The Healing Power of Mindfulness P3

Daniel Vinograd


There are now wonderful studies that are showing that that actually impedes or reduces any objective measure of performance. That doing two things at once detracts from the quality of either of the one. Doing five things at once, or being that scattered in your mind – you don’t even have to be doing anything, but when you’re at the mercy of this kind of mind wandering all the time and you’re trying to get things done, it’s very, very challenging. Very challenging.


So the question is, is there a way to actually live that will allow us to deal with what Zorba the Greek in Kazantzakis’ novel and movie called “the full catastrophe of the human condition.” The good, the bad, the ugly, the unwanted, the feared, the traumatic, the awful. To be able to hold each moment in its fullness and allow our attention faculty and our awareness faculty to actually hold it in such a way that we can then inhabit the next moment with authenticity, and maybe even respond appropriately to this vast range of demands that we are faced with all the time.


When I started the stress reduction clinic back at the University of Massachusetts back in 1979 – I did bring some slides, which I don’t know if I’ll show you, but I’ll just take that moment by moment. Maybe I’ll show them to you, maybe I won’t. (laughter) Because I’m trying to actually create more of an impression. I don’t want to leave you just with things in your head, just facts, because you’ll lose them immediately because other facts will come in and whatever.


If you’ve spent time and energy getting here, and I’ve spent time and energy getting here, then what would make me feel most satisfied is if one, you had some kind of inkling why you came in today. I’m sure you all do. It’s a mystery, though, I’m sure. Hoping, maybe, to be entertained, or maybe to connect on some deeper level, or maybe you’ve practiced mindfulness, or maybe you’ve been to an MBSR program. But if you peel back all those layers, there’s some really, really, really, really, really interesting reason why you’re here, and I bet you don’t know what it is. I’m not joking.


There are intelligences at work that are just deeper than the thought function, and the thought function is so smart that it sometimes outsmarts us completely. Have you noticed that? Then it’s like we’re stupid. We’re so smart, we’re stupid. It’s very hard to see that in yourself, but you can see it in other people just really easy. (laughter) Maybe you’ve noticed that.


I’m going to try to weave together a whole bunch of things that probably none of it is going to make complete sense, but what I’m doing here is I’m trying to in some sense plant seeds. I’m trying to plant seeds in the fertile ground or garden of whatever it was that brought you here, so that when you leave here, something has been touched that will keep those seeds – that actually I’m not planting; they are already in you – keep them being watered, nurtured, protected, privileged in a certain way, so that it nurtures, in some profound sense, some aspect of you that wants to be as alive as you can be while you have a chance.


We say to people coming to our stress reduction clinic – and they come with every conceivable kind of human ailment, referred by every conceivable subspecialty and specialty and generalist in medicine – and it’s an eight-week long course, designed to teach you how to take better care of yourself as a complement to whatever the healthcare system – I should call that a “disease care” system, by the way – can do for you. We say, from our perspective, as long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you. No matter what’s wrong with you. We see people you would not want to be in their body or in their mind or in their life. They probably wouldn’t want to be in yours, either, but you probably wouldn’t want to hear that. Because after all, you’re the star of this movie, aren’t you? (laughter) There’s more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what’s wrong with you.


That’s radical perspective, and very, very important, because I started this stress reduction clinic in 1979. In 1979, a Surgeon General’s report came out called “Healthy People,” and what it was forecasting into the future, which is here now – we are in this future – that no matter how much money America spends throwing money at health and healthcare, it will never be enough to have health. Because there’s a missing ingredient, and that’s the humans that the healthcare is supposed to care for. And that there’s not enough money on the planet to do all the various things that would have to be done to us when we don’t take care of ourselves, when we don’t know how to handle stress, when we do not know how to be in wise relationship with our lives and our lifestyle and our diet and exercise and our bodies and aging and everything else.


That if we leave that all to the auto mechanics model of medicine – you drive your car around until it breaks down, then you get the carburetor replaced, or the engine, or whatever, or the tires – but this is not a machine. I know a lot of people, even in biology, love to use machine analogies, and even nano-machine analogies, about the body. To a degree, they’re correct; but there’s another piece of it, like no one understands the construction of the machine that’s you.


Let me give you one example. How many of you see that slide up there, and what’s the color of the background? Blue. Does everybody agree that it’s blue? No one knows how you do that. No one knows how you go from the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, the blue region in the visible spectrum, no one knows how you go from this wavelength, which is colorless, it’s just energy, to a subjective feeling of blue. We also really don’t know – we have a consensus reality that agrees that the blue that you’re seeing and the blue that I’m seeing are the same blue, but it’s not always true, and it’s not true for colorblind people.


