Logical reasoning about mindfulness meditation and how we can harness the powerful interplay between mind and body to affect the quality of our human life, and more…
Wherever you are, if you look around, you will see the evidence of different forms of life. The first evidence of life is yourself then there are plants, microorganisms, small animals, big animals, and other human beings around you, everywhere you go. Life is the most precious miracle that makes everything possible. Without life there is nothing.
Human life is the marvel every person on the planet received at birth as a gift. Each and every one of us holds our life very dear and extremely important. With regard to cherishing our own human life, every single one of the 7 billion people is the same. Life is the most valuable treasure one has.
What is the opposite of life? Sometimes the best way to think about some phenomenon is to investigate its opposite and ask the question: “How specifically it looks when a human being does not have a life?” There is nothing to see, hear, smell, taste, or experience, there are no feelings, no perceptions, no concepts. There is nothing to win, or lose, nothing to build, or create, nothing to destroy, nothing to write, nothing to be happy, or sad about.
The job of science is finding the truth because we want to make life on our planet better, healthier, safer, and happier for all living beings, which means there is a constant expansion of the scope of collective scientifically verifiable wisdom that benefits all life. We strive to do that in a way better than any other time in human history.
The intention of this paper is to put mindfulness and other mind training through the test of logical reasoning and critical analysis because we want to gradually build up the intellectual understanding of the way mindfulness can affect the quality of human life.
Since it is our most precious asset, it is smart to familiarize ourselves with our human life. First of all, we know that human life exists, there is no doubt about it, but the basic question that arises is: “How specifically does human life exist?”
Does it exist as an independently existent phenomenon, as an object that we can point at? At first, it may appear that life exists independently by its own side, but a true scientist cannot be satisfied with appearances. True scientists have developed sharp faculty which they use to go beyond appearances in their quest for the truth.
If we employ the framework for the valid cognition of the phenomena, based on the Madhyamika ancient Indian school of philosophy, (1) human life is just a conventionally used term, because no matter how hard we try to point at human life, we will be unable to do it. Let us try to find the human life. Is the blood pressure human life, or is it a blink of an eye, or maybe the movement of a hand? Is walking human life, is it talking, dancing, running, smiling, breathing, sexual arousal, heart rate, body temperature? The more we investigate, the more we realize that we cannot point to any specific evidence and say: “This is human life.” The only things we can point at when searching for human life are the basic vital signs (breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature) and all the other evidence of life. Neither of those signs is specifically the human life because all of those signs make life possible, but none of them is human life. As much as we search for it, we cannot find the human life between the vital signs and other evidence of human life. Further, human life is a singular term while the vital signs and other evidence are plurals. If upon search we were unable to find the specific location or the human life, we can conclude that human life is not an independently existent phenomenon because it depends on vital signs, other causes, conditions, and the mind perceiving it. Human life is so rich and full of vital signs, causes, conditions, and other evidence of human life, but at the same time, the human life is empty of itself because none of those vital signs, causes, conditions, and evidence is a human life.
The human life is a name designated to the attribution of vital signs, other evidence, and conditions of life. Naming is the product of the mind. Vital signs and other evidence of life are experiences of the body. Therefore, we can conclude:
Human life is an experience of a constant interplay between mind and body.
To prove that statement as valid, we should employ critical analysis for the mind and the body, just as we did for the human life.
Human mind exists, there is no doubt about it. Just mere fact that you are reading this, proves its existence. The question is not, does the human mind exist, but: “How specifically does the human mind exist?” Let us start searching for the mind: Is visual consciousness the mind, is it the auditory, gustatory, olfactory, cutaneous, vestibular, tactile, or mental consciousness? Are feelings, or perceptions – the mind? Or is it maybe different mental states like anger, jealousy, doubt, kindness, generosity, compassion, or enthusiasm? Are feelings, or perceptions of pleasure and pain – the mind? Which one of those is the mind? Just as with human life, the more we search for the mind, the more evidence there is of its existence, but none of them can be pointed at as the mind. Upon search we were unable to find the mind among the elements of the mind, so we can conclude that the mind is not an independently existent phenomenon because it depends on different types of consciousnesses, feelings, perceptions, or mental states. Let us investigate further by even questioning the way different types of consciousnesses, feelings, perceptions, or mental states exist.
