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Transcendental Meditation is a practice that has its roots in Hinduism. Mindfulness traces back to Buddhist awareness techniques. Today in America, these forms of meditation seem to be everywhere from schools to businesses to the military. Whether it’s to treat a serious medical condition, help deal with depression, or simply find peace in the craziness of life, Americans are increasingly turning to meditation for answers. Diane and her panel of guests discuss how these practices work, their roots in Asian religion, and what science tells us about how they could impact our health.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Practices that have their roots in Asian religion have long been adopted by Americans as a way to find healing, spirituality or just for general self improvement. These days, transcendental meditation and mindfulness are some of the most popular. Here to talk about how they're used and their Asian roots, Dr. Norman Rosenthal of the Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Rezvan Ameli of the National Institute of Mental Health and Jennie Rothenberg Gritz of Smithsonian Magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Ontario, Canada, Jeff Wilson of the University of Waterloo. I'm sure many of you out there are practicing meditation these days and I welcome you calls, your contributions to our discussion. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. JENNIE ROTHENBERG GRITZThank you very much.
DR. REZVAN AMELIThanks, Diane.
DR. NORMAN ROSENTHALWonderful to be here, Diane.
MR. JEFF WILSONThank you.
REHMAnd Dr. Rosenthal, I'll start with you. Give us the basics. Tell us what is transcendental meditation.
ROSENTHALWell, it's a type of meditation that comes from an ancient tradition in the Himalayas, from the Vedic tradition, and it was put together by Maharishi who brought it to the West, packaged it in a way that is manageable in a busy Western day, namely 20 minutes twice a day, and enabled people to be taught in a very standardized way how to sit for 20 minutes twice a day, close their eyes and think their mantra in a special way that enables them to access a state of consciousness called transcendence.
ROSENTHALAnd that's when all the fun begins and things begin to happen.
REHMAnd Dr. Rezvan Ameli, how does that differ from mindfulness?
AMELIWell, mindfulness has been defined as consciousness, awareness and more specifically paying attention on purpose and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment. And so although you do practice both formally, you'll also practice informally, which means that transcendental meditation is very, you know, formalized to 20 minute segments, but mindfulness meditation has not been kind of defined in those terms.
AMELIAnd you could do -- certainly it's advised to do anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour of formal meditation in the daytime -- I mean, during the day, but also informally to utilize mindfulness way of being in the world, which means you can incorporate it into day to day life. So in that sense, it's a little bit different.
REHMAnd Jennie, I know you've written about this. How do you see the unfolding of this kind of attention, if you will, to mindfulness, to transcendental meditation? What's going on here in the American mind?
GRITZWell, I should say, first of all, I grew up doing transcendental meditation so the article that I wrote when I was actually at the Atlantic where I was for 10 years, what I was interested in there was how it's being taught in public schools today because, you know, as Dr. Rosenthal mentioned, meditation does come from the East, both mindfulness and TM and a lot of the people who became interested in the '60s and '70s, had a little bit of an Eastern leaning.
GRITZThey were interested in all that kind of philosophy, whereas in public schools, of course, you just would do the meditation. You would strip it of that kind of that kind of philosophical trapping. So I wanted to see what it would be like when you'd go to an intercity school and you'd just see kids sitting down and closing their eyes for 20 minutes and thinking the mantra and then just coming out and going about their day.
GRITZAnd it was really powerful. The schools experienced a lot less bullying, their grades went up. The teachers also felt a lot less stressed because, of course, the teachers are under tremendous pressure.
REHMAnd do you know, just coincidentally, one of the guests who just left the studio was talking about her daughter who, in school, is practicing mindfulness or meditation of one sort or another. But can they really measure the diminishment of bullying? Can they measure the ups in grades?
GRITZWell, they have records that they keep in the school so they could do in two ways. One is just to look from year to year and see if the bullying has gone down. That's a little tricky. Schools are notoriously hard to measure because a principal comes and goes, a new curriculum comes and goes so, you know, it's hard to measure the variables, but they've also compared similar schools in the same area and demographics and found the same thing.
REHMAnd to you, Jeff Wilson. I know you've written a book "Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture." How do you see this transformation?
WILSONWell, there's many different forces that are operating on Asian religious traditions when they come to the West, forces that are somewhat connected to the modern moment, to being in a capitalist environment, the things that are very particular to the culture that we share, such as a background of Protestant Christianity and different ideas about the spiritual or the secular, what's religious in these ways. And these forces then play on these Asian traditions and they transform them in a very interesting, often very creative ways.
