late teens and early twenties I could energize myself with states of intellectual "activation" in which I would be flooded with ecstatic enthusiasm associated with a self-reinforcing flow of ideas. I believe these excited states of inspiration led to the emotional crisis which caused the tinnitus and swirling force.
One negative thought that I have about my meditation is that I am already too much of an observer. I have missed far too many opportunities in my life (mostly with women), passively understanding opportunities that I was not responding to. I suspect underlying fear is part of the problem. By contrast, I can blame much failure in my life (not related to women) on overconfidence and impulsive disregard for risk.
It would not be good to totally "mellow-out" every source of distress. Feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and fear/anxiety/worry motivate corrective action. Hopefully, concern without upset means that corrective action can be very effective. On the other hand, it may be that nothing can be done about mindless hate — and self-protection demands insulation from the hate while being on guard against possible actions by the hater.
I am left with mainly subjective impressions that my meditation is benefitting me — if is hard to be objective about this. Nonetheless, it is reassuring when I am complimented on dealing with situations in a cool & composed manner. I can feel good about myself not simply reacting to accusations or stresses, but stepping-back and responding with reflectivity. I would like to think that experience finding inner peace in a meditative state of "sensory isolation" makes it easier to achieve such a state while exercising, driving a car, or feeling churned-up with hurt, anxiety, or anger over something. Aleister Crowley claimed that he did his meditating in an apartment by a busy street in London so as to be able to control his ability to overcome distractions.
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Insofar as I am significantly motivated by the belief that meditation can relieve stress, and perhaps lower blood pressure, it is worth noting what scientific research has been done on the subject.
There has been considerable research on the physiological effects of meditation, most especially research on Transcendental Meditation. A common complaint is that such studies are poorly designed. A meta-analysis that compared Transcendental Meditation with other stress reduction methods found that only Transcendental Meditation was effective at reducing blood pressure. With Transcendental Meditation, systolic blood pressure was reduced about 5 mmHg, which compares favorably with weight-reducing diet (5 mmHg), anaerobic exercise (4.6 mmHg), alcohol restriction (3.8 mmHg), and sodium restriction (3.6 mmHg). Diastolic blood pressure was reduced about 2.8 mmHg with Transcendental Meditation, and in the range of 2.5 mmHg to 3.7 mmHg with the other effective lifestyle modifications [CURRENT HYPERTENSION REPORTS; Rainforth,MV; 9(6):520-528 (2007)]. My meditation practices may be similar to Transcendental Meditation with respect to blood pressure reduction.
In Buddhism, meditation is practiced as a means of achieving enlightenment and Nirvana. Samatha Buddhist meditation emphasizes focusing all attention on something like breathing, while attempting to drive-out all thoughts and distractions ("mindless meditation"). Vipassana Buddhist meditation, on the other hand, allows all thoughts, but attempts to view those thoughts with calm detachment ("mindfulness meditation"). A neuroimaging study of Buddhist monks and lay practitioners found Samatha practice to involve more right medial frontal lobe activation, whereas Vipassana practitioners showed more left medial frontal lobe activation [BRAIN RESEARCH BULLETIN; Manna,A; 82(1-2):46-56 (2010)]. Zen Buddhist meditation can involve masters shouting-at and beating students to discipline them into a Samatha form of meditation. Compared to controls, Zen meditators did not show an age-related decline in putamen (a brain structure concerned with attention) gray matter [NEUROBIOLOGY OF AGING; Pagnoni,G; 28(10):1623-1627 (2007)]. (Self-selected Zen meditators may not be comparable to controls.) (I have the somewhat "irreverent" thought that long-distance truck drivers must also have a well-developed attentional capability.)