“According to research fellow Petr Janata of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College, music is such a wanted stimulus: it is not particularly important for survival, but still something inside us yearns for it. By means of fMRI, Janata and his collaborators not only discovered and mapped the areas of the brain associated with melody, but they even confirmed that in every listener those mapped areas differed from one music listening session to another, which indicates the variability or dynamics of the topography of the mapped areas. In other words, every time a person hears the same melody, the same nerve bundle perceives it differently.” (2)
With regard to what does the consciousness of sound arise? With regard to the sound, which means that even the consciousness of sound is not objectively, independently existent phenomenon because it depends on the sound as an object of consciousness. “Therefore, without an object of consciousness remaining close by, we can definitely say that there is no consciousness that apprehends it.” (1)
The mind is so rich and full of evidence of its existence – different types of consciousness, feelings, perceptions, and mental states, but at the same time, the human mind is empty of itself because none of that evidence is the mind. Just as the mind is not an independently existent phenomenon, even the parts upon which the mind is designated are not independently existent objects because they also depend upon different types of causes and conditions.
“How specifically does the human body exist?” Does it exist just as it appears, as a unit, independent, and objective phenomenon? In our quest for correct knowledge of the phenomenon, we will once again employ the critical analysis of the body. Is our head the body? Are eyes, mouth, nose, hands, fists, shoulders, legs, calves, feet, or knees – the body? Is our heart – the body? Can the body be found it our organs, muscles, glands, molecules, atoms, or the parts of the atoms? Are the blood and other body liquids – human body? Can the body be found within the breath or the body temperature? The more we search, the more evidence there is of a human body, but none of that evidence is the human body. If the human body would be existent in the parts and conditions that make the body, then there would be as many bodies as there are parts and conditions, which is absurd. Upon search we were unable to find the body among the parts and conditions that make the body, so we can conclude that even the body is not an independently existent unit because it depends upon different parts and conditions.
It is apparent that the mind consists only out of non-mind elements, upon which the term mind is designated. The body consists only out of non-body elements, upon which the term body is designated. The life consists only out of non-life elements, upon which the term life is designated. Hence, the reasoning power emerging from this critical analysis becomes the cause of correct intellectual understanding of dependent nature of mind, body, and human life, as opposed to independent existence.
It means that by controlling the causes and conditions involved it the interplay between the mind and the body, we can directly influence and shape the product of that interplay – the quality of human life.
Therefore, there are many ways we can influence the quality of our and other people’s lives, and we do it, consciously and unconsciously, every single day, moment to moment. One of the non-invasive, practical, and very helpful ways to positively influence the quality of human life is mindfulness training or meditation. Approaching mindfulness with certainty and clarity of intellectual understanding developed through logical reasoning and critical analysis of the nature of the mind, body and human life, is an excellent and very powerful way to prepare for the actual practice of mindfulness training or meditation.
Mindfulness means being aware of the phenomenon occurring in the present moment. Meditation means familiarizing with the chosen object or phenomenon. One of the phenomena always occurring in the present moment is breathing. Through mindfulness meditation, we use breathing as an anchor that keeps us in the present moment. Breathing does not exist as an observable in the past, nor in the future. Further, breathing is the experience of the body. Awareness is the function of the mind. Therefore, mindfulness meditation is the actual interplay between conditions of the mind – awareness, and the body – breathing, which means that through mindfulness meditation we are directly influencing the quality of human life. If you are curious, you can now try a simple “Mindfulness of the Breath Meditation”:
- Prepare for the meditation by adjusting your posture
- Different body postures can be very conducive for effective mindfulness meditation. Find a comfortable sitting position if you can, but not too comfortable, so you could avoid falling asleep. The most important thing about the posture is a straight spine, which means you should try not to lean back. Put your hands on your lap, or you can choose to put the back of your right hand on the palm of your left hand with thumbs touching, pointing upwards. Relaxed and open shoulders, with your head, slightly tilted down. Your eyes can be closed, or half-closed, your mouth closed with lips gently touching, and with the tongue touching your upper palate. Breathe through the nose.