WILSONAnd what we see is a sort of a transfer of authority from Asian monks to North American lay people or we might also say, parallel to that, a transfer of authority to new sorts of professional classes, professional TM instructors and professional mindfulness instructors, often people who have a medical or a psychological background, so that roles that were played by monks and meditation teachers and Asian history now it comes to be a professional, you know, wearing a suit or something who are now representing to us what these practices are and then how to do them and therefore, applying them in, at least allegedly, nonreligious fashion.
WILSONAnd that allows them, then, to be inserted into new environments, such as the public school system.
WILSONA place where, of course, we're very reluctant to have any sort of overt religiosity.
REHMAnd Dr. Rosenthal, you've written a book called "Super Mind: How To Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation." I mean, that promises an awful lot. What can you tell us about what you have experienced yourself and what you've seen in others through transcendental meditation?
ROSENTHALYes, absolutely. The subtitle does promise a lot.
ROSENTHALBut when I said the fun begins with the transcendent experience during meditation is that what I've personally found is that that peaceful quiet begins to infiltrate the daily life and sits there side by side with activity. So as you are deeply engaged, as I am right now talking with you, there's also a sense of calm that exists side by side and it's almost as though two channels are operating together. And you can imagine how effective and valuable this would be in so many different contexts.
ROSENTHALTake a business person and negotiating a deal where a lot hinges upon it. That sense of calmness now. You know, everything -- one of my friends, Ray Dalio, the hedge fund owner who's a longtime TM meditator, says it makes me feel like a ninja. Things are coming at me in slow motion. So as Rezvan mentioned, you know, even though these are two 20 minute segments, if the effects and benefits were confined to those 20 minutes, that wouldn't be such a big deal. But this carryover that I began to experience in myself and patients I had recommended it to and colleagues was (word?) in the ancient writings.
ROSENTHALAnd what I've tried to do in "Super Mind" is to try and give body and substance to it with modern psychometric techniques.
REHMHow long have you been practicing TM?
ROSENTHALEight years solidly now. I had learned many years ago, but this is my resurgence, this late eight years, when I've taken it seriously.
REHMAnd it seems to me, Dr. Ameli, that mindfulness really covers the whole spectrum. In other words, if Dr. Rosenthal is talking about two 20-minute particular sessions, mindfulness covers an instant I am looking at a leaf and trying to focus in a way that's different from meditation. Am I right or wrong?
AMELIWell, the way I experience mindfulness, and I've been practicing many years, is that you bring the full focus of your attention to what you're experiencing, but at the same time, you do that focus attention with a certain attitude. And that attitude has been described as a friendliness, kindness, compassion and openness.
REHMDr. Rezvan Ameli, she's at the National Institute of Mental Health. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking in this hour about transcendental meditation that has been adapted to an American and worldwide point of view from early Asian religions. We're also talking about mindfulness and a kind of meditation practiced in many, many schools today. Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is currently a senior editor at Smithsonian Magazine, but you wrote a piece of going into the schools while you were at The Atlantic and seeing this kind of meditation at work.
REHMTalk a little more about what you saw.
GRITZYes. Well, it was a very eye-opening experience for me as someone who grew up meditating in a small town in Iowa where there was a private school where everyone did transcendental meditation and it was a community...
REHMAt what age did you begin?
GRITZWell, with TM, you start with a children's technique where the children have their eyes open. It's just five minutes long. So at the age of 4 or 5. I started at 4.
GRITZSo yeah, and then at age 10, you can sit down with your eyes closed for 10 minutes. So that was how I grew up and it was a community where everyone moved there specifically to be with other people who meditated and there were business and restaurants. It was a little -- kind of almost a Portland, Oregon, feeling to it. So that was the kind of place I grew up so I was intrigued to go to a big city and to a school where TM was just dropped into the culture.
GRITZIt wasn't like anyone came to this public school for meditation. So I visited some schools in San Francisco and Burton High School was one of the main ones I spent time at. And these were kids who -- it was a very, very diverse school. It was mostly Latino, African American and Asian newer immigrants and they had really rough lives. There was one boy named Tony who was 16. His mother was a drug addict. He would see her sometimes on the street. He said he hadn't spoken to her since he was 3 and his father had worked two jobs so he would come home at the age of 7 to an empty house and make himself dinner and wait up at night.