Focus-based meditation is associated with more blood flow to the frontal cortex than relaxation-based [PSYCHIATRY RESEARCH; Newberg,A; 106(2):113-122 (2001)] or breathing-based [PSYCHIATRY RESEARCH; Wang,DJ; 191(1):60-67 (2011)] forms of meditation.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was probably inspired by Buddhist practices, but explicitly denies spirituality. MBSR may have comparable effects to my form of meditation, but the practices differ. In MBSR the intent is to nonjudgmentally observe one's own thoughts and feelings, while avoiding "rumination" (attention focused on the present, not the past or the future) [ANNALS OF THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES; Epel,E; 1172:34-53 (2009)]. A Samatha-type meditation can be used in preparation for a more Vipassana-type meditation. Although more controlled studies will help, current evidence favors belief that MBSR reduces cortisol stress hormone in the blood stream [COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES IN CLINICAL PRACTICE; Matousek,RH; 16(1):13-19 (2010)]. An 8-week MBSR program resulted in increased brain gray matter in the posterior cingulate cortex (associated with episodic memory), the temporo-parietal junction (related to self-other distinction), the left hippocampus (emotional regulation), and the cerebellum (mainly movement control) [NEUROIMAGING; Holzel,BK; 191(1):36-43 (2011)]. An 8-week MBSR program for individuals with high psychological stress showed decreases in right basolateral amygdala gray matter density correlated with the perceived reduction in stress [SOCIAL COGNITIVE AND AFFECTIVE NEUROSCIENCE; Holzel,B; 5(1):11-17 (2010)]. An 8-week MBSR training on healthy subjects showed significantly higher brain electrical activity indicative of better adaption to stress as well as greater antibody response to influenza compared to controls [PSYCHOSOMATIC MEDICINE; Davidson,RJ; 65(4):564-570 (2003)]. Subjects with extensive meditation experience have not shown age-associated thinning of the cerebral cortex, although a cross-sectional study risks the bias that subjects with a thicker cerebral cortex chose to meditate [NEUROREPORT; Lazar,SW; 16(17):1893-1897 (2005)]. MBSR practiced for 6 hours daily for 3 months has been shown to increase telomerase activity by nearly 30% [PSYCHONEUROENDOCRINOLOGY; Jacobs,TL; 36(5):664-681 (2010)], Telomere length has been shown to be an indicator of psychological stress [PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (USA); Epel,ES; 101(49):17312-17317 (2004)].
Concerning the magnetic field in my head, I came across researchers in the Psychology Department at Simon Fraser University who were using a SQUID to investigate magnetoencephalography when I was a student there. I was unable to get them to use me as a subject, because they had more than enough eager volunteers. The magnetic fields measured by SQUIDs are on the order of 103 femtoteslas, which I believe is much, much too faint to account for the strong magnetic sensation I feel with the swirling force. The swirling force may not be magnetic at all — that is my subjective impression. It would be reasonable to believe that a phantom magnetic-type sensation which began at the same time as my tinnitus has a similar cause as the tinnitus (phantom sound). But throbbing associated with the swirling force feels too physical to be entirely phantom (although it is possible that motor neurons could be activated in association with the phantom neurons).
There is literature on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which could have some relation, although TMS has to do with applying magnetic fields to the brain as distinct from using magnetic fields originating from brain activity. TMS has been used as therapy for neurological conditions as well as to investigate neurophysiological processes [JOURNAL OF NEUROENGINEERING AND REHABILITATION; Huerta,PT; 6:7 (2009)]. High frequency TMS (20 Hz) increases regional cerebral metabolism, whereas low-frequency TMS (1−5 Hz) decreases cerebral metabolism [INTERNATIONAL CLINICAL PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY; Pallanti,S; 24(4):163-173 (2009)].
A study of tinnitus epidemiology reported that tinnitus affects less than 1% of those under 45 and 9% of those over age 65, although another study indicated an incidence of nearly 5% of those in their 20s and about 12% of those in their 60s [OTOLARYNGOLOGIC CLINICS OF NORTH AMERICA; Heller,AJ; 36(2):239-248 (2003)]. Tinnitus is most often a subjective ("phantom") phenomenon generated within the brain rather than in the auditory apparatus [OTOLARYNGOLOGIC CLINICS OF NORTH AMERICA; Moller,AR; 36(2):249-266 (2003)]. Neuroimaging studies of tinnitus patients show increased activity in the temperal cerebral cortex (which includes the auditory cortex). Hyperactivitiy in the nucleus accumbens of tinnitus patients is believed to be associated with separating tinnitus from other acoustic signals [NEURON; Leaver,AM; 69(1):33-43 (2011)]. Repetitive TMS (10 Hz) applied to the left temporoparietal cortex (an area of the brain implicated in language comprehension or social communication) of patients has significantly reduced their tinnitus [EAR, NOSE, & THROAT JOURNAL; Marcondes,R; 85(4):233-238 (2006)]. Less tinnitus reduction is seen with repetitive TMS treatment of other brain regions [ANNALS OF NEUROLOGY; Plewnia,C; 53(2):263-266 (2003)]. Tones repeatedly paired with vagus nerve stimulation (a treatment that has been used for epilepsy and depression) has apparently eliminated experimental tinnitus in rats [NATURE; Engineer,ND; 470:101-106 (2011)]. For some patients, the sensation of tinnitus can be modulated by movement, such as jaw-clenching [HEARING RESEARCH; Adjamian,P; 253(1−2):15-31 (2009)]. Unlike real sound, subjective tinnitus loudness modulated by an oral facial maneuver only changes neural activity in the auditory cortex of one side of the brain [SEMINARS IN HEARING; Simmons,R; 29(4):361-370 (2008)].