There’s a lot of consensus agreement here, but the brain weighs approximately three pounds, and it’s all cells and cables that are made up of cells, neurons, and then all these glial cells in there supporting the neurons. Incredibly specialized. It’s really the most complex assembly of matter in the known by us universe. Right inside your little old body. And no one knows how sentience, how consciousness, how knowing, how even thinking arises in this three pounds of what some neuroscientists call “meat.” It’s a little distasteful. (laughter) But to just kind of make it graphic.


So if you forget, every once in awhile, walking around on the Dartmouth campus or in Hanover or wherever you happen to live, that you’re a miraculous being… well, okay. It’s just one more mind wandering. One more default, not really being aware of how amazing it is that you can see, for instance. That you can hear, that you can taste. How many of us eat food and we don’t bother to taste it, we just devour it? Or we taste the idea of the food. “Yeah, that was really good.” But you didn’t actually taste it. Have you ever had a mindless hug from somebody who was really trying to be friendly? (laughter) It’s sort of an impulse to be friendly, but not in one’s body.


So all of these things we take for granted, but we can actually begin a process of re-minding – and I put a little hyphen in there – re-minding ourselves. Re-bodying ourselves. When? Now. Because why? There’s the only time you have. Coming back into a certain kind of vector or alignment with your entire life trajectory.


It doesn’t matter how old you are when you begin this process. The Native Americans actually started to measure your age from when you became a grandparent. Before that, it was like you were too busy to really be human. The Asian Indians measure your age from when you start practicing yoga. So if you’re 75 years old and you’ve been into yoga for three months, you’re three months old. I like that. Isn’t that nice? What about a new beginning? Every moment, a new beginning. That’s what mindfulness is about. Every moment fresh.


Now, this is not a philosophy; it’s not a good idea; it’s not a concept; it’s a way of being. It’s not a technique, and it’s not a special state. “Oh, I think I’ll trot over to the MBSR clinic, meditate…” (pause) Maybe you’re waiting for something else to happen, but nothing else happens. (laughter) Nothing else happens. This is it. Goodbye. (laughter) Maybe you’re hoping for something special to happen, some special meditative state, some kind of vision, some kind of alignment of the spheres, some special bolt of lightning out of the blue to wake you up. It’s a mis-take. A mis-take on meditation, on mindfulness, on reality.


Let’s just pretend, why don’t we just sit for a moment. Oh, you’re already sitting. You don’t even need to shift your posture, although I see some people getting ready, “Okay, now we’re going to get into it.” (laughter) “It’s going to be somewhat experiential, thank God. He could talk forever.” But you see, you don’t even have to shift your posture to be awake or to be aware. You can do it like this, and really be aware.


By the way, I can’t see my hands, but I know where they are. How do I know? A sense called proprioception. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t, but there are a lot more than five senses; I just want to put that out. When we’re talking about miraculous being or genius, it’s got lots of different dimensions to it. Many.


If I ask you “How are you?” in the elevator and you say “Fine,” how do you know? Aside from the fact that you’re probably not fine, but you just don’t want to get into it in the elevator with somebody you don’t want to tell anyway. But when a friend asks you “How are you?” and you say, “Fine,” how do you know? That’s another sense. And you know very quickly, and you know when you’re not, too. What is that knowing called? It’s not, “Let me think, hmm. I don’t know, how am I?” No, you know instantly. That sense is called interoception.


There are ways that the organism has, using the brain and the nervous system – which has lots of maps, by the way; the brain is loaded with maps of the body, and not just the somatosensory cortices, but the insula and the cerebellum and the hippocampus. Lots and lots of – and again, I stress: we’re beginning to understand something about what lights up when, when you meditate and when you do this and do that, when you go into depression. All sorts of wonderful, wonderful things happening in brain research and neuroscience nowadays. But still, no one knows how it all comes together in you, in this moment, in a way that actually you don’t have to think about.

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Dr. Daniel Vinograd, DDS |
10450 Friars Rd, San Diego, CA 92120 |
Phone: 619-630-7174    •    Dr. Vinograd, DDS, is a Dentist in San Diego, CA, offering services as a periodontist, and providing teeth whitening, dental crowns, invisalign, implants, lumineers, dentures, root canals, holistic, family and cosmetic dentistry.

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