GRITZAnd, you know, he was -- what was striking was he had this natural brightness about him that I'm pretty sure he had inherently. But he'd been some rough times. He'd been through a lot of fights. And what he said was just having this experience of who he was, the essence of who he was that wasn't dependent on any of these outside circumstances really gave him a lot of strength. And he said, as an African American man, you know, he knew he'd be judged in certain ways.
GRITZHe was very involved with Black Lives Matter, for example. But he would be in the middle of these very tense situations and just have that sense that that really wasn't who he was. He had experienced the essence of who he was and it wasn't that. So that was one of the more powerful encounters I had.
REHMTell me about the teachers who conduct these classes where meditation is being practiced.
GRITZThat's a really good question and I think one of the features of these TM programs is that they have full-time staff that are funded by grants and they embed in the school. And they're all trained meditation teachers. And, of course, they love children and they have an educational bent as well, but they just spend all their time checking the children's meditation, leading meditation sessions and just keeping the program going. And in many cases, they have outlasted two or three or even four principals because these schools are very unstable.
GRITZAnd that's really become the backbone of a lot of the schools.
REHMJeff Wilson, what's involved in training people to not only do meditation themselves, but to help others learn to do meditation?
WILSONYes, there's a whole sort of an industry which has grown up nowadays in North America, really centered in the U.S. and the idea is that instead of going off a Buddhist monastery or to Hindu monastery or something like this, now you can do this in a very professional setting. And in fact, there's many different sort of programs that have been put together, educational programs for people to come and take a program, perhaps for a year or so, then receive certification as a mindfulness instructor.
WILSONThere's also programs within the TM movement as well. And so now you do this in possibly a secular or semi-secular environment. You're trained in a professional manner. You get a certification and these are often even targeted specifically at school teachers and other people who are involved in the educational system. So this is another sort of credential that they can put onto their resume and then, also, they can deliver these services in the classroom or at least in the educational environment.
REHMJeff, in your research for your book, "Mindful America," did you ever come across Silva Mind Control?
WILSONSilva Mind Control. You know, the name is a little bit familiar, but I'm not quite dredging up the details about it, honestly.
REHMAll right. I happen to have been a student of that way, way back and I think it gave me a lot of inner peace. And you said your mother took that course.
GRITZShe didn't actually take the course, but I remember -- actually, I remember seeing video tapes from the earlier days of TM where people from the audience would talk about different techniques and that one was mentioned. It was popular in the '70s.
REHMYes, it was quite popular in the '70s. And Dr. Rosenthal, for your book, you talk to someone who does both practices of mindfulness and transcendental meditation. What are you getting that's different out of each form?
ROSENTHALWell, yes. It's fascinating that the two effects -- the effects of the two practices are quite different. TM, people find settles down their system and shifts their consciousness so that they're kind of feeling that sort of pleasant consciousness through the day and mindfulness helps them anchor to the moment and make them feel like they're living moment to moment and getting a sense of the world as it really is. So the goals of these two practices are very different.
ROSENTHALThe one is to shift consciousness, expand consciousness and thereby change the whole way you deal with the world and the other one is to, in a very direct way and a trained way, access what is really going on moment to moment and thereby influence your whole way of seeing the world and yourself.
REHMDr. Ameli, why do you think these practices have become so popular today?
AMELIWell, part of it is because everybody has the capacity to do them. And so as a result, you know, and there is so much studies and the science behind them is so strong, given the science and the capacity of everyone to engage in these practices to some level and reap the benefits in terms of health and wellbeing, emotionally, psychologically, physically, there is so much research that is showing that. So it would be, you know, very nice for the public to be aware of these practices and know that they can utilize them for their wellbeing at so many levels.
REHMWhat kinds of data is out there?
AMELIOh, my god, it's so much. The data has been accumulating so rapidly in the past decade or so. Like, in the '80s, there were, let's say, maximum six articles on mindfulness and now, last year, it was over 700 peer-reviewed articles and this is the pop-med search that I've done to see that.
REHMTelling us what, Dr. Rosenthal?
REHMTelling us what?
ROSENTHALIn terms of mindfulness?
ROSENTHALYes, I think that I would really refer that because I'm really knowledgeable about what the TM literature tells us. There are...
REHMAnd what does it tell you?