- Focus your awareness on your breathing
- Choose one out of two possible points: the tip of your nose, or the area four fingers below your navel
- Out of all the things you can do, focus all of your awareness on the chosen point and follow your breathing if you have chosen tip of the nose or rising and falling of the point four fingers below the navel
- For the next three minutes focus completely on your breathing, from the beginning of the in-breath to the end of the out-breath. You can help yourself with counting the breaths
(Breathing in – Breathing out 1, Breathing in – Breathing out 2…up to 10 and then back to 1) (3)
Were you able to control your mind for three minutes only or did your mind have power over your will? Do not worry if there was a constant flow of thoughts or feelings. That is normal, and at first, as much as we try it is hard to constantly be aware of the breathing. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. One can very soon feel the effects of regular mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness meditation is an effective way of bringing harmony between your cognitive and emotional processes. Mindfulness meditation does not have to be perfect to still be valuable, just as a fraction of a diamond is still a diamond.
This exercise is a very practical way to get a subjective experience of influencing the interplay between mind and body. That is called 1st person methodology.
We approached our quest for the truth with critical analysis using logical reasoning, observing mind, body, and human life from the outside, using the 3rd person methodology. Intellectual understanding of the dependent nature of mind, body, and human life emerged from the 3rd person methodology process. Based on the certainty that stems from that process, we were able to experience the interplay between mind and body, using the 1st person methodology process.
Modern medical science is based on a 3rd person methodology, meaning that we look at the patient and disease from the outside, fixing it based on the different measurements and analysis. Amazing advances in treating illness, managing chronic diseases, and health prevention have been made due to 3rd person methodology.
Until recently, modern medical science gave very little recognition and awareness to how the mind and the subjective experience of the patient may play a role in the physical health. During the last two centuries, people like Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and Milton H. Erickson were leading the field of exploring the influence of the mind and the patient’s subjective experience on mental health as well as human well-being. Taking into account the patient’s subjective experience is the basis of the 1st person methodology.
Those two methodologies; 3rd person methodology which is dominant and 1st person methodology, developed parallel to each other for many years, not really overlapping with regard to patient treatment.
The last few decades is the beginning of a new and exciting era for all of us because scientists asked the question which is one of the greatest mysteries of human existence: “How specifically does the brain work?” Exploration of that question blurred the boundaries between 3rd and 1st person methodology of scientific approach. The field where those two methodologies merge is neuroscience, where the tremendous advances have been made with regard to the understanding of the human brain through one of the greatest discoveries of our times – brain neuroplasticity. (4)
“Neuroplasticity, also known as cortical mapping, challenges the idea that brain functions are fixed in certain time. It refers to the ability of the human brain to change as a result of one’s experience, that the human brain is “plastic” and “flexible”. (5)
Using modern technology devices like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) it is possible to scientifically prove such an amazing discovery as neuroplasticity.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama says: “…evidence is gradually emerging from science, especially psychology and neuroscience, to suggest that it is possible to achieve meaningful change in our emotional and behavioral patterns through conscious effort….recent discovery of what is called “brain plasticity” may well offer a scientific explanation for this possibility of meaningful change. Researchers have observed that the patterns and structures of the brain can and do change over time in response to our thoughts and experiences. Moreover, scientists are now able to observe the interaction between those parts of the brain associated with higher cognitive activities such as rational thought (in the prefrontal cortex) and those parts known as the limbic system, including the almond-shaped amygdala, which are associated with our most primitive instinctual, and emotional reflexes.” (6)
Many scientific research projects have been made with regard to mindfulness meditation and the benefits of it regarding the improvement of the practitioner’s physical and mental health.
Professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, Willem Kuyken and his colleagues in a Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression, proved that effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in prevention of depressive relapses is highly relevant for clinical practice and justifies MBCT as a clinically relevant alternative to maintenance antidepressant medication.(7)
The results of more than three decades of research have shown the many positive effects that mindfulness can have on health, improving quality of life both in the general population and in clinical populations, as it is presented by Francesco Pagnini, Assistant Professor at Catholic University of Milan and Deborah Phillips, Research Associate in Psychology at Harvard University in their article Being mindful about mindfulness. (8)
Mindfulness meditation induces equanimity of the mind, a neutral mental state because we train not to get attached to our conceptual imputations, which means we create space and harmony between cognition and emotions. In our everyday life that is rarely the case. If we imagine mind as a mirror, then sensory perceptions of our everyday life would be appearances in that mirror. Appearances in the mirror are not the basic nature of the mirror; clarity is. Therefore, through mindfulness meditation, we want to familiarize ourselves with the clarity of the mind, not the appearances – constructs of the mind. We are familiarizing with the knower, not the known.
If mindfulness meditation is the cause of better quality of life, it would be useful to gain a deeper understanding of the principle of causality. We already developed an understanding of the causality through the logical reasoning of the dependent existence of mind, body, and human life upon causes, conditions, and parts. They do not come into being from nothing – independently.
“Just as material things possess their substantial causes and their contributory conditions, mental phenomena do as well. Our feelings, our thoughts and emotions, all of which make up our consciousness, have both substantial causes that turn into a particular moment of cognition, and contributory factors that may be physical or mental…..a substantial cause must be substantially commensurate with its effect. A physical phenomenon could therefore not serve as the substantial cause of a moment of consciousness, as the nature of clarity and knowing is not physical.” (9)
“Thus, each moment of consciousness serves as a substantial cause of our subsequent awareness.” (10)
Since equanimous states of mind positively affect our quality of life, it is logical to ask a question: “What would happen if we would familiarize ourselves with the positive states of mind?” We can define the positive states of mind by thinking about their opposites, negative states of mind – anger, hatred, jealousy, doubt, arrogance, excessive attachment, grasping, ill will, cruelty, dullness, laziness, dishonesty, and the like. The common denominator between them is that they make us and others agitated, harmed, sad, and disturbed. Conversely, positive states of mind contribute to inner-peace and create a sense of well-being for oneself and others. The most important positive states of mind are compassion, kindness, generosity, moral conduct, patience, enthusiasm, and altruism. Just as light and darkness cannot coexist, the positive and negative states of mind cannot coexist, also. Positive states of mind are the antidotes to negative states of mind.
Therefore, once the mind is equanimous and calm, we can proceed with mind training and familiarize ourselves with the qualities like compassion and kindness. Compassion is the positive orientation towards the well-being of others and the sincere wish to help them reduce or eliminate their pain, challenges, or suffering if we can. If we cannot, we should at least refrain from hurting them more.
“While science has made great strides in treating pathologies of the human mind, far less research exists to date on positive qualities of the human mind including compassion, altruism and empathy. Yet these prosocial traits are innate to us and lie at the very centerpiece of our common humanity. Our capacity to feel compassion has ensured the survival and thriving of our species over millennia. For this reason, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University School of Medicine was founded in 2008 with the explicit goal of promoting, supporting, and conducting rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior. Founded and directed by Dr. James Doty, Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, CCARE is established within the Department of Neurosurgery. To date, CCARE has collaborated with a number of prominent neuroscientists, behavioral scientists, geneticists and biomedical researchers to closely examine the physiological and psychological correlates of compassion and altruism.
