Tag Archives: neuroscience

Divided brains and mindfulness?

In the most recent RSA animate lecture, on the divided brain, psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist challenges popular ideas about left and right brains which I have seen perpetuated in many mindfulness books (e.g. that reason/emotion or visual/language aspects are separated in this way). Instead, he suggests that there are divisions in attention between very focused attention (left hemisphere) and wider awareness (right hemisphere).


I found this fascinating because mindfulness also distinguishes these two kinds of attention, with different meditation practices for cultivating focused attention and wider spacious awareness. Some liken vipassanā to a broad searchlight and samatha to a focused laser beami: In vipassanā we attend to the whole of our experience in a wide, open, awareness, noticing what arises and that it passes away, whereas in samatha we focus on a particular experience, object or phrase, such as the feeling of the breath, or repeatedly asking ‘what is this?’ in Korean Zen, or contemplating a Japanese Zen Koan.

Iain also talks about the way that the frontal lobes help to inhibit the rest of the brain, stopping immediate reactions. Again, this links to mindfulness which is about developing our capacity to stand back and notice things before responding. Iain links this to empathy and compassion for others. We need to stand back in order to understand other people rather than just reacting to them.

Seems like this work opens up some new possibilities for creative engagement between mindfulness and neuroscience.

Mindfulness research monthly

The new issue of Mindfulness Research Monthly is out here, including a spotlight on neuro research on beginning and long-term meditators. There are also listings of new publications in the field.

Mindfulness on the BBC

Nice podcast on mindfulness here on the BBC, focusing on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and neuroscience research.

I can believe that there are over 40 publications on mindfulness per month, as it says on the podcast. I started with the idea of collecting together all the references together here and quickly realised that it was an impossible task!

Mention of the marines using mindfulness in the US touches on one of the key issues that Social Mindfulness is interested in. Does some Western mindfulness strip the ethics from Buddhist mindfulness in potentially harmful ways? Can, and should, we detach mindfulness from compassion.