ROSENTHAL...hundreds of articles and the strongest area is cardiovascular protection. Many controlled studies of lowering blood pressure and two incredible studies indicating a decrease, a significant decrease in heart attack and stroke in at-risk people, substantial decrease over and above people who are already getting blood pressure medicines, cholesterol medicines and so on and so forth. The psychological stuff is also there, including decreased anxiety and better wellbeing for example in breast cancer survivors. But, you know, many hundreds of peer review articles.
REHMI would think lowering stress is one of the main outcomes, Jennie.
GRITZYes, it is. And one comment I wanted to make, too, is that as these experts have mentioned, these techniques do different things and they actually can be quite complimentary. In one of the schools I visited they did TM twice a day and then they also had a class called social and emotional intelligence. And a lot of that class was more about coping and about that experience of being in a really heated moment where you're tempted to react violently in different ways to kind of bring your awareness back.
GRITZAnd I think it's important to recognize that both can serve different purposes. I know Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the doctor who founded mindfulness-based stress reduction, he compares mindfulness to surfing, kind of having that awareness to move with the waves of your mind and maintain that awareness. And TM, I would say, is almost more like a submarine ride. You don’t really engage with the waves at all. You kind of -- there's no thought. There's not attention that you're trying to have. You just settle down and then you experience a very quiet place inside. And they can work together, I think.
REHMIs that an accurate description or delineation?
AMELIYes, I love that. That was a wonderful description.
REHMDidn't Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard have a great deal to contribute here?
GRITZYes. That was before my time. That was when I was being born, but I believe he was involved in some of the early studies and then I think he started a different technique that I'm not as familiar with. But he did some of the very first research on TM, for sure.
REHMSo how, Dr. Rosenthal, are you recommending -- how are you using this TM in your own medical practice?
ROSENTHALWell, initially, it was obvious to give to people with anxiety problems. And what I found was their anxiety came down and I was often able to lower their medications and still get the same effect. In a few cases, even discontinue medications. But, of course, you know, you have to deal with whatever works. The other thing is people with anger management problems, the resilience increases, the capacity to think before you act or talk is really improved and -- but really fascinates me now is how this can really help so many people who don't have DSM category conditions, how it can grow the capacities to remember, to create, to self actualize, to be the best you can be, which is where the term "Super Mind" came to me as a good way of encapsulating these non medical, but life enhancing aspects of the condition.
REHMDo you think mindfulness can make the same kinds of claims, Dr. Ameli?
AMELIYes. It does, it does. And I think mindfulness has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, improve cardiovascular health and immune system function, in particular has been studied with mindfulness quite a bit. And also a lot of studies point to mindfulness as being a measure that can really enhance your self regulation, which self regulation has three very important parts. One is the attentional control, emotional regulation, as well as self awareness. And those areas of functioning impact different parts of the brain and, you know, different parts of the brain are responsible for delivering these kinds of, you know, regulations.
AMELIAnd I think there is so many studies that show that all these areas, various areas of the brain, large network is involved when you practice mindfulness.
REHMDr. Rezvan Ameli, she is a clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health. She's author of "25 Lessons In Mindfulness: Now Time For Healthy Living." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First, to Pamela in Hancock, New Hampshire. You're on the air.
PAMELAI am a mindfulness teacher. I'm a supervisor now for young new generation of mindfulness teachers and my question is, has there been any definitive research between transcendental meditation and mindfulness as far as its medical benefits?
WILSONSo actually, perhaps Dr. Ameli might be a better person for this particular question. I wonder whether she's noticed any research, credible research on TM and mindfulness put together.
AMELINo. I have not seen any research unless Rosenthal are aware of any, but I have not seen one that has compared the two of them side by side with a appropriate control group.
WILSONThat's been my observation as well.
ROSENTHALI want to reinforce that. To my knowledge, there is not a single head to head study of these two disciplines for any single indication, physical or psychological. And I think that's really important because we're not in a competing mode.
ROSENTHALBecause there's no data with which to compete. I think we need to see these as two very valuable offerings in a market place of practices that can really make a difference in people's lives.
REHMIndeed, complimentary, wouldn't you think, Jennie?
GRITZAbsolutely. Yea, as I was saying before, I think there are times in life where those 20 minutes of TM you did in the morning maybe aren't quite enough. They do, as Dr. Rosenthal said, they give you a general disposition of having inner calm and that grows. But you might be in a particularly tense situation and you have to call on all the resources you have of where to put your attention and how to just keep that equilibrium and that's where think mindfulness might do something a bit different.
