Their solution: create more kindness and compassion.
In other words, to create peace, find inner peace.
“Change in humanity must start from individuals,” the Dalai Lama told the mayors. “We created this violence, so we can reduce this violence.”
“We are unified in our humanity, and the only thing that we all know and we all appreciate in one another is kindness, and this has to come before all things,” Lady Gaga said.
Mindfulness is a concept rooted in Eastern spiritual practice that, in the West, has morphed into a secular one. It essentially means not letting your emotions hijack your brain. It is a form of meditation, and it is a mindset.
Paying attention to the matters at hand may sound simple, but most Americans aren’t doing it, studies show. Though the experts say there’s a lot more research to be done, the number of scientific studies has grown exponentially over the past decade. They show that mindfulness is more than a passing fad; there’s early evidence it can help your health.
What are you thinking about right now?
Scientists have proved it, ironically, by using smartphones.
In their 2010 study, they created a computer program that sent questions at random moments to people by iPhone. The program asked, “How are you feeling right now?” “What are you doing right now?” and “Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”
Of the 2,250 adults who answered the pings, 46.9% were not thinking about the task they were doing at the moment. This was the case for 30% of their activities, with one exception: during sex. That, apparently, had their full attention.
Otherwise, what they were doing had little impact on their depth of focus.
You may be thinking, what’s wrong with autopilot? Multitasking may be your jam, but those in the study who reported regular mind-wandering were unhappier in that state than those with laser-like focus.
Making mindfulness great again
To remain mindful, the Dalai Lama said, he sleeps a lot: about nine hours a night. He also gets up at 3 a.m. to meditate. He has another session in the afternoon and one more right before bed.
In total, His Holiness spends about five hours meditating each day.
“These meditations not just chanting or something,” the Dalai Lama told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He engages in “analytical meditation: thinking, analyze, analyze.”
He finds it “very, very helpful to maintain sharpness of mind.”
That sharpness is real, science has found.
Change your brain
Monks who’ve spent thousands of hours meditating show changes in their brains, studies show.
While they were being mindful, scientists noticed signs of neuroplasticity, meaning the monks’ brains were reshaping to become more resilient.
The part of their brains connected to the body’s overall well-being and immune systems activated, and the scans showed that these master meditators reached a deeper level of consciousness.
But you don’t have to become a monk to experience beneficial brain changes.
The data may be strongest to support the idea that mindfulness helps people manage the negative consequences of stress.
The participants were then subjected to a stressful day-long training exercise. Both groups had similar spikes in blood pressure and breathing rates during the test, but when it was over, the mindfully trained Marines’ heart rate and breathing recovered much faster, as did their nervous systems.
He started looking at the practice of mindfulness after the Dalai Lama challenged him to use the modern tools of neuroscience to study kindness and compassion in the 1990s.
When it comes to stress, his experiments have showed that the body has both physical and emotional reactions to mindfulness practice.
“People typically feel calmer and less anxious. There’s a modest reduction in stress hormone, as well,” Davidson said.
There’s good evidence to suggest that mindfulness improves your attention span, too. It might not help you resist looking at those cute cat videos your co-worker sends, but there are areas of basic research where the “findings clearly show that practicing mindfulness can result in improvement of objective measures,” Davidson said.
Evidence suggests that mindfulness training can improve students’ standardized test scores, attendance and discipline. But it also works for adults.
One study even showed that mindfulness practitioners recognize facial expressions better, making them more emotionally intelligent and helping them to be more empathetic.
Depression and addiction helped, kind of
Learning to live in the moment can’t cure depression, but it can alleviate problems associated with it. It can reduce your anxiety, the feelings of hopelessness and the stresses that come from constantly worrying about the future or ruminating on the past.
The future of mindfulness
There’s a lot more research needed to determine the full impact mindfulness can have on your health. Several additional studies funded by the National Institutes of Health are underway.
The demand for mindfulness programs has gotten so huge, the number of trainers cannot keep up, according to Davidson. That’s why he and several other scientists have been working on mindfulness-related video games, apps, podcasts, wearables and websites.
Davidson doesn’t think the interest in the practice will go away anytime soon.
“Suffering is becoming increasingly recognized as a serious problem,” he said. “There is also a real kind of divisiveness in our country and a kind of general distress too, especially lately. People are realizing if they can learn something from these simple tools they’ll be calmer, less anxious and much more supportive of the others around them.”