CCARE investigates methods for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society through rigorous research, scientific collaborations, and academic conferences.” (11)
During 2107, in Croatian cities, Zagreb, Rijeka, Pula, and in Ljubljana, Slovenia mindfulness and compassion cultivation training was introduced to 479 participants. The main objective of our actions was to investigate the interest level regarding meditation and mind training, and the effectiveness of short meditative techniques which were based on the book “Beyond Wants – Stress-Relief Mind Training”. Our participants were: physicians and healthcare professionals, psychotherapists, patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, social workers, managers and business people, bank employees, sales professionals, students, and the general public. Most of the participants were not asked to fill out any questionnaires related to the interest level or the subjective experience of the meditations. More than 93% of those who did fill out the questionnaires, showed interest to continue with the practice of mindfulness and compassion & kindness cultivation training. Many of the participants that gave a verbal feedback were very positive, and the report about it was even broadcasted on the Croatian national TV network. All the meditations were very well received from the participants and because of that, we are starting with the regular mindfulness meditation, and mind training for cultivation compassion, kindness, and other positive states of mind. In parallel to that, we have developed educational classes of critical analysis through logical reasoning with regard to mind and its dynamics to enhance meditative practice and give it more mental clarity.
Our human life does not exist as an independent phenomenon, which means it is dependent upon vital signs, causes, and conditions. None of those vital signs, causes, or conditions is “our human life”. Meaning, our human life consists only out of “non-our human life” elements upon which the term “our human life” is designated. What are then the constituent elements of the set “non-our human life”? As we have already mentioned those are our vital signs and other sensory measurable evidence, but also different causes like food that we eat, air that we breathe, water, sunlight, etc. Since we constantly associate with other people that greatly influence our well-being, “other’s human lives” are also the elements of the set “non-our human life”, isn’t it? Further, “lives of all other living beings” are also the elements of the set “non-our human life”.
Therefore, if we want to make our human life better, healthier, safer, and happier the only way to do it is to use the interplay of our mind and body, and positively influence the constituent elements of “our human life”. One of the most important constituent elements of “our human life” is the “other’s human life” ie. the human life of other human beings, or on a higher logical level “all life”.
This kind of logical reasoning shows we are completely safe when we support the marvel of our human life by helping other living beings support their life, with compassion, kindness, and enthusiasm, as opposed to not helping them. If we do help, we are completely safe. The life will prevail. All life without exception.
Luckily, it is through expanding the field of scientific research, that we can gain more understanding on how to do that better than any other time in human history.
- Shantideva, “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India, 1979; pp. 134-175
- Demarin V., Bosnar Puretić M. “The Brain and Art”, In: Croatia and Europe: Medicine, Science & Arts – Scientific and Professional Papers, Croatian Comitee of the European Association of Arts Medicine, Zagreb, Croatia. 2007., p.49
- Mošič I. “Beyond Wants – Stress-Relief Mind Training”, N2SED d.o.o. Rijeka, Croatia, 2017., p.35
- Jinpa T. “Mental illness recovery through mindfulness meditation”, DVD, Men-Tsee-Khang, n.d.
- Zavoreo I., Basic-Kes V., Demarin V., “Stroke and neuroplasticity”, Periodicum Biologorum, September 2012., Volume 114, No. 3, p. 395
- Dalai Lama,”Beyond religion”, HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2012., p.114
- Kuyken, W, Hayes, R, Barrett, B et al. “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression”, Lancet, 2016., 387. Available from: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)00660-7/
- Pagnini F., Philips D., “Being mindful about mindfulness”, Lancet, 2015., 2. Available from: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(15)00041-3/
- Dalai Lama, ”A profound mind”, Hodder & Stoughton, London, UK, 2011., p.70
- Dalai Lama, “An open heart – Practicing compassion in everyday life”, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2001.
- The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education [Internet], Stanford (CA, USA): Stanford University School of Medicine, Mission & Vision, n.d., Available from: http://ccare.stanford.edu/about/mission-vision/