REHMAnd, of course, I'll bet there are lots of folks out there saying, who has time to meditate for 20 minutes every morning. How do you find time to do it, Jennie?
GRITZThat's a good question now that I have a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old.
GRITZIt was very, very easy until then, 20 minutes isn't very long. But I'd say the morning is actually easier because you can just set the alarm a little earlier, even if that seems like a chore. Afternoons can be more difficult when you come rushing home from work and you have kids and you have dinner. But it's just about making it a priority. You have to put it on your schedule, you know, like going to the gym or anything else that's really important for your health.
REHMWell, that brings me to the question of can one not practice mindfulness while at the gym, on the bike or on whatever?
AMELIYou can, actually. You could bring a mindful attention to whatever you do. But in order to do that well, you have to also learn it outside of that situation maybe first. And for that, I think teaching is very important and teacher is very important. What I've seen is such a blossoming or at time mushrooming of the concept that worries about the quality of the teachers.
REHMAnd on that note, we've got to take a short break, but we'll talk about how to find a good and qualified teacher of both TM and mindfulness when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We have two questions here. Jeff, these are for you. Is there a difference between prayer and meditation?
WILSONVery good question. So of course, unfortunately as an academic, always I want to say, well, wait a minute how do we define these things.
WILSONThere are so many kinds of meditation and so many kinds of prayer, aren't there, right, even just in any one tradition, not to speak of throughout the world. That said, I think often we do interpret these things different in North American culture, don't we? We tend to think of prayer as being petitionary in some way. There's an object out there, and somehow I want something from that object, so I pray towards that object in some way. Of course this is a very basic definition, and it becomes much more sophisticated often, right.
WILSONAnd then meditation we tend to think of as not having an object, it's certainly not an object beyond ourselves. But meditation tends to be more of a calming or clearing of the mind, a settling back into yourself, if anything. So prayer tends to be a movement away from the self, whereas meditation tends to be movement into the self, if that makes any difference. Now this is a very broad, almost stereotypical way of defining these things.
WILSONBut if we look at it from that standpoint, then right away we can see there are real differences that could emerge from these two different practices.
REHMAll right, and regarding mindfulness, if one strips away the spirituality inherent in Buddhist traditions, what is the cost?
WILSONWell, there's potentially a number of costs that go on here, right. Certainly the Buddhist tradition itself may be diminished by having one of its primary resources taken away from it and become something that's no longer Buddhist, and so they no longer have authority over it and so on, and so other people are doing it elsewhere. At the same time, Buddhism may be potentially benefitted through such a process if -- if elements of Buddhism become so widely available in the popular culture, and people begin to associate Buddhism with health and other things that they desire, this may cause them to become interested in Buddhism, as well. And so maybe they'll kind of go back upstream to find out more about not just meditation but other aspects of the tradition that have usually supported meditation practice and in the long Asian history around mindfulness.
WILSONSo there are possible drawbacks and possible benefits that could occur to the Buddhist community.
REHMJenny, you wanted to add?
GRITZOh, yeah, well, I think the experience I had visiting the public school was that question was very relevant because obviously in any public school, you're not going to teach meditation with any even slight trappings of -- I wouldn't even maybe use the word religion but, you know, cultural heritage.
GRITZAnd the way I grew up, again TM was never a religion. We were Jewish. I had a bat mitzvah. But there was a lot more of that Eastern thought. So I think for public schools and in settings like that, it's appropriate to really just do the essence, just do that 20 minutes twice a day. And then I think if people -- they might have interest in finding out about the philosophy that goes along with that tradition, and then they know where it comes from. They're always welcome to explore that if they're interested.
REHMAll right, and I want to remind our listeners to join us on Facebook after the show for live video at facebook.com/thedianerehmshow. I'll be discussing my own meditation practices with our guest, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, and he will be answering your questions. So I hope you'll be part of that after the program ends. Lets' go now to Ben in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Hi there, you're on the air.
BENHi, so I have just a personal anecdote about mindfulness meditation. I started medical school about 10 months ago, and...
REHMPretty stressful situation as it is, isn't it?
BENAbsolutely, and so that was actually the big reason why I developed a mindfulness meditation a couple of months prior to starting medical school and then continuing with it until now, and so I was a graduate student before I went to medical school, and so I think that serves the point of -- a point of comparison between not having a mindfulness meditation practice and now having one. And so I would say as a medical student with my mindfulness meditation practice, I've noticed a big increase in my mental endurance and my ability to focus for long periods of time.
