Sunday, 14 February 2016
Mind, matter and life
Lent 2016: Day Five
At each end of each strand of chromosome within your body are telomeres, protective caps which shield the ends when cells divide and multiply. After a finite number of cell divisions, the telomeres wear down, and this is the cause of the aging process. Telomeres were discovered in 1975-7 by Nobel Prize winners, Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak.
Since then, Dr Blackburn has researched causes of telomere decay. She found that in people living with high levels of stress in their lives, telomeres were shorter by the equivalent of a decade's life-span compared to those living low stress or stress-free lives. But can telomeres be lengthened, more resistant to what happens to them during cell multiplication?
Dr Blackburn carried out three experiments, which conventional science would consider the flaky end of research - seeing what effect meditation would have on telomeres. The results - entirely solid, statistically significant - suggest that the effect is indeed positive. Her research was replicated by other researchers. Google 'telomeres' and 'meditation' to find many articles on this subject . Here's a link to one - in Scientific American.
Meditation. Does this mean if we want to live longer we need to sit cross-legged on the floor and chant 'Om'? The modern, Western, take on meditation is mindfulness, which has blossomed into an industry in its own right. The trick, I believe, is to strip out mumbo-jumbo and ritual incantations that are there because a religion says it should be, and to find the mechanism at the core, which makes this a scientifically-proven therapy. At its heart, meditation - mindfulness - means being aware of your conscious experience, focusing on breathing in and breathing out while being entirely still.
Meditation is very much embedded in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, but a relatively new concept to Christianity. [A little aside to my Ealing-born readers - anyone remember Ks. Andrzej in the parafia, early- mid-1970s? First priest to talk about meditation and mysticism to enquiring teenagers...]
Anyway, I find I do mindfulness best when waking in the middle of the night (an entirely natural thing). Lying awake at night, I focus on my breathing, I give thanks for the miracle of my conscious existence. And soon I'm back asleep again.
Since the 'dawning of the Age of Aquarius' and the New Age, the Western world has been awash with pseudo-mystical twaddle, healing crystals, quack cures and charlatans. Some have become very wealthy, some have many followers. Wrong goals. Yet at the heart of it all, the holistic approach to mind-body matters has been gaining ground in the scientific community. But scepticism still holds strong. If Deepak Chopra, for example, lives - as is his goal - 'way beyond hundred', will that have validated his belief of the primacy of consciousness over matter? Or will it have been because he was blessed with good genes and followed a healthy lifestyle?
I have written about luck and happiness and health (here and here) and am inclined to subscribe to the holistic view that mind can alter matter. Being consciously thankful for your health is, I believe, helps in keeping you healthy. And praying for good health helps too. I also believe, to a degree, that not wanting an ailment - by actively willing it away at the very first intimation of a symptom, can help.
The stronger the belief, the better it works.
Ah yes, and read this, from last week.
This time last year:
Compositions in blue and white
This time four years ago:
Waiting for the change to come
This time five years ago
A wetter Poland?
This time seven years ago:
Heavy overnight snow
This time eight years ago:
Changing Jeziorki skyline