Ongoing religious conviction is associated with the frontal lobe of the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex, whereas ecstatic religious experience is associated with the temporal lobe of the right hemisphere [EPILEPSY & BEHAVIOR; Devinsky,O; 12(4):636-643 (2008)]. Temporal lobe epilepsy has often been associated with states of religious ecstacy, eureka experience, and religious conversion (epiphany). Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church) had a vision of illuminated deities suggestive of such an experience, and the religious experiences of Dostoyevsky has been correlated with his epilepsy [EPILEPSY & BEHAVIOR; Dewhurst,K; 4(1):78-87 (2003)]. Temporal lobe neurophysiology in schizophrenia is very similar to that of temporal lobe epilepsy, and temporal lobe epilepsy patients displaying psychotic symptoms most often display delusions & hallucination — as well as thought broadcasting and other schizophrenic symptoms [JOURNAL OF CLINICAL NEUROPHYSIOLOGY; Siekmeier,PJ; 27(3):179-190 (2010)].
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I wrote almost all of the above text when I was President/CEO of the Cryonics Institute (2003-2012). None of the text was written before that time, and a main revision I have made since then is to change many of the words to past-tense. I no longer feel the need to set-aside time for meditation in order to settle my nerves. I still use meditation as a sleep-aid, and when I am wanting to relax on an airplane (I am a very frequent flier).
Since retiring as Cryonics Institute President in 2012, I have gone on two meditation retreats. One was a two-day stay at the Osho International Meditation Resort in Pune, India, which I described in one of my Facebook albums. The other was a six-day Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) retreat in Rome, Italy. Both of these experiences were done out of curiosity rather than need.
MBSR is supposedly for the purpose of awareness rather than relaxation, but the "stress-reduction" part of the name undermines that claim. I am glad to have had the experience, although I don't want to repeat it. And I have lots of criticisms.
MBSR is supposedly non-religious and distinct from Buddhism, but during the retreat I saw much evidence of Buddhism. Buddha was supposedly and enlightened guru rather than a diety, so what I saw of MBSR seemed no less religious than Buddhism.
A key aspect of Buddha's "enlightenment" was his "discovery" that humans suffer because they are caught-up in unnecessary cycles of desire-and-acquisition. Stop wanting things and you will stop the frustration of not having things. Stop working to acquire things, meditate all day, and you too can become enlightened. Impatience is probably the most compelling example of the MBSR/Buddhism message about a cause of unnecessary suffering. Relax!
Meditation can do much to benefit those caught-up in the stresses of life. It was something I deeply needed as President of the Cryonics Institute. People who need gurus to teach them meditation can provide a livelihood for professional guru meditators.
The main thing I learned about how to meditate is to relax and stop dwelling on distracting thoughts. That is easier said than done. Many people believe that they cannot meditate because of the continuous flow of distracting thoughts. But that is the main challenge of meditation. Meditation is the practice of continually becoming aware of the distractions, and continually returning attention on meditation. This continues to be true, even after years of practicing meditation, and even for the most practiced meditators. "Time-travel" (thoughts of past and future) continually interrupt the intention to "be here now".
"Be here now" is good for meditating, but it is not good advice for productive members of society when they are not meditating. Civilization would collapse and there would be massive starvation if everyone always practiced "be here now" like a zen monk or a drug addict. Planning for the future and learning from the past are essential for human well-being and progress — for individuals as well as for humanity.
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