BENI've struggled in the past with anxiety. I've even been on SSRIs for those, and it's really well-controlled now. My memory and my recall has improved. I sleep well and have just a better kind of self-awareness. I'm able to recognize sort of unhealthy cravings. And so overall it's been absolutely fundamental to my success as a medical student, and I can't imagine not having this practice.
REHMWell, I certainly congratulate you. I must say that's quite a recommendation, Dr. Rosenthal.
ROSENTHALYeah, I think that's a terrific anecdote, and, you know, as a psychiatrist, I always am thrilled whatever it is that is helping somebody, but that's a powerful story. Incidentally I should mention that in "Super Mind" I have a chapter devoted to the comparison of mindfulness and transcendental meditation, which I thought was really important because as you see these are two powerful bodies of work that are out there and that people are benefitting from.
REHMHow would you compare or contrast the two?
ROSENTHALWell, one fascinating thing, for example, is that there is a deep-seated set of brain circuits called the default mode network, and that comes alive when the brain is idling and when you're not thinking about anything in particular. Now with mindfulness, as focus is the essential element, that network shuts down because you're now using your prefrontal cortex to direct it to some actual thought specifically with an attitude and a purpose. And so the -- this default mode shuts down.
ROSENTHALWith transcendental meditation, as Jenny said in your submarine going there, not thinking of anything in particular, the default mode network comes alive and is activated. So here at a very fundamental level you're seeing an opposite effect on a powerful set of brain circuits.
REHMDoes that mean you see one as more beneficial than the other?
ROSENTHALI think they do different things. I think what we were hearing here is focus and concentration has improved greatly, which had been a problem in the past for the caller, and what I often hear with the TM is that creativity and the connect of unexpected ideas occurs during sessions and between sessions. People come out and think, wow, why didn't I think of that before. So I think they're very different.
ROSENTHALAnd, you know, oftentimes I think it's not a question of I'll do this because there's more data, it's really a question of what is my personal inclination. How does my personality gravitate to one versus another? And I know I had tried mindfulness techniques, and it was always difficult for me, and this has been very easy for me. Now the caller, it seems, has had a really easy time with mindfulness.
ROSENTHALSo our brains are wired in different ways, and that's why it's so wonderful that there are these different offerings out there.
REHMAnd that's exactly what our next caller wants to ask about. Sherry is in Fredericksburg, Texas. Sherry, you're on the air.
SHERRYThank you, Diane. Both practices, it seems, comes from a silence and an inner peace. That seems it. But I was looking at the left-brain, right-brain dynamic with these two practices. It seems to me that mindfulness is -- would be more left brain, more engaging in the reasoning or analytical thoughts and less connected with something greater or the universe, whereas creativity, not -- this is what -- what I'm familiar with is the creativity and the transcendental meditation, that it would be more right brain and open to impressions from what one might call a higher power and our -- a higher knowing.
SHERRYIf I get a creative thought, I always give God the glory because I feel like I'm connecting with that. But just having a quiet mind, it's always important, if I want to come up with right thoughts and solve problems, I have to come from a quiet place, which would be more mindfulness.
REHMAll right, Jeff, do you want to comment?
WILSONSure, yeah, you know, what's interesting to me is I think perhaps there are definitely going to be differences between particular practices, but for me as a researcher, what I've really observed is that intentionality is maybe the greatest key of all for what one gets out of a practice. So when monks in the Asian traditions have followed these practices, they haven't done it for the reasons that we're talking about here. They haven't done it for health benefits or other sort of lifestyle benefits and so on. They've been seeking, you know, union with a God consciousness or seeking Nirvana or something like that.
WILSONWe do them for very different reasons, which is to say we have very different intentions. And so what you bring into your practice of TM or what you bring into your practice of mindfulness will probably significantly impact what you may take out of it, as well. So I certainly believe that maybe that one or the other practice may be a little more inclined towards creativity or more towards focus, but if you go into one with the thought, hey, this may help my creativity, I bet you may find some benefits regardless of which practice -- or hey, this may help my focus. You may find that because it's really much about how we contextualize these things and what it is that brought us to that practice.
WILSONAnd each practice may have its own qualities, but I really do think that intentionality is key.
