For the past several years, an organization called The Mind and Life Institute has been coordinating a yearly dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Western scientists. Increasingly, these scientists are neurologists and psychologists interested in such things as how emotions can be controlled and how attention can be marshaled to perform tasks more efficiently than before. They believe that meditators throughout the long history of Buddhism have uncovered some insights into such topics.

For his part, the Dalai Lama has put aside the religious aspects of Buddhism for the moment and considers Buddhism as a psychology of human behavior, behavior which can be trained and improved.

The cooperation between scientists and Buddhist practitioners has spawned several scientific studies. One of these studies found that long-term practitioners of meditation can sustain feelings of compassion much longer and more intensely than those untrained. Their brains generate significant changes as seen in brain scans. Also, when subjected to loud and irritating sounds, long-term practitioners can recover their composure more quickly than untrained participants. This ability to regain equilibrium demonstrates that meditation helps to control stress.

Samples of meditation that produce such results are as follows:

« A form of sitting meditation could involve the breath. The practitioner sits straight up in a chair with his or her feet flat on the floor, eyes closed. The meditator then notices the breath coming in and out, focusing on where the breath touches the lip. He or she keeps the focus on that spot in so far as possible, returning attention back to the spot when the mind wanders.

« Another form of meditation can be accomplished while walking. One walks slowly with the shoes off, without looking at the feet. This meditation is designed to teach you how to keep your balance. As one gets older, the sense of balance found in the inner ear starts to decline. As a result, older people tend to watch their feet as they walk, but if someone physically disturbs their walking, they are more likely to fall. Hence they should not depend upon sight to maintain their balance. Instead, they should practice walking in bare feet to regain the sensitivity between the feet and the ground that has been lost because of the intervening hard surface of the shoes.

These and other forms of meditation can be practiced every Friday morning at the Fort Collins Senior Center, 1200 Raintree Drive, from 10-11 a.m. in a group led by Bob McCartney, who has taught Buddhism for several years and has had extensive training in a temple in Denver led by Thai monks.

By Bob McCartney

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