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If you’d like to be a study participant in a science of meditation research study please visit Dr. Farb’s website at https://www.radlab.zone/
Dr. Farb and I had a wonderful discussion centered around the topics below.
What is contemplative science?
Contemplative science is a relatively new academic field that began in the early 2000’s. Now there are contemplative science research centers in universities across the world. The field of contemplative science is the scientific study of ancient meditation techniques with an eye to see what they do to our brains, to our thoughts, and to our behaviour.
What is narrative self?
I had never heard the term narrative self in relation to meditation before talking to Norm Farb. What I learnt was that the Narrative Self is at the heart of how we see ourselves in the world. It shapes what we think about ourselves when good happen to us and more importantly, when bad things happen to us. By learning to adjust the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves we can change the way we respond when faced with difficult circumstances.
What is a flexible self-reference?
We have a narrative self, which we create through our thoughts and feelings. The problem is that we often end up identifying ourselves WITH our thoughts and feelings.
What most people’s perception of meditation is, and what Norm thought was likely the case, was that meditation silences our thoughts and feelings and thereby disengages our propensity to identify with our thoughts and feelings. We meditate, we have less thoughts, so we have less unhealthy thoughts, leading to a healthier sense of self.
But that’s not what was happening with the meditating subjects in Norms FMRI experiments. What he noticed was that the brain areas associated with body sensations were starting to become active. This meant that meditators were able to move from a mental sense of self to a physical sense of self. Meditators were switching to body mode, having the option to change self-reference
These results hint at the idea “silencing” isn’t what’s important about meditation – flexibility in self-reference is.
The Effects of Meditation on Sadness, Depression, Rumination and Attention
We discuss the results of the various FMRI studies conducted at the Rad Lab where Norm’s research takes place. His work focuses on the benefits meditation may bring in reducing relapse of depressive episodes. The results indicate that meditation does help in developing a flexible self-reference and thereby reducing depressive relapse. But it’s not the only way. Another common technique is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.