ROSENTHALYes, as to the last caller, there's a lot in what she said because Richard Davidson, looking at monks who had been practicing mindfulness meditation for many years, found the left prefrontal cortex was much more active in these people. So there was a definite left-sided preponderance there. And on the other hand, Fred Traverse, (PH) who has looked at EEG, electrical patterns in the brain, has found that there is a shift in the brainwaves towards alpha rhythms, which are more calming, and that they flux over the whole brain, particularly the prefrontal areas on both sides.
ROSENTHALSo I think we do have brain differences that do signal the differences that we've all been talking about.
REHMInteresting. Here's an email that says, I am amazed that the medical community, especially the mental health community, doesn't teach mindfulness in lieu of prescribing antidepressants. It's non-addictive, non-habit forming. You never run out. You can teach it to others. And it makes you feel better. What about that, Dr. Ameli?
AMELIActually there has been a growing and blossoming of a technique called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy that is actually used for relapse prevention for depression. And there has been several studies, and most recently last year, this study came from England, where they looked at their, you know -- they have a better access to looking at the health system in the sense that because the health system is socialized, therefore what they did, they really -- they sent groups of patients randomly to two forms of treatment. One was medication. One was the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
AMELIAnd they followed them for two years. And what they found was that the impact of medication and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was very similar.
AMELIIn terms of relapse prevention. And actually what they -- they did secondary analysis of their data, and what they found was that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy actually produced superior results for people who have had childhood abuse. And I think that has a lot of implication because we know that people who have had history of childhood abuse and trauma and PTSD, so to speak, develop this form of depression, which is treatment-resistant. And so if there are ways of, you know, helping these individuals in terms of treatment, it would be wonderful.
REHMSo in terms of teaching and in terms of finding a good instructor, I mean, one can read books, but at the same time if you're looking for another human being who has credentials, how would you do that? Wait for one second. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. How would you do that, Dr. Rosenthal?
ROSENTHALWith TM it's really simple. There's national organization with credentialed teachers, tm.org is a very easy way to access, and it's nationwide and in fact international. But if I may quickly say the expression lieu of antidepressants, I just want to ask the people listening, don't throw out the standard of care. Talk with your doctor. Don't go and do these complementary things in lieu of. By all means add them to, but these other medications that constitute standard of care have been very heavily researched, and I just...
REHMI think that's a very important point, thank you. And finally let's go to Will in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
WILLGood morning. I was just going to offer the observation that I learned both techniques. I started with mindfulness, and both highly credentialed teachers, and I did that for about three years. I work in sales and marketing field for a large corporate America entertainment company, so lots of pressure and stress on a daily basis. And what I was really looking for was stress release.
WILLAnd I kept watching a report from CBS "Sunday Morning" that I'd saved on my DVR about TM, and I kept going back to that and watching it and thinking that there was something different. I finally learned TM seven years ago, and I found it's been a much easier, much more beneficial, much more easily accessible technique for me and certainly much more helpful from stress reduction.
REHMThat's terrific, and good for you. I'm sure you heard a lot of these stories, Dr. Rosenthal.
ROSENTHALYes, I have, and I've recommended it to my patients, many of whom now meditate, like a big percentage of my patients do TM.
REHMSo how do we begin? How would you recommend that someone begin transcendental meditation?
ROSENTHALI think that firstly people go right onto the Web, look for resources. Hopefully one of them will be my book, "Super Mind," but there are many other offerings. There's Rezvan's wonderful book on mindfulness. And find out a little bit, and then go and contact a reputable mindfulness teacher or a reputable TM teacher. They are kind of standardized.
REHMHow did your teacher teach you, very briefly?
GRITZHe was -- it's very brief. My father was my teacher, and I was four years old.
REHMAnd how did he teach you?
GRITZHe -- it's the same way -- well with children it's slightly different. It's a standard teaching, where you give a little introductory lecture, and then you do the actual instruction. And there is some follow-up where you explain how the technique works and sort of the benefits that you'll notice over time.
REHMBut what do you feel like?
GRITZThat's a very good question. I remember more my 10-year-old instruction. It felt like I was riding a bicycle, and it was -- sort of suddenly started going by itself. And it was so effortless, and I just felt this happiness. That was what I remember most.
REHMAll right, and we'll leave it at that word, happiness. I like that. Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Dr. Rezvan Ameli, Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, Jeff Wilson, thank you all so much.
AMELIThank you very much.
WILSONThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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